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who would lose as a consequence of the "savings" in Medicaid, Medicare and other government health spending if Congress repealed the mandate and thereby drove millions off insurance.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.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Moving beyond resistance


My friend Theo asked a question in the comments on my post reporting interesting trends in the Virginia election results:

The key is to move these voters from resistance to membership - not just reacting to the horror du jour, but committed for the long haul. How do we translate resistance into membership? It is a question Faith in Action is pondering in California.

This is something I might know something about; after all, I spent much of my working life trying to figure out how to translate the energies unleashed by felt and observed injustice into practical political power. I can't say I've got any solutions, but I do have thoughts.
  • You are not going to move most voters from resistance to membership. Even in moments of heightened political energy, most people don't want their lives to revolve around political activism. Insofar as they do politics at all, they do it in the hope that activism will enable them to stop having to struggle so hard in a hostile environment.
  • This doesn't make the majority bad people or even insignificant political actors. If people do even the bare minimum -- that usually means vote -- that is significant. If they identify with a weakly articulated but real justice consensus, even that is also something, however irritating their inactivity might feel to those of us more active.
  • Even people who will engage in activism mostly will only do so inconsistently. Their willingness and enthusiasm for political work waxes and wanes and that is just human. Organizations that want to thrive have to find ways to incorporate people that allow them to come in and out. Political campaigns are actually good for accommodating this reality; they too have their own seasons, much of the work is routine enough not to require much practice, and you know when campaigns are over.
  • I take the urgency about "membership" to imply a desire for organizational stability undergirding political activity. And that's totally reasonable.
  • Membership becomes attractive when it offers community that didn't previously exist. We want to feel that we're among comrades in belief and struggle. That's a high good.
  • But creating a membership through attraction can also mean becoming smaller. It is easy for an organization to become a kind of impermeable club within which members and staff share assumptions and create a sustaining culture -- even a necessary culture of resistance -- but use that community as a defense against engaging with novel threats and events. Perhaps current circumstances are so dire that danger seems remote. But tight-knit organizations find it hard to shift their focus in response to external circumstances. I remember vividly that, in 1994 under the threat of the California anti-immigrant Prop 187, most of the infrastructure groups that had been working to implement the 1986 immigration reform were unable to switch to fighting this immediate danger.
  • If organizations are to be of continuing value in political work, they have to remain supple, able to adjust to changing needs and times. And that is hard while maintaining more than a thin facade of internal democracy. However, except in moments of immediate threat, the best disciplined, energized people -- the leaders every organization yearns to attract-- will walk away from any group in which they feel they have little power in setting the agenda.
Moving beyond immediate resistance is tough. Faith in Action seems to have piggy-backed on somebody else's historical organizational momentum and inertia -- the various churches which affiliate -- with impressive and hugely valuable results. But that's not really a membership structure, though it may be a necessary one.

Dear Theo, those few, like you and me, who engage with politics instinctively all the time have to understand that we are mutants. We like to think our focus is valuable; maybe it is, maybe even essential to preservation of a democratic (small "d") society. But we can't forget we're weird! And opinionated. I certainly am.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

I have met the Replicator

Hey Star Trek fans, here it is. You just press the white button on the bottom left and it extrudes two perfectly passable pancakes on the right.

Keep them in dialysis until they die


A few years ago I found myself taking a small role in helping a friend survive kidney failure. The story had many twists and turns, but for the purposes of this post, what matters is that before she was lucky enough to receive a transplanted, healthy kidney, she spent several months on thrice weekly dialysis. Dialysis is a procedure which pumps out the toxic byproducts of normal metabolism usually removed by your kidneys by drawing out your blood, filtering it, and pumping it back into you. If that seems nasty and drastic, it is.

The commercial dialysis center where she went for the procedure was in a dreary urban shopping center, across from a rundown Safeway, some fast food outlets, and some liquor stores. This plaza used to serve the core of the San Francisco Black community back before Blacks had been largely driven out of San Francisco by too much tech money chasing too little housing. Many, perhaps most, patients at this center were still older Black people. We saw the same folks, week after week.

My friend escaped this sad facility, through a combination of grit, luck and a measure of white privilege.

