Sunday, December 31, 2023

On power for change

Let's close out 2023 with some inspiration. Sure, there's plenty out there that's awful and scary; think particularly of the resurgence of the Orange Con Man and his legion of vicious acolytes and scam artists. But there is much to celebrate as well.

Sherrilyn Ifill served as the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) from 2013 to 2022. She knows what it is to struggle for justice for and with people who are granted none. And she came out of her role with a vision:

... I have come to believe that we are facing such strong opposition precisely because we have won so much.

In the decades following the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, and the women’s movement, we have effectively reset the cultural, social, and political life of this country from the patriarchal and white supremacist standards that dominated American life in the early 1950s. Now we are seeing the backlash. 

Why are they banning The Diary of Anne Frank and books about Rosa Parks? (Yes!) Because they understand that empathy is one of the strongest, most consequential tools in a democracy. We all bore witness to that fact when millions of people took to the streets in the middle of a pandemic after seeing the torture and murder of George Floyd. That video generated the largest civil rights demonstrations in this country’s history. The protests were multiracial. They occurred in all fifty states and then around the world.  

That display of power, that burgeoning swell of solidarity, also generated the fear that has motivated recent efforts to ban books and undermine protests—including a Florida law that would grant immunity to motorists who drive into crowds of protesters.

The recent upsurge in voter suppression bills is likewise a response to the resilience that voters showed in 2020, especially Black voters, who cast the last ballot in the presidential primary in Harris County, Texas, at 1 AM and stood on line in Fulton County, Georgia, for nine hours to vote early in the general election. Georgia’s Republicans soon after passed a law criminalizing the provision of refreshments to people standing on line to vote. (It was subsequently narrowed by a federal judge.)

It is critical for us to understand that this wave of repression is a response to our demonstrations of power. We must not prematurely abandon the actions that have so frightened our opponents. This is not the time to give up empathy or solidarity, to stop voting or marching or organizing.

... we need to pursue power, and when we have power we need to be prepared to make transformative change. I hope we’ll see this in the coming years. We must be prepared to leave behind traditions and policies that have not served us as a democracy, whether that means reforming long-standing rules that inhibit effective representation in the Senate, or adding seats to the Supreme Court, or reimagining public safety to address police brutality and racism, or adopting a guaranteed national income, or pursuing new models of public education.

Progressive people often seem averse to the pursuit of power. It is as though we think “power” is a bad word. We think it unseemly. We worry, perhaps appropriately, about how power can corrupt and harm. But that is what happens when people abuse their power. It is not power’s natural tendency. 

We must believe enough in our own integrity to trust ourselves with power. “Power without love is reckless and abusive,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, and "love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love."

We must pursue power to implement the demands of justice, and the justice that we seek must correct that which stands against love. I pray, encourage, and entreat you to join me and so many others who are committed to this struggle. I know that we can win, but only if we truly engage the fight.

It is right for democratic people (small "d") to work for more democratic power to increase justice. And it requires power to implement more justice. Unionized workers know this. Demonstrators who take to the streets know this. Many election campaigners know this. There's nothing else to do but to engage.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

210 years ago - My great-great-great grandmother the settler-colonialist

Margaret St. John, along with her husband Gamaliel Cyrus St. John, moved first from Connecticut to central New York shortly after the end of the American War for Independence from Britain in the 1790s. They then moved on to western New York in 1807, settling on a farm in what became Erie County. Three years later, the family moved into the emerging settlement of Buffalo, a new town laid out by the Holland Land Company which sold deeds to plots in the area, including one to a Mrs. Chapman who sold it to the family. According to their daughter, Mrs. Jonathan Sidway, they acquired

a claim for Lot No. 53, Holland Land Co. survey, on which was the frame for a house, forty feet square, standing on blocks, and back of which was an appendix of twenty feet square, one and a half stories high, enclosed and floored, having a chimney with the old-fashioned fireplace, and baking oven by the side of the fireplace....

Into this apology for a house the family, then consisting of the parents and ten children, moved on or about the 10th of May, 1810. On the 28th day of that month, in the chamber of the above-mentioned appendix, was born the eleventh child, Orson Swift St. John.

During the American Revolution, the native people of what became New York State -- the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee Confederacy -- had mostly thrown in with the British. British red-coated soldiers were mostly far away and not immediate threats, as were the land-grabbing settlers. The natives had over a century of "diplomatic" relations with the distant King in London; the entrepreneurial Americans were obvious disturbers of their peace. Bloody massacres by both natives and insurgent Americans followed in central New York. When the Brits surrendered in Yorktown 1781, their peace treaty with the new nation in the former colony ceded not only British claims, but also native land in what became western New York, the Niagara Frontier. In the subsequent decade, the tribes signed several treaties giving up their historic lands in the area, though neither settlers nor many natives were particularly law-abiding.

This was where the St. John family was living when the United States went to war with Britain again in 1812. If remembered at all, our history of that conflict focuses on the eastern coasts and the burning of the new capital at Washington. But on the frontier, many Americans saw their chance to enlarge their country by seizing the British colony in Canada. Native groups again picked allies; this time the Seneca sided with the Americans, while the Shawnee leader Tecumseh joined up with the British farther west. U.S. troops invaded the Canadian province of Ontario and burned several towns. 

In June 1813, Gamaliel St. John and son Elijah drowned in the Niagara River while doing work for the U.S. Army. 

On December 30, 1813, Margaret St. John remained in Buffalo as British troops and native auxiliaries out to avenge the American attacks on Upper Canada came bearing down. Most of the settlers got away, but for lack of transport Mrs. St. John, a daughter, and a Mrs. Lovejoy, who owned a house across the street, remained in town. The local American militia defenders broke and ran.

