Wednesday, January 31, 2024

MAGA in cloud cuckoo land

For a third day, mainstream media outlets seem to be enjoying the spectacle of right wingers going ballistic over their theory that the NFL rigged the Super Bowl participants to showcase "lefties" Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce. The panic over Swift -- she urges her fans to vote and even endorsed Biden in 2020 -- is deliciously funny. 
But this looney tunes circus can only flourish because Right America lives in a closed information environment full of nonsense. Political organizer Simon Rosenberg just got off a righteous rant about this alternative world which he knows well. Even Donald Trump himself is captive to its fantasies.
Listening to Trump’s mind-blowing rants ... got me thinking about how much of a bubble the American right lives in now. Fortified and protected by an enormous propaganda machine, the right lives a world of profound untruth and invention. My friend Greg Sargent once referred to this fictional world as Foxlandia. It’s a place they go where Trump is a strong leader, the economy is in recession, eggs cost $27 a piece, inflation is still raging, Putin is an ally and the West is sinister, antifa is ISIS, dozens of American cities burned to the ground in 2020, vaccines give you COVID, insurrectionists are hostages, children carrying their rapist’s babies is a blessing, assault weapons bring freedom, etc. It is, to borrow from one of my favorite TV shows, Stranger Things, the upside down.

I was a regular, unpaid guest on Fox News for 17 years, logging thousands of appearances, mostly in the days when Fox still aspired to be “Fair and Balanced.” I went on for up until the end I was able to say my piece without interruption. It was a tough environment, but “fair” and I thought it important Fox viewers got to hear from us. 
All that changed after Trump won and Roger Ailes died. The network stopped aspiring to be “Fair and Balanced” and Democrats became not players on the other team but enemies, to be treated with contempt. Part of that contempt was that I could feel Fox and MAGA leaving the world of facts and understandings I inhabited, retreating deeper and deeper into this imaginary world.
In this final days of my time there I had a few segments where the host brought up something for me to comment on that I literally had no idea what they were talking about and had to bluff through it on air. It was is if MAGA had become a dialect of American English, using “alternative facts” and often obscure cultural references, which required translation.

In thinking about it today what I am describing perhaps should be understood as a form of secession from the United States and our democratic heritage. MAGA may still be physically here in the US, but many of its followers have left our shared information space, and now live in their heads some place else - Foxlandia, the upside down, MAGA - a place of untruth, of strongmen, of Trumpian ding-ding, of danger for the rest of us.

The 2024 election is going to be about whether there is a majority of this country that lives in the real world. I think there is.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

The judges will be judged

I have to admit, when rumblings about the applicability of the Fourteenth Amendment's clause disqualifying insurrectionists from running for office arose, I was beyond skeptical. I figured this was yet another attempt to substitute some gimmick for the hard slog of overcoming Trump, MAGA, and his rump Republican Party within the ordinary electoral framework of majority rule. Of course I'd like to skip that agony, but can we really?

As we approach the moment when the Supreme Court will take this up, there's plenty of learned commentary telling me I'm wrong. I found this particularly convincing from Yale historian of European authoritarianisms, Timothy Snyder:

If we ignore the Constitution now, it will not protect our rights later.  We are ignoring it now, because we are afraid.

... This is not an issue we are “free to assess,” because we are governed by the Constitution. For the same reason, we cannot vote for oath-breaking insurrectionists such as Donald Trump. Such people are barred by the Constitution from running for president.

We can have the Constitution, or we can have Trump.

Legions of historians of the United States have chimed in. Princeton professor Sean Wilentz is only the latest to offer a magisterial refutation of Trump's legal arguments against disqualification. 

With oral arguments before the Supreme Court set for February 8, Trump and his advocates have outdone themselves, serving up the sophistry and chicanery contained in the amicus brief prepared on behalf of Senator Ted Cruz and 178 other MAGA members of Congress and filed on January 18. Seemingly a road map for the conservative justices to stop disqualification, the brief reads more like a game of three-card monte. ...

... The conservative majority of the Supreme Court—and the historical legacy of the Roberts Court—have reached a point of no return. The law, no matter the diversions and claptrap of Trump’s lawyers and the pundits, is crystal clear, on incontestable historical as well as originalist grounds. So are the facts of the case, which in any event the Supreme Court is powerless to review. The conservatives face a choice between disqualifying Trump or shredding the foundation of their judicial methodology.

But the choice is far more profound than the Court’s consistency. In 2000 it disgraced itself by manipulating the Fourteenth Amendment to produce Bush v. Gore, a ruling that changed the course of history and was later described by Justice Antonin Scalia, who concurred in it, this way: “As we say in Brooklyn, a piece of shit.”

Now the Court must decide whether it will honor the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment and disqualify Donald Trump. If it does so, it may redeem in part the terrible judicial malpractice of 2000.
If it does not, it will trash the constitutional defense of democracy designed following slavery’s abolition; it will guarantee, at a minimum, political chaos no matter what the voters decide in November; and it will quite possibly pave the way for a man who has vowed that he will, if necessary, rescind the Constitution in order to impose a dictatorship of revenge.

On that day in 2000 when the Supreme Court handed a contested presidential election to Republican George W. Bush, I was in a board meeting of a community organization created to increase electoral participation among people of color and young people who felt left out of the system. I remember saying, "we've just had a coup." We didn't know what to do but slog along -- and I think we helped make California the model of democratic (small "d") pluralism we have today.

If the Supremes discredit themselves again by overturning the Fourteenth Amendment's clear disqualification of an insurrectionist, we will slog along again. Democracy cannot be a spectator sport.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Football championship aftermath


The fireworks marking the victory of the other winning team went on until 2am in the San Francisco Mission District. Go 49ers!

Sunday, January 28, 2024

NFL Conference Championship weekend

I intend to enjoy this. Two games between competitive teams for the chance to go batter each other in the Super Bowl. For all the consumer nonsense, this is my idea of fun.

