Citizen Science

The incoming administration has not shown a great deal of interest in climate change or in science generally so it is up to those of us who care to do our part.  We can contribute to worthy organizations.  We can participate in protests against fracking and building more pipelines.  And we can submit observations to organizations that depend on Citizen Science.

I think we have all heard of the canary in the coal mine, but patterns of bird migration are also signs of change.  This will be the 4th winter my husband and I have participated in Feeder Watch.  Before that, we reported for the Christmas Day Count and other particular days.  If you live in the United States or in Canada and have at least one bird feeder, you can sign up for a modest cost and report the birds that come visit.  It is pretty simple.  Sign-up and you get a packet that explains what to do and how to report. Pick two consecutive days a week and report through the winter.

A Tufted Titmouse at one of our feeder a few winters ago.

A Tufted Titmouse at one of our feeder a few winters ago.

But what if you don’t have a feeder or live in the US or Canada?  Regardless of where you live you can report what you see on eBird.  I report birds we see on walks and when we travel as well as bird during Feeder Watch.  When we started, I could tell Blue Jays and Cardinals from House Sparrows, but saw many birds I couldn’t identify.   Gradually, you can learn who almost everyone is – even the same individual who comes often to the feeder.  Feeder Watch provides a helpful chart of common birds and Cornell University has a great online ID program.

If you are like me and feeling depressed about the results of the recent election, take some positive action and sign up for Feeder Watch.

 

 

Reflections Post-Election Day Two

I’ve calmed down a little but the numbness hasn’t gone away yet.  I’m not sure what Trump really believes since he really doesn’t have any policy positions.  Plus, he was a Democrat until pretty recently.  Either he will implement policies that are contrary to almost everything I believe or he will be disappointing his voters.  But that is in the future.  For now, I’d like to analyze my own party.

Bernie Sanders speaks near Hillary Clinton

Bernie Sanders speaks near Hillary Clinton

Bottom line:  I think they should have nominated Bernie.

This will annoy all my women (and some men) who supported Hillary Clinton from the beginning and who were really invested in seeing a women be elected President.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’d love to live long enough to see a woman elected, but I was never sure Clinton was the right candidate.  OK.  Maybe this is sour grapes, but I’m not the only one who thinks that Bernie could have won.  The best analysis I’ve seen so far is by Fredrik deBoer in the Washington Post.

Donald Trump’s stunning victory is less surprising when we remember a simple fact: Hillary Clinton is a deeply unpopular politician. She won a hotly contested primary victory against a uniquely popular candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders. In her place, could he have beaten Trump?

That Clinton has unusually high unfavorables has been true for decades. Indeed, it has been a steady fact of her political life. She has annually ranked among the least-liked politicians on the national stage since she was the first lady. In recent years, her low favorability rating was matched only by that of her opponent, animated hate Muppet Donald Trump. In contrast, Sanders enjoys very high popularity, ranking as the most popular senator for two years in a row. Nationally, his favorability rating is more than 10 points higher than Clinton’s, and his unfavorability rating is more than 15 points lower. This popularity would have been a real asset on the campaign trail.

deBoer points out that Bernie’s big primary wins were in the Rust Belt, most notably Michigan.

But turnout matters in a close election, and here she suffered significantly compared with President Obama in both 2008 and 2012. In Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties in Michigan, the heart of Detroit’s black voting bloc, Clinton won 55 percent of the vote — compared with 69 percent for Obama in 2012. Meanwhile, it was in Michigan that Sanders won his most shocking primary victory, probably through the same forces that hurt Clinton on Election Day: Her agenda did not seem to offer much hope to those hurt by deindustrialization and outsourcing. We can only guess how much better he might have performed there, or in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (which he also won in a surprising primary upset) had he been the nominee. But there is little doubt now that his success in the Rust Belt was a canary in the coal mine for the Clinton campaign, a now-obvious sign that she was in trouble.

deBoer goes on to analyze image, something I had never thought of doing.  It is true that Bill and Hillary Clinton are very tied to the Eastern elite – or if you are on the West Coast, the Hollywood elite – at least in the minds of many voters.

