Post-election links

Posted by Sappho on November 28th, 2016 filed in Blogwatch, Election 2016

Not related to the US election, but really good: The Miami Herald’s obituary for Fidel Castro.

Cheryl Rofer, at the Nuclear Diner, has a good round up of post-election links.

One hopeful one, on nonviolent resistance (if and when it should be needed): How Can We Know When Popular Movements Are Winning? Look to These Four Trends

Stephen M. Walt at Foreign Policy on how to preserve our democracy and 10 Ways to Tell if Your President is a Dictator.

This list of warning signs will no doubt strike some as overly alarmist. As I said, it is possible — even likely — that Trump won’t try any of these things (or at least not very seriously) and he might face prompt and united opposition if he did. The checks and balances built into America’s democratic system may be sufficiently robust to survive a sustained challenge. Given the deep commitment to liberty that lies at the heart of the American experiment, it is also possible the American people would quickly detect any serious attempt to threaten the present order and take immediate action to stop it.

The bottom line: I am by no means predicting the collapse of democracy in the United States under a President Donald J. Trump. What I am saying is that it is not impossible, and there are some clear warning signs to watch out for. Now, as always, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance….

Professor Jeff Colgan at Brown University has a reading list on the risk of democratic erosion. This includes warning signs, academic reviews, and recent examples.

Recent cases of creeping illiberalism / democratic erosion to consider:

1. Hungary, roughly 2010-present

2. Venezuela, roughly 1998-present

3. Poland, 2015-present

4. Russia, 1999-present

5. Nicaragua, 2006-present

6. [Many other cases. Ulfelder identifies 110 cases 1955-2007. But most are less comparable to the United States.]

Worth considering: what cases of near-misses are there (i.e., where democracy could have broken down but did not)? I imagine there are many. Perhaps USA during the McCarthy era?

In a sense, the US during Nixon’s presidency, too, no? After all, resigning when confronting the prospect of being impeached is a tougher ask than the usual peaceful transition of power. It was good to confirm that we could remove a President when we needed to, that the checks and balances worked.

Points made both by Walt and by Colgan: the US has some differences from countries that have experienced democratic erosion, including stronger institutions and a stronger economy. Potential weaknesses: presidential systems are more prone to democratic erosion than parliamentary systems, as are countries with a lot of polarization.

Several links from Balkinization:
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How I think about conspiracy theories

Posted by Sappho on November 27th, 2016 filed in News and Commentary

I told a cousin, before the election, that I was planning, after the election, to write about conspiracy theories and about Fukushima. That’s two completely separate discussions, not a single discussion about Fukushima conspiracy theories. My cousin is, I think, more looking forward to the Fukushima discussion (which I’m probably going to do on Facebook, where the group of people who’d be interested resides). And it has taken me a while, post-election, to have the heart to write about conspiracy theories. But I do think I want to write the conspiracy post first, not so much for others as for myself. Sarah Kendzior says that we should write down what we think, what we believe, and what we would never do, as a reminder to ourselves of how we see things now, before events change us.

And, basically, it’s a simple post, a list of principles to apply in general, when anyone proposes any sort of possible conspiracy. How do I think about conspiracies, to distinguish the ones that are supported with solid evidence, the ones that might be true but aren’t proven, and the ones that are in tin foil hat territory? Here are the principles I apply (and just to be clear, these are general principles, not a sub-blog-post about some particular person who thinks the Rothschilds killed JFK):

  1. Conspiracies do happen. Watergate was real. The US really was involved in the coup in Chile that overthrew Allende. Julius Rosenberg did turn out to have been a spy (though Ethel appears to have been innocent).
  2. Never underestimate the ability of people, even smart people, to make mistakes, even sometimes stupid mistakes. If you find yourself thinking that something has to be a conspiracy because it can’t be a mistake, think twice.
  3. “Two can keep a secret if one is dead.” The place where many conspiracy theories break down is that they assume the ability of large numbers of people to keep a secret, without anyone being motivated to blow the whistle. But Watergate leaked, all kinds of other government shenanigans leaked at the same time, Ellsberg, Manning, and Snowden have leaked things, and, while it’s entirely possible, for instance, that more than one person was involved in a plot to kill JFK (and multiple JFK assassination conspiracy candidates are possible), it’s unlikely that his death involved any conspiracy vast enough to include the Warren Commission in the cover up without that conspiracy leaking like a sieve by now.
  4. There’s a caveat to rule 3. Call it the D-Day rule, or the Manhattan Project rule. Even a large project can be kept secret if it only has to be kept secret for a relatively short time frame, and if it’s directed against a foreign power. In that case, self-interest and patriotism work together to induce people to keep the secret.
  5. People don’t conspire because they’re evil masterminds. They act in their own self-interest and on the basis of their own principles. Mistrust any conspiracy theories that sound as if they have people conspiring just because they’re that evil.
  6. A corollary to rule 5. Particularly mistrust conspiracies that have people doing major harm to themselves and to the people to whom they’re most likely to be loyal. For instance, “Israel did it” 9/11 conspiracy theories can be rejected because, even if you don’t think New York Jews are normal and human enough to care about other people, you should think that they’re normal and human enough to care about their own lives, that they’d pull support for Israel in a New York minute if Israel directed terrorist planes to kill thousands of New Yorkers, and that Israel knows that. (If you think that Israel warned all the Jews in the Twin Towers, I direct you to rule 3, and the major difficulty of carrying out such an operation, including spiriting away all the Jews working in the Twin Towers who did disappear when the towers were hit, without anyone leaking.)
  7. A corollary to rule 6. “False flag” operations are probably less common than many conspiracy theorists think. Not necessarily non-existent (the Reichstag fire may have been a false flag incident), but, let’s say that many people are a little too inclined to say “false flag” for incidents where the cost of the attack is too high to justify the “false flag” benefit. (9/11 a false flag? Does the US government usually kill large numbers of stock brokers? Pearl Harbor a false flag? Do we start a war by crippling our military?)
  8. Be careful not to be the person who prides herself on her skepticism, because she mistrusts “mainstream” media, or medicine, or science, and applies no skepticism at all to “alternative” sources. Fact checking and skepticism should apply just as much to non-mainstream sources as to mainstream ones.
  9. Be wary of long lists of mysterious deaths of people only very loosely connected to each other. People die, from time to time. Any given person (especially a politician) has slight associations with many people, and even more people a couple of degrees removed from him or her. Here’s an article by someone who doubts the lone assassin theory of JFK’s death (“there is a wealth of inconsistencies and contradictions in that version of the case–we didn’t invent them”), but who asks, “Can we abandon once and for all the notion that there is something suspicious about the necrology of witnesses?”
  10. Watch out for conspiracy theories involving groups that are favorites for being blamed for conspiracies. Jews, for instance, have been a favorite subject for conspiracy theories for centuries. Do Jews occasionally conspire? Sure, they wouldn’t be human if they didn’t (and Julius Rosenberg was in fact a spy). Should I take a conspiracy theory about the Rothschilds at face value? Pardon me if I take it with a few gallons a salt.

