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Thu Apr 09, 2015 at 11:30 AM PDT

My History of Violence

by pico

*Deep breath*


I'm probably going to delete this diary in a couple of days, because some of the information that follows is not just personal, but potentially identifying (less by other users, more by extended family/friends.) I know that runs counter to site practice, but please indulge me on this one. There's a lot going on here.



A few weeks ago my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within the space of just over a week. I ended up spending, on and off, about two or three weeks back home with family. I missed a lot of site activity during that span - lord knows I had a lot to say about the Nemtsov murder, and probably still will - but it also gave me time to learn more about my family, exchange information with relatives, and open some doors that had never been available before.

See, my family history is a little weird, and very incomplete. My grandfather - the one who'd been married to my recently passed grandmother - was emancipated at a young age, and we never got to know any of his siblings, or much of anyone on that side of the family at all. He'd spent much of his childhood at an orphanage, not because he had no living family after his parents passed, but because the remaining family left him there. Genealogy was never a priority.

In the years since his death in the late 80s, his children - my dad, my aunts and uncles - had pieced together some portions of the family history, but they were mostly stymied by our branch's exclusion, not to mention the difficulty of obtaining (or even reading non-English) documents that traced our family back, as it turns out, as far back as the some of the earliest European settlers in Louisiana. And so there we were together last month, opening up these inquiries again, sharing what documents we had and what we knew existed, and that led my brother and I to start researching - online and aggressively - and opening up cans of worms we now wish we hadn't.

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Just a short diary to recommend (with caveats) a front page article over at the site of our conservative friends (heh), RedState. Leon H. Wolf, a longtime contributor to the site, read through the Ferguson report "with as jaundiced of an eye towards the Department of Justice as possible" and still came to the conclusion that the Ferguson PD effectively damned themselves in their own words. It's a long and detailed post, nothing that will surprise anyone here, and - here are the caveats - with an eye toward selling those conclusions toward skeptical conservatives (so, the usual mush about liberals and the DOJ and whatnot).

Given that Wolf excludes all data from DOJ observation and interviews and still reaches these conclusions, it's not only worth a read, but if you have (like I do) a number of conservatives in your social networks, it's a good way to prod them along this conversation. They can enjoy all the digs at liberals and still take away this: that the Ferguson PD is unarguably corrupt in a way that has heavily impacted the black community, and that voicing these concerns and fighting for solutions does not make one racist, or "anti-cop", or whatever.

Quick summary, and some thoughts below.

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One thing I've seen a lot of in recent writing on vaccine policy has been the critique against harsh or demonizing language against parents who are opposed to vaccines, with suggestions about more sensibly converting the unconverted. Dan Kahan, professor of law and psychology at Yale, has been especially adamant on this point, and outlets like The Atlantic, Bloomberg, and NPR have published thinkpieces on why shaming and other negative approaches, in their words, "don't work."

Not everything in these pieces is wrong, and there's definite worry about issues as fully consensus-based as vaccinations becoming embroiled in political partisanship. I can also, to some extent, respect Kahan's warnings about the rightness of accusations like "anti-science", which is admittedly a problematic label.

But what none of these pieces touch on, except for brief mention in the Bloomberg article, is we do have also have a history of eradicating or nearly eradicating a set of vaccine-preventable diseases, and we can look to that history to see how it was done: i.e., our successes had nothing to do with trying to convince the skeptics:

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Thu Dec 18, 2014 at 04:00 PM PST

Write On! Doing a lot with a little.

by pico

Here's the scene: your private eye needs to meet her contact at a local bar so she can get some vital information before it's too late. She bursts in the door and scans the crowd frantically until she sees him hunched in the corner... but as she heads towards him, she sees her nemesis standing near the pay phones, scanning the room as well. Can she get to her contact and get the information before her nemesis spots her? The stakes are high, the pace is fast, and yet.....

Look, you've imagined this scene for months. You have it so well-envisioned that you could list off what beers are on tap, if necessary. You know what everyone's wearing, where they're coming from, what their deepest desires are; heck, you could describe the type of varnish on the wooden bar if you had to. But every single descriptive choice is a negative choice: whatever it adds to the scene in terms of color, it detracts in pace and slackens the tension you've so carefully built up. This is a scene about speed, and you can't afford to waste a single word. What do you do?

This isn't a new or especially unique issue: efficient description is an issue that various writers have attempted to tackle as long as literature has existed. This isn't to say that florid, excessive writing can't be effective, but it has to be balanced against other concerns: our little hard-boiled thriller needs to be tight. Most seasoned writers and editors will probably tell you to cut the scene down to its bare bones, which is good advice in itself, but doesn't give you much guidance about what to add. And that's what today's diary is about...

