Vegan Sourdough Mincemeat Babka

In case you are looking for more ways to grow as sourdough bakers, I highly recommend this fantastic cake. My mom used to buy cakes like this, leavened with commercial yeast and stuffed with chocolate and cinnamon, and serve me a slice for breakfast with tea; those were very tasty, but this one is so much better.

The prep time is long, but most of it is the bacteria working for you (including an overnight stay in the fridge), so it’s not particularly labor intensive, and the cutting and braiding process is a fun skill to acquire. I veganized and modified Maurizio’s excellent recipe in the following ways:

  • Substitute oat milk for milk (same amounts);
  • Substitute oat butter (Miyoko’s) for the butter (same amounts);
  • Substitute Hampton Creek’s Just Egg for the egg (including the egg wash! easy to do, as Maurizio gives the egg amount by weight)
  • Substitute brown sugar for the caster sugar in the cake;
  • substitute agave syrup for the caster sugar in the simple syrup (I did a 1:1 substitution);
  • use mincemeat for the filling (many jars are made with vegan suet substitutes).

For people making this for the first time, do not be dismayed if the dough is very sticky (a function of the butter and the Just Egg.) After the night stay in the fridge it will be far more workable. Lightly flour your bench before rolling it out. Also, I don’t have a pullman pan, but I baked this very successfully in a silicone loaf pan, and it popped out just fine.


The result was fantastic. You can hardly detect sourness from the sourdough, but the texture is so rewarding. The brioche texture is fluffy and rich, the filling sweet and spicy, and the slices are gorgeous. Happy 2021 to all!

What’s Up With the Pandemic Rise in Homicide Rates? Or, Beware the Lazy “Mass Releases” Take

There’s a really interesting op-ed by Jeff Asher and Ben Horwitz of AP Analytics in yesterday’s USA Today about the 2020 rise in homicide rates. Here’s an excerpt:

The FBI reported in September that murder was up almost 15% in agencies that reported three to six months of comparable data for both 2019 and 2020. But the antiquated national crime data collection and reporting system makes it hard to confidently say what is causing the spike or what can be done about it.

The FBI has used the Uniform Crime Reporting Summary Reporting System, which was created in 1929, for the past nine decades. There are about 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. Only a bit more than 16,000 of them reported monthly crime figures last year in eight relatively broad categories that the FBI aggregated and published. This annual collection system is shoddy. Some agencies don’t report data every year and others report incomplete data.

There have been changes over the decades, but crime data reporting is mostly the same today as it was 90 years ago. And the most glaring issues remain: Agencies aren’t required to report data, and those that do report are often not asked to provide data in a way that’s useful. For example, agencies aren’t required to separate assaults during which individuals are shot from other attempted aggravated assaults by firearm. In general, assault-by-firearm cases are massively underreported, severely reducing insight into national gun violence trends.

Efforts have been made to improve collection, but there is still no timely national crime data. The FBI’s report in September was the first time the bureau produced a quarterly summary report.

The FBI also built a website that improves access to raw crime data, and in January the agency will drop the summary reporting system and transition solely to a National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which will provide a more nuanced look at trends.

The incident-based reporting system categorizes crime into more than 52 offense types, which provide more insight into the types of crimes recorded. But that system, while better, won’t solve all crime data reporting problems. Shootings, for example, will still not be specifically categorized under NIBRS.

It is also unclear how many agencies will participate in NIBRS next year. Just 51% of the participating agencies reported under NIBRS as of 2019. The switch to NIBRS-only doesn’t appear to solve the problem of lengthy delays in reporting crime data to the public.

The 2019 stats, for example, weren’t released until the end of this year.

Even though the FBI data is shoddy (for which, to be sure, there’s no excuse), there are a few things we can learn from this. On Twitter this morning, Asher provided the graph at the top of this post to show that the upward trend is consistent in lots of different towns, and he also has numbers to show that it’s not a Democratic/Republican issue (cities run by both R and D administrations are seeing a rise in crime.) He also showed that the rise in homicides is accelerating over the first three quarters of 2020, refuting one-factor explanations (“this is all about Defund the Police!”).