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Not Ready to Make Nice

Posted by Sappho on November 19th, 2016 filed in Feminism, News and Commentary, Race

“We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights,” he said. “We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

A couple of years ago, a movement called GamerGate started, inspired by one man’s desire to punish his ex-girl friend, and an Internet gang’s desire to stick up for “alpha” maleness by threatening said ex-girl friend and other women with visibility and influence in the computer game community. There have been attempts to rewrite the history of this movement, to argue that “actually, it’s about ethics in gaming journalism,” but, as Ernest Adams and other GamerGate critics have shown, we have the logs of plans to coordinate attacks on Zoe Quinn, and, along with them, the plans for the cover story. When I saw this movement, these threats to the lives of women in tech, I was scared, for I am a woman in tech. Being scared, I was also cautious. I wrote my anti-GamerGate posts on Facebook for Friends only viewing, or rot13 encrypted on the blog so only regular readers would see them. After all, why stick my neck out and put myself at risk, when people less vulnerable, because less female (like Ernest) could speak up, and when the victims of GamerGate appeared to have a solid and winnable criminal harassment case? The police would find the people organizing the death threats and doxxing and SWATting; the FBI would track them down, and women in the computer game community would be safe again.

But now we have GamerGate, and worse, in the White House. And I can’t hope for the FBI to rescue us from the coming danger. And there’s no point in my being quiet in my criticism, or hiding behind rot13, because our only safety is in determined, collective defense of the institutions, international and domestic, that keep us safe.

We have elected an Internet troll as President, a man who thinks it’s OK to have his spokeswoman threaten Harry Reid for speaking out against him, a man who thinks the cast of Hamilton has no business exercising their First Amendment right to petition the Government for redress of grievances, that any protest of criticism of him is simply “unfair,” and a man who is preparing to appoint:

  1. Jeff Bannon, advocate of the cutely named “alt-right” (a term coined by white nationalist Richard Spencer to re-brand the out and out white supremacist elements on the right for public consumption), that would be Jeff Bannon, whose web site regularly features a “black crime” section and basically makes up news about scary Black Lives Matter mobs, to convince white people that we face a black version of the Ku Klux Klan. Yes, that Jeff Bannon is Trump’s choice for chief strategist in the White House.
  2. General Michael Flynn, who famously said that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL” (that would be “fear of Muslims,” not “fear of Daesh” or “fear of Al Qaeda”), yes, that Flynn, the one who responded to criticism of his ties to Russia with an anti-Semitic tweet, the one who regularly promotes the tweets of “diversity is code for white genocide” Twitter account Mike Cernovich, yes, that Michael Flynn is Trump’s choice as national security advisor.
  3. Jeff Sessions, champion of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant extremist groups, Jeff Sessions, who wants to crack down on legal immigration, Jeff Sessions, who has criticized the Voting Rights Act and who both in the 1980s and recently has pushed for extra scrutiny and obstacles for African-American votes, Jeff Sessions, who was denied a federal judge position in the 1980s due to his racism, yes, that Jeff Sessions is Trump’s pick as Attorney General.

That’s three giveaways to white supremacists in the first five appointments announced.

There has been a lot of talk about healing the wounds and divisions in this country, after a bitter election. About building bridges that connect our increasingly polarized country. About listening to each other, about dialog and understanding between Trump critics and Trump voters. I have wanted this, too, in the long run, and if Trump had lost, I’d now be doing my best to reach out to those among his voters who aren’t “alt-right” white nationalists. The ones who think suggesting that Daniel Drezner and Matt Yglesias to the ovens is a fringe thing that has nothing to do with their candidate, rather than the ones who think, yeah, right on, send more threats to Jewish journalists.

But in order for us to have peace and reconciliation, we need basic safety and a defense of the inalienable rights of all of us, whatever our race or creed or gender or orientation. I don’t want the kind of peace and reconciliation that we got at the end of Reconstruction, when black people recently freed from slavery lost the vote again and lost safety. No more white people making peace and making nice over black and brown bodies. No making nice while this President-elect continues down a path that threatens the safety of people of color, Muslims, and Jews.

I call on Trump to back the hell off with the white supremacist appointments. I call on moderate Republicans to be the checks and balances that place limits on the President. Y’all argued that people should vote for you because Hillary was likely to win and the President needs not to have a blank check from Congress; don’t give this President a blank check to appoint people who will stomp on our Constitution. And I call on all of you Trump voters who voted him in, as you have assured me, for reasons that have nothing to do with racism, because Hillary was a menace or because we need to cut it out with the free trade agreements, or whatever the reason, I call on you to speak up and hold the President you voted for accountable to deliver all those nice non-racist things you wanted of him, and not the white supremacist appointments that he has been delivering so far.

No to Bannon. No to Flynn. No to Sessions. No to anything remotely resembling a Muslim registry. No to any Attorney General who can’t be counted on to have all of our backs in the face of the rising tide of hate crimes. And no to any breaking down of the institutions and checks and balances that keep us from becoming like Putin’s Russia.

As long as Trump continues down his current path, I promise to give him exactly the respect that he showed to President Obama.

I’m not ready to make nice, and I’m not ready to back down.

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The Next Seventy Days

Posted by WiredSisters on November 10th, 2016 filed in Abortion, Anarchism, Democracy, Election 2016, Feminism, Guest Blogger, History, Law, Moral Philosophy, Race

I keep hearing things, from all sides, that presume that the Cheeto Bandito is already in charge.  Listen, folks, he isn’t.  Obama has another 70 days in charge of what he has been in charge of all along.  We need to use this time, not just to mourn, but to organize.

Most important, I have seen on line a suggestion that, if Obama were to appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court now, after informing the Senate and the Judiciary Committee that he has given them every opportunity to do what the Constitution allows and requires them to do and they have blown it, they couldn’t do a thing about it.  Unlike the President, I never taught constitutional law, but it sounds plausible to me.  And, reaching a little further out, if Justice Ginsberg were to retire now, he might even be on safe legal ground filling her position too.  If this be a constitutional crisis, make the most of it!

Moreover, there is another thing we can be absolutely sure of—Trump will not fulfill all of his campaign promises.  He might not keep any of them.  I mean, (a) he’s a politician now, even if he ran on the claim of not being one.  And (b) he’s a flake, and always has been.  So the parades and demonstrations against him are premature.  Let’s see what he is actually going to do before we set up the barricades.  (By all means, let’s start stockpiling materials for them, but that’s what basements are for.)

In fact, although this may be a conspiracy theory worthy of Michael Moore, consider the possibility that Trump is actually an agent of the International Socialist Conspiracy.  His political opinions over his lifetime have been all over the map.  If I were running such a conspiracy, he’s precisely the kind of candidate I would support, because nobody would believe it until it was too late.

The cluster of divinity schools and seminaries near my home apparently is the scene of literal weeping and gnashing of teeth.  My lodger, who hangs out there for the food and the lectures, considers this a bit of an overreaction, at least in comparison with my subdued crabbiness.  He’s a libertarian, so he figures if Trump really does blow up Washington, that’s all good.  As he has never threatened to blow up my condo, I can live with his opinions.

