Thursday, November 30, 2023

Up in the air again

Or in this case, on a 40 minute flight on a 10-seater mini-plane to Boston, before jumping into the more conventional rituals, pleasures, and pains of commercial air travel.

These lovely women were pilot and co-pilot. We got to squeeze in right behind them. They were careful and serious -- and seemed to be having a good time.

I have read enough about the economics of the air travel business to know that they are probably just barely making enough to live on while working to get enough flight hours to advance into more lucrative roles. Way to go, sisters!

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

War is still not the answer

Erudite Partner reflects on the wars of our times in the LA Progressive

The Hamster Wheel of War

...  On October 7, 2023, as the world watched in horror, the military wing of Hamas launched a surprise attack from Gaza, murdering about 1,200 people, most of them Israelis, most of them civilians, significant numbers of them children. They kidnapped as many as 240 others, a few of whom have since died and a few of whom have been released. I must admit that I’m glad my father, raised as an Orthodox Jew in this country, didn’t live to see that day.

Like the U.S. in 2001, Israel has now launched its war of reprisal. The announced goal is the complete destruction of Hamas, which, whether achievable or not, now seems to entail the destruction of much of Gaza itself. ...

Read it all here. 

• • •

When I went hunting in my archives for a suitable graphic to accompany this post, I found this:

Dating from the late '00s, those are Israelis demonstrating in Tel-Aviv. Before Intifadas, before the Great March of Return, before a decade of "mowing the lawn" bombings of the people of Gaza, Israelis and  Palestinians -- the whole world -- knew the true answer to ending the carnage. We still do. To end violence, people must have food, shelter, dignity, and freedom. Or at least the hope of these necessities of life. Bombs offer none of this.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

In this fortunate land, we all do it

I find this graphic more than a little depressing. 

Click to enlarge

Gallop did a survey and Mitre provides an analysis of the national habits.

Have you ever heaped your plate at a buffet, only to realize your eyes were bigger than your stomach? Or uncovered a container of unrecognizable leftovers? Maybe there was a tempting sale on the jumbo-sized bag of clementines, which you can’t possibly finish before they shrivel on the counter. 

As much as we’d like to deny it, each of us has let food go to waste. ... By reducing food waste, we can reduce the need for land and resources used to produce food as well as the greenhouse gases released in the process.

We try to do our bit for our budgets and the climate. Erudite Partner made this lovely duck soup from the remnants of the Thanksgiving feast.

Monday, November 27, 2023

We are the majority ...

Busy today, preparing to return to the Left Coast at the end of the week. But thought I'd share this nifty graphic displaying some important statistics.

The struggle for reproductive healthcare can be won. Pass it on.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

A simple homily from a great

For a long time, and perhaps still, anyone listing the greats of the National Basketball Association would quickly name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Now 76, and having overcome several health challenges, he's still doing what he's done since retiring at 42: working for a better world. 

These days, Abdul-Jabbar writes a carefully constructed newsletter which is well worth your time. Here's an example of the sort of message he posts.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. – Jesus, Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12

This quote is often referred to as The Golden Rule because almost all religions and philosophies can be distilled into this one universal idea. To follow this is to have achieved full potential as a human being. There are hundreds of similar sayings from every religion and most philosophers throughout history, many from hundreds of years before Jesus or the Bible. (For a comprehensive list, check out The Golden Rule Project.) For example:

  • “Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you.” Confucius (c. 551 – c. 479 BCE), Analects 15:23 (Confucianism)

  • “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Tripitaka Udanavarga 5:18 (Buddhism)

  • “Do not do to others that which would anger you if others did it to you.” Socrates

  • “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others that which you wish for yourself.” The Prophet Muhammad Hadith (Islam)

The reason I chose to highlight the [Christian] biblical version over the other variations is that most of the others approach the concept as a warning about what not to do. But the biblical quote frames it so that we should diligently “do unto others,” meaning not just avoid harming, but intentionally going out and doing good. The Islamic admonishment— “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others that which you wish for yourself.”—has that same vibe. One should wish for others what we would want. But that still stops short of actively doing. That little difference is what makes the biblical teaching the most challenging to follow.

So simple—yet, so hard. Sudoku for the soul. The main challenge to living by this teaching is that we can MacGyver it whenever the going gets tough. We find a sneaky workaround that allows us to ignore the rule, but still feel virtuous: “That person hurt me, therefore they don’t deserve my doing unto them.” “That person doesn’t follow the teaching so why should I follow it with them?” And so forth. We’re ingenious when it comes to tricking ourselves.

The thing is, the teaching doesn’t say “do unto some others” or “do unto deserving others.” Just others. That’s the point. By following the teaching, two practical things happen: First, you are overcoming your own biases and emotional roadblocks to become a better person. This will lift a lot of burdens from you and make you happier. Second, through your selfless example, you are helping to create a world in which everyone follows this teaching. You’re creating “others'“ who will also do unto you.

