Thursday, February 29, 2024

For love or money, people get around

You might think that a deadly war in somebody else's country would repel most people who had any option to stay well away. And, in general, that's true. But there are exceptions.

In Ukraine, from the earliest days of Russia's attempt at conquest, there have been quite a few voluntary international participants. According to the Associated Press:

In early 2022, authorities said 20,000 people from 52 countries were in Ukraine. Now, in keeping with the secrecy surrounding any military numbers, authorities will not say how many are on the battlefield but they do say fighters’ profile has changed.
The first waves of volunteers came mostly from post-Soviet or English-speaking countries. Speaking Russian or English made it easier for them to integrate into Ukraine’s military, [Oleksandr Shahuri, an officer of the Department of Coordination of Foreigners in the Armed Forces of Ukraine] said.
Last year the military developed an infrastructure of Spanish-speaking recruiters, instructors and junior operational officers, he added.

And recruitment is succeeding in Bogota, Columbia where 10,000 highly trained soldiers retire every year. Service in Ukraine is a good deal for these vets.
Corporals in Colombia get a basic salary of around $400 a month, while experienced drill sergeants can earn up to $900. Colombia’s monthly minimum wage is currently $330.
In Ukraine any member of the armed forces, regardless of citizenship, is entitled to a monthly salary of up to $3,300, depending on their rank and type of service. They are also entitled to up to $28,660 if they are injured, depending on the severity of the wounds. If they are killed in action, their families are due $400,000 compensation.
Let's hope these recruits are not bringing a Columbian record of human rights abuses with them.

Meanwhile on the other side of that war, in Russia, hungry Cubans are providing recruits to be ground up in mass human wave operations, according to Reuters:

Cuban seamstress Yamidely Cervantes has bought a new sewing machine for the first time in years, plus a refrigerator and a cellphone - all on Russia's dime.
She said her 49-year-old husband Enrique Gonzalez, a struggling bricklayer, left their home in the small town of La Federal on July 19 to fight for the Russian army in Ukraine. Days later, he wired her part of his signing-on bonus of about 200,000 roubles ($2,040) which she received in Cuban pesos, Cervantes told Reuters.
... On the 100-meter dirt road where Cervantes lives, at least three men have left for Russia since June, and another had sold his home in anticipation of going, she said.
"You can count on one hand those who are left," the 42-year-old said as she surveyed the street from a small terrace where she'd repurposed two broken toilet bowls as flower pots.
"Necessity is what is driving this."
From its onset, the Israeli war on Gaza has presented challenges to Israel's human economy. The war pushes Israel toward becoming ever more an unsustainable, malignant Sparta. Many men who make its modern economy hum were called up to serve in the Israeli Defense Force, while Palestinian laborers were locked out of the agricultural sector to be replaced by whatever migrant workers Israel could import.
According to a report in the Guardian, Israeli recruitment of foreign construction workers is focusing on India.
The industry relied on approximately 80,000 Palestinian workers, who are now barred from entering Israeli territory. As a result, half-finished residential blocks are everywhere, yellow tower cranes waiting motionlessly overhead. In the West Bank, poverty rates have soared.
The economic impact for Israel could also be severe. The finance ministry has estimated the expulsion of Palestinian construction workers is costing 3bn shekels (£656m) a month, and could eventually lead to a loss of 3% of GDP because the building and housing industries owe 400bn shekels in loans.
... “Right now I earn around 15,000 rupees (£150) a month,” said Rajat Kumar, 27, from the north Indian state of Haryana. Though he has a bachelor’s degree, for six years he had been unable to get any other job except construction, earning a salary he described as “peanuts”. The prospect of travelling abroad to a country engulfed in conflict was a small price to pay for regular, well-paid work, said Kumar, who got his first passport in order to apply for a job as a plasterer in Israel.
The job he has applied for in Israel would pay 138,000 rupees a month, with accommodation provided, which he saw as a small fortune. “When I compare it with what I earn here, I can’t think of anything but the better life I and my family will have,” he said.
A bilateral labour agreement was signed between Israel and New Delhi last May, before the war in Gaza broke out, but has since become a priority for both countries. Israeli transportation minister, Miri Regev, said during a visit to India earlier this month that Israel would be “lessening its dependence on Palestinian workers” by replacing them with skilled foreign workers.
As always in contemplating migrant flows, let's hope this is worth it to the human individuals caught up in the flow of people. But people always get around, something US immigration restrictionists fail to understand.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024


I've been writing this blog, in this antiquated medium, for 19 years, ever since 2005.

No post today. I'm doing what makes me happiest, walking out of doors. See you soon enough.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Old friends

We went to a lovely birthday party last weekend; the happy recipient of this excellent t-shirt had just turned 70, a mere youth from my perch. But there we are.

It seems appropriate to mark this occasion with some reflections from the great Kareem Abdul Jabbar -- the GOAT basketball wizard and reflective elder:

My body is an assassin. And his main target is me. He wants to kill me, but not all at once. He’s a sadistic sniper, hitting me here, allowing me to recover, then hitting me again in a different spot. He shot me with leukemia, prostate cancer, and Afib. He’s not done. He’s waiting out there somewhere, crouching in the bushes, controlling his breathing, line up his crosshairs on a fresh part of my body.

Oh, the betrayal. My body and I used to be best buds. We chummed around everywhere together, eating great food, playing basketball, enjoying romantic relationships. Sometimes we got hurt, but we healed fast and laughed it off. Together we felt like we could do anything, achieve greatness. And we did.

Now I sometimes feel about my body like I’m caring for a gruff hobbling parent, hauling him to appointment after appointment, while he shows no gratitude. Yet, he leans all his considerable weight on me as I schlep him around all day. It’s exhausting.

Still, I love the old curmudgeon. He may trip me when I’m not looking. May make me forget a book title or where I left my glasses. May be adding a laser scope to his rifle. But sometimes he forgets his sinister mission and comes out from the bushes to hang with old friends, play with grandchildren, and comfort others. He’s not all bad.

