Thursday, August 31, 2017

Home again

I'm home again, arriving at 6:30 this evening. A big stack of mail and a few phone messages awaited.

Yesterday, my brother, sister-in-law and I visited the Bayernhof Museum near Pittsburgh. Sister-in-law's sister had suggested it. We had to call ahead to reserve a spot for the 2:00 tour -- and the three of us and the guide were it!

Charlie Brown was a small-scale manufacturer in Pittsburgh and through that became wealthy. He was also eccentric. When, in his 30s, he finally moved out of his mother's house, he built this mansion with the idea that it would someday be a museum. He decorated it in a Bavarian style to remember an ancestor who came from there. He wanted to bring Bavaria to Pittsburgh.

However, he knew Bavarian things would not be enough to entice the public, so he also bought mechanical musical instruments -- player pianos, mechanical dance bands, carousel organs, and the like -- even though he didn't particularly like them.

Charlie drew up rough plans for the house, though didn't hire an architect to create full blueprints. He hired Johnny, then 17 years old and about to go to college as an engineering student, as his general contractor. What a hands-on project for a student! Johnny, with the help of a master carpenter and assistants, constructed the house over several years. Johnny never built another house, though is still working as an engineer and willing to consult on the house -- answering questions such as what does this switch do and what is behind this wall?

So we toured the house, including the secret passages, the cave, the observatory that Johnny installed for himself, and the pool. We heard many of the mechanical instruments. And we heard stories -- lots of great stories -- about Charlie and his eccentricities. It was a fun afternoon.

Of course, we had to find a German restaurant for supper.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Shelter in the storm

Joel Osteen is the pastor of a megachurch in Houston, Texas. He had to be shamed before he opened his church to be used as a shelter for hurricane Harvey victims. Already serving as shelters are the 21 mosques in the area. And the Muslim Youth Association is working hard in the rescue efforts.

Another place serving as a shelter is a Gallery Furniture store owned by Jim McIngvale, known locally as Mattress Mack.

First we pardon the racist police

During my drive from Charlotte to Pittsburgh yesterday I did hear a bit of NPR (when not in the West Virginia mountains). That included the news that Attorney General Sessions had removed the ban on giving excess military gear to city police departments.

Obama had signed the ban because he recognized that with some of this gear (such as bayonets) the police looked like an occupying force, quite the wrong impression after the deaths of several black men by police.

Some NPR pundits thought this was a big deal. Others, not so much – very few police depts. buy bayonets or the other previously banned items.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville says this is very much a big deal, one of the scariest in the nasty guy's tenure. She notes it comes days after the nasty guy pardoned racist sheriff Joe Arpaio, then wrote:
Think about what it means that we're reading about Trump lifting guidelines on police militarization immediately after his pardon of Joe Arpaio. That sends a clear message. And the message is that the president is going to use the nation's police to crack down on the citizenry, and will pardon law enforcement officers who themselves break the law enforcing a new order.

Miles and miles

Since I last posted...

On Sunday I spent the afternoon with my aunt. After sitting for a while I suggested we walk. We went out the end of her hall and around the back of the building. I suggested we walk around the next hall. She said she couldn't, too far ... and then did. We rested a bit on the far side of the building then went back to her room. Once settled in her chair she fell asleep for perhaps 10 minutes.

That evening I played some family card games with my cousin and his kids until the kids went to bed.

On Monday I was up early enough to see my cousin and the kids off to work and school. I then got myself ready and packed. My day was a drive from Charlotte to Pittsburgh to visit my brother and his wife. Google maps suggested 7 hours. It was more like 8. A few stops and the total time was well over 9 hours. One of those stops was at the overlook on the New River Gorge Bridge (I was there for only 20 minutes, honest!).

Today included a walk in a park and general lounging around.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A modest little shack

I haven't been getting an early start in the morning -- this is vacation -- so I left Cherokee at about 10:00 on Thursday. The Blue Ridge Parkway begins in Cherokee, just outside the Great Smoky Park. I took it. The signs say the speed limit is 45 mph, but with the hills and curves I rarely got that fast. The drive is lovely and most of the frequent overlooks provide fine views of the Blue Ridge Mountains (and allow faster traffic to pass). But after an hour I decided I didn't want to spend another two to get to Asheville. So I took the exit and was soon on I-40.

Back in the 1800s Cornelius Vanderbilt made piles of money on railroads. In the late 1880s his grandson George bought 8000 acres near Asheville and built his house, Biltmore Estate. It was completed in 1895. It is the largest single-family residence in America at over 177,000 square feet, more than 140 times the size of my modest house. In addition, he hired Frederick Law Olmsted to landscape the grounds (most of which was reverted from farmland to forest).

I took the audio tour -- I was given a device and at each of the 39 sites I tapped in the number and put it to my ear. They suggested the tour might take 2 hours. I took nearly 3.

The second room to view is the formal dining room. We're told it measures 40 feet by 70 feet, or 2800 square feet, more than twice the size of my house. Some have remarked the room doesn't look big, but the whole house is on such a large scale. This dining room includes a pipe organ, which automatically plays about every half hour (an organist is hired for special occasions).

After touring a few of the bedrooms (I think there are 32 in the house) and the servant areas (and hearing about the daily duties) I realized this isn't just a home, it is also a resort for the well connected. Guests would come for perhaps weeks at a time to be entertained by the Vanderbilts and their staff.

When hearing about how the super-rich treat their servants I look for whether the servants are exploited. It appears in this case the Vanderbilts rewarded their servants well. The rooms in the servant quarters are nicer than in most mansions and Edith Vanderbilt honored servants at holidays, birthdays, and such. Some families served the Vanderbilts for 2 or 3 generations. Even so, the chief cook did not have a bedroom like George Vanderbilt's.

My pricey entry ticket included access to the winery and village (whether I wanted to visit or not) and the exit road out of the estate made sure I passed all these areas (it took 20 minutes from the time I got to my car until I got to the outside world).

From the estate gate to my cousin's house near Charlotte took two hours.