Sadly, this is the most popular and least followed teaching. Part of the reason is that many people can’t distinguish between doing unto others and imposing on others. Doing unto others is to treat others as they wish to be treated. However, some prefer to impose their beliefs and value systems on others instead. Which would be the opposite of the teaching. The goal of these people is not to do good, but to feel good about themselves.

I think of this quote whenever my pettiness, ego, stubbornness, or biases nudge me to be rude, dismissive, or even cruel. To deliberately inflict emotional pain on another is shameful. It is a transgression we have all committed, but to pull out a Richard Wilbur quote I recently wrote about, “The past is never past redeeming.”

We can do better unto ourselves. We must do better unto others.

Yes, Abdul-Jabbar also has plenty of opinions about how the powerful act in the world, always tending to highlight both the need for more justice and striving for more peace. He's still a great among us.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Whalehall Thanksgiving feast

This is collective action. The kitchen feels small when everyone is working at once.
Thanksgiving would not be complete without cranberries. A new food processor makes for short work.
Some components need stirring.
Cooks have an eager audience. Sorry guys ... you have to wait ...
The table is set.
After dinner, we all gather outside to sit on the new benches the guys constructed.
In the evening, time to relax by the fire.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Friday cat blogging

Delphine came for Thanksgiving.

Her approach to being let loose in this new place by her arriving humans is tentative.
Soon enough she's found a sunbeam in a window to nap in.
Her friend Brody, with whom she shares her humans, meanwhile settled in to a corner of the kitchen, hoping for scraps. Despite those imploring eyes, we resist. Mostly.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

"... an American calculator can short-circuit ..."

Feminist journalist Jill Filipovic has written a long, complex essay about responses in the the US to the Gaza war, on campuses and beyond, in Jewish and Palestinian communities. I think she bravely unpacks many confusions that arise from different histories and cultures. 

Although much of this is about campus wars over decolonization and Jew-hating that are distant for many Americans, lots of us would do well to read it all and engage thoughtfully. I personally particularly resonated with this:

Understanding hierarchies of oppression and how some groups and individuals enjoy unearned benefits is absolutely crucial to being a decent person in the world. But not all oppressions code onto the American Black / white or Judeo-Christian / not-Christian binary.

I suspect that one reason the concerns of many progressive Jews and many progressive people who support Israel’s existence aren’t being taken as seriously as complaints from other oppressed groups is that, according to the American progressive algebra, Jews are white and privileged while Muslims and Arabs are an oppressed minority.
These facts don’t quite map on to reality (a lot of Jews are not white) nor to the reality outside of the US (Jews are a tiny global minority, and are an oppressed minority in a great many nations; Jews have experienced among the most extreme outcomes of ethnic and religious hatred and continue to live with that fear and trauma; and Jews have been oppressed out of existence in many, many countries, including many of Israel’s neighbors).

In Israel, Israelis are majority-Jewish and have much, much more power than Palestinians, and the actual math of this conflict includes roughly 1,400 dead Israeli civilians, most of them Jews and innocent civilians, and more than 12,700 dead Palestinians, most of them Muslims and innocent civilians.

But a simplified math of computing oppression using an American calculator can short-circuit the ability to fully understand a dispute or disparity, whether we’re talking about an interpersonal dispute between two individuals, or a disparity between two large and complex groups.

 • • •

If looking for hope in this season of thankfulness, I will continue to point to the work and stances of Standing Together:

... a grassroots movement mobilizing Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel in pursuit of peace, equality, and social and climate justice ...

Standing Together leaders Alon-Lee Green and Sally Abed recently toured the US, trying to explain:

Our message was clear - this isn’t a zero-sum game, and people don’t need to choose whether they are #freepalestine or #standwithIsrael, they need to stand with innocent people on both sides who want to live in peace and safety.  We emphasized that the people in this land - both Palestinians and Israelis - are real people, all of whom have nowhere else to go. We must demand a better future for everyone in this land. We know that Jewish Israelis’ safety is dependent on Palestinian freedom, and the end of the decades-long Israeli military control over millions of Palestinians. We must start thinking about the work that needs to be done the day after this horrific war, and how we can prepare for it. ...

Let's hope they can make their vision real. Nothing else seems to point to a better future for all in that miserable, sacred land.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Getting ready for the Thanksgiving festivities

I don't think we'll have to worry about a shortage of wine. Local merchants are ready for the weekend onslaught.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Tis the season

This timely admonition shared by a friend seems a good way to begin Thanksgiving week. It's been very quiet here on a Martha's Vineyard, staying in a big family house uninterrupted by much of anyone except the various contractors installing HVAC improvements.

But now the season of The Holidays begins. From Thanksgiving through the Super Bowl (my mental calendar; yours may differ), life gets crowded. I'm ambivalent about the season. Who could not like holidays? But they stir up a lot of felt demands and emotional clutter for an introvert. 

And there are so many more observances in this time period than are customary to majorities in US culture. We are aware of Hanukkah, Christmas, perhaps Winter Solstice. But what about Bodhi Day or Human Rights Day or Boxing Day? 

Here in the northern hemisphere, we may be attuned to fading and returning light; I, for one, need this awareness.