I’m still (STILL!) grading exams, so I don’t have the bandwidth to do a full analysis on the data (you can download the entire dataset here and be your own hero) but I do have three quick observations to make:

  1. The data provides a breakdown by serious offense, but has a monolithic category of “murder,” preventing us from analyzing different types of murder. Even though it looks like a uniform rise as 2020 progressed, it is not implausible to suggest that the type of homicides that increased during the pandemic lockdown might be different. My money’s on a higher percentage of domestic homicides, and this might be something that can be confirmed by correlating with rapes and assaults. The reasons are obvious–all the risk factors for domestic violence are heightened because of the pandemic and the ensuing financial crisis: stress, proximity to assailant (especially the availability of children and working spouses during the day), unemployment, financial difficulties. It’s also possible that a higher consumption of drugs, more mental instability, and more people in the streets leads to more street shootings. None of this is rocket science.
  2. Articles about the rise in homicides in SF and Oakland highlighted that the incidents involve an overrepresentation of victims of color (the articles say nothing about perpetrators, but homicide tends to be intraracial.) If my theory that Q2 and Q3 largely represent a rise in domestic homicides, it should come as no particular surprise that you’d see higher rates of homicide among the populations that were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and the prevention regimes (more stress, more unemployment, more financial difficulties, more homelessness, more mental health anguish visited on poor people of color.)
  3. I’m already seeing some lazy takes on Twitter about whether “this could have been caused my mass releases,” to which the easy answer is: What mass releases? The rise in homicides far precedes any releases that were taking place–even to the extent that some places (not CA!) released people, no one was heeding warnings from experts back in March, when the rate of homicides was already accelerating. Moreover, the acceleration is linear, suggesting that if releases in, say, July and August changed things in Q3, they didn’t do so to a particularly pronounced degree that was not predictable by the general trend. Nor is there anything to suggest that the people who were released–in CA, basically folks who would be released anyway due to attrition rates who got a wee push out the door a couple months early–can trigger a trend like this, and for places who did do their due diligence in releasing aging and infirm folks, those are the least likely people to commit crime, let alone homicide.

I’m harping on (3) for a reason. My suspicion is that we are not seeing mass releases precisely because of the fear that the inevitable rise in crime rates as a consequence of pandemic-related criminogenic factors will be linked by lazy journalists and hobbyist twitterers to releases (even though it likely has nothing to do with releases) and backfire in terms of political advancement. This is disappointing, but it is how democracy works, and the first people to suffer are the folks already behind bars–solely for the sake of optics.

Policing and Experience: Why We Should Teach Mindfulness to New Cops

This morning brings an interesting story by Megan Cassidy of the Chronicle. The story compares two recent cases in which San Francisco D.A. Chesa Boudin brought charges against officers in shooting cases, suggesting that the officers’ inexperience may have played a role in both cases:

The charges against the two men raise questions about whether new officers are being sent into situations they’re not ready to handle and whether different training, more education or older recruits would produce better outcomes. How juries might weigh the officers’ inexperience is an open question.

On Nov. 23, Boudin announced that he had filed manslaughter and other charges against Samayoa, who fatally shot a carjack suspect, Keita O’Neil, during a chase in the Bayview in 2017. The decision marked the first time a San Francisco prosecutor filed homicide charges against an on-duty officer in modern history.

On Dec. 7, Boudin announced that a grand jury had indicted both Flores and the man he shot, Jamaica Hampton, on assault charges after an encounter in the Mission District last December.

“Both cases involved officers who were new to the job, who were relatively inexperienced, behaving in a way that is a stark contrast from the way that other officers on scene with more experience behaved,” Boudin said in a recent interview. “In any profession, including policing, I think when people are new to the job they’re more prone to make mistakes.”

I wonder whether the relationship between experience and police professionalism is truly linear, and my suspicion is that experience and use of force correlate in a different way.