On Friday I spent time with my aunt, Dad's sister. She is in an assisted living home and doing pretty well for 87. I told her about my trip so far and about family news.

Today most of my cousin's family is lounging about, when not freaking out about school starting on Monday. Both of his kids are in middle school. My cousin, his son, and I took bicycles into a Charlotte park for about a 45 minute ride. If I was on my own bike we could have gone farther, but his daughter's bike was a bit small for me and I couldn't get the power for hills.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


After two days in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I'm in a motel in the little town of Cherokee.

The park is a big place and there aren't may roads in it. So beyond a few major sites one must hike. I stuck mostly to the major sites.

Yesterday I went to the Cades Cove area. The road to it winds through forest and is a pleasant drive. The weather was sunny and warm. The "cove" in name means valley. Up until the area officially became a park in the 1930s this valley had a few settlers. Some of their buildings, including a couple churches, are still around and one can buy a guide book and visit them while touring the scenic loop road. I ignored them all.

Instead, I asked a ranger for a moderately difficult hike of a couple hours. He suggested two and I missed the sign for the trail head for one of them. So I took the trail to Abrams Falls.

I don't think it was moderate. I would have rated it closer to strenuous. The trail follows the Abrams Creek, but not beside it. Instead, it wanders up and down the hills beside the creek. And a couple of them are steep.

At the end we are rewarded with a view of the falls, a pleasing display of moderate means, though not what I would have called spectacular (which a few fellow hikers did). In spite of warnings, many of the hikers got into the pool downstream of the falls. Several appeared to wear bathing suits, so this was their intent when they started. in spite of being quite warm, I stayed out of the water. The whole hike was about 4 hours.

At the entrance to the trail is a sign urging that hikers carry enough water. The sign shows 3 bottles. I took the bottle I had. It wasn't enough. Which left me wondering, if I don't have enough where do I get more? I had visions of having to go to the ranger station at the other end of Cades Cove (round trip 11 miles) though I don't remember if they sold water. After the walk I found there is a nearby visitor center with water (round trip 4 miles).

When I did get to that visitor center I drank lots of water. Also at that visitor center were signs saying Cades Cove would be a great place to see the eclipse. The valley was grassy and would have provided a beautiful view.

After 5:00 I headed back to Gatlinburg -- and hit a traffic jam. I think it took 45 minutes to do the last five miles of the single lane loop road. I'm not sure how the congestion melted away as we reached the main road. Perhaps most of those cars were people staying in the campground? So maybe Cades Cove was not a better place for the eclipse.

The news during this drive included a tidbit that the observatory tower at Clingmans Dome would be closed the next day for renovation. That made me wonder: When talking to a ranger that morning, he mentioned the next day may not be a good day to visit Clingmans Dome because of the rain in the forecast. He didn't mention I should visit it before it closed.

Back in Gatlinburg for supper and hotel.

This morning I asked a ranger for moderate trails near the road between Gatlinburg and Cherokee. The ranger suggested Alum Cave Trail. I didn't need to do the whole length, within a couple miles I would get to some pretty good overlooks.

Again, I think saying it was moderate was an understatement. Even so, over the next 3.5 hours I went up to the good views, then back down again. It had rained overnight, so the sky was overcast and at the overlooks the clouds hung low. Even so, it was pretty. And about halfway back to the car the sky cleared.

My next stop was Newfound Gap at the crest of the mountains (and the divide between Tennessee and North Carolina). The views out over the countryside were great!

Then on to Clingmans Dome (I didn't bother with the half-mile hike to the observatory tower). Here the views were fantastic! I think I could see eight ridges of hills, one behind the next. A sign implied I could see 50 miles.

So here I am in Cherokee. The town is part of the Cherokee Indian Reservation. So there are lots of amenities for the natives (tribal offices, arts and crafts center, various tribal services, and an outdoor theater for their telling of their story (look up Trail of Tears). I didn't go, feeling a bit too tired from two days of hiking.

What is missing from Cherokee are national chain hotels and restaurants (though there is one Baymont hotel and one KFC restaurant). The town doesn't seem to cater to tourists and doesn't seem to be the bustling service provider just outside a major tourist draw. It is in sharp contrast to Gatlinburg, which is all about the tourist.

I think I would prefer something halfway in between, perhaps leaning towards Cherokee though the food in Gatlinburg is definitely better.

Tomorrow is the Blue Ridge Parkway (unless I'm tired of winding roads through forest) and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville.

Monday, August 21, 2017

When the sun doesn't shine

Yes, this photo was taken with my camera.

I was in the little town of Madisonville. I got there around 1:30, found a parking spot, walked around the town, and enjoyed the celestial show. by 3:10 I was back on the road.

I left Corbin, KY this morning. Driving down I-75 to and around Knoxville went easily. A ways west of the city the traffic slowed to a crawl. This didn't look good. But I didn't need to stay on I-75. So I took I-140 to the east, then US-411 south. I had marked on my map the boundaries and middle of the totality zone and Madisonville was close enough to the middle. The traffic was heavy, but not bad. Several places offered eclipse parking for $10 or $20. I considered stopping at a school with a $10 offer, but went on by.

I solved the bathroom problem by stopping at a Home Depot not far from I-140.

For lunch I ate the ham and cheese I bought from a Kroger deli before leaving Corbin. I did this once I got to Madisonville.

Within a half hour of eating I needed a bathroom quickly. If there was something wrong with the ham I didn't think it would go through me in a half hour. I didn't see public facilities, but a cafe allowed me to use theirs.

I set up my camera with a clamp, but didn't have anything to clamp it on. I tried clamping to the car door, but it didn't work. So I propped the camera up on the car roof and hoped I had it pointing in a good direction. When totality came I reached over and clicked the shutter, but it couldn't focus on anything. So I picked it up, snapped this shot, and set it down so I could enjoy the show in person rather than through a viewfinder. The exposure time was probably too long for a hand-held shot. Even if blurry, it's a wonderful image.

Overall, really cool! I'm glad I did it.

