William Barr’s outburst about Donald Trump’s tweets seems not to have impressed

Updates

  1. Originally published, February 17, 7:09 pm.
  2. February 17, 7:38 pm:
    • The number of former Justice Department employees signing that petition asking William Barr to resign is now over 2,000 and the Federal Judges Association is convening an emergency meeting to consider Donald Trump’s and Barr’s interference with line prosecutors.[1]

There is a new blog post entitled, “Fiction as truth.”


William Barr

It would seem that William Barr’s outburst about Donald Trump’s tweets[2] was insufficient to impress “[m]ore than 1,100 former Justice Department employees” who called on him to resign.[3]

The real problem, of course, is constitutional: The Department of Justice is part of the executive branch. But it would be a problem anywhere in government. It’s a problem for which I lack a solution,[4] and I’m still pretty grumpy about that.

Andrew Duehren and Sadie Gurman, “Former Justice Department Employees Sign Letter Urging Barr to Resign,” Wall Street Journal, February 16, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/former-justice-department-employees-sign-letter-urging-barr-to-resign-11581877946

Kevin Johnson, “Federal judges’ association calls emergency meeting after DOJ intervenes in case of Trump ally Roger Stone,” USA Today, February 17, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/02/17/roger-stone-sentence-judges-worried-political-interference/4788155002/


  1. [1]Kevin Johnson, “Federal judges’ association calls emergency meeting after DOJ intervenes in case of Trump ally Roger Stone,” USA Today, February 17, 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/02/17/roger-stone-sentence-judges-worried-political-interference/4788155002/
  2. [2]Jon Allsop, “Angry Barr and whether the press is getting played,” Columbia Journalism Review, February 14, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/william_barr_roger_stone_trump.php; Matt Zapotosky and John Wagner, “Trump bucks Barr’s request to stop tweeting about Justice Dept., declaring a ‘legal right’ to seek intervention in criminal cases,” Washington Post, February 14, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-appears-to-escalate-standoff-with-attorney-general-and-justice-dept-declaring-on-twitter-a-legal-right-to-influence-criminal-cases/2020/02/14/8c152c36-4f2f-11ea-bf44-f5043eb3918a_story.html
  3. [3]Andrew Duehren and Sadie Gurman, “Former Justice Department Employees Sign Letter Urging Barr to Resign,” Wall Street Journal, February 16, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/former-justice-department-employees-sign-letter-urging-barr-to-resign-11581877946
  4. [4]David Benfell, “On the difficulty of having the Department of Justice in the executive branch,” Not Housebroken, June 15, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/06/15/on-the-difficulty-of-having-the-department-of-justice-in-the-executive-branch/

Older than we thought: ‘The Crisis of the Humanities’

Inquiry

This is the sort of article that seems too easy to interpret to support one’s own prejudices. Indeed, the authors cite important examples of how Max Weber’s work was misinterpreted to support scholars’ own prejudices. But if I understand correctly, Weber sought to elevate inquiry itself as a calling.[1] Then again, it’s much too easy to misinterpret. I think I want the book anyway.

Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon, “Max Weber Invented the Crisis of the Humanities,” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 6, 2020, https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20200206-MaxWeber


Authoritarianism

George Monbiot’s use of the word fascism is neither entirely consistent nor entirely inconsistent with my own.

Monbiot is writing about authoritarianism—and this is the term he prefers—but considers it a root of fascism. In this work,[2] he does not recognize the cycle I consider essential to fascism, that being where violence, whether structural or physical, is deployed as a means of building popular support, even as I think the regimes he points to indeed do just that.[3] At the same time, in seeking to distinguish authoritarianism from fascism, he repeats the much-more-often-than-not seen error of failing to offer a definition for the latter.[4]

Still, his essay is important in documenting a pattern of right wing authoritarianism—I mean to distinguish this from authoritarian populism if only because I have not satisfied myself that this is indeed the same phenomenon—around the world.[5] My own work has concentrated on the United States but I have seen what looks a lot like authoritarian populism certainly in Britain, where I’ve argued it originated, with Brexit, and I have seen neoliberalism, the so-called “Washington Consensus,” as having been imposed throughout the world by way of institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. I need to at least begin considering how my seven tendencies of conservatism[6] may indeed have global applicability.