And just for fun, I'll post this defense of my preferred spectacle from a highbrow-oriented philosophy blog, Crooked Timber.

Why you should watch American Football

...  It’s an extremely intelligent game.

I am not remotely kidding.  Football is probably the most strategically deep game of any major sport.  The rules are designed to encourage it!  Meanwhile, teams are unusually equal in terms of quality of players — see below — so they must rely on cleverness to win.

Football is regularly compared to chess, and that’s fair.  But really it’s more of a high-speed physical game of rock-paper-scissors.  The core of it is correctly guessing the other side’s play.  If you can do that consistently, you’ll win.  If not — and if they guess your plays consistently — you will lose.  And like all guessing games, it immediately becomes recursive (if he knows I know he’ll call a blitz, he won’t call a blitz, except he’ll also know that I know he knows, which means he will) and involves bluffing and deceit.

And not only is it a very smart game, it’s smart on a sliding scale.  That is, once you have a basic familiarity you can grasp the big strategies and understand what’s happening.  But as you learn more, you’ll understand more, and you’ll see the little fractal side-strategies — the operational and tactical levels, if you like.  It rewards attention no matter how much or little you know.  

A big part of the fun of watching it is trying to outguess the guys on the field.  “Armchair quarterback” and “Monday morning quarterback” are American idioms for a reason.  It’s also why football fans are perhaps the most likely to yell at a screen.  “He knew you were going to call a blitz!  Why did you call a blitz?”

The author adds much more if you are interested.

My two cents: these freaks of nature (a true description for all who succeed in any world class sport) are simply incredible athletes. They do things with their bodies and brains which seem impossible. One measure of this is that, since myriad rules changes designed to prevent the worst injuries, they have largely learned how to tackle opponents without depending either on crashing a runner with the crown of their helmets or hitting contorted legs. How do they do that? 

I'm looking forward to a delicious weekend of intelligent mayhem, whoever wins the games.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

A sign of the times: women step up

Joyce Vance summed up E. Jean Carroll's $83 million victory over Donald Trump in the defamation trial. He can't (freely) rage about someone he has harmed.

For the last week and a half, we’ve had the rare experience of watching a Judge and a jury impose accountability on Donald Trump for his words and deeds. It was reassuring. E. Jean Carroll will forever be a national hero, a treasure. Where Republican leaders have groveled at Trump’s feet, she has shown incredible bravery, and we are all better off for it.

E. Jean acts as a brave 80-year old role model. Some combination of repulsion at the Dobbs decision stripping away their right to abortion and perhaps of awareness of #MeToo has young U.S. women looking to each other for values and understanding at an increasing rate.

This is widely true in the rich world. Adam Tooze pulled this from the Financial Times: 

...  today’s under-thirties are undergoing a great gender divergence … Gen Z is two generations, not one. In countries on every continent, an ideological gap has opened up between young men and women. Tens of millions of people who occupy the same cities, workplaces, classrooms and even homes no longer see eye-to-eye.

In the US, Gallup data shows that after decades where the sexes were each spread roughly equally across liberal and conservative world views, women aged 18 to 30 are now 30 percentage points more liberal than their male contemporaries. That gap took just six years to open up. Germany also now shows a 30-point gap between increasingly conservative young men and progressive female contemporaries, and in the UK the gap is 25 points. In Poland last year, almost half of men aged 18-21 backed the hard-right Confederation party, compared to just a sixth of young women of the same age.   

Seven years on from the initial #MeToo explosion, the gender divergence in attitudes has become self-sustaining. Survey data show that in many countries the ideological differences now extend beyond this issue. The clear progressive-vs-conservative divide on sexual harassment appears to have caused — or at least is part of — a broader realignment of young men and women into liberal and conservative camps respectively on other issues.

In the US, UK and Germany, young women now take far more liberal positions on immigration and racial justice than young men, while older age groups remain evenly matched. The trend in most countries has been one of women shifting left while men stand still, but there are signs that young men are actively moving to the right in Germany, where today’s under-30s are more opposed to immigration than their elders, and have shifted towards the far-right AfD in recent years.

It would be easy to say this is all a phase that will pass, but the ideology gaps are only growing, and data shows that people’s formative political experiences are hard to shake off. All of this is exacerbated by the fact that the proliferation of smartphones and social media mean that young men and women now increasingly inhabit separate spaces and experience separate cultures.

I see a lot of heartache and a lot of hope for the young and courageous.

Friday, January 26, 2024

SFPD picks up a guy smoking in a car on Bartlett Street

Each morning, the street outside fills with parents and children trooping to Buena Vista-Horace Mann school. But not today. Instead, this was the scene.

The officer pointing her weapon shouted over a loudspeaker and gestured to a man sitting in a parked car to come out with raised hands.
Nothing happened fast and that is a compliment to SFPD. Other officers approached from the side of the car.
The cops meant business. We had to hope that nothing scared them.
After a few minutes, the occupant of the parked car emerged, stumbling a little but still smoking. 
I have no idea what this was about, but I hope there was a real crime involved because this drew a lot of cops and a lot of armament to my 'hood.
It feels dumb to watch a thing like this from nearby. Bad stuff can happen quickly. But it also feels as if it is a civic duty to observe ...

Friday cat blogging

This is what it looks like when they both decide they want to occupy my lap. Mio doesn't jump up often; his eighteen-pound bulk doesn't fit well on a lap though he'd clearly like to give sitting on the human a try. In this instance, he got there first and Janeway decided to join in. She usually gets me by herself for an hour in the morning. Neither cat looks entirely comfortable and the posture didn't last long beyond the photo op.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Mission District street flotsam

It's no mystery what people around here think of the presumptive Republican nominee. 

My neighborhood and my city have been going through a bad patch, but hearts remain in the right place and heads are screwed on right.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Post-Republican primary musings

Nothing deep here. I didn't pay that much attention once it became obvious the cast of characters was a gaggle of political Lilliputians. And one outsized monster. By the time DeSantis blew up his own campaign by trying to announce on Xitter, it was hard to take it seriously.