Though people sat around to watch the moon slide in front of the sun (or, more accurately, pause in their reading or socializing every few minutes to step into the sunlight, put on their protective glasses, and look up), they didn't stay around very long after totality was over, even though the moon would be partially in front of the sun for another hour.

I went back to the cafe, thinking to buy a drink in thanks for the kindness of opening their bathroom to the public. Alas, the only drinks both sugar and caffeine free were decaf coffee (nope) and water. I paid them a quarter for the glass they put the water and ice in.

So, on the road by 3:10 and back out to US-411. And into a gigantic traffic jam.

The road has two lanes in each direction. Even so, it took an hour to travel the first 10 miles and a half hour for the next 11 miles. My route from Madisonville (or general area) to Gatlinburg would take, according to Google Maps, about two hours. It took 3:45, including a stop for gas (and a bathroom break).

Pigeon Forge seemed to me a non-stop tourist trap, an assault on the senses for the constant grab for the sucker's dollars. I might have stopped at one or two restaurants, but didn't see them soon enough. I was relieved when the last few miles to Gatlinburg were through a forest.

Gatlinburg has the same vibe, but on a much smaller scale, both in effect and in size. Most of the attractions were in walking distance, not possible in Pigeon Forge.

I checked into the hotel and was given a list of restaurant (I guess ones the hotel recommends). I went walking, but had left the list behind and, likely from hunger, couldn't remember most of the names on the list. After a half hour I was back at the hotel asking for directions. The one that looked promising wasn't on the main street, which is why I missed it. Turned out to be only adequate.

Into the mountains tomorrow.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

In Kentucky

My cousin's wedding was wonderful and unconventional. It was held in an historic mansion (a really big house for the area). Two flower girls came down the steps dropping rose petals. Then the couple descended after them. They stood in the front entranceway and we stood in parlors on either side. Each of the couple stated their intentions by telling their side of the joint story. When it came time for personal vows the officiant read them in the form of a question and both of them answered with a strong yes. The whole ceremony was about 15 minutes.

Supper was also in the mansion. Each downstairs room had tables for perhaps 8 to 16 people. I sat with my brother, sister-in-law, and a few cousins. The people in each room went to the buffet line together. I declined the beef because it looked too rare and the carver didn't have a well done end piece. So I took the tuna steak. Only when I was back at my seat and trying to add a little extra butter did I find out the tuna steak was cold and mostly raw. I managed to eat about half of it with lots of sauce from the vegetable lasagna.

I had a good time talking to various cousins about what they are doing these days and swapping stories about the older generations.

As the evening was wrapping up a cousin warned me the traffic for the drive south could get a bit thick with people heading to the eclipse. It wasn't too bad...

As I was approaching Cincinnati the traffic warning signs said I-75 was down to one lane, so would add an extra hour. I-71 also had construction, so would also be slow. So I took I-275 around the city. Which was great -- until I tried to rejoin I-75 in Kentucky. That was a 15 minute backup due to construction on the ramp from one highway to the other. That wasn't mentioned in the traffic report.

I'm now in Corbin, Kentucky. I'm about two hours from the total eclipse zone, if traffic is normal. It probably won't be. I got on my little netbook computer to check cloud cover. Neither of the two big weather websites would load. I turned on the Weather Channel, but it showed stories about surviving tough situations in bad weather. I did see a map that indicated viewing should be good from souteastern Tennessee. The guy at the hotel desk confirmed the forcast for tomorrow will be sunny.

I'm thinking of buying a lunch when I buy breakfast tomorrow with the assumption that restaurants and even fast food places farther into the zone will be overwhelmed. Which leaves one question -- what might I do for a bathroom? Amazingly, there is only one rest stop along the entire 160 mile stretch of I-75 in Tennessee and that one is south of where I am considering getting off the highway.

While talking to the desk clerk about tomorrow a couple came in looking for a room. This hotel and all the ones around it are full. They were in Florida and heading north to home and job, unable to spare the time to see the eclipse. Through the totality zone they saw many signs along the highway saying not to stop on the shoulder to view the eclipse.

It could get a bit crazy tomorrow.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Here comes the sun

I start a couple weeks of traveling tomorrow afternoon. Outline:

* To the small town in northern Ohio where my Dad’s family is from. My cousin is getting married for the second time. This is a chance for family to gather without attending a funeral.

* Then I head south. By noon Monday I plan to be in eastern Tennessee in the path of the total solar eclipse. I already have my viewing glasses. I began checking the weather forecasts for the area. The day is supposed to be clear with a 15% chance of a storm between 2:00-3:00. The eclipse is at about 2:35.

* I will spend a couple days in Great Smoky National Park.

* On Thursday I’ll take the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville, see the Biltmore Estate, then head east.

* Thursday evening to Monday morning I visit my cousin and his family, especially his mother, Dad’s sister, while she’s still around.

* On Monday I head north to Pittsburgh to spend time with my brother and his wife to see life after caring for Mom. Then home on Thursday (so that I’m off the road by the holiday weekend).

I’ll share interesting stories and photos if I have any.

Those were the days

I bought version 9 of the Legacy genealogy program today. I have access to all of its wonderful tools (though I’m not sure I’ll be doing much DNA tracking). I can finally designate same-sex couples as actually being same-sex. Version 8 insisted one of a couple had to be a man and the other had to be a woman. So I used the free basic program, which allowed me to enter data and not much else.

One of the things I inherited was the Legacy database that Mom and Dad had put together. Mom got interested in preserving family history in the 1970s, once most of us kids had moved out of the house. Soon she had three thick binders and I think 1200 names. I don’t know what she used for documentation – at least in all of the family stuff I took from their house I haven’t seen much yet. I do have posters she drew for family reunions.

Dad, who worked for IBM, soon had a PC and some kind of database program for Mom to use. And, yes, she used it – at least for this. Over the years Dad migrated to one or two other programs before landing on Legacy. By the time I inherited the database a couple years ago Dad had over 1600 names. Since then I’ve added about 200 more.

In getting to know the new version of the program I saw that for this week Legacy users have free access to census records through My Heritage. Here is is already Thursday and I leave town tomorrow. So I spent much of the afternoon trying to trace some of the more mysterious ancestors, such as one of my great-grandfathers. Through the census records I found where his parents were born (Germany) and that he had several siblings.