Mrs. Lovejoy refused to leave her home. 

Mrs. St. John ... stated, "I was fearful she would provoke them to kill her." Then she spoke to Mrs. Lovejoy and told her, "Do not risk your life for property." Mrs. Lovejoy responded, "When my property goes, my life shall go with it."

Mrs. St. John stated that she saw an Indian pulling down the curtains in the Lovejoy house which Mrs. Lovejoy objected to, and allegedly attacked the hand of the invader with a knife.

The attacker allegedly raised his hatchet and struck Mrs. Lovejoy. The Lovejoy house was torched.

We have the story because Margaret St. John persuaded a British officer to set a soldier to guard her house, but only after 

... some Indian women had entered and were already plundering it. They took the cloaks and bonnets off from the three white women, replacing them their own blankets and were proceeding to further annoyances when a dwarfish little man appeared, sent away the Indians and quieted the St. Johns' fears by telling them of General Riall's latest orders, that no one should be molested who was obliged for good reason to stay in the town. He informed them also that he was the General's interpreter and, on hearing their story, offered to accompany them to the General's headquarters on Niagara Street and obtain protection for them. After securing this promise, he returned with them, sat down inside the door, and whenever Indians came and banged on door he sent them away looking as if they had been severely reproved. 

And so, the St. John house and my ancestors survived the burning of Buffalo. One of Margaret St. John's sons, known in the family as Legrandcannon, drew a sketch of what the neatly laid out Holland Land Company town looked like when the settlers returned -- nothing but stone chimneys remained standing.

Buffalo rapidly rebuilt and prospered.  The Senecas were confined their reservation south of the city and most of the others tribes to Canada which also prospered as a white British dominion.

For some time the terrified settlers remained in their hiding places, stealing over to the St. John house under cover of darkness for an occasional meal. They had lost homes and personal property but many had carried their money with them so they were able to remunerate Mrs. St. John for her hospitality and to pay her for the making of much needed clothing. This brave woman and her family were soon reunited and joined in a successful effort to build up their fallen fortunes.

The relief committee of Canandaigua made an appeal for money, supplies and clothing for the unfortunate refugees which received a prompt response, thirteen thousand dollars besides food and needed warm garments being raised in a short time. In addition to the local relief, the State Legislature, the cities of Albany and New York, the Holland Land Company and others contributed nearly sixty thousand dollars.

Then the work of reconstruction went on apace. After a brief interval the Gazette went to press again and in April it reported that Joseph Pomeroy had rebuilt his hotel and was ready for customers. So rapidly did rebuilding take place that five months after the fire a score of stores and taverns had been erected while many families were camping out in shacks or huts awaiting the completion of new homes....

• • •

As in most eras of settler colonialism, the losers were dispossessed and eradicated by the winners. It's what our species has usually done. Is there a better we could do? 

Iyad el-Baghdadi suggests that the only partial break in the pattern in modern times has been South Africa. He concludes hopefully: 

South Africa model = International isolation & anti-apartheid struggle ends with establishing democracy

I too tend to historical optimism, but the record is brutal. I don't engage is historical guilt. Life is lived forward.

• • •

I pulled this post together from family stories and internet research.  I can't vouch completely for its historical accuracy, but I believe the main lines are true if not the color details imported from various sources. True in spirit, if not in all details.

Friday, December 29, 2023

A labor union take on Christmas

To be watched at full screen size if at all possible. If you get some annoying ad when you click on this, you can get rid of it after 5 seconds.

Friday cat blogging

Family portrait -- two lively beasts in mid-tussle. Mio is big, but Janeway gets in her licks (literally), grabbing his head between her front paws and twisting. They are, I think, happier for having each other to chase around and then, when done, ostentatiously ignore. 

Thursday, December 28, 2023

The two wars we're not even noticing

Nobody, resting safe and sound in their own warm bed, can hardly be expected to attend to, and to weep over, and to try to comprehend all the distant wars on the planet. This is a season of far too many brutal conflicts and too much brutal displacement of peoples.

I write about Israel/Palestine and about Ukraine's war of independence. But, in this time of year change, I can at least mention two other places where even more people are being driven from their homes by war.

Sudan: According to the United Nations, fighting between rival militarys have caused massive numbers of Sudanese to flee. As of December 21, 

The war between the head of the army, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane, and his second, General Mohamed Hamdane Daglo, boss of the much-feared FSR, extended last week to the state of al-Jazeera in the centre-east of the country, hitherto spared, approaching the town of Wad Madani which served as a humanitarian hub and refuge for previous displaced people.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), up to 300,000 people fled Wad Madani as the fighting approached. “These new movements bring the displaced population to 7.1 million,” including 1.5 million who have taken refuge in neighbouring countries, said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General.

That's as many refugees as the entire Jewish population of the state of Israel.

Myanmar: since 2021, a military government which seized power from elected leaders has waged war on the country's ethnic minorities -- and those minorities have fought back. Adam Tooze writes about how neighboring China is deeply involved with all parties in that seesaw war. The U.N. estimates that 1.25 million people have taken refuge in neighboring countries and 2.6 million more people are considered stateless within the country.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Seasonal pleasures

Having spent the height of autumn in New England, it seems improbable to highlight the astonishing color changes in a few California trees observed in the last week. But they are all around.

I've long joked, since becoming a California immigrant over 50 years ago, that instead of turning colors, the trees around here just get tired and finally drop their leaves.