If Clinton’s campaign seemed bizarrely pitched toward the interests of those who were always going to vote for her anyway, Sanders was uniquely positioned to reach voters with a different sensibility. In contrast to the millionaire polish of the Clinton camp, Sanders has a somewhat shambolic, grandfatherly presence that conveys an unpretentious and approachable character. Clinton struggled to use Trump’s wealth against him, in large measure because she herself is an immensely wealthy woman. (In fact, she frequently suggested that Trump wasn’t really all that richa ludicrous line of attack from a primary in which Sanders’s play for Nordic-style egalitarian policies won him favor in battleground states such as Pennsylvania.) Sanders would have been able to contrast Trump’s ostentatious wealth with his own shabby aesthetic. The message writes itself: Trump talks a good game about economic anxiety, but why would you trust this New York billionaire to put your interests first?

Bernie also had crossover voters which she did not.  Turnout was also an issue.

Indeed, turnout overall was a major problem for the Clinton campaign; though not all votes are yet counted, it’s clear that Clinton received millions fewer votes than Obama in several states, while Trump frequently received more than Mitt Romney did in 2012. Nor did Clinton enjoy the benefits of party crossovers. There was much talk of “Clinton Republicans” who would, in the spirit of the Reagan Democrats, cross party lines to oppose Trump. But according to the exit polling of the New York Times, more Democrats crossed over and voted for Trump than Republicans crossed over and voted for Clinton. Sanders, notably, never had trouble drawing crowds, and in the Democratic primary campaign, turnoutrebounded from 2012 lows. Whether that rebound was a result of voters’ enthusiasm for Sanders or the opposite is hard to say; what’s clear is that Clinton wasn’t able to get out the vote herself and that she lost both Democrats and independents to Trump, while Sanders had notorious luckwith independent voters.

Neither deBoer or I discount the sexist attacks that have dogged her since she was first lady of Arkansas, but if we want to elect a woman, I think we need to find one with less baggage.  None of the many investigations have resulted in any findings or prosecutions, but the sheer number of them led many to think “where there is smoke, there must be fire.”

Of course, we don’t know if Bernie could have actually pulled it off, but given what happened Tuesday and given his primary record, it seems clear he probably would have had a better chance.

There will be years of recriminations in our future. Many Democrats will, as is their habit, conclude that the fault lies with the left wing of the party — that progressive party activists did not sufficiently support the candidate or that leftward attacks weakened Clinton. But that notion hides a simple fact: In an election of immense importance, Democratic leadership and voters rejected a hugely popular candidate in favor of a deeply unpopular one and are now paying the price. Some of us will be asking why for years to come.

Photograph:  Melina Mara/The Washington Post

So what the hell happened?

Everyone was wrong except Donald Trump.  How could that have happened?  I didn’t blog at all during the campaign season because everyone seemed to be writing what I would write, but this post is meant to be therapeutic.

First, let me make it clear that my heart was with Bernie Sanders.  He is my Senator; I like his politics.  But when I voted yesterday I thought it was a vote for the first woman president, Hillary Clinton and that was exciting, but I did wear my pin that said “My heart’s with Bernie, but I’m voting for Hillary”.  So what happened?

I haven’t read any of the papers or clicked on any email or looked at my Facebook feed this morning so this is all my own take:  The Democrats screwed up.  We all knew the country was divided and the election would hinge on turnout, but the Democratic party, as it turns out, did not have a deep bench.  I believe that in nominating a candidate with a lot of baggage, (most of which was not true, but no one could ever convince people of that) we set ourselves up for what happened.  She just couldn’t excite enough people.  Yes, she had a ground game and, yes, she got people out to vote but she lost too many people who got discouraged by various voter suppression rumors and didn’t vote, decided they didn’t like Trump, but didn’t like her either, as well as a fair chunk of Bernie supporters.

Bernie did his best for her, but it just wasn’t enough.  I await the analysis, but based on what I saw last night around midnight, Johnson and Stein took just enough votes for Trump to win in some close races.

I have many friends who were Trump voters, some reluctantly, and to them I say, “have fun trying to actually govern.”  To those who voted third party:  This is why Bernie told you not to do it.

It should be an interesting next few years and I’m back to blogging.

Likable and unlikeable heroes

I’ve spent the first part of the summer reading the John Madden books by Rennie Airth, the first two Inspector Morse books by Colin Dexter, and “The Truth and Other Lies” by Sascha Arango as well as dipping into “Swann’s Way” by Proust.  This reading has gotten me thinking about central characters which in this case all happen to be men.  Why do I like some of them and intensely dislike others?  What makes one continue to read when the “hero” is unlikeable?

A bit about the books first.

