How's that Working Out For You?

In order to translate the core assumptions of collective bargaining for Vietnamese undergraduates, I have had to turn my attention to the way democracy is actually practiced in our own country.

Nov 7, NYTimes calls for Biden — November 16, 2020

Nov 7, NYTimes calls for Biden

The green whiskers are the beginnings of California poppies which appear to be growing despite lack of rain and location atop steep dry stony hills where strong winds blow off the Bay.

The night of November 5, election day, I met Joe down in Fremont. He had just completed four fifths (or actually 13/14ths) of his bike ride around the San Francisco Bay on the Bay Trail. He got a room at the Motel 6 and we turned on our various devices to watch or not watch as the evening passed. Kind of a bomb shelter. But a perfectly nice clean place to sleep and use the internet. He went out and got a bottle of Chardonnay at the Lucky’s and I ordered a pizza from a nearby Indian food pizza place.

No news came in that night.

The next day Joe took off to bike north for his last day, 41 miles, and I went back to Coyote Hills and tried to walk off the tension.

Beautiful, dry landscape. We need our parks desperately. That’s the salt ponds in the distance, marsh reclamation. Drought. Usually at this time of year these hills are emerald green.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday the news drips in. I check the count about once an hour.

Saturday morning, the NYTimes calls Biden’s win in Pennsylvania which gives him the Electoral College. Then Arizona and Nevada. Dancing in the streets in Philadelphia and Berkeley. A celebration taking place down at the fountain near us.

Cars honking, kids out in the fountain circle, the toxic venom begins to drain away. Take a deep breath.

Joe goes to a count every vote demo in San Francisco. it turns into a celebration.

The Grand Theater at Lake Merrit posted “Your FIRED” on the Marquee.

There was real live danvingh in the street around Lake Merritt. So much so that we drove over ther to see it and found ourselves in a traffic jam like nothing I’ve ever seen, but all honking, costumes, music everywhere.

And then things get back to normal. Biden won the presidency but the Democrats lost seats in the House and will have to fight in Georgia to win the Senate. On the other hand 74% of the Our Revolution candidates, all over the country (that’s Bernie’s organization) won their races. In the City of Detroit, Biden got 92% of the vote, which is kind of amazing to even hear about — that’s the margin by which he won Michigan. In other words, where the progressive left candidates ran on a clearly left basis, we won. Where the Democrats won on a soft, Obama-type basis, they lost.

So here in Berkeley we can go back to playing music in the sun for our neighbors.

Joe quits, I go missing — September 17, 2020

Joe quits, I go missing

Joe wrote this to his various email correspondents:

Friends, comrades, fellow workers,
I am writing this note to all those I have been working with on my various projects up to the present. There are too many just now and I am feeling overwhelmed, probably exacerbated by the COVID restrictions, the wildfire smoke, the continuing crisis in my union, a lack of proper exercise, and the general instability of our world just now (not to mention incipient fascism, impending economic depression, continuing “law enforcement” murders, etc.). 
Therefore, I have decided to take at least a month to radically cut back to these few tasks:
1. Finishing the book with Helena Worthen, (working title: The Fifth Transition: A Strategy for the Contingent Faculty Movement)
2. Keeping up with COCAL UPDATES, the news aggregator I have done for 20 years. (This means reading my email, but deleting lots.)
3. Maintaining the Labor For Bernie Bay Area list and periodic news messages, with my valued partner Larry Hendel.
4. Planning and executing the long-delayed ride around the Bay following the nearly-completed Bay Trail on my bike. This last, of course, depends on both the climate/weather/wildfires cooperating and the reopening post COVID of hotels, campgrounds and eateries. I will be sending out an itinerary to my friends who bicycle with an invitation to join me on all or part of the ride. If you want to get it, just reply to this email.
5. More regular exercise and recreation (yoga, biking, walking, personal bodily and psychological maintenance) and some socializing with old and new friends and family.
I apologize in advance for the inevitable inconvenience this will cause my many “partners in crime”.  What follows is a hopefully-complete list of the projects I will be absent from for this duration. I thank in advance all those who will inevitably have to perform the tasks that I will not for this period.
AFT 2121 Exec Bd rep for retirees Affirmative /Action Task Force and “white guys” affinity group AFT 2121R secretary Informal working group on taxes work on Prop 15, 16 and 22 and candidate campaigns
other ad hoc subgroups in and around Local 2121 and Local 2121 R
Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) International Advisory Committee
New Faculty Majority Board and various subgroups thereof
East Bay Democratic Socialists of America Labor Committee (and the education subcommittee thereof) Emergency Worker Organizing Committee Higher Educators United coalition
Various writing, editing and reviewing projects
Thanks to you all in advance. I am trying today and tomorrow to wrap up the essential loose ends before my partial “exit”. I realize this a largely a problem of my own creation and I am finally deciding to attempt to take some action to correct it. I expect that, when I return, it will be in a better state of mind than when you last encountered me. I certainly hope so. Feel free to share this with relevant folks I may have missed.
In solidarity,
Joe

