Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: Thoughts on a Year Full of Change

I have really neglected this blog; in large part because of all the change going on, though you'd think that would just give me plenty to write about. No. Sometimes change saps the creative energy out of you. And sometimes it just makes finding the time to write (or paint or build a dog house) nearly impossible. Plus, rapid change can make the casual writer's political scribbling become irrelevant before she or he is able to click on "Publish." Well, I have a couple of 3-day weekends this month, so here's a summary of 2016.

The National Lawyers Guild was flexible enough to let me study for the California bar exam this year. And I did. I spent hours reviewing contracts, property, criminal procedure, civil procedure, and man it brought back memories. More on that later.

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Bellas Artes Very Art Deco Interior
JC and I went to Mexico City for a few days in May. Unlike the last time I went, I got to go to Palacio Bellas Artes, the Templo Mayor, and the Museo del Carmen. I was able to revisit Teotihuacan, where I could be the guide this time. More adventurous friends had shown me how to avoid the tours and get to Teotihuacan via the metro and regional buses. It takes a bit longer, but the bus depot had a Subway sandwich shop, which kept us going.

As I recall, the Templo Mayor was closed on my last trip. This time we were able to tour the ruins uncovered beneath and alongside the Metropolitan Cathedral and the main Zocalo. In one spot you could view modern Mexican business towers, colonial Spanish buildings from hundreds of years ago, and the templo itself – layer upon layer of newer structures built over other structures. We also saw mummies at the Museo del Carmen, which I had missed last time – again, closed. I managed to purchase some t-shirts at a store with a complicated shopping process: once I decided what I wanted (in this case needed), workers lowered the shirts with a rope from the storage area above; then I paid for them at a counter, but had to pick them up at a different counter upon showing my receipt; the gentleman at this last counter reviewed and stamped my documents. The shirts were too tight.

We also found decent vegetarian food.

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Casa de los Azulejos
I'm generally a happy traveler in urban centers full of history. Add in my ancestral roots, and you've got me hooked. Staying right on the Zocalo was pretty touristy, but it pleased me nonetheless. One afternoon we were in our un-airconditioned hotel room, watching some storms roll in and trying to get the breeze blowing through the french door windows. I got a call from someone I only knew through email and a couple of previous phone calls. He let me know that I was likely to be offered a job that I had applied to many, many months ago.

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Speaking of Mexico, this kid, Francisco, came into my life in March through the Big Brothers program.  He and his family are from Mexico. Kids need mentors, and I needed an excuse to go to the park more often. It's a pretty good match.

I first met him in an office building. His mom brought him into a small room and we were instructed to talk about the activities we enjoyed. I had to sign a form saying I wouldn't take him on motorcycle rides, and an additional form about firearms since we had a pellet gun in the house (we've yet to purchase pellets). After about 20 minutes, the kid asked, "do I go with him now?" And, ever since, we pretty much have a standing date on Saturdays. Did anyone see the 2016 movie "Nine Lives"? No? Well I did! Francisco and I (and increasingly JC) have also been on frequent trips to the beach, a rock-climbing gym, a carnival, kid-friendly museum/discovery/science places, and plenty of parks.

I also took him to a community outreach event I did for my new job – there was music, and games, and he got a free backpack out of it. The new job is probably the biggest change for me this year. I was at the NLG for nearly 12 years. I was increasingly open to change, but also didn't really like any of the jobs I saw posted. And I was seeing the good jobs – the ones people would send me to post to NLG lists so awesome people would apply. Some of the best options required a law license, and that, in part, is why I was studying for the California bar exam. Other really good options required one to be bilingual. Duolingo now says I'm at 46%! But that guy who called me in Mexico had emailed me one over a year ago that caught my attention.  It was an investigator position at the Office of Citizen Complaints - a San Francisco public agency that investigates public complaints against police officers. The idea of being a public servant maybe sounds boring, but is appealing to me, especially serving a function that (while insufficient on its own) is so necessary. The idea of focusing on one type of work was also appealing: instead of being the director, human resources person, researcher, public speaker, event planner, fundraiser, communications director, tech person and a hundred other jobs required to keep the NLG functioning with only two staff people. So, on a whim, I applied and, eventually, got an offer. And that's what I'm doing now. I put the bar exam on hold, pero todavía estoy practicando Español cada dia.

