Monday, August 21, 2017

Monday cat blogging

No wonder Morty is giving me a baleful stare. The boy has been put on a thyroid med diet and had four rotten teeth extracted. I'd be annoyed too.

In case anyone was worried, America and James will be with him to open cans and provide affection while we are away.

We sought out some Spanish history ...

While walking in preparation for our pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, we've listened to The History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad. These 24 lectures by historian Joyce E. Salisbury survey the enduring lineage of passing peoples -- their tribes and ethnicities, their religious affections, and how they earned and/or seized their livelihoods -- though what our maps render a minor corner of Europe but which at many periods was where the wide human world met. Salisbury loves Spain. She offers an extremely accessible, enthusiastic, and rich account of the country's oscillation between episodes of relatively peaceful creative diversity of cultures interspersed with eruptions of conflict, cruelty, and terror. There's lots to think about here. I highly recommend this course.

On topics on which I've done some prior study and so am willing to offer an opinion, I was impressed by Salisbury's short background descriptions of early post-Roman Empire Christian conflicts over doctrine, of the history and diffusion of Islam, and of the creative centuries of Jewish-Christian-Muslim coexistence in Al-Andalus. These were so convincing that I was very open to her effort to explain the peculiar features of Spanish Catholicism about which I know so little and which I find culturally very foreign. Apparently the small number of Spaniards attracted to Reformation Christianity in the 16th century were rapidly extirpated -- literally, by both monarchs and the Inquisition. Spanish rulers were just completing a religious war -- the Reconquista -- which ended with expulsions and forced conversions of Jews and Muslims. Reformation Christianity heralded an individualistic Bible-reading faith; the victorious Spanish empire was ripe for a triumphal, sacramental, and collective religiosity that upheld the institutional power of church and state. But in the northern Europe, Reformation unleashed personal religious passion that re-invigorated Christianity. How to compete? Salisbury attributes the baroque artistic expressions of Spanish church building architecture and of Spanish piety as a reaction. No wonder more Protestant-influenced northerners like me find it a little off-putting. Tridentine Roman Catholicism needed to give popular enthusiastic piety an outlet. I will walk among the buildings, shrines, and statuary with this in mind. Perhaps I'll appreciate more than I might have?

I don't have a text to quote from here, so I'll just pass along some impressions particularly relevant to the Camino that I derived from listening.
  • St. James, the "Santiago" which the pilgrimage seeks, was by held by tradition to have been martyred in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus was executed. In the ninth century, Alfonso II the Chaste, king of Asturias and Galicia, accepted a claim that his bones had been discovered and moved them to the cathedral in the town now named Santiago de Compostela.
  • Religious strife was not foreign to early medieval Spain; this lecturer suggests that the revered bones may have actually been those of an Arian heretic bishop who had a local following. Neither story rests on "evidence" in the modern sense. But the shrine quickly became the most prominent of medieval European Christian pilgrimage destinations.
  • The shrine served as a rallying focus for the small, backward northwestern Christian kingdoms that survived on the peninsula in an era when Islamic kingdoms thrived in the rest of what is now Spain and Portugal. The pilgrimage brought a lucrative "tourist trade" which helped pay for the Reconquista.
  • Pilgrimage, then as now, led to cross-cultural mingling of ideas and people. Salisbury suggests northern pilgrims brought a more vigorous anti-Semitism to Asturias and Galicia, while taking home Spanish Catholicism's particular sort of fear of Muslims. St. James -- Santiago -- became the patron of the Reconquista, acquiring the moniker Matamoros, killer of Moors (Muslims). This figure of James remains the patron saint of Spain today.
  • Yet according to Salisbury, St. Teresa of Avila -- a Carmelite nun, a mystic and one of the few women ever recognized as a Doctor of the Church -- gave St. James a close competition during the 16th century for who should be recognized as this contradictory nation's patron.
We're going to a very contradictory country. So much to learn and I know I'll only scratch the surface. No wonder I loved it the last time we visited and so much want to experience it more.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Going on pilgrimage ...

