Posted by Sappho on January 19th, 2017 filed in Africa news and blogwatch

The showdown that has been in the works ever since last month’s presidential election in Gambia is now at hand. For any of you who may have missed this story, the brief summary is that Gambia’s president, Yahya Jammeh, lost the election and refused to step down, the winning candidate, Adama Barrow, took refuge in neighboring Senegal, and ECOWAS (the Eastern African regional association to which both Senegal and Gambia belong) threatened to intervene. Here are the latest reports.

Gambia’s Adama Barrow Sworn in as New President in neighboring Senegal.

Thousands of Gambians flee ahead of Presidential showdown.

Gambia’s Jammeh recruits mercenaries.

Senegalese troops move toward the Gambian border.

Here is the International Crisis Group page on Gambia.

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LGM on Manning and on Assange

Posted by Sappho on January 19th, 2017 filed in News and Commentary

At Lawyers, Guns, and Money, dnexon celebrates the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence, while Scott Lemieux shakes his head at Wikileaks’ turn toward evidence free conspiracy theories. They’re both right.

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You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone

Posted by Sappho on January 18th, 2017 filed in News and Commentary

Remember that White House Correspondents Dinner when Obama strode out on the stage to the sound of the chorus from “Cups.”

“You can’t say it, but you know it’s true.”

Evidently, it is. The most abrupt decline in public approval ever recorded between an outgoing President and an incoming President Elect.

Ed Yong notes on Twitter that “Trump will take office as most unpopular president in at least 4 decades” and Sam Wang replies “… while Obama leaves with a popularity close to Eisenhower or Kennedy.”

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On Mistakes

Posted by Sappho on January 16th, 2017 filed in News and Commentary

My perspective is that the mistakes that you make only once don’t tell a lot about you, but the mistakes you make more than once need to be listened to.

This isn’t a matter of despair (oh no, I’m making this mistake again!) It’s a matter of how to focus your energies.

Because pretty much all of us have mistakes that we make only once, where we can look at what happened, learn the lesson, and then not waste time kicking ourselves with “Why did *I* make this mistake?” And then save the self-examination for the things we repeatedly have trouble with. Which won’t be the same for everyone.

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Weird rewrites of WWI history

Posted by Sappho on January 7th, 2017 filed in News and Commentary

I’m now following John Schindler, @20committee on Twitter, as he has things to say about intelligence agencies, Russia, etc. So it happened that today I looked at a typical tweet of his:

John Schindler Verified account
Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at us. Their defense strategy names USA as their main enemy.

Why are they our friends now?

The tweet got a set of replies that are typical for Twitter these days, one of them being the following exchange:

147DegreesWest ?@147DW
@20committee @McnealyGeorge Because for all of our differences, the threat posed by Islamification is even bigger.

John Schindler ?@20committee
.@147DW @McnealyGeorge that’s cute — you realize the Kremlin considers Islam an ally against the decadent, godless West….right?

147DegreesWest ?@147DW
@20committee As a historical note: They were our ally in WW2 and WW1. You know WW1–when we defeated the Califate?

Daniel Simpson ?@dansimpsonTexas
@147DW @20committee oh honey.

Oh honey, indeed. I was going to reply to 147DegreesWest with a bit of WWI history, but then I remembered that doing so might mean I’d need to spend days weeding “Don’t you understand that Muslims are the enemy?” tweets out of my mentions, and I don’t have time for that. So instead I’ll vent on my blog.

So, that would be WWI, when defeating the Caliphate was a low enough priority to war weary Western European nations that they outsourced the occupation of the Ottoman Empire to the Greeks. To the Greeks, who had joined the Alliance only in 1917, and who were therefore not yet war weary, eager indeed to achieve the Megali Idea and reunite formerly Greek lands.

That would be WWI, which was followed by the Greco-Turkish War (in which, by the way, my grandfather served – I have his military record, from the Greco-Turkish War to WWII), when the Turkish National Movement, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, rallied Turkish troops, and the Asia Minor Catastrophe, when a million Greeks fled Asia Minor.

It’s true that Britain and France fought the Ottoman Empire in Gallipoli to secure sea passage for Russia (and lost). But given that the end of the war saw Russia busy becoming Communist and Britain and France outsourcing the Ottoman Empire to Greece while they concerned themselves with putting enough constraints on Germany that, they hoped, Germany would not attack anyone again, pointing toward WWI, of all wars, to argue that all of Europe and North America are somehow inherently allies against Muslim countries is, let me say, a wee bit odd.

Basically, in WWI, the Ottoman Empire was just one more regional power, with its own particular regional foes just like every country in Europe.


