Once Again, Context Is Complicated: On Racial Tensions in San Francisco School Politics

The brouhaha over the San Francisco school board member who posted a bunch of tweets in 2016, was removed from her position as vice-president, and is now suing the school district and her other board members to the tune of a hundred million dollars, is making national news. What is not making national news is the local context.

(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this and this article offer good overviews).

My own opinion of the Allison Collins’ tweets is: I don’t think people should resign because of tweets they made five years ago, especially before they won an election, BUT Ms. Collins has handled this situation so badly that she should resign because of how she has behaved in 2021. Also, the teensy bit of sympathy I had for her evaporated when I learned about her ridiculous lawsuit (which I at first believed was an April Fool’s joke) which will take resources away from public school students in San Francisco.

But Allison Collins is incidental. If it wasn’t her, it would be someone else (okay, someone else might not have acted in such a spectacularly awful manner). That’s because the forces colliding in this have been around in San Francisco for decades, long before Allison Collins became part of this picture.

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This Is For My Neighbor

When I was a young child, my neighbor gave me red envelopes on Lunar New Year.

Previously, she frequently walked around the block. Even when she needed a walker and could move only slowly, she still made a point of walking around the block on a regular basis.

A few years ago, she stopped the walks because of a loss of mobility. Now she almost never leaves her home. When she does, she has company. Her live-in caregiver runs her errands.

A couple weeks ago, when the plum tree in our backyard was in full bloom, my neighbor spent much time looking at it through her bedroom window.

A photo of the plum tree from a couple weeks ago.

My neighbor is a Chinese American elderly woman.

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I Supported Changing the Dutch Translator of Gorman’s Poetry. Why Do I Oppose Changing the Catalan Translator?

Since I wrote this post about the controversy over translating Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch, more information has come my way, particularly information about the Catalan translation being dropped.

First, what additional details have you learned about the controversy over the Dutch translation?

According to this article, Janice Deul said:

“I’m not saying a black person can’t translate white work, and vice versa,” Janice Deul told me when we met near her home in Leiden. “But not this specific poem of this specific orator in this Black Lives Matter area, that’s the whole issue.”

There, Janice Deul said that she does not have a general problem with white people translating black people’s works. She just thinks that this is an exceptional case.

While researching these blog posts, I found hundreds of comments about how horrible it is to claim that a white person can never translate a black person’s works, yet I found no one arguing that white people should never translate black people’s works. All of those arguments against having white people translate black people’s work (including editorials in respectable newspapers) are fighting a straw man. Meanwhile, I rarely find anyone arguing against Deul’s actual position: that this poem/poet is a special case. Making a good faith argument that even in this case the race of the translator should not matter is possible, especially if the poet herself takes that position. Yet those arguments are far less common than outrage over ‘a translator was forced to quit because bad people on social media will never let a white person translate a black person’ (never mind that the translator was not forced).

Good faith arguments like that would be boring. Provocative statements such as ‘ZOMYGOSH THE WOKE PEOPLE WANT TO CANCEL WHITE TRANSLATORS!!!!’ are more exciting.

Yeah, that’s a problem.

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What’s Missing from the Controversy over Who Translates Amanda Gorman into Dutch?

What’s missing from the controversy over who translates Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch?

Context.

Okay, now that I have the answer, I’m leaving without reading the rest of this post.

Suit yourself.

You don’t care?

I can’t force you to read the rest of this blog post.

Fine, I’m curious enough to keep reading. What are we talking about? Continue reading

People Do Give Up on Travel… Or Do They?

I read the article “Why Tourism Should Die—and Why It Won’t: ’Sustainable’ travel is an oxymoron” shortly after it was originally published on January 24, 2020. At the time, I considered writing a response; I’m glad I didn’t, because anything I would have written at the end of January 2020 would have become out of date fast.

Looking at the article again, I don’t understand some points. The article’s principal argument seems to be tourism is bad because it encourages frivolous flights which wastefully increase CO2 emissions. I’ve expressed thoughts on this before. It’s curious that the essayist criticizes the cruise ships for dumping sewage rather than air pollution (according to the link, 50,000 Europeans die premature deaths per year because cruise ships burn dirty fuel) or that they emit more carbon dioxide per passenger mile than commercial passenger airplanes. It’s especially weird to criticize airplanes for emitting carbon and NOT criticize cruise ships for emitting even more carbon.

I also don’t understand how short-distance tourism (say, visiting a place fifty miles away from one’s home) is so terrible for the environment. Yes, it has a higher environmental impact than just staying at home, but it’s a vastly lower impact than traveling two thousand miles.

Now, in the pandemic, we can ask: did tourism die? Technically, no. But tourism received a mortal wound. Continue reading

Pricing Follows Power

In San Francisco, most people spend much more on housing than food. Does this mean that housing brings much greater value to people’s lives? No. If I were forced to choose between housing without food and adequate food without housing, I’d rather have enough food and take my chances as an unsheltered homeless person. In reality, I might decide that temporarily lacking food but keeping my housing would be better for my social status and prospects of improving my situation (the stigma of being homeless makes it harder to improve one’s socio-economic standing). But if I believed the situation would last over three months, I would choose food.