Here’s what makes me think of this: Seventeen years ago I conducted fieldwork in the Israeli military justice system, where I got to interview dozens of prosecutors about charging and prosecuting AWOL cases. Lots of interesting stuff didn’t make it to the eventual pieces, including a typology of the folks I interviewed by seniority. My impressions at the time were of a u-shaped curve in prosecutorial approaches:

When I interviewed very young prosecutors, they tended to espouse a pretty cynical approach about the AWOL cases. They were likely to discount people’s personal problems and socioeconomic situations and ascribe their absence from service to a manipulative personality and free choice. Accordingly, they tended to ask for harsh sentences.

Folks with more experience–say, in the 5-to-15-years range of experience, were more lenient. They tended to have a more holistic view of the person’s circumstances and expressed more mature approaches toward the solutions–some of them saying that without a comprehensive socioeconomic overhaul the problem of AWOL in the army will not resolve itself. But higher up in the seniority ladder, the high-command folks with 20-25 years of experience expressed sort of a return to the punitive approaches of the young ones–not in the same gung-ho manner, but rather as a bird’s-eye view of what the office policy toward these cases should be.

It wouldn’t surprise me if we saw a similar u-shaped curve correlating seniority/experience with the likelihood of use of force among police officers. Let’s think back of William Muir’s terrific book about police officer personalities. Muir posited four types of police officers’ approaches to their jobs, based on where they are located along two perpendicular axes: interventionist-versus-reactive and professional-versus-personal.

Styles of policing. | Download Scientific Diagram

The most salient and critiqued problems with U.S. policing lie in the top left quadrant: folks who are interventionist and see things personally (“enforcers”) excessively relying on use of force (as an aside, I’ll propose that “reciprocators” or “avoiders” – the folks in the bottom left quadrant–can put lives in serious danger, too, but this problem is obscured by the shallow way in which we talk about policing.) But let’s take this a step forward. Could it be that these personality types are not innate, but rather stages in the development of one’s career? Let’s hypothesize:

Why young police officers, who might’ve joined the police force in part looking forward to the power that comes hand in hand with the job, may be more likely to use force is pretty obvious. They are younger (like most of the people they police), whatever deescalation training they’ve received requires maturity, and they are more likely to relent to peer pressure, be less thoughtful about future consequences, or respond intuitively to disrespect.

For many police officers, this might mellow out mid-career; their experiences on the streets might lead them to adopt a “tragic” rather than “cynical” approach toward the human experience (to use Muir’s terminology.) Then, for officers with lots of experience and high seniority, signaling toughness through support for violence would be an important way to appeal to the perceived demand of constituents that they “protect and serve.” Just like with the prosecutors, I expect the penchant for violence to be more intuitive/personal in the early stages of one’s career and more systemic/strategic in the later stages.

I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that, while the most senior folks are typically in management roles, the younger and mid-career folks are on the streets. Moreover, officers with less seniority get the less desirable positions and beats, and nonetheless express more enthusiasm for the job–which might imply that we’re putting people with more enthusiasm for violence and a lesser ability to consider consequences in the toughest places.

If that’s the case, how do we make lessons about deescalation “stick” once the officer is out of police academy? Every year, one of the first cases my criminal procedure students read is City of San Francisco v. Sheehan. I’ve written about this case here and here, and in the latter post I quote this paragraph from the decision:

San Francisco trains its officers when dealing with the mentally ill to “ensure that sufficient resources are brought to the scene,” “contain the subject” and “respect the suspect’s “comfort zone,” “use time to their advantage,” and “employ non-threatening verbal communication and open-ended questions to facilitate the subject’s participation in communication.” Likewise, San Francisco’s policy is “‘to use hostage negotiators’” when dealing with “‘a suspect [who] resists arrest by barricading himself.’”

Even if an officer acts contrary to her training, however, (and here, given the generality of that training, it is not at all clear that Reynolds and Holder did so), that does not itself negate qualified immunity where it would otherwise be warranted. Rather, so long as “a reasonable officer could have believed that his conduct was justified,” a plaintiff cannot “avoi[d] summary judgment by simply producing an expert’s report that an officer’s conduct leading up to a deadly confrontation was imprudent, inappropriate, or even reckless.” Considering the specific situation confronting Reynolds and Holder, they had sufficient reason to believe that their conduct was justified.