Airth

There are four John Madden books.  In the first, “River of Darkness”, Madden is an Inspector with Scotland Yard after World War I when a mass killing of a family.  Only the daughter has survived.  The story, as do all four Airth books, centers around the after effects of war:  the physical and psychological cost to society.  Madden struggles through what we call today, post-dramatic stress, to solve the crime.  We like him for admitting his uncertainties.  In the next three books, Madden has retired from the Yard but finds himself involved nonetheless.  These are complex stories set in the 1930s, during WWII and after WWII.  I first read them a number of years ago and re-read them this summer and found they lost nothing during the second read.  In fact, they have much to say about how we treat our veterans today.

I became addicted to “Endeavor ” on Masterpiece Mystery this summer.  There was something appealing about the very young Inspector Morse.  He comes across as smart, brave, and somewhat of an oddity on the Oxford police force.  Never having read anything by Colin Dexter, I started reading the Inspector Morse books from the beginning.  Much to my surprise, Morse is arrogant, treats his subordinates badly, and is obsessed with sex and pornography.  OK.  Perhaps I exaggerate, but just a little.  He is not the likable Endeavor Morse at any rate.  But the stories are great puzzles full of red herrings and false paths and I did enjoy going down them with Morse.

Finally, there is Sascha Arango’s “The Truth and Other Lies”.  This is a German mystery.  The translation made the 2015 New York Times 100 Notable Books list and I read it for my book group, Malice on Main.  The central character, Henry Hayden, lives a totally manufactured life.  He uses people and then seems to rid himself of them when they become inconvenient or no longer useful.  He is totally unlikeable and I almost couldn’t get through it.  If I hadn’t been reading for a discussion, I probably would not have finished it.  I kept hoping he’d get caught and exposed.

As for Proust, I haven’t gotten through enough to decide much except he paints his grandfather as a not very nice man and he appears to have had a very strange boyhood.

I can’t wait for the next John Madden (Airth seems to produce a new book every 5 or 6 years.) in January and I will probably read more about Inspector Morse even if I don’t like him much, but I am very happy to be done with Henry Hayden.  The difference between Morse and Hayden:  Morse may not be someone you want to be friends with but he does want justice for his victims while Hayden cares about no one but himself.

My take on Tim Kaine

In the days leading up to the Democratic VP pick, almost all my Virginia friends were posting on Facebook and hoping Hillary Clinton would pick Tim Kaine.  And after the pick, and particularly after his first speech, we went crazy with sharing our personal stories of our work with Tim over the years.

Tim Kaine

I honestly can’t remember when I first met him.  I think that probably my mother introduced us.  She was very active in the peace and justice community in Richmond for many years as was Tim.  But I really got to know Tim when he was on the board of Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME).  He was also our attorney.  I was working at HOME as the, I think my title was, Enforcement  Coordinator.  My job was to take complaints of housing discrimination and to investigate and try to resolve them.  During my time there I worked on several lawsuits with Tim including one against the largest apartment complex owners.  When I left, HOME was working on cases dealing with mortgage and insurance company redlining.  Working with Tim was wonderful experience.  He prepared meticulously and so we did also.  A few years later, I got the job as the Civil Rights Monitor with the Boston Housing Authority in no small part because of Tim Kaine’s recommendation.  So thank you, Tim.

All this fuss about whether he is progressive enough or not is bunk to those of us who have known him for a long time.  I concede that he is not Bernie or Elizabeth Warren when it comes to banking and financial regulation, but I am willing to bet that he will do his best to make sure that those planks of the Democratic platform become law.  Other than that, I’m not really sure why Bernie Sanders can say Tim’s politics are different from his.

“Tim is an extremely bright guy, a very nice guy,” the Vermonter said on CNN. “Are his political views different than mine? Yeah, they are. But trust me, on his worst, worst, worst day Tim Kaine is 100 times better than Donald Trump will ever be.”

“Would I have preferred to see somebody like an Elizabeth Warren selected?” Sanders added on NBC. “Yes, I would have. But my job right now is to see that Donald Trump is defeated and Hillary Clinton is elected.”