There is a congealed conventional wisdom that indictments of Trump only contributed to his popularity among Republicans. But might it not be equally likely that what we were seeing is correlation, not causality? In the same stretch of time during which Trump's legal hurdles multiplied, his putative opponents repeatedly revealed their emptiness. Trump remained the big dog.

New York Post
But if we're to believe a Fox News Voter Analysis, Trump's path is not simple:

While just over half (53%) of primary voters would be satisfied with Trump as the GOP nominee, one-third (35%) would be dissatisfied enough that they would not vote for him in November.

It looks to me as if Trump does not have the juice he had in 2016 or 2020. What he's got is some dangerous fanatical cult members (less than half the Party?) and lots of Republican inertia. Joe Perticone of the Bulwark wanders around among these folks and he has noticed dwindling enthusiasm.

If you recall [my] Press Pass dispatch from the Iowa State Fair last summer, I observed what I believe was a massive drop in campaign merchandise being worn or advertised by attendees compared to past open primaries like 2016. ... The situation in New Hampshire looks similar. Campaign signs are few and far between. I’ve seen the occasional TRUMP placard nailed to a tree along the highway and a few “NH <3 NH” (that is, New Hampshire loves Nikki Haley) yard signs in front of homes, but these represent a fraction of the signage I saw around here in 2016. Eight years ago in downtown Manchester, there was a forest of Bernie Sanders signs, Hillary’s arrow-H pointing across every street corner, Trump flags flapping at various angles, and still other advertisements for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich.

... Real or not, this time around, the lack of signs is jarring. Could absence of signage be signage of an absence? ... It could simply be that Republican voters don’t want to add more junk to New Hampshire’s landfills after the primary is done.

This doesn't say that Joe Biden's re-election will be easy. He didn't run in the New Hampshire vote because the Democratic Party is trying to wrench its primary process away this all-white state. But he seems on track to get over 60 percent of the NH Dem voters by write-in! (Write-ins take time to count so they are not done as of this post.) He's what we've got. For many of us, he wasn't what we wanted in 2020. But he has shown he can rise to the awful occasion. Democrats also have anti-Trump inertia.

Let's remember with attorney Jay Kuo:

[The Trump] base wasn’t enough to win the election in 2020, and all he has done since is alienate more voters, even as millions of his staunchest supporters age out or die, while millions of younger, far more Democratic-leaning and progressive voters age into the voting pool.

• • •

Joshua Marshall called the New Hampshire vote "tepid." But he also highlighted a creative initiative asking voters to write in "cease-fire" on their ballots.

The remaining question is how the campaign to write-in “cease-fire” managed. I haven’t seen any news site so far that has this number. However, the Times currently says that 6.4% of the write-in ballots which have been read are for others besides Joe Biden. Since “cease-fire,” so far as I know, was the only other organized write-in campaign, it stands to reason that a substantial percentage of that 6.4% is “cease-fire.” But there’s no real way to know based on the currently released data.

However, yesterday, Daniel Marans of HuffPost said that the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office told him they would publish the results for “cease-fire.”...

Nice work, New Hampshire!

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Interrupting misinformation

It's my own fault; I should have known better. In an effort to be fair to multiple voices, I listened to the thoughtful Ezra Klein's interview with New York Times uber-pundit and friend to US presidents and Israeli prime ministers, Thomas Friedman. And I was stopped cold when Friedman asked this:

What if [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar had sent a million Gazans to walk to the border carrying the Arab Peace Initiative, not one, not 10,000, a million. What if a million Gazans announced that they were walking to the border peacefully, each carrying the Arab Peace Initiative? ...

Ezra didn't rise to the occasion to correct the record, so I'll give that job to UNWRA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). A non-violent Palestinian march on the Gaza border actually took place during 2018-19. 

...  after the start in Gaza of demonstrations that became known as The Great March of Return (GMR),  scores of people, particularly young men, have been left dead and many others injured, as well as in need of long term medical and psychosocial assistance. According to OCHA figures, as of 22 March 2019, 195 Palestinians (including 41 children) have been killed and close to 29,000 people injured. The United Nations has expressed concerns about the excessive use of force deployed by the Israeli Security Forces (ISF) contrary to applicable standards under international law.

... the Agency is concerned about and deeply affected by the death of 13 of its students, the injury of 227 others, most of them aged between 13 and 15 years, and the likely inability of injured students to keep up with their studies, especially in cases of prolonged absences.

“Since the largely peaceful demonstrations started a year ago, not only did nearly 200 people die, but thousands of others have suffered injuries that will scar them forever,” said UNRWA Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Matthias Schmale. “The tragic and unnecessary loss of lives, the inability of injured people to work or go back to school and the long-term psychological implications of this violence will affect them for many years to come, adding to their despair.”

Non-violent Palestinians get shot when they protest and their pain is discounted. The rest of the world must stop sweeping this into the forgettery.

We can assume that both Youseff's physical therapy program and the hospital where he was treated has been obliterated by Israel's current assault on Gaza.
• • •
Since I made myself listen to the self-aggrandizing Friedman interview, I can report one interesting observation. He asserts that Joe Biden thinks "Hamas is ISIS," which in U.S. terms translates to something like "evil we are not obliged to understand." I'm not sure that flies in any situation, but most certainly not in this one.

Monday, January 22, 2024

What church ought to be good for ...

In my ongoing fascination with the question of what makes white evangelicals Trump's biggest supporters, this grabbed my attention. 

Robert P. Jones, an indefatigable pollster of American religious byways with the Public Religion Research Institute, picks a bone with lazy commentators: 

Dispelling the Zombie Myth of White Evangelical Support for Trump

... the assertion that unchurched White evangelicals are the most supportive of Trump is not supported by the preponderance of evidence ...