But that dismissive attitude is unfair to trees doing their deciduous thing.
Pretty magnificent, actually.
Naturally we Californians can't resist adding our own embellishments.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Christmas in Ukraine

At the moment caught here, Russian missiles are not incoming. But they might be at any time; the war against the empire grinds on.
Myroslava Tanska-Vikulova writes from Ukraine:  
Strange as it may sound, the aroma of gluhwein [Ukrainian mulled wine] on Independence Square or hot tea that warms Ukrainian defenders at the front – these are our simple pleasures, the ones that help us understand what we’re living for.

In recent years, every Ukrainian has become dependent on one another. The front cannot exist without the rear, but without the front Ukraine’s distinct culture and society would be eliminated.

Since the invasion began, the holidays have taken on a whole new meaning for us. Now it's not just about drinking champagne while the bells ring, or opening presents.

For Ukrainians, Christmas and New Year is a time to thank every defender, a time to remember that it is only because of them that we sleep under warm blankets, to pay tribute to those who have died and those who are still in captivity, to think about those who are currently under occupation and cannot feel free on their native Ukrainian land.
St. Nick via Razom, people-to-people aid to Ukraine
• • •
The Ukraine war puts me in mind of another anti-colonial war, an analogy that I see raised very seldom in this country, yet which seems highly apt to me: the United States War of colonial Independence, 1775-1783.

A rag-tag band of colonials with sophisticated political ideas and mixed motives decided they were ready to throw off a constraining imperial power. The old power despised them as rude farmers and shop keepers. It took their revolt lightly, expecting a quick suppression. Ingenuity and determination among the colonials kept them in the fight and stretched the old empire's military resources. Other world empires propped up the revolt in order to weaken their competitor. There was nothing easy about the U.S. independence struggle, but the insurgent colonists prevailed and the rest is history.

When I think of Ukraine this year, I think of General Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776 leading his ill-trained, under-equipped Continental Army to challenge the era's most imposing military. 
Few observers would have expected that these improbable amateur troops could endure and win, but they did. Ukraine surviving Russian invasion makes no sense. But Ukraine still lives and carries hope of something better for its people and for all of Europe. I am grateful for the example, however tenuous and imperfect.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christmas eve: wishes from Tel Aviv

Dana Mills is chronicling what it means to an Israeli peace activist to live in the aftermath of the 10/7 attacks and the daily presence of no good news of so many hostages and Israel's Gaza war of vengeance. As it happens, she's what Erudite Partner calls "a hemi-semite," the offspring  of a Christian parent who identifies with the tribe of her Jewish parent and claims no religion for herself. (E.P. is a hemi-Semite too.) So Mills knows from Christmas having spent a lot of time around Christians.

She contemplates a very painful Christmas in the accursed "Holy Land". The small tribe of resident Palestinian Christians have called off what is usually their high season at the Biblical sites of the Incarnation.

... This year, I've heard from different Palestinian Christian friends that their communities are treating Christmas differently. The grief for the death toll in Gaza is tremendous, and the feeling of heaviness is everywhere in Palestinian communities. I told someone I know, a practicing Christian, and he said "I can understand why you wouldn't feel like celebrating Christmas". I don't think this captures the extent of the decision to not mark Christmas here, and the reason for that.

... The Christian Palestinian community is smaller than the Muslim one, yet the connection between this land to the sites to which Christians all around the world pray and long has sustained. Flying to Tel Aviv around this time always brought pilgrims and priests of various kinds on my flights (I recall one flight in which around 50 nuns were sitting on the plane and I felt like an extra in The Sound of Music). I always knew that for various people my homeland was "the Holy Land". I used to sign "regards from the not- very- holy-land" when visiting home.

... Yet, the decision to not have grand and open celebrations for Christmas here is a big one. It's not a matter of "not feeling like it". It's protesting on a symbolic plain that constitutes the ontological place in which the narrative of Christmas took place. It's removing the ground, quite literally, from the story of Christmas.

Living abroad added to my complexity of my feelings towards Christmas. I was shocked and appalled by the commercial nature of Christmas; most people around me mainly saw it as a time for shopping and a break from work. Very few people took interest in the holiday's meaning and symbols, and even the music and other cultural artifice around it.
So I'm both sad and also not surprised that the little town of Bethlehem is not on many peoples' minds this year, as they rush for Christmas shopping and overjoy in putting their autoreply on email. And so, even this act of protest, which is really what the Palestinian community has by way of power internationally, is perceived as "not feeling like celebration"; a personal, individualistic act rather than collective dissent. ...

... I wrote yesterday about realizing that I need to engage with social media in order to understand this war, how to campaign against it and how to engage with those who disagree with me around it. I've found recently that the people who upset me the most on social media are those who write hollow statements on everything I post, such as "praying for peace" or some such. Many of whom are also practicing Christians. The reality here is so horrendous that I find it offensive to see people cling on to slogans and words that bring them comfort while looking away from the world in all its gore. Of course, peace is what I-- many people around me--- strive towards, but in order to get even close to that, so much healing, restorative justice, and just a deep space of grief have to be held.

... Don't talk to me about peace on earth before you're willing to look at the pain and grief we're living through here, in your Holy Land. If I can force myself to look at Gaza instagrammers photos of ash clad children running to look for their families, so should a Christian who wants to see peace in any possible way come to this earth.

And so, I felt heavy hearing of the decision not to have big public events for Christmas yet understood it and felt the need to be in solidarity with it, from my bad-atheist-Jewess- half- Christian point of view.

This is a sad Christmas, whether you are interested in what had happened in the "Holy Land" million years ago, or not; take a stern look at what is happening here now, around the corner from the little town of Bethlehem.