Most people don't escape. Anne Kim at the Washington Monthly provides a devastating picture of who commonly suffers from kidney disease, how they mostly end up sentenced to years of dialysis, and even some suggestions about how this corrupt, discriminatory system could be made more just -- and more kind -- for sick people.

Of the 661,000 Americans with kidney failure, about 468,000 people—more than a third of whom are black—are on dialysis. In the District of Columbia, where the prevalence of kidney failure is the highest in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there are twenty-three dialysis centers, mostly in Northeast and Southeast Washington, the predominantly black parts of the city that are also ground zero for diabetes and high blood pressure, the two conditions most linked to kidney disease. Another 100 dialysis centers are within a twenty-five-mile radius of the city, again concentrated in the suburbs with the largest minority and low-income populations. ...

Like check-cashing outlets and payday lenders, dialysis centers—the vast majority of which are for-profit, like DaVita and U.S. Renal Care—are now fixtures in the urban commercial landscape. “We used to say there’s a liquor store on every corner,” said Clive Callender, a transplant surgeon and professor of surgery at Howard University. “Now we say there’s a dialysis unit on every corner.”

The prevalence of dialysis centers in minority neighborhoods is a reflection of policy failures that encourage—indeed institutionalize—class and racial disparities in American health care. These failures include more than just disparate access to the primary and preventive services that could help high-risk patients stave off kidney disease. Public policy effectively steers low-income and minority patients with kidney disease toward dialysis and away from superior options, particularly transplants.

***
Everyone with kidney failure, also called end-stage renal disease, is covered by Medicare. And Medicare guarantees payment for every dialysis session. As a result, the treatment of kidney failure is a volume-centered business aimed at keeping dialysis centers running. “You fill up a facility with so many stations, you make sure somebody is sitting in each of those chairs around the clock,” said Dennis Cotter, president of the Medical Technology and Practice Patterns Institute. “It’s the Henry Ford production model.”

This system creates an incentive for clinics to keep patients on dialysis until they die.

That’s one reason why low-income patients have a tougher time getting transplants, which is the best treatment for kidney failure: their clinicians may not tell them it’s an option. And the longer they stay on dialysis, the poorer their health is likely to be, making them less viable as transplant candidates.

... Medicare currently pays dialysis clinics $231.55 per treatment. That means a clinic like the one in the Southeast D.C. strip mall, with twenty-five chairs, can make $5,788.75 every four hours if all chairs are filled. Assuming three shifts a day, six days a week, that’s $5.4 million per year.
***

... the most tragic consequence of a system that incentivizes keeping people, especially poor people and minorities, on dialysis is that it also keeps them from getting what is beyond doubt the best treatment for kidney failure: a transplant.

“A successful transplant gives you almost a normal life expectancy, particularly if you’ve never been on dialysis,” said GW transplant surgeon Joseph Melancon. Between 76 percent and 85 percent of transplant recipients survive five years after transplant, compared to just 42 percent for patients on traditional hemodialysis.

In 2014, of all patients suffering from end-stage renal disease, fewer than one in five black patients with kidney failure were transplant recipients, compared to just over one-third of white patients.

What to do to replace this racist and cruel system? That's not so hard to imagine once we become aware of the economics involved. It might even reduce medical costs in the end:

... give low-income and minority patients a fairer shot at getting a kidney transplant. That means, at a minimum, making sure Medicare pays for lifetime coverage of immunosuppressant medications for transplant patients, instead of just thirty-six months. The original rationale for the current policy, established decades ago, was that transplant patients would eventually get jobs and private insurance, but the instability of work in the modern labor market and the price of coverage make this reasoning far less plausible today.

A likelier explanation for the policy’s continued existence is lobbying by the dialysis industry, which benefits from keeping patients on dialysis and not “losing” them to transplant.

... Democrats who want to move toward single-payer or a robust public option must figure out how to lower the cost of delivery to have any chance of succeeding. Fixing how Medicare treats end-stage renal disease, which accounts for 7 percent of its budget, would be a good place to start.

I knew nothing about this system until I saw it through my friend's experience. The least we can do is spread the truth about this racist distortion of "health care."