I go missing

https://images.app.goo.gl/r9pvo2MjrBLovJFS8

It was definitely related to the COVID-19 thingie which has been going on for seven months now, but then the wildfires and the black sky and the evil air were really too much. Of course that’s nothing compared to places where people are actually getting burned up. And it’s nothing compared to Chernobyl (a name that kept coming into my mind as I started to lose it this week) or Sudan, or Katrina (would I have broken through the roof of my house in the 9th ward and waved for someone in a boat or a helicopter to come pick me up?), nothing! Or all those migrants on boats trying to get from Libya to Malta.

Do most kids who try to imagine who they would be in a different time Egypt, the Pharoahs, for example) imagine they were princesses? Or do they picture themselves on an overloaded boat in the Mediterranean?

So I was trying to sew a pair of black linen pants. I ordered the linen from StoneMountain Daughter, 2 yards at $23 per yard, Venice Black. It said “wash cold hang dry,” but nothing I wear doesn’t go through the hot and the dryer at some point, so I always wash cloth before I sew it. It turned out that it sure did have a lot of filler and clogged up the drain, but that was OK.

I cut the pattern and made adjustments. I filled a new bobbin. My sewing machine is my grandmother’s, 1926 or earlier; a Singer, totally good machine but it doesn’t sew backwards. No problem.

The washed and dried linen, it turned out, was very hairy. It stuck in the bobbin. Also, I had the wrong thread. But nevertheless. I sewed. Tuesday, Wednesday. The problem with black is that with a hazy sky, there’s not enough light to really see what you’re doing. Also, I’m 76 years old and my eyesight is not magnificent. Also, I’m sewing with black thread on black linen. Furthermore, one thing I like to do with pants and many other items is French seams — you first sew it one way, then you reverse it and sew the seam the other way so that the raw edge is inside. That helps if you intend to put it all in the wash some day. But which is the right side and which is the wrong side? And I also like inseam pockets, which requires a certain amount of thinking ahead.

So a pair of pants that should have taken an hour to cut and an hour to sew were well into 6 hours this afternoon of the second day. And I began to have thoughts like this:

If I were the Queen of England, I wouldn’t be doing this. I would have someone else do it for me.

If I were the Queen of England, or maybe what if I am actually the Queen of England, and they haven’t notified me?

Or maybe I’m just Meghan married to Henry, right, and they haven’t notified me?

That’s Trump, who is messing with the Post Office, and he’s doing it again, that’s why I haven’t gotten my notification.

At this point I began to have a little critical distance on my thought process.

But still, given the pandemic and the wildfires, it didn’t seem altogether like such a terrible idea. So I went with it. What’s the problem, here? Mistaken identity!! They think I’m Helena Worthen trying to sew a pair of linen pants, and having to take out a whole goddamn seam that I sewed back to front or back to back, but actually I’m British royalty.

Who can I tell about this? Who can I confide in? Who can I trust? Not Joe. He wouldn’t want to be married to British Royalty. He didn’t even want to be married to someone who owns a house!! (He has calmed down about that.) So who can I tell about who I truly am, but just haven’t been notified? Can I tell the kids? The son in LA wouldn’t care; sounds like more responsibility, actually. Daughter might want more details if it involves dragons. Grandkids might enjoy it — but practically speaking, what does it involve? Any nice property? How far away? Does it have internet?

So actually, if I’m here in Berkeley on day two of trying to sew a pair of black linen pants while I’m actually British Royalty gone missing, it’s just one step from mistaken identity to joining the Witness Protection Service and really go missing. In fact, if I remember correctly, WPS comes with a ticket out of California to some Dream Vacation Location like Chicago where there are no wildfires, yet. The house two down from us in Chicago, on Flournoy, for example, was definitely a Witness Protection housing joint. I explored it one late afternoon while it was still under construction — five stories, huge master bedroom and big bathroom, deep garage for multiple vehicles. When they finished the construction it got locked up tight, no more exploring, you couldn’t see in anywhere, tight as a drum. No windows into the garage. A camera looking at me.

Then two giant tractor trailer trucks arrived with furniture from Marshall Fields and it all got loaded in in one day, everything from sofas to drapes to light fixtures. Then it shut back down again for a couple of months until Columbus Day when there was an Italian-American festival on the street and a big family came out and sat on the steps and everyone waved. They didn’t mingle, though. Then they went back in and locked the doors.

