Saturday, October 01, 2016

The bird is dead; long live the bird!

When the friend with whom I have been staying on Martha's Vineyard was born, there was still at least one heath hen alive on the island. The last known bird died in 1932 and the species is extinct.

In the colonial era, heath hens were extremely common in barrens along the Atlantic Coast from New Hampshire to Virginia. There is speculation that the bird served at the Puritan settlers' "first Thanksgiving" was a heath hen. In any case, they were such a staple of the diet among the poor that servants may have bargained not to be fed heath hen more than two or three times a week.

By the early 20th century, only a small population remained, all on Martha's Vineyard. The declining numbers stimulated a conservation effort, including a hunting ban and creation of the "Heath Hen Reserve" (today the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest). Though the heath hens are gone, this 5000 acre scrubland preserve remains. An 11 mile bike path runs around its perimeter.

And, unexpectedly, a good mile from any point accessible by car, a massive cast bronze statue memorializes lost creature, courtesy of the Lost Bird Project. Accounts of the heath hen do not suggest the bird was every quite so noble and imposing, though the males were given to loud mating displays. Although marked on tourist maps, the statue is an unexpected addition to a landscape without prominent features.

This sad tale of extinction nearly within living memory has made the bird the object of a project called Revive & Restore which aims at "genetic rescue." This summer, according to the Vineyard Gazette,

Ryan Phelan and Stewart Brand, the founders of Revive & Restore, an organization that aims to use genetics to rescue endangered species and revive extinct species, paid a brief visit to the Island this week to share news about rapid advancement in their work with the heath hen ...The most recent achievement is considered ground breaking: the potential culture of primordial germ cells from a greater prairie chicken. “This is the breakthrough. This is the news. This is potentially the game changer,” Mr. Brand said.

Beyond the intricacies of the science, the success so far with the heath hen project is also making a case for applying biotechnology to wildlife conservation, Ms. Phelan and Mr. Brand told a group of supporters... “This isn’t a fringe thing in conservation,” Vineyard conservationist and project advisor Tom Chase said. “This is the beginning of a new way, this is bringing back iconic species that are representative of big healthy habitats . . . . it’s a movement.”

Inevitably, the success of the effort to restore the heath hen will eventually require maintenance and restoration of a habitat in which the birds can thrive. That project may prove even more difficult than the genetic research now being carried on.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Incremental victory

A New York Times headline and teaser from Thursday, September 29, demonstrates how this putrid election is opening space in the center into which progressives are forcing a more truthful picture of our reality. Way to go, Movement for Black Lives and associated friends. Thinking differently isn't everything, but it is something. And this too is the work of justice.

Friday cat blogging

Will Morty accept me when I return to his domain? Here he is responding to San Francisco's recent heat wave.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

34000 voters blocked from franchise?

We're not talking about enough voters to turn the election. But in a year in which Republican enthusiasm for a transphobic "bathroom bill" is fueling protests in North Carolina while businesses and the NCAA flee the state, this is worth noting. According to Jody L. Herman writing at the Williams Institute at UCLA:

Eight states’ voter ID laws may create substantial barriers to voting and possible disenfranchisement for tens of thousands of transgender voters this election.  In Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin, about 112,000 transgender people who have transitioned are estimated to be eligible to vote—34,000 of them may face barriers to voting this November due to strict ID laws.

-Thirty percent of the voting-eligible transgender population in eight states (Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin) have no identification or records that accurately reflect their gender.

-Transgender people of color, youth, students, people with low income, and people with disabilities are likely overrepresented among those who do not have an accurate ID for voting.

-In order for these 34,000 voting-eligible transgender people to obtain the accurate IDs for voting, they must comply with the state and federal requirements for updating IDs. These requirements vary widely by state or federal agency and can be difficult and costly to meet.

It is easy to imagine that individuals who have accomplished a brave and difficult transition aren't going to want to jump through additional bureaucratic hoops -- and risk rejection or worse from bigoted authorities -- in order to vote. Transfolk are citizens too and this is simply wrong.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Good news for anxious Democrats

Google is an imperfect oracle of popular will, but here’s one trend that seems pretty clear: Searches for the phrase “registrarse para votar” — “register to vote,” in Spanish — hit an all-time high during Monday’s presidential debate, spiking to more than 100,000 searches.

... According to Google, search volume was highest in the ever-important swing state of Florida, followed by New Jersey, New York, Texas and California.

... Spanish-language searches for voting information have only neared this interest share on one prior occasion: That was after the first presidential debate in 2012. In the current election cycle, the last comparable spike occurred on Aug. 31, the day Donald Trump made his much-anticipated Phoenix immigration speech, though search volume also increased after both parties’ conventions.

Washington Post

It's been my experience that polling on Latino/a vote preferences is a lagging indicator. This community tunes in to elections late, if at all. I would not be surprised if we were seeing new voters tune in just now.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Challenging thoughts

Erudite Partner's latest article at the Guardian challenges us to think hard about what we mean by "justice."

The next time you find yourself thinking idly that there oughta be a law – against failing to give up your seat on a bus to someone who needs it more, or playing loud music in a public place – stop for a moment and think again ...