African ingenuity blogwatch, 1/4/2017

Posted by Sappho on January 4th, 2017 filed in African Ingenuity Blogwatch

Time to start doing these again.

In Johannesburg, South Africa, Ex-Pharmacist Turns Container Into Children’s Library.

#Ethiopia aims for Rocket and Satellite launching ability.

Africa’s tech hubs.

Ghana’s eco-friendly bamboo bikes.

Cameroonian innovator Arthur Zang wins Engineering Innovation Prize for Cardio-Pad.

Finding the next Mark Zuckerberg … What about Nigeria?

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Links, the Medieval Times Edition

Posted by Sappho on January 3rd, 2017 filed in Blogwatch

At the Economist’s Democracy in America blog, S.N. writes about the racialist right’s new fascination with the Middle Ages, and medievalist’s response.

… Since the September 11th attacks, the American far right has developed a fascination with the Middle Ages and the Renaissance—in particular, with the idea of the West as a united civilisation that was fending off a challenge from the East. The trend has been prodded along by the movement’s discovery of its European counterparts, which have used medieval and crusader imagery since the 19th century. This is troubling to many of those who study the Middle Ages for a living….

… Academics are placing a new emphasis on the ways in which medieval societies differed from the homogeneous world imagined by the alt-right. Art historians document the appearances of dark-skinned migrants in northern Europe to show that medieval populations, if not quite as mobile as today, were still pretty mobile. Others focus on the multiethnic Kingdom of Sicily, where Norman kings employed Arab and Jewish administrators, or Christine de Pizan, who wrote treatises on military science in the 15th century, when the field was even more male-dominated than today. Progressives and reactionaries may both be drawn to the Middle Ages out of an affinity for “tradition,” says Shirin Khanmohamadi, a professor of literature at San Francisco State University who teaches a course called the Multicultural Middle Ages. But progressives would find it most interesting to explore “the premodern contribution to ‘multiculturalism’ and to other modes taken for granted as modern.”

… in pop culture as well, a deromanticised view of the medieval world exists, emphasising the grittiness, riotousness and bawdiness of the medieval city. “Game of Thrones” follows the adventurers of dwarves, eunuchs and other outsiders in lands plunged into ruin by a nobility intent on fighting a dynastic conflict based on the Wars of the Roses….

Hurriyet Daily News supplies stories of the survivors of the New Year’s Day terror attack in Istanbul.

As Gambian President Yahya Jammeh clings to power despite being defeated in the recent election, two more radio stations in Gambia have been shut down.

Abi Sutherland on resisting Trump and Defense in Depth.

Andrew Gelman writes About that claim in the Monkey Cage that North Korea had “moderate” electoral integrity . . .

… When you have a measure that makes no sense in some cases, the appropriate response is not to just restate that you’re measuring “expert perceptions of the quality of an election” but to figure out what exactly went wrong! Recall that in this case, North Korea was rated as above 50 on every one of the “multiple criteria” given in their report. You can say “expert perceptions” and “international standards” as many times as you want and it doesn’t resolve this one.

When you find a bug in your code, you shouldn’t just exclude the case that doesn’t work, you should try to track down the problem.

There’s a new 23andMe children’s book on genetics.

At Balkinization, Heather Gerkin writes about progressives’ new-found love of federalism, and her belief that states can exercise a restraining power on federal government abuses even without state sovereignty.

Daniel Faigin looks back at 2016 theater.

Jennifer Raff on Debunking pseudogenetics at Skepticon.

A link round up by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action at Chris Blattman’s blog.

Johan Maurer on The Gift of Words.

Henry at Crooked Timber on Frankenstein’s Children: speculative fiction on the limits of utopian thinking.

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Holy Innocents Day links

Posted by Sappho on December 28th, 2016 filed in Blogwatch, Music, News and Commentary

What Do the World’s Poor Think About Child Labor?

A mother places a cool, damp washcloth on her daughter’s body as she is treated for #measles.

Coventry Carol

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Two different versions of a Hamilton Hanukkah

Posted by Sappho on December 24th, 2016 filed in Music

The Maccabeats sing Hasmonean – a Hamilton Hanukkah

Six13 perform a Hamilton Hanukkah remix at the White House

Happy Holidays, whether you’re celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas Eve, or neither.

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Photosensitivity and epilepsy

Posted by Sappho on December 19th, 2016 filed in Health and Medicine

Relation of photosensitivity to epileptic syndromes

Photosensitivity is the most common mode of seizure precipitation. It is age-related, more frequent in females, and most often found in generalised epilepsies. Little is known about its relation to individual epileptic syndromes. This study on 1062 epileptic patients who had 4007 split screen video EEG investigations revealed that the relation to generalised epilepsy is even more close than generally believed….

