Friday, January 23, 2015

Saturday scenes and scenery: hands

We leave out mark.

Even if the surface is cold and hard.

Even scratched in the concrete -- and colored.

Hands record a moment in time.

Where the hand is art, we want our part.

All byproducts from 596 Precincts.

My congresswoman at her best

As Republicans try, again, to outlaw abortion, Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi reminds a press conference that yes -- she does know more about babies than the pope.

Friday cat blogging

This well-fed creature greeted me as I trudged a precinct in Glen Park.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Occupied minds: into a spiral of never ending violence

The Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff has offered a thoughtful response to the terrible massacres of transgressive cartoonists, random Jewish shoppers, and bystanders that is riling France and all of Europe. Boff nettled the Vatican in the 1980s and 90s with his insistence on moving theology to the side of the poor and outcast. In 1992, he resolved those conflicts by giving up his priestly functions and "promoting himself to the state of the laity." His blog post on Charlie Hebdo is reproduced in full below.

Understanding the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris

It is one thing, and it is justifiable, to be indignant over the terrorist action that killed the best French caricaturists. It was an abominable and criminal act, which no-one can support.

Trying to understand analytically why such terrorist acts occur is different. Such acts do not fall from a clear blue sky. The sky behind them is dark, comprised of tragic histories, great massacres, humiliations and discrimination, and not just from true wars, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, that sacrificed the lives of thousands upon thousands of people, or forced them into exile.

The United States and several European countries were involved in these wars. Millions of Moslems live in France, the majority in the peripheries of the cities, in precarious conditions. Many of them, although born in France, are discriminated against to the point that it appears to be true Islamophobia. After the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a mosque was sprayed with gunfire, a Moslem restaurant was set on fire, and an Islamic prayer house was also shot at.

The issue is one of overcoming the spirit of revenge, and renouncing the strategy of confronting violence with still more violence. That creates a spiral of never ending violence, that produces countless victims, most of whom are innocent. And it will never achieve peace. If you want peace, prepare the means of peace, which is the fruit of dialogue and of the respectful coexistence among all.

The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 against the United States was paradigmatic. The reaction of President Bush was to declare “endless war” against terror and to pass the “Patriot Act” that violates citizens’ fundamental rights.

What the United States and her Western allies did in Iraq and Afghanistan was a modern war with the loss of countless civilian lives. If in those countries there had only been large date palm and fig plantations, nothing like that would have occurred. But in those countries there are great oil reserves, the blood of the world system of production. Such violence left a residue of rage, hatred and a desire of revenge in many Moslems who lived in those countries and elsewhere, all over the world.

Starting from that background one can understand that the abominable Paris attack was the result of this prior violence, not a spontaneous act. Not that this justifies it.

The effect of this attack is to instill widespread fear. That is the what terrorism seeks: to occupy the minds of the people and make them prisoners of fear. The principal point of terrorism is not to occupy their territory, as Westerners did in Afghanistan and Iraq, but to occupy their minds.

Sadly, the prophesy the intellectual author of the September 11 attempts, Osama Bin Laden, made on October 8, 2001 was realized: "The United States will never again have security, never again have peace." To occupy people’s minds, to keep them emotionally destabilized, to make them distrust any foreign gesture or person, is the essential objective of terrorism.

To reach its objective of dominion of the minds, terrorism follows this strategy:

(1) the actions must be spectacular, otherwise they do no cause widespread commotion;

( 2 ) the actions, in spite of being hateful, must inspire admiration for the ingenuity involved;

( 3 ) the actions must show that they were meticulously prepared;

( 4 ) the actions must be unexpected, to give the impression of being uncontrollable;

( 5 ) the authors of the actions must remain anonymous (using masks) because when there are more suspects, the fear is greater;

( 6 ) the actions must cause lasting fear;

( 7 ) the actions must distort the perception of reality: anything that is different can produce terror. It is enough to see some poor children walking into a commercial center, and the image of a potential assailant is produced.