Our evolving relationship has actually done me more good than harm. I learned how to lean on others when I was ill. That is not a small accomplishment. Each clumsy potshot he’s taken has brought me closer to my friends and family. Plus, seeing dedicated doctors and nurses doing all they could to help me nurtured my faith in humanity. Faith in humanity is an endangered emotion these days, so I’m happy whenever I experience it anew.

Maybe my body isn’t an assassin. Maybe it’s still my best buddy. It’s just that now we have a different, more mature relationship, based on shared joys and shared struggles. In his song “Old Friends,” Paul Simon wrote about two old men sitting on a park bench: “Old friends, memory brushes the same years/Silently sharing the same fears.” Me and my body are those old friends. Maybe we do share the same fears about deterioration and death, but they’re a lot less scary facing them together.

And neither of us intends, as Dylan Thomas said, to “go gentle into that good night.”

Further wisdom from Kareem:

I realize that my purpose isn’t to solve problems. That’s way too grandiose. Problems of some sort will always plague humanity. I just want to lend a hand in pushing the giant rock up the hill while also giving comfort to others who are struggling with the weight. The more we work together, the lighter the load for everyone. That’s my real purpose: to lighten the load. 

Though his body betrays him, he's aging deeply and sharing meaningfully.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Polls - national and local

Ever wondered why national polls are so inadequate for understanding the opinions and leanings of people who aren't white/don't consider themselves "white"? 

Here's the answer in one simple chart:

Even though there are plenty of Asian-origin, Black, and Latino (and other!) Americans, unless pollsters really work on enlarging their samples ("over sampling"), they just aren't talking to enough people to avoid distortions caused by small sample size. This is hard and expensive and often doesn't happen.

Thinking about this made me wonder about the intricacies of accurate polling in San Francisco, especially about the upcoming mayoral race. Here's a picture:
Wikipedia - click to enlarge

The sheer complexity of the project is very costly to do well -- and the cost will contribute to why we are in danger of only having well-heeled choices come November. That's too bad for the city. Most of us don't live in the tech-bro bubble and have different needs and hopes for this place.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Two meditations on the murder of Alexei Navalny

On this second Sunday of the Christian season of reflection called Lent, I find two of my favorite preachers writing of the murdered Russian activist Alexei Navalny.

Before his death, I had not been aware that Navalny was a Christian. He had placed himself at the dictator Putin's mercy by returning to the Russia he hoped to free after that state had poisoned him. That choice always seemed incomprehensible. Perhaps it is less so in the context of belief that the power of the good is released by a love so strong that killing it only multiplies the amount of love in the world. 

Diana Butler Bass distinguishes between whines of victimization (see Trump and his MAGA acolytes) and taking up the terrible power that is (relatively) selfless love.

Ultimately, a martyr complex is about you, what you’ve lost, what you have sacrificed, your troubles: Look at what I’ve done for others! See what I carry on your behalf. But look how I’m suffering and despised! No one appreciates me! No one says ‘thank you’! You may, indeed, have taken up a cross. However, such adversities can become laden with bitterness — and often become a weapon wielded first at one’s self (self pity) and then at others (manipulation or revenge).

That’s not a cross. That’s a millstone.

But those who find themselves bearing the cross — whether they wind up as martyrs or not — understand that following Jesus isn’t about nurturing and carrying grievances. It is about letting go of what weighs one down to make room for something bigger, a giving of one’s self to love and service to create a different kind of world. You understand that taking this path might involve hardship and trial. You still go — you still take up the cross — not for yourself, but for others.

Taking up a cross isn’t just an inconvenient ordeal, a persistent sin, or annoying demand. Taking up the cross doesn’t mean whining or seeking attention when confronted with trouble. When you take up Jesus’ cross, you choose to surrender the burdens of self-pretension in favor of cumbering yourself with compassion and love of neighbor. This cross puts one in tension with injustice, the powerful, violence, bigotry, and delusions of grandeur. That’s the cross Jesus instructs his followers to pick up. The “yoke” of this cross is ultimately not heavy but light.

For my friend John Kirkley, Alexei Navalny's trajectory provides a "glimpse of truth" -- a fact of the universe in which we live -- as Gandhi once explained in his autobiography. Kirkley says of Navalny:

"It’s fine, because I did the right thing."  One doesn’t have to be a Christian in order to do the right thing.  Christians do not have a monopoly on moral courage.  But Navalny clearly grounded his commitment to nonviolent resistance against evil in Christian faith.  More specifically, [he] trusted in the power of redemptive suffering, in the willingness to suffer for doing what is good no matter the consequences. 

... the point is that suffering is intrinsic to the energetic dynamics of affirming and denying forces in creation, as well as the conscious attention that seeks to intervene in their reconciliation.  Such suffering is not “stupid suffering,” it is simply a given condition for the emergence of life and the manifestation of agape love – a love that acts as a conscious force of attention to catalyze reconciliation.  The suffering of birth pangs is not stupid suffering.  The suffering of the decay of the body over time is not stupid suffering.  The suffering of an exploding star is not stupid suffering.  The suffering of the great flaring forth in the creative fire of the emergence of something out of nothing is not stupid suffering.

Navalny's self-sacrificial choice has released a power we should contemplate. (And, as so often in the history of humankind, it leaves one wondering about what this self-sacrificial heroism means to the women left behind ...)

Friday, February 23, 2024

We like IVF and many medical fertility interventions

It turns out that availability of In Vitro Fertility offerings is so popular that even Donald Trump is running away as fast as he can scamper from the decision by Alabama judicial theocrats that frozen 7-cell embryos are people.

Alabama U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville is merely confused. I suspect he's backtracked, but this was his first reaction.

“Yeah, I was all for it. We need to have more kids, we need to have an opportunity to do that, and I thought this was the right thing to do.”