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Taken early one morning on my way to work. Early for me anyway.
The focus at the new gig has been good, but there is still a great deal of variety. Everyone comes in with different issues – not just the particular misconduct of which they are complaining, but sometimes unique legal issues, personal issues, cultural issues, and so on. They may have violated the law themselves, or may think the police should have arrested someone else. Their primary form of income may be, technically, illegal. They may not realize that their complaint is completely unfounded, or they may not know that the police did several other things during their encounter that amount to misconduct. I do work in the field, and interview witnesses as well as, naturally, the police officers accused of misconduct. So, it isn't like I'm making the same widgets every day from 9 to 5. Actually I usually start at 8:15 AM! Adjusting to that has been one of the biggest challenges. Well, that, and I don't get to be learning about, strategizing about, and debating political change all day. Just at lunch, during my morning and evening commutes, and during my two fifteen minute breaks; also at night and on weekends and holidays.

OK, I'm mostly just on twitter. I need to do more, because there is plenty to do.

The Sanders campaign had been the political surprise of the year until November, right? The media wouldn't portray it as such, but a grey-haired, socialist from Vermont giving the Democratic Party establishment a run for its money was pretty unexpected. And that's really who he was running against. Clinton as a person has her own flaws and epitomizes that establishment, but it was a broad swath of the Democratic Party establishment that was really up for election this year, and it failed to beat a World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame inductee who pals around with neo-Nazis. Although I'd bet more money on Sanders' elect-ability, I still thought Clinton would pull it off in the end. I shared the shock of my liberal-moderate brothers and sisters on that count.

IMG_4545Now the question is what do we do, and it feels a bit like being out in the wilderness at night in complete darkness, because you don't know exactly what to expect, but you know you need to prepare yourself. I actually think that may be one of the things that makes Trump more frightening than Clinton – the unexpected. After all, I have no doubt that a Clinton administration would have unleashed a great deal of pain on the planet, unlike Trump, she and her compatriots would have dressed it up in humanitarianism, incrementalism, and wonkishness. But she is a standard politician entrenched in the same Democratic Party that coalesced around her husband's presidency 20 years ago.

Trump is an unknown. He doesn't seem to have a well thought out political ideology and he may be part of the ruling class, but is certainly not part of the Republican establishment.

So there is the unexpected, but even if Trump is prepared to do about the same amount of harm as a standard Republican or Democrat, the other scary aspect of his campaign and future presidency is the proto-fascists, crass bigots, and shameless corporatists he has empowered. Unfortunately, many  Democrats are saying they are willing to work with Trump, and even liberal journalists and pundits seem perfectly willing to normalize the worst aspects of what we've seen and what may be to come.

So we – those of us who are not politicians and not "millionaires and billionaires" (said in a Bernie Sanders voice) – have to fight and protest. There lies our hope. The people freezing in North Dakota to stop an oil pipeline have shown us the way forward. So have the movements for Black Lives and the one to Occupy Wall Street, which both came while an ostensibly progressive, black president sat in office. A Sanders presidency would also have needed protest, though I think a Sanders administration would have been more responsive. At any rate, we live on a planet dominated by an economic system that is killing us, and in a country that is more or less running it, so who our political leaders are is important, and yet, even the right people would be relatively incapable of saving us, if we aren't willing to take risks and save ourselves.

That should be our New Years Resolution actually.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Running the Excelsior

I haven't written about running in some time, in part because I'm doing it less. But I still do it, and will likely keep doing it until my knees or hips snap or otherwise become permanently damaged. It is easy (no equipment necessary - though I always have my preferred sneakers, a digital watch, my iphone, and bluetooth earphones on me), you get to see a lot (when you're running outside and not on a treadmill), and it generally feels good/is good for you/etc.