This coming week, Erudite Partner (EP) and I are joining up with Wise Friend (WF) to walk the Camino Primitivo, the "original" way across Asturias and Galicia in northern Spain. Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the legendary burial site of the remains of St. James (the "son of Zebedee" James), has been undertaken by Christians and other wanderers since the 9th century. Two hundred seventy-seven thousand pilgrims made the trek one way or another last year.
Most of these contemporary pilgrims did not walk the Primitivo, the route we've chosen, a more rugged, hillier, somewhat shorter, and less developed 225 mile track instead of the more frequented Camino Frances. We wanted less crowds, more solitude. Let's just hope we don't also get more aching muscles and blistered feet.

So why do we go on pilgrimage? At root, just as with most things, we go because we can (afford this both in time and treasure) and because we want to (for the experience whatever that may prove to be.)

Thich Nhat Hanh suggests a mantra for walking:
"I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now. I am solid. I am free. In the ultimate I dwell." Four lines guiding us in our practice of walking meditation. ... Let us flow like a river, generating peace with every step we make.
That seems about right. Once underway, we'll walk (usually 25 or more kilometers a day), wash clothes (essential when you only carry 2 sets on your back), eat (food is fuel ...) and sleep (soundly I expect). And then get up and do it again. For something like three weeks. What we'll learn, we'll learn.

During this past awful week of Charlottesville and Trump, in the Jesuit magazine America, Father Jim McDermott offered a spiritual exercise for the overwhelmed and exhausted which seems pertinent both to surviving the present tumult -- and to our pilgrimage.
... if we are not going to turn away, overwhelmed and exhausted, how are we to sort through this constant barrage of information and raw emotion? How do you continue to “bear witness” when every three or four days there is another crisis?

Faced with upheaval in U.S. society, with leaders who enable violence and oppression while others stand by silent, an invitation to prayer might sound like the spiritual version of palliative care—an attempt to address the pain but not the disease. But though the news cycle and each new outrage demand constant attention, to see what is really going on and to offer a thoughtful response we need not only to be able to enter in but to step back.

O God, I ask as I sit before CNN, Fox or my newsfeed: Where are you today? What do you want me to notice? What do you want me to see?
Oh God, I hope to ask as I walk across Spain, "Where are you today? What do you want me to notice? What do you want me to see?" That would be more than enough. Doing is for another time, for later ...

I don't know how much connectivity I'll have or want while on pilgrimage. Expect occasional photos but little else here.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

San Francisco rally against racism

A great many of the folks who showed up at the Standing Up for Racial Justice (surjsf) rally today are my kind: older white women, many of them dykes, who have been at this for what feels like forever. I dragged my drippy nose and clogged brain downtown for some quick shots. And I'm glad, because so many there were not my kind. And that's a good thing.


Resistance would be a bore if we all had the same esthetics.


Not that standing up for justice and democracy isn't serious business ...

Friday, August 18, 2017

Blogging deferred

This all too well expresses how I feel about the rhinovirus that has colonized my nasal passages. It's been a long week.

Kevin Durant and other Warriors to skip White House visit


The NBA MVP has no interest in a being photo op for a man he doesn't respect.

On Wednesday, Durant, who grew up in Seat Pleasant, Md., said he will not attend a White House reception to celebrate the Golden State Warriors’ NBA championship if President Trump invites the team.

“Nah, I won’t do that,” Durant told ESPN’s Chris Haynes on Thursday. “I don’t respect who’s in office right now.”

Speaking of Trump, Durant said, “I don’t agree with what he agrees with, so my voice is going to be heard by not doing that.”

The 2017 NBA Finals MVP added that he doesn’t suspect any members of the team will attend.

“[I]f I know my guys well enough, they’ll all agree with me,” he said, underlining that each member of the team will decide individually whether to attend.

Washington Post

It's probably marginally easier for Bay Area pro athletes to take political stands -- but Colin Kaepernick's fate shows what they risk if they cease to be stars.

But how could these proud men lend themselves to propping up an ever more forthright white supremacist?

Friday cat blogging

While Walking San Francisco, I was allowed one quick snap before she scampered away.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Police protected the statue, but what about the people?

Embed from Getty Images
This afternoon I listened to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe congratulate his cops for the great job they did in Charlottesville. Why, there was only one civilian death and two of their own killed in a helicopter crash of as yet unknown cause when armed neo-Nazis and white supremacists came to town!

Not everyone is so full of praise for local law enforcement. Alan Zimmerman, president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, relates what he experienced:
On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped).

