Saturday, September 30, 2023

Gerontocracy and the role of elders

Sarah Chayes -- formerly of NPR, Afghanistan NGOs, and civilian advisor to U.S. military proconsuls -- has used the occasion of Senator Diane Feinstein's death to reflect on our failure to offer a right role to our elders.

Too often, old people of great accomplishment like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Diane Feinstein cannot envision how they might exist in their last years in a society they've helped to shape. So they just stumble on through infirmity long beyond their time, ensuring they cannot come to a dignified exit. This is not their fault; we do not offer a socially recognized alternative.

... we have deprived ourselves of a crucial social role. We have deprived ourselves of the human capacity to hold our sacred collective knowledge and bring it forth when needed. And we have deprived our elders of the opportunity to fill that role, and to be honored for the unique gifts they have to offer, instead of sniggered at for their physical frailties and their stubborn self-delusion.
Riffing on a fable by the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger, Chayes concludes:
In pre-modern cultures, and in some places down to the more recent past, there was a recognized stage of life that we have abolished: elderhood. ... It is the role of councillor, the person situated a bit off to the edge of the ruckus of the society, who is sought out for the different or deeper insight they can offer.
... among elders, the investment of ego in the details of the outcome is releasing. The wisdom is on offer, no constraints. No gnashing of teeth in frustration at being unable to make this or that thing happen.
Meanwhile, the full-fledged adults who should be rising to leadership roles [we leave] dancing attendance. Or, disgusted, they turn away from public affair
This is no way to run a society.
And this, to me, is the real problem with our gerontocracy.
Old people, people over 65, are now 1 in 6 or 17 percent of Americans. There are some 55 million of us.

By 2060, there will be 95 million elders. (No, I don't expect to be around to see this.)

The society would be wise to try to figure out how to both 1) use what we learned in a manner and in roles that we can appreciate; and 2) get us gracefully out of the way so generational transition can take place. 

Speaker Emerita Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi has set an extremely rare and extremely wise example by smoothly passing on leadership.

Friday, September 29, 2023

What a country!

Air Force General Charles Q. Brown has just been elevated to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation's highest military officer. The video, from back in 2020, shares his reaction to the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter uprising. 

I never thought I'd be posting something like this here -- in part, I think, because I never thought a U.S. general would be sharing what Brown shares here. And most certainly, if he did, that he would then continue to rise in his career. 

But he has risen. As he says, he's "living in two worlds." I assume he still is. What a country!

Friday cat blogging

There was admirable coexistence in the fading afternoon light. I do note that somehow little Janeway has occupied the soft cat bed, while he gets the hard surface. But, after all, Mio comes with a lot of padding. 

Photo by way of the cats' friend Allan.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Big words for bad times

Here's a delicious Xitter item via former GOP-establishment lawyer George Conway (Xeorge Xonway; @gtconway3d):

I know many of you like to visit New York City during the holiday season and in case you make it to lower Manhattan this year I made this map I hope you will find helpful. 
Conway's bleat inspired me to think about the word schadenfreude. I think we can presume Mr. Conway is experiencing this emotion, as are many of us on observing Trump's legal troubles. Thanks, New York.

As you likely know, the word names "the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another." Wikipedia continues "It is a borrowed word from German, with no direct translation, that originated in the 18th century."

Though I knew what it meant, I don't think schadenfreude was part of my vocabulary of use until the current burst of commentary. E.P. says she thinks much usage may have been high cultured-literary; her New York actor father spoke it aloud.

Another word/concept which is having a moment during these fraught Trump times is stochastic terrorism or terrorist. A definition: "the public demonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act, which is statistically probable but whose specifics cannot be predicted."

This seems to be the diagnosis of social scientists for the numerous dangerous armed nut jobs inspired by Mr. Trump's crazy ravings since his 2020 defeat. The implication is that the rest of us cannot predict where hated-incited violence may be aimed, but it is out there, seething for action. 

General Mark Milley's dignified short response to Trump's recent provocations is inspiring.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Looking toward Nevada 2024

The Biden-Harris campaign is already setting the context to once again win in Nevada. This won't be easy. In 2022, Democratic US. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto only squeaked by statewide with an 8000 vote margin. Joe Biden's win in 2020 was by less than 35,000 votes. Democratic U.S. Senator Jackie Rosen will also be on the ballot next year. 

So the Democratic contenders are getting their message out early.

It's a hard hill to climb in Nevada for Joe Biden. Though this is a state with a working class consciousness, the old white guy isn't an easy fit for this slightly iconoclastic Latinx and Western place. 

The Nevada Independent reports:

The $25 million Biden campaign ad buy in top swing states (including Nevada) strikes again, this time with another Spanish ad: La Diferencia. The 30-second spot — set to run in English, too, as well as on a Univision broadcast of the second GOP primary debate — casts Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris as “the difference,” while Republicans are “working for the rich and powerful.”   

These Spanish-language ads come as Biden and Democrats nationwide look to protect margins with Latino voters, who remain a key bloc in Southwestern swing states such as Nevada and Arizona. Latino support for Democrats remained steady from 2020 to 2022, even after a concerted GOP push to court those voters. More recently, a national Univision poll released Monday still found Biden leading Trump 58 percent to 31 percent.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Credit where credit is due

Here's a postscript to the blog about youth election engagement posted here yesterday.

David Hogg came to national notice in a terrible way: he's one of the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting massacre. With many of his comrades and others, he became one of the organizers of the national March for Our Lives

Then he went off to and completed college.

These days he is launching what looks like a movement-oriented youth electoral politics shop which they call Leaders We Deserve, aiming to "build the EMILYs List for young people"  More power to them; needs to be done.