George Monbiot, “The Roots of Fascism,” February 11, 2020, https://www.monbiot.com/2020/02/11/the-roots-of-fascism/


  1. [1]Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon, “Max Weber Invented the Crisis of the Humanities,” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 6, 2020, https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20200206-MaxWeber
  2. [2]George Monbiot, “The Roots of Fascism,” February 11, 2020, https://www.monbiot.com/2020/02/11/the-roots-of-fascism/
  3. [3]David Benfell, “A simple definition of fascism,” Not Housebroken, July 6, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/07/06/a-simple-definition-of-fascism/
  4. [4]George Monbiot, “The Roots of Fascism,” February 11, 2020, https://www.monbiot.com/2020/02/11/the-roots-of-fascism/
  5. [5]George Monbiot, “The Roots of Fascism,” February 11, 2020, https://www.monbiot.com/2020/02/11/the-roots-of-fascism/
  6. [6]David Benfell, “The seven tendencies of conservatism,” Irregular Bullshit, n.d., https://disunitedstates.com/the-seven-tendencies-of-conservatism/

So, they say that vegans are well off whites fobbing off their lifestyle choices on the poor and people of color.

Brexit

Alison Flood, “Philip Pullman calls for boycott of Brexit 50p coin over ‘missing’ Oxford comma,” Guardian, January 27, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jan/27/brexit-50p-coin-boycott-philip-pullman-oxford-comma


Veganism

There is a new blog post entitled, “Rationalizing cruelty.”

Laura Reiley, “The fastest-growing vegan demographic is African Americans. Wu-Tang Clan and other hip-hop acts paved the way,” Washington Post, January 24, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/01/24/fastest-growing-vegan-demographic-is-african-americans-wu-tang-clan-other-hip-hop-acts-paved-way/


Amerikkkan dreaming

Artificial idiocy

As of yesterday, January 13, there is a new blog post entitled, “Our new Satan: artificial idiocy and big data mining.”


Royalty

There is a new blog post entitled, “‘The ugly premise that one group of humans had the absolute right to rule over another group of humans’.”

Gary Vogt, “Letters to the Editor: Royals everywhere should follow Meghan and Harry into obscurity,” Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-01-12/meghan-markle-prince-harry-quit


Fracking sarcoma

There is a new blog post entitled, “The theory of the morality of polarization.” It fills in some theoretical background for an older blog post entitled, “The morality of polarization” from over a year ago, on a topic I wound up presenting impromptu at a Human Science Institute conference.


Pennsylvania

I live near Washington County, where some of the larger clusters of Ewing’s sarcoma have been diagnosed.[1]

Kris Maher, “After String of Rare Cancer Cases, Pennsylvania Investigates Potential Link to Fracking,” Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/after-string-of-rare-cancer-cases-pennsylvania-investigates-potential-link-to-fracking-11576837802


  1. [1]Kris Maher, “After String of Rare Cancer Cases, Pennsylvania Investigates Potential Link to Fracking,” Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/after-string-of-rare-cancer-cases-pennsylvania-investigates-potential-link-to-fracking-11576837802

Scottish independence redux

Scotland

In the abstract, I absolutely favor Scottish independence. But in fairness, there are reasons for skepticism: First, while Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party may indeed be able to bend the U.K. establishment into allowing another referendum, it might well, once again, fail to pass.[1] Even if it passes, there are doubts about Scotland’s ability to support itself,[2] which I think exceed those in the earlier referendum.

We are just about to find out how well Boris Johnson’s humbug about Brexit will play. I fear that Sturgeon’s is little better.

Severin Carrell and Libby Brooks, “SNP turns focus back to independence after election boost,” Guardian, December 16, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/16/snp-turns-focus-back-to-independence-after-election-boost

Philip Sim, “Scottish independence: Could Scotland leave the UK and stay in the EU?” British Broadcasting Corporation December 18, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-50813510


Buddhism

There is a new blog entry entitled, “Solipsism as intellectualism and as spiritualism.”

Alexander Wynne, “Who was the Buddha?” Aeon, December 17, 2019, https://aeon.co/essays/was-the-buddha-an-awakened-prince-or-a-humble-itinerant


  1. [1]Severin Carrell and Libby Brooks, “SNP turns focus back to independence after election boost,” Guardian, December 16, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/16/snp-turns-focus-back-to-independence-after-election-boost; Philip Sim, “Scottish independence: Could Scotland leave the UK and stay in the EU?” British Broadcasting Corporation December 18, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-50813510
  2. [2]Philip Sim, “Scottish independence: Could Scotland leave the UK and stay in the EU?” British Broadcasting Corporation December 18, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-50813510

Gun nuttery at the Supreme Court, yet again

Guns

I’m sorry but you just can’t tell me this (figure 1) is about hunting and self-defense.
IMG_0018
Fig. 1. Tank on permanent display outside the Anthony Arms and Shooting Center in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, a civilian arms dealer. This is directly across the street from the Allegheny County Airport, the predecessor to Pittsburgh International Airport. The bulk, at least, of West Mifflin is in Mon Valley, an area predominantly populated by Blacks, many of whom are poor or working class. The airport and this gun shop are located on high ground which overlooks this valley. Photograph by author, September 26, 2019.