But seriously, folks, a Fourth Reich is one possibility among many that could evolve in the Trump presidency, and we should be making moral and practical preparations for it.  Women’s groups are urging women of child-bearing age to get IUDs while the ACA will still pay for them.  Probably a lot of people are checking their passports and looking up their relatives in various other parts of the world.  I myself have indulged in the mental game of counting how many other countries I could legitimately obtain citizenship in if I needed it.  I think I’ve got it up to 5.  (Details available on request.)  We probably ought to weigh the relative moral and practical merits of emigration and domestic resistance, while we have the leisure to think about it.

But let’s not write off the next 70 days.  Let’s use them wisely. Let’s not despair prematurely.*


*I’d like to hear from any Jesuits out there, since that order has evolved a large body of well-thought-out discussion of what it is morally permissible to do when living in a country governed by a tyrant.

Wired Sisters


Open Borders

Posted by Sappho on November 5th, 2016 filed in News and Commentary

A couple of years ago, in the context of discussing Senegal’s reaction to the Ebola crisis, I said that I do not believe in open borders. I now want to clarify which “open borders” I don’t believe in, and which “open borders” I do believe in, because the phrase, it seems, has more than one meaning.

On the one hand, “open borders,” refers to a belief, described on this web site by people who do believe in “open borders” in this sense, that borders should in principle be open, period. Consider this post

Why would anybody want to go to every country in the world? Why would anybody like me, who believes crossing some arbitrary line on a map of the world and ticking a list is meaningless, want to go to every country in the world?

Well… I want to do it so that I can burn my passports to protest the injustice of borders, the idiocy of visa practices, the absurdity of defining people by their statehood, the total illogicality of making people spend billions (let alone put their life at risk) to cross the borders you’ve set up while you yourself spend billions on police, building walls and fences to block those people and then complaining that you need to look after these people whom you let into your fictional line because of your international obligations. In short, to make a tangible, a noticeable complaint about the absurd workings of this world….

For various reasons, I don’t believe in “open borders” in this sense. Number one, I feel that for me to assert a general right to open borders everywhere would be for me to assert that my country, my particularly big and powerful country, gets to go to other countries and say that they should flat out open their borders. And, hey, if I wanted my country to get on North Korea’s case about anything, North Korea’s stupidly excessively closed borders would be low on the list. Number two, I feel that for me to assert a general right to open borders would be for me to say that, ideally, my country should, rather than arguing about how many or few people we should let in, we should enshrine an open borders principle in the constitution, the way we do free speech. And I tend to think that, in practice, taking immigration restriction out of the regular political process could make for more freelance vigilante action on the subject. Number three, when you come up with a real practical reason to restrict immigration, such as Senegal’s closing of its border with Guinea during the Ebola epidemic, I’d rather argue the limits of such restrictions on utilitarian public health grounds (as actually happened, as others said, hey, Senegal, you need to let aid workers go back and forth to stop the epidemic next door, or it will be an ever present danger to you because your border controls aren’t perfect, and Senegal said, OK, we’ll adjust our controls to allow more movement for people trying to stop the epidemic) than base the argument on abstract rights. Etc.

But there’s another meaning of “open borders,” which turns out to be more common in political discourse today. It’s the meaning where any pathway to citizenship at all for people who arrived without the proper documents is “open borders.” Where accepting refugees according to treaties we’ve already signed, that say you don’t send people back to persecution is “open borders.” That saying immigrants are often a boon and not a drain, good neighbors and not people to fear, is “open borders.” And in that sense, darn right I’m for open borders.

If anything I previously said, about it being reasonable, say, to monitor borders in the presence of an active, contagious, and deadly epidemic right next door to you ever left the impression that I’m for closed borders in the sense of wanting to deport millions of peaceful residents of my country, and set up policies that put millions of others under suspicion because they look like the people being deported, well, let’s just say I’m not.

A taco truck on every corner, and a link to Linda Ronstadt’s “Canciones de me padre.”


Maaratz burning

Posted by Sappho on October 30th, 2016 filed in Dreams

Dream: I discover a Facebook post from last year that consists of a poem I have apparently written.

The poem begins, “Maaratz burning. Everything OK.”

What kind of a poem is that ? I think. And why would I, of all people, be posting poetry? I never write poetry.

Then I realize that I dreamed the poem, and the post is an account of that dream.

I read the comments of the post. Various of my friends and family reflect on the peace that they have found in realizing that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Waking: I wonder where I got the word “Maaratz.” The closest word to it that my waking mind can supply is “Haaretz” or “Ha Aretz.” Which is both the name of an Israeli newspaper and the words “the earth.” “The earth is burning” doesn’t sound like “everything OK.” Nor for that matter does “Maaratz burning,” whatever “Maaratz” may be.

And my waking mind isn’t particularly reassured that “all manner of thing shall be well.”

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Poverty is not for Sissies

Posted by WiredSisters on October 20th, 2016 filed in Computers, Democracy, Economics, Guest Blogger, Moral Philosophy, Work

Poverty also isn’t for lazy people.  Poor people generally work a lot harder than the rest of us.  The guy who panhandles around the corner from my office building is there from 8-ish to 5-ish every weekday, rain or shine.  For all I know, he could be there on weekends too, but I’m not there to see him.  And he spends most of that time getting rejected.  The only people who can beat that record are some free-lance writers I know.

There was what I suppose some poor people regard as a Golden Age, when all they had to do to keep their welfare grant was show up for various office appointments on time.  Which is not all that easy when you’re poor anyway—it means either having a reliable means of transportation, or having the spare time to allow for its unreliability.

But now, they not only have to comply with the welfare regulations, they have to get, and keep, a really awful job.  Which means they may not be able to make or keep any other appointments, not even those with the welfare office.

A friend of mine is working for a posh grocery chain, Mariano’s (normally I don’t mention names, rather than give the Bad Guys any free publicity.  This time, I want people to know who the Bad Guys are, so as to shop elsewhere.)  They pride themselves on being good employers because they give their workers a schedule every Friday, for the next week.  That schedule is, however, subject to change without much notice.  Sometimes the changes are just because a whole bunch of unexpected customers come in at 11 AM on a Tuesday for no particular reason.  But mostly they are elegantly calibrated, with the aid of a highly sophisticated computer system, to make sure that nobody gets “too many” hours, that is, enough hours for a part-time employee to qualify for full-time benefits, or enough hours for a full-time employee to qualify for overtime.  What this means, of course, is that the worker, even if her part-time status guarantees that she will never have enough hours to earn enough to support her family, will not be able to get, or keep, a second job (except a totally unscheduled one like driving for Uber, or peddling her flesh on the street.)  Never mind classes, or school conferences, or medical appointments.  This is slavery without the fringe benefits of slavery (like slop and shacks.)