But I wanted to share here Hogg's thoughtful assessment (from Xitter @davidhogg111) of where we've come to in the last four years and of our incumbent and candidate president.

Young people voted for Biden in record numbers here’s the result so far:
• Billions in student debt forgiveness

 • First gun safety bill in 30 years

• Most Climate spending in US history
• Office of gun violence prevention
• Climate Corps

More progress on all the above issues in three years than the past 30. This is not simply because Biden cares about young people it’s because our generation has real power. Biden knows he can’t win without the youth vote- especially young people of color. While he’s limited with a divided congress and a corrupt Supreme Court he’s managed to get more done than any president in decades with razor thin margins.

It can be hard to imagine but Biden was once a young person he was elected to the senate when he was 29. He has over 50 years of experience. When voting what I want most is someone who can deliver and Biden has.
This because he’s done a remarkable job integrating progressives into leadership. When we match the passion of the progressive movement with his experience it’s a recipe for success.
When he was first elected I was very doubtful of how much could really happen I am happy to be proven wrong. If he was doing a bad job, as someone who does not shy away from publicly criticizing the party or president I would tell you. But honestly Biden and especially his incredible staff [have] made it work.
March for Our Lives and many others demanded action, protested and Biden has listened, we aren’t going away but i wanted to give credit where it is due.

Clearly, Hogg is wrestling with the permanent conundrum for honest advocates for major change in a democracy: how do you keep your vision clear and your coalition together while striving for tangible accomplishments on your agenda. Wrestle away! May the force be with you.

Monday, September 25, 2023

The Times They Are A-Changin

John Della Volpe writes "for more than two decades, I’ve been embedded in the land of young Americans. First millennials, and now Gen Z with an eye on Gen Alpha. From my perch since 2000 as polling director at Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics, at SocialSphere, and as the dad of a few Zoomers and one Zillennial — I spend most of my time talking with, surveying, and thinking about young Americans. ..."

He concludes, based on long running CBS News polling, that younger Americans are approaching the looming 2024 election and our general prospects with a lot more hope than their elders. 

#1: Younger Americans are the most optimistic Americans
    •    Younger Americans have dealt with more chaos more quickly than most Americans — indeed, before most reached adulthood;
    •    Yet, they’re not turning away from their country; they are leaning in with a generous and tenacious spirit.
Gen Zers and millennials are significantly more likely than older generations to indicate that things in the country are going “very” (13%) or “somewhat well” (31%).
And unlike their elders, they think well of Vice President Harris. Her presence along with Joe Biden increases their confidence in the ticket.

#2: VP Harris is polling solidly with younger voters who see her as an asset to President Biden and the 2024 ticket

Although the GOP presidential candidates are attempting to downplay Vice President Harris’s role in the administration and her potential impact on the 2024 Democratic ticket, this poll indicates that younger voters remain undeterred and supportive.

The Vice President’s approval ratings are trending ahead of most national figures and are particularly strong across the younger cohorts. (55%: among the 18-29 age group)

On a fraught subject, a majority think Joe Biden is getting U.S. support right for a free Ukraine.

#3: Gen Z and millennials are more in favor of U.S. engagement in Ukraine than older generations

For as many adults over 30 who believe that the Biden administration is generally handling things the right way in Ukraine, about the same number think the U.S. should be pulling back and doing less. The pattern reverses, though, with younger Americans. ...those under 30 are between seven and ten points more likely to support greater U.S. support for Ukraine.

Additionally, young adults are also more supportive than older generations of sending aid and supplies (76%), weapons (57%), and troops (48%) to Ukraine.

Though I agree about the justice of Ukraine's cause, I marvel at the reversal from past wars which younger people questioned more readily than did their elders.

• • •

Los Angeles Times writer David Lauter took up the question of who among us might spark hope in the years ahead. He found an answer in the paper's reporting: 

The optimism of President Obama’s “Yes we can” and President Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” seem like increasingly quaint relics....

... a campaign for reform is not an impossible idea. In the early 20th century, a national debate and calls for systemic change led to the direct election of senators, widespread adoption of ballot initiatives and women’s suffrage. In the 1960s, another wave of reform enfranchised Black Americans and swept away legally enforced racial segregation.
Could that happen again? The optimism about the future that our Times/KFF poll of immigrants found and the deep discontent the Pew survey documented among younger Americans point to a possible way the current era of stalemate could end.
... Both immigrants and young people vote at much lower levels than the rest of the population. Many immigrants aren’t citizens, and even those who do have citizenship often aren’t plugged into U.S. politics. Young people often aren’t habitual voters and need a cause to motivate them.
But both groups are poised to play a larger role. Millennial and Gen Z Americans are forecast to become a majority of voters by the end of this decade. And the number of immigrant voters will grow as well, as more achieve citizenship. Both groups want more than the current system offers and could push it out of its rut.

• • •

The Civics Center works to get young people registered as soon as they turn 18, mostly while still in high school. That early start on encouraging engagement with politics is important. Once they leave high school, spread out, start college or a job, often elections can seem one thing too many in a challenging time of life. It becomes hard to catch them to ensure they are registered -- but they will vote once they are already registered. 

And the number of young new registrants can make all the difference to outcomes.

If this inspires, check out The Civics Center. They've got a program to get the job done.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Worker struggles busting out all over

In addition to providing a nuanced history of the United Auto Workers union, its revival, current strategy, and the aims in its current strike, University of Chicago historian Gabriel Winant offers this broad view of current labor militancy.