I checked on a great-great-grandfather. And I found the limits of genealogy data. In the 1880 census a son is listed at 16 years old – which seemed rather strange since Mom listed him as being married in 1875. In the 1870 census this son is listed as 18 years old, corresponding to the data I had.

When the My Heritage site pulled up the data it also showed the actual page from the census record. These appear to be pages from a book and, of course, all hand-written. So, there were at times legibility issues. Then there may be issues of the census-taker not understanding what is being said. In once case the record showed the husband coming to America in 1868 and the wife in 1886, yet she is giving birth to children in America between those years. I think someone flipped a couple digits. In another case the census record lists a daughter as “Phillis C.” and my Mom’s data lists “Felicity.”

I added a few names and other details to my database. And I also learned a few things about the reliability of genealogy source data.

A Spartacus moment

The conservative North Carolina legislature passed a law a while ago prohibiting pulling down public monuments (as in Confederate monuments) without their permission. A group in Durham pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier anyway. Warrants were issued for the actual perpetrators, perhaps 7 people. When they showed up at the courthouse to be arrested they were joined by maybe 200 more activists who said, “Arrest me too!” Officials declined to do so and most arrested were released without bond. The Democratic governor could decide not to prosecute.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Because it works

One of the things the nasty guy tweeted today was complaint that fake news would never be satisfied. That meant no matter what he said in condemnation of white supremacists (which was very little) his critics would want more.

After the nasty guy gave his second speech on the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Melissa McEwan of Shakesville tweeted a prediction (alas, I don’t have a link) that the nasty guy would grumble about the press not being satisfied.

So McEwan ran a series of tweets about why she was able to make an accurate prediction.
Because white supremacy is a system replicated with observable patterns. This is how generation after generation is taught white supremacy (every bigotry). Effective patterns of oppression are infinitely repeated. The patterns include both the language that transmits the bigotry, and the language used to push back on the people trying to dismantle it. A powerful white supremacist who insufficiently disavows white supremacy will ALWAYS accuse critics of never being satisfied. It’s like clockwork. It’s as predictable as the sunrise. Why? Because IT WORKS.
McEwan notes that moderates are already saying the nasty guy has issued his condemnation, so move along now, nothing more to see here.

She adds in the post where she collected the tweets:
The entire reason that he is predictable to me is because he adheres unerringly to the patterns of white supremacy. That is telling.

Yesterday I wrote about Christian Picciolini and his group Life After Hate. Today I heard a bit of news about Picciolini and his organization.

Back in January, just before Obama left office, the Department of Homeland Security awarded Life After Hate a $400,000 grant. It was part of the DHS program Countering Violent Extremism. It was the only selected group that focused exclusively on fighting white supremacy. The grant money was not immediately disbursed.

Then the nasty guy took over. And the DHS grants were reevaluated. And repurposed to fight “radical Islamic terrorism.” When the updated list of grants was made public a few weeks ago Life After Hate was no longer on the list.

Gosh, why would we want to spend money to fight white supremacy?

Monday, August 14, 2017

More bang for the loonie

Egberto Willies of Daily Kos notes:
We are disadvantaged because of an ideologically-driven, willful gullibility that allows us to consent to politicians screwing us. [This analysis] should make most poor and middle class American re-examine their tolerance for electing politicians who not only lie to them, but who materially hurt their survival—literally and figuratively.
The analysis is a comparison of American and Canadian tax systems and what the citizens get for their money. The analysis was done because the nasty guy has repeatedly said we have the highest taxes in the world. Not even close. Considering income, local, sales, and other taxes, we pay a little below average of the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Back to Canada. Surely, they pay more taxes than Americans! Yeah, a bit. But they get more bang for their loonie. A working universal heath care system for about half the price Americans pay, 18 months of subsidized parental leave, access to high-quality education for children across the income spectrum, and many other things. Middle-income Canadians enjoy public services worth about 63% of their income.

And the American tax system?

Willies says, “Our tax system is nothing more than a way to transfer wealth from the masses to the wealthy few.”

I add that our system is designed to make sure those people are unable to challenge those at the top.

We spend a lot on the military – which subsidizes private corporations in the military industrial complex. We spend a lot on healthcare – the taxpayer pays for research and the drug company keeps all the jacked-up profit.

Americans grumble about high taxes and feel we’re paying more than everyone else, and we do that because we get so little in exchange.

Willies offers suggestions:

* Tax investment income at a higher rate than work income.

* Drug companies must share profits of all drugs developed with taxpayer dollars.

* Every student with a good GPA should be offered pay-it-forward tuition-free college.

* Medicare for all.

* Corporations should not profit from fossil fuels or minerals. They did not put it there. All Americans should have a right to the country’s natural resources. You can profit from what you do with the minerals, but not to the minerals themselves.

Identity, community, and sense of purpose

Stacey Vanek Smith of NPR did an eight minute interview with Christian Picciolini. He was a lost and lonely teenager and was recruited into a white supremacist group. He soon became a recruiter. He renounced ties at age 22 when his first child was born. He co-founded the group Life After Hate to help people disengage from these extremist groups. He wrote the book “Romantic Violence: Memoirs Of An American Skinhead.” Excerpts of his words:
I think ultimately, people become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology. I think that the ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized or extremists because they're searching for three very fundamental human needs - identity, community and a sense of purpose. If underneath that fundamental search is something that's broken - I call them potholes. Is there abuse or trauma or mental illness or addiction? In my case many years ago, it was abandonment. I felt abandoned, and that led me to this community.

But what happens is because there are so many marginalized young people, so many disenfranchised young people today with not a lot to believe in, with not a lot of hope, they tend to search for very simple black and white answers. Because of the Internet, we now have this propaganda machine that is flooding the Internet with conspiracy theory propaganda from the far-right, disinformation. And when a young person who feels disenchanted or disaffected goes online, where most of them live, they're able to find that identity online.

