Monday, November 20, 2017

Sunrises can be pretty great too ...

though seeing one the same day means a LOT of airport and airplane time. This from Charlotte, NC on the way to New Hampshire. Blame the airline hub system ...

On the road again

Sunrise over SFO. I reflected on why I seem so frequently to get good sunrise pictures when in airports. Oh yes, I'm up and awake early ... but also, airports are usually located on flat expanses. Not a deep thought ...

More for rich people! Whoopee!

You may have heard that Republicans want to repeal the mandate in Obamacare that everyone must buy health insurance. The mandate is meant to draw insurance companies into the market by ensuring that healthy people are part of the risk pool, offsetting the sick people such companies would otherwise try to exclude. Kevin Drum passes along this chart of who would win and who would lose as a consequence of the "savings" in Medicaid, Medicare and other government health spending if Congress repealed the mandate and thereby drove millions off insurance.
In answer to a query from Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the Congressional Budget Office explains:

As you requested, the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation’s staff have analyzed the distributional effects of those changes in spending using income categories consistent with JCT’s analysis. In calendar year 2021, for example, those excluded amounts would total about $19 billion:
•$18 billion less spending for Medicaid,
•$4 billion less spending for cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments
•$1 billion less spending for the Basic Health Program (BHP)
•$4 billion more spending for Medicare because of changes in payments to hospitals that serve a disproportionate share of low-income patients.

On average, federal spending allocated to people in tax-filing units with income less than $50,000 per year would be lower under the proposal than under CBO’s baseline projections throughout the next decade. ... That outcome would stem largely from the reduction in Medicaid spending allocated to them. The increase in spending allocated to higher-income people results from the allocation to them of part of the change in Medicare spending.

My emphasis. The GOPer "tax" bill screws sick poor people, in order to pass through the savings to rich people as tax cuts.

It's easy to call out the morals of a political party that stands by a candidate whose pursuit of juvenile girls got him 86'd from the local mall. But what's wrong the morals of politicians who loot people in need for those who have plenty?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Choosing to forget injuries, at least for awhile

A few weeks ago I found myself in a discussion of how the Catalan independence movement was roiling Spain, a country where I'd just spent a delightful month. I quickly realized that I didn't know my ass from my elbow about contemporary Spanish politics. The historical reading I'd done on the country tended not to extend forward beyond the end of the Civil War in 1939 or perhaps the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. That was a long time ago; how did contemporary Spain come to be and how did the country work? After all, the place is not just a glorious historical artifact.

Tellingly, the only hint I got from a Madrid friend felt cryptic: "Nobody talks about it."

Seeking answers, I went looking for my preferred source of information -- a book, preferably in English since I'm linguistically challenged. Somewhere I happened on Democracy Without Justice in Spain: The Politics of Forgetting by Omar G. Encarnación. The author, a professor at Bard College, is actually writing within a discussion among political scientists about what makes for a successful transition from authoritarian rule to democracy, but along the way he provides an accessible narrative of the modern Spanish political developments which are the backdrop of the current impasse.

The Franco regime won power in the 1930s and cemented its long rule through brutal repression of any hint of opposition. It might have been natural, as international circumstances changed, the dictator died, and Spain tried to emerge from being an European fascist throwback and pariah, for opponents to respond to any hint of that regime crumbling by seeking revenge. In fact, in the mid-1970s, the political classes did the opposite. They chose fully conscious "forgetting."

Spain suggests that in some cases a political solution that abridges, circumvents, and delays justice against the old regime might be preferable. This hard truth gets us to the question of why forgetting flourished in Spain in the first place. In Spain, the question about what to do about the past was approached not as an ethical or legal challenge, as the transitional justice movement is prone to do, but rather as a political dilemma. This entailed doing what was possible rather than what was right.

Franco's designated successor was the nominal monarch, but King Juan Carlos knew that royal absolutism wasn't going to fly. A politically nimble politician of the old regime, Adolfo Suárez, offered Spain's repressed Socialists and Communists democratic rights -- freer speech, elections, a written constitution (1978) -- in return for a broad agreement not to relitigate the Civil War. According to Encarnación, the opposition was almost as willing to keep silence as the former Francoists.