White evangelical Protestants who attend church weekly or more are equally as likely as those who attend church a few times a month or less to:

    •    Believe the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump (59% vs. 61%);
    •    Disagree that there is solid evidence that Trump committed serious federal crimes (69% vs. 66%); and
    •    Disagree that the 2024 election of Trump to the White House poses a threat to American democracy and way of life (72% vs. 67%).

Stated most conservatively and plainly: church attendance levels make no difference in support for Trump among White evangelical Protestants today.

... So why does this myth about White evangelical support for Trump, despite the plain evidence to the contrary, continue to be resurrected? My strong suspicion is that this theory serves a psychological purpose: It subconsciously protects a deeply-held American assumption about the positive value of church.

If church attending is a moral behavior that generates positive civic goods, then it should follow that frequent church attenders should be less attracted to a leader such as Trump—or at least to his most racist and xenophobic appeals. Asserting that Trump’s White evangelical support is being generated by those outside the church fold simultaneously resolves a paradox and absolves the church.

I'll take Jones' word for this. I've seen assertions to the contrary -- but this guy has the polling. More encouragingly, Jones' data suggests that Trump's support among all sorts of evangelical identifiers hit a high mark in 2018 and has dropped from the low 80s to the mid-60s. The defects of the Donald are getting more visible every day, even to some people who get their information from the right wing media system. He's a not particularly successful con man and serial lier. This discovery is of a piece with generational replacement; younger folks look about more widely, are more critical, and also less inclined to follow religious leaders.

Illustration by way of Baptist News which is not awed either.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

A delight-filled take on a familiar story

Diana Butler Bass preached on today's prescribed Christian Biblical text, the story of Jesus beginning his ministry by calling on the fishermen to leave their boats and follow him.

Fisherman with his catch, San Francisco Chinatown, 2019
[The Hebrew prophet] Amos says, “The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks” (4:2). And Ezekiel threatens the wealthy Egyptians who oppress other nations: “But I will put hooks in your jaws and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales. I will pull you out from among your streams, with all the fish sticking to your scales” (29:4, NIV).

Fishing isn’t about converting people to bring them to church. It isn’t about evangelizing the “heathen.” For the prophets, fishing was a radical snaring of the wicked, wrenching them out of the familiar environs of oppression and setting the world a-right with divine justice.

Jesus invited the peasant fishermen to fish for people — to “hook” Caesar’s elite and beach the empire. When he called them, he called them to participate in this prophetic work in the world.

Jesus bid them to angle for justice. They had probably waited their entire lives for such an invitation. They’d been entangled in Roman fishing line far too long. It wasn’t hard to drop Caesar’s nets and pick up the hooks of God.

Certainly not a traditional take. But hey, I like it. I am convinced that, unless we are scholars, we have only the dimmest idea what these old stories mean. Consequently, if we are to be enlarged by them, we have to treat them as poetic prompts to possible truths. That's what she is doing here. The results can be wise or foolish, but we only find out by trying.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

A sweet story of election day in a newish democracy

I don't know anything substantive about Taiwan. This island, populated by 23.5 million inhabitants, exists in a kind of sovereign limbo, claimed by China and inhabited primarily by people of Chinese ethnicity, but outside the domain of Beijing. How this anomalous situation came to be is a tangled story. 

Since China's current ruler, Xi Jinping, presses China's claim to rule the island, it's not crazy to fear the big country might try to absorb the little one. And U.S. foreign policy (non-Trumpified) pushes back, though cagily. The situation seems appropriately scary, given what China has done to democratic aspirations in Hong Kong and U.S. anxiety over our overstretched global power. Poor Taiwanese, balanced between monsters!

Taiwanese historian Albert Wu offers a presents a succinct pre-primer on how the island became what it is and some sense of its people's current opinions in an interview with political scientist Yascha Mounk. But what warmed my heart was his account of participating in the recent presidential election. Democracy is new and valued in Wu's Taiwan.

"What I've been really moved by the past couple of days is how democratic culture really has come to take root here. On Saturday, we went to the polls with my wife and her parents and, like many families, there are generational divides in Taiwan but also political disagreements. We've long had political disagreements, and we’ve talked about them. But on Saturday, we all went to the polls together. And the polling station was a five minute walk from us. We took our little daughter with us.

"In this election, 70% of people turned out, which is actually considered low for Taiwan. Normally it's between 75 and 80 to 85%. But 70% turned out. And when we got to the polls, there were multigenerational families, people pushing their elderly parents or grandparents. I'm sure many of them disagreed. But they just went to the polls. And many of those people had lived for forty years without ever having the chance to vote for their own president.
"There are always local elections, but people really take this privilege of being able to choose their elected leader seriously, and it was orderly: people were just lining up. When I was growing up, election day was really just a chaotic mess, people were still campaigning outside. I sort of missed that personally.
"But everybody got the day off. And afterwards, in Taiwan, eating is very important. So we strolled to this hotel and had a really delicious and wonderful meal. And even though we disagreed politically, we sat down and ate and talked about the future of our country and our hopes and dreams and desires for the country. And even though we know we've had some disagreements, we cherished that moment of voting together and being together.

"Coming out of the ‘70s and ‘80s, when there was a lot of ballot stuffing during the authoritarian era, vote counting is now completely transparent. And what they do is they open up the voting booths, and everybody can go and observe. And people will just open up the ballots and count them out, and so we went and watched the count.
"The polls closed at 4, and, by 7:30, all the votes were counted. By 9:30, we had a new president, and there was just this wonderful victory rally and all this confetti. And what really moved me is that by the end of the victory rally, everybody stayed behind and picked up confetti: they wanted to keep the streets clean, they picked up confetti, they stacked all the chairs. And the next day, it was as if nothing happened. It was just part of the normalcy of everyday life.

"My grandfather never in his life was able to vote for his own president. My grandmother died before the transition to a fully democratic country. And I think everybody, at least in my parents' generation, and in my generation, knows that. And I think that love for democracy is sort of baked into the current landscape."