Another friend of mine is receiving SSI benefits.  I wrote about this institution a while back, but let me refresh your memory.  This program is for elderly or disabled people who have never established a work record covered by Social Security.  The maximum it pays for a single person, this year, is $732.00 a month.  Every dollar a recipient gets from any other source is deducted from this grant, penny for penny, so $732.00 is also the most a recipient is allowed to get from any source.  No panhandling, no side jobs, no Christmas presents.  In assets, the recipient is allowed $2000 total, usually for a life insurance policy to cover funeral expenses.  Since there aren’t a lot of places to live that rent for less than $732 per month, many SSI recipients are homeless, or live in subsidized housing.  My client recently received a subsidized housing voucher, and is now trying to find a place to rent with it.  The place he has been living all these years, although it is a wretched hovel, would at least save him the trouble of moving.  Problem is, because it is a wretched hovel, it won’t pass the inspection required for subsidized housing.

So my client went looking for someplace else, and finally found one, or so he thought.  But the landlord won’t accept his application.  It is illegal in Chicago to discriminate against housing voucher holders in renting housing, although this ordinance is rarely enforced.  But this particular landlord has figured out an elegant end run around it.  He’s not refusing to rent to my guy because of the source of his income.  He’s refusing to rent to him because my client has no credit!   In the last few years, trying to survive on $732 a month or less, the last thing this guy ever thought about was credit.  Buying on credit presumes that you have disposable income, and that you will continue to have it for the foreseeable future.  Gimme a break!  This is bovine excrement of the highest caliber.  I am now trying to decide whether it is worth pulling this case into court.  It might at least make some landlords think twice about this particular dodge around the city’s source-of-income ordinance.

Hillary has made noises about improving some Social Security programs.  When I fully recover from last night’s debate (which involved my taking a sizeable gulp of Bailey’s every time Trump said something especially outrageous), I intend to write her office about it.  In the meantime, consider this the latest skirmish in the War on Poverty.

Wired Sisters




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Music, immigration, and ballot propositions

Posted by Sappho on October 15th, 2016 filed in California Ballot Propositions, Music

Sometimes I like to listen to a song over and over. Or a couple of songs over and over. Today, I have a split personality in my music. I’m alternating between “Not Ready to Make Nice” and “Avinu Malkeinu” (another version here). It fits my mood, when I think of the current state of my country. I’m not ready to make nice, and please, God, have compassion on us and bring us peace.

At my Quaker meeting, we have what we call Quaker Explorations before meeting for worship. Sometimes I go (and am always glad when I do), and sometimes (lazy co-clerk that I am) I sleep late enough on Sunday that I just make it in time for meeting for worship. Not long ago, Quaker Explorations was about remembering our elders, and we shared stories of those no longer with us, including a Japanese-American woman who spent time in Manzanar as a child, and who as an adult drove trucks for the AFSC, her tiny frame dwarfed by the large trucks she drove. Last week, I didn’t go, but the discussion, which had been about William Penn, inspired ministry in meeting for worship. Betty, who had recently been at a legal clinic concerning immigration issues in Mexico, spoke about her experience, and about Penn’s invitation, “Let us see what love can do.”

Here is Betty’s one post blog about her experience.

We have our voter information pamphlets, and I am going to go over the many propositions and blog about them. But, not being ready yet, I’ll point you to some other sources.

My friend Daniel has a whole series of Decision 2016 posts about the election, including Prop 60 through 67 and Prop 51 through 59 (as well as the top of the ticket and down ballot races).

Informative pages about the California propositions can be found at Ballotpedia, the League of Women Voters, and the Institute of Governmental Studies at Berkeley.

And there’s my friend Jim Burklo’s Votivator Facebook page, where he discusses his views and invites discussion from others.

At a first glance, I am thinking:

Proposition 54 (Publication of Legislative Bills Prior to Vote): Yes
Proposition 57 (Parole for Non-Violent Criminals; Juvenile Court Trial Requirements): Yes
Proposition 58 (Allow Non-English Languages in Public Education): Yes
Proposition 62 (Repeal of the Death Penalty): YES!
Proposition 66 (Death Penalty Procedures): No

It’s possible that my husband and I will wind up voting on different sides on Proposition 64 (Marijuana Legalization); I’m concerned about what we’re obliged to do to enforce that law, while he, initially in favor, is hesitant after hearing the argument that we don’t have a good way to test for driving under the influence.

I do have opinions on some of the others, too, but I need to sit and analyze them, and come back with more than a simple Yes/No for you on each. My friend Max is encouraging me to do this soon.

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Choosing Our Own Caligula

Posted by WiredSisters on October 13th, 2016 filed in Democracy, Genealogy, Health and Medicine, History, Moral Philosophy, Sexuality

Historians have often enjoyed pointing to the role that luck plays in designating hereditary monarchs.  If you got a kick out of I, Claudius, either in print or on PBS, you have already seen that role at its worst.  Caligula and Nero were both evil, crazy, and incompetent; Tiberius and Claudius were at least moderately competent, though their personal habits were sometimes deplorable.  Fast forward to 1776; George III, the British monarch of the time, was crazy and mostly incompetent, though not exactly evil.  No doubt Rome, and Britain, had plenty of other better-qualified, sane people out there, but the choice of monarchs at the time was constrained by the rules of monarchical heredity.  So were the personalities of some of the monarchs.

There are monarchs around these days too, although most of them have very little real power.  Just as well, we think.  Some of them are nice people; every now and then one of them may have a flash of intelligence; even if their more corrupt relatives ever succeed to the throne, they won’t be able to do much damage.  But imagine one with the power that our constitution gives POTUS.  And imagine an electorate that deliberately and knowingly chooses a George III or even a Caligula.  Not just the familial luck of the draw, an outright electoral decision, of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Notice, by the way, that our modern dictators have their own familial oddities.  They may have no relatives to speak of, like Hitler.  They may kill off their families, like Stalin. Or they may create a dynasty, like the North Korean Kims.  They may create a constitutional mechanism for selecting succeeding dictators, as Iran has with its religiously-appointed Supreme Leader.

And most democracies are not immune to informal dynasties, like the Argentinian Perons and the American Adamses, Roosevelts, Taylors, Kennedys, etc.  Some of those have worked better than others. Most of the American dynasties have worked surprisingly well.  Mostly that’s because, in choosing democratic dynasties, the popular electorate still gets the last word.  And has usually exercised it pretty intelligently.

Oh dear readers, how I wish you were all history buffs!  At least, if you get the chance, binge-watch I, Claudius.  There you will find, among other things, how the fall of Caligula and Nero involved, among other factors, disgruntled relatives of women insulted or seduced by the emperor.  History, as Marx points out, repeats itself, first as drama, and then as farce.  Or, as Patrick Henry said, “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third…..may profit by their example!”   Enjoy.

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Mercury and Me: About “Middleman Minorities,” the Ottoman Empire, and the Merchant/Financial Sector Side of My Ancestry

Posted by Sappho on October 8th, 2016 filed in History

My Veniamin great-grandfather had, my aunt Yvonni told me, factory which made different kinds of clothes, fezzes, and both European and Turkish clothes. But that wasn’t his only job. As I’ve traced his way through civil records microfilmed by the LDS, I’ve found that he’s sometimes a “ktimatomesitis” (real estate broker), other times a “mesitis” (broker), and on his death certificate a public employee. His Kapitzoglou father-in-law, my aunt Avrilia tells me, was a “chrimatistis,” a word that now translates into English as “stock broker” or “financier.” Did he actually sell stocks? Maybe. My great-grandmother, Glykeria Kapitzoglou, was born in Istanbul in the late 19th century, and at that time the recently established stock exchange in Istanbul could have allowed her father to make a living as a stock broker. At any rate, one thing is clear. The Veniamin/Kapitzoglou families were in finance and trade, handling money or acting as merchants.