... the Pact of Forgetting aimed at arriving at something of a consensus about Spanish history, especially the Civil War. Although the memory of the Civil War remained polarized, for the main actors of the democratic transition the conflict came to be understood as a guerra de locos (war of collective madness) that produced no winners and losers, only victims. In this problematic formulation, both sides bore equal responsibility for the Civil War, which made it redundant to ascribe blame to any particular group in society. The important thing was to ensure that a similar conflict would never happen again, and the best way to achieve that result was to forget and to look to the future.

Both left and right simply wanted to go on -- to transform Spain into a "normal" European state. When the Socialists won power through election in 1982 (and the right allowed a peaceful transition of power), rejoining Europe, modernizing Spain in the eyes of the continent, remained their priority.

Throughout Spain's democratic transition, regional separatisms erupted around the transition's edges. Basque separatists blew up Franco's designated successor, Prime Minister Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, in 1973 while the old dictator still lived, a deed which certainly impacted the transition. But, though Carrero Blanco may not have been missed, ETA's bombings did not create broad support for regional separation. And ETA rejected what the rest of Spain was doing:

... like other revolutionary movements of the period, ETA members chose to distance themselves from the democratization process in Madrid in protest against what they perceived as an illegitimate transition to democracy, since neither the right nor the left approved of the principle of regional self-determination. Herri Batasuna, ETA’s political branch, branded the democratic transition “the pure continuity of Francoism”.

Majorities of Spaniards simply wanted an end to political violence.

Between 1979 and 1980, a period that coincided with the negotiation and ratification of the Basque autonomy statute, ETA killed 242 persons—one third of all those killed since the beginning of the transition

... the political class sought to solve the conundrum posed by the demands for self-governance by Spain’s separatist-nationalist communities. The failure to deal successfully with these demands in the 1931 constitution was widely seen in 1977 as having contributed to the failure of the Second Republic. ... The solution arrived in the form of a highly contradictory constitutional compromise that stresses the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation,” effectively eliminating the possibility for self-determination, alongside the recognition of a variety of “nationalities” in the Spanish territory and the right of any region to self-governance. This compromise opened the way for the creation of las autonomías, a system of regional self-governance distinguished by its asymmetry, with the “historic” autonomous regions (Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Galicia) enjoying more autonomy than the rest. As such, the system remains closer to “regionalism” than to “federalism,” a term studiously avoided in the 1978 constitution ...

It is the residue of these compromises, and subsequent economic, political, and attitudinal twists and turns, that set up the Catalonia impasse today.

It was not until 2007 that the Spanish parliament passed the "Law of Historical Memory" which reckoned more openly with the painful past, apologized to Franco's victims, and led to removal of many Francoist monuments. This was at least partially enabled by the judge Baltasar Garzón's decision in 1998 that the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet could be held legally accountable for his crimes in his country. Spain's movement away from "forgetting" and toward openly engaging with its past involved a sort of positive blow-back from Latin American struggles for democracy. Encarnación quotes Carlos Castresana, the lead prosecutor in the Pinochet case, and latter head of the International Commission against Organized Crime in Guatemala:

"The truth about the past is the compensation that we owe those who made the miracle of our transition possible with the sacrifice of their silence. "

I'm sure there are better histories of this complex progression, but I was glad to find Democracy Without Justice in Spain to cast light on some of my questions. This was only possible because of access to academic libraries through my Erudite Partner; the book is beyond expensive which probably means it is less read than it might be.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Saturday scenes and scenery: San Juan Island

Getting there requires a ferry trip. If it is a clear day, you might glimpse Mt. Baker out a porthole.

The surrounding waters of the Strait are seldom this calm, but for a morning moment, there was this.

Forest trails are well groomed.

Quiet roads provide bucolic sights.

Cow tipping perhaps?

And if you climb high enough, there's Mt. Baker again.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Liberia got off to a bad start and turned to Old Lady to dig itself out

The West African country of Liberia was born out of the desire of white people in the still young United States to rid themselves of a small, but increasing, anomaly: free black persons.

In early nineteenth century, America found itself with a growing class of freed blacks, many of them children of slaves who had somehow found themselves freed, for reasons ranging from happenstance to, in many cases, interracial rape. White slave owners had impregnated their slaves, who then had mixed race children whose skin color was a daily reminder of the hypocrisy that infused antebellum life. Many of these mixed race children were eventually freed.

The rising number of freed blacks worried the white slave owners. ... And so began the "back to Africa" movement, centered around the thought that the best way to prevent slave rebellions was to send free blacks back to Africa.