Blogging may become sporadic in this season of holidays, though every time I make that announcement, the world seems to throw something at me that I fail to resist commenting on.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Forgotten wars

While our attention is glued on Gaza, other wars and other human catastrophes grind on. 

From Tim Mak - who chose to work in Ukraine as a freelancer when NPR laid him off - comes The Counteroffensive. He landed in the country the day that Russia invaded in the February 2022 and reports (with plenty of help, local and international) from Kyiv.

UKRAINE MEDIA COVERAGE PLUMMETS: CNN has been checking its own output, and reports that after October 7th, its coverage of Ukraine fell from 8 percent of the total coverage to under 1 percent. The network had been one of the most reliable in its regular coverage of the Ukrainian conflict.
Following the war in Gaza, most media coverage of Ukraine has been focused on diplomatic decisions, such as whether to give or not give military aid to Ukraine. But, frontline news on how the war is progressing has been far less present in the media. 

Mak recently traveled to Turkey (failing to get into Syria) to see the consequences of another long running Russian assault against a people struggling against autocracy.

He discovered commonalities among Syrian refugees trying to reconstitute a civil society after having been bombed out by Russia and Assad:

...  The war in Ukraine has now gone on for more than 600 days. The dominant feeling is one of exhaustion and pessimism, at least for the time being. But then you look at the Syrian refugees, their advocates, and ordinary civilians – and it feels pretty self-pitying to talk about how long the war has lasted. Their war has been going on since 2011.
“We used to be the war most people paid attention to. Now, that’s over,” one advocate said to me.
And despite how long it's been, how many airstrikes have landed, many advocates and humanitarian workers – not to mention civilians – are still extremely motivated.
They’re still fighting for a democratic society, still working to overthrow Assad, still finding the energy to promote humanitarian goals.

And the Ukrainians are still fighting for their lives. No choice there.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Thought-filled advice for a scary moment

Teri Kanefield has "both a law degree and a master’s in fiction writing." She comments on the condition our condition is in.

The legal system and the criminal justice system cannot solve a political problem. However, it is important for people to understand the system and how it works. If people don’t understand it, they are more likely to get caught up in the misinformation-rage cycle.

Therefore I offer explainers. But because there are millions of people in what I have been calling the MSNBC-CNN-Left-Leaning-Social-Media-Information Bubble, my explanations reach only a tiny fraction of people, which means I am constantly bombarded with cynicism and anger and people demanding “hope.”

Hannah Arendt, the scholar who taught us all about totalitarianism, believed that hope is dangerous because it prevents people from taking courageous action. ...

Serving as a poll worker in 2024 takes courage.

... The problem with a desire for “confidence” is that people want confidence that someone else will do something to save democracy. Since 2020, a new and novel theory arose that goes like this: It is up to the Department of Justice to save democracy. We sit back and watch and hope they do it right and feel lots of anxiety if it looks like they are going to bungle it. ...

Nope. The burden is on us. The only “hope” I can offer is the fact that Democrats have been winning elections, Biden beat Trump by more than 4 percentage points in 2020, and Trump is more widely hated now....

The burden is on us, now more than ever.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Friday cat blogging

Meet Jack.

Our visitor found a fine sunbeam.

Here he's settled in. He'd much rather be outside chasing small rodents, but his person only lets him out while accompanied in this new place, so he wanders about checking out all the cushions. We have a lot of chairs and a lot of cushions.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Israel as a fossil fuel pusher

This interview with with Guy Laron -- a senior lecturer of international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the author of two books: Origins of the Suez Crisis and The Six-Day War -- comes via economist Adam Tooze. Laron's perspective would explain a lot of what looks like long-term suicidal policy from the Netanyahu government.

Here's Laron:

Netanyahu has long wanted to turn Israel into a resource economy and an energy hub. Ever since the 2010 discovery of enormous gas fields in the territorial waters of Israel—the Tamar gas field (200 billion cubic meters of reserves) and more famously the Leviathan gas field (600 billion cubic meters of reserves). The aim is to supply Europe from these two offshore fields. ...

Becoming a player in the energy market and establishing itself as a transit state is useful for national security as well. That way, Israel could pitch itself to the West as a safety valve: “If something happens to the Suez Canal, we are here.”  

... Until recently, Israel did not allow British Petroleum to develop the Gaza marine gas field. But the pressure to develop the Leviathan and Tamar has increased given European energy needs since the war in Ukraine, when the EU voluntarily cut off Russian oil and gas. In March, Netanyahu gave the final green light after meeting with Italian prime minister Georgia Meloni in Italy to discuss common interests. Italy wants to become the energy junction of Europe, the meeting point of various gas fields from Algeria up to Cyprus, Israel, and Egypt. Netanyahu discussed with Meloni how to connect the Leviathan gas field to Italy via Cyprus partnering with Eni, Italy’s national champion oil & gas firm. 

More and more, much like Putin, Netanyahu feels that the educated middle class that made Israel a powerhouse in high tech and arts is a burden. They were interfering with his quest to create a personalist dictatorship. These are the people he has been trying to drive off with his judicial coup in the last year—he no longer needs them. He’ll have revenue from transit fees, gas exports, and Israel’s military industrial complex. These are the only sectors of the economy he’s focused on.