In the Ottoman Empire, as in a number of other cultures, trade was a profession adopted by certain ethnic groups (Jews, Greeks, and Armenians in the Ottoman Empire) and not so much by others. The ruling Turks, like the ruling Christians in medieval Europe, disdained lending at interest and were not so interested in mercantile professions, and so consigned these jobs to others. So, as I look at the professions of my ancestors on this side, it occurs to me that they were that thing that’s variously described as a “middleman minority” or a “market-dominant minority” or a “Mercurian” “service nomad.”

So this is a post where I pull together a few links on what those terms mean, and how different people have viewed this “middleman minority” category.
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The Basket of Deplorables–Half Full or Half Empty?

Posted by WiredSisters on September 30th, 2016 filed in Feminism, History

When I was just starting high school, and just starting to pay attention to boys and vice versa, my mother told me something that impresses me more and more as I get older.  “Always notice how a guy talks about or behaves with his mother.”  There are any number of levels on which that makes sense—how does a guy treat a woman he has to spend time with?  Is he rude?  And (I have come to realize more recently) how will he treat you when you get to her age?  But there is one implication she could not possibly have foreseen in the 1950s—how will he deal with intelligent, strong women of that age as politicians, business executives, academicians, clergy, or other decision-makers?

We got a chance to find out, with the interaction of two presidential candidates last night.  It wasn’t pretty.  But it was encouraging.  All through this campaign, and Clinton’s last one in 2008, we heard people complain about her voice, her face, her “schoolteacher,” “nanny,” “shrill,” “strident” way of talking and acting.  (Maybe the critics had problems with their mothers?)

A long time ago I realized that, in any social context, women always have two items on their agenda that men don’t—looking attractive, and not getting raped.  This is not necessarily unfair, because men always have one item on their agenda that women usually don’t—dominance.  Under the circumstances, it’s amazing, and perhaps a credit to the human race, that any work gets done at all.

Anyway, last night, Hillary’s voice was actually quite attractive and effective.  Maybe she has finally found a voice coach (my concern about her voice has been that she was damaging it by using it so harshly.  Her husband had similar problems for a while—maybe he loaned her his voice coach?) She was obviously having fun, which I haven’t seen her do very often.  In answer to his unanswerable “I have a winning temperament.  I know how to win,” she did a now-notorious “shimmy” and exclaimed “Woo! Okay!”*  For the first time during any presidential debate I have ever watched, I laughed out loud.

I normally don’t watch political events live, except inaugurations.  I don’t go as far as one of my clients who, in an effort to avoid watching Bill’s November 19, 2010 speech about his relationship with “that woman” actually got himself arrested and ended up manacled to the wall of a police station, unable to avoid watching “the speech” on the station TV (appointment in Samarra, anyone?) But it’s easy enough to study my online tutorial or wash my hair or cook up my week’s lunches or have an hour-long phone conversation with my brother.  Last night, I began to reconsider that policy.

I also began to reconsider the policy that every lefty I know, and every lefty organization email I receive, has strictly adhered to this year—avoiding disappointment by keeping our expectations low.      (I still remember falling asleep on the night of November 7, 2000 hearing the radio election coverage tell me that Florida was clearly going for Gore, and waking up the next morning to the cluster$#@% that was ultimately the Bush victory.  That’s a trauma that probably haunts all of us.)  Maybe we can actually win this one!  Maybe we can even enjoy the experience!  Two-and-a-half cheers for democracy!

* This needs an emoticon.  Suggestions, anyone?

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Heard today from a friend

Posted by Sappho on September 25th, 2016 filed in Peace Testimony, Quaker Practice

I know murderers whom I would trust with my life.

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A quote from Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France

Posted by Sappho on September 18th, 2016 filed in Books, Quotes

I’m not actually reading Reflections on the Revolution in France in full – too lazy or too busy with other things. But I’m skimming through it to find quotes relevant to Burke’s thoughts about change, and what “Burkean conservatism” actually means. To that end, here’s a quote that I found interesting:

I flatter myself that I love a manly, moral, regulated liberty as well as any gentleman of that society, be he who he will; and perhaps I have given as good proofs of my attachment to that cause in the whole course of my public conduct. I think I envy liberty as little as they do to any other nation. But I cannot stand forward and give praise or blame to anything which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing color and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind. Abstractedly speaking, government, as well as liberty, is good; yet could I, in common sense, ten years ago, have felicitated France on her enjoyment of a government (for she then had a government) without inquiry what the nature of that government was, or how it was administered? Can I now congratulate the same nation upon its freedom? Is it because liberty in the abstract may be classed amongst the blessings of mankind, that I am seriously to felicitate a madman, who has escaped from the protecting restraint and wholesome darkness of his cell, on his restoration to the enjoyment of light and liberty? Am I to congratulate a highwayman and murderer who has broke prison upon the recovery of his natural rights? This would be to act over again the scene of the criminals condemned to the galleys, and their heroic deliverer, the metaphysic Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance.

Here I see Burke at his most appealing. I especially like the line “Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing color and discriminating effect.” I’m now living in a time when people are pointing to the fact that there are some hot spots in the world that aren’t going the way the US would like – which has been the case, through ten different Presidents, for my entire lifetime! – as evidence that we need “change,” and should vote for ignorant and incoherent Trump over level-headed, intelligent, and qualified Clinton. But circumstances are what gives any political principle its distinguishing color, and, before I’m to say whether “change” is a good thing, I have to ask what is being changed, and whether it’s really a change for the better. Even in the case where the status quo is flawed (which is, frankly, always the case, and certainly has been the case for my entire lifetime), I need, whether in foreign or in domestic policy, only to vote for “change” when the circumstances and details of what I’m voting for tell me that “change” will be an improvement. There’s a lovely German word, “Schlimmbesserung,” for supposed improvements that actually make things worse. Whatever the flaws I’ve seen in my country’s foreign policy over the course of my lifetime – and I’ve often been a critic – I’ll go for the most competent and deftly run version of that policy that’s on the table before I’ll go for a wrecking ball.

Now, here’s the part where Burke is alien to my modern American ears, because I’m just not royalist enough for his principles to resonate with me:
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Posted by Sappho on September 14th, 2016 filed in Genealogy, Race

I don’t normally begin posts with “as someone with Native American ancestry.” There’s a lot that I’m not willing to claim, based on my tiny fraction of Native American ancestry. I don’t get to go ask the Mashpee Wampanoag for a share of their casino earnings, if they get approval to build that casino, not even if it turns out my Native American ancestor really was Mary Little Dove. It turns out, though, that I’m exactly the same sort of someone with Native American ancestry that Elizabeth Warren is – one who is mostly white, who looks white to all appearances, and whose Native American ancestry you may well doubt. And here’s what I have to say.