Andrew Chung, “U.S. Supreme Court weighs challenge to New York gun transport limits,” Reuters, December 1, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-guns/us-supreme-court-weighs-challenge-to-new-york-gun-transport-limits-idUSKBN1Y50ZG


Abortion

I would highlight the insidious expansion of the term ‘fetus’ to include any product of conception.[1] I understood the term to refer to what an embryo grows into. The Oxford Dictionary of English puts the transition at eight weeks following conception.[2] But bills in Ohio and Pennsylvania are defining it down to the moment of conception. The Ohio bill mandates the reimplantation of the zygote in an ectopic pregnancy—a life-threatening condition—into the uterus. And the Pennsylvania bill attempts to require cremation or burial of remains. All of this is more about being holier-than-thou than it is about what’s even possible.[3]

Peter Wade, “Legislators in Ohio and Pennsylvania Are Proposing Incredibly Restrictive Anti-Abortion Legislation,” Rolling Stone, November 30, 2019, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/legislators-in-ohio-and-pennsylvania-are-proposing-incredibly-restrictive-anti-abortion-legislation-919928/


Surveys

So I’ve been calling survey methodology bullshit since I learned the response rate had been nine percent,[4] which simply makes survey methodology untenable—I don’t care what they say or how they manage to excuse it.

It turns out, however, I’ve been wrong since the end of February. The response rate is now down to six or seven percent. Supposedly studies confirm that survey research is still useful and predictive.[5] No. Bullshit.

The portion of the population that chooses to respond to surveys is now entirely a self-selecting group. I don’t care how often you roll the die and get seven. You’re still wrong to call this science.

Courtney Kennedy and Hannah Hartig, “Response rates in telephone surveys have resumed their decline,” Pew Research Center, February 27, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/02/27/response-rates-in-telephone-surveys-have-resumed-their-decline/


  1. [1]Peter Wade, “Legislators in Ohio and Pennsylvania Are Proposing Incredibly Restrictive Anti-Abortion Legislation,” Rolling Stone, November 30, 2019, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/legislators-in-ohio-and-pennsylvania-are-proposing-incredibly-restrictive-anti-abortion-legislation-919928/
  2. [2]Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd ed. (2010), s.v. “fetus.”
  3. [3]Stephen Caruso, “Pa. House passes fetal remains bill with bipartisan backing,” Pennsylvania Capital-Star, November 28, 2019, https://www.penncapital-star.com/blog/pa-house-passes-fetal-remains-bill-with-bipartisan-backing/; Peter Wade, “Legislators in Ohio and Pennsylvania Are Proposing Incredibly Restrictive Anti-Abortion Legislation,” Rolling Stone, November 30, 2019, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/legislators-in-ohio-and-pennsylvania-are-proposing-incredibly-restrictive-anti-abortion-legislation-919928/
  4. [4]Steven Shepard, “Report: Phone polls aren’t dead yet,” Politico, May 15, 2017, https://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/15/pollsters-phone-polls-238409
  5. [5]Courtney Kennedy and Hannah Hartig, “Response rates in telephone surveys have resumed their decline,” Pew Research Center, February 27, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/02/27/response-rates-in-telephone-surveys-have-resumed-their-decline/

By all means, let’s elect yet another fucking neoliberal

Neoliberalism

John Feffer traces the betrayal of workers from the fall of the Berlin Wall to Donald Trump’s election.[1] This dovetails with Melvin Leffler’s account of how the U.S. political mainstream drew the wrong message from that fall.[2] But by all means, let’s elect yet another fucking neoliberal. I am remembering what I wrote in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s defeat. It still applies. The difference now is that the Republicans have caught the disease as well.

John Feffer, “Did the Fall of the Berlin Wall Produce the Trump Presidency?” Foreign Policy in Focus, November 13, 2019, https://fpif.org/did-the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall-produce-the-trump-presidency/


  1. [1]John Feffer, “Did the Fall of the Berlin Wall Produce the Trump Presidency?” Foreign Policy in Focus, November 13, 2019, https://fpif.org/did-the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall-produce-the-trump-presidency/
  2. [2]Melvyn P. Leffler, “The Free Market Did Not Bring Down the Berlin Wall,” Foreign Policy, November 7, 2014, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/11/07/berlin_wall_fall_25_anniversary_reagan_bush_germany_merkel_cold_war_free_market_capitalism

Burning California

I keep forgetting to publish this. So it gets a little bit longer and a little bit longer and a little bit longer. There really hasn’t been a lot.