They're able to find that community, and they're able to find that purpose that's being fed to them by savvy recruiters who understand how to target vulnerable young people. And they go for this solution because, frankly, it promises paradise. And it requires very little work except for dedicating your life to that purpose. But I can say that they're all being fooled because the people at the very top have an agenda, and it's a broken ideology that can never work, that, in fact, is destroying people's lives more than the promise that they were given of helping the world or saving the white race.
What people need to understand is that since 9/11, more Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by white supremacists than by any other foreign or domestic terrorist group combined by a factor of two. Yet we don't really talk about that, nor do we even call these instances of the shooting in Charleston or what happened in Oak Creek, Wis., at the Sikh temple or even what happened in Charlottesville this weekend as terrorism.
When working with people who have been associated with supremacist groups:
I listen more than I speak. And when I listen for is the potholes, the ones that I mentioned before. You know, were they abused? Is there addiction? Is there a mental health issue? Are they just simply disconnected and have never had the time to have a meaningful interaction with somebody they claim to hate? But as I listen, then I start to fill in those potholes with services, whether it's mental health therapy. But to challenge the ideology.

What I do after working on the person, on the human, to make them more resilient and more whole so that they don't have to blame the other, is I'll immerse them in situations that challenge their narrative, so I may introduce a Holocaust denier to a Holocaust survivor or an Islamophobe to an imam or a Muslim family for dinner or somebody who is homophobic to an LGBTQ couple. And oftentimes, what happens is they are able to humanize these people that they once had this idea of them being a monster or a parasite in their head.

And because they've made that humanizing connection, they typically can't justify the prejudice or reconcile the hate any longer. And 9 times out of 10, this is the first time that the hater has had a meaningful interaction with the person they feel they hate. And when they receive compassion from the people they least deserve it from, when they least deserve it, that, to me, is the most transformative process. And I've seen that happen hundreds and hundreds of times, including to myself personally.

I’ll believe you

Still lots of commentary out there about the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville looks at the statement the nasty guy finally gave today. On the surface it sounds like what a president is supposed to say in this situation (and getting praise from news media), but McEwan notes the nasty guy gave himself some loopholes.

The nasty guy said:
Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.
McEwan interprets:
The president very carefully indicated that racism is only a problem if you commit visible acts of public violence because of racist views.

Racism is a problem long before it reaches the point of public violence. Like, for example, housing discrimination or appointing a racist to oversee the Department of Justice.
The emphasis on "including" is doing a lot of work. Especially given "Black Lives Matter is a hate group" is and long has been a major talking point among white supremacists.

Because this was the nasty guy’s second run at the issue the supremacists are saying that condemnation was for the viewing audience. He’s already said what he really feels.

And the overall impression:
Most of the political press appears to have lost sight of why we expect presidents to condemn acts of white supremacist violence: It's to communicate to *the people who commit them* that their beliefs and behaviors are intolerable; and to communicate to *the people whom they target* that their country cares about their safety.

Trump did neither.
McEwan included a quote from Yesha Callahan of the Root:
James Baldwin once said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." The violence that erupted in Charlottesville over the last 48 hours has been the face of America since the beginning of time.
A frequent comment and response from the last few days: “America is not like that!” Actually, we are, always have been. And it won’t change until we face it.

McEwan also links to Jana Winter at Foreign Policy:
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in May warned that white supremacist groups had already carried out more attacks than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years and were likely to carry out more attacks over the next year, according to an intelligence bulletin obtained by Foreign Policy. Even as Trump continues to resist calling out white supremacists for violence, federal law enforcement has made clear that it sees these types of domestic extremists as a severe threat. The report, dated May 10, says the FBI and DHS believe that members of the white supremacist movement 'likely will continue to pose a threat of lethal violence over the next year.

In a series of tweets Sarah Kendzior wrote:
I don’t want to hear one person say he’s “presidential.” Being presidential is not having to be *convinced* to condemn neo-Nazis and the KKK. Being presidential is not putting Nazis and white supremacists into top White House positions and having them translate bigotry into policy. Being presidential is not being beaten to the punch in your condemnation of a Nazi murderer by a tiki torch company.

Yesterday I wrote that the GOP outrage at the violence in Charlottesville sounded hollow. Rev. William Barber, creator of Moral Mondays in North Carolina, goes further. He noted that Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, and other prominent Republicans said they oppose the white supremacy on display in Charlottesville. In response, Barber quotes from the Bible: Matthew 7:5, “Hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye; and then you shall see clearly to remove the mote from your brother’s eye.”

Barber lists several things that show the GOP as being hypocritical. I’ll rephrase it:

I’ll believe you when you say you oppose white supremacy when you challenge the race driven policies of the White House and in your own agenda.

I’ll believe you when you say you oppose white supremacy when you fully reinstate the voting rights act and stop racist voter suppression and gerrymandering.

I’ll believe you when you acknowledge racist voter suppression in 2016.

I’ll believe you when you stop racializing Obamacare and claiming that everything Obama did was bad.

I’ll believe you when you stop racist attacks on immigrants.

I’ll believe you when you challenge the Attorney General as he tries to end affirmative action.

I’ll believe you when you increase federal investigation of unarmed blacks killed by police.

Barber ends:
To say you are against white supremacy without standing up against the policies that embolden white supremacists is hypocrisy.

Leah Daughtry wrote it a tweet: “Dear White Politicians, do not go to black churches today & tell us how much you hate racism. Go to white churches and tell them.”

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Bathroom backfire

A couple bits of good news. Both bits are about transgender bigotry.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the state legislature into a special summer session to pass a “bathroom bill” to regulate which bathroom transgender people could use. But the bill is stuck and probably won’t come up for a vote. It is strongly opposed by progressives, law enforcement, big business (46 corporations from the Fortune 500 list, 20 of which have headquarters in Texas), Dallas Stars (professional hockey), and even business oriented GOP leaders.

In Iowa Democrat Phil Miller had served on a school board and voted to keep a policy that allowed transgender students use the bathroom of their choice. Miller ran for the state House from a rural district in a special election. Attack ads noted Miller’s transgender vote and declared he and his liberal policies were out of touch.