My great-great-grandfather, James Madison Moore, was the son of Irish immigrants. That’s what I tell you now, but if you’ve followed my attempt to trace his line, on this blog, you may remember that I once thought he was descended from colonial era Scots-Irish immigrants, and later thought his family was a Pennsylvania German family who assimilated their name to Moore. So you may well question whether I now have it right.

But the one thing you won’t do, whether you think I’m right or mistaken about my Irish ancestry, is mockingly call my great-great-grandfather “Niall of the Nine Hostages,” or display leprechauns or sing “The Wearing of the Green” to poke fun at him.

James Madison Moore’s wife, Ella Frances Merchant, is the source of my Native American ancestry. I have good reasons to believe this of her; as with her husband, you may think that I’m right or you may think that I’m mistaken. But either way, should you get to mock my great-great-grandmother by calling me “Pocahontas” or greeting me with war whoops?

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No More Water, But Fire Next Time

Posted by Sappho on September 3rd, 2016 filed in California Wildfires

For the past few days, I have been near a fire known as #HolyFire. It feels apocalyptic.

“The Lord showed Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, but fire next time.

I first learned of the fire the way we learn of all disasters these days, from Facebook.

“You really should let your friends and family know that you’re safe,” Facebook said.

“I’m near a wild fire?” I said. Here at the top of the hill, where we live, the skies were blue and free of smoke.

“Yes, you really are near a fire,” said Google.

“It’s only 5% contained,” added Twitter. “And people in the canyon near you have gotten a voluntary evacuation order. Here’s where they get to go if they evacuate.”

So, though the fire didn’t look threatening from my vantage point, I packed a few things to take to work. The calendar of family photos that my sister made from my mother’s eightieth birthday party. My great-uncle’s journal and his autobiography. My uncle’s mini-biography of his grandfather. A thank you letter from one pair of nieces, and a Christmas card with a photo of another niece and nephew. A copy of the traffic theory book that my father authored. I threw my laptop in the trunk of the car, and I left a thumb drive back up of many of its files when I brought it back home with me in the evening.

Children played ball in the condo complex as if the fire was all the way across the country. Had we had a Santa Ana wind blowing our way, it might have been far more dangerous. As it is, I check Twitter and the incident web site regularly, and see the containment level first creep slowly up for a few days, then rise more rapidly. Right now, the last report I’ve seen is that it’s 67% contained. Thanks to our brave firefighters. And no thanks to the couple of fools who have been flying drones in the way of firefighters’ helicopters, prompting a couple of suspensions of firefighting activities and one threat of arrest if a drone didn’t get the hell out of the way now.

As I check Twitter for fire updates, other stories flit across my screen. The death of the leader of Uzbekistan. A review of Kameron Hurley’s book on geek feminism. A report from an International Crisis Group analyst about Boko Haram. A decline in the murder rate in NYC (the lowest level ever recorded, as of 2016). A senator in Kenya dancing with a member of the RedSpaxx dance group. A plague genome sequenced from a 6th century woman’s teeth. Mother Teresa’s impending canonization. And the hope that we may soon see a #TacoTruckOnEveryCorner.

Today I joined a barbecue by our swimming pool. The #HolyFire seems very distant indeed.

“You better get ready, and bear this in mind…. No more water, but fire next time.”

(The real reason our local fire is called #HolyFire can be found here.)

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Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Posted by Sappho on August 28th, 2016 filed in Movies, Speculative Fiction and Other Geekiness

We just saw this, so here’s my summary.

One line plot summary: Everyone is really pissed off at Superman for the collateral damage from his last super battle.
Mood: Grimdark. Really grimdark. More of a Batman movie feel than a Superman movie feel, and grimdark even for a Batman movie.
Best part: Wonder Woman, by far. I liked her character, I liked that she had a bit of a Greek accent, and I liked the “I thought she was with you” moment.
Weakness: Missed opportunity for some lightening touch of humor. Alfred (well played by Jeremy Irons) could easily have been more used to fill that role. I mean, Casablanca is a serious movie about Nazis, but it still managed touches of humor. OK, not every movie can be Casablanca, but is it too much to ask for a little light amidst the darkness?
Bechdel Test: There were multiple named women with significant roles, but the movie somehow managed to avoid having any of them talk to each other. So, no, I don’t think this movie passed that test.

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Here’s to Maurice Walker and a Good Day for Justice

Posted by WiredSisters on August 23rd, 2016 filed in Economics, Law, Moral Philosophy

Last week, some of you may have seen my post “The Eighth Amendment Revisited.” Apparently, as I was drafting it, the US Attorneys in the 11th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals were writing something very similar, in the case of Maurice Walker v. Calhoun, GA. Locking a man up for “walking while intoxicated”* for six days because he couldn’t post $160 bail (on a monthly income of $540 a month) discriminated unconstitutionally against poor people. As soon as I can get hold of the actual brief, I’ll probably post about it again.
*Walking while intoxicated? Seriously? How are intoxicated people supposed to get around, if they can’t drive and they can’t walk? Or are they just supposed to stay where they had that last drink, until the buzz wears off? Even after closing time? Even if that constitutes trespassing? When I googled “walking while intoxicated”, I found that drunk pedestrians get hit by cars pretty often. The New York Times says 37% of all pedestrians who get hit by cars have alcohol in their bloodstream. But on the other hand, the data indicates that they aren’t likely to harm anybody else.
This does, however, call to mind a case I had in my early years of practice—an 83-year-old African-American man who got hit one evening by a car driven by a lady who drove off without stopping, but not before somebody got her license plate number. When her hit-and-run case got to court, she claimed that she hadn’t stopped because she was afraid of the man she had hit (a rather scrawny-looking elderly man.) Since then, of course, we’ve all heard a lot about colorless people perceiving people of color as “dangerous,” but even in light of this new data, I find that argument unconvincing. And somewhere in the course of her trial, somebody said they thought my client had been drinking. When I asked him later, he allowed as how he had, but just a couple of beers. So this makes him fair game for paranoid white ladies? Gimme a break!!
I hope somebody gives Maurice Walker enough money for a drink and a cab ride home.

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Puppies 2016

Posted by Sappho on August 13th, 2016 filed in Speculative Fiction and Other Geekiness

The Hugo voting has been over, now, for a couple of weeks, and MidAmeriCon will begin this week. I’m betting that Vox Day, once again, doesn’t actually win a Hugo just because he managed to get a sufficient crowd to nominate him, but beyond that, well, I’ll find out who wins when it happens.

I bought a supporting membership this year, as I did last year, but haven’t written as much about it, partly because I’m busy with my new job, and partly because I’m preoccupied with the election. Still, I don’t want to completely avoid commenting. So this is that post.

Like last year’s ballot, this one was thoroughly Puppied. It’s probably the last year we’ll see quite this much of a Puppy sweep, as the E Pluribus Hugo nomination system, approved last year and probably to be approved again this year, won’t eliminate slates, but it should at least prevent a coordinated minority from taking all of the Hugo nominations for multiple categories, by nominating in concert while others scatter their nominations.