Oil and gas kleptocracies are instinctively hostile to democracy and international decency. (And almost all fossil fuel economies are kleptocracies.) The 10/7 Hamas massacre both gives Netanyahu cover to let his instincts for murder have full control -- and endangers him as Israeli society turns away from a figure whose negligence made Israelis less secure. 

We don't know how the current Gaza campaign plays out, but if we want less dead Palestinians, we need to have the backs of Israelis who have an interest in an Israel that can imagine some kind of peaceful co-existence.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Dueling demonstrations

I knew this would be a good week to be out of San Francisco. APEC (the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation forum) seems to have brought out the expected raft of protest contingents. One might have expected that the Gaza war, Ukraine, and climate to be main themes, but that wasn't all.

Mission Local covers what seems to me the most interesting aspect of the San Francisco response to the arrival of Chinese President Xi and his meeting with US Prez Joe Biden: dueling Chinese demonstrators.

Flying in from New York and Philadelphia, supporters of Chinese President Xi Jinping waved red Chinese flags and greeted the president’s motorcade on Tuesday, part of a hundreds-strong rally outside the St. Regis Hotel in downtown San Francisco, where Xi is reportedly staying.

“I just want to see him, even if it’s probably just seeing his car going by with a tiny Chinese flag on it,” said Lily Tan, a Chinese national who lives in San Francisco to attend language school.

But Xi's admirers had competitors.

On Wednesday morning, hundreds of demonstrators marched from the Chinese consulate to the security gates near APEC downtown, lambasting what they called human rights abuses by the Chinese government. 

“Shame!” bellowed Jigme Ugen from the Tibetan National Congress outside the consulate, eliciting boos from an internationally-diverse crowd.

... Speakers — from China, Tibet, Hong Kong, and more — advocated against a host of issues: China’s forced education schools and lack of media in Tibet, its political prisoners, its influence in Taiwan, violence against Uyghurs, and its crackdown against Hong Kong.

Alex Chow, who was imprisoned in 2017 for organizing the Umbrella Protest as a student in 2014 and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, described the experience as torturous, especially of seeing his mom behind the glass. One of his co-organizers still is not free, he said, and another is in exile. ...

San Francisco has long been a place where intra-Chinese conflicts manifest visibly. Walking down Chinatown's Grant Avenue, if you look, you can see flags of both the People's Republic and of Taiwan on different buildings and shops. Mostly tourists are oblivious, but China is close by for many San Franciscans.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Searching for sustainability

It is not easy to know what to think. The Washington Post today highlights a scary new government report:

The National Climate Assessment, compiled by numerous federal agencies and published every few years at the direction of Congress, paints a picture of a nation whose economy, environment and public health face deepening threats as the world grows hotter.
... But the report adds that the most dire consequences are not inevitable, and that society has the capacity to shape what lies ahead. “Each increment of warming that the world avoids … reduces the risks and harmful impacts of climate change,” the report states.
Meanwhile, another section of the same newspaper celebrates emerging technologies (gift article) which can make a difference. It predicts rapid adoption on a scale that that mirrors how the internet and cellphones took over our lives in the last 30 years.
Judging by the surging sales of green technology, U.S. households appear to be on the verge of a low-carbon future. Millions of Americans are buying electric vehicles, heat pumps and induction ranges. ...
Not all new technologies make it big: Segway, Palm personal device, 3D television. But those that start ascending this curve tend to transform societies. 
How fast Americans reach that point with green technologies is up to early adopters, about 15 to 20 percent of the population. They set the stage for this exponential growth by trying products before others do.
Let's hope that's right. The most advanced elements among the technologies discussed here are heat pumps to replace oil and gas furnaces.
... Heat pumps are no longer reliant on early adopters despite being early in the cycle, suggesting Americans are well on track to meet net-zero goals by 2050. As far as clean technologies go, it’s the one most popular among Americans so far.
Friends know that the Erudite Partner and I are on the east coast because we're shepherding a heat pump system installation in a jointly-owned family house. The state of Massachusetts offers a great rebate for this project; that yellow blob on the map proves this policy is moving the needle.

Of course nothing about the project is as simple as the contractors promise, but after a month, we're almost there.

Here's the main unit and its mini-split sidekicks. Doesn't look like much, but we're doing our part to get closer to all electric. Now if Massachusetts can just get the offshore wind farms underway ...

Whatever we make of the muddle, we can only keep doing what we each can to sustain a livable climate.

Monday, November 13, 2023

A land holy or cursed?

Last Sunday, the prescribed Biblical passage from the Hebrew scriptures in the widely used (Christian) Revised Common Lectionary was not perhaps the most helpful for this moment. 

Joshua was the leader and prophet who led the wandering Israelites into the land Moses had assured them that their God had promised to them. In the Book of Joshua, chapter 24, the leading men of the people affirm their trust in that promise and agree to go forward.