That’s the life for me.

Permanent crises — September 10, 2020

Permanent crises

Not good. This is what the sky looked like at 10 am Wednesday the 9th.

Chernobyl, volcanos, etc.

Sunday it was up over 100 degrees. I could not think. Brains are protein and cook. It was too hot to wear a metal necklace. Many things that needed doing did not get done. Then this morning it was cold. I had to turn the furnace on and put on warm socks.

Went outside to pick up newspaper and looked back in

Meanwhile in Rochester, New York, a mentally ill Black man ran down the street naked. He was grabbed by cops who hooded him with a “spit hood” like in the Abu Graib photos, and killed him. After that, protestors kneeled naked in the street (the photos show Black and white people) and the Chief of police resigned, as did the next in command. The Mayor supported the protests.

Both the climate crisis and the mounting protests are apparently permanent things that we live with now. And then there’s COVID-19. The fires will burn as long as there’s fuel, the protests will continue until we either win or lose, and COVID will eventually reach everyone unless everyone quarantines so that it has no place to jump. Our granddaughter who is living in a sorority house at San Diego State has tested positive, by the way — so has her whole house, and so has her boyfriend’s fraternity.

This came up because our book has now been in the hands of Pluto Press for 6 months and there’s been various kinds of COVID-related postponements and promises. Joe said, “Things are pretty unstable and so it’s hard to plan.” He was referring, it turns out, to his bike ride around the Bay. I thought he was referring to the book. But “unstable” also meant, at least at the start of our conversation, the weather and the political moment. On the contrary. They are neither of them unstable. Permanent continuous variation is stable. The climate crisis is permanent. We are in it. The political moment, related to our human use of each other and our planet, is permanent, too. Our vulnerability to pandemics is permanent.

Permanent, but also rising: the climate crisis and the political conflict are getting more intense. They will not be settled by the election. Best case scenario, we will win and then the climate change will continue and the protests will pause briefly and then swing back up. Worst case, etc etc. the same, but with no pause.

If I did a 360 degree circle around my friends, I’d say staying in touch is the main thing that is going on. And hoping. And reading the news, which comes in increasingly incomprehensible (or too comprehensible) chunks. A very weird ad in the SF Chronicle, apparently purchased by an elderly couple who live around here, urges people to refrain from using the post office during the run up to the election, so that ballots can go through, and also that we should raise an army of volunteer mail sorters.

We’re preparing a reading group plan for DSA about organizing in the 1930s; a friend of mine asked, “Why not Germany in the 1930s?”

But there is still food:

The above, first steamed together then served with rice, and then spun up as soup the next day with salt and cream, makes a great meal.

Thinking about who is on which side, as these protests spread. How about the sufferers? The detained immigrant families, the men and women in prison? Are they part of the protests? Certainly — suffering is protest that is below one’s ability to express it or act upon it.

It was Wednesday so we showed up at 6 pm for The Wave. It was so dark that people arrived with flashlights and iphones burning. It must have lightened up a bit for this picture. Note down jackets, two days after we were boiling hot.

Wildfires, protests — September 1, 2020

Wildfires, protests

Since I wrote last, wildfires have started. Wildfire season used to be October, by the way, not August. We actually didn’t used to call it wildfire season.

The coastal mountains near Santa Cruz — where we were last time I wrote — started burning, not because the electricity-bearing PG&E utility wires blew down and sparked fires, but because of dry lightning that came from the edge a giant storm out in the Pacific. That fruit stand, Swanton’s, that I showed in my last post, gets its strawberries from fields that workers tried to save from smoke damage by covering them with tarps. There were also fires to the north, same cause. That meant that the air in the Bay Area went dark and stinky. We were all checking purpleair.com several times a day to see how bad it was.

We spent two days in the mountains south of Tahoe. This is what the Central Valley looked like coming down out of the mountains: Pink with smoke.

There are also the battles in Portland, Oregon between protestors and federal police. This has been going on for weeks now. Then a Black man named Jacob Blake was shot in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, leaving him paralyzed and prompting mass demonstrations. In the midst of one of these, a white 17-year old name Kyle Rittenhouse, carrying a long gun, ran through the crowd shooting and killed two people and wounded others.

https://www.usatoday.com/videos/news/nation/2020/08/31/kenosha-protest-shooting-what-we-know-shooter-kyle-rittenhouse/3446458001/

My original question was, would we be able to deal with the climate crisis without shifting to an authoritarian regime? Could we get there and still be a democracy? The answer so far appears to be no, but what we’re seeing may just be what the path ahead looks like, with the outcome still undecided. Bernie didn’t get the nomination, which would have given us a legitimate way to make the necessary changes. Instead, Biden did, and he won’t do what’s necessary unless he’s pushed, so the pressure to change the way this country works has moved, as they say, “down-ballot,” meaning to local races, or within the Biden campaign to fighting for issues on the Party platform, appointments, etc.