Miller won.

Hollow outrage

There was a demonstration by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday. It was met by a counter-protest. Things got a little heated. A car, driven by a supremacist, plowed into the crowd, killing 1 and injuring 19.

The violence was swiftly condemned by both Democrats and Republicans (though the response from the nasty guy was lame – not a surprise since he is a white supremacist).

But the GOP outrage sounds hollow.

There is lots of discussion on conservative sites featuring such ideas as, “Nobody cares about your protest. Keep your ass out of the road,” and other slogans fantasizing about running over protesters. And GOP lawmakers are listening. They’re claiming protesters in roads are a lethal menace because they could obstruct emergency vehicles (though they can’t point to a case where that has happened). They’re also proposing such bills as banning protesting in streets, declaring protesters guilty of the new crime of “economic terrorism” (sorry, the terrorist is the one behind the wheel), and preventing protesters from suing drivers who hit them.

It seems the GOP is getting very good at hollow outrage.

This will make you wink

Radiolab did a fascinating 50 minute episode about new technology. Adobe Corp., known for PDF files and Photoshop, wanted a Photoshop for sound, a tool to make movie sound editing, especially speech editing, easier. They developed a program to break an actor’s speech down into its component sounds. Then using a text editor they could edit what the actor said and the program would create the actor’s voice saying the new words. They were able to insert words into the text that the actor had not spoken, as long as the actor had spoken all the component sounds.

Another development was by a team at the University of Southern California. They could focus the camera on a person and using that as a guide in real time manipulate the facial features of an image of a person. Whatever the human did – grimace, raise eyebrows, whatever – the image copied. It is like controlling a puppet. This allows a company to make a commercial featuring a famous actor and send it overseas. In the new country, perhaps China, this program would allow moving the lips so it looked like the famous actor was speaking Mandarin. Couple the lips with the first program and the Mandarin would be in the actor’s voice.

Pretty cool!

Now consider the voice that was broken down and recreated and the image being manipulated belonged to President Obama. And the people writing the text and pulling the puppet strings are purveyors of fake news. It now becomes easy for the perpetrators to produce a video showing Obama saying all kinds of nasty things. Those who study manipulated images would probably be able to identify that the video was fake.

But the common man would not, and probably wouldn’t hear about the fakery until after the video had done its damage.

So what is true? We are leaving a difficult problem for the next generation to solve.

Friday, August 11, 2017

War together

As the world watches in horror at the verbal volleys between the nasty guy and the leader of North Korea and with people wondering how far the nasty guy might go, Sara Kendzior pointed to an article she wrote for Quartz back in December.

The nasty guy and Putin had each separately just announced an increase in his own country’s nuclear arsenals. Kendzior wrote:
Trump and Putin aren’t heading to war with each other—they’re heading to war together. … Rather than engaging in an arms race against each other, Trump and Putin are possibly teaming up as nuclear partners against shared targets.
It appears the nasty guy has been fascinated with nukes for 30 years. And he has been proposing America team up with Russia for all of that time.

And who might those shared targets be? Other countries with nukes such as Pakistan … and France.

Not big enough

A team – Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman – that researches inequality created a chart to show the increase in income inequality. It took me a moment to figure out what the chart is saying. Once I did the message is powerful. I’ll let you look at the chart here as I explain.

There are two lines on the chart, the gray one for 1980, the red for 2014. The dots on the line represent percentile. The leftmost dot at 5th percentile means it represents people that have income above 5% of the population – they’re quite poor. 95% of the population has higher income. At the right side is the 99th percentile – people whose income is above 99% of the population. These people are the 1%. The red line continues to those making more money than 99.999% of the population, or the .001%.

The height of the dot represents how much a person in that percentile sees in annual income growth. In 1980 those in the 5th percentile saw income growth of about 3.3%. In 2014 those same people saw a negative income growth of about 0.1%. In 1980 from about the 40th to 80th percentile income growth for everyone was about 2%.

At the other end of the scale, in 1980 the 99th percentile saw income growth of about 1.3%. In 2014 these people saw an income growth of about 2.2%. Overall in 1980 as income rises income growth is smaller. In 2014 as income rises income growth increases.

The important news is what happens above the 99th percentile. In 2014 the 99.99th percentile saw an income growth of 4% and the 99.999th percentile saw an income growth of a huge 6% – at a time when the poorest saw their income shrink.

The main point: Huge income inequality isn’t inevitable. Not so long ago inequality was getting smaller. Policy decisions over the last 34 years meant more money to the rich and less for the poor. Different policies would produce different outcomes.

But the nasty guy, the GOP in Congress, and the big donors pushing for a “tax reform” which is really a tax cut for the rich think that the inequality isn’t big enough.

Profiting from misery

This one is scary: The Washington Post did a survey and asked would you support postponing the 2020 election if the nasty guy were to say it “should be postponed until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote.” More than half of Republicans – 52% – agreed.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville says to keep in mind the guy who would be making that call has consistently lied about widespread voter fraud.

Other numbers from that survey: 47% of Republicans believe the nasty guy won the popular vote, 68% believe millions of illegal immigrants voted, 73% believe voter fraud happens somewhat or very often.

Alison Parker of Shareblue reports that big GOP donors are annoyed with the collapse of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and are withholding at least $2 million in contributions to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Democrats feel energized.

The incoming freshman class at Harvard University is 49.2% white. Yes, white students are not the majority. Asian Americans are 22.2% of the 2,056 freshmen. African Americans are 14.6%, Hispanic and Latino are 11.6%, Native American and Pacific Islanders are 2.5%.

What happens when a for-profit prison company doesn’t get a steady supply of criminals? What if it doesn’t have enough inmates to turn a profit? It threatens to lay off employees. It begs state and federal prisons to transfer inmates. It volunteers to be a deportation detention center. It tries to invent new crimes or increase punishment for existing crimes. All is a way of saying prisons should not be trying to make a profit of other people’s misery.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Oh, just shut up!