Racism

In the Pittsburgh area, while driving for Lyft, I had noticed that a large proportion—almost certainly a majority—of my passengers were Black. Since switching to Uber,[1] my passengers are now predominantly white.

One of my Lyft passengers had mentioned to me that Uber doesn’t accept debit cards as a form of payment. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, this is an example of systemic discrimination, that is, discrimination that may occur without racist intent but in which rules and systems have a discriminatory effect.

If indeed you need a credit card to pay for an Uber ride (I think you can get around this with PayPal), that tends to exclude people with poor or no credit. To the extent that racial stratification coincides with class stratification, which is very visibly the case in the Pittsburgh area, it becomes systemic racism. And the failure to recognize and rectify systemic racism is, itself, racist.

Of course, to say this means that I should (as I have in the past) recognize the classism in the gig economy: It does generally require an electronic form of payment, which “unbanked” folks will have a harder time managing. On the other hand, it also means that Uber and Lyft drivers are not sitting ducks for cash robberies (a significant risk for traditional taxi drivers).

One of my passengers, a Black, told me that western Pennsylvania is one of the worst places in the country to be Black. He says that Blacks are informed here upon arrival that they exist to serve the capitalist economy; they are not persons, but numbers.

Which is yet another example of how it is impossible to separate classism from racism. These forms of discrimination form a hydra-headed monster. You have to cut them all off at once to destroy the beast.

Blacks also bear the brunt of criminal injustice.[2] In California, fire fighting relies upon inmate labor,[3] making it part of the prison-industrial complex.[4] Again, it will be Blacks who bear the brunt of inadequately compensated risks in this activity. And again, this is systemic racism.


California

Kevin Fixler, “From fierce winds to flames: How the Kincade fire made Sonoma County history,” Santa Rosa Press Democrat, November 1, 2019, https://www.pressdemocrat.com/multimedia/10249729-181/how-the-kincade-fire-spread

Nicole Goodkind, “Prisoners Are Fighting California’s Wildfires on the Front Lines, But Getting Little in Return,” Fortune, November 1, 2019, https://fortune.com/2019/11/01/california-prisoners-fighting-wildfires/


Long term unemployment

Patricia Cohen, “Lots of Job Hunting, but No Job, Despite Low Unemployment Lots of Job Hunting, but No Job, Despite Low Unemployment,” New York Times, November 1, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/31/business/economy/long-term-unemployed.html


Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris should be a cautionary tale for neoliberals: At least some progressives want real progressives and are fed up with the fake ones the neoliberal party has been pushing on them.

Shikha Dalmia, “The real reason Kamala Harris is tanking,” Week, November 4, 2019, https://theweek.com/articles/875020/real-reason-kamala-harris-tanking


Recession

It’s one thing to note that economists are bad at predicting recessions[5] and are even bad at recognizing them once they’ve started.[6] All these decades later, they finally seem to be recognizing what just about any idiot at the local tavern could have told them: It’s the unemployment:[7]

The unemployment rate has risen sharply in every recession, and thus economists have long looked for recession signals in its behavior. Ms. [Claudia] Sahm spent weekends playing with a massive spreadsheet, testing different rates of increase over varying periods of time, to arrive at the following formula: If the average of unemployment rate over three months rises a half-percentage point or more above its low over the previous year, the economy is in a recession. . . .

“The reason [this formula has] been getting attention is it is simple, it is understandable, it is something people can observe themselves,” Mr. [Jay] Shaumbaugh said.[8]

Sorry, but it’s hard—really hard—for me to imagine that economists couldn’t have come up with this sooner and it is very telling that Claudia Sahm had to work on this on her own time. Had this sort of inquiry even a chance of being taken seriously before she had the numbers to prove it, she’d have been able to work on it during office hours. But economists before Sahm didn’t come up with this and the Federal Reserve didn’t enable her to work on it on their dime, because they all really just don’t fucking give a damn. What Sahm has done—and she deserves a great deal of credit for overcoming what were surely formidable institutional obstacles—is to shame the fuck out of them with the blindingly obvious.