Painting by Benjamin West, Joshua crossing the Jordan River, 1800

We didn't read all of the chapter on Sunday, but I couldn't get it out of my head that this bit of Bible includes Joshua reporting God saying this:

13 So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’

And the people promise to serve this God and no other:

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

I'm not suggesting that the current conflict in Israel/Palestine is the continuation of this ancient conquest -- though there are undoubtedly misbegotten religious zealots on both sides who believe it is. 

And also legions of U.S.-based Christian evangelicals egging them on. "You and him fight ..."

The slaughter needs to end. I refuse to believe that murder, dispossession, and eradication of peoples is the purposeful end of any of these Gods ... but it is sure not surprising that we might wonder.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Mutual incomprehension

Writing about the U.S. cultural and intellectual sectors, John Ganz nails what's going on amid much bewilderment.

... two groups exist in different social and epistemological worlds: the young and left grew up in a world where Israel is a villain, an occupier, colonial oppressor; the old and established have a different image of Israel, a carefully curated one no doubt, of Israel as brave little nation standing up against the odds, the refuge and redoubt of a persecuted people. This is the Israel, not of the occupation and Gaza and the wars since, say Lebanon in 1982, but the Israel of ’67 and ’73.
It is a stark contrast: neither side understands how the other could find the other’s chosen cause sympathetic in the slightest; after all, they are just clearly siding with butchers.

... across the board, the younger generation—particularly the cohort in that generation that creates words and images—does not much care for Israel. The traditional defenses and justifications are not working. And all the pressure campaigns, censures, and firings are likely to be counterproductive and just create more outrage.
Across the world and just about in every arena, Israel is losing the daily plebiscite of public opinion and therefore the war...

It's hard to see any plausible end but more death and destruction.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Veterans Day

Although conveniently for working people, the federal holiday was yesterday, I think of November 11 as the "real" Veterans Day. It originated to mark the Armistice which ended the western portion of World War I; at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11 month, the guns finally fell silent.

This Veterans Day, I think, as I often do these days, of the service of my sometime uncle, Brigadier General Johnny Lentz. He counts as a "sometime uncle" because, by the time I came along, my aunt had gone on to husband number three of what was eventually four.

Lentz was the ex-husband my parents were proud to keep a connection with. He served as General George Patton's logistic officer during that tank commander's charge across occupied France and into Germany in 1944-5.

But when the shooting ended, Lentz took up a role which I only discovered much more recently in a book about the development of the laws of war in the post-WWII war crimes trials. 

General Lentz presided over the military court which tried the German officers who had run the Dachau concentration camp. That trial set the pattern for the much more significant Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leaders; Nuremberg is a prime source of international laws of war recognized by treaty and the United Nations.

After listening to the evidence, and the opportunities for defense, the Dachau tribunal found the defendants guilty. General Lentz pronounced:

'The evidence presented to this court convinced it beyond any doubt that the Dachau concentration camp and its by-camps subjected its inmates to killings, beatings, tortures, indignities, and starvation to an extent and degree that necessitates the indictment of everyone, high and low, who had anything to do with the conduct and operation of the camp. This court reiterates that it sits in judgment under international law and under such laws of humanity and human behavior that are commonly recognized by civilized people.

"Many of the acts committed at Dachau," Lentz said, "clearly had the sanction of the high officials of the German Reich and the de facto laws and customs of the German government. It is the view of this court, however, that when a state sets itself up above reasonably recognized international law, or transcends civilized customs of human behavior, then the individuals effecting such policies must be held responsible for their part in violating international law and the customs and laws to humanity."

That is, this court insisted on the responsibility of individuals for "just following orders." He ordered 38 defendants hanged.

The story of the postwar military tribunals and international law is explored thoroughly in Justice at Dachau which I got out of the San Francisco Public Library. 

Thank you for your service, Uncle Johnny.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Friday cat blogging

Janeway oversees her home. No high jinks allowed on her watch. Thanks to friend and cat sitter TD for this snap.

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Old man Ike and old man Joe

Widespread anxiety about Joe Biden's age as he approaches his re-election campaign has made me realize that I belong to a dwindling cohort of Americans who can remember living with concerns about the health of an elderly president. 

I was just a precocious twit in the late 1950s, but I remember knowing that my mother, who was an Eisenhower admirer, worried frequently about President Ike's health. She was scared of a belligerent Soviet Union and wanted the General's steady hand in charge. She greatly admired his leadership of the coalition of Allied armies that defeated Nazi Germany. She didn't ask a lot of questions that my generation might have; those came later. (Yes, she was also doubtful about Veep Richard Nixon, though probably not as much as she should have been.)

Post-presidential portrait by Richard Avedon
In fact, there was plenty to worry about in Eisenhower's health records. There was anxiety about his age at re-election in 1956; he was 66 which seemed a lot older then than it does today. He began the practice of releasing candidate health records to the public -- though he wasn't entirely candid, not revealing the severity of his infirmities.

During 1955, he suffered a heart attack from which he fairly quickly recovered; after re-election, the compromise to his heart led to a transient stroke in 1957. The National Aphasia Society, rather proudly, reports how Eisenhower dealt with his mild disability during the rest of his term.