Many people, myself included, believe it goes without saying that Trump if he is defeated will not leave the Presidency voluntarily; that he will dispute the election in every way possible. Therefore, on the path from here to there, there are going to be protests, disturbances in the streets, more shootings, more gatherings of protestors on both sides and battles in key cities, as the sides gather their forces. Down-ballot in the electoral process means city councils, regional agencies, courts, etc. Down-ballot in the streets means more demonstrations and counter-demonstrations.

Beach — August 13, 2020

Beach

We broke out of shelter-in-place and went to Santa Cruz and points south for a few days.  On the board walk were these guys:

SCfatboys

These are not the high school kids who are in desperate need of connecting with each other.  These are old beach bums.

Other than that, the sand and water were a great rest for the eyes.  Last time we were in this water it was at Vung Tau.

sc beach nopeople

And in Watsonville, where the Pajaro river comes down from the Coast Range carrying  light rich soil down to form the miles of level fields that encroach on the Pacific edge. That’s where strawberries, cabbage, and artichokes grow.  This slough was saved from developers; just barely.

SC slough

This enormous mansion overlooked those fields. This is just west of Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.

SChotel

And across a frontage road this monster is rising– what is it? A convention center?

SC house

Heading north on Highway 1, marvelous beaches invisible from the road.  It was Saturday so you could see cars parked — so what are all these people interested in?  We go look.

SC shark

Pretty good social distancing, it looks like.  And a field  of lilies near Half Moon Bay:

SC lilies

Swanton’s, which has a contract with the UFWs where you can get a union strawberry!!

SC swantoninside

And so we return to Berkeley, where we find out that Kamala Harris is the VP pick — a good thing, quite a relief for me.  She’s a fighter, very ambitious, smart, good-looking and can get nasty when necessary.  She’s someone you can get behind.  I am relieved.

But I also listened to a podcast that gamed out what the Republicans might do leading up to the election and between the election and the inauguration.  The assumption is that Trump won’t accept the results if he doesn’t actually win.  One possibility is that he’ll just declare victory no matter what, and defend it, using his “base” — which is very armed.  Another is that if the Trump administration has to leave the government, it will do scorched earth: destroy all documents, hard drives, furniture, etc.  This seemed to shock the interviewer. However, it’s what the leadership of IBT 743 did when it had to clear out and let the newly elected leadership move in.  So you can learn from the labor movement, as it were.

 

8 minutes and 46 seconds at McDonalds — July 26, 2020

8 minutes and 46 seconds at McDonalds

Demonstration at McDonalds last week, part of the nationwide Strike for Black Lives, that includes healthcare workers, fast food workers, “essential workers” of all sorts. McDonald’s has not provided adequate PPE for workers and many have gotten COVID-19.

 

Joe went to this demo and took photos;

MCKnees,bikes

People are kneeling for the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that it took for Derek Chauvin to kill George Floyd. This is now an essential part of a demonstration.

The McDonalds was actually closed:

Mc 3

 

Mc 6

MC 4

MC 5

Why Vermont is safe — July 21, 2020

Why Vermont is safe

https://www.jamaicavermont.org/

As you know from previous posts on this blog, we have a house in a small bump-in-the-road village in Vermont.  Actually, there is not even a bump.  We tried to get a stop sign, so that logging trucks coming down the mountain would have to at least slow down as they go through the village, but the State Department of Transportation gave us a painted crosswalk instead, which soon was erased by traffic in the summer and snowplows in the winter.

The purpose of this blog entry is to explain to the many people from East Coast city environments who want to move to Vermont what “safe” actually means.

Safe because it’s poor, and thinly populated for the same reason

No doubt, Vermont has few COVID 19 cases.  This message from the  local hospital 9 miles away in Townshend explains the situation:

Welcome

So even with the spikes in Londonderry and up on Stratton Mountain, it’s pretty safe. But why?  Why is Vermont “safe”?  Because this little hospital  has great equipment, plenty of ventilators, high-tech doctors, etc?  No. (It happens to be the smallest hospital in the United Sates.)  Because Vermont has Medicare-for-All? (Not yet. It passed– Act 48 — but the Governor who had signed it, did not fund it.) Vermont is safe because it is poor and thinly populated, and those two are related.