All forms of medical assistance with fertility are very popular. In 2020, Republicans knew this:

The polling on IVF is such that even former Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway advised Republicans to support the procedure. As Alice Ollstein wrote in Politico, polling from Conway’s firm found:
86 percent of all respondents supported access to IVF, with 78 percent support among self-identified “pro-life advocates” and 83 percent among Evangelical Christians.

According to Pew, a very substantial number of us have direct experience of or proximity to various fertility treatments. This is not rare. Or cheap as the data suggest.

Click to enlarge.

Research describes a general, global decline in fertility. 

Over the past half-century, the world has witnessed a steep decline in fertility rates in virtually every country on Earth. This universal decline in fertility is being driven by increasing prosperity largely through the mediation of social factors, the most powerful of which are the education of women and an accompanying shift in life’s purpose away from procreation.
In addition, it is clear that environmental and lifestyle factors are also having a profound impact on our reproductive competence particularly in the male where increasing prosperity is associated with a significant rise in the incidence of testicular cancer and a secular decline in semen quality and testosterone levels.
On a different timescale, we should also recognize that the increased prosperity associated with the demographic transition greatly reduces the selection pressure on high fertility genes by lowering the rates of infant and childhood mortality.

Whether this seems a good or bad thing often depends on whether you are or care about women in poor countries. 

In all this discussion of mediated fertility, something that gets lost is the role of medical interventions which enable LGBTQ+ folks to have children. It's substantial, as I know from living in my queer community. The judicial theocrats wouldn't like that either.

Friday cat blogging

Let's give the local felines a rest. I like this.

I think Janeway might concur.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

No time for cowards and cowardice

On this second anniversary of Russia's full scale invasion of Ukraine, Professor Timothy Snyder, a preeminent historian of central Europe, calls on Americans to buck up. This is no time for weakness; weakness is Donald Trump, his captive GOP enablers, and their swindles.

American newspapers instruct us that Biden is old.  If he’s old (goes the thinking), he must be weak; and if he is weak, then we are permitted to give up.  But Biden is not weak.  He is not running away from prison, or from anything else.  He does not act from fear.  He gets work done.  His record is one of the strongest in the history of the American presidency.  And he went to Ukraine with zero military protection.  That was courageous.  No other president has ever done that.

... It is absurd, in such a world, where so much is at stake, where so much is to be won, to speak of our “fatigue” either with the struggle in Ukraine or the struggle for our own democracy.  Doing so is the prologue to a story of weakness, which ends with the victory of the weak man.  When we fall in line behind the fearful, when we forget the “spirit of freedom,” we help the weak men create a politics of fear.  When we obey in advance, we invite the weak man to take power over our souls, which then means power over our politics.

In 2024, a year of war and a year of elections, a year that will test decency and democracy, the weak man wants to see his fear in our eyes.  We will need the courage to admire the courageous, and to say something that might feel risky.  For example: we believe in our values, and we believe in our strength.  Ukraine can win this war, Biden can win this election, and democracy can thrive.

The situation in Ukraine is not all that Ukrainians or their friends might hope it would be. Some of Ukraine's friends are stepping up; Denmark just sent all its artillery ammunition to the embattled country to begin to make up for the shortfall caused by Republican refusal to fund U.S. commitments. But Republican stalling in Congress threatens what that brave people have suffered for and won.

Michael O’Hanlon from the DC thinktank the Brookings Institution evaluated Ukraine's situation. 

Ukraine remains stronger than you might think
... Much has been made of Ukraine’s disappointing 2023 counteroffensive. But given the strength of defenses on both sides, its failure was no huge surprise. Defense is simply stronger than offense at this stage of the war and, because of this, Ukraine might be able to hang on to most or all of the 82 percent of the pre-2014 territory it now holds, even with constrained military supplies. Yet, as the recent loss of Avdiivka demonstrates, Ukraine might struggle in the event of a complete cutoff of U.S. assistance. The pace of setbacks could accelerate with little warning; like Ernest Hemingway’s quip about bankruptcy, defeat could occur gradually, then suddenly.

... there is no reason for fatalistic thinking about Ukraine. It might very well hold on to at least 82 percent of its territory and eventually gain a strong security link with the West, especially if the United States again leads in addressing the Russian threat to Ukraine. At the moment, however, the U.S. Congress is playing with fire in threatening to end U.S. assistance to Kyiv. Ukraine is resolute in this struggle, but so, alas, is Russia, and if Putin winds up winning this war, NATO’s own security might soon be at risk, too.

 • • •

Oddly, the Ukraine struggle against Russian invasion makes me think about my mother. During the 1930s, she looked on at what was happening in Europe -- at the Nazi takeover of Germany, at the attacks on Jewish Germans, at Hitler's absorption of Austria and Czechoslovakia -- and became a vehement American interventionist. She might be called a "premature anti-fascist." Yet she was a Republican. From her point of view, the worst of isolationists were her fellow Republicans and Hitler apologists like Charles Lindbergh. The threat of fascism made for strange alliances.

That threat does the same today.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Would our right wing Supreme Court go for this one?

I'm sitting here expecting a very necessary package that Amazon promises to deliver today. I'm as hooked on Amazon as the next person -- maybe more so, being extremely urban and always eager to avoid parking.

Drivers for Amazon or one of its subcontractors line up in Dogpatch for dispatch
But maybe I'll have to learn to do something else. David Firestone reports on the monster company's attempt to overthrow long standing labor law. My emphasis.

In a legal filing on Thursday, the company argued that the National Labor Relations Board, which supervises and enforces labor law, was unconstitutional. It came up with various spurious reasons for this argument — the board violates the Constitution’s separation of powers, its actions violate Amazon’s Fifth Amendment rights, it violates Article III by acting like a court, etc. — but the upshot was that it doesn’t think any federal agency has the right to oversee its relationship with its employees.