Let’s set aside the qualified immunity problem. What I want to know is: what makes a violent reaction more innate than the nonviolent, deescalating one? And more importantly, how to we engrain the ability to make space for a different choice in what is often a split-second decision?

In mindfulness meditation, we train the mind to identify moments and circumstances in which we are “hooked” and the mind takes us to a knee-jerk response. Tibetan Buddhists call this moment “shenpa.” Pema Chödrön, one of the people I most respect and admire, says this about the need to make space to choose a different reaction:

If we started to think about and talk about and make an in-depth exploration of the various wars around the world, we would probably get very churned up. Thinking about wars can indeed get us really worked up. If we did that, we would have plenty of emotional reactivity to work with, because despite all the teachings we may have heard and all the practice we may have done, our knee-jerk reaction is to get highly activated. Before long, we start focusing on those people who caused the whole thing. We get ourselves going and then at some irrational level, we start wanting to settle the score, to get the bad guy and make him pay. But what if we could think of all of those wars and do something that would really cause peace to be the result? Where communication from the heart would be the result? Where the outcome would be more together rather than more split apart?

In a way, that would really be settling the score. That would really be getting even. But settling the score doesn’t usually mean that. It means I want my side to win and the other side to lose. They deserve to lose because of what they’ve done. The side that I want to lose can be an individual in my life or a government. It can be a type or group of people. It can be anything or anyone I point the finger at. I get quite enraged thinking about how they’re responsible for everything, so of course I want to settle the score. It’s only natural.

We all do this. But in so doing we become mired in what the Buddhist teachings refer to as samsara. We use a method to relate to our pain. We use a method to relate to the underlying groundlessness and feelings of insecurity. We feel that things are out of control, that they are definitely not going the way we want them to go. But our method to heal the anguish of things not going the way we want them to is what Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche calls pouring kerosene on the fire to put it out.

We bite the hook and escalate the emotional reactivity. We speak out and we act out. The terrorists blow up the bus and then the army comes in to settle the score. It might be better to pause and reflect on how the terrorists got to the place where they were so full of hatred that they wanted to blow up a bus of innocent people. Is the score really settled? Or is the very thing that caused the bus to be blown up in the first place now escalating? Look at this cycle in your own life and in your own experience. See if it is happening: Are you trying to settle the score?

Acting out of this knee-jerk place of “settling the score” is not unique to cops, of course, but you can see how someone young and inexperienced might have a difficult time making space in their own mind to make a different choice. And indeed, there are already people doing this work and seeing positive results, not only in decreasing burnout and stress but in inviting compassion and a “tragic” rather than “cynical” worldview. This can relate directly to the tendency to use violence. As Jill Suttie explains here, “A stressed-out police officer will be more likely to resort to intimidation or aggression when confronted with ambiguous situations, which can lead to inappropriate or even violent actions.” She cites Oregon police officer Richard Goerling, who leads the training, and who explains this very well:

“Mindfulness opens up the space in which we make decisions—we’re not so linearly focused or so stressed because we are under threat,” he says. “We may still be under threat, but because I’m regulating my stress response and my emotions—anger, fear, and ego, which is a huge problem in our culture—I’m more aware of my options.”

How this relates to career stage is evident from this passage:

Goerling believes that police need this kind of training in emotional health, because they too often get the wrong message about their job and the way emotions play a role in it. Instead of understanding the impacts of stress, anger, or fear, they try to tamp down those emotions or ignore them, which keeps them from understanding the effect of emotion on performance.

“It’s classic compartmentalizing, saying, ‘I don’t let my emotions get in the way,’” says Goerling. “Yeah, right. But what happens if those emotions spike up out of the little box and get in the way, creating problems in the encounter with others?”

Another problem, says Goerling, is that stuffing down emotions can make one more jaded with time, leading to a sense of being inauthentic, emotionally cut off from other people, and depressed. Though originally he rejected the concept of training officers in self-compassion—a mindfulness practice of directing love toward oneself—he later realized how important it was for keeping officers whole, not to mention the positive interpersonal benefits.