Yes, it is beautiful, as the tourist industry has made sure everyone knows.  Summer people love the clean rivers and cool nights. Ski people love the mountains and the snow. In between, people who live there all year round try to make a living off “outsiders” who bring in money. In the meantime, Vermonters do a lot of bartering and helping each other out. Food banks are important.  Second hand shops are all over. Please note that the Grace Cottage Hospital link above not only talks reassuringly about the current case situation but also promotes an online auction to raise money.  Last year they raised enough money to buy another hospital bed. So the people fleeing the pandemic in New York where nearly 23,000 people have died are coming to a place where the regional hospital holds an auction (of old furniture,mostly — “antiques”) to buy one hospital bed. Think about it.

“Hard to get to” is why it’s so great once you’re there

Our kids always stress out a lot when we try to get them to come to the old family  home with its barn, sunny deck, large mowed yard, apple trees, well water, sumptuous fresh vegetables, dirt roads to bike on, quiet lakes, clean rivers, waterfalls, swimming holes with nobody in sight, etc etc.  Why do they stress? Because, best case scenario, it is hard to get to.  From the Bay Area if you fly Southwest you have to change in Chicago or St. Louis. Because of the time change you have to leave at 4 in the morning or earlier, and BART doesn’t run that early so you have to take a Lyft or a cab which basically adds another $60 to the price of your ticket. Then you sugar up on muffins and coffee at the airport and sit in a cramper and eat those awful pretzels for 5 hours while you pass over some of the most depressing wild deserts imaginable and think about climate change.  Then comes Midway, if you’re lucky, because there’s a place at Midway to buy Greek food, but that’s followed by arriving late afternoon at Hartford followed by paying at least $100 to a friend from the village to come pick you up and drive you north another 2 or 3 hours.

That’s right, someone has to pick you up because there are no buses into Vermont from the airport.  The only way to get even near by bus is if you fly into Boston on a red-eye and rush to get a once-a-day bus, and that will take you to Keene, New Hampshire and then you’re still nowhere near.  Train? You can take a train to Chicago from Berkeley and get a sleeper, which is great, but once you’re in Chicago the train to Boston is grungy, takes surprisingly long, and you’ve still got to find someone to pick you up at the stop at Windsor Falls, near Hartford.

In other words, even Southern Vermont, which is the more civilized part of Vermont, is hard to get to unless you are driving yourself.  Going up further north?  The Northeast Kingdom might as well be Canada.  Getting from our home to Burlington, which isn’t all the way north, takes about 6 hours, the first hour and a half involves going over Putney Mountain, harpin curves and sometimes pulling off the road to let someone else go by the other direction.

But the main question is, what about Internet?

So people from New York and up and down the East Coast, who can drive to Vermont on their own in just a few hours, are thinking, “Fresh air and cheap real estate? Hardly any cases of COVID-19?We work at home anyway, so why not? Let’s just move to Vermont!”

And then they ask about internet. Can they reliably get on zoom and carry out their stock brokering, their retail, their medical practice, their therapy or yoga practice, their international conferencing, etc. just like they could at home in New Jersey??

Along with being wild, full of fresh air, clean rivers, etc., Vermont also does not have a whole lot of people living there year-round. Nor do the people who live there year round use the internet a whole lot. There is talk about the “last mile” projects — getting services out to people who are living in remote farms on dirt roads that see traffic once a week, where the RR Postal Service leaves the mail in a box two or three miles from the house.  (Should point out that austerity cuts to the PO have reduced even that service; the PO in our town is now open only very weird hours — like 9 am to 10:30 and then closed for two hours and opening again after lunch, which makes is hard for the postal clerk to plan her day.) “Last mile” service sounds good but the Consolidated Communications is a private business and the cost of ‘last mile” way exceeds the $30 a month or so that someone would be willing to pay for what basically means using Facebook as an email service. Towns, for example, don’t normally have websites.  They may have a Facebook page.  Some towns get grants from a foundation to have town meetings videoed.

I am getting questions from potential renters about how responsive is Consolidated Communications if you have a problem. ConComm, which is based in Mattoon, Illinois, took over Fairpoint a couple of years ago.  CC does actually have customer service people staffing the phones in Vermont, which is great.  But they are now being hit by people who suddenly want to move to Vermont and work on line and want hundreds of MBPS bandwidth. This is a shock. CC did not read the news coming out of Wuhan in February and think, “Wow, now everyone in New York is going to want to move to Vermont so we’ve got to staff up.”  Yes, fiberoptic was supposedly installed (strung?) along Route 30 a few years ago.  This did make a difference for us, at least in certain rooms of the house.  I could suddenly use WhatsApp.  But despite many books with whole chapters about pandemics and magazine articles about the relationship of climate change to disease vectors, nobody said, “Sheltering in place means working from home means decreased need for proximity to job locations which means moving somewhere safe and cheap which equals VERMONT! which means increased need for internet in Vermont!”

