Sunday, October 19, 2014

Evidence we are all different

When you are fortunate enough to have a dear friend who agrees stay in your house while you travel about for four months, on your return you know some items will have been moved around. People have different ideas about how to organize their lives.

Cat litter in the freezer was unexpected. When I get a chance to find out why she kept it there, I'll add the answer here.

Update: The promised answer to the puzzle. Apparently the cat litter, a wheat kernel variety, arrived from Amazon and proceeded to exude little black bugs. The cat refused it! And it sure wasn't something anyone wanted around. Our house sitter didn't know who had ordered it or paid for it and wanted to keep the evidence if someone wanted to make a complaint to Amazon.


After four months, we're home. Here the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean. Finally we feel the ocean is in the "right" direction.

Regular blogging will resume as soon as I catch my breath.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Searching for salad across America

When we launched off in June on the 14,000 mile road trip that is the bookapalooza, one of my fears had nothing to do with whether Rebecca's talks about Mainstreaming Torture would be well received.

My great fear was that I wouldn't be able to find anything green to eat on the road. I remembered a trip to rural Colorado in 2001 when there seemed no escape from burgers and fries and, for an exotic variation, over-cooked pasta. So I resolved to record whatever salads might be available across the country.

Good news: just about every town and even highway rest stop served something like a salad. A durable change has come to mid-America almost everywhere.

Here are some of the salads we found on the road:

At a local cafe in Woodland, CA

Whitefish, MT

A chain outlet in New York City's financial district

At Chop Fresh you select the ingredients and an army of workers churns out your choices cheaply. Great lunch!

No surprise that a random cafe in a New Orleans' French Quarter can provide a salad ...

But who expected something this good from a Newk's in Hattiesburg MS?

Here's a fruity turkey salad from Knoxville TN

West Memphis AR was the closest thing to food desert we encountered, but even there a truck stop Denny's produced this -- complete with Texas toast.

The salad I liked most was from Central Foods in Spokane. Simple, subtle, and surprisingly good dressing.
If you can afford it -- and often the toll is no more than for a burger -- you don't have to starve for live food on the highways anymore!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola security theater

It's not easy to raise a laugh out of our current Ebola hysteria, but the New York Times inadvertently gave me one this morning. The Prez has been trapped, between his health officials' missteps and GOP fear-mongering, forced to name an "Ebola Czar." That's what you do when you've lost your grip on the narrative.

The gent who gets the ugly job is one Ron Klain, a former chief of staff to both Al Gore and Joe Biden. The "newspaper of record" reports his qualifications:

Mr. Klain is known for his ability to handle high-stakes and fast-moving political crises. He was the lead Democratic lawyer for Mr. Gore during the 2000 election recount, and was later played by Kevin Spacey in the HBO drama “Recount” about the disputed contest.

Okay -- we hope Klain is as polished as the actor.

And we can hope the administration puts the bulk of its Ebola efforts into the only actions that would actually increase the security of people here and around world: ending the unchecked epidemic in West Africa. True medical experts on the disease are beginning to think that the best hope for control is to develop a vaccine.

"Being afraid at all is the wrong thing to do ..."

Do not listen to the hysterical voices on radio and television or read the fear provoking words online ...

You may have heard that a Fox News TV talking head contradicted his network mates by offering the naked truth about the U.S. ebola outbreak. I didn't choose to view this at first. But if you haven't seen it, you might like to run it. It is hard to be more unambiguously direct than Shep Smith is here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Unbounded volatility

Feeling mystified by current Middle Eastern events and the latest iteration of U.S interventions in Iraq and in Syria? Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn, long time reporter for The Independent, has taken an early crack at explaining in The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the new Sunni Uprising.

This is a quickie book, meant to answer an immediate hunger for some idea of how a potent bunch of terrorist fanatics called (sometimes) ISIS could have suddenly overrun much of two countries. Based on Cockburn's own reporting, the result is somewhat Iraq-centric. It has probably been somewhat more possible to report from Baghdad than Damascus of late. But he's got a fairly coherent theory that is presented in this small book.