In 1820 the first of many shiploads of mixed-race freed slaves and blacks headed to West Africa ...

These new colonists were mostly lighter skinned, literate, and Christian as against the native population, Africans who naturally resented being told they had new superiors. These newcomers forcibly installed themselves as a ruling class over 28 indigenous ethnic groups, came to be labelled "Congo people" because the locals associated them with slave traders, and proudly ruled Liberia as an outpost of "civilization" among "savages" for over 100 years.

Helene Cooper, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal correspondent, is descended from these Congo people; her family emigrated to the U.S. in 1980 as a coup plunged the country into violent upheaval. The subject of her book, Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is also a descendant of those immigrants, but her family background is complicated, giving her from early life an ability to move between native Liberian culture and the highfalutin world of the ruling class. This biography tells both modern Liberia's story of mis-development, misrule, mistakes, and misfortune that made it ripe for a bloody 25-year war of all against all and also the life story of the complex, charismatic, talented, not always admirable individual, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who won two elections that finally brought some stability to a battered country.

It's hard to overstate how brutal Liberia's civil conflict was. From the 1980 military coup that evicted the Congo establishment through rule by a series of warlords until 2003, at least 250,000 people were killed and perhaps a million displaced. Exhaustion, global disgust with the warlords, and mobilization among some of the war's most helpless victims and enduring survivors, market women, finally brought an unstable peace. Along the way the last warlord, Charles Taylor, won a disputed election in 1997 in which Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, still very much a proud Liberian, but also a U.N. Development officer and banker, participated without much success.

For all the death and destruction he had heaped on Liberia, Taylor somehow had the support of a great many people. Those supporters -- including masses of young boys singing and dancing for their Pappy in the streets -- adopted the unofficial campaign slogan "He kill my ma, he kill my pa, I will vote for him." To most Westerners that made little sense, but to Liberians, it was a perfectly understandable extension of Darwin. Taylor had proven to be the strongest at war ... he deserved his shot at the presidency. "He spoil Liberia -- so let him fix it."

Taylor won that round and soon the war resumed, drawing in the neighboring West African nations. (Taylor is now serving a 50 year sentence in Britain, condemned by a U.N. tribunal for war crimes, torture and mayhem.)

In November 2005, after two years of anxious peace, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf did win the country's new presidency. Her rise was foreshadowed by the rising of market women that brought the warlords to peace talks. The country's interim government had thrown them a scrap in the form of a new Ministry of Gender. As elections approached, the minister, Vahba Gaylor, threw her scant resources into getting women registered. Out of the country's disrupted population of 3 million, 1.5 million were enrolled, of whom 51 percent were women. Sirleaf campaigned on her history of resisting (some of the time) the depredations of a generation of warlords.

"Old Lady was old. But Old Lady knew how to fight!

The election came down to a runoff between Sirleaf and the soccer star George Weah. His support consisted mainly of young men, but "the women had their own tricks ..." Her women supporters worked overtime to get young men to trade their voter ID cards for beer or cash -- or simply stole them from sons and brothers.

Years later there was no shame among the women who stole their sons' ID cards. "Yeah, I took it. And so what? ... That foolish boy, wha' he knew? I carried him for nine months. I took care of him. I fed him when he wa' hungry. Then he will take people country and give it away? ..."

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first woman ever elected president of an African country. Then she had to govern it, overcome constant male resistance, reduce some corruption, wrangle reduction of its unsustainable foreign debt, win re-election, try to revitalize a broken society and economy, and fight back against the 2014 Ebola outbreak that threatened to wipe out a million Liberians. Somehow she did all this, or something like it.

Cooper's account is detailed, surprisingly objective since this author obviously admires her subject hugely, and completely fascinating, a window into a world of which it is easy for people to the U.S. to stay ignorant.

This is a book to "read in the audio version." It is performed by Helene Cooper's sister, Marlene Cooper Vasilic, and offers an intelligible rendition of the Liberian English phrases sprinkled throughout the text. It's a chance to hear a little bit of West Africa.

As I write this, Liberia is again in political turmoil, still striving to achieve a peaceful transfer of power to another elected leader. Sirleaf, now 78, is termed out. An older George Weah is still the leading candidate of young men, while Sirleaf's vice-president Joseph Boakai runs against him. Neither received a majority in an October poll and a run-off has been postponed over charges of irregularities. For the sake of Liberians, let's hope this vibrant country can extend its short history of peace.