My Christmas wish is for a ceasefire to finally be installed and last, for Israel to tend to its injured, dead and grieving, and focus on life not revenge; and Palestinian communities to receive solidarity not only as victims of atrocities but as a people who deserve -- like all of us -- the right to self-determination and cultural and political sovereignty.

My Christmas wish is for us to make the small, important step towards a just peace-- recognizing and acknowledging power disparities as well as the pain held by all communities on this land.

My Christmas wish is that we are able to look at the worlds inhabited around us, and that the world outside of these borders between the river and the sea looks at us and understands we are real people who wish to live, not die, and need solidarity in order to cease this senseless violence.
BETHLEHEM, OCCUPIED WEST BANK - DECEMBER 14, 2023: In Bethlehem, the Lutheran Church decided that its Christmas nativity scene this year would be different by placing the symbolic Baby Jesus in a manger of rubble and destruction to reflect the reality of Palestinian children living and being born today ... Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023. The pastor of the church is a Palestinian Christian theologian.

More from Dana Mills can be found at this link.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

An unwelcome blast from the past

The headline reads: U.S.-Brokered Talks Seek to Ease Tensions on Israel-Lebanon Border. I have no idea whether this is a meaningful development or not. I tend to doubt that the U.S. is a useful interlocutor in talks which, of necessity, must involve dealing with Hezbollah, the Lebanese force which we have designated a "terrorist organization" and a hostile Iranian proxy. Many, but not all, Lebanese think differently, recognizing Hezbollah as one legitimate force among many in a divided country. I claim no expertise.

The immediate focus of the discussions has been to prevent cross-border skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah — fueled by Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza — from escalating into an all-out conflict, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive deliberations.

... In addition to its efforts to contain the immediate risk of escalation, the Biden administration has been discussing with the parties the parameters of a longer-term agreement to increase stability along the border so that tens of thousands of displaced civilians in northern Israel and southern Lebanon feel safe enough to return to their homes after the war in Gaza ends.

... According to participants in the talks, Israeli officials have sent mixed messages about the distance Hezbollah fighters would have to move north of the border to allow Israeli civilians to return to their communities in northern Israel. One Israeli proposal called for Hezbollah forces to move at least five kilometers, or about three miles, north of the Israeli-Lebanese border — to reduce the chances that the group could follow Hamas’s example and send large numbers of fighters into Israel to kill and kidnap Israeli civilians. Another called for them to move eight kilometers.

The discussion -- the sort of matter about which I tend to believe nothing until something concrete occurs -- reminds me that I had the privilege of being driven through that border area in an ostensibly peaceful interlude in 2006. Such beauty, so much history.

The remains of a Crusader castle, Beaufort Chateau, sat on a ridge.
Yes, that is the Hezbollah flag flying proudly.
On the Lebanese side of the ridge, the village of Arnoun.
To the south, an Israeli settlement.

I have no idea how much of what is pictured is still there. Less than a month after I took these pictures, the 2006 Israel/Hezbollah War washed over this border area. Israel also bombed civilian infrastructure throughout Lebanon. Hezbollah survived, was able to use Iranian contributions to rebuild southern towns, and matured into a party within the Lebanese government, though remaining a non-state military force apart from the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Hezbollah and Israel have continued to lob missiles at each other sporadically ever since.

Let us hope Israel's Gaza retaliation for 10/7 doesn't not spread to Lebanon.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Friday cat blogging

We are observed. The job of the cats is to supervise the humans.

Janeway is intent on the action. Is E.P. doing it right?

Meanwhile, Mio takes a more cautious approach to watching me assemble blog posts.

That intent stare can be unnerving.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Israel makes an unsustainable malignant Sparta

Israel's war on the people of Gaza will wind down or at least change form some time soon. Unfortunately, this will come about NOT because of international repulsion. Rather, despite U.S. support, the current level of Israeli military mobilization will become economically unsustainable.

National security establishment journalist David Ignatius let the cat out of the bag in an aside:

Israel’s leaders know they need to transition to a new stage in the conflict, not least to allow reservists to leave the front lines and return to their jobs.
This offhand remark alludes to what is less talked about: the Israel Defense Forces, despite being a conscript force requiring "all" men and women to serve, in fact treats lots of people living in Israel as exempt. The 21 percent who are "Arab" Israelis don't do military service. Nor do most ultra-Orthodox (Haredim).
Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, young Haredim have been exempt from the mandatory military service required of their non-Haredi counterparts. The exemption is deeply resented by many non-Haredi Israelis. Most must serve at least 32 months, while almost all young ultra-Orthodox men shun service. Haredi rabbis insist that fervent prayer for Israel’s security is just as important as military service.
Although the high court struck down the exemption in 2017 and ordered the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, to create a new, more equitable military draft, the Knesset has never complied with the court’s order.
The consequence of these exemptions is that IDF military personnel come from among the most economically active, modern sectors of Israel's fully up-to-date economy. In ordinary times, Israel thrives because these citizen soldiers are working. Keeping 300,000 reservists mobilized in a country of 7 million eligible citizens (perhaps two thirds of appropriate age) creates a terrible drain on prosperity, as well as on civilian life.

AP photo - In this December 23, 2010 photo, dozens of African migrants cross into southern Israel through the border with Egypt. Not these days ...

The war against Hamas has highlighted another area of fragility in the Israeli economy. The not-so-modern agricultural sector is dependent on contract farm laborers imported from impoverished countries.