Forty congregants were inside. Here’s what I witnessed during that time.

For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.

Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There's the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.

... This is 2017 in the United States of America.

... A frail, elderly woman approached me Saturday morning as I stood on the steps in front of our sanctuary, crying, to tell me that while she was Roman Catholic, she wanted to stay and watch over the synagogue with us. At one point, she asked, “Why do they hate you?” I had no answer to the question we’ve been asking ourselves for thousands of year
There's much more. Read it all.

Think Progress published a roundup of how Charlottesville and state police failed to do their job in other times and locations over last weekend.
The potential for chaos was clear from early Saturday morning. Outgunned by militiamen and repeatedly outmaneuvered by heavily armored blocs of white nationalist “Proud Boys,” state and local police in Charlottesville simply watched as violence filled the streets surrounding Emancipation Park.

The scene had been tense for more than an hour, before breaking into outright combat shortly after 11:00 a.m. when a column of more than 200 white supremacists arrived from a new direction. Anarchist Antifa demonstrators ran to meet the arriving group’s vanguard, who carried shields and heavy clubs. The counterprotesters sought to block the racists from joining the roughly 1,000 white-pride marchers already inside the park, each group exchanging blows as the corner of 2nd and Market streets became a battleground.

Yet still, police simply watched, standing in a loose line between two rows of metal barricades set up the night before at the park’s edge. The officers looked on as hundreds of people went at each other with fists, sticks, pepper spray, and improvised projectiles.

... State police and national guardsmen in Charlottesville eventually ambled into action, though not until a running street battle had raged for more than an hour.

An officer gave a dispersal order several minutes after roughly half an hour of sustained brawling at the corner of 2nd and Market. Riot cops lined nearby blocks, apparently readying for a push through the crowd that never came. Clouds of pepper spray and gas chased people off of the corner, on a few instances by police, but also by civilians on both sides .

By 12:30 p.m., the corner had cleared — after several warnings that those who did not leave would be arrested. But even then the mayhem was far from over. The dispersal order had not channeled any of the armed groups out of downtown Charlottesville, but simply away from the park and intersection where the most high-profile violence was centered. ...
As the neo-Nazis and counter-protesters wandered the downtown, Ohio white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. smashed his car into on clutch of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Police only showed up later.

The Think Progress account emphasizes that police departments have learned how to handle confrontations between white supremacists (even armed ones) and protesting anti-racists (even Black ones). All that policing equipment, helicopters and protective gear can be used to separate angry crowds and ensure safety. That's why police departments have license to have all that armament.

It may seem naive fantasy to demand that police departments neutrally ensure the safety of all citizens in times of civil conflict. Few of us who have ever taken to the streets to express our politics have escaped seeing and sometimes feeling heavy-handed police over-reach. But a democratic civil society can't work if the lawful authorities cede control of the streets to armed thugs. This is what these white supremacist fascists are. It's not weak to demand that police do their job; this is actually a powerful (if unaccustomed) demand for a healthier, more progressive community.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Among the white supremacists in Charlottesville

You probably don't want to watch this. I didn't either. However, you probably should. It is one of the most courageous, intelligent efforts at journalism I've seen in a long while.

Our home-grown fascists and white supremacists feel they don't get a fair chance to tell their own story. Elle Reeve from VICE News gave them just that amid the horror that was Charlottesville. I could say much about people who condemn themselves, but again, I urge you to watch yourself.

One comment: one of the "white nationalists" complains that those other people, those people struggling against oppression who stand in his way, have something his mob lacks -- community, a joy in being together. His purpose in showing up with his tiki torches and guns is to try to build this. Dude, that's not how it works. When we who believe in freedom manage some joyous community, it's because somewhere along the line we figured out we must "love one another or die" as W.H. Auden wrote when the Nazi invasion of Poland plunged Europe and the world into overt barbarism. That's a sentiment that testosterone-intoxicated, whiny white males have trouble finding and sustaining. Absent complete social collapse or an effective Hitler, the crabs in the barrel usually eat each other.

The story as told here absolutely condemns the failure of Charlottesville and state of Virginia do their most elementary job. The white supremacists announced they were coming to provoke. It was the job of law enforcement and whatever back-up was needed to keep the provocateurs separated from the counter-protesters. The authorities seemed literally caught with the their pants down, without the proper protective gear for a predictable confrontation.