“This whole notion of self-compassion is huge,” he says. “It doesn’t take long in this business before you pretty much dislike everyone around you, and then you begin to dislike yourself, and then you wonder why the grizzled police officer seems to have no affect and seems to be the classic asshole cop.”

“Being tough means investing in ourselves, in actually loving people and wanting to serve them, and in feeling all of our emotions—being able to say that I’m angry, I’m disgusted, I’m sad, I’m joyous,” Moir [El Cerrito’s Chief of Police] says. “What’s remarkable to me is that my officers are seeing it: Between stimulus and response there lies choice.”

The cops in Suttie’s story were nearing retirement, and while this stuff is useful to anyone at any age, I really hope that these skills become a key part of training new police officers at the academy. There’s nothing to say that younger, newer officers can’t learn these skills–children as young as 3 can be taught to meditate (my 3-year-old son can do a 10-minute body scan before he falls asleep.) Mindfulness training for police officers should focus not only on formal meditation, but also on go-to instantaneous practices–even something as mundane as feeling your toes inside your shoes for a brief fraction of a second can bring one back into the body and offer a choice out of the whirlwind of the mind. And, teaching these skills as part of police academy gives people tools for life that they can later use throughout their career, and which can help with their personal lives as well.

Grilled Eggplants Stuffed with Impossible Meat and Pomegranate

For today’s Christmas Eve brunch, we made a version of Oz Telem’s new recipe. I think ours benefits from the fact that the eggplants were grilled, and from some little tweaks to the recipe. Because I grew up not far from where Jesus spent his childhood, I imagine he had lots of fresh grilled vegetables (not eggplant, though) but he and his family probably ate lots of fish rather than vegan meats. We used Impossible meat, but you could use Beyond Beef as well.


  • Two medium-sized lightweight eggplants
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp baharat
  • 1/2 package Impossible/Beyond ground
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
  • 1 large pomegranate
  • parsley for garnish


Fire up the grill. Gently peel the eggplants in a zebra pattern – removing lengthwise stripes of peel, but keeping some stripes on, so that the eggplant retains its shape. Place on the grill and grill for about 15 mins, taking care to char on all sides.

While the eggplant is grilling, cut the pomegranate in half; juice one half and extract the seeds from the other half (save those for later). Heat up the olive oil in a pan. Add the onions and cook until translucent. After 2-3 minutes, add the garlic and pine nuts. Cook for about 30 seconds. Then, add the Impossible/Beyond, the pomegranate juice, and the baharat. Sauté until the ground feels cooked and the spices are incorporated throughout (about 4-5 mins.)

Make a slit in each eggplant and stuff each one with half of the Impossible/Beyond mixture (it’ll be easy to fill, because the insides of the eggplant should be already fairly mushy.) Cook for another 10 mins or so on the grill, until the flavors incorporate. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds and parsley on top and serve with tchina (“tahini”) and other grilled vegetables. Happy Holidays!

The blog has been an effort to integrate works of compassion from three areas of my life–compassionate work, compassionate mindfulness, and compassionate cooking–so I hope the occasional recipe/mindfulness practice is not too surprising to the many folks reading here because of the COVID-19 crisis in prisons. We are thinking of those of you behind bars, and of those of you missing your incarcerated loved ones, and we hope you will soon get to cook and break bread together on the outside.

BREAKING NEWS: Important Legal Developments in Quentin, Plata Cases

The last few days have seen key developments in all three major COVID-19 lawsuits against CDCR. On the San Quentin front, the California Supreme Court granted CDCR’s petition for review… but this is not necessarily bad news, just complicated. I’ll start by providing the decision in Von Staich and the order in the Marin cases, and follow up with commentary. Here’s the grant of petition for review:

The Attorney General seeks review of the judgment of the Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division Two, which found that prison officials have been deliberately indifferent to the health and safety of prisoners at San Quentin State Prison during the COVID-19 pandemic. The court ordered officials to remedy the constitutional violation by designing a plan to reduce the population of the prison to 50 percent of its June 2020 population, through either additional releases from custody or transfers to other institutions.