The UAW is not alone. In the past several years labor militancy has been on the rise across sectors, challenging not only particular employers but also, increasingly, the direction of the country. For a decade, beginning in Chicago in 2012 and escalating to the strike wave of 2018–2019 and the struggles over pandemic reopenings, teachers have resisted privatization and fought for smaller classes and safer, better staffed schools.

Similarly radicalized by the pandemic, thousands of Starbucks and Amazon workers have stood up to these giants of the new economy, long thought to be unorganizable. In these and other campaigns, workers have faced relentless, often flagrantly illegal antiunion repression, prompting the Biden administration’s National Labor Relations Board to come to their aid with some of the most favorable interpretations of labor law in decades.

In Hollywood, by striking against the algorithmic production and distribution of television and film, actors and writers are defending the very idea of human culture as something more than pellets of pasteurized and predigested content.

So too are workers in Pittsburgh, where the staff of the Post-Gazette has fought a bitter strike for nearly a year to preserve the basic possibility of local news.

Across Los Angeles, thousands of hotel workers have been on strike for nearly a month, demanding not only better wages and working conditions but also for hotels to help solve the city’s crises of unaffordable housing and homelessness by offering housing support for hotel workers and providing empty rooms to the unhoused.

A rolling wave of organizing at hospitals and nursing homes since the pandemic, including an enormous potential strike recently authorized at Kaiser Permanente, contests the ongoing staffing crisis in the health sector, which is intimately tied to patient access and quality of care.

And campus unions are forming functioning coalitions between unions representing different segments of the workforce. Here full time professors, part-time instructors, admin staff, and the groundskeepers unite to welcome students to the new semester at the private University of San Francisco. (PTFA-CFT photo)

In higher education, resistance to a collapsed academic job market and the depredations of increasingly mercenary administrations has quickly accelerated. Unions have launched major strikes across the industry, most notably in 2022 at the University of California, and won an extraordinary string of near-unanimous union victories across the private sector in the past several years—pro-union vote share is regularly above 90 percent in electorates that often exceed three thousand workers. Eight of the ten largest new union bargaining units since January 2022 have been at universities. ...

 We aren't just pixels in Elon Musk's world.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

#StandUpUAW: it runs in the family

The daughter of one of the 1937 Flint GM sit-down strikers walked the picket line in solidarity with workers at GM CCA in Swartz Creek, MI, Friday. 86 years after the sit down strike, UAW members are standing up! @UAW
The union makes us strong. Keeping on keeping on.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Believing the hype?

About a week ago, I wrote disparagingly about charisma in politicians. I find myself pondering this quality further.

The dictionary definition of charisma is all about the word's origin in theology. It is not until the fourth listing that the manner in which I commonly think of it comes up: charm, magnetism, presence. A usage I encountered this week catches how I commonly think of the quality: "[Sarah] Palin’s telegenic charisma." Yeah, right. She's a flashy, shallow phony -- exactly what I think of when charisma goes sour.

Two events involving charisma -- not from politics, and neither sour -- grabbed me last weekend. What might be dismissed as "just charisma" can turn out to have more, or additional, meanings.

The first was a visit to the Kehinde Wiley show, an Archeology of Silence, at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park (til October 15). It had been much praised and several friends had been blown away by Wiley's giant paintings and intricate bronze cast figures. As the artist intended, the pieces overwhelm the senses through their scale and audacity. But if you get a chance to see them, don't miss the details, such as the small bit of a huge figure that I've posted above. This show is deeper than its immediate grandiosity, its charisma. I suspect this artist's work will be even deeper as he ages.

That same weekend, I watched the Colorado University football team triumph (barely) over Colorado State University. This is a traditional rivalry game in the collapsing Pac12 conference, but in the curious economy of big-time farm-team football on TV, it is not a big deal. Except that this year it was. 

Colorado University hired Deion Sanders, the former NFL star receiver and TV football commentator known to admirers and detractors as "Prime," away from a head coaching job at the HBCU Jackson State. Sanders got rid of most of the poorly performing existing CU team and imported transferring players, including his own talented sons as a receiver and as quarterback. He promised to overturn a pretty dismal past football record and to deliver wins and excitement. This was not just winning football games, but his promise, according to CNN , amounted to "audacious Blackness." Would this work as sport as well as charisma?

I have to say, once the fray supplanted the pregame hype, this was one hell of a football game. It required two overtime periods, but CU came through in the end.

In this contest Deion Sanders, his sons, and his team delivered both charisma and substance.

And I should mention that there was another novel feature to the game. CSU's coach, Jay Norvell, is also Black. How often does it happen that two major football colleges meet who both have Black coaches? 

Sometimes it is worth staying up late to catch West Coast football.

Friday cat blogging

We have here an almost peaceable kingdom. Janeway is assiduous in her attention to Mio's cleanliness. Naturally, she also reserves the right to bite his leg and initiate a chase. They are an odd couple, but apparently compatible.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

In which Erudite Partner returns to the inescapable ...

... after a 40 year hiatus. 

Stumbling Towards Old Age ... And Looking for Someone to Lean On
It turns out that we — the people of this country — are all on our own. ... But even as I grieve for capacities lost and departing, I’m still not ready to come face to face with the only true alternative to aging: not some tech bro’s wet dream of eternal life, but the reality of death. I’m opposed to dying and, had the universe consulted me, I’d have left mortality out of its design completely. 

... Aging really is a roulette game.

Need the inevitable be quite so lonely? Could we, collectively, do better by each other?

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

What is Joe Biden good for?