By the way, going by Sahm’s formula, we are not yet in a recession.[9]

Kate Davidson, “Are We in a Recession? Experts Agree: Ask Claudia Sahm,” Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/are-we-in-a-recession-experts-agree-ask-claudia-sahm-11572789602


  1. [1]David Benfell, “Uber, again,” Irregular Bullshit, October 19, 2019, https://disunitedstates.com/2019/10/19/uber-again/
  2. [2]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  3. [3]Nicole Goodkind, “Prisoners Are Fighting California’s Wildfires on the Front Lines, But Getting Little in Return,” Fortune, November 1, 2019, https://fortune.com/2019/11/01/california-prisoners-fighting-wildfires/
  4. [4]Empty Cages Collective, “What is the Prison Industrial Complex?” n.d. http://www.prisonabolition.org/what-is-the-prison-industrial-complex/; Daniel Moritz-Rabson, “‘Prison Slavery’: Inmates are paid cents while manufacturing products sold to government,” Newsweek, August 28, 2018, https://www.newsweek.com/prison-slavery-who-benefits-cheap-inmate-labor-1093729
  5. [5]Hites Ahir and Prakash Loungani, “‘There will be growth in the spring’: How well do economists predict turning points?” Vox, April 14, 2014, https://voxeu.org/article/predicting-economic-turning-points; Richard Alford, “Why Economists Have No Shame – Undue Confidence, False Precision, Risk and Monetary Policy,” Naked Capitalism, July 19, 2012, https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/07/richard-alford-why-economists-have-no-shame-undue-confidence-false-precision-risk-and-monetary-policy.html; Ha-Joon Chang and Jonathan Aldred, “After the crash, we need a revolution in the way we teach economics,” Guardian, May 10, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/may/11/after-crash-need-revolution-in-economics-teaching-chang-aldred; Barry Eichengreen, “Economists, Remove Your Blinders,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 12, 2015, http://www.chronicle.com/article/Economists-Remove-Your/151057/; Paul Krugman, “How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?” New York Times, September 2, 2009, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/magazine/06Economic-t.html; Paul Krugman, “Triumph of the Wrong?” New York Times, October 11, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/12/opinion/krugman-triumph-of-the-wrong.html; Andrew Simms, “Economics is a failing discipline doing great harm – so let’s rethink it,” Guardian, August 3, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/03/economics-global-economy-climate-crisis; Mark Thoma, “Restoring the Public’s Trust in Economists,” Fiscal Times, May 19, 2015, http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2015/05/19/Restoring-Public-s-Trust-Economists; Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, “Economists Are Bad At Predicting Recessions,” FiveThirtyEight, August 21, 2019, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/economists-are-bad-at-predicting-recessions/
  6. [6]For example, it took about a year to formally recognize the financial crisis of 2007-2008 as a recession: National Bureau of Economic Research, “Determination of the December 2007 Peak in Economic Activity,” December 11, 2008, http://www.nber.org/cycles/dec2008.html
  7. [7]Kate Davidson, “Are We in a Recession? Experts Agree: Ask Claudia Sahm,” Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/are-we-in-a-recession-experts-agree-ask-claudia-sahm-11572789602
  8. [8]Kate Davidson, “Are We in a Recession? Experts Agree: Ask Claudia Sahm,” Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/are-we-in-a-recession-experts-agree-ask-claudia-sahm-11572789602
  9. [9]Kate Davidson, “Are We in a Recession? Experts Agree: Ask Claudia Sahm,” Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/are-we-in-a-recession-experts-agree-ask-claudia-sahm-11572789602