Friday cat blogging

After a couple of weeks away, we're home and Morty won't leave us alone. It's hard to write with the help of Velcro cat.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Senate GOPers see whirring buzzsaw -- run to jump on it

This week Senate Republicans proposed to solve the ballooning deficit created by their tax cuts for the rich by killing off the individual mandate in Obamacare which requires everyone to sign up for health insurance. (Yes -- the mandate is a "tax" -- in a tortured decision in 2012, the Supreme Court said so.) Why and why does the change matter?

Such a policy change would save the government more than $300 billion but cost about 13 million people their health insurance coverage, and drastically hike premiums for those who remain in the individual market, experts say.

Republicans don't care who gets hurt; they don't think it is the job of the government to make sure everyone can get medical care when they get sick. Get sick -- too poor for expensive care -- go die ...

This chart via Bloomberg shows that people know better -- and they aren't likely to react kindly to having the GOPers compound their worries. It's not high taxes they are worrying about; it's health care.
Apparently the Orange Cheato took time while embarrassing the nation in Asia to demand the Senate repeal the health insurance mandate. He can't stomach letting anything the n----r did stand.

Several Republican Senators have already questioned whether their party's tax package is a good idea, including Collins of Maine and Johnson of Wisconsin.

Once again, people who care about access to health care for all need to scream bloody murder at our legislators. We know the drill: (202) 224-3121 for every Senator.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Rethinking Bill Clinton: never a defensible guy in my book

There have been a cascade of articles in the last few days about how the Weinstein-Wieseltier-Moore revelations about powerful men using their positions to coerce sex from women should lead all of us on the progressive side of things to rethink Bill Clinton's sexual behavior, most especially the highly plausible rape allegations from Juanita Broaddrick. Here's the excellent Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times. Here's Dylan Matthews at Vox. Here's Caitlin Flanigan at the Atlantic. After all, didn't we stick up for a guy who several women charged with sexual misconduct and who we knew had a pattern of apparently thinking with his dick?

I don't feel any need to join the self-flagellation. I never was a Bill Clinton fan. The Lewinsky episode disgusted me; a president taking advantage of a misguided intern always seemed to me an unpardonable abuse of power. He was an adult; he had no business diddling a kid. A president even more than a movie mogul or a business tycoon ought to practice self-control over his appetites. He should have resigned for that alone.

And Clinton's misconduct involving Lewinsky contained another trespass. Millions of Democrats hadn't elected the guy to enable him to play with his pecker. We needed him to conserve his authority so as to govern for the people who put him in office. On election night in 1992, I found myself in a crowd of gay men whose community Republicans had allowed to die from HIV infections over the previous 12 years; they were now singing "Ding, dong the witch is dead!" This was just one subset among the constituencies -- communities of color, LGBT people, women, poor people -- that needed Bill Clinton to do the work of correcting some of the damage Reagan and Bush I had inflicted on the country's social health. It would be a fight. It always is.

Instead, Clinton weakened his presidency by playing sex games and ended up going along with one regressive GOPer measure after another: "don't ask, don't tell"; the "welfare reform" which killed federal support to poor women with children; a "crime bill" that led to mass incarceration of Black men. (Yes, there were other impediments to the Clinton agenda -- like Newt Gingrich and the GOPers -- but the guy increased his vulnerability to them with his sexual indiscipline.)

The other sexual accusations against Clinton (Jones, Willey, Broaddrick, Flowers) came from women who were promoted by his political enemies, the same people who were trying to convince us without the slightest evidence that the power couple in the White House were murderers and drug dealers. I didn't until the last few days remember even the names of the other accusers: too much right wing noise covered up the possibility these women's charges might be truthful. That's what happens when a blanket of fog spewed for partisan advantage covers the landscape. I can go along with the current assessment that we should have taken them more seriously, but their right wing sponsors, whose nonsense seemed an atmospheric pollutant hanging over the decade, were what made them invisible and inaudible to me.

At Politico, Jeff Greenfield offers a thoughtful take on Clinton and his progressive supporters.

... the center-left argued that the removal of Clinton was not just anti-democratic (overturning an election), but would be a victory for the forces of reaction. ... It also represented a complete reversal of a central feminist argument that “the personal is political,” that the behavior of men, and not just their pronouncements and policies, had to be taken into account. The new version was, “the personal is political unless the person in question embraces my politics.”