Is Joe Biden too old to serve another term as president? The political media needed to goose eyeballs on its offerings, so we're having a round of this. The question might have seemed meaningful a year ago, but Prez Joe long ago decided he can and must run, so it strikes me as mostly noise. Besides, he's only three years older than Donald Trump -- and that guy is nuts, in addition to being corrupt and vicious. If there were a way to have two younger candidates, that would be good. It's time for a new generation. But there is no way this year. The mature thing is to get used to it.

James Fallows is only a few years younger than either of these gents, but he's been doing insightful political journalism since the Carter Administration. He doesn't think much of the too-old Joe meme: in fact, he thinks age may be an advantage in this president.
Why is Biden better as an old president than he would have been as a young one? Because experience, or luck, or Providence, has equipped him for the two essential aspects of the job (which, inconveniently, don’t make for great breaking-news coverage).
One of those is judgment. Not the second-by-second go/no-go decisions in the Situation Room that are glamporized in news accounts. They are part of a president’s responsibilities, but not the major part. The real test of a president is the larger strategic decisions, the ones that are pondered-over. We should draw a line and pick this fight. We should do our best to avoid this other fight.
I contend that Biden’s judgment on all of the biggest questions has been good. That is, I agree with most of his calls. The real point is that his judgment is probably better than it would have been in his 40s. And he is less anxious about “proving himself.”
The other is choosing a team. Every president of the past century, before Joe Biden, has had publicized scandals, staff resignations, back-biting, and other friction by this point in an administration. So far the only “scandal” involving Biden has concerned his son Hunter, who never held public office; and the main “criticism” from his own party has been whether Merrick Garland, his attorney general, has been too passive.
Choosing which fights to pick; choosing which people to trust: These are often the traits of older people, rather than younger ones. They’re strengths rather than weaknesses for Biden. Sidney Blumenthal has an extended argument about why Biden is the best choice for the Democrats—on the merits of his performance in office, and on the realities of choosing anyone else.
Washington Post opinion writer Perry Bacon Jr. also rose to the old-Joe prompt. I'd call his conclusion realistic.
I’m going to spend the run-up to the 2024 election being honest: Biden is a solid president but not indispensable; neither he nor Harris are transformative leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; Harris might end up in the job because Biden is so old.
If the fate of American democracy depends on pretending that we are not at all concerned about an 80-year-old-president, then we were already doomed. I can’t predict the future about Joe Biden’s health and I don’t need to — I will be voting for Joe Biden for president and also Kamala Harris for president if Biden can’t serve.
Seems sensible. The pair in power aren't perfect, but, as Biden always says, "compare him to the alternative." That's where we are.

The basketball great and wiseman Kareem Abdul-Jabar offers may favorite take on the Biden "age issue."
Age and experience can mean making fewer mistakes (because you’ve already made them). Maybe it also means delegating for higher efficiency. Maybe it means working smarter.
Having lived a lot of years doesn’t make you wise. It’s what you learned from all those years that makes you wise. Some are just as clueless at 90 as they were at 19. But others have filled their minds and hearts with knowledge and compassion worthy of a lifetime.
... Biden may drive the car more slowly, playing the oldies station, and with the blinker permanently on, but at least he’s driving in the right direction.
• • •
The discussion of Biden's age prompts me throw in a suspicion that's grown on me was I've watched this presidency.
I've come to think that one of Biden's assets as president is his very longevity in politics. This is not entirely that experience made him wiser, but because of the different contexts in which he followed his ambition. Biden came up before the "Reagan revolution." He grew up as a pol in a time when Democrats thought the New Deal, national mobilization to win World War II, and Lyndon Johnson's ambitious effort to cut poverty in the 1960s had set the paradigm for what government was for. Government's purpose was to make the lives of all citizens better -- safer, less precarious -- by targeted interventions in market capitalism. From 1933 through 1980, that's what ruling Democratic politicians thought was the job. 

Ronald Reagan's Republican Party tore all that down, promising less government, less regulation, less concern from the poor and the dark skinned. Businesses and white supremacists loved this government U-turn; the Dems were divided, exhausted, and took decades to recover both intellectually and at the ballot box.

Joe Biden comes from the before-Reagan times. His instinct is to use the power of government to do good things for people. He's surrounded by younger people very much of today: Sanderites, Warrenites, think tankers, all of whom have new, unfettered, ambitions for what a Democratic government can do. And climate crisis forces but also enables action; cautious incrementalism just won't serve.

So, as the historian Heather Cox Richardson explains, we get a government that tries of advance purposes which break from the premises of the last forty years.
The idea that public investment in infrastructure serves democratic goals fell out of favor in the U.S. in the 1980s. Leaders insisted that private investment reacted more efficiently to market forces whereas government investment both distorted markets and tied up money that private investment could use more effectively. In fact, the dramatic scaling back of public investment since then has not led to more efficient development so much as it has led to crumbling infrastructure and its exploitation by private individuals.
Joe Biden is a happy throwback to a different time. He can imagine government which is creative and agile -- and broadly good for everyone. A government that has our backs. Maybe we needed an old-timer leader in this moment ... anyway, we've got one.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

We think inflation is terrible because prices are higher than we remember

I'm usually a fan of Paul Krugman. He's a humane commentator on our condition who often gets reality right. But he made an argument today in his NYTimes newsletter (link may not work as it is a newsletter, but there it is) which completely misses the point of what people are talking about when we complain about inflation.

He observes that he gets huge push back when he observes that inflation is coming down. He earnestly discusses the various measures of inflation; there are several and they serve different analytical and policy purposes. He assures the reader that he is not gaming the system when he chooses which measure is relevant in which context. I believe him.
Krugman asserts:
The question of what’s happening to inflation is, or should be, a purely technical issue.
But probably most of us don't think any of this makes any sense because we know it requires more of our dollars than it used to once to go about our daily business. I am going to a warehouse store later today; I know that I'll spend 15-20 percent more dollars than I would have in 2019.