Many Thai workers were among the victims of Hamas's 10/7 raid on southern Israel. Twenty-three were among the hostages released in the prisoner swap.

After the Oct. 7 attack, around 9,000 Thai workers — most of them from the area by Gaza — had evacuated the country, sending Israeli agriculture into its own state of emergency.
Voice of America reports how Israel is finding replacements these days.
Several hundred of young Malawi men have left for Israel to work on farms left deserted by an exodus sparked by the Gaza war, the labor ministry said ... Malawi's Secretary for Labor Wezi Kayira said Israel was one of several countries targeted by a government labour export program aimed at finding jobs for youth and generating desperately needed foreign exchange.

Even in a war zone, people need to eat and to work.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Undernews breaks through

This is just delicious. The right wing media sphere has got itself in a panty-soiling tizzy over a dance performance of the Nutcracker in the White House about which Jill Biden tweeted. You can watch the performance at that link.

Apparently none of the right wing media opinion makers ever saw a production of Hoffman's 1816 fable, such a corny staple of Christmas delight.

Ron DeSantis thinks he's onto something according to a fund appeal using a picture of the production:

Jill and Joe Biden are taking your tax dollars and throwing them at radical activist groups to parade through the halls that leaders like Ronald Reagan used to march through. There is truly no clearer picture of our country's decline than the dereliction of duty by our President. ...

Such confidence that his supporters must be narrow minded morons. Now we know Ron is one ... but all of them? 

Catherine Rampell [gift article-enjoy] has the story:

Hide your children, hide your wives. A radical force is sweeping the nation, threatening to destroy everything that God-fearing Americans hold dear.

That threat, according to Fox News? Tap-dancing, one of the most quintessentially American art forms there is.

Last week, first lady Jill Biden shared a festive holiday video of tap troupe Dorrance Dance performing their swingin’ spin on “The Nutcracker,” set to a jazz arrangement by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. ...

More seriously, David Frum [gift article] has described how MAGA acolytes become confirmed in believing so much nonsense in the concept he calls "undernews". 

During the Obama presidency, more extreme conservative media trafficked in rumors that Obama was secretly gay and having an affair with a male aide, or else that Michelle Obama was secretly transgender. This rubbish was too lurid, offensive, and stupid ever to be repeated on Fox News itself. But Fox hosts regularly made jokes and references that only made sense to viewers who had absorbed the undernews from other sources.

Undernews made itself felt during the first Trump impeachment too. The official defense of Trump, the one articulated by more high-toned hosts, was that the extortion of Ukraine did not rise to the level of impeachment. After all, Ukraine got its weapons in the end: no harm, no foul. In the undernews, however, this defense was backed by an elaborate fantasy that Trump had been right to act as he did.

In this fantasy, Ukraine became the center of a global criminal enterprise masterminded by the Biden family. Trump, the myth went, had heroically acted to reveal the plot—only to be thwarted by the Deep State’s machinations in Washington and Kyiv. Believers in the undernews reimagined Ukraine as a pro-Biden mafia state that had cruelly victimized Trump. They burned to inflict payback on Ukraine for the indignity of Trump’s first impeachment.

This delusory narrative was seldom articulated in venues where nonbelievers might hear it. But the delusion shaped the opinion of believers—and the behavior of those who sought votes from those believers: congressional Republicans. ...

That's the point. We don't hear it, but millions of our sibling citizens marinate in this stuff -- and end up scared of a tap dance performance.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Got a cold?

Does it seem as if every second person you know has flu, or cold, or perhaps COVID? That's because they do.

Click to enlarge

At least that's true in the more southerly parts of the country. 

I am glad to have received all my recommended shots -- most of us have not, so it's virus time.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Seasonal blahs

The Erudite Partner created a very carefully organized project for a rainy day. I don't understand it, but then I don't have to.

'Tis the season for indulging the instinct to hunker down and wait resignedly for light and warmth to return ... . This year, I'm not enjoying the dark when I get out of bed to feed cats. I look forward to the solstice. Soon the days will get longer. ...

Guess I'll go turn on some football ...

Sunday, December 17, 2023

In search of a critical eye, intellectual vigor, and humility ...

While watching college football yesterday, I heard that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had been hospitalized following a fall in which he broke a hip. Let's hope the 76 year old basketball great has good doctors and manages a speedy recovery.

I'd been planning to post one of Abdul-Jabbar's homilies soon enough. Why not do it today? 

"A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life." -- Muhammad Ali, The Greatest

Sometimes when I look back on some of the ideas I had when I was twenty, and how arrogantly certain I was of being right, I wish I could hop in a time machine, go back to UCLA, and kick my smug, twenty-year-old ass. But most of the time, I just smile when I think back because I know that being wrong is part of the process of getting it right.

I wasn’t wrong about everything. The Vietnam War was bad. As the Pentagon Papers proved, President Lyndon Johnson lied to the American public as well as to Congress about what was really going on there. I wasn’t wrong about the treatment of Blacks in America and the need for equal treatment and opportunities.

The real issue isn’t which specific ideologies, philosophies, or politics have changed, but whether one’s ability to recognize their own weaknesses in forming opinions and stubbornness in keeping them, despite evidence to the contrary, has grown. With age can come a belief that you are suddenly imbued with supernatural wisdom. For some, that’s just an illusion that allows them to not challenge their opinions—and to rebuff others’ disagreements. There’s a difference between being resolved and being stubborn. ...

As an aside, here’s something you should learn as you grow older: Stop using “man” when referring to humankind (as ... Ali’s quote ... [does]). That’s not being woke, it’s being accurate. Using man is disrespectful and insisting to use it regardless proves you haven’t learned anything in the past 30 years.