My San Francisco neighborhood of the last few years is the Excelsior – a residential, somewhat foggy, enclave that some SF residents think is Daly City when driving south on Mission Street. It slopes down toward Cayuga Creek (or Islais Creek or Rodeo Viejo Valley) – a creek long covered by Cayuga Avenue; up hill to the west is Balboa Park; up hill to the East is McLaren Park. There are no major hills by San Francisco standards, but still a lot of incline and decline. I happen to be adjacent to McLaren Park, so it is challenging to find a sufficiently lengthy route in my neighborhood that is flat, without running back and forth several times.

So I start one of my frequent neighborhood runs going downhill towards busy Mission Street. My legs are still cold, so I have to avoid pounding down on the concrete while I continuously check for inattentive drivers - of which there are many. Mission Street has the added bonus of large buses, taxis and Uber/Lyft cars making illegal U-turns; plus many more pedestrians.

model of Corpus Christi church
I attempt to make the most of the flat roadways in the neighborhood by maximizing my route along Alemany Boulevard and San Jose Avenue - both traveling parallel to the old creek, like roads on the edge of a broad canyon, they are fairly level. Alemany has a bike lane in each direction, as you would expect for a relatively flat road. Follow the bike paths in San Francisco and you'll usually be on the more manageable routes. As I run my first section of Alemany I pass Corpus Christi church – notable because it shares a name with my birth city, but also because the vicinity is full of human obstacles on Sundays (since I'm off on Sunday and don't go to church, it is a common running day for me). I cross right there and continue down a ways before turning and continuing my descent.

Little City Gardens
Just as my legs are loose enough I begin one of the steeper inclines of the run up to San Jose Avenue. At this point I pass by Little City Gardens. You'd probably miss it if you drove by, but it extends back several yards between private homes, full of rows of flowers and vegetables. It is a working farm; among other things, it provides food to local restaurants. It's future is uncertain, however, and along the way you can see little yellow signs in some of the front windows of homes that say "Save the Farm."

Onto San Jose Avenue - a minor commercial corridor with two corner store/sandwich shops, a bar, tattoo parlor (parlour?), a Samoan church, a Korean church, laundromat and a Chinese restaurant, among other assorted places. It is dominated on the West by Balboa Park - a park that has many forms of leisure and exercise, and also happens to be a public transportation hub. There is an enclosed pool, various playing courts, baseball fields, and a skate park. The J Muni light-rail line runs along San Jose and ends at Balboa Park station – the busiest BART station in the Bay Area outside of downtown San Francisco.

Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse back in the day
Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse marks my turn back downhill. This stretch of Geneva is busy, but mostly residential. There is supposed to be a public garden here (Geneva Community Garden), but that plot is mostly dirt and weeds at the moment. It is a somewhat steep downhill and back up, getting back onto Alemany for a last stretch of flat concrete. This is a good spot to crank up the pace – one last push to avoid ending up with a horrible average speed.

As I continue back uphill into my neighborhood I pass the Persia Triangle – really a colorful laundromat/car repair parking lot/makeshift church. There are future plans to make it a friendlier triangle, which will be nice, but it is central and busy anyway. The large windows at the Dragon House sometimes draw one's attention to kick boxing, Kung Fu, Jiu Jitsu and the like. Again, this is Mission Street so watch out for scofflaws, Ubers and impatient drivers in SUV's with loud mufflers. (I once saw the intersection blocked off by police, a truck on the sidewalk a few yards beyond, and groceries scattered about the road.)
Heading up the long, steady incline of tree-lined Persia is sometimes made more difficult by smoking pedestrians or exhaust fumes. The wind is typically at your back, however. Passing the towering murals of Cleveland Elementary (home of the Peacemakers!) is an encouraging reminder that I'm nearly home and I switch my iphone to a a more victorious song, if appropriate.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Paul Krugman Wields Math to Demand Sanders Stop Competing with Clinton

Paul Krugman – a Hillary Clinton supporter, who should really start columns like the one in question with that caveat in bold text – wrote the not-so-cleverly-titled "Feel the Math" because he wants Bernie Sanders to stop competing in any serious way with Clinton, upcoming races in populous states like California and New York be damned! The whole thing is just a professorial stump-lecture for Hillary Clinton that is both arrogant and disempowering.