The pandemic has left a rift in our consciousness. There was before; there is after. Everything costs more. That's what inflation means in common understanding.

"Inflation" is not whether some measures favored by economists are going up -- and are currently going down. Inflation in every day life means that prices are higher (some much higher) than "before." We simply won't notice the trend line until the disruption is further in the past -- when the meaning of "before" changes. Might that be this year?

I hope so.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Burnout musings

I seem to be experiencing some kind of bloggy burnout. I have multiple items I'd like to write about, but somehow can't muster the energy to create the posts. (I do work on these -- trying for accuracy and giving credit where it should go.)

So I'll default to this recommendation: 

I used to survey people experiencing burnout. Here’s what they taught me. 

Most of this is not what's ailing me, but it's charming. The link is a gift article.

Back soon.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Remembering the Birmingham church bombing

I do remember the bombing by KuKluxKlan white supremacists of that Alabama brick Black church in 1963. The next few days, pictures were all over the Buffalo News and the Buffalo Courier which my parents received daily. The horror stuck.

Religion News Service shared a set of pictures from the bombing which I'll post here.

A man falls to his knees in prayer amid shattered glass from windows of the 16th Street Baptist Church and surrounding buildings in Birmingham, Alabama, in Sept. 1963. Four young girls died as a racist’s bomb exploded at 10:22 a.m. on Sept. 15, 1963, during worship services and Sunday school sessions. In the following outbreak of violence throughout the area, two young black men were shot to death. Pleas for effort to stop further bloodshed were issued from government, civil rights and religious leaders across the nation. Religion News Service file photo 

Firemen and ambulance attendants remove a covered body from Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where an explosion ripped though the structure during services, killing four black girls, on Sept. 15, 1963. Sarah Collins Rudolph lost an eye and has pieces of glass inside her body from a Ku Klux Klan bombing that killed her sister and three other Black girls inside the Alabama church. (AP Photo, File)

Mourners gather around Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Robertson Sr., seated at right, and a sister, at left, of 14-year-old Carole Robertson. Carole and three other young girls, attending Sunday school in the basement of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, died in the 1963 terrorist bombing. Religion News Service file photo

Yesterday's commemoration in the Baptist Church:

Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman on the nation’s highest court, speaks at the 60th Commemoration of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Never again? It feels hard to promise ...

Friday, September 15, 2023

Friday cat blogging

We are watched.

Did I do something?

Apparently we need surveillance.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Don't do it!

There's a good reason so many of us hoped the voters of Pennsylvania would elect John Fetterman to the U.S. Senate. They did.

We were right! The fascist Republican House clown show gets its proper commentator.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

AOC: on beyond charisma

I am prejudiced against charismatic politicians. They may be working for ends I support, but I always worry they are people who have gotten used to getting over because they could charm or awe their admirers. I hesitate to get on board unless they demonstrate substance and accomplishment.

Some people found Bill Clinton charismatic -- I never could see it. Smart sure, but undisciplined.

I didn't immediately warm to Barack Obama in 2007-8. He drew me in with his defense of his relationship with Reverend Wright, his pastor who spoken aloud normal Black people's suspicion of the good intentions of white folks. Grappling with this for a white audience took something more than charisma.
I was not an early fan when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez burst upon the Democratic Party scene in 2018. The young Congressperson represented a lot of necessary insurgent progressive policy demands and could communicate them brilliantly -- but was she for real?
Five years later, it seems more and more clear she's not just some ephemeral shooting star. The Guardian (UK) offered a fascinating interview with the Congresswoman recently. She's adept are explaining how she deals with issues that are hard for the U.S. left.
On Ukraine: 
For the left, the war in Ukraine is potentially ... complicated. Putin’s invasion is by any measure an affront to morality. But US support for Ukraine has put critics of the military-industrial complex (the government spends about $900bn a year on defence, around 15% of the federal budget or 3.3% of the gross domestic product) in the uncomfortable position of rooting for the Pentagon and endorsing a windfall for defence contractors. Longtime sceptics of US imperialism suddenly find themselves aligned with Republican hawks.
Ocasio-Cortez articulates the uneasy accommodation: “It’s a legitimate conversation. I think on one hand, it is important for us to underscore what a dramatic threat to global order Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is and continues to be. We must defend democracy. We cannot allow this reversion into almost a late 19th-century imperial invasion order – it is so incredibly destabilising and dangerous. We must fight against that precedent. We must protect the democracy of Ukraine and the sovereignty of Ukraine 100%.
“I think it’s also relevant to acknowledge that this is happening on the heels of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and how many of us were raised growing up saying this was going to be temporary, and it became a forever war. I believe that acknowledging the anxieties of our history of that is relevant.
“Indicating to the people of this country what are we looking for, what are the levels of accountability, is not something that I think is an affront to democracy. I think the American people understandably want clarity about what our commitments are, to what extent they are. I think that is absolutely fair. We do not want a forever war and we also don’t want a return to a 19th-century imperial order either.”

She endorsed Joe Biden in May, long before she had to. She has explained why and what the implications are for US. progressives:

“It’s just a reality that we have very different political coalitions that constitute the Democratic party and being able to define that, I actually think this grants us much power. It’s to say, listen, I am not defined by nor do I agree with all of the stances of this president, and I’m sure neither does he with mine.