And if there’s no agency to enforce labor law, there won’t be much of a labor movement left. Companies would have a much easier time essentially doing whatever they wanted to their employees with little fear of oversight. (Which sometimes happens during Republican administrations, but at least the board is there to protect the most fundamental rights.)

Its filing puts Amazon in the company of Elon Musk, whose SpaceX outfit made a similar argument in a lawsuit last month. But the issue really goes back to the New Deal. Many tycoons were furious when the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935, but the Supreme Court clearly upheld the legality of the board in a 1937 case. That doesn’t seem to matter to a new breed of mogul like Musk and Jeff Bezos, who want to return to the Herbert Hoover era.

Amazon is the second largest employer in the state of California, behind only the University of California, with 170,000 workers. 

I'll bet they wish they had a union. UC employees are certainly glad they do.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

There's something about the women

The Gallup demographic research organization finds that: "Liberal ID Has Increased Most Among Young and Senior Women"

Women of all age groups grew more likely to identify as liberal between 1999 and 2021 before drawing back slightly from that position since then. But the steepest increases in liberal ID occurred among women at either end of the age spectrum.

From 1999 to 2013, about three in 10 women aged 18 to 29 consistently identified as liberal, after which the figure rose (a bit unsteadily) to 44% by 2020. The percentage liberal receded slightly to 41% in 2022 and 40% in 2023. The resulting 11-point increase in young women’s liberal identification since 1999 has made what was already the most liberal subgroup of women even more liberal.

Fourteen percent of women aged 65 and older identified as liberal in 1999, but this rose to 21% by 2013 and 25% by 2023, also an 11-point increase overall. Senior women in 1999 were the least liberal female age group, whereas today, they are as likely as middle-aged women to identify as liberal.

Presumably, Republicans' successful efforts to ban abortions is a factor in this. It's obvious why the youngest cohort might be rapidly becoming more liberal; their lives and families are directly impacted as legislators take over what health decisions they are permitted to make. Youth doesn't take such preemptive constraints gladly.

The over-65 set has also been gradually but very steadily becoming less conservative. Though the trend long predates the 2022 Dobbs decision allowing states to ban abortion, these women retain the memory of what life was like before Roe v. Wade, if not themselves, for their mothers.

Gallup concludes:

... a widening of the ideological gaps between men and women over time has been due to women becoming more liberal at a faster rate than men, rather than women and men moving in different ideological directions

From where I sit, we're dragging the country, slowly, in a more humane direction. There really is something about the women.

Hello world!

Sunrise over South Bay.


 Not so bad between rain squalls.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Smidgens of sunshine

It's not all bad. Really. I think I'll try for an occasional post sharing good news you might have missed.

• Michigan repeals its "right to work" law. 

Republicans have been running a con job on workers for the last 75 years, claiming that making it impossible for unions to organize and exercise collective power somehow enhanced individual's freedom. The Democratic majority in the Michigan legislature called bullshit.

For the first time in almost 60 years, a state has formally overturned a so-called “right to work” law, clearing the way for workers to organize new union locals, collectively bargain, and make their voices heard at election time.

This week, Michigan finalized the process of eliminating a decade-old “right to work” law, which began with the shift in control of the state legislature from anti-union Republicans to pro-union Democrats following the 2022 election. “This moment has been decades in the making,” declared Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber. “By standing up and taking their power back, at the ballot box and in the workplace, workers have made it clear Michigan is and always will be the beating heart of the modern American labor movement.”

In addition to formally scrapping the anti-labor law on Tuesday, Michigan also restored prevailing-wage protections for construction workers, expanded collective bargaining rights for public school employees, and restored organizing rights for graduate student research assistants at the state’s public colleges and universities. 

• Maybe Democrats don't have to run away from immigration issues.

The Congressional election on Long Island last week was one sort of test case. Tensions about migrants without resources dumped in New York City by Texas had plenty of resonance in the district. But although Democrat Tom Suozzi called loudly for getting the border under better control, he also brought a record of calling for legalizing the Dreamers and creating a path to citizenship for others without papers. He won handily over a restrictionist GOP immigrant. 

Former Washington Post journalist Paul Waldman maintains in his newsletter:

Democrats can keep winning campaigns by showing that they value immigration and also want an immigration system that actually works, something Republicans clearly don’t. And maybe some day, the savvy set in Washington will be willing to accept what’s right in front of their eyes.

He's got the polling to prove it.

• Maybe Joe Biden's age is an asset.

I certainly think so. Biden is a good president, in part, because he grew up politically in the "before times." That's before Ronald Reagan. From 1932 until 1980, we believed that the job of government was to make our lives better. Most politicians at least paid lip service to the project of government for the people. In their B-level actor, the Republican Party finally found a salesman for the lunatic notion that corporations and rich people are all that matter. Biden is a throwback to a better time.

And he's fine. Just listen to novelist Marianne Robinson

Frankly, I’m less than a year younger than Joe Biden, so I believe utterly in his competence, his brilliance, his worldview. I really do. You have to live to be 80 to find this out: Anybody under 50 feels they’re in a position to condescend to you. You get boxed into this position where people who deal with you are making assumptions about your intellect. It’s very disturbing. Most people my age are just fine. What can I say? It’s a kind of good fortune that America is categorically incapable of accepting: that someone with a strong institutional memory, who knows how things are supposed to work, who was habituated to their appropriate functioning is president. I consider him a gift of God. All 81 years of him.

Well, maybe she goes a little further than I might, but age has positives.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Schooled by Fani Willis' Daddy

When Fulton County Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis testified that she could not produce receipts showing she had reimbursed her boy friend for joint vacations because she always paid large sums of cash, I did think this a weird practice. Maybe not suspicious in itself, but odd. Who carries gobs of cash?

When former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Joyce Vance read the same assertion, she commented

... her testimony that she was in the habit of using cash because it was what her Daddy taught her will ring true to people who understand the culture in the Deep South.

I suspected I was missing something ... and I was.