For democracy to survive, the state must maintain a monopoly of force and be shamed by the majority of citizens into exercising that monopoly evenhandedly. That's certainly not where we are now, as any of us who have been working to end police shootings and other abuses in our communities are all too aware.

Police in the video don't look as if they even tried. That's more scary than even the bully boys waving metaphorical dicks and actual arsenals.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Let's be as mean as we can ...

At noon Monday several hundred people called out by SEIU Local 1021 gathered outside Highland Hospital in Oakland in support of one of their own.

Maria [Sanchez], 46, rose from being a housekeeper at an East Bay nursing home to become a registered nurse at Highland Hospital today, caring for patients with cancer, heart, and kidney disease.

Her husband Eusebio, who turned 48 on Monday, graduated from construction jobs to become a full-time truck-driver for the last 12 years. They paid taxes, obeyed the law, and sent two of their four children to college.

Yet after years of trying to obtain green cards to stay in the U.S. legally, their requests denied by immigration judges, then overturned through appeals, their luck finally ran out in May when an immigration officer gave them 90 days to exit.

Mercury News

Even Senator Diane Feinstein, a law and order type, has pointed out to I.C.E. that these are not the sort of people who should be evicted from our country. But unless there's a miracle, the parents and one of their children are gone this month.
As I set out for the rally, a friend asked: "Are the Trump immigration officers just going after the low hanging fruit," immigrants they can catch easily and who can be readily removed? That seems an important question, so I started digging:
  • John Sandweg, former acting director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement under Obama, thinks so.

    “We are seeing daily raids, but they’re silent — mom and dads with no record are coming in for check-ins and getting deported, ... It’s very abundantly clear that this is not about public safety, not about border security. It’s clearly about setting a record amount of deportations. ... Everything they’re doing is designed to avoid immigration courts ...”

  • Trump's I.C.E. is certainly busy, though how many people they are afflicting and what is actually happening to them remain confusing to interpret. I guess that is what happens when you treat thousands of human beings as numbers or quotas.

    While people with criminal records account for three-fourths of the 75,000 immigration arrests this year, the fastest-growing target under Trump are immigrants without criminal records. About 19,700 immigrants with no criminal records were arrested in the first half of the year, more than double the number in the same period last year. ...officials deported more than 105,000 immigrants in the first half of this year, 42 percent of whom had no criminal records, down from 121,170 in the same period last year. ...

    ... ICE released the arrest and deportation figures late Thursday, two days after the Justice Department announced that from February to July, immigration courts ordered 57,069 people to leave the United States, a nearly 31 percent increase over the same period last year.

    However, Justice officials have not said how many of the immigrants ordered deported were actually in custody — or whether their whereabouts are even known. Every year, thousands of immigrants are ordered deported in absentia, meaning that they did not attend their hearings and could not immediately be removed from the country.

  • Julia Preston explains one driver of the rising number of in absentia deportation orders: desperate asylum seekers from Central America who lack the money to hire lawyers are guessing they have a better chance of avoiding being killed back home by simply failing to show up in immigration court. In the cases she saw, they are probably right.
  • Dara Lind delves into the mysteries of the immigration court system.

    ... the Trump administration opened deportation cases against about 25 percent more people this year than the Obama administration did in the first six months of 2016 (about 145,000 this year versus about 107.000 last year). But they’re just stuffing more and more cases into a very narrow and backlogged tube. ...
    The immigration court backlog is the biggest obstacle to Trump’s border and deportation agenda

    Under the Bush and Obama administrations, the agencies responsible for immigration enforcement (under the Department of Homeland Security) got a bunch more money to apprehend and deport a bunch more immigrants. But the agency in charge of immigration courts, under the Department of Justice, didn’t get the same kind of funding boost to process those cases.

    As a result, the time to resolve a case in immigration court is often measured in years. From October 2016 to June 2017, someone who got an official removal order from an immigration court judge had started the court process 378 days earlier. And the average case still pending in immigration court, as of June, has been pending for 667 days — the equivalent of 19 months.

    ... Without more money from Congress, the administration’s only options are to try to make cases go faster or to try to find more ways to deport people without putting them into court.