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Wed Sep 10, 2014 at 01:22 AM PDT

Did the U.S. create Ebola?

by pico

No, of course it didn't. But that's the front-page story - and most popular current post, as of this writing - on one of the major news sites in Liberia, a country that is about to see the worst of the current Ebola outbreak, if WHO's most recent estimates are accurate. Unlike the outbreaks in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, the DPRC, etc. Liberia's has thwarted WHO's efforts at containment, leading the agency to suggest "non-conventional" means of intervention as a last resort in the face of impending disaster. On the heels of a desperate plea to the UN Security council, the United States and Britain are sending mobile hospital units to help absorb some of the brunt of the new wave of cases. It's looking to be a dire situation.

That a conspiracy theory about the origin and purpose of Ebola should be spreading through the country's mainstream media outlets is definitely not going to help things. It's true these rumors have been spreading for a while, but almost never with such a prominent platform.

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Here's a quick-and-dirty guide to a story that's breaking in Western media, and an appeal to caution. Long story short, an Estonian intelligence officer is being held by Russian FSB, who claim that he was captured doing undercover work on Russian soil; the Estonians claim he was kidnapped while investigating cross-border crime on the Estonian side.

The facts:

- Cross-border crime between Estonia and Russia is not uncommon, and this case may have started with something related to drug running. Earlier today an Estonian citizen (non-intelligence) was arrested in Pskov for amphetamines, although the details on this case are cloudy, too. (I'm not saying these two events are connected, just that this is a known problem.)

- the Russian version sounds a bit like an old spy novel: the intelligence officer was sneaking across the border with a pistol, a secret recording device, and a wad of cash;

- the Estonian version also sounds a bit like an old spy novel: the intelligence officer was abducted by Russian security, who'd crossed onto Estonian soil and were involved in some kind of physical struggle, eventually taking the officer by gunpoint;

- In either case, it's not like old-fashioned spy maneuvers don't occur: this could be a case of tit-for-tat, since a Russia spy was convicted in Estonia last year;

- Russian media hasn't been too interested in this story (it's buried on most sites), and Estonia has also been somewhat tentative in its responses, as well;

- Nevertheless, certain American pundits (who I won't dignify by linking) are predicting World War III, as if this kind of thing hadn't happened before. It's the proximity of Obama's Baltic security speech this week that makes the kidnapping/capture seem like a NATO provocation, and whether that's the case or not, the two countries involved seem to be handling it diplomatically so far.

Obviously we'll see how it plays out as the facts develop.


Not a long diary, just a note that stage one of the Malaysia Flight 17 investigation is set to be published within the next few days. This is emphatically not an investigation into whodunit, so barring one aspect of the report, it will probably not merit much news coverage.

That one aspect has to do with the nature of the plane's downing. Even without a criminal investigation, if the plane is found to have been shot down by another plane, it would give credence to Russian claims that the separatists were framed, since only Ukrainian military is alleged to have been flying in the area. It's a possibility, but it doesn't seem to jibe with most of the circumstantial evidence, nor with other Russian theories about the crash.

If the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, as nearly everyone suspects, this report will not likely give us any new information, since it shouldn't tell us much about the provenance of the missile. I'm sure that, in turn, while likely fuel the next few cycles of theories until the criminal investigation is completed - hopefully by spring, depending on whether investigators can get open access to areas around the crash site.

The process has been slow, no doubt because of the nature of the evidence and the difficulties in securing it: as of yesterday, only a few more than half of the bodies have been positively identified. We should know more in a few days, at least.

I'm posting this because people keep asking why they haven't heard anything about this in a while.


Very short diary because there's not much I can add to this excellent, interactive article that went live today on ProPublica: "Losing Ground", by Bob Marshall, Brian Jacobs, and Al Shaw. Here's the lede:

In 50 years, most of southeastern Louisiana not protected by levees will be part of the Gulf of Mexico. The state is losing a football field of land every 48 minutes - 16 square miles a year - due to climate change, drilling and dredging for oil and gas, and levees on the Mississippi River. At risk: nearly all of the nation's domestic energy supply, much of its seafood production, and millions of homes.
None of the information in the site is, strictly speaking, news to anyone who's followed this issue, but it's assembled impressively, with an interactive map showing the extent of the devastation and projections for further losses, interviews with locals whose livelihood and culture are most at risk, and a thoroughly documented history of negligence, with the scant hopes for a better set of policies in the future. It's a great example of how technology, politics, journalism, and research can combine into a gorgeously-rendered vehicle for (we hope?) social change.

Please read this, share this, and get this article the attention it deserves. Thanks, y'all.