“But that does not mean that we are not in this together against the greater forces and questions of our time, and I think being able to demonstrate that ability to coalesce puts us in a position of far greater strength than, say, the Republican party who are at each other’s necks to the extent that they can’t even fund the government.”

... “We are not in 2020, and seeing what that turnout may look like is something that I’m sure keeps many of us up at night. But that being said, I know that this is why, to me, support of President Biden has been very important, because this question is larger than any policy differences. This is truly about having a strong front against fascism in the United States.

... “I think sometimes in the US, especially on the left but even across the political spectrum, there is a struggle between more grassroots movements feeling as though engaging in electoralism is a form of selling out, or the compromises required in being part of a legislative system are somehow delegitimising to an authentic relationship to advancing the working class.

Will she someday seek a higher position than that of Congresswoman from the Bronx? Not soon, but if circumstances allow ... maybe. But she is very clear about what she is up against

... I believe women have emerged as a profound electoral force, especially with the overturning of Roe v Wade. Young women especially I think have been very animated and organised in this moment. I think we are in a moment of generational change.

“We are absolutely contending with an extraordinary misogyny in our politics. The United States can go around and say what it says, but many, many, many other countries have elected female heads of state, whereas the United States has gone well over 200 years without one. Those barriers are very real, but I think the change of this time is also giving a lot of us a lot of hope.”

 Sounds to me as if Ms AOC is acquiring substance. Look out ...

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

A return to the site of the great migration

The great penguin migration, that is. 

In January 2003, the San Francisco Zoo's flock of Magellanic penguins got it into their heads that it was time on swim around their small pool as if on a long ocean migration along the coast of South America.

Brainwashed by six newcomers from Ohio, 46 penguins at the San Francisco Zoo have abandoned their burrows and embarked on a great migration -- except their pool is not exactly the coast of South America and there's really nowhere for them to go.

... Within two hours, the three males and three females from Ohio -- smaller and more docile than their mean and hefty San Francisco counterparts -- had convinced the 46 to jump in the pool with them. Now they swim most of the day and stagger out only at dusk.

"We've lost complete control," said Jane Tollini, their mystified keeper. "It's a free-for-all in here. After 18 years of doing this job, these birds are making mincemeat of me."

They've all been swimming since Christmas Eve, whirling around the pool like tuxedos in a washing machine. No one knows why they started or when they'll stop. All they know is that the zoo's Penguin Island has turned into a very chaotic place.

"Round and round they go," Tollini said. "They almost make me dizzy."

Like thousands of other San Franciscans, I remember making the pilgrimage to the zoo to watch the frantic swimming birds.

Nothing like that on this Monday.

Most of the current flock sunned themselves on their island.
A few frolicked in the water.

I wonder whether there's a penguin historian who recalls the monster migration?


Monday, September 11, 2023

Democracy murdered in Chile

Fifty years ago today, with the assistance and at the instigation of the United States government, the Chilean military overthrew the democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende, killing the elected leftist in the presidential palace. The coup was followed by years of brutal right-wing military rule headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet in what had previously been one of the Americas' proudest democracies.

Ariel Dorfman -- Chilean novelist, playwright, essayist, academic, and human rights activist -- has preserved memory of that terrible time. In the New York Review of Books, Dorfman, who worked in Allende's government as a young man, explains the Chilean's crime: his government empowered the people, the wrong people.

.. the Chilean pueblo had many reasons to support the Allende experiment.
His cabinet—the first to include a peasant and an industrial worker as ministers—had undertaken a series of reforms, the most impressive of which was the nationalization of the enormous copper mines, until then owned by predatory US corporations. It had also nationalized the mining of minerals like nitrate and iron, as well as many banks and large factories, a number of which were being administered by those who worked in them.
An ambitious agrarian reform had been handing over latifundios—large rural estates—to the peasants who had toiled on them from time immemorial; by 1973 almost 60 percent of Chile’s arable land had been expropriated.
Though some of these initiatives (and blunders by the relatively dysfunctional government of the Unidad Popular, the alliance of left-wing parties that had supported Allende for president) caused economic and financial disruptions, there had been a remarkable redistribution of income and services to the most underserved members of society.
Other measures revealed Allende’s priorities: a half-liter of milk daily for every child; cabins erected by the ocean so workers could vacation with their families (most had never seen the Pacific before); the acknowledgment of indigenous identities and languages; the publication of millions of inexpensive books that were sold at newspaper kiosks; and major advances in health, affordable public housing, education, and child care.
All this was accompanied by a blossoming of culture, particularly in music, mural painting, and documentary film. But perhaps more important than these material advantages was the dignity felt by so many disadvantaged citizens, their sense that they were now the central characters of their nation’s history.
After the murder of the man and the democracy, decades of repression, torture, and murder followed. Chile eventually crawled out of autocracy, but as an oligarchic, a hollowed out society. That complex ongoing story is for new generations of Chileans to live and to tell.

Dorfman can only conclude:
The wounds of Chile are deep, but regardless of how Chileans decide to deal with our trauma and conflicts, Allende’s legacy might have some bearing beyond the borders of his country. The need for radical change through nonviolence that this unique statesman posed—and did not achieve half a century ago—has again become the crucial issue of our era. 
With new variants of Pinochet troubling so many lands, Allende’s insistence throughout his life that for our dreams to bear fruit we need more democracy and never less—always, always more democracy—is more relevant than ever. He calls out to us that there can be no solution to the dilemmas plaguing the planet—war, inequality, mass migration, the twin threats of climate change and nuclear annihilation—without the active participation of vast majorities of fearless and enthusiastic men and women marching past the balconies of the future.
Fifty years after his death, Salvador Allende is still speaking to us.