When I started getting VRBO inquiries back in May  I called CC to get my internet service upgraded and the earliest date possible was mid-July.  A month and a half waiting list. Turns out there is only a total amount of bandwidth available in our part of Vermont. The customer service rep explains it this way: “It’s like a parking lot. When it’s full and there are no more spaces, no one can come in.  You have to wait until someone comes out. And no one is coming out these days.”  

What about other problems that can happen?

Of course, internet depends on electricity just like our bodies depend on water, and anything involving electricity depends on wires coming from a power station.  That means not only your clocks, your lights, and your internet but your well, too. It is likely that there will be a big storm. That’s how water gets here in the summer and snow gets here in the winter.  Climate change is bringing bigger and bigger storms, we know that — our village lost four houses right in the village during the Hurricane Irene flood.  So in a big storm, think about this.  Route 30 sounds like a big highway, right? It’s a two-lane asphalt road overhung with old maples.  In a big storm, it’s highly likely that somewhere between Brattleboro and Manchester, the two big towns about 60 miles apart, a tree will fall on the road and take down the telephone poles that carry the wires that bring electricity and other “services” to the village.  No, we do not have undergrounded utilities. This is not a nice leafy suburb.  Maybe a few years from now, when the  property taxes rise to match the new prices that New Yorkers are paying (and they start paying Vermont state income taxes, too), we’ll do some more undergrounding so that the electricity doesn’t go out every times there’s a storm.  But for now, a typical windstorm will rip out some ancient maple and smack it down across the road and if you’re lucky, it will not hit your car.

So who responds when a tree falls and the electricity (and your internet) goes out?  Eventually, a sheriff will show up with a blinking blue light.  After a while, the power company will send a truck and some guys with yellow vests to try to pull the pole back up and string up the wires.  They may have to come from New Hampshire or even Massachusetts. Some of their crews are probably busy already elsewhere. They are very competent but they don’t hurry.  And they have to come over a mountain which may not be in good shape itself, with more fallen trees.

But the first people on the scene are going to be nearby farmers with tractors and chain saws to get rid of the tree and haul away the logs.  Or they might be the next person who comes along, who will probably be (if it’s not some software engineer from New York who is frantically pumping his phone to fin out what’s going on) a local who will have at least an ax in the back of his pickup, and probably a chain to haul things with.  These guys all know each other and have done this many times before.  But they are not official, they are not tax-funded, and you can’t get mad at them. They are what’s “responsive” in Vermont.

Oh, about cell service

While you’re waiting in your car for these guys (maybe women, too, actually) to clear the road, you may find that you’re in a place between towns (or in some towns, actually ) where there is no cell service so you can’t get on your phone and complain about what’s going on to someone who lives in a less benighted part of the country where they may die of COVID-19 but at least they have  cell service. Townshend, for example, does not have cell service, last time I looked.  and in our town the only cell service is through Verizon because Verizon rents out the church steeple for a cell tower. That’s a substantial part of the church budget right there.

By the way, “responsive” during Hurricane Irene meant that a couple of guys from the village got into their excavators and basically tore apart the flooded river and built a new road with the water running all over them. There were people stranded on the wrong side of the river during that storm.  They appreciated the responsiveness.

Don’t misunderstand me

I am not trying to get people to not come to Vermont. We need the rent money. The town needs the income from people buying pine cone Christmas wreaths, maple syrup, cheese and patchwork aprons.  They also need to have all these old farmhouses and village homes that have been on the market for years without selling, to get them sold and fixed up and lived in so that the village can start collecting the property taxes and business license taxes. Maybe someone will buy that old B&B and fix it up!  The old fire station that’s been sitting empty for 20 years — wouldn’t that make a great house!  Maybe with more money coming in, the village will be able to afford a town municipal water system!  That’s right — the village is running on septic tanks; that’s why there aren’t any restaurants right on the main street. No restrooms, no restaurant.

But people who come to Vermont thinking that they are basically moving to a nicer part of their home city, with all the conveniences of a city without the density that means that you’re exposed to COVID — big hospitals, plenty of beds, shopping, internet, a power grid with backups, post offices open all day, actual police officers, a choice of gas stations and shops, etc etc — if we had that, we wouldn’t be someplace you’d want to come.