Fani Willis's father, the distinguished international lawyer John Clifford Ford III, explained in court why he advised his accomplished daughter to hold and pay in cash.

Floyd said he was the one who advised Willis to always carry cash — and to keep “six months worth of cash always.”
“Excuse me, your honor, I’m not trying to be racist, okay, but it’s a Black thing,” Floyd said. He told a story about attempting to pay for his family’s meal at a Cambridge, Mass., restaurant; Floyd was at Harvard on a fellowship, and Willis was 3 years old at the time, he recalled. “The man would not take my American Express credit card. So I pulled out my Visa card, and he wouldn’t take my Visa card.” The same with his traveler’s checks. But the $10 bill Floyd had — that was accepted.
“I’ll never forget that as long as I live,” Floyd said.
Not only did Floyd keep three safes in his own home, he gifted his daughter “her first cash box,” he added.
When she testified, Willis said cash meant financial independence and security, values her father had taught her.

It would be nice to think those days are over. But are they? By trying to use this Georgia court proceeding to humiliate an accomplished Black woman prosecutor who is chasing him down, Donald Trump and his minions are striving with all their might to bring those days back.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Friday cat blogging

Early morning is lap time around here. Mio jumped on my lap this morning and Janeway joined him to give him a bath. That's a total of 26 pounds of cats on my legs; fortunately I provide a firm base. 

I always wonder whether this sort of interaction is going to end in yowls and fur flying but mostly it doesn't. 

This is more typical: proximity but only wary interaction.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Republicans believe the darndest things

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post shares a collection of batshit crazy stuff many GOPers claim to believe. Having grown up in a Republican household with a mother who was a Party activist, it's hard to fathom that in Trumptime, so many have so far jumped the guard rails of reality.

  • An August 2022 YouGov poll after the search of Mar-a-Lago showed 38 percent of Republicans believed the FBI planted evidence there. Just 23 percent disagreed with that proposition (another 39 percent were “not sure”). 
  • A YouGov poll the next month showed a majority of Republicans said it was at least “probably true” that the FBI planted classified documents.
  • A Suffolk University poll shortly after Jan. 6, 2021, showed 58 percent of Donald Trump supporters said the Capitol riot was “mostly an Antifa-inspired attack that involved only a few Trump supporters.” There remains zero evidence for this.
  • A recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll showed 34 percent said it was at least “probably true” that the FBI organized and encouraged the attack on the Capitol. (About half that number believed there was “solid evidence” of this.)
  • YouGov polling in December showed 42 percent of Republicans believe “many top Democrats” are caught up in child sex-trafficking rings, 35 percent believe mass shootings have been faked to promote gun control, and 28 percent believe the government used covid vaccines to implant microchips in people.
  • The same poll showed fully 60 percent of Republicans believe there is “a single group of people who secretly control events and rule the world together.” (Democratic support for the proposition was about half — 28 percent.)
  • And, of course, polls generally show around 6 in 10 or more Republicans continue to believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, despite the complete lack of evidence more than three years later. 
Republican's eagerness to believe impossible things is a true challenge to small "d" democracy. The happily deluded are not a majority. Our job is to remember that and keep it that way.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

A thought for Valentine's Day

Again and again [humankind] tries to put into words and symbols the meaning of experience that never quite by implied by any words and symbols, however great and strategic such words and symbols may be. A simple illustration of what I mean is the use of the three words, "I love you."
Over a period of a half century one person may say that phrase through endless days to another person, and yet at the end of [her] life discover what [they] knew all along, that [she] has never been able to say what [she] meant. -- Theologian Howard Thurman in Deep River and the Negro Spiritual Speaks of Life and Death

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

March primary election (part 2): San Francisco ballot

There are only two measures I can bring myself to care about:

San Francisco Measure E is Mayor London Breed's effort to take advantage of the sour mood of city voters to unleash the police department from numerous constraints and reforms won in the last few years. Want the city cops hiding evidence of when they have used force? Want the cops freed to use any hot new surveillance techniques without supervision? Want our highly political mayor to take oversight of the SFPD from the police commission? That's what's going on in this one. Vote NO. 

San Francisco Measure F is also a foul item and also plays to the city's discontents. It claims to force welfare recipients into mandated drug treatment. But, as is usual in these things, it provides for cutting off benefits without providing genuine services. It's stupid; it's mean; and it won't work. But voters sick of seeing homeless people will probably vote for it; every once in awhile, this city has to kick homeless people. Vote NO.

Then there's the chance for San Francisco Democrats to elect members of the Democratic Party County Committee. WTF?? I usually think of this as the "student council" part of the ballot, the place for locally prominent Democrats to scuffle for attention. But the County Committee does get to pin the Democratic label on candidates and its recommendations might make a difference in the high turnout/low information election that will be the presidential in November.

And so the big money boys -- real estate and tech bros -- are going all out try to put in their guys and gals now. They've got outfits with names like NeighborsSF, TogetherSF and GrowSF and a full slate of "moderates" (that means representing the rich, not the neighborhood people) that they want to implant.

According to an exposé in the Guardian (based on work by Mission Local) they want

a tougher approach to homelessness and drug problems, a more punitive approach to crime, and a climate more friendly to business and housing construction. Some have called for centralizing more power in the office of the mayor.
Yeah -- no kidding they want more corruption and incompetence from a useless mayor they own ... she'll be running again in November. She works fine for these guys, just not for the rest of us.

There's a progressive slate running for County Central Committee. If you live on the east side in Assembly District 17, here are the recommendations of the Bernal Dems.

If you live on the west side of town in Assembly District 19, check out the recommendations from the Harvey Milk Club and Working Families.

I am not edified, but we have to do these things if we want a democratic (small "d") majority to continue to influence this city. Just say NO to our local plutocrats.

March primary election (part 1): the California Senate ballot

My March 4 primary ballot has turned up and I'll be casting it in the next day or two.