Let us formalize the concept of terrorism: it is any spectacular violence, done with the purpose of filling people’s minds with fear and dread. Violence itself is not important, what is important is its spectacular character, its capacity for dominating everybody’s mind. One of the most lamentable effects of terrorism was that it promoted the terrorist State that the United States is now. Noam Chomsky quotes an official of the North-American security apparatus, who confessed: "The United States is a terrorist state and we are proud of it.}

Hopefully this spirit does not predominate in the world, especially in the West. If it does, we are headed for the worst kind of encounter. Only peaceful means have the secret strength to overcome violence and war. That is the lesson of history, and the counsel of wise humans, such as the Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Francis of Assísi, and Francis of Rome.

Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia,

Emphasis within the article is mine.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Georgia to kill a man with a 6th grader's grasp of the world

On January 27, the state of Georgia plans to execute Warren Lee Hill for bludgeoning a cellmate to death. I wouldn't want to be locked up with this guy. He's apparently a menace, or at least he was in 1990 when he committed the crime.

But didn't the Supreme Court had decided in 2002 that, whoever else this country executes, it shouldn't kill the "mentally retarded"?

Yes, that was the decision. But that merely turns the question of who is "mentally retarded" into something to be argued in the courts. Georgia requires that a claim of intellectual disability be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt." Hill's lawyers argued that his IQ is 70; Georgia responded that it is 77. (I have discussed previously that IQ measures nothing but skill at IQ tests but this is not the ground they are arguing on.) Both sides produced "experts." The American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities weighed in for Hill; they want the condition of their constituency to be taken seriously.

The Supremes punted, failing to uphold and follow through on defining the implications of their own ruling. So Hill is scheduled to die.

We wouldn't be litigating this stuff if we just locked up dangerous people until/unless they stopped being dangerous. But that wouldn't satisfy some people's need for "closure"/revenge.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Involuntary blog break

This head cold leaves me feeling as if my nose were the size of this bear's. And my brain feels as stuffed as his is. I'm lost in enjoyable reading and will return when I am breathing (and thinking) more normally.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A holiday to remember Dr. King

Two offerings for this day. First, evidence that the schools are trying. Rather sweet. I'm reading and greatly enjoying Tom Gallagher's Sub: My Years Underground in America's Schools, so finding it hard to be sanguine about anything that comes out of what my parents called "the halls of learning."

My friends from Ferguson Action and Black Lives Matter have been disrupting the smooth functioning of everyday life to get the attention of us all. They want us to be reminded that Dr. King was a radical. He was.

It would be hard to find a sentiment more radical than this, from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, engraved on the King memorial in Washington.
Now to get there ...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Police preying on the people

A couple of Philadelphia reporters won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for what amounts to a local case study of the police misbehavior that Radley Balko explores in The Rise of the Warrior Cop. The book that came out of their investigations, Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love by Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker is a terrific companion volume to Balko's, a quick read, and a reminder that shoe leather journalism can bring to life realities that sociological and analytical journalism merely describe.

A terrified police informant turned up in the city room of the Philadelphia Daily News, the city's screaming tabloid, with a story of working for a narcotics cop who sent him to set up acquaintances with drug buys -- and paid him with rental living quarters. Uh-oh ... the two women chased down this improbable tale, verifying its truth. They then started hearing that the same squad was raiding corner stores owned by immigrants, stealing merchandise, trashing their alarm systems, and dropping phony charges on the proprietors. Uh-oh ... so that's why the cops always had candy bars to pass out to street regulars from whom they wanted something. Once these stories hit the news, women began to tell them horror stories of being molested by a particular member of the narco squad who had a thing for baring and fondling the breasts of unfortunate females held in proximity to drug raids.

Unlike Balko, Ruderman and Laker make it abundantly clear that the reason these corrupt cops could get away with this behavior for years was that Philadelphia authorities neither believed nor cared about abuse of African Americans and other residents of color. The cops were white and they wouldn't have thought of trying this stuff in white communities. (The reporters were also white.)

Balko writes that J. Edgar Hoover always refused to commit his beloved F.B.I. to rooting out drug commerce.

[He] knew the issue was a loser and tended to lure law enforcement into corruption.

It would be hard to imagine a more concrete, thorough indictment of how the "War on Drugs" makes police into yet another predatory gang running wild where they can than Ruderman and Laker offer here.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Saturday scenes: on public toilets

National Park facilities often get this right
I take this eruption of wingnut craziness personally: Lawmaker Wants To Pay Students $2,500 If They See A Transgender Person In The ‘Wrong’ Bathroom.