While speaking to his secretary on November 25, 1957, Eisenhower found he could not complete his sentences. When examined he had neither motor nor sensory impairment. The diagnosis was occlusion of the left middle cerebral artery. Eisenhower, who was 67 years old and had three years remaining in his second term of office, was already taking coumadin at this time.

... After remaining in seclusion for 3 days, Eisenhower returned to work, his speech not yet back to normal. To some, the press coverage of his difficulties in this period seemed “unnecessarily savage and sadistic,” since some reporters seemed to be counting the number of goofs Eisenhower made during a press conference. But unlike the 1955 heart attack and the 1956 abdominal operation, the 1957 stroke occurred at a time when important presidential meetings were scheduled.

... His reactions to his speech difficulties were variable. Among friends he would occasionally laugh off his mistakes, but on one occasion, when he was having difficulty speaking, he said with effort “There’s nothing the matter with me, I’m perfectly all right.”

Most people knew there was something going on with Ike, but did not, I think, ever conclude that he was "too old" for his job. His approval rating was often as high as 70 percent. 

• • •

Those were different times. We tend to think they were less partisan and vicious, and maybe they were, but the country was riven by McCarthyism, a permanent hunt for "Red traitors." The Civil Rights struggle was taking center stage. Still, a president wasn't expected and forced to be nearly as forthcoming about his physical condition as he would be today. For better or worse, a mildly impaired president could count on his administration to stay its course (especially in a second term), knowing he only had to be on top of the biggest stuff. 

Ike kept us out of the shooting war in Vietnam -- he seemed to know better -- but he didn't check the war inertia that dumped his successors into the fire. He did the bare minimum in response to the Black freedom struggle then emerging.

• • •

I am prepared to believe that Joe Biden, older but far more healthy than Eisenhower, can lead another administration. He's built a sound, competent, even creative administration in the wake of the Trump mess. In these days, he'll be surrounded by noisy detractors looking for weaknesses. But also, Biden seems to have acquired more wisdom and stature as he has aged. He's used his long-acquired command of the governing process to get more wins for health care and climate sustainability than seemed possible. He's also often culturally clueless about the world in which people under 35 live; so am I.

And when it comes down to it -- in 2024, he'll be running against Donald Trump, who is no spring chicken himself and whose ideas about women and people color seem to derive from another century. No contest there. We need a president, not a petulant, racist, old man who is a wanna-be dictator.

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Yet another excellent election

Lots of commentary everywhere. Big wins for the good side in Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. With only a few local exceptions, voters -- when push comes to shove -- don't want any more MAGA Republicans. 

If recent national polls of the coming 2024 apocalyptic presidential contest are getting you down, you can breathe. The people are doing it for democracy.

Michele Cottle lays out the contradictions of this moment well: 

... despite his own raging unpopularity, Mr. Trump is positioned to serve as the repository for protest votes, nostalgia votes and change votes, a weird but potentially potent mash-up of support that could make up for a multitude of weaknesses. He could wind up beating Mr. Biden almost by default. ... Plenty of protest voters may not be looking to punish Mr. Biden for a particular action, or inaction, so much as for their inchoate disenchantment with the way things are. The economy should be better. Life should be better. The people in charge should be doing better.

But what happens next year is something we can influence. Polls are not destiny, but snap shots that don't catch all of what is going on under the surface. 

AFL-CIO political strategist Michael Podhorzer reminds that there's more to elections than polls and pundit wailing.

And as long as we have more confidence in the media’s ability to see the outcome than in our own ability to affect it, we surrender before the battle for our freedoms begins.

A lot of engaged citizens just proved him right on Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Seasonal adaptation

Halloween may be over for this year, but the spooky holiday is not done at Ghost Island Farm on State Road.
Some folks go all out.
The display is a seasonal fixture here on Martha's Vineyard.
In another season, a produce stand. That seems a little daunting.

Monday, November 06, 2023

Keeping hope for better alive - from the Israeli ground

Erudite Partner and I have long traded the sardonic observation that being an Israeli citizen might be one of the few conditions in the world which are equally morally compromised with being an American citizen. If you care about peace and justice, your own home-place is the cause or, at best a great part, of the problem -- and what we do here, if only urging restraint, must also be part of the solution. Knowing this is to live in permanent pain. After our 9/11, our kind struggled to find our bearings. It is worth remembering that the cruel stupidity of our democratically elected rulers eventually enabled us to reclaim some ground against our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Israeli peace movement, the Israeli left, has become a feeble thing. Once capable of gathering masses, the right wing strategy of imprisoning the Palestinian inhabitants of the land behind walls in Gaza and the West Bank has worked. Palestinians? What Palestinians? Only Hamas -- religiously-inflected terrorists -- and right wing Israeli settlers -- who aim to expel the remainder of the Palestinians -- occupy the public field.

But, since Israel is actually for many of its people a multifaceted fragment of a wider world of humanity, there remain more complex remnants trying to invent and sustain a vision of peace and justice between the river and the sea. 