    It seems that, because I.C.E. is part of Homeland Security, but the immigration courts system is a poor stepchild of the Executive Office of Immigration Review in the Department of Justice, no recent administration has squeezed out of Congress enough funds to hire the needed personnel. That kind of practical administrative detail is exactly the sort of thing the Trump team seems unable to keep track of.
So immigrants are pushed around, some are deported and others not, the country loses people who are making their contribution to our society, and families and communities remain terrified and are sometimes separated.

Monday, August 14, 2017

San Francisco responds to Charlottesville

It will surprise no one that San Franciscans took to the streets in the wake of the murder of Heather Hyder in Charlottesville. These two women were part of a small Mission crowd in mid-afternoon.

Sunday evening a crowd of several hundred gathered in the fog outside City Hall to share sadness and fury.

This was not your heavily pre-orchestrated demonstration.

For some, there was fury, tinged with fear.

For others, this was probably the continuation of the work of a life time.

It was good to see so many people I did not know, even by sight. After all, I've been to too damn many protests.

Like the city itself, the crowd was predominantly white or of various Asian-origins. But this woman stood by, determined to announce her necessity.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Breakdown of law in Charlottesville

Embed from Getty Images
Kudos to the many official spokespeople, including Republican senators, who have denounced the white supremacist-initiated terror attack on counter protesters in Charlottesville. In a time when norms of decency are breached so often, even this counts as a Good Thing.

But following up on my last post on the fragility of the rule of law in this moment, we need to attend to these contrasting descriptions of the scene:

Brittany Caine-Conley, a minister in training at Sojourners United Church of Christ, who had come with other faith leaders to protest against the white nationalists, said she was horrified to see officers in the park watching the violence take place outside in the street.

“There was no police presence,’’ she said. “We were watching people punch each other; people were bleeding all the while police were inside of barricades at the park watching. It was essentially just brawling on the street and community members trying to protect each other.”

... [Virginia] Governor [Terry] McAuliffe also defended the police response, saying, “It’s easy to criticize, but I can tell you this, 80 percent of the people here had semiautomatic weapons.

“You saw the militia walking down the street, you would have thought they were an army,” he added. “I was just talking to the State Police upstairs; they had better equipment than our State Police had,” he said, referring to the militia members. “And yet not a shot was fired, zero property damage.”

Note: McAuliffe is a Democrat, at least notionally one of the good guys. He literally owes his election to Virginia's communities of color. But he's saying that police standing off in a lawless situation because they were outgunned by white supremacists is fine. What if the neo-Nazis had been a more organized terror force? Would Governor McAuliffe have felt his law enforcement apparatus could just watch? Virginia makes it legal for anyone to carry a gun openly without a permit. Is this Second Amendment absolutism outweighing the right of all citizens to expect the state to protect them from violent private actors? Sure looks like it to me.

Charlottesville and the rule of law

This scary admonition is from Yale historian Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Unhappily, I knew I'd be coming back to his catalogue of warning signs of the death of the rule of law.

Charlottesville certainly brings this one to the fore. Here's more from Snyder:

It is impossible to carry out democratic elections, try cases at court, design and enforce laws, or indeed manage any of the other quiet business of government when agencies beyond the state also have access to violence. For just this reason, people and parties who wish to undermine democracy and the rule of law create and fund violent organizations that involve themselves in politics. Such groups can take the form of a paramilitary wing of a political party, the personal bodyguard of a particular politician— or apparently spontaneous citizens’ initiatives, which usually turn out to have been organized by a party or its leader. ...

... For violence to transform not just the atmosphere but also the system, the emotions of rallies and the ideology of exclusion have to be incorporated into the training of armed guards. These first challenge the police and military, then penetrate the police and military, and finally transform the police and military.

My emphasis. Certainly the white supremacist march in Charlottesville was well within the unhappy traditions of our country. And until the assault with car in the terrorist fashion of this season broke through the seeming ordinariness of tit for tat protest and counterprotest, the script had seemed predictable, if awful and frightening. Law enforcement seemed to stand aloof from the back and forth. Nonetheless, a friend, a woman of color and an Episcopal priest, who was there reported:

The Unite The Right march was a joke. We watched it sputter down a street, take wrong turns, wilt in the heat. Their hate and fear are no joke. It was moving to witness the resistance: beautiful clergy and all kinds of counter protestors witness to love, beauty, and joy all over downtown Charlottesville.