Clinton himself raised this argument when he told his cabinet in August of 1998 that his earlier assurances of innocence in the Lewinsky affair were false. His Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, upbraided him for his conduct, and noted that had he been a professor at the university she once ran, he would have been bounced for such conduct.

To which Clinton replied, according to the Washington Post, “that if her logic had prevailed in 1960, Richard M. Nixon would have been elected president instead of John F. Kennedy.”

This is, you may recognize, the mirror image of the argument Trump’s supporters made to skeptics, and what Moore’s supporters are making even as their man takes serious incoming fire. The political defense of Moore goes like this: “If Moore loses, that’s one less vote for tax cuts, conservative judges, traditional values. (Well, they might want to shelve that one). We can’t let our problems with personal conduct override the enormous political stakes.”

... For many of us, it is easy to look at of Weinstein, Trump and Moore as case studies in pathological behavior. Looking closer to home is a lot more painful; it is also compulsory. Unless and until partisans across the board stop justifying unconscionable behavior out of political self-interest, the more likely it is that the pervasive cynicism about the process, and everyone involved in it, will fester and grow.

More focus on what government is for and what political efforts we are trying to win through it, coupled with more women in positions of power (though we aren't immune to the temptations of misbehavior), might help.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Muslim ban is now on

The Trump/Republican/white nationalist effort to make this a less generous, less welcoming, and less cosmopolitan country got a boost yesterday when appeals courts allowed much of Muslim Ban 3.0 to go into force. The regime can now legally prevent citizens of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen from visiting this country, unless these people have a "bona fide relationship" through family or some entity here.

The New York Times takes a sanguine view of how "relationship" will be interpreted.

... the administration, which continues to appeal the lower court’s ruling, believes that the ban “should be allowed to take effect in its entirety,” regardless of whether someone has a tie to the United States.

It is unclear how many people who enter the United States have ties to the country. In general, people who come with an immigrant visa have a familial relation that enabled them to qualify for a green card, or legal permanent residency. Students and people with job offers would most likely be considered to have a tie to a United States organization, but those who come for vacation or medical care would not.

Since the administration doesn't want any of these people -- these scary brown Muslims -- I see no reason to assume they'll enforce their newly ratified powers to exclude with any scrupulous care or human decency.

Dara Lind, who covers migration issues sensitively for Vox, takes a jaundiced view how the court-approved ban will be implemented:

The two groups who will be most affected by ban 3.0 — just like they were by ban 2.0 — are tourists and refugees.

Refugees, according to a Trump administration decision that the courts haven’t overturned, don’t count as having a “bona fide” relationship with a US organization — even though every refugee is placed with a US resettlement organization that agrees to sponsor them before they arrive.

... The current travel ban, like its predecessor, will be enforced far from American shores. It will happen just as quietly, if not more so, as travel ban 2.0 did. And the courts are beginning to assume that this is, for the moment, a constitutionally acceptable outcome.

Once again, those of us who don't want to betray the country's better angels and who refuse to allow ourselves to be cut off from the wide world will have to depend on legal advocacy institutions to chip away at the worst arbitrary bigotry. The regime wants to wear out the lawyers who defend openness; it needs to wear out all of us who resist. We can't let them.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Even the greatest mountaineers get old

I thought Karakoram: Climbing Through the Kashmir Conflict by Steve Swenson would provide easy, distracting, travel reading and possibly also be informative about a region of the world that could blow up at any time. It did provide gripping story telling without adding much about that India/Pakistan/Kashmir low-level war -- but it is full of other wisdom I'm glad to have encountered.

Swenson recounts fifteen expeditions over 35 years to the monster mountains on the Pakistan border; 28,251 foot K2 is probably the most familiar to people who don't read this kind of literature. It's worth noting that less than half of these several month trips -- involving illnesses, treacherous snows, awful weather, freezing nights, and other hardships -- ended in success. That is, if by "success" is meant reaching the summit of the intended target peak. For this mountaineer, often the journey is the reward -- though during his career he did summit both K2 and Everest, the highest mountains on the planet.

Though Swenson is obviously an extraordinarily accomplished climber, his story makes it clear that climbing mountains of this remoteness, size, and scale may demand as much sheer stubbornness and willingness to suffer as technical finesse. He seemed to always know he could dredge a little more out of his hurting body. This is clearer here than in any other mountaineering narrative I've ever read.