As we strive to ensure our own aspiring dictator goes down to defeat in November, the experience of people newly able to make choices about their lives through voting can be inspiring.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Friday cat blogging

I think the cats rather like having their humans sitting around all day waiting for COVID to go away.

While they'd love to have our attention, they do amuse themselves.
Maybe she'll play? 
Maybe he needs his neck cleaned. Janeway seems very maternal at times, given Mio is twice her size. She seems undaunted.

Speaking up. Speaking out.

Jessica Valenti writes the essential newsletter Abortion Every Day. And she does mean every day. Each day she collects the catalogue of horrors that the Republican push to seize complete control of women -- our bodies, our healthcare, our family choices, our lives -- is inflicting on ordinary people.

This week she answered a call to come to Washington to explain it all to a group of Senate Democrats. (Good idea; even friends and lovers of women can't be trusted to understand the realities and implications of women's plumbing.) From her prepared testimony:

Right now, there is a quiet but well-funded campaign led by the most powerful anti-abortion groups in the country that is focused entirely on pressuring and forcing women to carry doomed pregnancies to term.

They’re not only trying to do away with exceptions for nonviable pregnancies—they’re trying to eradicate prenatal testing altogether. It’s a lot easier to force women to carry a dying fetus to term if they never get diagnosed to begin with.

When I tell people about this, the question I get asked most often is why? Why would anyone want to deliberately create a world where women are forced to be “walking coffins”?

It is inexplicable, until you understand that this has nothing to do with families or babies, but enforcing a worldview that says it’s women’s job to be pregnant and to stay pregnant, no matter what the cost or consequence.

... In a moment when we’re hearing so many extreme horror stories, it can be difficult to get back to that foundational cruelty: that to force someone to be pregnant against their will, for any reason, at any point, causes profound existential harm.

Abortion is healthcare, but it is also freedom. That’s why every abortion denied is a tragedy. And, increasingly, Americans understand that. They don’t want the government involved in their decisions about pregnancy at any point.

You can view her entire (7 minute) testimony here:

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Expect violent eruptions. But don't panic.

You probably missed this. I did when James Comey's oped came out. But with Trump romping as expected in Iowa and trying to intimidate E. Jean Carroll (no chance!) and the legal system, it's easy to fear that the Donald and his merry band of fascist cranks are on the rise again. Perhaps their violent assaults are unstoppable?

The former head of the FBI, fired by Trump for insufficient servility, makes the case that fear of Trump-inspired violence is overblown. His argument is strong; I've rendered some key points in bold.

Jan. 6, 2021, was a terrible day, but it was at bottom a security failure. For reasons I still don’t understand, our government didn’t properly assess and prepare for a threat that was moving at the speed of a daytime stroll, broadcast in advance. A mob managed to take a building that sits atop an easily defended hill because it was not properly secured, despite the heroic actions of an understaffed police force. Yes, there were sophisticated actors in the crowd that day, especially the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, who operated with seditious intent in organized teams. But, in the overwhelming main, the offenders of Jan. 6 were morons who bought Trump’s lies. They must be held accountable — every last one of them — but they shouldn’t be the monster under our national bed.

That accountability should comfort us. The Justice Department’s prosecution of more than 1,200 Jan. 6 defendants has sent a shock wave of deterrence at those who might otherwise be tempted to take a day off work to literally fight for Trump. They now know it will cost them dearly and most of them have no interest in paying that price, despite his generous offers of pardon. These aren’t jihadis looking to blow themselves up for some reward in paradise. These are mostly people with day jobs who feel a sense of grievance stoked by the amoral demagogue now running for president again. They might vote for him — those who are not yet felons — but they’re not looking to die for him, or even go to jail for him. They weren’t there when he was arraigned in New York or Georgia or Florida or D.C. They aren’t coming. Sometimes, even idiots aren’t fools.

The rule of law must be vindicated regardless of the threat, which is why public servants at all levels around the country are soldiering on despite the torrent of individual abuse. Terrorists, gangsters and drug lords have long been held accountable in this country even when their organizations posed a serious risk of violence aimed at those who operate our legal system. Fortunately, that’s not what we face today. Trump and his legions are not coming for us. The rule of law is finally coming for him.

My sense -- I could be terribly wrong, but I doubt it -- is that Comey is correct. Trump is a terrible threat to the country because of his almost uncanny to ability to spew the poisoned vitriol that is corroding his broken person into our body politic. He will inspire more violence. Some of it will be bad; a few people, vulnerable people, will be harmed. 

This has always been a violent society with surprisingly violent politics. Texas governor Greg Abbott is literally having migrants and women with nonviable pregnancies killed. Upholding the rule of law and democracy will require bravery from many citizens: jurors, election workers, canvassers, minor office holders, even a few big shots. But we can reject Trumpist venom within the framework of this very imperfect democracy.

Recent off-year and local elections show this. We're winning in improbable places: on Tuesday Democrats flipped a Florida legislative district; Dems elected mayors in Colorado Springs and Jacksonville which were once GOP bastions; and prevailing everywhere voters think the underlying issue is access to abortion -- Kansas, Wisconsin, Virginia, Ohio. These aren't flukes. The voters are not dumb, more tired than anything else.

The Republican presidential run-up is a fizzle. The challengers have no pop with voters. Trump can claim to have won Iowa by a h-u-g-e margin -- but that margin came among a minuscule electorate, barely half as large as Republicans turned out in 2016. They'll say the weak turnout was the weather. We'll see.

Yes, many Democrats aren't enthused either. We would have been glad to turn to another generation of leaders. But there was no way to get there. It will take diligent work to win this November and give this creaky old democracy a chance to right itself. But we can do it; there's nothing in events that says all is lost and much that says we can make a better future. 