And then someone was killed and so many injured. And it was no joke.

Vann Newkirk at the Atlantic draws a terrifying conclusion:

... even the most feared white supremacists in the lore of Jim Crow were just regular white men, transformed from lives as politicians, mechanics, farmers, and layabouts by the sheer power of ideology. And often, their movements were considered “fringe” and marginal—until they weren’t.

Where euphemism, newly-coined terms, and lack of historical perspective all leave the country confused as to just how the violence in Charlottesville came to be, the truth is there in plain sight. What happened there in Emancipation Park and what is happening not only in the streets of Charlottesville, but streets across the country, is that the rhetoric and policy of white supremacy, which is still fostered and abetted widely, is again being converted into the kinds of overt interpersonal violence by which most people recognize it. And for the people who stand to lose the most from that kind of violence, the question might be when—not if—it transforms from a political peripheral into a regime. ...

... The emerging lessons in Charlottesville are somber. White supremacy can and will flourish when given fuel; white-supremacist rhetoric will tend towards violence; and it’s often only in the rear-view mirror that Americans can clearly see the events that lead to that violence spreading. And although it is possible that the weekend’s tragedies and brutal confrontations in Charlottesville are one-offs -- the presence of antifa counter-protesters, who don’t themselves shy away from brawls, certainly makes this event distinct from Klan bombings and lynchings, for one -- America’s history suggests that vigilance is always in order.

The best the Orange Cheato had to offer was to call out violence "on many sides." It sure looked as if he'd provided the fuel.

Sometimes it takes [Louisiana white supremacist] David Duke to point out the obvious: “We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.” Those and other, older promises as well.

Vincent Cunningham at the New Yorker

White supremacy is America's original sin and our permanent peculiar challenge to ideals of democracy, rule of law, justice and freedom. Our police and other agencies of state violence such as ICE's deportation agents always waver between enforcing law and enforcing white society's bigotry, becoming unalloyed agents of oppression.

Resistance includes all efforts to keep these forces from falling entirely into doing their and our rulers' worst. That means everything from legal challenges, encouraging law enforcement professionalism where it exists, protests that seem small and futile when law enforcement is lawless, and taking the risk to witness and oppose where white supremacy seeks to claim public validation. All of that and more. Resist and protect much.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Saturday scenes and scenery: Hidden Garden Steps

This was an entirely unanticipated find while Walking San Francisco. If I'd have come upon this flight of stairs between Lawton and Kirkham at 16th Avenue from above, I probably would not have completely missed this community art project. But I certainly wouldn't have gotten the full effect which I'll try to convey here.

The most satisfying way to view this set of pictures is to click on the first image and page through them in large size. Enjoy.

This sort of thing can be saccharine, but these artists avoided this through the sheer extent of the piece. If I'd approached the staircase from above, my first impression would have been this:

Friday, August 11, 2017

Quick observations about health care, pain meds, and getting older


I didn't know this. Big corporations that provide health insurance to their employees, mostly through self insurance, want us to understand::

We and our employees spend more than $5 billion each year on four procedures and ailments: knee replacements, hip replacements, back pain and diabetes. These common problems account for 20 percent of the money our companies spend on treatment.

The first two were extreme rarities twenty-five years ago, now commonplace. They work very well for many. All these maladies respond positively to that which people in this country often do not do: keep moving. But you can't expect people to move when their lives are organized (and disorganized) in patterns that preclude exercise.

From a discussion of why U.S. doctors prescribe so much more pain meds than docs in other countries,

“A bit of this is cultural expectations about how fixable is life,” said Stanford psychiatry professor and addiction researcher Keith Humphreys. “America is still young and thinks life can be perfected.”

This rings true and points to a corollary: no wonder we are such an ageist society. Ageing a personal failing, or perhaps our doctors' failing, when we can no longer pretend we haven't suffered wear and tear. Yet we live longer and longer. Aging can't be "fixed." Is ageism a contributor to opioid overuse? Seems likely. Age must be shameful and should be hidden away ... no wonder we like our drugs.

The pic is from a rally in 2010, but like so much, still remains pertinent.

Friday cat blogging

Hey, what's that? maybe it's a mouse tail ...

Got it. Too bad it's boring.