Just to piggyback off Ali’s quote, anyone who thinks the same at 70 as they did at 50 hasn’t been paying attention. This is not about changing political sides or taste in music or playing pickleball instead of tennis. It’s being aware that the world is in a constant state of flux. Greek philosopher Heraclitus made this point best: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” (There’s that “man” again.)

Nothing remains the same and so we must approach each new idea or opinion with the same critical eye, intellectual vigor, and humility as we did in our youth. We must be willing to be wrong, yet also willing to be proven wrong. The rocky treacherous path to being right is the one thing that doesn’t change. The willingness to walk that path is what gives our beliefs value.
It isn't easy to avoid becoming stuck. Engagement with the world's joys and pains helps, if we can endure them. Perhaps a wisdom in aging is to discern just how much immersion in the flow of life we can bear and yet hold a steady course despite changes and chances.

Erudite Partner is an ethicist; from her I've learned that what makes for an ethical life is usually a product of what habits we form and encourage in ourselves. Courage always buttresses all other desirable habits which shape our changes.

Let's wish Kareem all good courage in his physical challenges.

Kareem in hospital

Saturday, December 16, 2023

College football bowl season begins

Here we go again ... once again I'm giving myself a break from the horrors of the world watching a surfeit of obscure end-of-season contests. Yes, the whole thing is full of hypocrisy about education and character-building while young men break their bodies to raise the profile of some institution. At least the money in the game is a little more transparent in this time of the overthrow of the conferences and of the corrupt NCAA. 

Sure, there are some engaging, well-played games. Florida A&M defeating Howard was gripping. And there were the marching bands ...

But it is the matches between what I think of as E. Armpit again W. Hangnail that often produce the more entertaining struggles. Whoever heard of some of these colleges? Players and spectators often care about something more than individual stats. And very few are playing solely to try to catch the eye of professional scouts.

Of course, watching live means seeing a deluge of ads. This Amazon offering so far wins the prize for the season. Having seen it at least 20 times, I still smile.

May we all be open to so much joy.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Two wars: where we can, the people want their say

Last night we joined a well-organized crew of Google workers and friends from Jewish Voice for Peace and the Arab Resource & Organizing Center in downtown San Francisco protesting the tech giant's work with the Israeli military. Google's Nimbus Project enables collection and analysis of sophisticated data intelligence and is reported to have been used for targeting in Israel's Gaza bombing campaign. (Hard to know how much targeting is going on when whole neighborhoods are leveled ...)

Protester Rami Abelkarim said Thursday evening that Google is well known as a search engine but “nobody thinks of Google as a war profiteer.”

• • •

On arriving home, I read independent reporter Tim Mak's account of a little demonstration in embattled Kyiv where Russian rocket attacks break up the nights.

Despite these obvious barriers to organization, demonstrators gathered in front of Kyiv city hall this morning to demand changes in the local government. If there’s a feeling that captures freedom, this is it: the energy of a demonstrating crowd protesting for a just future.

“As a civil society, we need to remind our authorities to serve our interests instead of their own,” said Volodymyr, whose father has been serving in the Ukrainian Army since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

As stinging rain poured down, Kyiv residents shouted slogans: “More weapons, faster victory!” “Money for the armed forces!” Inside the building, the local government deliberated the annual budget.

... “All young democracies have to fight for themselves,” said Marianna, a political asylum seeker from Belarus, supporting Belarusian volunteer fighters in Ukraine. “I'm here because I don't want Ukraine to turn into what my home country is like now.”

Following the results of the session, Kyiv city mayor Vitalii Klychko announced the allocation of around $16 million for the Armed Forces on his official social media pages.

The demonstrators continue to protest despite this news: they were there, they said, to demand more.

• • •
In this less-than-happy holiday season, I remain grateful for the human spirit that demands peace, justice, and freedom, however little it feels we can achieve.

Friday cat blogging

Imagine my surprise when, one quiet evening, they both deposited themselves on my lap at once. Eighteen pound Mio and eight pound Janeway thought they'd found the perfect venue to practice a little intimacy ... They aren't shy.

She's sure he needs a bath. He returns to the compliment ... It feels a little awkward to me, but I'm not a cat.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Voting is about survival

Charles Blow, columnist and son of the Black South, is out with an appeal for frustrated, angry citizens to get serious. 

There are still too many citizens who think of a vote, particularly for president, as something to throw to a person they like rather than being cast for the candidate and party more likely to advance the policies they need.
And there are too many who think that a vote should be withheld from a more preferable candidate as punishment for not delivering every single thing on their wish lists — that choosing not to vote at all is a sensible act of political protest rather than a relinquishing of control to others. Abstinence doesn’t empower; it neuters.
If you want a democracy to thrive, the idea that voting is a choice is itself an illusion. Voting is about survival, and survival isn’t a choice. It’s an imperative. It’s an instinct.
It’s a tool one uses for self-advancement and self-preservation. It’s an instrument you use to decrease chances of harm and increase chances of betterment. It is naïve to use it solely to cosign an individual’s character; not to say that character doesn’t count — it does — but rather that its primacy is a fallacy.
Voting isn’t just an expression of your worldview but also a manifestation of your insistence on safety and security.

I'm afraid that 2024 is going to be another long slog during which we will have to make this point over and over. Posting Blow here to get a jump on the project.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

On antisemitic Zionism

John Ganz, scholar of populisms and other social diseases, deconstructs this unholy convergence. 

... Israel may seem to stir up antisemitism through its aggression and bellicosity. But in some cases it actually neutralizes antisemitism: It puts the Jews in an acceptable context.