• • •

Months before his murder, President Allende tried to explain to distant and uncomprehending North Americans the scope of Chileans' bold aspirations.

I invite the North American reader to overcome all prejudice and listen to us with an open mind. To fully grasp what Chilean socialism proposes, an objective understanding is necessary of the true character of our people, whose aspirations, so often passed over or betrayed, are manifestly just.
. . . Reformism in Chile has not been able to eradicate the endemic evil of a society which has permitted a life of leisure for a few and deprivation for the majority. The search for a different formula, more daring and identified with the common man, could not do other than lead us to socialism, Chilean socialism. 
... We believe in the justness of popular aspirations, for we identify with the peasant, bowed down by his task of providing his dally bread; with the worker who gives us the wealth he has created with his hands; with the white collar worker, the soldier, the intellectual, the student, and all those who have the inalienable right to enjoy the wealth they produce by their effort and sacrifice.
As bumptious billionaire tech bros (and their real estate profiteer con man) plot to lord it over this country, might we too need to revive a democratic economic system even more inclusive than Chile's fifty years ago? The struggle for democracy doesn't end.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

The college football season is underway

The Orange Man visits an Iowa football game.


Historian Kevin M. Kruse reminds us of a Trump claim:

“Big strong men, big burly football fans, with tears in their eyes, coming up to me saying, sir, I’ve never told a former president to fuck off before, sir, but …”

It's going to be a long season in politics as well as strange, semi-pro football.

Via Xitter.

Saturday, September 09, 2023

Fiery resistance

Before I leave Timothy Garton Ash's Homelands behind, I wanted to share this smidgen of reporting in which he captures the flavor of life in a country whose rulers work to erase reality and replace it with fiction that suits them. 

In Czechoslovakia, Orwell was compounded by a touch of Kafka. On a chilly Tuesday in January 1984, I visited the Olšany cemetery in Prague, just across the road from the Jewish graveyard where Franz Kafka lies.

I was looking for the grave of a woman called Marie Jedličková. Quite often, people would light candles and leave flowers on this grave, with messages such as ‘We remember’. These would rapidly be cleared away by ‘persons unknown’.

Who was Marie Jedličková? No one could tell me. All those mourners knew was that a man called Jan Palach had previously been buried in this place.

Palach was a Czech student who, in 1969, at the age of twenty, set fire to himself on Wenceslas Square in protest against the Soviet invasion and occupation of his country. He subsequently died of his wounds. His grave had become a site of pilgrimage.

So one night the authorities removed his body, had it cremated and delivered his ashes in an urn to his mother in her country town. Then they buried an old woman from a care home, Marie Jedličková, in his place in the Prague cemetery.

But those who wished to honour Jan Palach would not be cheated, so they placed their tokens of remembrance on the grave of Marie J. What was it the exiled Czech novelist Milan Kundera had recently written in his Book of Laughter and Forgetting? ‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’

Self-immolation as a form of protest of the intolerable was a feature of the mid-1960s, worldwide. Several Buddhist monks in Vietnam set fire to themselves in 1963 in protest against a Roman Catholic government imposed by the Americans and the French. In the United States, Alice Herz, an 82 year old German-Jewish refugee become a peace activist and Unitarian, set herself on fire in Detroit in 1965 in protest of President Lyndon Johnson's escalation in Vietnam. The same year, the Quaker Norman Morrison immolated himself outside Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's office and the Catholic Worker Roger Allen LaPorte also set himself ablaze outside the United Nations headquarters.

Horrible as these acts seem, they do seem less generally harmful than picking up an AR-15. 

• • •

Before I completely leave behind Timothy Garten Ash's memoir, I do want to point to his fascinating collection of mostly personal snapshots from his eastern European wanderings, available online. Here's Ash with Czech president Vaclav Havel.

Friday, September 08, 2023

Friday cat blogging

I hesitated about posting this shot. Mio's posture is so undignified. But when you are an 18 pound cat, bathing can require loose limbs. He's a clean fellow. And he can carry it off.

Janeway's posture is not exactly dignified either, though accepting homage suits a cat.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Fr. Louis Vitale, presente!

There are people who were always there.

Friar Louie Vitale OFM (1932-2023) was one of them, for decades he was a tireless campaigner for more love, more justice, more peace. Here he's handcuffed before being led away from the old Federal Building where he was part of a group that lay down in front of the doors to protest the U.S. war on Iraq in 2006.

Non-violent activist Ken Butigan catalogued some of Fr. Louie's works of justice and peace:

... a Franciscan priest, past provincial of the St. Barbara Province of the Franciscan order, co-founder of the Nevada Desert Experience, which worked with other organizations to successfully end U.S. nuclear weapons testing, founder of the Gubbio Project ... and a co-founder of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service.

... He spent long stints in prison for nonviolent resistance to torture and war-making.  For thirteen years he was the pastor of St. Boniface Catholic Church in a low-income neighborhood in San Francisco, where he was actively involved with Religious Witness with Homeless People, an interfaith campaign challenging poverty and government policies of harassment against poor and homeless people. All of this and much more found its way into a graduate course entitled “Liberating Nonviolence” we team-taught a dozen times at the Franciscan School of Theology, mentoring the next generation of peacemakers.

... In the wake of the heady days of the Second Vatican Council, Vitale was seized by the conviction that the work for peace and justice was central to the identity of Christians. This in itself was not unique.  In the wake of Vatican II a growing number of Catholic clergy, women religious, and laity drew a similar conclusion and began to transform an insular church that had often supported social structures that reinforced injustice and war into a community prophetically seeking change.  What set Vitale and a relative handful of others apart were not their theological conversion but how they put it into practice. 