Most significant contest on the statewide primary ballot is for the U.S. Senate. It comes in two parts,

1) to fill the seat left vacant by Diane Feinstein's passing until January 3, 2025 and
2) to fill the next six year Senate term which begins on that day.
I see no reason to vote for different people for the two parts of this ballot. Others may differ. These are not even the same list of aspirants!

Three excellent Democrats are running (and a bunch of also-rans). The top two in this primary will run against each other again in the November election. How's that for confusing?

Republican baseball player Steve Garvey is also running; his job is to be a spoiler as no Republican can win in November. But he can keep the race from consisting of two Dems if he gets enough votes.

The Democratic choices are:
1) Congresswoman Barbara Lee who, in matters of war and peace and justice I can thank for "speaking for me" for decades when the rest of Congress couldn't see a moral, responsible way forward.
2) Congressman Adam Schiff who led Trump's first impeachment over his Ukraine arm-twisting and who also served honorably on the January 6 Committee.
3) and Congresswoman Katie Porter, she of the brilliant home economics lessons using her white board to teach testifying billionaires and constituents alike.
I find this a hard choice. Any of these would be an upgrade from Feinstein's last years. Any of them would represent our state well. By a smidgen, I come down for Katie Porter. I don't want to lose her intelligence and her ability to communicate from a perch in Washington.

But I am not going to get upset if the winner in November is one of the other two. What political riches California has produced! Remember that when you feel sick of politicians.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Yet another element of community we can cherish

In which Erudite Partner applauds what may be our best civic institution, Our Public Library.

I’d like to argue that there is, however, one institution that’s almost entirely benign: the public library. As I wish one could say about our medical system, it does no harm (though many right-wingers disagree with me, as we shall see).

What could be more wonderful than a place that allows people to read books, magazines, and newspapers for free? That encourages children to read? That these days offers free access to that essential source of information, entertainment, and human connection, the Internet? It’s even a place where people who have nowhere to live — or who are regularly kicked out of their homeless shelters during daylight hours — can stay dry and warm. And where they, too, can read whatever they choose and, without spending a cent — no small thing — use a bathroom with dignity.

Not surprisingly our right wingers would destroy libraries as well as the rest of civilization if they could. Somebody somewhere might be becoming smarter, wiser, and more broad-minded; gottta clamp down. 

Sticking up for the freedom to read freely is a vital form of sticking up for human possibility ...

It's got to get better with dragons!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Caltrans is ready for the Superbowl

These signs dotted the I-5 all the the way from the Central Valley.

Here in the Mission, bus traffic for tomorrow evening has been re-routed. 

Many experts doubt whether our 49ers can win the game, but the powers-that-be want to be ready. The celebration if we win will be wild. One year, an inebriated sports fan managed to climb and then fall off our roof. No serious damage done, but it could have been bad.

I intend to enjoy the show. The 49ers have given us another year of delicious fandom, win or lose.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

The recurring question: what's wrong with these people?

What do so many of our fellow citizens see in a crazy, sociopathic old uncle? I mean Donald Trump of course. A majority of us just don't get it. We've got a perfectly good president who is trying to turn the unwieldy ship of state in the direction of uplifting us, materially and democratically. And yet, so many continue to be attached to this incompetent greedy huckster.

Religion historian Diana Butler Bass took a stab at that question which bears repeating:

What I suddenly recognized is that once I too wanted everything to be broken, everyone to be miserable. When I became an evangelical. You know evangelicals — especially white ones — the religious people who love Donald Trump, stick with him no matter what, and vote for him in massive numbers.
They also love making people miserable. Indeed, it is a central tenet of evangelical faith, the entry ritual into community.

In evangelicalism, the first step to salvation is making you miserable. Sermons point out your misery, your sad state of existence, the hopelessness of the human condition. If you aren’t an evangelical and seem happy, your evangelical friends are convinced you are pretending, hiding something, are in denial, or are deluded by Satan. If you ever reveal a doubt or sorrow, they are waiting to pounce — to point out your misery and remedy it through conversation. You must see that you have led a miserable life, made miserable choices, are a deeply miserable person. Misery is the doorway to being saved.

The core of evangelicalism is theological — it reveals a deep, inescapable human problem (we are locked in misery by sin) and salvation from the problem (surrender to Jesus through conversion). The only real happiness is eternal life, the heavenly realm. You cannot be happy or go to heaven without profound sorrow over the misery of your soul. You must be broken before you can be saved. Only a strong Savior can fix you. And, once you have experienced this, you have to tell everyone. Point out all the brokenness, bleakness, corruption, and carnage. Yes, soul carnage. That’s our true state. American carnage. Global carnage.

I’ve heard that sermon a thousand times. Carnage is hope. Brokenness is healing. Blood dripping from the cross, flowing in the streets, saves.

Misery means more people in heaven.

Pundits, historians, journalists — all of them recognize that Trumpism is essentially religious. But religion is more than a set of predictable voting patterns or boxes on a survey. It is a deeply held vision of the world, a shaping narrative in the soul. And this one is utterly clear and simple. No mystery really. To be broken — and to break things — is what comes first. It is the core of American evangelicalism — "You must be born again" — the ritual, the sawdust trail, the mourning bench — translated and encoded into a political movement, a political party, and American nationalism.

You can blame evangelical support for Trump on racism or misogyny. You can come up with a smart, historically informed analysis that makes sense. Those books help. But, ultimately, it is hard to understand because it is about something more subtle, more pervasive, less graspable. It is an orientation, a whisper in the wind, a stern Presbyterian minister explaining how God predestines millions to eternal torment, a half-buried memory of your grandmother singing a blood-soaked hymn over your crib.

... We’re all the South now. Even in a culture where people are turning their back on Christianity and fleeing church (she remarks ironically: Maybe these two things are related?).

There’s no escaping it. We all live in the tormented and ghostly shadow of a bloody, misery-laden story drawn from a particular interpretation of the Bible, reified by generations of prayers and sermons and songs. Now enshrined in politics. The road to heaven is lined with carnage.