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Election oddments from watching Virginia


There were hints from the outset that this could be a Democratic night. From Claire Malone:

Just taking a quick look at the exit polls that are coming out of Virginia and some interesting things here. Northam is outperforming Clinton among a couple of different demographics. He’s winning women by 59 percent; Clinton won them by 56 percent. He’s winning 40 percent of white voters, compared with Clinton’s 35 percent. But he’s not outpacing her among black voters: He has 86 percent compared with her 88 percent. His margins with voters 18- to 29-year-olds are pretty large, though: Northam’s winning 66 percent, compared with Clinton’s 54 percent.

Via several tweets from New York Times/Upshot's Nate Cohn:

I see some commentary on why Gillespie lost that seems disconnected from what just happened. He did really well in white rural Virginia! He's going to outperform Romney, [Cuccinelli -- GOP Governor nominee in 2013] in all sorts of areas. He was *annihilated* in the suburbs.

Turnout in precincts where Hispanic *or* Asian voters represent at least 20% of the population is 15 percent higher than our pre-election estimates.

Turnout surge included black voters, as well. In majority black precincts, turnout is running 7% of [over?] our pre-election estimates, v. 8% elsewhere.

If anyone thought '16 was the floor for GOP in well-educated areas, they're going to have to rethink.

Tellingly, from David Wasserman at FiveThirtyEight:

One final note: It’s hard not to conclude the August events in Charlottesville had a galvanizing effect on Democrats in that area. Across the state, raw votes cast were up 16 percent over 2013. But in the city of Charlottesville, raw votes cast were up 31 percent. Northam took 84 percent of the vote there.

There's a new and different Democratic party struggling into being.
***
A scary thought: an election night like this (coupled with the church gun massacre in Texas) takes the national focus off Donald Trump. What awful thing will the man do to try to recapture our undivided attention?
***
This was the first time since 2008 that I've been able to feel unalloyed delight in an election outcome. (In 2012 many good results happened, but the campaign I was working on lost.) The emerging majority needs more like this; we get them by working for them.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Another happy election result

This is our country, not Trump's country.

News that does the heart good

That's in northern Virginia for those who are not political junkies. Somebody always has to be the first.

Democrats are firing away vigorously -- at each other

Maybe Democrat Ralph Northam will win the Virginia governor's race today and significant numbers of Democrats will breathe a little easier. And then again, maybe he won't. And Dems won't stop to catch their breath, determined to continue their intra-party hissy fit.

As anyone who has been paying attention knows, people who do these kinds of things have been re-litigating the 2016 primary. Professional Dem operative Donna Brazile has dropped some bombshells (or at least firecrackers) about the Clinton campaign's control of the Democratic National Committee. People who insist that "Bernie would have won" (and was somehow robbed because Clinton accumulated more primary votes) are again raging.

Come on, folks -- grow up. We have work to do and an aspiring authoritarian in office who has announced he'd like nothing better than to use the machinery of government to hound and punish his political opponents. Do we want to replicate the fate of Social Democrats and Communists in the Germany of the 1930s who were too busy fighting out their very real disagreements with each other to combine to stop the Nazis? They had the majority, but they couldn't focus on the essential threat. We also have the majority, but we have to hold our coalition together if we want to win power. No one faction can do it alone.

Charles Blow accurately describes the national Democratic Party as a "dinosaur of bureaucratic machinery." I have tolerant feelings toward many of the people who make up the party apparatus; sure, there are plenty of self-important, power-hungry jackasses, but there are more grunt workers who do the boring work of attending interminable meetings, keeping up data bases, and scratching out local fundraisers. They aren't very ideological usually; they just know which side they are on. A lot of them are people of color.

But Blow is also right: in this moment when so much is required of us, the tired old Democratic party shows potential for a new life.

The Resistance isn’t part of the old Democratic Party; The Resistance is the new Democratic Party, or at least its future.

We are stuck with a two party system, so we need the Dems or something like them in some form. But we don't have to keep fighting old fights. Progressive impulses are mostly winning within the Dems. If we can forge majorities in more and more areas, progressive values will carry us forward. We need a little confidence in ourselves, not better backroom brawling.