Black Lives Matter come to Vermont, too

Vermont and Iowa are the two whitest states in the union. (Our significant Abenaki population looks white to people like me; so does our Quebecois population which was not considered white back in the day).  Nonetheless, Black Lives Matter has made it to Vermont.  Note the reason given in this report from the Digger for not allowing a Black Lives Matter message to be written in chalk on the Route 30 bridge:  “We’ve got people in this town who spend a lot of time and energy trying to beautify the town, and trying to keep it looking like a small Vermont town,”

Black Lives Matter art on Jamaica bridge spurs VTrans policy change

So one of the features of a small Vermont town is no recognition of racism; racism, like good internet, being a feature of cities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truck Fire — July 19, 2020

Truck Fire

fire-3

This seemed to pretty much say it all about what’s going on here now. I can’t resist another photo:

Fire 4

We were on our way to Los Angeles to deliver a grandson to his cousins’ house for a bit of variety during the pandemic shutdown.  We went down I-5 and then up the Grapevine over the Tehachapi Mountains, a long slow climb where there are signs every few miles warning about overheating engines. There are some radiator water access stops.  This was just after we got over the top.

At rest stops along the way we saw social distancing in the parking lots — every other space — and in the restrooms, and on women and children. The only unmasked people were middle-aged white men, walking around fairly aggressively with chins down and big bellies fronted in their USA T-shirts. 

There is a child whom I meet sometimes on walk, a girl about 4 or 5 years old.  She is always with her two young parents. She calls out to me across the street and says hello and seems desperate to talk to someone.  I asked her if she had anyone to play with.  No, she says. The need to get kids back into play is urgent.

The teachers union in Los Angeles (UTLA) has put out an 11-page statement of what they need in order to get the schools open. An article in the LondonReview of Books explains the difference between a technological approach to  the pandemic (vaccines, ventilators)  and a community medicine barefoot doctor approach. The former won’t work. Human beings, it turns out, don’t keep the antibodies in our systems.  Meanwhile, places like Vietnam have stopped the virus, or at least have no deaths. 

The Department of Homeland Security has apparently sent troops in to put down the demonstrations in Portland, Oregon.  The Governor did not call them in and wants them out. 

While it’s not as visually arresting as a truck fire, here is a segment from the 1950’s TV show, the Sid Caesar Show. About minute 4:15 where they’re talking about how to raise money for fixing up playgrounds there’s an explanation of what caused the 2008 crash:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Play vs no play — June 28, 2020

Play vs no play

It’s summer, schools no longer sending out lessons, and kids are starting to run out patience with being cooped up. Also, they miss each other. Small pods of them are starting to show up in parks.

I was up in Cordonices Park today, a beautiful park with a large flat grassy picnic area bordered by a large oak and bay tree-lined hillside riddled with dirt paths. Long flights of stairs climb up the hill. Down at the bottom, a natural creek runs out of a pool under a waterfall.

Kids running all over the place. These are 6-8 year olds (I asked). Certain amount of social distancing going on. One or two maybe wearing masks. Moms down near the creek, looking up to try to follow the little bodies as they scramble up and down the hillside paths.

“I guess they’ve gotta get out of the house,”I say.

“It’s not just that,” says the mom. “It’s developmental. They need each other to play with.”

I was also listening to how they were talking to each other. I suddenly realized what was different – I hadn’t heard conversations like this in months. It was like hearing birdsong in the first few weeks of the shutdown — wow, what was that? And then I noticed what they were doing. I’ll just catch the fragments of conversation that I heard:

Three boys: What did your brother say? He’s not my brother. OK, your friend.

Four boys, running: Where’s the base? Back here! Run, he’s already there. We can get across here. You’ll get wet. I don’t care. Come on!

Group of five boys, splitting up as one goes to help another: There’s Eric! he’s coming up. I’ll go help him. Wait for me! Use this (long vine offered down the hillside). Come on. Wait for us!

Four boys: Have you ever been hit in your eye? Anyone? Have you been hit in the eye? (Three boys stand silent listening, awed.) I have been hit in the eye!

This is play, energetic, focused play, no particular scenario, just the hillside with a lot of trees and a tangle of paths. But in the conversations, which came to my ears as something completely new because I haven’t seen anything like it for nearly four months, I saw the negotiation of identity; giving of approval, encouragement, advice; invitation to join, leading a group and telling a personal history. Rapid deployment, testing and passing along of social skills, something that could not be done by a kid alone in a house with a parent, or on line.

Gorgeous oaks that will be here after the virus has gone, and maybe after we’re gone, too. Over 125,000 dead in the US, half a million worldwide, and the spike going up. EU countries are talking about banning travelers who come from the US. We are hearing indirectly about how other countries are viewing us. A friend in Denmark is developing a curriculum about US racism — you mean there’s something special about US racism? It sounds Hmmmm.