The best piece I’ve seen on Tim Kaine’s credentials was in the Huffington Post.  Written by Krystal Ball, who knows Virginia and Virginia politics, it should be read by every wavering Sanders supporter.  She begins

Like a lot of Virginians, I’ve had to chuckle a bit at the way Virginia Senator Tim Kaine has been portrayed since rising to the top of Secretary Clinton’s VP short list. Apparently, the gods of conventional wisdom have decided Kaine is a “boring,” “safe,” “centrist” pick whose “DINO” positions may make him anathema to the Sanders base. Oh really? Because I can assure you as a native Virginian, this caricature doesn’t at all fit the man I’ve watched over nearly 20 years. In fact, the consistent knock on him in every election in Virginia has been that he was too liberal! This was such an issue that when Kaine was elected Lieutenant Governor under Mark Warner in 2001, Warner used their first joint press conference to distance himself from the controversial, left-leaning Kaine. So before you allow the national media topline and Kaine’s status as a white Southern man to lull you into a quick judgment, here are a few things you should know about why this Bernie broad loves Tim Kaine.

Kaine is the son of a welder who graduated from a Jesuit high school, flew through University of Missouri and then landed at Harvard Law. While his classmates were hanging out in Cambridge fielding offers from big firms, Kaine took a year off to do mission work in Honduras where he worked with young boys growing up in brutal poverty. The year abroad left him fluent in Spanish and with a deep commitment to using his Harvard law degree for the public good. After law school he made good on his commitment to service and rather than cashing in on his degree, spent much of his legal career fighting against housing discrimination. Now you just tell me, does that sound like the bio of a chamber-backed, blue dog, corporate Dem?

Ahh but perhaps Kaine abandoned all his lofty principles in a quest for political power in a conservative Southern state! If that’s your concern, perhaps you should just ask the NRA how they feel about Tim Kaine. Here’s how his elections in Virginia typically go: the NRA gives him an F rating, fear mongers about how he’s going to take everyone’s guns, spends massively against him, and then Tim goes on to win anyway. Keep in mind, the NRA is literally headquartered in Virginia.

Is Tim boring?  A bad uninspiring campaigner?  Ball says not.

But, but, but Kaine is so boring! Surely he won’t bring the energy the ticket needs to win, right? If you think so, here’s something to consider: Tim Kaine has won every single election he’s ever run in. He’s won everything from Mayor of the majority African-American city of Richmond, to governor of a conservative Southern state. In fact, Kaine was a big part of turning Virginia into the state we see today which went twice for Obama and currently has a Democrat in every single statewide office. Bernie Sanders has himself said that we’ve got to do everything we can to defeat Donald Trump. Tim Kaine could be a real asset in that regard. Obviously, he’s from an important swing state but the way Kaine won in Virginia is important too. He precisely targeted and outperformed in the kind of suburban and exurban counties where Republican leaning voters may be feeling the most uncomfortable with the charlatan who has won the Republican presidential nomination.

Tim Kaine has a 100% ratings from NARAL and Planned Parenthood and 0% from the NRA.

I think that as people get to know him and his wife, Anne Holton, they will come to know what most progressive Virginians know:  Tim Kaine is the real deal.  As Ball puts it

Look, anyone who has served as long and in as many ways as Tim Kaine is going to have taken positions you don’t agree with. I’m not saying the guy is perfect. But having watched a long time and gotten to see the man up close, I can tell you he is courageous, principled, and value driven.

I lived in Virginia for over 20 years and I’m now living in Vermont so I can look at both Tim Kaine and Bernie Sanders and say they are both good men who want was is best for our country.  I believe they can take the same message to different constituencies to help win the Presidency and take back the Senate.

Photograph:  USAToday.com

The Republican Convention 2016

So, we have made it though the Republican Convention.  Donald Trump is the nominee and even though people keep expecting him to “pivot toward the general”, I think he won’t/can’t change.  My politically conservative brother-in-law did make an astute observation the other day.  He basically said that the left feared Trump and the right feared Hillary which makes this the election based on fear.  Here’s hoping that the Democrats give us some positive reasons to vote for them.

13729010_10210196083638498_2880194902346059895_n

In fact, I found this meme on Facebook posted by a friend of a friend, Louise Aucott.  I gather she is a Bernie supporter.

I really don’t understand the Republican Governors who talked about how well their states were doing, while The Donald was saying that the country had no economy.  Do they want to go back to 2008?  They really need to credit President Obama because their state economies didn’t get better in a vacuum.

Another thing I don’t understand is why all of the Trump/Pence supporters don’t give up Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps (because I’m sure many are getting assistance), disaster aid (which Republican governors are quick to ask for) and give back any raises they might receive as the result of an increase in the minimum wage.  If they hate the government so much, they should forgo the benefits that come from it.