The results were mixed. Best Related Works was absolutely awful, and thoroughly deserves another No Award. Works like “SJWs Always Lie.” For real. Still, I’ll get no joy in seeing the “The Story of Moira Greyland” get placed below No Award; this nomination offers an unpleasant choice between humiliating someone who suffered actual abuse, and giving a Hugo Award to a work that argues that gay and lesbian people in general are child molesters.

Other Puppy nominations, like Stephen King and Neil Gaimann, are fine writers who could easily have gotten on the ballot without Puppy support. Having decided, as I did last year, to do my voting on merit, I mostly didn’t bother to find out which of the works were Puppy nominated and which weren’t. In some cases, it was obvious (who but the Rabid Puppies would have nominated in the Fan Artist category someone whose drawings are largely in support of GamerGate, and who else would nominate Vox Day himself). In some, it was a safe bet that the Rabid Puppies, in particular, would have nothing to do with the nomination. (Vox Day originally fell on the outs with much of SF fandom due to a racist suggestion that N.K. Jemisin was a savage so, yeah, probably she wasn’t on his slate.) But in a lot of cases, who knows? The Puppies nominated some good stuff, as well as some bad stuff, this year.

While last year, the Rabid Puppies had piled on to give John C. Wright multiple nominations, this year they decided to bestow multiple nominations on Jerry Pournelle’s There Will Be War. This left me more ambivalent than last year’s Wright nominations; I neither like Wright as a writer nor care for the part he’s taken in the Puppy Wars, so it was no loss to see him lose over and over to Noah Ward. Pournelle, on the other hand, is a writer I’ve long enjoyed. And I remember fondly my discovery of the first There Will Be War. He’s stayed out of the Puppy Wars and, though his politics aren’t remotely mine, he treats people with varied views with respect. I’m not convinced that his actual literary merits are to have himself and everything from his anthology lose to Noah Ward.

But I also don’t think he’s such an excellent editor that he deserves to sweep the awards. One of the works that got nominated from There Will Be War, “Seven Kill Tiger,” was absolutely awful. Even the There Will Be War nominee that looked most interesting to me, “Flash Point Titan,” didn’t draw me the way other Hugo packet entries did.

Neil Gaimann, yay! (But I’d already read, and loved, this particular work.)

The Semiprozine and Fanzine categories included some sites I’d already learned to appreciate, like Strange Horizons and File 770, and some new finds, like Lady Business.

Stephen King’s “Obits” grabbed me from the start, with its tale of a man who learns that he can make living people die by writing obits for them (and that’s not the worst of it).

“Cat Pictures, Please” was a charming short story about the troubles of a benevolent AI.

In “Binti,” a Himba woman from Namibia uses her own ingenuity to face attack from an alien species.

And N. K. Jemisin, well, I’d heard of her dispute with Vox Day, and I’d seen some of her Tweets, but I’d never actually read her writing. Fifth Season showed me that she’s a writer well worth reading.

Still, I’m looking forward to E Hugo Pluribus winning the vote, and a more varied set of people getting their Hugo nominations on the ballot next year.

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For the beauty of the earth

Posted by Sappho on July 31st, 2016 filed in Daily Life, Music, Quaker Practice

A little over four years ago, when I had cancer, my mother came out to help me. One of the things she and I share, on Facebook, is the fact that we follow a page called Unapologetically Episcopalian, which posts lovely hymns twice a day, for morning and evening prayer. And so one of my memories of that time is of a day when I got up for work (I went to work, on those days that weren’t chemo day, and scheduled chemo day for Friday so I could rest on the weekend). Mom, always an early riser, was up before me, and when I got up that morning, she put on the hymn of the day, “For the Beauty of the Earth.”

Today I get up to prepare for meeting for worship. I’ll be seeing my oncologist in two days. Probably getting one order for a blood test and another for a CT scan. Possibly, if all goes well, my last CT scan (it’s been over a year since I had one, though I still get the blood test every six months). But today is a meeting for worship day like any other. I’m assistant clerk, now, and Sherri is out of town, so it will be my job to close meeting for worship with a handshake. I put on my “Well-behaved Women Rarely Make History” T-shirt, a pair of jeans, and the sandals that my sister-in-law Tchissem got me when I visited her and the family in Senegal. Because a Pacific Yearly Meeting Quaker meeting is the kind of place where those are your Sunday-going-to-meeting clothes, and because “Well-behaved Women Rarely Make History” seems like a fitting T-shirt for today.

As I check Unapologetically Episcopalian, I see that the morning hymn for yesterday (which I missed, because Joel and I were out for a group hike that started early in the morning – 16k steps on the Fitbit yesterday!) was “For the Beauty of the Earth.” So I play it.

It’s a beauty worth celebrating.

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Getting There From Here: Why BLM is essential to European-style democratic socialism in the US

Posted by WiredSisters on July 27th, 2016 filed in Bible study, Democracy, Dreams, Economics, Implicit Associations Tests, Race

My late husband and I used to have this argument over and over during the 46 years we were married. If we were having it now, he would phrase his side of it as “all lives matter.  We need to create an economic and political system in which race doesn’t matter because all of us would be treated equally and justly.  That’s what democratic socialism is all about.”  And I would respond, “That’s a goal, not a path for getting there.  Until we get rid of racism, we will never have socialism or any other kind of equal justice for all of us.  And the only way to get rid of racism is to be able to recognize it when we see it.”

I always found his position attractive.  But I could only respond, sadly, “you can’t get there from here.”  We have fought three wars on poverty in my lifetime, and we lost them all because of the racism at the root of our political and economic system.

The first of those wars was the New Deal.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt (and still more, Eleanor Roosevelt) used the power of the White House to battle unemployment, child labor, low wages, and the consequences of aging and illness.  But in order to get Congress to work with him, Roosevelt had to cooperate with the Southern wing of the Democratic Party.   That wing was solidly organized and brilliantly managed.  It was a great machine for getting things done.  But its first purpose was the maintenance of Jim Crow in the South.  It would cooperate on nothing else with any opponents of segregation and racism.  FDR had to make a deal with the devil to accomplish any of the New Deal programs.  If you want to get the whole story, read Ira Katznelson’s masterful books When Affirmative Action was White¸ and Fear Itself.

The second war on poverty was never advertised as such, but it moved an entire generation of Americans into the middle class:  the World War II GI Bill.  It may well have been the closest the US ever came to socialism.  The men (and the few women) coming home from military service were suddenly entitled to education, medical care, and home ownership through VA benefits.   Well, some of them were.  The education and medical care were pretty much available to all veterans.  But the home loans were something else entirely.  Most of the homes that were newly built or available for purchase were in neighborhoods Black veterans could not move into.  In their “own” neighborhoods, all they could do was rent, or buy on unconscionable “contract” terms.  The VA offered no help to renters or contract buyers.

The third war on poverty was the one to which Lyndon Johnson actually gave that name, in the 1960s.  Most of what it accomplished was to extend to Black Americans many of the benefits White Americans had gotten thirty years earlier with the New Deal.

Since then, we haven’t just stalled in the fight against poverty, we have actually backslid—that’s what “welfare reform” was all about.  It sort of worked, briefly, while the economy was in good enough shape to conceal its dangers.  Then came the recession, and now most non-rich Americans are actually worse off than we were fifty years ago.