Bottom line right now: we assume we and everyone will get it. We expect to survive but aren’t sure about that. We expect that a vaccine will be developed but that getting it will not be decided fairly. Access to it will be decided by who can pay for it. If you are expendable (people in nursing homes on Medicare, prisoners) you will be last in line. If you are an “essential” worker you will find out what is meant by “essential.” Does it mean that the economy depends on your work? What if there are other people who can do your work if you aren’t available? Is it you or your labor that is essential? Slaves on sugar plantations in the Caribbean had a life expectancy of 3 years. They were replaceable but as time went on they got more and more expensive.

Time to read Black Jacobins which has been on my book pile for months. I am highly recommending Little Fires Everywhere, incidentally, the TV series with Reese Witherspoon, which is better than the book. And for looking into the future, Supernova Era by Liu Cixin.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/nov/14/the-supernova-era-cixin-liu-review

The reason for reading Liu Cixin is because the picture of what the world would look like if it was run by 13 year olds is not pretty. Readers can draw their own parallels. But the the thirteen year olds he is describing are ones that were provided with standard if not elite educations, not kids packed into bedrooms or apartments for months at a time with no opportunity to learn to play together except on video games where they shoot each other.

Juneteenth in Oakland, retail social distancing and BLM in a nearby park — June 19, 2020

Juneteenth in Oakland, retail social distancing and BLM in a nearby park

Big march in Oakland

In honor of Juneteenth the ILWU has shut down the ports on the West Coast and there is a Black Lives Matter march from the Port of Oakland into central downtown. Thousands of people, as far as I could see. Very much in the spirit of Occupy.

Behind the signs you can just barely see the crowd coming down off the bridge over the freeway.

It’s possible that I should not have jumped out of my car and gone and stood in the middle of the march to take these photos, even though I had my mask on. I was in and out quick, though.

ON my way back into Berkeley I listened to a KPFA interview with people in the new Autonomous Zone around the Capitol in Seattle: after 4 or 5 days of intense police intervention, the police suddenly went away; they have now had two days of a full-scale Occupy, with food, music, medical supplies, meetings, etc. The interviews said that the local merchants are letting people use bathrooms, charging their phones, and putting out tables on the street to serve food. They also mentioned the transmission of experience from Occupy veterans to new young people who were saying, “What do we do next?” And how fast things fell into place.

A good job of retail social distancing

By comparison, here is what it looks like at the entrance to ACE Pastime Hardware on San Pablo Avenue. There is a big guy standing at the front entrance checking to make sure everyone is wearing a mask. He asks you if you know what you are going to buy. You say yes and he asks you what, and he tells you where it is so you can just go straight there — “Aisle 28, then Aisle 42” – and get your item out to the checkout counter. No browsing.

I’m posting this because of my friend in Pennsylvania, where Governor Tom Wolf apparently said that he didn’t think masks really made a difference. They are in the “green phase” or re-opening. My friend works at a big grocery store and has been posted at the door to persuade people coming in to wear masks. She says that about 20% of them refuse and some get angry at her.

BLM in our neighborhood park

Apparently earlier this week a group of young Black girls, belonging to a club where they learn rock climbing, came to the park in our very white neighborhood to train. They were shouted at by a wandering woman and called racist names. This is a park with a big rock and people come from all over the Bay Area to climb it. Someone overheard the woman yelling and sent out a message on various neighborhood lists. The immediate result has been a small vigil which will be followed this afternoon by a neighborhood meeting. In the photos below, the orange tape fence has been up there for 13 weeks now, to prohibit anyway from climbing. It has now been ignored -for the last 4 weeks – except for when someone decides that the wrong people are climbing.

The background issue is the whiteness of the hill neighborhoods, dating back to the redlining of the whole East Bay.

https://www.berkeleyside.com/2018/09/20/redlining-the-history-of-berkeleys-segregated-neighborhoods

What is really different right now is that it is totally normal for people in our neighborhood to object to someone (even someone who is probably in need of mental health assistance) calling out racist remarks. A month ago that behavior might have been tossed off, with “Oh, she’s just another nutcase.” Now, it causes a neighborhood meeting.

On top of the suggestions for a meeting come suggestions (from Joe) about changing the actual demographics of the neighborhood by building or otherwise creating low-income housing, co-op or halfway housing, etc.

The actual meeting today

There must have been 150 people there. From all over the different neighborhoods around here.

Hard to get a picture because they were social distancing. But this kind of thing has never happened before. “This is something different,” everyone is saying.