Panic at this moment is unnecessary.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Beautiful, strange, and paradoxical

Lying in bed, savoring the foul taste of paxlovid, I ponder a bit Bill Watterson and John Kascht's The Mysteries. Their visually stunning fable takes a misanthropic view of human progress, human science, human obliviousness. 

It's hard to fault the general theme. The little book is a visual tour de force. I got it from the library and urge you to do the same. (Watterson might be known to you as the creator of "Calvin and Hobbes".)

But right this minute, I'm taking another view. As much as I know the dark side, I'm also inspired by the human ingenuity and determination which gave us vaccines for a novel virus within a year. And now there are also drugs that mitigate COVID. I remember the terror of 2020 -- if you got the disease, you might be a goner. But somehow we had to live (too often dependent on risks to those who could not afford to hunker down at home). So we did, most of us. Here in the Mission, we were organized by community leaders to help each other.

That too is a Mystery. It's a strange and paradoxical universe and humans are a strange and paradoxical part of it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Still feverish, still positive 5 days into COVID ...

but living the good life of a battery powered zombie in this heated vest, a gift from Erudite Partner. Yes, eventually, everything will be battery powered, we hope.

Sick of my current condition, but COVID is apparently not quite through with me. Or many of us this winter. Fortunately I don't feel seriously ill, but still may need to avoid people.

This San Francisco Chronicle article [gift link] describes what seems to be happening in this household. Despite having mild sickness last June and up-to-date shots, the current variant seems to get through. 

Peter Chin-Hong, a UCSF infectious disease expert, said the long duration could be related to the “changing of the guard” of COVID variants. 

“People who had been exposed to XBB in the summer and fall were less protected when JN.1 emerged,” he said. “Strategies people had used to make them NOVIDs (people who have never had COVID) in the past did not work quite as well with the more transmissible JN.1. So that made a whole lot of people susceptible to COVID over a duration of weeks.”

This too will pass.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

I didn't need this.

Nobody does. Not that sick at present, but out until further notice.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Friday cat blogging

Sharing is not the most developed of feline traits. Mio and Janeway seem to both tolerate and sometimes enjoy each other. But human observers wonder.

They combined to tear at new stuffed mouse sent by an admirer. After having done appropriate damage, they've ignored it ever since.

Janeway was not not going to let Mio have the toy basket to himself this morning.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

The cruelty is the point ...

Usually, I don't want to just fill this space with outrage. But here's an exception.

Did you know that Republican governors in fifteen states have rejected federal money to help feed kids out of school in the summer? They are denying food aid to some 8 million children already qualified for food under the regular season school lunch program. 

Some people have been watching too much Fox News. Why might governors chose this path:

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said she saw no need to add money to a program that helps food-insecure youths “when childhood obesity has become an epidemic.” Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen (R) said bluntly, “I don’t believe in welfare.”

... Pillen, the Nebraska governor, said in a statement that the program is “unnecessary and is not adequate to meeting the needs of children. … Handing out money is not enough to meet kid’s needs. They need much more.”

The states denying help to poor kids include Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming.

I looked up why usually generous Vermont might have joined this backward bunch. According to Vermont Public Radio, state officials explained:

... Vermont lacks the IT system needed to streamline the collection of eligibility information from participating households

The problem here is state poverty, not cruel misgivings about feeding poor kids. 

• • •

The good news of the day is that More then 20 Million People Have Signed Up for Obamacare Plans, Blowing by Record

Little by little, over the bodies of obstructive Republicans, we're making this rich country a better country.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

He's a big cry baby

Simon Rosenberg argues that Donald Trump is a weak candidate. I think we should all take that perspective seriously.

Trump is a much weaker candidate than he was in 2020. He is far more degraded, extreme and dangerous. His public performances are far more erratic. He keeps making huge unforced political errors, almost daily, on things that really matter.... there may be as many as 9 things that [Trump has] already done that will make it very hard for him to win in 2024:

  • His ongoing efforts to end American democracy

  • That’s he’s a sex offender, epic fraudster, insurrectionist, stealer of state secrets, Russian fifth columnist - all of these are known, already

  • No one is more responsible for ending Roe and stripping rights and freedoms from women than Trump

  • He is now talking and raving like a madman - his public appearances are far more disturbing and delusional than 2020

  • His deep relationship w/Epstein, one of the most significant sex traffickers and pedophiles in the modern history of the United States

Narcissism is the core of the man. Biden said right in his speech last Friday: Trump is a "loser." Part of defeating him is to never let him forget that because, when pricked, he makes himself ever more repulsive. 

We can do this.

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Shards from the embattled Republic -- January 6 is open-ended

It's not just you and your friends. Most of us think Donald Trump is a criminal. Don't forget that.

Via Marcy Wheeler

After three years of concerted propaganda effort, thin majorities still believe:
    •    January 6ers were “mostly violent” (50%)
    •    Punishments for Jan6ers have been fair or not harsh enough (73%)
    •    Trump bears responsibility for January 6 (53%)
    •    DOJ is treating Trump like anyone else (57%)
    •    Trump telling his mob to march to the Capitol threatened democracy (51%)
    •    The mob entering the Capitol threatened democracy (58%)
    •    Congress voting against certifying the election threatened democracy (53%)
    •    The attack on the Capitol should never be forgotten (55%)
    •    There is no solid evidence of widespread voter fraud (63%)

We know better than to return the criminal to power.

When National Guard troops and law enforcement retook control of the Capitol complex on the evening of January 6th it was possible to see the shameful episode as a dreadful first, yes … but something the republic had survived. The ongoing Republican defense of the failed coup means January 6th never really ended.
Politically we’re still living in an open-ended January 6th. You can see it every time an elected Republican refuses to admit who won the 2020 election, the refusals to admit that Trump attempted a coup and failed. You have to look long and hard to find an elected Republican who can clearly and honestly answer these simple questions. Because the contrary is a party article of faith.
No republic is safe if it contains a major political faction which allows itself to resort to subterfuge and violence if it can’t succeed in a free and fair election. Joshua Marshall

Via historian of fascism John Ganz

On January 6 Trump fully revealed himself to be as someone who had the will to destroy the democratic republic even if he didn’t have the means. He attempted to subvert the republic’s constitution and laws and he defied the democracy’s will as expressed in the vote. He lost both constitutionally and popularly. In terms of the American form of government, he had no leg to stand on: neither legality nor legitimacy. But he attempted to remain in office. That he failed is immaterial. The simple fact is that he wanted to put an end to this country as we know it.