A few days after the 2016 election gave us the Orange Cheato, I warned that, come whatever, resistance would require unity.

Don't play circular firing squad.... The various elements of our big tent coalition do not easily get along with each other. Whites will act racist, men will behave like pigs, more conventional people will look askance at gender queers. But when we rub each other wrong, we have to ease up.

That is no less true a year into the Trump regime. Circular firing squads empower the authoritarian. Even the "winners" lose when we can't build a big tent.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Rising temperatures and sea levels

If you are like me, you probably saw a headline like this one the other day: U.S. Report Says Humans Cause Climate Change, Contradicting Top Trump Officials

And if you are like me, you may not have read the story. How could I stand absorbing yet another hopeless attempt by scientists to get through to the fossil-fuel deluded numbskulls who control climate policy? Besides, understanding the science is hard; I trust the scientists and usually stick to thinking about the politics, more in my line of expertise.

But while searching weather reports, I came across a succinct description of the National Climate Assessment by Bob Henson: Humans Likely Responsible For Virtually All Global Warming Since 1950s. It seems worthwhile to share some of the main points.

On temperatures:

  • Warmest in more than a thousand years. A major paleoclimate study has shown that for each of the world’s seven major continental regions, the average temperature for 1971-2000 was the highest in more than 1300 years. There is significant uncertainty around these estimates, but a separate study found that temperate North America as a whole (including most of the contiguous U.S.) is having its warmest 30-year periods in at least 1500 years.
  • It’s going to get a lot warmer in the coming decades. Temperatures across the contiguous U.S. have risen about 1.8°F (1.0°C) over the period 1901-2016. “Surface and satellite data are consistent in their depiction of rapid warming since 1979,” the report notes. By the period 2070-2100 (when today’s infants will be elders), U.S. temperatures may be 2.8 to 7.3°F warmer than the 1976-2005 average if greenhouse-gas emissions are reined in strongly—or 5.8 to 11.9°F warmer if emissions continue to grow at the pace of recent decades.

On sea levels:

  • U.S. coasts will experience more than the global average sea level rise from Antarctica Ice Sheet melt, and less than the global average from Greenland Ice Sheet melt. These results are both produced by what’s called static-equilibrium effects—basically, how the planet’s gravity and rotation are affected by moving huge volumes of water from polar ice sheets into the global oceans.
  • The Northeast U.S. coast is expected to see additional sea level rise because of a gradually weakening Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, which helps power the Gulf Stream. Much as the polar jet stream separates air masses of different densities, the Gulf Stream separates warmer, less-dense water and higher sea levels on its southwest side from denser, cooler water and a lower sea level on its northwest side, toward the Northeast U.S. coast. Any long-term weakening of the Gulf Stream would be associated with a reduced sea-level gradient, and that would mean a drop in sea level toward the southeast and a rise toward the northwest (on top of any global-scale changes, of course).
  • Regional sea level rise is being exacerbated by withdrawals of groundwater off the Atlantic coast, and withdrawals of both fossil fuels and groundwater off the Gulf Coast. If these continue, so will the regional effects.

And that's just a sampling. Read it all. Our only hope of interrupting greed and stupidity depends on daring to face the violence our species is doing to our only home.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

After a morning of wet snow ...

an evening of this on San Juan Island. Definitely worth the slightly anxious driving.

It's snowing in central Washington state

Here's sight I haven't seen for awhile. It's not romantic snow, just wet. Doesn't look likely to stick, for which I am thankful.

On the road ...


but not away from the struggles of the moment. This was on the door of the country store where we stopped for provisions. Click to see in larger size.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Saturday scenery: strange birds and a magic terrace

This critter hung at the Selva Negra coffee plantation and ecolodge in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

This bird stood down a back road near Albion on the northern California coast where I've been running the last few days.

This remarkable garden is hidden away on the San Francisco peninsula.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Another thought on the Attorney-General


Again, seeing Sessions in the mix as clowns in the Trump campaign discuss hooking up with Russia's ruler seems the most significant revelation of this week. He's not just a racist, sexist, homophobic crank, he seems willing to play footsie with enemies of his country. Also, like everyone who plays with Trump, a useful idiot.