Photosensitive epilepsy beyond adolescence: is freedom from photosensitivity age-dependent?

Patients with photosensitive epilepsy (PSE) are said to lose photosensitivity with age. That is, they do not suffer from photosensitive epileptic seizures after the third decade of life. This claim seems to be an over generalised statement and does not take into account all other important confounding factors that determine the duration and process of neurological illnesses….

Assaulting epilepsy patients by computer has been a thing at least since March, when the nonprofit Epilepsy Foundation had to close its forums to purge the offending messages and boost security. Kevin Poulsen, writing for Wired, called this, “possibly the first computer attack to inflict physical harm on the victims.”

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Gentlemen may cry Peace, Peace but there is no peace

Posted by Sappho on December 17th, 2016 filed in News and Commentary

I am getting to the point where talk of “peaceful transition” arouses my inner Patrick Henry.

Don’t get me wrong. If, as I fully expect, the Electoral College fails to dump Trump on Monday, I am not preparing to take up arms against my government. (Though it wouldn’t be a bad thing if they followed Robert Yablon’s suggestion and negotiated for a couple of basic norms to be respected in return for their rubber stamp of the popular vote loser whose votes were more optimally distributed.) Nor am I seeking war with Russia for weaponizing Wikileaks to interfere in our election (there’s lots of daylight between war between two nuclear powers and making Russia our new BFF as a reward for their interference). I’m still a Quaker, and I still believe in the Peace Testimony and working to take away the occasion of war.

But that which some people are calling “peace” doesn’t deserve the name. People who had no problem with the attempt to undermine Obama’s authority from the get go by lying about his birthplace now say that Trump is entitled, not just to the bare legal recognition that he’s the President-Elect, but to a honeymoon period where we quit criticizing him and give him the benefit of the doubt till inauguration. I get that Obama needs to go high when the other side goes low, and give his designated successor more respect than he deserves. But the rest of us don’t have to pretend that the whole campaign, and the years of birtherism before that, and the call to execute the later to be proven innocent Central Park 5 before that, never happened.

“Peaceful transition” does not mean that while I see my friends on Twitter being told to go to Israel or the gas chamber, their choice, and the President-Elect, both in his victory speeches and in his appointments, continues to encourage bigotry, I am obliged to put up, shut up, and give the Birther-in-Chief the benefit of the doubt.

And the notion that “peaceful transition” is undermined by telling the plain truth about Russian interference in our election and asking that Russia be held accountable, not rewarded? “Peaceful” is emphatically not the word I’d use for the demand that Americans shut up about that.

Look, I’ve been for every detente or reset with Russia in my lifetime. And I still think I had good reason. Sometimes I hoped to ease tensions with Russia because Russia had a genuinely promising leader (e.g., Gorbachev). But even when they didn’t (e.g., Putin, whom I’ve never praised or particularly trusted, with good reason), I still believe that there are limits to US power, and that there’s value in recognizing those limits.

Those limits, though, emphatically ought to extend to keeping foreigners out of our elections. Here’s what we have known for months, and what we now know in addition.
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The Department of What?

Posted by Sappho on December 13th, 2016 filed in News and Commentary

I read that the Birther in Chief Putin Fan in Chief Internet Troll in Chief President-Elect has selected Rick Perry to lead the Department of Oops. This led to a lot of jokes on Twitter about Perry’s memory lapse, and a lot of comparisons between Perry and the current Secretary of Energy, nuclear physicist Dr. Ernest Moniz. But enough about all that. The more interesting tweets were the ones elaborating on just what the Department of Energy actually does.

Risa Wechsler ?@RisaWechsler 11h11 hours ago
The DOE supports fundamental research in biology, including playing a major role in the Human Genome Project.

Risa Wechsler ?@RisaWechsler 11h11 hours ago
Computational work at the DOE supports understanding how the Universe formed and evolved, how supernovae explode, how materials work.

Risa Wechsler ?@RisaWechsler 11h11 hours ago
The DOE is also the primary supporter of high performance scientific computing in the US — at the heart of modern scientific discovery.

Risa Wechsler ?@RisaWechsler 11h11 hours ago
The former secretary, my colleague Steve Chu, won a Nobel for cooling and trapping atoms, has driven major innovation in low-carbon energy.

And, as many on Twitter were quick to point out, possibly the biggest job of the Department of Energy is its responsibility for ensuring the integrity and safety of nuclear weapons.

So it’s the Department of doing stuff with scientific computing, playing a major role in the Human Genome Project, and by the way taking charge of all our nukes? It sounds a bit misnamed. No wonder Rick Perry had trouble remembering its name.

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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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