... From a certain perspective, the critics who say that talking about fascism takes Trump too seriously are correct: it involves too much hocus-pocus, it cloaks him in a certain dark grandeur, and gives everything a Spenglerian gloom that that him seem bigger than he is. After all, he’s just a crook and a conman, an idiot. But the phoniness, that bombast, and the ridiculousness was a part of the original thing, too. There has always been a deeply moronic side to fascism.

Fascism is perhaps most fundamentally a moron putting on world-historical airs. “Morons trying to make history” — what better way to describe January 6? The second biggest mistake is to take it too seriously.

But the first biggest mistake is to not take it seriously enough.

We can end January 6 and we have to.

Monday, January 08, 2024

How the evangelicals won

Christianity's American Fate: How Religion Became More Conservative and Society More Secular by U.C. Berkeley professor emeritus of history David A. Hollinger is one of the most intriguing books I've read in a long time. Hollinger's premise here is that

What counts as "Christian" is always achieved, never given. It all depends on who gets control of the local franchise.

He offers an explanation of how "evangelicalism" won out in U.S. society in the late 20th century. In ordinary speech, "Christian" has come to mean "evangelical."  But this strain of Christianity is itself losing out to cultural secularism which is strengthened by the winners' anti-science and right wing politics.

Once upon an American time, the United States was something like a "Christian nation," in the sense that early white settlers lived in reference to British and European Christianity, even if they belonged to separate tribes or, sometimes, no religious tribe at all. Christian denominations divided, as did the nation, over the continuation of Black slavery in the mid-19th century. Some of them reunited after the Civil War, some didn't. Hollinger uses "ecumenical"  to describe the once dominant northern Protestant denominations -- Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, United Church of Christ, etc. They were the public face of Christianity for much of the country, but, as has always been the case, not for everyone.

Hollinger contends that hegemonic ecumenical Protestant supremacy unraveled in the 20th century for many reasons. One was education:
Differences in education contributed to a division between two families of Protestants that persisted throughout the twentieth century and became even more in the twenty-first. In what historian Martin E. Marty called American Protestantism's informal "two-party system," one cluster of Protestants focused on individual salvation and morality, while another "lost faith in revivalism and worked instead for some transformation of the world." ... After World War II, the two-party system become the ecumenical-evangelical divide ...
He highlights two factors in the divide which I have not seen explicated elsewhere.
1) Educated Jewish migrants escaping European fascism brought world views of equivalent depth and moral seriousness from non-Christian roots. Ecumenical Protestantism recognized equals; pretty soon the culturally dominant parts of the United States came to talk and think in terms of "Judeo-Christian civilization."

2) Meanwhile, ecumenical Protestants who had followed the call to spread the gospel to all nations returned changed.
The rest of humanity was more than a needy expanse, awaiting the benevolence and supervision of American Protestants. ... Within the churches, the missionary witness to the scope of humankind and the integrity of many cultures threatened the old habit of speaking of non-Christians as "heathens."
In Hollinger's telling, just as ecumenical Protestantism achieved its zenith in the anti-Communist, culturally conservative 1950s, it was sowing seeds of its long popular decline.
[It undertook] a multidecade campaign to achieve a more cosmopolitan Protestantism. ... The liberalizers called on the faithful to renounce a number of inherited ideas and practices which the ecumenical elite decided were racist, sexist, imperialist, homophobic, unscientific, and chauvinistic, and thus inconsistent with the gospel as it should apply to American society. But these ideas and practices remained popular with much of the white population, within and beyond the churches ... Opposing these relatively cosmopolitan views -- and defined in large part by reaction against them -- were the fundamentalists. ..
... the more control white evangelicals achieved over the Christian franchise and the more they allowed it to weaken democracy and to discredit science, the more comfortable other Americans came to feel in one another's spirituality and and ethnoracially diverse company. ...The secular emerged less as a threat than the sectarians to an inclusive national community committed to democracy ...
Evangelicals seized the Christian franchise; Donald Trump grabbed up the evangelicals; organized Christianity continued on its course of discrediting itself.

Stating my own biases: it's not hard for me to believe that the kind of hegemonic, white, broad-minded, mainline Protestantism that I was raised in was not a Good Thing. It certainly was uninspiring. 

Hollinger lays out how it lost out. There's plenty missing from his account. Catholic religion is not well incorporated in this telling. Nor does he believably recount the attractiveness to many in this country of various other non-Christian spiritual paths.

But this is a very good, challenging book for those of us in a U.S. context who cling to a Christian understanding of the moral universe -- and also to those of us who just want to know where these crazy right wing evangelicals came from.

Sunday, January 07, 2024

Where we gonna go?

U.S. law about refugees and a right of asylum is a snarled tangle of temporary branches, feeble novel shoots, and confused and blocked dead ends. Much of this has become semi-permanent by custom and usage. Republicans are straightforward nowadays in wishing to exclude all newcomers (except maybe white Europeans) while Democrats may mean well, but have not had the legislative power and courage to fix this cruel mess.

And unless we are somehow touched personally by the experiences of refugees and immigrants, most of us don't have to know what a shit show this non-system has become. So we don't know, while those ensnared within it fumble and push their way forward, seeking safety in unwelcoming lands.