And he only had the chance to put himself through his chosen pain-fest over and over because he is a superb organizer. This sort of climbing expedition is all about organization: assembling a compatible team, clearing bureaucratic hurdles, buying supplies, hiring armies of porters to move the supplies close to the peaks -- all that has to be done successfully before anyone tries to climb anything. Swenson recounts learning to do it, making local friends who stood ready to help, and avoiding the sorts of inter-personal conflicts that tear apart climbing teams. Coming from my experience, I suspect this guy would have been terrific on a political campaign -- same skills there.

But while all of this is interesting, I probably would not have been writing about this book if it had not for Swenson's final theme: how he sought to age gracefully in a young person's sport. The book's final chapter recounts his expedition in 2015 to two Pakistani peaks, Changi Tower (very technical climbing at 21,325 feet) and K6 Central (higher at 23,294 feet). He wanted to mentor some young climbers, share the complexities of the logistics in Pakistan's high mountains, and introduce them to his many Pakistani friends. He chose Graham Zimmerman and Scott Bennett, both highly accomplished mountaineers who had no Karakoram experience. He launched off with plenty of trepidation.

My main concern was our age difference. I’d recently turned sixty-one, and I’d be spending a couple of months in Pakistan trying to keep up with two under-thirty-year-olds. ... Changi Tower and K6 Central were still unclimbed [by the routes he planned], largely because it was difficult to reach them.

And so his team with its local porters, cooks and government minders took off for the mountains. Swenson used his experience to identify and lead them in setting up a secure advanced base camp (ABC) at over 17,000 feet from which they could move on the summits.

... While dozing that afternoon in the tent, I realized my work to establish our ABC was winding down. What should my role be now that we were getting into position to start these climbs? Scott and Graham were stronger, more skilled, and faster climbers than I was. As was the case on all these expeditions to the great ranges, it was less important to share the leading than it was to assign everyone the jobs for which they were best suited. Although it would be fun for me to do some of the leading on Changi Tower, it would be more efficient if Graham and Scott did all of it. I would follow in support, carrying as much food, fuel, and bivouac equipment as I could. I decided to propose this when the time came.

... Climbing back up, I felt that as I acclimatized, my breathing became steadier and my heart beat a bit slower. But after several days of chasing Scott and Graham around, I experienced a deeper fatigue that was hard to recover from—a symptom of being older. Accepting that it was harder, or not possible, for me to do things that I could do when I was younger wasn’t easy. I wondered if this would be my last expedition to these huge, serious mountains.

But climb on he did behind Bennett's brilliant lead up treacherous snow cliffs.

... On August 9, we rose in the dark at 4:00 a.m., and after brewing up we were on our way by 6:00 a.m. ... After kicking steps up a short slope of firmer snow, Scott reached the final rocky summit block and scratched his way up with tools and crampons to reach the top in the fading light. Graham climbed up to Scott as it got dark, and I followed using my headlamp in the pitch black.

There followed a tough descent which included repeated choices about whether it was safe to push on while removing their equipment from exposed cols and disrupted glaciers. But all made it safely.

And then Swenson took stock of himself and the expedition's goals and convened a planning meeting:

... the three of us had completed a spectacular first ascent of Changi Tower.

... Given my health, I didn’t have the confidence in myself that I needed to attempt K6. Perhaps climbing Changi Tower was enough for me on this trip. I woke up early, thinking that the three of us would have a discussion at breakfast about our strategy for K6. ... my life as a professional engineer helped me realize how critical these strategy discussions were to the team’s safety and success. We could communicate in a way that established respect rather than control. Despite our need to act as individuals, working as a team was as important as any of the technical climbing skills we possessed.

... I had decided not to attempt K6 Central. I didn’t think I could recover quickly enough from Changi Tower. My health wouldn’t be good enough, and if they had a short weather window to make their ascent, I might slow them down enough to miss the summit. ... The conversation that morning in the mess tent went well. I told Scott I’d only seen the kind of brilliant climbing he displayed on Changi Tower a few times in my life. When I shared my plans to stay behind on K6, Scott said, “I don’t think you’d slow us down.” Graham agreed. “Yeah, I think you should go with us,” he said, “and we think you’d be an asset, so don’t stay behind because of us.” I thought they were probably sincere, but my lack of confidence made me feel they were just being polite. “I appreciate your encouragement,” I said “but I don’t think I’ll change my mind.” They had the strength and ability to do it on their own, probably more efficiently without me.