The questions raised by the petition are undoubtedly substantial. The health and welfare of individuals in the state’s custody during the pandemic, and the appropriate measures for their protection, are matters of clear statewide importance. As the Court of Appeal explained, “[t]he Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 17 of the California Constitution both require correctional officials to provide inmates adequate medical care” and prohibit prison officials from being ” ‘deliberately indifferent to the exposure of inmates to a serious communicable disease’ [citation].” (In re Von Staich, filed opn. at p. 18.) 

The Court of Appeal ruled on the basis of the documents submitted and oral argument, without holding an evidentiary hearing. As the case now comes to this court, it appears that there are significant disputes about the efficacy of the measures officials have already taken to abate the risk of serious harm to petitioner and other prisoners, as well as the appropriate health and safety measures they should take in light of present conditions. For this reason, we return the case to the Court of Appeal with instructions to consider whether to order an evidentiary hearing to investigate these matters before judgment is pronounced. (See People v. Duvall (1995) 9 Cal.4th 464, 482-483, 485.) As we have repeatedly advised in other cases raising similar issues, the matter should be resolved as expeditiously as is consistent with sound adjudication, given the exigent and evolving circumstances concerning COVID-19.

The request for judicial notice is granted. 

The petition for review is granted. The cause is transferred to the Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division Two, with directions to vacate its decision and reconsider the cause in light of People v. Duvall, supra, 9 Cal.4th at pages 482-483 and 485, the Attorney General’s Return to the Order to Show Cause at pages 13-19, and the supporting Memorandum of Points and Authorities at pages 32-38. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.528(d).) 

The request for depublication is denied.

Votes: Cantil-Sakauye, C.J., Corrigan, Liu, Cuellar, Kruger, Groban and Jenkins, JJ.

And here’s the order in the 311 Marin County cases:

122420 Order Staying Further Proceedings & Vacating Individual Orders by hadaraviram on Scribd

Here’s what’s going on. Von Staich was decided on the basis of a case called People v. Duvall, which clarified how habeas corpus cases should be heard in court. Under Duvall, when someone petitions for habeas corpus and claims that the government is holding them under unconstitutional conditions, the government must provide a return that “allege[s] facts tending to establish the legality of petitioner’s detention. . . The factual allegations of a return must also respond to the allegations of the petition that form the basis of the petitioner’s claim that the confinement is unlawful. . . In addition to stating facts, the return should also, “where appropriate, … provide such documentary evidence, affidavits, or other materials as will enable the court to determine which issues are truly disputed.”

The Court of Appeal in Von Staich relied on a fairly straightforward application of Duvall. Because the AG representatives of the San Quentin warden did not actually present evidence showing that the prison authorities’ behavior was appropriate, all the Court was left with was the AMEND report, which stated that no appropriate social distancing could take place unless the prison population were to be reduced to 50% of design capacity. The return did not provide any contrary medical opinion. The Supreme Court seems to disagree with the Court of Appeal, finding that the “significant disputes about the efficacy of the measures officials have already taken” to ameliorate the Quentin catastrophe, an evidentiary hearing might be warranted. As a consequence, the actions taken by the Marin court toward relief for the hundreds of San Quentin petitioners have been frozen until the Court of Appeal determines whether to hold an evidentiary hearing to examine whether the steps taken by the prison authorities can undermine the findings of “deliberate indifference.”

This is not necessarily a bad development, for several reasons. First of all, it is dubious that CDCR, and the AG, could put on any convincing evidence to show that the measures they took, short of releasing people, adequately put them out of “deliberate indifference” territory. Their own doctors are horrified by what they are doing and have said on the record that they want nothing to do with the transfers. Their claims about other precautions, such as screening and wearing PPE, have now been refuted by two Inspector General reports, and they have been excoriated by the legislature for not rising to that level. Only this week did they show any signs of enforcing proper protection on their own staff (so, even the ameliorating steps they claimed to have taken, which the Court of Appeal found “commendable”, turn out to be fictional.)