Back to what I started this post to do:  Let’s look at the Republican Convention.  I’ve been to a national convention (1972) and I know just how chaotic they can be when there is dissent among the ranks.  I think we debated everything from the rules to many platform planks and managed to cause George McGovern to give his acceptance speech in the wee hours.  But that was back in the hay day of participatory democracy.  There is no such excuse for the mistakes made by the Trump campaign beginning with poor Melania’s speech which no one vetted.  I can understand why she was so taken with Michelle Obama’s words.  Melania is not a politician and may not have realized that she was quoting the enemy, but someone from the campaign should have known.  And then allowing Senator Ted Cruz to speak just before the Vice-Presidential acceptance speech was another management failure.

The New York Times summed up the convention this way

Mr. Trump and his fellow speakers over four days and nights did not pivot, did not shift, did not seek the notional sweet center of American public life. With few exceptions, the convention was aimed at stirring up true believers and wedding them to his cause. The emotional and cultural core of Mr. Trump’s campaign — reversal of, and even revenge for, perceived slights, disrespect and loss — were undisturbed and at times amplified before a prime-time audience. In Mr. Trump’s telling, the most powerful nation in the history of the world was a victim. And Mr. Trump was its avenger.

Wasserman on Trump
The Republicans give us the message that America isn’t a country any more and only Mr. Trump can wave a magic wand and fix it.  And it is a magic wand because he has offered few specifics.
Those of us who don’t buy into this message shouldn’t be voting out of fear, but to continue the positive progress we have made.  I think my brother-in-law will be proven wrong.
Cartoon by Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe

A response to protest that makes sense

I have yet to hear any practical solutions to the problem of violence and conflict between the African-American and other minority groups and the police from Donald Trump.  Here is a response that can be made by local police all over the country.

Here is the complete text of a letter from the Brattleboro, VT chief of police published today in the Reformer.

I wanted to take this opportunity to make a few comments about the recent Black Lives Matter March that was held in Brattleboro on July 13.

There is a culture of mistrust towards law enforcement that currently exists in our country. Recent events have catapulted that mistrust to levels that exceed those of recent memory. Police interactions with citizens have been called into question resulting in anger, disbelief and frustration. These feelings have manifested themselves into protests, rallies and marches throughout the country. Some have been peaceful, others have not.

There was a march in Brattleboro that should be recognized. Unfortunately there were no national news agencies on hand to help report this story. The participants in this rally were there to express their frustration towards social injustice and police excessive use of force.

From the start I noticed members from across the spectrum of our community and many new faces. They spoke about the injustices towards minorities and police brutality but they also discussed solutions to rectify those injustices and ways of better policing.

This march was interesting to me as it not only addressed the problem but suggested ideas towards the solution. It was peaceful, respectful and informative. To sum it up in one word – positive.

I spoke to many non-participants along the route and their feelings were the same. The conduct of those demonstrating in Brattleboro drew people to them, not away. People wanted to join them, to be a part of this movement. In my opinion, that is how to make a change. Negative actions rarely produce positive outcomes.

To the organizers and to all those who participated, I would like to commend you on the overwhelmingly positive difference you made through your peaceful demonstration. It was a model for the rest of the country to emulate.

People expect the police to respond to a wide variety of situations with thoughtfulness, compassion, respect and empathy. I can assure you that every Brattleboro Police officer wishes to achieve that same goal. Many of you know our local officers personally by name and know of our desire to police in a fair and approachable way. We are engaged with the community from the officer on the street up to the chief, but we are not perfect and will always be able to learn and improve the ways we serve. For that to occur we need you, our community, to let us know how you feel.

Please call, email or stop by to talk to me about your concerns. In these challenging times, the Brattleboro Police Department remains steadfast in the commitment to the safety of all in our community.

Michael R. Fitzgerald is the chief of Brattleboro Police Department. He can be contacted at Michael.Fitzgerald@vermont.gov.

From a story in The Commons "To protect and - serve lunch!"

From a story in The Commons “To protect and – serve lunch!”

I mentioned the good community policing happening in Brattleboro in my post earlier today.  Here is more proof.  I hope more police departments adopt Chief Fitzgerald’s approach rather than going into a totally defensive mode.  As I said earlier, we need more talk and less violence on both sides.