Hunter, writing for DailyKos, has a bit of background on why the nasty guy issued is ban on transgender people serving in the military. GOP members in Congress demanded that the military should not pay for transgender transition and hormone therapy. Various lawyers and staffers now had to explain this to the nasty guy, including nuances of ramifications and legal backlash. And including warnings against both the GOP policy and an outright ban.

But the nasty guy wasn’t getting it and lost patience. So he issued the series of tweets banning transgender people in the military “as an attempt to stop his own staff from asking him further questions on it.”

Last week I mentioned Sen. Jeff Flake’s criticism of the GOP, calling out it’s increasing alarmist rhetoric. Hunter notes that Flake hasn’t been following his own advice. He’s had several chances – votes on key GOP policies – to demonstrate the different way he is calling for. And he’s followed the party line each time.

Freeze people out of care

Back in April Bernie Sanders said there should not be a litmus test on abortion for Democratic candidate. Now Bernie is calling for a litmus test on single-payer health insurance.

Many of us are puzzled how it is that Bernie has so much control of the Democratic Party, considering he isn’t a Democrat. Some Democrats say it is because Bernie’s base is the most energized. In reply other say Bernie’s base is only the loudest.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville has a few things to say about Bernie’s call for single-payer health insurance. First, as McEwan has said many times, abortion is healthcare. Can’t have a litmus test for single-payer without also having a litmus test for abortion.

Second, remember the Hyde Amendment? It was passed back in 1976, so it’s understandable you don’t remember. It says the federal government will not pay for abortions.

Single-payer means one entity – the government – pays for all medical care. With the Hyde Amendment in place, zero women will have abortion coverage.

Take it a step further. As long as Congress has the ability to decide who is allowed to have care, they will use that ability. And single-payer will give them control over the whole population. Don’t like transgender people? The rest of the LGBT community? Fat people? The disabled? Single-payer could freeze them out of care.

As we talk about single-payer in particular and universal healthcare in general we have to talk about this. Starting with Bernie.

Convince the people the system worked

What is the purpose of an election? Cyber-security expert Bruce Schneier explains:
Democratic elections serve two purposes. The first is to elect the winner. But the second is to convince the loser. After the votes are all counted, everyone needs to trust that the election was fair and the results accurate. Attacks against our election system, even if they are ultimately ineffective, undermine that trust and – by extension – our democracy.

Because of the inherent unfairness of the electoral college and the rotten toxicity of the conservative right, it is not difficult to foresee a future in which the US never again has a President who is widely viewed by the 'losing side' as legitimate.

Fanny Wolfe of Shakesville looks at the various things over the last 20 years that have contributed to not convincing the loser.

* The Bush v. Gore case before the Supremes, largely seen as a partisan decision and an opinion that Gore would have won of the Florida recount had been allowed to continue. This damaged the credibility of both the election process and the judiciary.

* Throughout Obama’s presidency the GOP constantly challenged his legitimacy to be in the White House.

* Ongoing and increasing efforts to pass laws that suppress the vote, especially in the last year.

* Recognition of Russian meddling in shaping public opinion.

* Recognition that our voting system isn’t secure enough, including perhaps hacking by Russia.

* Bernie Sanders frequent claims that the primary selection process must have been rigged against him. Yes, the perception of faulty elections can be as damaging as actual faulty elections.

* The nasty guy claiming that if he didn’t win the results must be rigged. He still talks about the 3 million more votes his opponent got as evidence of rigging. These claims contribute to the prevalent public opinion that the nasty guy must have done something illegal.

* The nasty guy has created a commission on election integrity that appears to be doing the opposite of its name.

* Bernie and his supporters are already implying that anyone else nominated instead of him is “manufactured” by an unfair system.

Wolfe adds a third purpose of a legitimate election:
Perhaps the most important purpose of elections is to convince the people that the system worked and that we are not, now, under the thumb of cheating despots.

In that endeavor, Trump, his fans, and the Republicans have failed.

Is there a way out? These attacks on democracy must be denounced, particularly by the politicians who benefit from the attacks. Very few Republicans have done this. The mainstream media must also distinguish between threats to democracy and claims of threats. Then they must support democracy. Don’t hold your breath on these things happening. Wrote Wolfe:
For a nation that takes great pride in its democracy, it's notable how so many people care so little about the reckless attacks on our electoral system. But, they should.

Since the first item in the above list is about Bush II, Wolfe notes that his approval in the first few months was in the mid 50% range. Just after the 9/11 attacks he was declared “presidential” and his approval jumped to 90%. His actions seemed to erase the doubts of the legitimacy of his becoming president. But then he lied to get us into Iraq and mismanaged it. He squandered that legitimacy and left office as one of the most unpopular presidents. She wrote:
A lesson from George W. Bush's presidency, then, is that a security crisis can confer legitimacy to a President who begins his term lacking it. And, the people will hunker down and rally behind an undeserving leader during a scary time, out of a sense of fear, loyalty, and nationalism. History shows that bad leaders will squander this trust, rather than accepting it with responsibility and grace.
Think about that as you read the nasty guy’s “fire and fury” threat against North Korea

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Driven to violence

Fans of the nasty guy are known for chanting “Lock her up!” as well as other violent slogans. There have been incidents of assaulting the “wrong” type of person who attends one of his rallies. Various people are beginning to talk about what happens if we progressives get our wish and the nasty guy is impeached. Some, such as Julian Assange, are forecasting violence on a much larger scale – though by “forecasting” he is actually encouraging.

The nasty guy has portrayed himself as the savior of their world – especially the misogyny and racism parts of it. They finally have someone in the government on their side (well, they think they do). And along come those hated liberals (who will actually do more for them than the GOP will) and try to kick the nasty guy out (never mind the GOP is currently in control of the House, which does the impeaching) – and gives their savior a boot. The profound disappointment and desperation likely will drive at least a few of them to violence. The open question is whether that becomes a civil war.