Many on the Christian Right don’t particularly care for the Jews, but in so far as Israel is part of their idea of a divine plan, they have a conditional acceptance of the Jews. They “like” Jews because Jews = Israel. This doesn’t always have a religious underpinning, or rather, something else often lurks beneath the religious veil.

Many on the far right may not like Jews in so far as they are liberals, “rootless cosmopolitans,” and so forth, but love Zionism. They say, in effect, “Heck, I may I don’t like Jews, but I love all these soldiers, tanks, bombs, checkpoints, and settlements.” In so far as Jews act as intrepid settlers on the far edge of “Western civilization,” and are appropriately aggressive and brutal with the lesser races, they can even celebrate the Jews. They don’t tolerate a certain degree of settler-colonialism because its being done by Jews who deserve their own homeland after so many years of persecution and ultimately genocide, as liberal Zionists do, but they tolerate Jews only in so far as they are settler-colonists.

They might not state it openly, but the “apartheid” stuff is not so much a pejorative label in their minds as a positive condition for their support. For such people, Zionism “naturalizes” the Jews, it literally and metaphorically gives them a place: rather than being a disturbing alien entity in the midst of a larger society, it makes them a people or even a race like any other. It also transforms Jews, to use a term from apartheid South Africa, into “honorary whites”—even if Israel has a majority Sephardic and Mizrahi population now.

Apartheid South Africa, founded on the basis of a deeply antisemitic ideology, came to cooperate with Israel not just out of realism and mutual self-interest, but because Zionism made Jews recognizable to them: these Jews they could deal with. Just look at how the apartheid government understood Israel: "Israel and South Africa have one thing above all else in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples."

Zionism also lets antisemites imagine a world without Jews: “Well, they can eventually just go to Israel, I suppose.” Their “Jewish problem,” as it were, is thereby solved.

... Just as some will only extend solidarity to Jews in so far as they are vocally anti-Zionist, there are also those who will only extend solidarity to the Jews in so far as they are Zionists. These are both forms of antisemitism: they treat Jews as not really be full members of the societies they belong to, but as props in their own ideological or racial struggles.

Just say no to making anyone political props!

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Kareem calls bullshit

The media are reporting this morning that Harvard University's board is refusing to be stampeded into firing their recently installed Black president. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar knows racism when he sees it. Here's his opinion of the hue and cry to throw out a Black woman.

Pershing Square CEO Bill Ackman is good at making money. I’m good at making baskets.
Neither one of us is qualified to select the president of Harvard University. Sure, Ackman has a BA and MBA from Harvard, but just because I attended UCLA doesn’t mean I have special insights into the requirements for being president.

Here’s what I do know: Accusing Harvard’s first Black president of being hired only because she was Black is a pretty racist statement. Being Black might have been a consideration in her being hired, but that in no way diminishes her other qualifications.

For example, let’s say I ran a hospital in which all the doctors were White and I needed to hire another doctor. I looked at three candidates, two White and one Black. All are equally qualified. I might then take into consideration that many of our patients are non-White and might feel more comfortable with a Black physician (several studies back this up). Did I hire him because he was Black? Yup, but only because he also met all other qualifications, and having a Black doctor would make us a better hospital.

The enrolled undergraduate and graduate student population of Harvard University is 34% White with the 66% majority of students non-White. [Yes, that surprised me too, so I looked it up. Seems true if you include foreign students as non-White.] Yet, Harvard has never had a Black president before. Coincidence?

So, what’s Ackman’s beef? Well, he heard from someone else that the search committee wanted to hire someone to change the White Wall of presidents. First, he’s formed his opinion based on gossip. Second, even if that was their choice, he’s offered no evidence that she wasn’t as qualified as any other candidate.

Ackman’s real problem with her is that he didn’t like the answers she (and two other university presidents) gave at a congressional hearing when questioned by Rep. Elise Stefanik, whose interrogation technique was akin to asking, “Are you still beating your wife? Yes or no.” I’ll get into the specifics of that story at a later time, but for right now, the question Ackman raised was about Dr. Gay being hired in the first place. He demeaned her with the usual racist rant that she was hired because she was Black. Based on his inability to use logic, perhaps he should return his Harvard diplomas.

This tempest in a teapot isn't really about Israel/Palestine/free speech/antagonistic and overzealous students. It's about what a president of a super-elite institution ought to look like. I assume Dr. Gay has been getting this crap all her life, as has Kareem.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Some critical thinking all around, please

Kevin Drum did the work to create this visual summary of common Republican beliefs based on wide ranging poll questions by the firm YouGov.

Click to enlarge
There's a lot of scary stuff in there. He comments:

My point is ... that, thanks to Fox News and Donald Trump and the rest of the conservative ecosphere, this is what Republicans think of the world. 

They believe Christians are widely discriminated against. They believe Biden stole the election. They believe COVID came from a Chinese lab. They believe we're in a recession. Virtually all them believe the country is "out of control."

If you believed this stuff, you'd act like a Republican too. We are all far more susceptible to what the media tells us than we like to think. The problem with Republicans is just that their media is so much worse than ours.

Yes, I think that's fair. We have a right to expect that which labels itself "news" -- and even responsible politicians -- to operate in a world of verifiable fact. 

But also, above and beyond all our different information sources, people in this country live in different worlds. And all of us need to cultivate the habit of subjecting our own worlds to critical examination.

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Kyiv Christmas tree shines light in darkness in wartime

Last Wednesday, December 6 -- St. Nicolas Day -- the embattled capital of Ukraine lit its civic Christmas tree. Nothing is entirely easy in that embattled country.