Painter was chief White House ethics lawyer for Pres. George W. Bush from '05 to '07.

Friday cat blogging

What are you doing walking around my neighborhood?

Guess I'll have to investigate the stranger.

Encountered in St. Mary's Park while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

All Souls Day

In the Anglican Christian tradition, November 2 is All Souls Days, a signal to remember those who have died while trusting that death has been trampled down and has no permanent dominion (whatever that may mean.)

This year I'm remembering two of my first cousins, Stefanie Stevens who left this world in September and James Kent Averill Jr. who died over a decade ago. Here they are as a couple of attractive babies in 1937. So young, so innocent. I look at this picture and realize the Second World War had not yet begun. James' father, a Navy officer, was killed in the Pacific in that war.

I didn't really know either of them -- I was ten or more years younger and so out of sync with their lives. Thinking about them reminds me that we are all part of a procession of sparks, some flaming longer than others, none burning forever unless in some sense beyond our grasp.

My most telling take-away from the Mueller investigation

This image, once tweeted by the Cheato himself, puts current Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the room with Trump's "foreign policy team" -- the motley crew apparently charged with cutting some kind of deal for help from Vladimir Putin during the campaign.

Yes, Sessions has recused himself from the probe. But what the hell was our highest law enforcement officer doing mucking around with plotters working to subvert the U.S. electoral process?

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Inspiration from an unlikely source

In 2015, Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi was published with many pages blacked-out to satisfy his jailers. Slahi had been viciously tortured for months because U.S. authorities thought they'd captured a key al-Qaida operative. In fact, Slahi seems to have merely been a well traveled, cosmopolitan young Mauritanian who passed through a series of places that turned out to have been wrong locations at wrong times. The U.S. military prosecutor assigned to take him to trial was so disgusted by his mistreatment that he quit; in 2011, a federal judge ordered Slahi released, but the government stalled until 2016 at the end of the Obama administration. He was held 14 years by the U.S. without ever being charged or convicted of a crime. But now he is free.

And once he arrived home in Mauritania, he could see for the first time what U.S. authorities had done to the descriptions of his internment he had written way back in 2005. That truncated memoir made the New York Times bestseller list. Now, with his editor Larry Siems, Slahi has issued a new edition with the redacted material replaced as Guantánamo Diary: Restored.

He described what return to freedom felt like for the ACLU.

When I wrote the manuscript that became Guantánamo Diary in 2005, I had all but disappeared. I was in an isolation hut, the same one I had been dragged into two years before during my months-long torture. For four years, the U.S. government had shut me up and done the talking for both of us. It told the public false stories connecting me to terrorist plots, and it kept the public from hearing anything from me about my life and how I had been treated.

Writing became a way of fighting the U.S. government’s narrative. I wanted to bring my case directly to the people. I wasn’t sure if the pages I was writing and giving to my lawyers would ever become a book. But I believed in books, and in the people who read them; I always had, since I held my first book as a child. I thought of what it would mean if someone outside that prison was holding a book I had written.

Now, incredibly, I was holding that book myself — though in a censored, broken form. And I was meeting many people who had read it. The first thing many of them asked me was when they would be able to read the book in an uncensored version. ...

Restoring this broken text has been about seeing things that someone wanted hidden. Sometimes that someone was me. When I received the photocopy of my book in Guantánamo I stayed up all night reading it, afraid I had written something I would regret. And yes, there were things that embarrassed me. I was especially ashamed of my habit, when I was young, of making up sarcastic nicknames for people I met. The Jordanian intelligence agent who oversaw my rendition operation was not “Satan,” as I named him in the original manuscript; he is a human being, with a full life and a family. That kind of name-calling is someone I was, not someone I am now.

In that sense, reading what I wrote 12 years ago really is like reading an old diary. Sometimes I’d laugh, and sometimes I got very upset. But mostly I just smiled at my own silliness and learned more about who I was, and who I am.

Amazingly, Slahi is a gentle, even inspiring, writer and his narrative of the U.S. Gulag in Cuba is a strangely uplifting story. If you missed the first, censored, edition, do try this new one. Contrary to what you might expect, you'll come away with more faith in humanity than you brought to reading it.
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