Let’s talk about “welfare” and “welfare reform.”  The original official title of “welfare” was Aid to Dependent Children.  It was a New Deal program intended for widows with children to raise.  Like many New Deal programs, part of its purpose was to keep out of the work force anybody other than able-bodied men aged 20 to 65, so that that demographic could have first dibs on what few jobs were available.  Social Security targeted older Americans; child labor and compulsory education laws targeted youth; and Aid to Dependent Children targeted single mothers, who ought to be home taking care of their children anyway.

Among the women excluded from the program were Black women (because they could always get jobs doing domestic service) and unmarried women (because their homes were “unsuitable” for children.) And the Southern Democrats were fine with the program as long as it was only for respectable white widows.

But by the time the official War on Poverty came along, an increasing proportion of ADC recipients were unmarried women of color.  Indeed, many colorless Americans sincerely believed the program was for unmarried women of color and for nobody else (in the 1970s, one of my clients explained that to me—as to a naïve dimbulb–when I asked her why she didn’t apply for welfare, which she was clearly qualified for at the time.) In fact, the popular image of people on any kind of government aid program except VA home loans and Social Security was distinctly dark-skinned.  That was never accurate, of course.  Most poor people in the US, and most people on aid programs for poor people, are white, because most Americans are white (though this will not be true for much longer.)  Even private sector programs to assist poor people tend to be perceived as targeted toward people of color.  The United Way public service ads on Chicago buses always very carefully depict their beneficiaries in demographically correct batches of 6 whites, 3 African-Americans, two Hispanics and an Asian, more or less, in a varied assortment of genders and ages, just to disabuse the riding public of this notion, but it doesn’t help much.

There are two problems with this misperception, aside from its inaccuracy.  One is that no matter how hard we try to clean up our presumptions, most colorless Americans (and a lot of people of color, too, for that matter) deep down in their hearts believe that people of color are less “worthy” than the rest of us, and therefore less deserving of public or private sector assistance or most other good things in life.  And the other is that, quite aside from this belief, we see people of color as “other.”  Not like us.

The wise-ass Pharisee asked Jesus “who is my neighbor?”  after quoting Leviticus 19:18 telling us to love our neighbors as ourselves.   Most non-Jewish Americans are more familiar with the New Testament version in Matthew 22:39, but biblical scholars have spent a lot of time and discussion of both these admonitions.  Mine is a little different from both.

My mother taught me that imagination is the moral faculty.  It is what enables us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.  And it is really a leap of faith.  None of us can really know that other people are “like ourselves,” in having emotions, feelings, thoughts, beliefs—in having insides.  Experimental neuropsychology is working hard to prove it, but we aren’t there yet.  But this commandment requires us to believe it anyway, to believe that our neighbor is “like ourselves,” and therefore to love him/her.  Jesus’ response—the Good Samaritan story–points us in that same direction.  To act as a neighbor to another person is to recognize him or her as deserving as much relief from pain and need and poverty as we do.  Like us.  Not “other.”

Among the things that are impossible to a society that does not recognize all its people as “neighbors” is socialism.  Socialism has worked in European countries because most of them are (or were, until recently) racially and culturally homogenous.  So Europeans viewed any programs for the benefit of people in need as not for “others”, but for “us.”  Now that an increasing proportion of European citizens and residents are “non-European” in origins and culture, European socialism may be in considerable jeopardy.  I share Bernie Sanders’ aspirations to institute European-style socialism in this country.  But if we could do it, we might then have to model it for our European colleagues in hope of helping them get it back.  What we would have to model is how to get over “othering” our neighbors so that we can set up a system that works for the welfare of all of us.

“Black Lives Matter” is just another way of saying this.






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Reflex and Reflection

Posted by WiredSisters on July 25th, 2016 filed in Implicit Associations Tests, Law, Moral Philosophy, Race

Last week, a North Miami police officer shot Charles Kinsey, a behavior therapist who was trying to get his autistic client, Arnaldo Eliud Rios Soto, out of the middle of the street and back to his group home.  Kinsey was unarmed, and immediately obeyed the police officer’s order to lie on the ground and raise his arms, prominently displaying his empty hands.  Soto, in the meantime, was sitting on the ground with a toy car in one hand.  The police officer was allegedly responding to a 911 call about a suicidal man with a gun.  Fortunately, Kinsey was only wounded in the leg.  He asked the police officer “Why did you shoot me?”  “I don’t know,” said the cop.

The officer, Jonathan Aledda, a four-year veteran and a member of the SWAT team, hasn’t made things any better by trying (through the police union) to explain.  He now says he wasn’t aiming for Kinsey, but for Soto.  You know, the Latino man with autism and a toy car.

What am I missing here?  Beginning with the beginning of the incident, why on earth would the police pull a gun on a suicidal person?  Isn’t that kind of counter-intuitive?  It isn’t unusual, apparently—a lot of shootings of people with mental illness happen in the course of police response to a call about a suicidal person.  But isn’t it kind of like pouring water on a drowning person? Or throwing somebody with hypothermia into the freezer?

Then we get to the toy-car-perceived-as-gun meme, which you’d think police training would have tried to overcome by now.  No, officer, a toy car isn’t a gun. Neither is a wallet, nor a cell phone, nor even a toy gun.  Really.

But now there’s a new element handed to us.  Two, maybe.  How come Aledda didn’t manage to hit the person he was supposedly aiming at?  If there is one thing police training is really serious about, it is marksmanship.  Both the targets, Kinsey and Soto, were stationary, and not sitting in each other’s laps.  We’re used to street gang members not being able to shoot straight, but we do have a right to expect better from cops, who are, after, armed and trained on our money.  It is interesting that the shot in question didn’t kill either Kinsey or Soto—police are not ordinarily trained to “shoot to wound,” so there was obviously something odd going on.

Of course, we do not yet know exactly what the 911 caller actually said.  Did s/he indicate that there were actually two people out there?  Did s/he indicate the apparent race of either one?  Because while I can actually believe Aledda doesn’t know why he shot Kinsey, I have a pretty good guess at his reasons myself.

I think that all Aledda heard or saw in that fraction of a second was “gun,” a man holding something in his hand, and a Black man.  His mind somehow mashed all of these elements into “Black man holding a gun,” and he responded the way most police officers reflexively respond to that phenomenon.

Soto is now having serious problems eating and sleeping.  Since he wasn’t very verbal to start with, he has no way to explain how traumatized he is now, but it will probably take him a long time to recover, especially in the absence of a caregiver he seems to have been close to.

I know some people who do the kind of work Kinsey does, and mostly they don’t have very good health insurance or paid time off, so I really hope the North Miami police compensate him for his hospital bills and lost work time, even if they can convince themselves that Aledda didn’t shoot anybody on purpose or through gross negligence.  The real negligence, of course, was that of whatever training programs trained Aledda and the numerous other police officers who shoot unarmed or fleeing Black people.  All of us, but especially police and those who train them, need to rejigger our reflexes and presumptions.  As Maria Montessori says, the problem isn’t understanding what we see, it is seeing what we see.

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