Let me explain: although I've never doubted that I'm a woman, for all my 67 years I've been a woman who all too frequently inspires gender anxiety in people I encounter. They can't instantly identify whether I'm male or female and it is very important to their own equilibrium that the first glance at me answer that question. Because I'm outsize for the average female, strangers who are not paying attention often make me a male.

Okay, their problem. I'm pretty relaxed about this. It's been happening for a long time. But the one place where it continues to trouble me is in public bathrooms. Every time I enter one, I risk being met either with silent looks of shock and perhaps terror -- or with aggressive demands to go use the other room. It's drag. I just want to pee.

Enter a Kentucky legislator who wants to ensure that his state's students never get over this childish gender absolutism. His prescription is radical:
Sen. C.B. Embry Jr. (R) has introduced what he calls the Kentucky Student Privacy Act (SB 76), which would force all students to be identified by their “biological sex” as determined by their chromosomes and what was assigned to them according to their anatomy at birth, essentially erasing transgender students. The bill requires that bathrooms and locker rooms must be divided according to “biological sex,” and schools are forbidden from accommodating transgender students by allowing them access to any facility “designated for use by students of the opposite biological sex while students of the opposite biological sex are present or could be present.”

... The bill provides that any student who encounters “a person of the opposite biological sex” in a bathroom or locker room shall have a legal cause of action if it’s because the school gave the trans student permission or didn’t explicitly prohibit the trans student from using that facility. The “aggrieved” student would be entitled to $2,500 from the offending school “for each instance” he or she encountered a trans student in a sex-divided facility in addition to monetary damages “for all psychological, emotional, and physical harm suffered” and attorney fees.
Mr. Embry should take his personal insecurities about gender and go home. No need to visit them on the young people of Kentucky. His anxious binary world simply doesn't exist and the sooner they learn that, the better.

In honor of Mr. Embry, here are some of my collection of public bathroom curiosity photos (sure, I collect these like every other subject; no people included, of course, except me .)

UPDATE: Because of low turnout in last year's essentially uncontested gubernatorial election, it will now require closer to 365000 signatures, instead of over 500000, to put a law on the 2016 ballot. The San Jose Mercury reports that we may be asked to vote on a bathroom anxiety law that didn't make it this year under the old requirements.

BATHROOM BILL: A conservative advocacy group tried putting a transgender student rights bill -- which allows transgender students to pick which bathrooms and locker rooms they want to use -- on last year's ballot as a referendum and narrowly failed. Now that the signature threshold is lower, the group may try again to reverse the legislation.

Friday, January 16, 2015

SF legal community stages a die-in because #BlackLivesMatter

Several hundred lawyers and friends braved disruptions -- which BART (the subway system) called "civic unrest" -- over its address system to show their support for the movement to end police violence this morning. They filled steps outside the California Supreme Court on McAllister Street in Civic Center.

After a minimum of speechifying, the crowd lay on the steps for 15 minutes, four and half minutes to replicate the 4 and half hours that Michael Brown's body lay on a street in Ferguson, the balance in respect of Eric Garner's eleven dying pleas for New York cops to remove their choke hold.

Hearing the taped voice of Eric Garner while lying on cold concrete has moved me the several times I've participated.

The event was one of a calendar of protests calling for communities to rededicate themselves over the Martin Luther King weekend to the radical pursuit of justice.

Friday cat blogging

This calm creature inspected me as I passed by while Walking San Francisco. I was allowed to scratch under its chin.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

We've always been at war with Those People ...

Journalist Radley Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces is an enormously valuable, insightful book with a gaping hole at its center.

Even if the police aren't running wild in your neighborhood, images of law enforcement acting like occupying soldiers, whether against protesters and bystanders in Ferguson or against Ohio State students celebrating a football championship in Columbus are part of all our lives.

Here's how Balko states the case he explicates:
How did we get here? How did we evolve from a country whose founding statesmen were adamant about the dangers of armed, standing government forces -- a country that enshrined the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights and revered and protected the age-old notion that the home is a place of privacy and sanctuary -- to a country where it has become acceptable for armed government agents dressed in battle garb to storm private homes in the middle of the night -- not to apprehend violent fugitives or thwart terrorist attacks, but to enforce laws against nonviolent, consensual activities?