He starts off by acknowledging how surprisingly well the Sanders Campaign is doing, but then swiftly deflates the enthusiasm by pointing out that he doesn't really have a chance to win – maybe 10% chance – and so "it’s time [for professor Krugman] to lay out some guidelines for good and bad behavior" kids.

The rules he sets basically come down to: (1) You don't have to drop out, but you need to stop actually competing with Clinton, and (2) You need to throw some cash to the Democratic Party and other Democratic races.

I have less of an opinion about the 2nd point, but as someone who doesn't identify with the Democratic Party and who finds much of the Democratic establishment to be an impediment to real change, I'm not too concerned about Sanders keeping his fundraising close to his own campaign and not wanting to spend too much time or money on the Democratic party generally. I think a lot of people donating to his campaign feel the same way about their contributions.

The first rule is the one that I find most troubling, and really underlies a lot of the liberal elite's attitude about Sanders at the moment. It isn't just Krugman demanding that Sanders stop genuinely competing if he refuses to drop out, a top Clinton aide has said that Sanders needs to change his tone if he wants to get another debate with Clinton – a demand that amounts to the same thing. Even though Clinton has said that Sanders "stood with [the anti-Immigrant] Minutemen vigilantes" (a calculated lie), and she has falsely and angrily accused the Sanders campaign of lying about her contributions, and she has accused Sanders – who is arguably more pro-choice than Clinton – of not taking abortion rights seriously, among other distortions and accusations, it is time for Sanders to stop challenging Clinton in any way that may do damage to her campaign.

That's what it amounts to; and they are comfortable doing this because, from day one, the Sanders campaign has been a side show to them, and now it is getting to be a real annoyance. As Krugman writes, "we've now reached the point where what’s fun for the campaign isn’t at all the same as what’s good for America." To him the Sanders campaign has been fun, maybe cute, but it is time to move aside (not drop out, of course, because let's go through the motions or whatever), but stop competing and bringing up facts about Clinton that Republicans could take advantage of when she becomes (I mean if she becomes) the Democratic nominee.

His central point is that Sanders is unlikely to win (because of the math) and so now he needs to play nice, even if Clinton doesn't. She, after all, has to prepare for the general election; so she has a different set of rules to play by.

But the fact is the race is far from over. A ten percent chance is still a decent chance – and probably one of the best chances a genuinely progressive/left candidate has had in a long time. (I would put his chances higher, though I recognize the steep, uphill battle his campaign has.) In states like mine, California, and other large, populous states like New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey, election day is still in the future. We are still having the debates, trying to convince our neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, about who they should vote for. There are enormous difference between Sanders and Clinton on foreign policy, money in politics, the environment, workers' rights, healthcare etc. There is also a clear distinction between the candidates' history and character – differences that should inform voters about who they should trust more. Sanders, in my opinion, is far and away the better candidate in all these regards; and the more voters learn about the differences, the more momentum his campaign gains. This is what Krugman and other Clinton supporters seek to stop when they trot out their math and their candidate's inevitable and likely victory.

The constant drumbeat from the corporate media, even from liberals in the New York Times and at MSNBC, about Hillary's inevitability has been Sanders' biggest obstacle (something the Clinton campaign has used as much as possible to her advantage). That perception of inevitability has been self-fulfilling – contributing to how well she has done so far, and thus adding to the sense that she is the likely nominee. Journalists and pundits amplifying that perception is a really undemocratic way of talking about elections. It is the opposite of how much of the establishment punditry have talked about the Republican nomination process, where there is constant hand-wringing about how candidates with far fewer delegates, but who are not Donald Trump, could still find a way to be the nominee (also a pretty undemocratic discussion but in favor of insurgent campaigns and quirks of party rules that could favor someone, anyone, but the frontrunner). In this sense Krugman, and much of those in the corporate media, play a role in disempowering voters and discouraging the substantive, democratic discussions that ought to be happening during this long primary season.

Of course, for Krugman, that is just fine as long as he is disempowering Sanders voters and quieting any issues that benefit his campaign at the expense of the Clinton campaign. Krugman's candidate is the inevitable winner (as far as he is concerned), so challenging her from the left is off limits. Sorry California and New York – maybe start organizing around the general election or something.