At the gladiatorial circus ...

And so, contrary to every inclination of my being, I found myself watching last night's "debate" at the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center. Our host announced his very decent instinct; if the night proved disturbing, people do better when they are together. He's right.

This seemed a Bernie-leaning crowd, delighted to watch HRC wipe the floor with the repulsive Donald, yet horrified by her intent to further U.S. war crimes in other people's countries.

We picked up this on the way out.

Not how I'd prefer to spend an evening, but think how we'd feel if she hadn't proved more than capable of holding her own against that vicious, fascist ass?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Gridlock time

I do not usually watch made-for-TV political extravaganzas. Most of them, including probably all presidential debates subsequent to Kennedy-Nixon in 1960, amount to little in the longer ebb and flow of politics. But the accident of being where I am located today means I'll have to break my rule and watch this unpleasantness tonight. And probably therefore comment on it tomorrow. It would be more comfortable to simply look away from the train wreck, but that is not an available option.

Most of what I think is going on in this nasty season is captured in this succinct description from Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. Don't be distracted by the dismissive pass he gives to Republican racism. He's nailed the structural impasse within which this campaign is playing out.

The problem for Republicans is simple to describe: it's not that their leaders are racist, but that they've long tolerated racism in their ranks. They know this perfectly well, and they know that they have to broaden their appeal beyond just whites. But they're stuck. If they do that—say, by supporting comprehensive immigration reform or easing up on opposition to affirmative action—their white base goes ballistic. In the end, they never make the base-broadening moves that they all know they have to make eventually.

For Democrats, the problem is the mirror image. Bashing Donald Trump and his supporters for their white nationalism helps with their base, but it's the worst possible way to attract working-class whites who might be attracted to traditional Democratic economic messages. Once you say the word "racism," the conversation is over. Potentially persuadable voters won't hear another word you say.

As long as this remains the case, Democrats will routinely win the presidency because their non-white base is growing every year. But Republicans will routinely win the House—and sometimes the Senate—because way more than half of all congressional districts are majority white. Result: endless gridlock.

The last time racism and federalism delivered a national impasse, this country had a civil war. Just mentioning this. Is that where this is going?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

These Muslim refugees just might influence election results

If Hillary Clinton's poll numbers don't rise in the next 10 days, I'll probably have to throw at you all the "it CAN happen here" material I find myself collecting.

But in the meantime, here's a story from one of those obscure niches of our society that are what makes this an interesting country:

Missouri, after swinging right of late (filling the state legislature with Republicans and voting for McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012) is showing some signs of reverting to its historical status as a swing state, suspended somewhere between North and South, between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats seem to have a chance of replacing one Democratic governor with another and even unseating an incumbent Republican U.S. Senator with an attractive newcomer, Jason Kander, if all goes well.

If this happens, Muslim refugees, now U.S. citizens, will have a role to play. As passed along by Raw Story from Global Post, Missouri has a growing community of Bosniaks who were chase out of their homes by Serb ethnic cleansing during the civil wars of the former Yugoslavia.
Today that community has grown to an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 people — primarily Bosniaks, one of the largest such communities in the world outside the Balkans — and in recent years has emerged as a recognizable voting bloc in local politics. Heading into November’s presidential election, St. Louis’ Bosniak and Kosovar communities are near-universally turned off by Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim refugee rhetoric and are skeptical of the candidate’s popularity among Serbian nationalists.

... 10,000 Bosnian names [appear] in St. Louis-area voter lists. With some recent polls showing Clinton and Trump at a virtual tie in Missouri, 10,000 votes could become critical. ... the first generation of children born to Bosnian refugees resettled in St. Louis have reached voting age and eight years worth of Bosnian immigrants have become naturalized citizens. For many Bosnian and Kosovar voters in St. Louis, particularly those who survived Yugoslavia’s bloody breakup, Trump’s anti-Muslim, anti-refugee rhetoric raises red flags.

In August, indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj of the Serbian Radical Party led a march through Belgrade encouraging Serbian Americans to vote for Donald Trump. He gave the Republican candidate’s “support” of Russia as a reason for his endorsement.
Trump fan at the Republican National Convention
Immigration makes us who we are.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Poll on Charlotte police killing

In my participant research on polling, I had the chance today to answer some dumb questions about the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, NC. The results from the national sample have already been posted online.

It's nice to see that most of us don't think Blacks hate whites for our success -- though not everyone has their head out of their ass.

We're a lot closer to clear that Charlotte police should release any video they have NOW.

There's an unsurprising partisan split on general approval for Black Lives Matter.

Saturday scenes and scenery: Martha's Vineyard vistas

Here's a bit of dawn's early light.

Running at dawn, I've seen many such skies.

Hey, there's an ocean out there beyond the windmill.

The cliffs at Gay Head are still lovely, even though rapid erosion is eating them away.

The Sound was remarkably glassy this lovely morning.

All good things must end ... every day.

Friday, September 23, 2016

If Florida votes for Trump ...

... blame my peeps. Actually I think Clinton has a good chance in the state if her GOTV operation increases turnout as it aims to. But old white people are the obstacle in her way.