"We must follow the rules. At any moment an air alert can sound, and this means everyone must be in a shelter where it is safe." -- Mayor Vitali Klitschko

I was intrigued by the date. Until very recently, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) followed the Julian calendar, as do most Orthodox Christian churches. Those churches' Christmas will fall on January 7 on the Gregorian calendar which most of the world lives by. Launched in early modern Europe, use of the Gregorian dating system has gradually spread across the globe. 

The shift to the new dating system has not been without controversy in the OCU.

... the faithful in Ukraine use[d] the Julian calendar. The question of whether this was desirable arose after the Russians invaded Ukraine through a full-scale invasion. “Today, the Julian calendar is perceived as related to the culture of the Russian Church”, the Church stated, according to the Orthodox Times.

The Church made the decision to switch to a new calendar at the bishops’ council. Only one bishop out of 53 voted against the transition, and one more abstained....

The road to the calendar change was not a formality... It was a move discussed for decades, but people within the Church were afraid that the reform would not be accepted by the faithful. 

“Facebook activists will not go to churches”, the head of the newly created Church, Metropolitan Epiphany, said in 2019. The Church viewed the wish for a calendar transition as supported only by people who did not visit the Church. Therefore, the transition seemed a fantasy. 

... However, after the full-scale [Russian] invasion, the issue gained political weight, and most Ukrainians expressed their support for a calendar change.

It's hard to think of a change more wrenching than changing the dating of major religious holidays to which we are accustomed. 

The Russia/Ukraine war is not some exotic, if awful, border skirmish. It is about, and further encourages, deep changes in how people choose to live, of which the calendar change is just one manifestation.

Ukraine aims to control its own destiny as a part of a western-facing Europe.

Friday, December 08, 2023

Friday cat blogging

The fur critters have welcomed us home after weeks away.

Mio's stare reminds us he's more important than any football game. 
For Janeway, football season just implies a reliable warm lap.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

A "beautiful and terrible" story

Noah Smith captures gracefully how industrialization is spreading around the globe. His economic techno-optimism can feel cloying -- but he's onto something here.

In my last post, I predicted how manufacturing would spread to India and other developing countries in South and Southeast Asia. Basically, India will start out doing low-value assembly work using imported tools and components, and then gradually work its way up the value chain. Right now, in terms of its position in the supply chain, India is about where China was in the early 2000s.

Viola Zhou and Nilesh Christopher have a wonderful article about what Indian industrialization looks like on the ground. They traveled to a Foxconn factory in southern India, where Apple has shifted some iPhone production in order to diversify out of China. They found that many of the engineers that have been brought over to train and supervise the Indian factory workers are themselves Chinese. Much of their reporting focuses on the interaction and culture clash between the factory’s Chinese and Indian workers.

The story that emerges is a very familiar one. The Chinese supervisors think the Indian workers are slow, lazy and undisciplined — just as the British once thought of German and Japanese workers, when those countries were first industrializing. Industriousness is learned; it proceeds from industrialization. The people who first come to work in the labor-intensive factories are mostly women, looking for independence and an escape from rural life (and probably advantaged by having small fingers). The Indian factory girls are recognizably similar to their Chinese predecessors, or their British forebears centuries ago.

The Mill Girls of Lowell, Mass. via the National Park Service
This is the universal tale of industrialization, and it’s a beautiful and terrible one at the same time. It’s a story of ruthless labor exploitation, urban ennui, and harsh working conditions. But it’s also the story of workers escaping what Marx called “the idiocy of rural life”, finding their own way in the world, making money and winning their independence. And it’s the story of a country that is primed to become much richer in the near future. 

We know how this story typically ends, too. Indian factories will become more automated; salaries will rise and assembly line jobs will become fewer and more technical. Indians will move into higher-paying service jobs with better conditions. Indian companies will move up the value chain, learning how to make tools and components, eventually creating their own brands and competing with China and the rest of the industrialized world. And then Indian engineers will be off to the next poor country — Bangladesh? Ethiopia? Nigeria? — to start the whole process over again.

So far, across the globe, most humans have welcomed abundance and forgotten the miseries along the way. That seems to be who we are.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Electric vehicle anecdata

They are coming; one of these days, sooner than we perhaps imagine, we'll mostly all be driving electric-powered cars. And a predictable climate will be the more sustainable for the change, we hope.
We're not there yet in this household and won't be for awhile; the beater "Wowser" -- the lime green 2011 Ford hybrid -- is still too good a vehicle to move on. But the next car will almost certainly be electric.

I've found it interesting to quiz folks about the EV transition:

A relative who made a career of selling high end used cars is a doubter. He's not seeing it. But he's also open, if automakers can build what he considers good cars.
Another friend who lives in northern rural New England says the EV transition is clearly coming. All the towns have charging stations. So do many houses. She's convinced, though not yet able to become an EV owner herself.

Around San Francisco, we're in Tesla-land. It seems as if every third car is one. And the driverless vehicles striving to take over the cab and Uber business are also EVs. California aims to cut off sales of new gas cars in 2035. 

Meanwhile the business press is dubious, but don't want to miss something. A sample:
Automakers are tapping the brakes on their ambitious electric vehicle (EV) targets, trying to make sense of consumer appetites amid rising interest rates, stubbornly high prices and anxiety about where to recharge. ...

... Despite the doom and gloom, EV sales are growing faster than any other segment in the U.S. — and are on track to surpass 1 million annually for the first time this year.

Not a model of definitive journalism, but that's where we are.