Dana Mills is a former director of the Israeli movement Peace Now and a human rights activist. In the wake of the 10/7 massacres and the Israeli assault on Gaza, she provided an annotated catalogue of efforts within a very isolated -- and grieving -- Israeli context. Such efforts keep hope of a better future alive. I excerpt her October 18 post:

... there is an active witch hunt within Israel society against Israeli human rights defenders. I only write from my own perspective, and write about what I know, so I want to take a moment and write about defending human rights in the midst of something that can move between a war, genocide or self defense or ethnic cleansing, depending who you ask and where you're looking from.
... we are very lonely in here on the Israeli left, and as much as it can sometimes comfort hearing people abroad reiterating our messaging, at first point, we need our voice to be heard, as we are here, witnessing up close, and paying prices of various magnitude for that.
The oldest and biggest human rights organization is B'tselem. ... They have been doing extraordinary work since 7 October, noteworthy as their director, Yuli Novak, gave birth two weeks ago!! B'tselem employs Israelis and Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, and one of their field researchers in Gaza lost 15 family members in Israeli bombardment on the Strip. ...

Breaking the Silence is an organization that gives a platform for soldiers to talk about the occupation. It acts as an educational organization, not specifically a human rights organization; but in its essence it documents war crimes. ... This is true of many of the orgs cited here; so you see, we have an optimism that motivates us, we gather information so that when things get better we'll have a record of the dark times. Anyway, it is an amazing organization as in a very militarized society it gives voice to those who are critical and at the same time gives platform to those soldiers carrying deep trauma committing crimes they didn't plan or want to execute. [You can find English and other language articles by former Israeli soldiers here.] Because you see, not all us Israelis are murder-hungry beasts; it takes time and privilege to be able to disengage the founding ethos of your society and to be able to fight it. So this organization is incredibly important in Israel.
Yesh Din is an organization that focuses on demanding accountability from Israel to crimes executed against Palestinians, especially settler violence. ... The director of Yes Din, Ziv Stahl, is a native of Kibbutz Kfar Azza. She was held at gunfire by Hamas terrorists and lost many family members and friends  in the 7 October attacks. You can read their report, in downloadable pdf form, Settler Violence Against Palestinians in the West Bank Under the Cover of War in Gaza.

Standing Together is a grassroots socialist Israeli-Palestinian organization that aims to organize on a local level Israelis and Palestinians against racism, the demise of the welfare state (Israel has been hurled into a neo-liberal privatization over the past two decades), and generally supply solidarity work on the ground. It has been doing invaluable work recently, especially as the Minister for Interior Security is a genocidal pyromaniac who is seeking to incite a civil war between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jewish Israelis.
If you were to seek some light in this huge darkness, I can tell you of joint Israeli-Palestinian work to help people from the South who've been displaced (including, by the way, Bedouin who live in unrecognized villages), Jews and Palestinians who have organized a joint self-defense unit in Yaffa, ensuring they don't turn against each other, and more. ...

Mills' full archive of outrage, grieving and resistance is available here.

Sunday, November 05, 2023

There's still not just one Israel

Many commentators  (see for example Anshel Pfeffer) have pointed out that the Israel only barely had a government enjoying democratic legitimacy before the Hamas massacres. Whatever general support Benjamin Netanyahu had enjoyed has evaporated in the horror of his government's failure to ensure basic security within the country. So, although Israelis largely feel and project unity in their Gaza campaign, underlying tensions will be exacerbated by its war.

Economic historian Adam Tooze takes a look at the contradictions within Israeli society which made the context for both Hamas's vicious 10/7 assault and underlie Israel's campaign of responsive vengeance against Palestinians. 

Glistening modern Israel. Ted Eytan
From afar, it's easy to assume that Israelis all have the same interests, but Tooze provides a more nuanced take. If he is right, there are at least three societies engaged in an internal struggle in that benighted country -- and that without even taking into account its displaced and repressed Palestinian inhabitants. This chart captures the depth of existing Israeli divides.
Click to enlarge.
Clearly, the struggle in the Middle East is about life and death in the most stark and extreme sense. In Gaza the struggle for millions of people is already one of bare life against death. In Israel, despite the existential shock of October 7, the play of political economy goes on and this reflects the fact that Israel’s economic success for the last 20 years has always stood under the sign of violence. It was built on what was obviously an illegitimate and unstable order. As one interlocutor of the Financial Times remarked:
“We built the high-tech industry during security challenges … What’s bizarre is how normal it’s become,” he said. “People realise that there is risk everywhere. It’s just a matter of mitigating it.” Even amid the turmoil, some workers in the high-tech sector are returning to work. “People will have to go — as crazy as what I’m about to say is — [back] to some normality”
The question, after October 7 and Israel’s destruction of Gaza is what that normality can possibly look like.
Tooze is relatively easy to read. In this post, he's taken up what competing outrages might gloss over. Take a look.

Saturday, November 04, 2023

There's life among the leaves


A kind of life that's very foreign to us, but nonetheless life ...