They aren’t trying to be racists or misogynists or fascists. They just want you to get saved. They want America to be saved.

Sick, huh? 

Of course, in addition to the prompts from this diseased form of religiosity, this vision also serves our economic system -- one that depends on making winners and losers. Many of us are taught to blame our intrinsic inner failings for whatever lack of success we experience. This is usually bullbleep, but maybe a strong man will save us?

Friday, February 09, 2024

Long Beach cat blogging

Walking little beach-adjacent neighborhoods, I could hardly miss these tributes to some of my favorite creatures.

A huge blue cat would be daunting in reality.
But this cheerful explorer is a more friendly story.

Friday cat blogging

Some times we feel as if we are under surveillance. Especially when packing to go on a trip.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Americans consuming poisonous fare

Margaret Atwood has something to say about democracy. 

The novelist is a Canadian, distressed -- appropriately -- by the passions of her big southern neighbor.

Christian nationalism "is an ideology which bears as much relation to the core tenets of Christianity as gravel does to breakfast."

There's a both-sidesism to this which I can't share, but hey, I'm in midst of the fray.  It's good to see ourselves as others see us.

• • •

I'm on the road today. Blogging will resume over the weekend.

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Survival advice from the analytical trenches

Marcy Wheeler aka @emptywheel has been explaining the intricacies of the unhappy intersection of American law with conspiracies involving grift and national security for several decades. She studies and maps all the documents and holds a ridiculously complex web of bad actors in her head. Remember when the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney regime was trying to sell us that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was hiding nuclear weapons? Probably not, but Marcy was on that case. These days she is sorting through Donald Trump's many legal entanglements, in particular the nefarious Russian ones. Her web grows and grows ...

But she's not just in this for intellectual fascination of plots and perversions. Yesterday she broke away from analysis and offered frustrated advice to most of her readers that touched my activist heart and nerves: 

Stop Treating Rule of Law Like a Magical Sparkle Pony and Get Busy ...

... [That's] self-inflicted impotence.

No judicial outcome will ever be sufficient, by itself, to beat Trump. No realistic Democrat should be staking their electoral hopes on one or some guilty verdicts — not because they wouldn’t help, but because you can’t control that.

Every single person reading this has in their power the ability to do something — whether it’s local electoral work, repeating discussions of Trump’s corruption so much that it begins to drown out stories about Hunter Biden, or educating your neighbors about Trump’s central role in rolling back reproductive choice — to help defeat Trump. Every second you spend worrying about Karen Henderson [a federal judge currently sitting on Trump's claim of absolute immunity for misdeeds] is time you’re not doing whatever it is that will be most useful in defeating Trump.

Stop making yourself impotent by worrying about the court cases. Stop hoping that any court case is going to be the Magical Sparkle Pony that makes this easy. Stop wallowing in provably false conspiracy theories about the January 6 investigation that ignore a bunch of public things the TV lawyers don’t talk about.

This is not going to be easy, I promise you. Find some way to make yourself useful to make it, at least, easier.

Marcy's advice does my tired heart good. Don't just stew; do what you can.

Monday, February 05, 2024

Immersed and enlivened by a brutal history

Before he became a New York Times bestselling author, Atlantic writer, and later MacArthur genius award recipient, Clint Smith was a high school teacher in Prince George's County, Maryland. His How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America is his tour of eight sites that broke open his understanding of where he'd come from and what shaped all his fellow Americans, Black, white, and others. It's a book so carefully written to provide an accessible story that it seems almost effortless -- and then you realize this author knew what it would take to reach the young people he most sought to influence. It's a wonderful book for all of us and we should be grateful to his students for teaching him how to teach.

The sites are Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's estate); Whitney Plantation (Louisiana); Angola Prison (Louisiana); Blandford Cemetery (Virginia); Galveston Island (Texas); New York City; Gorée Island (Senegal, West Africa); and his New Orleans hometown. Each could be read separately but together the panorama is deep, deeply researched and deeply felt.

Two drew me in most. Whitney is a plantation built by slaves to enrich its owners but now offered up to tourists not as a specimen of antebellum gentility suitable for weddings, but as the slave industry complex that it was. I have seen the other kind; I want to see this one. The other experience that captured me was his tour of Angola Prison, one of the most famous hellholes in the country. (How did he ever manage to get the opportunity for such a tour?) He took a moment to sit in its famous electric chair where 20 men have been killed by the state since 1976. He describes feeling that he was invading prisoners' privacy -- and felt their need for someone to look straight at them. Most inmates are serving life sentences.

In Galveston, Smith attended a kind of children's pageant marking Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating emancipation, which originated there. Students from an educational enrichment program run by the Children's Defense Fund donned costumes and retold the history of European conquest and enslavement up through 1865.

I watched these young people read to the audience parts of the history that placed our country in context. I felt, in that moment, envious of them.
Had I known when I was younger what some off these students were sharing, I felt as if I would have been liberated from a social and emotional paralysis that for so long I could not name -- a paralysis that had arisen from never knowing enough of my own history to effectively identify the lies I was being told by others: lies about what slavery was and what it did to people; lies about what came after our supposed emancipation; lies about why our country looks the way it does today.
I had grown up in a world that never tired of telling me and other Black children like me of all the things that were wrong with us, all the things we needed to do better. But not enough people spoke about the reason so many Black children grow up in communities saturated with poverty and violence. Not enough people spoke about how these realities were the result of decisions made by people in power and had existed for generations before us.
After college, when I was doing more reading on my own, I began to understand all that has happened to our communities, to our people, over generations -- it was liberating. I had language to name what I felt but had never known how to say.
People sometimes believe that if they talk to Black youth about the historical legacy of slavery -- and the intergenerational iterations of systemic racism that followed -- young people will feel overwhelmed and shut down. But there is enormous value in providing young people with the language, the history, and the framework to identify why their society looks the way it does. Understanding that all of this was not done by accident but by design.
That did not strip me of agency; it gave me agency back to me. I watched these young people share this history; and I dreamed of what it might mean if we could extend these lessons to every child.
How different might our country look if all of us fully understood what has happened here?
Somehow I missed this book when it made a splash in 2021. I highly recommend it now. We need it, especially in our moment of calls for censorship.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

From the Israeli ground

A Washington Post story about the Israeli war on Gaza as it plays in the city schools reports this from a mother: 

“In Berkeley, you can only be an oppressor or the oppressed,” she said.