I've sung the blessings of NYU's All the Russias blog on this site before, but they've sadly been slow to update over the past few weeks (the contributors, who are all academics, are likely on their summer research junkets at the moment.) Fortunately the site moderator, Eliot Borenstein, is back with an excellent discussion of recent events, with something of a rebuttal to fellow contributor Stephen Cohen.

Though it's more casual and reflective than excessively linked, I encourage you to read the whole thing - which is both insightful and cautious in the way that good academic work usually is - but I want to highlight a few points below:

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Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 02:07 PM PDT

Ukraine and the Russian anti-war Left*

by pico

* and by Russian left, I mean the mostly urban intelligentsia, which is the group most politically proximate to us on issues like social liberalism, religious tolerance, and broadly-construed civic rights.  There are also points of difference (especially in political alignment and economics, where the landscape of the Russia is so much different than ours), but this is the group that would gibe the best with the users here, and because their voices aren't often heard, I thought it'd be useful to provide some of what they're saying, with minimal commentary.

(This is also, sadly, a small minority in Russian discourse.  For that reason, the following excerpts are obviously selective, non-representative, and biased, and in the interests of offering full disclosure: I know some of these people in person.)  

((This isn't intended to supplant any kind of critique coming from the American left, where perspectives are necessarily going to be different, but to offer some context for my own comments on the site, informed as they are by this particular segment of Russian society.  Consider this an addition to the larger conversations we're having.))

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Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 08:03 PM PST

Ask us anything: Ukraine edition

by pico

With apologies to the FP for stealing their title series, I thought it'd be useful to bring together some of the users who can offer some clarity on the situation in Ukraine, either by virtue of being Ukrainian, having spent time there, speaking one or more of the languages involved, or otherwise staying informed, being connected on the issue, etc.  I'm not sure who's going to be joining us tonight, but I sent out a few emails - to people on both sides of the original issue and a few points in between, although that's become moot in the last few days - and I got a few confirmations, at least.  (And I hope by posting this I'll attract a few more.)

As the discussion evolves, I'll post a list of questions in the diary with links to the comment threads, so that users who join us later can see what issues are being discussed, specifically.  Please remember that many of us have personal, non-trivial stake in what happens in Ukraine, including worries over the safety of family and friends... so we'll keep the rhetoric level, and ask that you do the same.

In the meantime, and in the spirit of the FP's series: ask us anything!  What issues have you been curious about?

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Fri Sep 06, 2013 at 10:06 AM PDT

Russia, activism, chaos

by pico

This is gonna be a depressing essay.

In my past writing about Russia and political activism, I've tried to keep an even keel and survey the issues without giving away too much of my own feelings about certain activists and movements.  This stems from a sense that activism isn't about individual hagiographies, but about often poorly coordinated groups of people, some of whom actively despise each other, shambling their way to what one hopes is a better tomorrow.  Though we tend to enshrine the history of civil rights in terms of its Great Figures, in reality they're more like grotesque katamari that we try to push into something like the right general direction.

I mean, look at the history of the American LGBT movement.  Try to explain to someone outside of the community about the complicated, and often acrimonious relationships between groups as widely different as, say, HRC and ACT UP.  About the differences in ideology, personality, and history in the leadership, or between the leadership and the people they are serving.  About the marginalization of transgender activists and people of color, and the frustrating bureaucracy of various organizations.  About the accusations, the ethical slips, and the hypocrisies that sometimes accompany victories, and that flare up after defeats.  We don't even need to name names here: we've all been on this ride before.

I believe that healthy movements find a place for all kinds of activism... but that's not enough.  When opposing groups are competing over very limited funds, for example, or when one set of strategies is mutually exclusive to another, things can get really nasty really quickly.  That we're all on the same side doesn't matter.  The most we can hope for is that the ball continues to move forward during the fray, and that our bridges aren't burned permanently.  The Movement is bigger than any one person or group, and I've taken to downplaying my own negative opinions on the belief that the ball needs to keep moving forward, regardless.  

All that being said, I'm going to break my rule here a bit and be critical of some of the players involved in the sideshow-shitshow that is Russian LGBT activism, for reasons that I hope will be clear below.  I've been mulling over this diary for well over a week now, but after reading this editorial by Alexei Davydov (as an aside: fuck Alexei Davydov), I wanted to punch the wall.  In deference to the wall, I'm doing the next best thing and venting about it on dailykos.  

This, folks, is the muck of activism; the interpersonal conflicts and ugly behavior that often lies beneath the headlines.  It may even seen arbitrary against the more pressing threats of proposed legislation to take away parental rights from LGBT parents.  But if you want to be involved in this issue, and especially if you want to work with activists on the ground, it's important to be informed.

You've been warned.

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