Guess I'll go inside and watch the human with the camera.

We met while I was Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Too much testosterone; girls just want to play too

Actually I'm not thinking (right this instant) about the two childish heads of state currently threatening human and other life while bumping imaginary (limp?) dicks. If we last long enough, I'm sure I'll get to that.

The most succinct description I've seen of I've seen lately of the trouble with testosterone came from David Rothkopf (and his subject wasn't our toddlers-in-power either):

Testosterone is the most effective solvent for human brain tissue. Just a drop or two can render a perfectly functional human cortex completely stupid. As evidence, I offer all of human history.

No, let's think today about testosterone in sport, a subject I last wrote about at length during the Rio Olympics.
Dutee Chand is an Indian sprinter, a sort of mid-level elite -- that is, she doesn't win top level international races outright, but she's a better runner than most everyone in her sport.

She also has higher testosterone levels than most women, levels closer to those usually associated with men. The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) tried to bar her from competition in 2015, but their order was "put on pause" by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) which demanded more scientific evidence that high T levels correlate with exceptional athletic performances. Chand and the South African 800 meter specialist Castor Semenya, who also may have natural testosterone levels higher than most other women, competed without hindrance in Rio; Semenya won her event.

Accordingly to a comprehensive Statnews article by Catherine Caruso, the IAAF has begun producing studies to take back to the CAS which they assert prove their position. The IAAF wants a blanket ruling that athletes competing as women who show T levels above the 10 nm/L level typical of men are competing unfairly -- ultimately, though perhaps "hyperandrogenic," they are not really women. So far their studies show only a small competitive advantage for women with high T, but at the elite level, even a tiny boost is a lot. Women competitors without that T naturally don't want to compete against someone born with more. But are they truly asking for fairness?

Since the last round about this, many discussions of gender have become more nuanced and additional voices are insisting on being heard:

Hida Viloria, chairperson of the Organization Intersex International [explains] ... “I think the elephant in the room is that even though on record these sporting bodies keep acknowledging that these athletes are women, they keep trying to make regulations based on the conception that they’re not,” s/he said. ...

[Dr. Katrina] Karkazis, [a medical anthropologist and bioethicist at Stanford University, opines] “It really is an open question about whether or not something is fair or unfair, leaving aside the science of it,” she said. “The science could still say there’s a link between [testosterone] and performance and we could still say, and that’s fine, it shouldn’t be understood as unfair.”

Juliet Macur who writes thoughtfully about sports at the New York Times weighs in with an observation from Dr. Myron Genel, a Yale professor emeritus and longtime consultant to the I.O.C.’s medical commission:

Hyperandrogenism can be a natural genetic advantage, Genel argued, in the same way Usain Bolt’s uncommonly long stride or Michael Phelps’s flipper-size feet give those athletes a winning edge. “I think all elite competition at an elite level is unfair, in one form or another,” Genel said.

But will it ever be perfectly fair? Could it ever be perfectly fair? Not when so many different qualities come together to make athletes successful. And not when gender distinctions are changing so rapidly.

At its core, the sports world — rigidly separating men and women — will perpetually struggle to adapt to increasingly nuanced gender distinctions. In June, the District of Columbia became the first jurisdiction in the United States to offer an “X” gender, signifying a neutral gender, on its driver’s licenses. In March, a transgender New Zealand woman crushed her competition in her first international weight-lifting meet, and a transgender boy won a Texas state championship in girls’ wrestling.

Not every governing body is equipped to rule on these kind of eligibility questions. Not every athlete fits into this box, or that one.

Meanwhile, girls just want to play. I'm giving three cheers to three soccer players with short haircuts from an under-11 club in Madison, WI who aren't taking any shit from opponents and parents who accuse them of being boys. Tom Blau, one of their parents, explained:

“[Our girls] are just physical and are playing the sport the way it’s supposed to be played. When we tell a parent on the other team that they’re girls they just say, ‘Yeah right.’”

If anyone misses the message, they have T-shirts that say, “Sixer Strong” on the back and “Try and Keep Up” on the front (with a nod to Title IX, too). ...

[Molly Duffy, the team’s coach] “For the lack of better words, my girls are bad ass,” Duffy said. “They’re faced with this kind of situation and they take on the attitude of: ‘You know what, we got this.’ They are confident in what they do.

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