The ‘ungriddable’ city

Updates

  1. Originally published, October 26, 7:14 pm. Note: All times are Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) unless otherwise noted.
  2. October 26, 9:39 pm:
    • The mandatory evacuation area for the Kincade fire has expanded. Notably, it now includes my mother’s house. Areas being warned have shifted south (figure 1). Graphics have been updated.
  3. October 27, 4:36 am:
    • To be honest, I’m somewhat perplexed. Even as it appears firefighters are gaining significant control over the Kincade fire and that it has not advanced in the direction of Highway 101, evacuation warnings have now been issued for a relatively small part of northwest Santa Rosa that, ominously, approaches an evacuation center (figure 1). Winds have shifted and are now strongly off-shore.[1] In addition, the evacuation zones are now numbered. Graphics and text have been updated.
  4. October 27, 8:28 am:
    • I haven’t received notifications, which may mean that map updates were out of sync with the notifications I received. It now appears more of Santa Rosa is under mandatory evacuation (figure 1). Winds are now off-shore at 40+ miles per hour.[2] It seems to me that the Santa Rosa evacuation center is now being encroached upon with mandatory evacuation orders on the north and west sides (figure 1). According to the Cal Fire incident page, Kincade fire containment is at 10 percent.[3] Graphics have been updated.
    • It is harder for me to keep up to date during the day, while I’m working, but I’m packing my Chromebook today. I will try.
  5. October 27, 1:05 pm:
    • A mandatory evacuation order has been issued for another piece of Santa Rosa, drawing very near the evacuation center there and the Kincade fire looking very much more serious than it did overnight (figure 1). Wind speeds appear to exceed 50 miles per hour.[4] The fire is now up to 30,000 acres and still at only 10 percent containment.[5]
    • Amidst all the drama, there is, of course, a very real human toll. Some folks are saying they don’t want to repeat their experience from two years ago. As the evacuation orders arrive, they are considering more permanent departures.[6] And it really is something to think about when you can’t rely on the lights being on, as aquifers draw ever lower, and as suffocating smoke becomes an annual occurrence. This isn’t civilization anymore. It may be spectacular, but it’s hell.
  6. October 27, 9:12 pm:
    • Be sure to look through the slide show in this Press-Democrat coverage.[7] I recognize some of the places as places I’ve been.

      They’re ordinary places really. The sort of places you take for granted as you drive right on by. Ordinary, that is, except for those who lived and worked in them. Their lives are forever changed.

      And if you feel a sense of deja vu, that’s kind of my point. This is how it’s been for fire after fire after fire. That bravado we always cheer, where victims swear they’ll rebuild, seems hollow now.

  7. October 28, 4:30 am:
    • Containment is now at 5 percent of over 54,000 acres in the Kincade fire.[8] I’m having trouble telling from the Incident map (figure 1) how far into Windsor the fire has reached. The distance from northern Windsor to my mother’s house is a little less but traverses the same rugged dry terrain that a spread from Healdsburg would. It appears there is a shift in the weather pattern (figure 2) but I am not at this moment able to determine its significance. The winds have dropped[9] but that may only be because it is night time. Graphics have been updated.
  8. October 28, 10:09 am:
    • It kind of looks like I failed to publish the 4:30 am update. Oops.
    • As of now, the Incident Map (figure 1) is making clear that where previously the main part of the Kincade fire had seemed to be in mountainous terrain, it now seems to be moving towards, if not into, Healdsburg and Windsor. Containment is at five percent of over 66,000 acres.[10] Winds seem to have weakened for the moment[11] and it appears the region is in for a bit of a respite on Monday (today) before conditions worsen again on Tuesday.[12]
    • “Cal Fire officials said they were concerned that the fire would jump Highway 128 into fuel-laden land that has not burned in decades.”[13] I’m not sure what the Sacramento Bee reporters mean when they talk about Highway 128, which runs into Mendocino County north of Cloverdale, along Highway 101 to Geyserville, and then east over the mountains into Lake County. Though there’s certainly land there that hasn’t burned yet, Lake County burned before Sonoma County in several massive fires over several years.

      My concern however is with the fire’s move toward Windsor and Healdsburg. If the Kincade fire jumps Highway 101 (the latest incident map, figure 1, suggests it’s reaching right to it), which is what the Tubbs Fire did two years ago, and heads towards my mother’s house, I don’t think any of that territory has burned in decades either. And it looks to me like it’s getting close.

      In the meantime,

      The Kincade Fire and other blazes that erupted Sunday during the heavy winds closed several major roadways, including Interstate 80, the main east-west highway through Northern California between San Francisco and the Nevada state line. I-80 was closed for several hours between Vallejo and Crockett because of brush fires raging at both ends of the Carquinez Bridge, but reopened by mid-afternoon.[14]

      Apparently this is happening all over the state.[15] I said earlier that this is hell. It’s hell. And yeah, reminiscent of when the Sonoma County fires broke out in 2017.