No protection from harassment

A week ago I wrote about the nasty guy’s tweet saying transgender people were not welcome in the military. The White House Counsel’s Office is close to issuing the “guidance,” something that can be handed to Jim Mattis, Secretary of Defense to make it official. The details are not officially public yet, but sources have provided details: encourage retirement, don’t renew contracts of enlisted personnel, refuse to promote. Nothing yet on what happens to those currently in combat. Except… no protection from harassment from fellow soldiers – and there are likely many colleagues ready to offer that harassment to convince the transgender person to quit.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

We are the left, too

A great deal of what I’ve written about the GOP over the years has been their obsession with ranking – the racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and all the rest. Straight white men insist they’re on top. They want to make sure we all acknowledge they are supposed to be in power, to be in control over us. They enact policies to make sure we aren’t capable of challenging their position.

But – sigh – many Democrats are also obsessed. They espouse progressive policies – when they come from white men.

This seems to be what attracted the BernieBros last year, the ones who proclaimed Never Hillary! Since then Bernie Sanders has been tapping their strength to challenge the party. He recently practically declared war on the establishment wing of the party (presumably those who delivered the nomination to Hillary Clinton and not to him).

And now his followers are declaring certain Democrats aren’t sufficiently leftist to gain their support, sufficiently leftist to be a Democrat. This includes proven progressives such as Kamela Harris, Cory Booker, Deval Patrick, and even Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. Hint: none of them are both white and male.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville fires back. Here’s some of her main points:

Many Bernie supporters call for revolution. They declare if you aren’t also for revolution you aren’t sufficiently leftist. But, says McEwan, if one is already marginalized and fighting daily for rights, one is terrified of revolution because revolutions are not kind to the marginalized. Life is hard enough. Life during upheaval will be much worse.
It is a privilege, in many ways, to be able to "think big." To have the space and safety where one can imagine seismic shifts that don't come with the risk of falling off the edge. We don't all have that luxury.
In many red states the (establishment wing of) Democratic Party, even if insufficiently leftist, is all that stands between marginalized people and the onslaught that is the GOP. And we thank them for that.

McEwan continues:
For thirteen years, I've been occupying this space, advocating for progressive policy and social justice. I support universal healthcare and a basic guaranteed income. I am pro-choice, anti-death penalty, a prison abolitionist, and advocate for vast criminal justice reform. I strongly reject privatization schemes and strongly support free public education. I am an intersectional feminist; an anti-racist; a fierce defender of LGBTQ rights; an advocate for dismantling the rape culture; a disabled survivor; a fat activist; a Democratic critic and a Democratic supporter.

Those are not conservative positions. They are not even centrist positions.

They are leftist positions.

And I have spent the last thirteen years of my life being mercilessly inundated with gross harassment for taking those positions.
She goes on to describe that harassment, which is quite horrible.

Even if she doesn’t swear fealty to Bernie (and she has well documented her objections) she declares she has earned her place on the left. Progressivism isn’t defined around Bernie. We are the left, too.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Tremendous powers of denial

Senator Jeff Flake, Republican from Arizona, has written a book critical of his party. He was on Morning Edition on NPR yesterday. He also wrote an opinion piece for Politico.

A few of his points. First from his NPR interview:

When the GOP got into No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription drug benefit (which wasn’t funded, driving up debt) the party could no longer claim to be for limited government. That prompted the party to abandon several other principles, such as free trade and American leadership around the world.

And from his Politico article:
It was we conservatives who rightly and robustly asserted our constitutional prerogatives as a co-equal branch of government when a Democrat was in the White House but who, despite solemn vows to do the same in the event of a Trump presidency, have maintained an unnerving silence as instability has ensued. To carry on in the spring of 2017 as if what was happening was anything approaching normalcy required a determined suspension of critical faculties. And tremendous powers of denial.

If by 2017 the conservative bargain was to go along for the very bumpy ride because with congressional hegemony and the White House we had the numbers to achieve some long-held policy goals—even as we put at risk our institutions and our values—then it was a very real question whether any such policy victories wouldn’t be Pyrrhic ones. If this was our Faustian bargain, then it was not worth it. If ultimately our principles were so malleable as to no longer be principles, then what was the point of political victories in the first place?

We have taken our “institutions conducive to freedom,” as Goldwater put it, for granted as we have engaged in one of the more reckless periods of politics in our history. In 2017, we seem to have lost our appreciation for just how hard won and vulnerable those institutions are.

Incompetent? Beside the point

I managed 35 posts in July. I hadn’t done that many posts since January of 2015.

Fifty-six retired top level military officers signed a statement refuting the nasty guy’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. A bit of it:
The Commander in Chief has tweeted a total ban of honorably serving transgender troops. This proposed ban, if implemented, would cause significant disruptions, deprive the military of mission-critical talent, and compromise the integrity of transgender troops who would be forced to live a lie, as well as non-transgender peers who would be forced to choose between reporting their comrades or disobeying policy.

As a result, the proposed ban would degrade readiness even more than the failed “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Patriotic transgender Americans who are serving— and who want to serve—must not be dismissed, deprived of medically necessary health care, or forced to compromise their integrity or hide their identity.

News came out today that the nasty guy dictated the text that nasty junior was to say when talking about meeting a Russian lawyer.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville says that should get rid of the dangerous idea that the nasty guy is “out of the loop.” It is dangerous because media continues to suggest that he was not involved in the corruption, that he’s too much a bumbling idiot to turn the presidency into a dictatorship. She adds:
What you're not supposed to notice is that, yes, they are indeed incredibly ineffective at running a traditional, democratic, functional executive branch — but that was never the objective.

Remember how I spent the entire campaign warning that Donald Trump was dangerous? That's why. It's because he was never running to be a president.

Of course he's incompetent, but competency is beside the point when the objective is ruination.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is issuing a new statement of his department’s purpose. A key sentence from the old one:
The Department's mission is to shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.
The corresponding sentence from the draft version of the new:
We promote the security, prosperity, and interests of the American people globally.
Notice a few things that were removed? Things like promoting justice and democracy. Like promoting stability for everyone’s benefit, not just for Americans.

McEwan says the nasty guy administration and the GOP are working to eliminate democracy in America so, naturally, they won’t be promoting it, and may actively subvert it, around the world. This is big.