Why is housing drastically more expensive than food? Simple – people who control housing have more power to increase prices than people who control food.

Housing is much more than physical shelter. Climate-appropriate tents are cheap and provide sufficient shelter for survival. If physical shelter is all that is needed, that’s the solution. Sometimes, that IS the solution; many people in San Francisco lived in tents after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Another part of ‘housing’ is the social consensus that someone may reside in a particular spot. Away from others, social consensus does not matter; wherever there are others, social consensus is necessary. Otherwise, it’s dangerous to live there. Immediately after the 1906 earthquake and fire, the social consensus was that (some) people may live in tents. Now, there is a general social consensus that someone can pitch a tent on private property with the owner’s permission (but what is private property?) or in the safe sleeping villages (though some neighbors object). Otherwise, someone living in a tent pitched in San Francisco, lacking the protection of social consensus, is at much higher risk of being assaulted, robbed, or being forced to move. Continue reading

Emma Goldman’s Courage

Living My Life by Emma Goldman is one of the most vivid books I’ve read in the past half year.

Emma Goldman, one of the world’s most famous anarchists, believed ‘free speech’ in the United States was a joke because the government often suppressed her own speech. Many times local police shut down her public lectures, and the government sometimes prevented her from publishing her writing by seizing all copies distributed through the mail and even raiding her office and confiscating her manuscripts. Right-wing vigilantes in San Diego (which the police ‘mysteriously’ could not control) threatened her with violence and forced her to flee to Los Angeles – though she returned to San Diego years later to prove that the vigilantes could not silence her. Even when offered police protection, she refused it unless coerced because, as an anarchist, she was anti-police. She was imprisoned for two years because of her public opposition to the United States entering World War I.

World War I was a revelation to her because many anarchists she looked up to – including her idol Peter Kropotkin – supported the war. She herself refused to side with either the Allies or the Central Powers, claiming that war hurt the ordinary masses of all countries involved. She saw many allegedly like-minded people support the war. On the other hand, some socialists and other non-anarchist leftists who she previously regarded as flaky came out against the war, despite economic, legal, and reputational risk. Continue reading

From the Guy Who Analyzes Local Votes

I have a neighbor who has been obsessed with local voting patterns for decades. After every election, he studies the results from every precinct. Last week, I attended the (online) neighborhood association meeting where he shared his conclusions about the most recent election. Practically the first thing he said was that Trump got more votes in our neighborhood, San Francisco as a whole, and California as a whole in 2020 than in 2016. He has never seen a Republican presidential candidate get so many votes in San Francisco. Trump did particularly well in certain (though not all) working-class neighborhoods with many residents of color. To him, this feels like the beginning of an important trend. He believes that if this trend continues, then Trump supporters are going to build a real power base in the city and increase their influence over local politics. He also went into more detail about the California-wide votes and how it reflects that California Democrat Party is losing ground. Continue reading

To Understand Voters, Understand Where They Grew Up

A few weeks ago, I communicated with a Chinese woman in Thailand who was shocked that most Chinese-Americans support Trump. I was shocked that she thought most Chinese-Americans support him, since I had presumed that a majority of Chinese-American voters would choose Biden.

Curious, I found this (pre-election) survey. Their results were that 56% of likely Chinese-American voters planned to vote for Biden, 20% for Trump, and 23% were undecided. I was right to guess that a majority of Chinese-American voters planned to vote for Biden, but that majority was smaller than I expected.

In my research, I found that Chinese-Americans who immigrated as adults were more likely to support Trump than American-born Chinese (ABCs) or Chinese-Americans who immigrated as children. This did not surprise me.

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What Is the Argument Against Replacing Human Professionals with Qualified AI Professionals?

I have not read New Laws of Robotics: Defending Human Expertise in the Age of AI by Frank Pasquale, but I did read this article.

Perhaps because I only read the interview and not the book, I do not understand his argument for the first new law: “Digital technologies ought to ‘complement professionals, not replace them.'” At first, I was wondering if his argument was that AI simply cannot replace professionals, but upon closer reading, it’s clear that he’s open to the possibility that AIs, in the future, might be entirely capable of doing some of these jobs on their own. Therefore, his position is that they should not, not that they cannot. And yet, later on in the interview, he seems to be in favor of AI/automation taking over blue-collar jobs such as supermarket cashier “unless people who are in those positions can say, ‘Hey, there’s a reason why you need human judgment and humans in control of this process. And if you take us out of the loop, there’s going to be a big problem.'” I do not understand (at least without reading the book) why he wants to automate away blue-collar by default but is adamant that digital technologies only supplement, not replace white-collar professions. If his position were simply ‘preserve human jobs because our political-economy is structured so that people are forced to sell labor in order to meet their material needs’ would that not apply to all jobs? Does the cashier not need to pay their bills just as badly as the doctor? And if he’s okay with ‘automating away’ cashier jobs, why not the same for doctors, teachers, etc.? Continue reading