Would that reality were so simple! But, all too often, it just isn't. And peace is not advanced by pretending it is. Yes -- Gazans are being wantonly made homeless and slaughtered by superior Israeli fire power. And yes, rightful Palestinian claims in their homeland were being shamelessly erased until Hamas took violent action. But 10/7 was nonetheless criminal and also cannot be erased.

Israeli peace activist Dana Mills (her affiliations include 972+ Magazine and Standing Together) reflects on the horror of struggling for a moral stance while a citizen of a country engaged on atrocity.

... Israelis and Palestinians, both, are constantly frustrated by the unequivocalness in which people from around the world weigh in and tell us what they think we must do in order to save our homelands. The question of having "stakes" in something is very real here. There are degrees of removal from what is happening here. If your family is implicated in what has been unfolding since the 7 October-- on either side-- you are in a different emotional and ideational position than if you are observing it from a distance. If your choices, the issues you're advocating for will have direct consequence on your everyday life you are in a different position to that of advocating for something that will never circle back to you.

Is moral humanism an empty idea, then?

I think not. It is very clear to me that the attack on Gaza is an attack on humanity itself. Not just the humanity of the Palestinian people, but the absolute wreckage, targeting many cultural institutions, demolishing whole neighborhoods--- this is not just an attack on Gazans or Palestinians.

Conversely, I would say that the 7 October attacks were, too, attack on humanity itself. Entering civilian homes at dawn and kidnapping young children is an attack on everyone who is asleep in their bed on an autumnal morning anywhere.

However, I started by writing about Gaza due to the horrendous magnitude-- and longevity-- of the Israeli attack, and thus its consequences. It might be argued that Hamas would have wished to inflict the same devastation on Israel had it had the means. But, well, it didn't.

And the attack on humanity is now apparent from my (wrong) side of history. I can sympathize and understand when people want to act in solidarity with Gaza, even if it pushes them to strange moral positions (and ineffective political positions). I can understand the helplessness of watching this horror unfold live before our eyes and not being able to do anything.

I can also understand those who have stakes in different ways; whose countries send arms to Israel, who feel that their leaders continue to be allies to Netanyahu despite him obviously losing any control over what is unfolding here. I am not a legal scholar so I do not want to weigh on the question of genocide. But I do know an attack of this magnitude warrants a response from humanity at large.

Captured by Mills in Tel Aviv

Condemning the Israeli state that is enacting those actions does not mean losing hold of the humanity of Israelis who are trying -- in different ways-- to resist it. I also feel, strongly, that we, Israelis, are losing our humanity the more this continues, the more we see these horrific actions done in our name. The longer we see our own abducted citizens neglected in the name of revenge and eternal war.

Many of us are trying to hold on to our humanity in different ways: writing, reading, dancing, painting, engaging what it means to be human. This is a grave crisis for anyone who sees themselves as humanist. It is not enough to eternally return to the question of "philosophy after Auschwitz". We need to live life with clear and open eyes to the wrongs enacted by us, around us, in the here and now.

These thoughts did not leave me with a clear action-plan: I do not know what it means to be a humanist during a war/genocide, apart from calling for its end, searching hard for humanism in different corners of your world, finding a way to connect it and encouraging it in myself and others. But I know we are living through a major test for humanity and humanism. May we get through it and learn our lessons.

For Americans who care about peace, all this should be all too familiar. 

We too have launched murderous wars of revenge, slaughtering and torturing Iraqis, Afghans, and so many more. 

And for us, the action plan is simpler -- let's force our government to stop paying for Israel's war. And we can be very glad that there are Israelis, even though only a small remnant, that are struggling to comprehend what peace and justice might mean in their circumstances. We've been there.

Saturday, February 03, 2024

In memory of Trevor

For whatever reason, when we knew him, Trevor didn't have a home. We gave him a little community and a little sustenance for a few seasons. He gave us cheer and willing labor. He was a good man, whatever demons wracked him. 

Michael Reardon from the community of St. John the Evangelist wrote about our brother and friend whose memorial service is today. 

Trevor Andrew Watson was born on April 7, 1966, in San Mateo, and died on October 31, 2023, in San Francisco, at the age of 57. He graduated from Sequoia High School in Redwood City in 1985. Most of his life was spent on the Peninsula and in The City, perhaps aptly reflecting his name, as the name ‘Trevor’ is derived from the Gaelic or Welsh, meaning a land area, a settlement, a habitation, a name given to people to describe the place where they lived. He was a true son of California, and he was a true son of the Beloved Community of St John the Evangelist.

In a way, we took him for granted. He was with us on most Sundays and special events, always responding with a greeting, always receiving our coffee hour items to present beautifully on the garden tables, always eager to do something for us. We gave him the space to let him be, to let him serve us, to let him have his own habitation with us.

In his own way, he was Herculean at tasks, compassionate with others, steadfast with all of us as we became his family. In his inimitable way, he made me feel important. I saw his sweetness, I admired his enthusiasm, I sometimes thought of him as being from somewhere in the streets, like one of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, and I loved the fact that he came back to us frequently, as he was not only one of us, but crucial to the fabric of our fragile community.

He received what he needed from St John’s. He gave me ideas on the nitty gritty work and cleanup of receptions; he gave Rory the idea of exhibiting portraits in the library; he gave Leah a sense of comfort as he was always under the care of her wings. All of us have something for which to be grateful to him. ...