Cockburn locates the essential background to current events in two factors. First, the generations-long promotion of an intolerant variant of Islam by oil-rich Saudi Arabia. When you've got almost infinite cash to pass around, you can construct an awful lot of mosques and schools that teach your brand of religion; the Saudis have been at that project since 1945. And little as the U.S. likes the result, we've seldom said "boo" against it.

Cockburn's second background condition has been the Western world's war on Arab nationalism, in particular on Saddam Hussein's Iraq. After feeding Iraqi persistence in its long war against Iran in the 1980s and then smashing Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991, Western-backed U.N. sanctions throughout the 1990s pretty much destroyed what remained of a functioning Iraqi state. The consequence, continuing and intensifying through the US invasion and occupation of the 2000s, has been to put all the functions of a government -- handing out bureaucratic jobs, law enforcement and criminal justice, even the military -- up for sale from whoever had grabbed the power of appointment to whoever would pay. Iraq became one of the most corrupt societies in the world. No wonder the Iraqi army of some 400,000 men put up almost no resistance to a couple of thousand ISIS fighters on the move in northern Iraq this summer. The officers sold the troops their positions, then pocketed half their salaries, and most of any money for supplies.

Soldiers were sent to the front with only four clips of ammunition for the AK-47s; they went hungry because their commanders had embezzled the money to be spent on food; in oil-rich Iraq, fuel for army vehicles was in short supply; some battalions were down to a quarter of their established strength.

According to Cockburn, the West frequently, and sometimes willfully, misinterpreted the upheavals of the Arab Spring. Worse, Arab insurgents themselves were poorly equipped to lead their own societies.

In March 2011, mass arrests and torture effortlessly crushed the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. Innovations in technology may have changed the odds marginally in favor of the opposition, but not enough to prevent counter-revolution, as the military coup in Egypt on July 3, 2013 underscored.The initial success of street demonstrations led to over-confidence and excessive reliance on spontaneous action; the need for leadership, organization, unity, and policies that amounted to more than a vague humanitarian agenda all went by the wayside. ... Many members of the intelligentsia in Libya and Syria seemed to live and think within the echo chamber of the internet. Few expressed practical ideas about the way forward.

... The Arab Spring revolts were a strange mixture of revolution, counterrevolution, and foreign intervention. The international media often became highly confused about what was going on. The revolutionaries of 2011 had many failings but they were highly skilled at influencing and manipulating press coverage. ... Good reporters still took immense risks, and sometimes paid with their lives, trying to explain that there was more to what was happening than [an] oversimplified picture, But the worst media coverage, particularly in the first two years of the revolts, was very bad indeed. ... Predictably, such news was so biased and unreliable that the real course of events turned out to be full of unexpected developments and nasty surprises. This is likely to continue.

Cockburn concludes that the U.S., the West, and Middle Eastern peoples are in for a long, ugly, and likely bloody passage. He's not the sort of reporter who prognosticates, but what he sees is unstable and frightening.

The region has always been treacherous ground for foreign intervention, but many of the reasons for Western failure to read the situation in the Middle East are recent and self inflicted. The US response to the attacks of 9/11 in 2001 targeted the wrong countries when Afghanistan and Iraq were identified as the hostile states whose governments needed to be overthrown. Meanwhile, the two countries most involved in supporting al-Qa'ida and favoring the ideology behind the attacks, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, were largely ignored and given a free pass. Both were long-standing US allies and remained so despite 9/11. ...

It was not governments alone that got it wrong. So too did the reformers and revolutionaries who regarded the "Arab Spring" of 2011 as a death blow to the old authoritarian regimes across the region....Unexpectedness is in the nature of revolutionary change. I have always believed that if I can spot a revolution coming, so can the head of the Mukhabarat security police. He will do everything possible to prevent it happening.

...The political, social, and economic roots of the upsurges of 2011 are very complex. ... Protestors, skilled in propaganda if nothing else, saw the advantage of presenting the uprisings as unthreatening, "velvet" revolutions with English-speaking, well-educated bloggers and tweeters prominently in the vanguard. ...Opposition demands were all about personal freedom: social and economic inequalities were rarely declared to be issues, even when they were driving popular rage against the status quo. ... Economic liberalization, lauded in foreign capitals, was rapidly concentrating wealth in the hands of a politically well-connected few. Even members of the [Syrian] Mukhabarat, the secret police, were trying to survive on $200 a month...