And so he found himself watching anxiously from below as the two younger men worked their way into position to approach that summit. In the end, they didn't have enough good weather to complete the traverse they'd hoped for, but did complete the second ever ascent of K6 West. Swenson adopts as his own the conclusions of his Pakistani friend Rasool:

“I am so happy with this expedition. This expedition is 100 percent. Many expeditions are 90 percent, but I am so very happy—this expedition was 100 percent.” I felt the same way: the camaraderie, our climbing success, and a safe trip left us feeling pretty good about what we had accomplished.

This is not a book for everyone. I'm sure there are lots of readers who have no interest in super-athletic men pushing their bodies through unnecessary, dangerous, and cold adventures. But I found Swenson's account of coming to terms with his aging forthright and moving. May we all be so graceful.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Our anthropoid ancestors began to eat together ... and became human

The Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff visited Mexico City and Puebla in October and reflected on the terrible earthquakes that shock the area in September.

On September 19 and 23 Mexico was shaken by two earthquakes, one 7.1 and the other 6.1 magnitude in the Richter scale. They affected 5 States, scores of municipalities, including the capital, Mexico City.  Hundreds of houses were collapsed and cracks appeared in other hundreds of buildings. Beautiful churches, such as the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, in Puebla, saw their towers demolished.

Everyone still remembers the terrible earthquake of 1985 that produced more than ten thousand victims.

This earthquake, even though it was very strong, killed 360 persons.

... But what has brought to the general attention has been the spirit of solidarity and cooperation of the Mexican people. Without anyone calling on them, thousands of persons, especially the young, began to remove the rubble to save the interred victims. Groups were spontaneously organized and this spirit of solidarity saved many lives.

Immediately centers were created to gather help for the victims, such as plenty of water, provisions, clothing, blankets and all kinds of important household utensils. As I write this article, (on October 13, 2017), many places that store provisions still are seen.  Cooperation knows no limits. 

... a school building slowly collapsed with many children inside.  A young man, seeing that a sort of canal had formed in the middle of the ruins, crawled quickly through the hole and rescued several 5 to 7 year old children. Just as he had rescued the last child another segment of school suddenly fell behind him, missing him only by seconds. ...

... In the debate, after a conference in the Universidad Iberoamericana, in Mexico City, a woman declared: “if our Country and all humanity would live that spirit of solidarity and cooperation, there would be no poor people in the world and we would have rescued part of the lost paradise”. 

I ... told her that it was the cooperation and solidarity of our anthropoid ancestors, who began to eat together, that allowed them to make the jump from bestiality to humanity. What was true yesterday, must still be true today.  Yes, solidarity and in general cooperation of all with all will rescue that which makes us fully human. In these recent days the Mexican people have given us a splendid example of this fundamental truth.      

Translation by Melina Alfaro.

UNICEF is soliciting funds to help Mexico's recovery at this link.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Not forgotten

Charles Stephens offers a moving tribute to this extraordinary man.

If you’re black and you ever critiqued the black church on homophobia or HIV injustice, [Dr. Ibrahim] Farajajé, in part, paved the way for you to do so. And in that sense, his impact on Black Queer Church Studies and HIV activism in black faith communities is still very much felt today. He helped to shape our black queer present.

... this queer, tall, dreadlocked, pierced, tattooed, kinky, prophetic, multilingual, and sexual outlaw brought incredible passion and vision to the Howard Divinity School. This was also during some of the darkest moments of the HIV crisis in our community. Even now, there is yet to exist a truly detailed account of how HIV impacted black communities in the 1980s, and how we resisted.

... It is always an act of incredible courage to challenge an institution around homophobia and HIV injustice, but in the 1980s, to challenge the black church was no less an act of treason, if not heresy. And yet there are locations within D.C. religious communities that became far more inclusive only after Farajajé started teaching at Howard. This was, in part, because some of those ministers were students of his.

... Many of our most important scholars and activists may never be remembered. Their contributions are felt, but not acknowledged, and their lives and sacrifices remain invisible. This is particularly true for those among our tribe that resist assimilation and respectability, and embrace scholarship and activism. Farajajé, who died at 63 in 2016, was one who paid this price. ...

He was mischievous; he was charming; he was brilliant. Nice to see him remembered in the Advocate.
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