  9. October 28, 8:13 pm:
    • The humiliation of Boris Johnson continues as “he was forced to grudgingly accept the European Union’s offer to delay Brexit until January, and then lost a motion in Parliament to stage a general election before Christmas.”[16] (Brexit)
    • There’s apparently no real news on the Kincade fire. I am updating the graphics nonetheless. The fire does seem like it is spreading towards Healdsburg if not into it (figure 1) and winds are currently on shore.[17]
  10. October 29, 3:51 am:
    • As if Brexit was ever, even once, really on track, it’s gone off the rails again as Boris Johnson has “abandoned” the withdrawal bill because he wants an election so bad. You know, like he wants Brexit itself. And yeah, I’m not the only one calling bullshit.[18]
    • The evacuation orders for much of west Sonoma County, including (just barely) my mother’s house, have been reduced to warnings, though the incident map (figure 1) also seems to show the fire further encroaching on Healdsburg. Cal Fire says it has achieved fifteen percent containment on over 74,000 acres.[19] The winds are shifting again,[20] in line with earlier forecasts.[21] The warning means people need to be ready to leave on a moment’s notice, so this isn’t really clearance for people to return home. This fire still looks incredibly dangerous to me and if those forecasts hold, I expect we’ll see a much more alarming picture later in the day. Text below has mostly been removed—look to these updates instead. Graphics have been updated.
  11. October 29, 10:13 am:
    • Labour will back an election, improving the likelihood that one will occur in December.[22] The call for such an election was likely to succeed anyway, leaving Labour in the unenviable position of going into an election it had opposed.[23] (Brexit)
    • People are mad at Pacific Gas and Electric, and have reason to be, especially with the Kincade fire,[24] but it’s worth remembering the climate crisis is a major contributor.[25] Winds are still relatively weak but have now shifted to an off-shore direction.[26] They keep changing how they show the fire intensity and spread in the Sonoma County Incident Map and I am especially unfond of the latest iteration.

      I see now (figure 1) that Healdsburg is across the Russian River from the fire and the fire has not jumped the river there. But parts of Windsor, especially the north and east are on fire.

      The fire is very close to Highway 101 (figure 1). The road, which is marked as closed, is only four lanes (plus a median) wide there. I can’t imagine that a good gust of wind won’t enable the fire to jump the highway into terrain that I don’t think has burned in a very long time. But they’ve still got a lot of west Sonoma County only on an evacuation warning phase.

      I gotta tell you, this doesn’t help to bolster confidence in their logic for how they ordered evacuations and when. Graphics are updated.

  12. October 29, 2019, 9:06 pm:
    • Parliament has approved an election to be held on December 12,[27] which is just what Boris Johnson wanted. I am disappointed the franchise will not be extended to 16-year olds and European Union nationals: Their futures are at stake, even more than those of the old fogies who so desperately want out of the E.U.[28]
    • The Kincade fire is now 15 percent contained at over 75,000 acres.[29] The fire remains close to, but on the east side of Highway 101. Evacuation warnings are now shown for adjacent parts of Lake County (figure 1). Winds are strongly in an off-shore direction, but not so strong over such a wide area as before.[30]
  13. October 30, 4:33 am:
    • Little seems to have changed with the Kincade fire since the last update,[31] except that stronger winds are appearing over a broader area. Which is to suggest that firefighters seem to be pretty much holding the line, and that if the wind forecast holds,[32] the worst should be over. For now.[33] Graphics have been updated.
  14. October 30, 9:05 am:
    • Richard Denniss explores the social constructions in economics to explain why economists disagree.[34] I respond with a new blog post entitled, “Cats are smarter than we are. Really.
    • The Kincade fire is at 30 percent containment and nearly 77,000 acres.[35] Firefighters seem to be holding the line in areas I’ve been most concerned with but I think maybe not so well to the north and east. Unfortunately there’s a weird cut off in the graphics in figure 1 that makes this harder to discern. Winds are strong and off-shore but not as strong and not as strongly over as wide an area as before.[36] Graphics have been updated.
  15. October 30, 7:00 pm:
    • Asserting the supremacy of state law, an Allegheny County judge struck down Pittsburgh’s gun control laws,[37] which were passed in the wake of the Tree of Life Synagogue mass shooting last year.[38]
    • My methodology here is weak beyond compare, but I’m guessing from his avatar that Nathan Heller is a lot younger than I am. That said, his recollection of fires in the San Francisco area is about like mine.[39] California just isn’t the place it used to be. It is, as the headline on Annie Lowrey’s exploration of how the Wildlife-Urban Interface came to be so heavily populated proclaims, becoming unlivable.[40] (Kincade fire)
    • Winds are still offshore, but not nearly so strongly as earlier even today.[41] Updated containment figures are not yet available.[42] A lot of east Windsor appears to have burned or to be on fire but Healdsburg continues to be spared. Overall, the Kincade fire looks much less active and evacuation orders and warnings seem to be receding (figure 1). My mother will be going home tomorrow. Graphics have been updated.
    • Barring unforeseen developments, I will end this issue here. It’s become unusual for me to hold an issue open like this for several days on end but I did so on account of the Kincade fire. At this moment, that no longer seems to be justified.