What is the glue that [was] supposed to hold these new post-revolutionary states together? Nationalism isn't much in favor in the West, where it is seen as a mask for racism or militarism, supposedly outmoded in an era of globalization and humanitarian intervention. ... But without nationalism -- even where the unity of the nation is something of a historic fiction -- states lack an ideology that enables them to compete as a focus of loyalty with religious sects or ethnic groups.

... The deteriorating situation in Iraq and Syria may now have gone too far to re-create genuinely unitary states. Iraq is breaking up...

Time will tell how far the redrawing of maps will go -- and which forces get to decide whatever new boundaries come to be.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Scared witless amid murderous phantasms

In central Arizona, this piece of Republican tripe seemed to be running in an endless loop on broadcast TV.

The same terrorists targeted by U.S. bombers for destruction in Syria and Iraq are coming to the U.S. to attack the homeland through the Mexican border.

That's how Time Magazine summarizes the political ad's message, before pointing out that the hyped threat has been "repeatedly refuted."

Delaware Senator Chris Coons tweeted Johnathan Cohn's unexceptional article, which points out that a tiny number of Ebola cases in the United States and Europe are a minor threat compared to "the real problem, which is the outbreak in West Africa and the toll it is taking there."

He received in turn hundreds of messages like this:

Too many people in this country are scared witless. Okay, it is obvious that keeping us terrified serves the interests of the Republicans. Their only policy proposals are to take necessary services away from the majority and give the country's resources to the one percent -- these are not very popular ideas when when people understand them, so they need us to remain witless.

But why are so many ready, even eager, to be governed by fears? The music historian and cultural critic Greil Marcus thinks the mere fact of there being a Black president has driven some of us over the edge.

... when you look at the murder of Trayvon Martin, when you look at the murder of Michael Brown, when you look at those situations, it’s not unrelated to Obama being president, but it’s more the way in which the country has reframed itself or rewritten itself since his election, with all kinds of people saying to themselves, maybe never putting it into words, just feeling it, “There’s a fucking n--er in the White House? Well fuck you, n--er, whoever you are.” And an inchoate loathing and hatred that seeks out its targets.

I’m not a psychiatrist, I haven’t sat down and interviewed George Zimmerman or the cop who shot Michael Brown, I don’t know what their motives are, I don’t know what kind of people they are, what kind of childhood traumas they have experienced. But I don’t think it’s nuts that in a certain way, when that cop killed Michael Brown, and when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, they were killing Barack Obama. ...

Sometimes my fellow citizens scare me. That seems an appropriate fear.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Evidence that this is a strange country

This chart, from Vox, illustrates a paradox. Thanks to the Supremes deciding not to engage with the rapidly expanding set of legal decisions allowing same-sex marriage in state after state, there are now 8 states where LGBT people can legally get married -- but where you can then be fired for being gay.

Those states are in white on the map: Idaho, Indiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.

More struggles ahead.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A long struggle for both autonomy and inclusion

On this Indigenous People's Day (aka Columbus Day) it seems right to quote some observations from the descendants of original inhabitants from the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

Their effort to preserve cultural and legal autonomy is summarized in this statement:

Sovereignty continues to be challenged and yet is sustained in spite of challenges from governments, agencies and individuals.

In 1924, a Citizenship Act finally made the people of the Pueblos into citizens of the United States.

Not all Indian people viewed citizenship as a something wonderful. Their experience in dealing with Washington and the states did not give them much confidence in government or desire to participate in it. Some feared they would have to give up their own sovereignty. Some feared this would open up taxing for their lands.

"United States citizenship is just another way of absorbing us and destroying our customs and our government. We had our citizenship ... Our citizenship is with our nations."

The state of New Mexico didn't actually treat native residents as full citizens until after losing a court case brought by a native veteran of World War II in 1948. Until then, the Pueblo people were considered merely "Indians not taxed" and denied the right to vote.

This was a monumental event ushering in new opportunities for representation in state, local and national elections. It would take many years before this was fully realized. Early advocates of political participation were ridiculed by their own Pueblo people. Their persistence however paved the way ...