Friday, November 03, 2023

Friday cat blogging: they get around

Cats saw opportunity and moved in.

According to [paleogeneticist Dr. Danijela Popović], cats domesticated themselves; they were attracted to the rodents that feasted off the harvests of the first farmers. They chose us, not the other way around. Consequently, those early farmers were grateful for this helpful form of pest control. As a result, thanks to humans, cats colonized Central Europe.

The oldest archaeological evidence for cat domestication is a 9,500-year-old burial, uncovered in Cyprus in 2004, in which a Paleolithic-era human was buried with their feline pet. There is spare evidence for the spread of cats throughout Europe before the Late Middle Ages. In Europe, cat bones only became abundant in the second half of the 13th century, which implies that cats had become popular at this time.

The conventional theory is that cats started to spread throughout the Mediterranean in Antiquity, journeying with Greeks and Romans. According to the map below, they would have hopped on board Etruscan, Greek, and Phoenician vessels to get to major Mediterranean islands like Sicily by 1700 BC, landed in ancient Greece about 1400 BC, arrive in republican Rome in about 500 BC, and make it to pre-Roman Iberia by 400 BC.

After that, cats became another thing the Roman Empire exported, just like wine and soldiers. They reached Britannia in about 100 BC and Germania at about the BC/AD milestone. Cats are affirmed in Ireland only from 900 AD, and in Scotland from 500 to 800 AD. During that time, the Vikings took cats on their long voyages across Europe, helping them spread even further. [Vivid Maps]

A separate domestication apparently occurred in Egypt. The different strains interbred.

Just for the heck of it, here's a Montenegrin cat from town of Kotor, 2015. The entire coast of the Mediterranean is cat homeland.

Not apparently as well fed as Mio.

Thursday, November 02, 2023

One woman's view

I find it nearly impossible to say anything useful about the current carnage in Israel/Palestine. What Hamas did was an atrocity; what Israel is doing in Gaza is another atrocity. Both are about vengeance; both exemplify the human species at our worst. And all participants, including US enablers, are products of and embedded in cruel histories which trap us in being less than our best.

I do appreciate the perspective the feminist commentator Jill Filipovic brings to the coverage of the nightmare.

The truth is that I dislike the “women and children” formulation — it’s infantilizing of women, it’s emotionally manipulative, it totally ignores the fact that men are also innocent victims of war, and it presumes a natural feminine pacifism that I’m not sure exists. But also, it is women and children who are suffering the most in this war, in large part because most people in Gaza are either women or children. It is women and girls who are the most likely to be raped in conflict, subjected to a particular kind of torture and humiliation designed to break their souls as well as their bodies. It is women and children who routinely make up the majority of innocents killed when men start fighting. It is women and girls who particularly suffer under fundamentalist patriarchal religions and governments. And it is women and children who routinely do the least to foment and perpetuate violence and war, but nevertheless feel the heaviest consequences of violence and war bear down on them.

... The vast majority of decision-makers and violence-purveyors on both sides of this current war are men who have long made clear they have little interest in women’s rights, freedoms, or even basic safety. The vast majority of people who are suffering from this war are women and their children.

This isn’t necessarily because women are naturally more peaceful than men, and it’s certainly not because motherhood elevates women to a higher moral status. Women, being people, are just as capable of hatred and vengeance and bloodthirstiness. If women have launched fewer wars than men, it is perhaps because women have not had nearly as many opportunities to launch wars.

... the mounting evidence shows that Hamas terrorists raped Israeli women; [that] does not negate the suffering of Palestinian women in this war, and certainly does not justify it. That the policies of the state of Israel mean that Palestinian women have suffered so badly and for so long does not negate the atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists, and certainly does not justify them.

I am 100% positive that a number of people will reject what I’m saying here as some sort of “both-sides” equivocating. But I’m not trying to do math or weight scales. No one has to diminish one suffering to elevate another.

I’m not writing to solve an equation, let alone a conflict. I am writing to say that it is the people who are least responsible for this war — women, children, innocents of all kinds — are bearing the heaviest burdens of this war.

This moment may yet lead to worse. It will also eventually end. What are we willing to put into reconstruction? 

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

All Saints Day

Apparently this quotation from Dorothy Day is authentic; it appears in Robert Ellsberg's collection of the Catholic Worker founder's letters, All the Way to Heaven

... It is the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going. ...

For Dorothy this opinion might seem a little transgressive; she was a loyal daughter of a hierarchical church which didn't know quite what to make of her pacifist, anarchist, voluntarily-poor mob of the well meaning. Now that church wants to name her a saint. A bit of pacification there?

Most of the world has forgotten or never knew who Gordon Zahn was. Zahn's pacifist convictions carried him to a conscientious objector camp during World War II and on to becoming a Roman Catholic educator on war and faith. The one of his writings which might endure is a biography of Austrian Catholic war refuser Franz Jägerstätter who was executed by the Nazis. Jägerstätter has since been beatified.

For Dorothy, in the end there was the shared bread of the communal meal as she says here -- and the ungoverned overflowing of absurd love embodied in those we remember as saints.