Pittsburgh

I’ve been working on my page entitled, “Pittsburgh driving for the uninitiated anyway, but it turns out that Pittsburgh navigation is sufficiently difficult that it merits a CityLab article.[43] Yes, it really is that bad. And worse.

Vince Guerrieri, “The Map That Unlocked the Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” CityLab, October 25, 2019, https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2019/10/pittsburgh-street-map-beltway-system-allegheny-county-roads/600658/


Humanities

Support for the humanities comes from an unlikely source.[44]

Heather Long, “The world’s top economists just made the case for why we still need English majors,” Washington Post, October 19, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/10/19/worlds-top-economists-just-made-case-why-we-still-need-english-majors/


Kincade fire

FireShot Capture 034 - Kincade Fire Incident Map (Sonoma, Napa, Lake Counties)_ - sonomacounty.maps.arcgis.com
Fig. 1. Screenshot of Sonoma County Incident Map, taken on October 30, 2019, at 7:37 pm EDT (4:37 pm PDT). Click on this static image to open the source.
nepac-2019-10-30-18
Fig. 2. 72-hour gif of Northeast Pacific satellite photos, taken two hours apart, as of October 30, 6:00 pm EDT (3:00 pm PDT).

Jonathan Cox, another Cal Fire spokesman, called the evacuation orders a preventive measure against “a worst-case scenario for this fire.” Capt. Stephen Volmer, a fire behavior analyst with the agency, said the winds were expected to start blowing the fire in a southwesterly direction beginning about 8 p.m. [PDT] toward Highway 101.[45]

A lot of Sonoma County still has visible scars from the fires two years ago. The psychic scars are, of course, longer lasting. But all I can really say is that the scenes I have seen there are, in a way, beyond description. There is an impact just from seeing the burned areas, or even just driving around a curve and being confronted with burned vegetation. Let alone seeing pads where homes used to be.

Best wishes to all.

Dale Kasler, “PG&E expands blackouts as fierce winds approach: 940,000 to lose power in California,” Sacramento Bee, October 26, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/california/fires/article236691183.html

Dale Kasler and Hannah Wiley, “50,000 face evacuations in Sonoma County as Kincade Fire peril intensifies,” Sacramento Bee, October 26, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/california/fires/article236685153.html

Nico Savidge, Annie Sciacca, and Casey Tolan, “‘I don’t want to do this again’: Blackouts and wildfires put Sonoma County on edge,” San Jose Mercury-News, October 26, 2019, https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/10/26/i-dont-want-to-do-this-again-blackouts-and-fires-make-sonoma-county-residents-question-their-home/

Randi Rossmann and Will Schmitt, “Latest: Crews fighting to protect Windsor from approaching Kincade fire,” Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, October 27, 2019, https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10227533-181/latest-winds-picking-up-in

Ryan Sabalow et al., “Kincade Fire forces evacuations and burns 84 square miles, as containment drops to 5%,” Sacramento Bee, October 27, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/california/fires/article236719068.html

Dale Kasler, “Can wildfire risk worsen? Northern California eyes more winds, another PG&E outage,” Sacramento Bee, October 28, 2019, https://www.sacbee.com/news/california/fires/article236718203.html

Nathan Heller, “San Francisco’s Fire Season,” New Yorker, October 30, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/news/california-chronicles/san-franciscos-fire-season

Annie Lowrey, “California Is Becoming Unlivable,” Atlantic, October 30, 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/10/can-california-save-itself/601135/


Brexit

William Booth, Michael Birnbaum, and Karla Adam, “U.K. Parliament rejects Boris Johnson’s call for an early election on Dec. 12, but a pre-Brexit election remains likely,” Washington Post, October 28, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/eu-pushes-brexit-until-end-of-january-british-prime-minister-johnsons-request/2019/10/28/c53839cc-f967-11e9-9534-e0dbcc9f5683_story.html

Karla Adam and William Booth, “Britain sets December date for an election in which Brexit will dominate,” Washington Post, October 29, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/with-labour-partys-backing-britains-boris-johnson-looks-set-to-get-his-snap-election/2019/10/29/778ed246-f9c9-11e9-9e02-1d45cb3dfa8f_story.html

Max Colchester, “U.K. Opposition Labour Party to Back Boris Johnson’s Call for Election,” Wall Street Journal, October 29, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-k-opposition-to-back-boris-johnsons-call-for-election-11572347134

Peter Walker, “MPs poised to vote through plan for December election,” Guardian, October 29, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/oct/29/rush-to-election-slowed-mp-stella-creasy-backbench-labour-amendment


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