Erudite Partner has taken a swing in Nowhere to Run at untangling some the elements of refugee law and practice; the history of how we got to this mess; where global refugees and migrants come from; where they end up; and the forces of war and climate degradation that promise to make these human surges even larger in the coming century. She begins:

Back in 1968, my father announced that, if Richard Nixon were elected president that November, he was going to move us all to Canada. ...

Didn't happen. But the impulse -- and often the necessity --  to move on is part of our interconnected lives. This article is a solid pre-primer.

Saturday, January 06, 2024

Librarians and lost innocence

Sometimes it is the little stories of small eruptions of cultural grievance that remind those of us who live comfortably in Democratic cities that MAGA madness is afoot.

I was gripped by this story of right wing culture warriors closing down a small, necessary and loved, rural public library for fear of The Gay.

A Battle Over Drag Queen Story Hour Shut Down This Town’s Library

Last April, the library announced a one-time addition to its children’s lineup: Drag Queen Story Hour.

“We knew it would probably be controversial,” recalled Amanda Hoffman, who was the library’s director of youth services. “We didn’t expect it to be what it became.”

Over the coming months, someone called in a bomb threat to the library, a board meeting ended in punches being thrown and the library itself became so tense that Ms. Hoffman was hospitalized with stress-induced vertigo. Neighbors denounced one another as “fascists” or “predators” and complained of being doxxed, threatened and harassed.

The library never held a Drag Queen Story Hour.

Finally, this fall, most of the library’s staff and trustees quit, forcing it to shut down. After 53 years of operation, the library — named for the adjacent Rockwell Falls — has not lent a book since Sept. 26.

This sort of thing is going on wherever there is a critical mass of organized outraged objectors to contemporary culture. Since there are people involved, people get hurt -- as do libraries.

Reading the story, put me in mind of my mother who died over two decades ago. She was a children's librarian and a faithful Republican. She was committed to finding the right book for each child that would move them to read. She told the branch public library early in my childhood that I should be allowed to browse and take out any book from the adult section that interested me without restriction. And I did. Though not fully credentialed in the modern sense, she was a supporter of the American Library Association and attended at least one national conference.

The issue of Drag Queen Story Hour would not have arisen (I think) in the private schools where Mother worked. But I find it interesting to mull over how she might have thought about it.

Mostly I think she would have found the idea of drag utterly strange. There were men who wanted to prance around in women's clothes and read with kids? Weird!

She upheld the gender rules about self-presentation, almost always wearing skirts when most women of her class had defaulted to slacks. She just felt better, even while gardening. You can tell I thought this was weird.

But she also came out of a more innocent time when single sex, homo-social, play acting was an understood form of having fun. Before television, given the chance, people (women, anyway) enjoyed playing dress up for their mutual amusement. 

A women's club show from 1937. Mother is the cop.

I think she might have defaulted on Drag Queen Story Hour to, cautiously, understanding the event as men and children playing. It would never have occurred to her that this was sexualizing. She would have found that notion prurient. 

She might not have liked Drag Queen Story Hour much, but if it engaged the children with books, that would be enough.

Time for an Epiphany t-shirt


Those traveling astrologers found somebody they didn't expect. Shirt makers could have said "Jewish" or perhaps "Palestinian." Or maybe Arab ... But it's the thought that counts.

Friday, January 05, 2024


After a week on stand-by, I'm excused from jury duty. As were, according to the court website, all of us in every group who were in the pool this past week.

No surprise to be excused. The last few times I've been called went like this. I appreciate the convenience of checking my status online, but come away with questions.

Does the county actually still run jury trials? Or is the system so complex and expensive that litigants (this was civil court) nearly always settle without a trial? Or do they have the option of going to a non-jury trial in which a judge decides the dispute? That might be a better deal if the matter is complicated.

I'm ambivalent about jury duty. I believe firmly that this crazy system of ours only works if we participate. But I'm not thrilled about the (potential) interruption. Guess I'm normal.

Anyone have any thoughts about jury duty?

Friday cat blogging

Yes, it makes me slightly anxious to have Mio hanging over my head at my desk. Fortunately, despite his bulk, he usually moves cautiously. 
Janeway's overhead exploits don't inspire the same confidence. The E.P. caught this inflight snap of the leaping menace above ...

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Our responsibiiity here in the USofA

In the bowels of a Washington Post economics article, there was this:

How important is U.S. aid for the Israeli economy?


The United States gives Israel $3.8 billion in military support each year. The countries share defense technology to give Israel a strategic edge over its adversaries. The United States also sells Israel hundreds of millions of dollars in bombs, missiles and shells.

The White House is pushing a supplemental funding bill that would include $14 billion in aid to Israel in early 2024. The bill has stalled in Congress as Republicans and Democrats debate funding for the U.S. border.

Itai Ater, an economist at Tel Aviv University and a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, called the U.S. funding “crucial.”

“We are talking about approximately 50 billion shekels [$13.8 billion],” he said. “If the expenditure on the war reaches around 150 to 200 billion shekels, it would constitute a quarter of the war costs. This is a hugely significant sum and also provides the American government the option to exert diplomatic pressure on us, which is a good thing, considering our government.”

Zelekha added: “If we had to fund that ourselves, it would pose an even greater problem. Secondly, the very fact of receiving aid signals to financial markets that we have economic backing, which reassures the markets.”

“We need to send a big thank you to President Biden for this assistance,” he said.

If we want to curtail Israel's assault on Gaza -- and to push toward an end to oppression of Palestinians more generally -- this is our leverage point: working to stop funding by our tax dollars. Calling for "Ceasefire!" is obviously morally correct. Shouting "Free Palestine!" feels right; Palestinians and Israelis will have to work out what that means. 

But "stop paying for Israel's wars" is the useful demand for Americans. We need to be screaming bloody murder at Biden and the Congress to simply cut it out. 

This is depressing to those of us who've worked for peace for many years. Somehow action always comes down to boring old calls to Congress. But time has also vindicated so many of those seemingly fruitless cries in the violent whirlwind: Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam ... In a time of receding empire, this is our job.