In addition, consider the dire developments for our friends behind bars before the Supreme Court’s grant. Recall that the Von Staich decision offered CDCR the choice between releases and transfers, urging them to consider releases of aging, infirm people. CDCR proceeded to abuse the discretion it was given to cook up a “remedy” that turned out worse than no remedy at all: as of a week ago, CDCR was still taking active steps to move people out of San Quentin, where the outbreak has abated (for now), to places like RJD and VSP, which experienced horrific outbreaks to the tune of hundreds of cases. Even in the face of realities on the ground–an outbreak in every single prison, a third of the entire prison population infected, a ninth of the entire prison population experiencing an active case, 104 deaths–they were going to shortsightedly confine their energies toward begrudging formal compliance that actually endangered people even more (in addition to the obvious contagion risks, I’ve received emails from folks inside expressing real fears of retaliation from people in the prisons to which they were to be transferred.) Meanwhile, flying in the face of the obvious public health priorities, the folks who should have been first in line to be released were at the very end of the line. This new development buys us more time to push for releases.

The last point is crucial, because the big legal case involving the entire CDCR apparatus, Plata v. Newsom, took a drastic turn in our favor yesterday. At the oral argument, Judge Tigar was exceedingly critical of CDCR’s handling of this crisis. He mentioned a conversation he had with Dr. Elizabeth Linos of the Berkeley Goldman School regarding a much-needed cultural change inside CDCR–a shift in approach from making demands (which Tigar referred to as a “sledgehammer” approach) toward emulation and leading by example, going as far as expressing doubt that the new CDCR policy to ensure testing compliance–and any measures taken by CCPOA, the prison guards union–went far enough, given the existence of significant “pockets” of noncompliance among the staff. Judge Tigar became visibly emotional as he discussed his visits at CMF, mentioning that Gov. Newsom called him and expressed a desire to tour CMF as well. Judge Tigar discussed in detail several people he had met behind bars, including a man in his 90s and a man who became eligible for parole in 1993. He displayed pictures of several people who had died of COVID-19 behind bars, speaking at length and in detail about Eric Warner, 57, an amputee, reformed Christian, and volunteer, and about Sergeant Gilbert Polanco, 55. When speaking of Mr. Warner’s passing, Judge Tigar had to stop to wipe his tears.

Judge Tigar then made a lengthy and forceful plea with Katheleen Allison to consider releases, stating that the time had come for that remedy and giving Gov. Newsom is support in this effort. Judge Tigar used the term of art “deliberate indifference”–a term indicating a finding of Eight Amendment violation–several times–even though he said that it had not been technically met, but explicitly said that CDCR’s behavior will fuel further lawsuits. The upshot of the hearing was the following order:

gov.uscourts.cand.76.3523.0 (1) by hadaraviram on Scribd

The order requires the parties to brief Judge Tigar on the physical possibilities to create quarantine and social distancing (including, for example, the existence of solid doors), as well as on the extent to which pandemic prevention guidelines might have changed during the course of the litigation. The situation on the ground makes it plainly obvious that what is needed here is an all-encompassing solution for the entire prison system; while state courts should be the vanguard of safeguarding Eighth Amendment rights in prisons, their jurisdiction is limited to their counties, and we are simply no longer in a situation in which this makes geographical sense. The thing to do now is push aggressively for releases and for early, effective, and broad vaccination behind bars, and to bring Plata to a successful and effective conclusion.

Hōjicha Latte

Let’s take a wee break from all criminal justice/civil rights aspects of this annus horribilis to discuss one of the upshots: given the closure of cafés, which are my favorite places to work, I’ve developed home barista skills. Usually I drink a matcha latte every day, but I’m out of matcha powder–and imagine my joy when I discovered that it is possible to make lattes from hōjicha! Hōjicha is a Japanese green tea, which obtains its distinctive flavor through roasting in a porcelain pot over charcoal (most other Japanese teas are steamed.) The tea is fired at a high temperature, altering the leaf color tints from green to reddish brown. One of the wonderful attributes of hōjicha is that it has almost no caffeine, which means I can happily drink a couple of these a day and serve this to my preschooler.