As late as 2004, my own experience with electoral organizing in the state included running into many obstacles to getting Pueblo people onto the voter rolls. Today there is at least one State Representative who comes from a Pueblo community.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Native American wellness

During our stay here in Albuquerque, we enjoyed an opportunity to visit the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The 19 Pueblos of New Mexico intend the museum to "preserve and perpetuate Pueblo culture and to advance understanding by presenting, with dignity and respect, the accomplishments and evolving history of the Pueblo people of New Mexico."

The exhibits included many arresting examples of native arts and crafts as well as historical artifacts. But I was particularly drawn to the three rooms which describe this people's history and society, imposing their own periodization and outlining a conception of a good community.

I've copied below a panel describing a communal understanding of well-being for all the stages of life. I found it very much worth pondering.

Being healthy means ...
to be able to participate in activities of the Pueblo, both physically and emotionally,
to be physically, mentally, and spiritually secure, living to a ripe age of 90+.
to be there to see your grandchildren and children grow into adults.
to be without excessive worry, fear and stress.
to be happy alone and with others.

Ways our People Stay Healthy:

*Participating in traditional dancing and ceremonies
*Utilizing traditional healing
*Helping out in good times (weddings) and bad times (funerals) in the village
*Chopping wood
*Doing physical chores (housework, yard and ditch cleaning)
*Participating in Senior Olympics
*Working out
*Participating in health programs (classes, health workshops, health events)


"Healing does not take place alone; it takes place in the context of family."

"When we think about our traditional calendar -- the activities that happen that engage the entire community for sometimes week to week, from month to month ... the central purpose of our engagement is all about sustaining a healthy spirit, mind and body as part of that engagement."

"Everything that comes along with participating [in the traditional calendar] is about being a healthy person. If you are in that framework during your daily life, it is not hard to be healthy."

SFIS Leadership Institute 2007

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday scenes and scenery: New Mexico fall folliage

The trail climbs Fourth of July Canyon, just east and south of Albuquerque.

Maples and oaks grow alongside and below a canopy of evergreens including great Ponderosa pines.

The display is worthy of the canyon's name.

Friday, October 10, 2014

How to lose the people

Sometimes you might think that no one who makes decisions in the Obama administration ever worked a day in their lives.

Two examples:
  • With considerable fanfare, the Prez announced in 2011 that home care workers would finally be included under the country's minimum wage laws, becoming entitled to higher pay and overtime. For forty years, these people (mostly women; often immigrants and/or of color) who take care of the sick and elderly in their homes had been treated as not-quite-genuine workers, so not deserving of elementary protections. The Department of Labor even wrote regulations. But in this election season, the bureaucracy announced it won't be enforcing the new rules in 2015. What good is that to people who work for so little return that they and their families end up on food stamps and Medicaid?
  • Even more outrageously, the administration has weighed in against workers who are seeking to be paid for time they spend waiting around to be searched before leaving their employers' premises. Amazon workers claim this daily process can take up to 25 minutes. The legal arguments are labyrinthine, but the situation is simple and ought to obvious: if keeping your job means you must give the job your time, you should get paid for that time. The Supreme Court seems unfriendly to this obvious reality and the administration is no better.
Bloomberg View commentator Francis Wilkinson insightfully suggests that, regardless of how Democrats fare in the upcoming midterms, this is "a moment of triumph for the party."

The nation's key social evolutions -- civil rights, the women's movement, gay rights, a demographic revolution driven by historic waves of immigration -- all bear a Democratic brand. The party has been an agent of the change sought by women and minorities and a mediating force in the conflicts that evolving power relations inevitably engender.

This is a serious achievement in the face of gruesome history, lingering cross-resentments and a sizable, if steadily dwindling, population of whites who (consciously or not) perceive racial privilege as the natural order of heaven and earth.

True, I think. But insofar as the emerging majority becomes normalized, they will assert just demands for a fair share of the country's wealth. The one percent have been getting almost all the economic gains of the past 40 years. Can the Democrats represent their constituents in this struggle? It is not at all clear that the answer is "yes."

Friday critter blogging: peaceable kingdom edition

Koshka is the head honcho here.

He knows he has nothing to worry about.

Vinegar is anxious and eager.

Chulo is simply beautiful.
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