How did a country pushed into a revolution by protest and political speech become one where protests are met with flash grenades, pepper spray, and platoons of riot teams dressed like Robocops? How did we go from a system in which laws are enforced by the citizens, often with non-coercive methods, to one in which order is preserved by armed government agents too often conditioned to see streets and neighborhoods as battlefields and the citizens they serve as the enemy?
Balko's history of the evolution of a professional police force in cities is not a topic many of us have encountered in school; we're encouraged to assume that the presence of overbearing, heavily armed, enforcers is a fact of urban nature, when actually it is something of a novelty in this country. He canvasses how the social disruptions of the 1960s and their exploitation by politicians began to normalize extreme police tactics. But he maintains that considerable respect for restrictions on law enforcement survived the era of the Black urban rebellions (Watts; Detroit; Washington DC and hundreds of other cities). It was the Nixon administration's need for a domestic enemy on whom to demonstrate its toughness that led to the "War on Drugs" and our trajectory toward today's militarized cops who have completely escaped most tactical and legal restraints.

I learned a lot from his account, some of it tangential to his main point. I've never much focused on the ills of the Drug War but Balko clarified for me a vital point about how this sort of ill-defined forcible intervention multiplies violence on our streets and across the globe. In the effort to stop drug commerce, law enforcement picks off dealers and attempts to break up their networks. But drug selling is an ordinary business that happens to be carried on outside the law; if some kingpins are removed, somebody else will rush in to pickup the trade. After all, there are profits to be won. And if there are multiple claimants on the territory, because they operate without law, they often fight it out to the great detriment of our neighborhoods. Presumably just such a fight over state power we've destabilized is also what we are seeing in such targets of U.S. "democratization" as Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia.

Balko also documents thoroughly and frighteningly how police departments have come to misuse their authority to seize property they decide has been used in illegal business, usually without any judge's approval. Nice way to equip your force if you can get away with it, and you mostly can. And we've also begun, if we've watched the news, to realize that with the waning of mass U.S. occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon is unloading surplus war-making equipment to domestic police forces, such as Davis, California's $700,000 armored tank.

This is a frightening picture; Balko does a great job of drawing it. Any engaged citizen of this country would do well to read and digest his account. And just maybe we can reverse some of this -- though probably not without confronting what Balko leaves out of his picture.
So what's to critique here? For all the depth and rigor of Balko's reporting, somehow he has described the militarization of our police forces without coming to terms with the white supremacist history and current white supremacist reality of our society. We permit police to brutalize and kill people, to stomp upon historic constraints on state power embedded in the Bill of Rights, because those of us who are white, largely unconsciously, count on police to protect us from Those People. And for this protection we give cops the benefit of the doubt unless we experience the reality of police violence up close. The reason that most officers are so confident that they are doing the job we gave them is that they are. Even if officers themselves come from communities of color, their institutional role as the guardians of a white country endures.

In the words of an anonymous correspondent at TPM:
the reason that [police who kill Black, brown and crazy people enjoy] support and trust ... is due to the fact that what they are protecting the majority population from, in the minds of far too many in that population, is us!

From the Slave patrollers to the rural sheriffs, to the modern police forces, the threat perceived most vividly by the population they “protect and serve” is that of the (violent) black person. Even a cursory look at the history and culture of this nation will reveal that in popular culture for many decades the majority culture was told to be scared of people of color. The result of this villainization of Black, Brown, Red and Yellow skin is a populace that believes, at least subconsciously, that any stranger with a dark skin is a potential threat. ...
It's true and if we want a less violent abusive society, this is what has to change.

All this seems worth remembering as we approach the weekend on which we claim to honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, that radical disturber of a false and unjust "peace."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A San Francisco vignette

As I stepped distractedly into Mission Street, I felt a light tug on my elbow. I looked up just in time to jump back to the curb, escaping the onrushing Muni bus that was barreling through a red light.

I looked at the elderly Chinese woman who had alerted me to danger -- and thanked her. She smiled the smile of someone who understands, even if your language is not hers.

When the bus cleared the intersection, she pointed. "Green, go." I thanked her again.

In this international tourist destination, we all learn we must assist tourists, newcomers or simply unconscious residents who need help to understand our ways.
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