Friday cat blogging

Erudite Partner sent along this lovely photo of Billy who I hope to see in person when I return to San Francisco. Billy is wonderfully undisturbed when co-existing with a room full of screaming football fans.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

We're going to miss this guy

Ban Ki-Moon is completing almost ten years in his impossible U.N. job, shepherding recalcitrant great powers that have all the guns and money in the direction of humane policies. He leaves with a blast.

“In too many places, we see leaders rewriting constitutions, manipulating elections and taking other desperate steps to cling to power,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said. “My message to all is clear: serve your people. Do not subvert democracy; do not pilfer your country’s resources; do not imprison and torture your critics.”

... Ban excoriated the outside powers that have supported the warring parties on [all] sides of the [Syrian] conflict. While Ban didn’t name names the list of regional or global powers — from Russia and Iran to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France and the United States — that supported the combatants — is long. “Powerful patrons that keep feeding the war machine also have blood on their hands,” he said. “Present in this hall today are representatives of governments that have ignored, facilitated, funded, participated in or even planned and carried out atrocities inflicted by all side.”

What hope there is for the world resides among peoples who refuse to put up with crap and leaders who, however imperfect and without power, strive to build institutions that serve the common good of humanity.

Security and scavengers

Ahmad Khan Rahami's largely aborted bombing spree in New York and New Jersey last week raises again the question of how How Safe are We? John Mueller and Mark Stewart took a look at that question in August. For all the drama and horror of various incidents, they are not impressed by the terrorist threat.

... In general, the capacities of the people involved are singularly unimpressive. A summary assessment by RAND’s Brian Jenkins is apt: “their numbers remain small, their determination limp, and their competence poor.”

Indeed, most of these plots were at best embryonic or facilitated by infiltrating FBI operatives—as in the case of the Rochester panhandler who planned in the name of ISIS to wreak havoc at a local restaurant (where he had been treated with less than full courtesy) with a machete bought for him at Walmart by one of the three FBI operatives who had formed something of a cell around him. Left on their own, it is certainly possible that a few of the plotters would have been able to get their acts together and actually do something. But it seems unlikely that the total damage would increase by anywhere near enough to suggest that terrorism is something that could justifiably be said to present a threat.

In addition to those prosecuted on terrorism charges, authorities have encountered a considerable number of loud-mouthed aspirational terrorists within the United States, and, lacking enough evidence to convict them on terror¬ism charges, the authorities have levied lesser ones to jail or deport them. For the most part, these plots or aspirations are even less likely to lead to notable violence than the ones that have led to terrorism trials. Further, the bulk of people who are jailed on terrorism-associated prosecutions serve short terms and, accordingly, are soon set free to commit terrorism if they want to do so. Yet, none have attempted to do so.

Nor is it likely that much terrorism has been deterred by security measures. Extensive and very costly security measures may have taken some targets—commercial airliners and military bases, for example—off the list for just about all terrorists. However, no dedicated would-be terrorist should have much difficulty finding other potential targets if the goal is to kill people or destroy property to make a statement—the country is filled with these. ...

Mr. Rahami seems to have been one of the incompetent, thank goodness.

I'm staying these days with an elderly friend, a true New Yorker; her reaction was instinctively dismissive of the whole episode. In her mind, New Yorkers don't flinch. Josh Marshall who lives across from where the Chelsea bomb exploded reports a similar sentiment.

... Returning to our neighborhood and approaching the guarded perimeter I felt a deep-seated pride in the community I live in, pride as a New Yorker. Immediately outside the sealed off perimeter people were going about their business as if nothing had happened. There was no climate of fear, no sense of a community on lock down. People were walking the streets, going to restaurants and bars.

Everyone has their own inner dialogue they use to process these events. But I saw no fear or panic. We can't control everything about the dangers we may face in life but we can choose how we live. I'm proud to be part of this city.

New York neighborhood media hit similar notes about how this went down: it's a very New York story.

MANHATTAN — Leave the bomb, take the bag.

In two separate cases, thieves snatching bags from a city street and a train station inadvertently helped law enforcement get the upper hand in a bomb spree that injured dozens of people and spans both sides of the Hudson River, sources said.

The day Ahmad Khan Rahami allegedly planted two bombs in Chelsea — one of which detonated on West 23rd Street — two thieves accidentally helped to disable his second pressure cooker bomb left inside a rolling suitcase on West 27th Street... The young men, who sources described as being well-dressed, opened the bag and took the bomb out, sources said, before placing the explosive into a garbage bag and walking away with the rolling suitcase.

... Then, on Sunday night, two homeless men snatched a backpack resting atop a trash can near a train station in Elizabeth, [NJ] officials said. “They probably thought there was something of value in that backpack,” said the mayor of Elizabeth, Christian Bollwage.

They started rooting through the bag and found five explosives that officials say are tied to Rahami, prompting them to immediately drop the bag in the middle of the street and alert police, officials said.

"When they opened it up and found the wire and the pipe they immediately walked around the other corner to Elizabeth police headquarters and turned it in," Bollwage said.

Worth remembering, next time you see someone checking out your garbage.
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