Louie lent himself to more mundane progressive causes -- though perhaps preserving Social Security might be a profound work of mercy in the US context. Here he stands with the then-head of the San Francisco Labor Council in 2010.

We might not see his like again.

Europe: up from barbarism

Human beings have never succeeded in building heaven on earth, even – perhaps especially – when they have tried. But they have repeatedly built hell on earth. In the first half of the twentieth century, that is what Europeans did to their own continent, as they had in earlier centuries to other people’s continents. No one else did it for us. This was European barbarism, done by Europeans to Europeans – and often in Europe’s name. You cannot begin to understand what Europe has tried to do since 1945 unless you know about this hell.
This sweeping, ponderous, pretentious, and perhaps perspicacious declaration introduces Homelands: A Personal History of Europe by Timothy Garton Ash. The book/memoir compiles very short pieces from this journalist cum historian cum wannabe statesman from five periods of modern European experience: Destroyed (1945); Divided (1961-1979); Rising (1980-1989); Triumphing (1990-2007); and Faltering (2008-2022).

Ash took himself to central and eastern Europe in the days when, for most English speakers (Ash is a Brit), the Soviet-dominated states and their adjacent neighbors were pretty much a blank. He visited the German town his father occupied in 1945.
For an Englishman like my father, England stood for freedom and Europe was a threat to it.
In the mid-1970s he met trade union leader Lech Wałęsa at Poland's Gdansk Shipyards where Wałęsa was leading one of the most significant protests against Soviet domination during the Iron Current era.  
Dashing, dancing, bubbling, bouncing through it all was the skinny figure of an unemployed thirty-eight-year-old electrician with the long moustaches of a seventeenth-century Polish nobleman. His facial expressions were as vivid and rapidly changing as Charlie Chaplin’s. The only time this Lech Wałęsa seemed to sit still was when he was taking communion. There is a photograph of the local priest, Father Henryk Jankowski, putting a communion wafer into his mouth, while behind the priest’s head, instead of a gilded baroque altarpiece with angels and archangels, we see a battery of cameras jostling to capture what press photographers call ‘the money shot’. After mass, Lech -– all the strikers referred to him by his first name –- would deliver his ‘vespers’. Standing on a van so he could be seen above the flower-garlanded gate, he would report to the crowd outside, in his fast-talking, joking, ungrammatical but irresistible colloquial style. Lech was a laugh a minute. No one then imagined that Wałęsa would go on to be the leader of an entire nationwide movement, receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and become the first president of a free Poland in 1990.
This sort of vivid on the spot reporting won Ash a steady position reporting from Eastern Europe. By the time the Russian domination crumbled in 1989, he knew every insurgent who mattered. He also knew or had at least interviewed the great players.
... Gorbachev’s story is rich in unintended consequences. The Soviet patriot whose policies ended up destroying the Soviet Union. The reformer who unleashed revolution. The communist who opened the door to democracy. Without him, freedom would certainly not have come so quickly and peacefully to half of Europe, nor such a rapid, decisive end to the Cold War across the world. ...
... The old movie actor [Ronald Reagan] well understood that the soft power of a narrative can be every bit as important as economic and military power. Hollywood complemented the Pentagon and Wall Street, making three-dimensional American power. Reagan was jeered at by many west Europeans, who dismissed him as a ‘cowboy’ and ‘B-movie actor’. (I may even have done a little jeering myself.) Yet his personal role was almost as important as Gorbachev’s when it came to ending the Cold War.
These two passages illustrate a recurring theme in Ash's story: individual actors -- leaders and/or criminals -- matter in shaping events. Not for him the idea of grinding impersonal forces working out our the human fates -- he sees and records people making their history. I'm not sure this sort of record is enough on its own to explain our collective inventions and follies, but it certainly is more readable than dry economic or sociological accounts.

Ash just missed being there for the momentous day the Berlin Wall dividing West and East Germany opened up.
By the early hours of Friday 10 November [1989], tens of thousands of East Germans had put their feet on the moon. When I got to Berlin the next day, it felt like Pentecost. The whole city was on the move. ... We watched the crowds of excited people walking to and fro, East to West, West to East, and it seemed in that moment that all would be well, and all manner of things would be well. With its internal rhyme in English and its Biblical echo of trumpeters bringing down the walls of Jericho, this phrase would establish itself as the received standard description of the event. It went back into German as a single word: Mauerfall.  … Like the moon landing, the fall of the Wall had become part of the shared historical mythology of humankind.
And then Ash reported on the new European Union that enfolded the east into European freedoms and European capitalism up to the borders of the diminished Russia. For most Europeans, the 1990s were the best of times.
In the 1980s, when my sons were born in England, their life chances were incomparably better than those of my Polish friends’ children. By the 2010s, especially with the freedom of movement offered by the EU, they had similar prospects. The same is true for a whole generation of central and east European students who have come through my door.
In conclusion, Ash looks at the Europe of the present which endured a terrible economic crisis in the 2010s, which has trouble distinguishing an actual violent domestic Islamism from a flood of desperate Muslim refugees from the collapsing states of its Near East such as Syria, and which faces Putin's resurgent imperial Russia in Ukraine. This section of the book skips the blithe philosophizing and bon mots which frame his accounts of the past in order to lay out starkly the challenges of Europe's future.

Timothy Garton Ash has lived at the center of events and relished his proximity to history in the making. He's not a neutral observer; he believes in a humane liberal order, albeit a capitalist one. For an American reader, he comes across as a bit full of himself, but I heartily enjoyed this book -- knowing Ash's account is never all there is to say.