Simply grinding tea leaves does not make powder that is usable in lattes; matcha powder can be used in this way because of its distinctive processing. Thankfully, the good folks over at Stonemill Matcha sell hōjicha powder. To make this at home, you’ll need a tall glass, a little cup, a matcha whisk (chasen) and an ordinary kitchen whisk.

Pour about 1 cup of Oatly (or any plant milk, but if you have Oatly, why drink anything else?) into the tall glass and add a few ice cubes. Place the kitchen whisk in the glass and spin fast back and forth until you have a nice layer of foam on top. In the little cup, place a teaspoon of hōjicha powder. Add about 3-4 tbsp boiling water. Whisk with matcha whisk until a bit foamy. Carefully pour the hōjicha into the milk glass, which will create the layers you see in the picture. Enjoy!

BREAKING NEWS: Vaccine Available for Staff AND Incarcerated People This Month

Today, CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison communicated excellent news. The letter above reads:

To All Loved Ones of Incarcerated Individuals and Valued External Stakeholders,

We have an important update in our response efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic. As most of you know, the vaccine has arrived in California, and it is safe and effective. The vaccine is being made available on a phased basis, and as a state, we are committed to a fair and equitable allocation and distribution process.

To that end, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS) will receive our first vaccines allocation as soon as this month, and we are currently working with our public health partners on a distribution plan. The initial focus will be on people at high risk of becoming infected or severely ill from COVID-19, as well as frontline workers.

We will have information on our website, and will update it regularly to ensure we are keeping everyone informed on these efforts.

CDCR and CCHCS have also sent out a similar communication to the incarcerated population and staff. We encourage everyone to accept the vaccine once they are eligible to receive it, and in accordance with the phased distribution approach. These collective efforts will set us on the path to recovery, and will allow us to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in our institutions, and safely reopen to in-person visiting, group programming, volunteering, and other opportunities.

If you have questions please email We are unable to address questions about specific individuals with this correspondence; however, we value your feedback and welcome your questions about the vaccine program and our COVID-19 response efforts.

In the meantime, we are continuing to ensure everyone is taking every precaution to ensure the safety and wellness of everyone who lives and works in our institutions. We are thankful to the families, friends and loved ones of our incarcerated population, as well as our stakeholders. Your hard work, dedication, and sacrifice this year has not been lost on us, and we are appreciative of all your efforts.

For more information on these response efforts, please visit the CDCR/CCHCS COVID response page. For more information about this project and the COVID-19 vaccine, visit this web page.

Take care of yourselves and take care of each other.

Kathleen Allison Clark Kelso

Secretary Receiver

I received the above in a format that did not have clickable links, but I assume the links take you here and here. I have many questions, which I will email to the above address tomorrow morning, including whether the vaccine is mandatory for staff, whether readiness/buy in questionnaires have been administered, and whether choice to vaccinate will be linked to incarceration conditions. I hope to provide updates soon.

Noblesse Oblige and the “Dr.” Controversy

On my second day of law school, in 1992, Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, one of the most admired and respected civil rights academic heroes in Israel, came to our first-ever criminal law class, and said to the 300 first-year students in the lecture hall, “please call me ‘Mota'”. I thought to myself, there is no way on Earth I would ever bring myself to call you ‘Mota’ and you know it, and proceeded, in the few occasions that I summoned the courage to talk to him, to linguistically pretzel around the need to call him anything. Last year I sent him an email supporting his activism. It was the first time I referred to him by his first name. I was already a tenured professor with a named chair, and even so, I hesitated and reworded the email five times.

Like pretty much every sensible person, I was disgusted and reviled by Joseph Epstein’s condescending, ignorant opinion piece in the WSJ asking Dr. Biden to stop referring to herself as “Dr.” because he found it fraudulent, or in bad taste, or whatever (no need to read that drivel; for takedowns, see here, here, here, and here.)

Given the awfulness of the COVID crisis, I’m surprised how something this trite has rankled me so much, but I can’t get it out of my system, so here goes. Lots has already been said about this, most of which I fervently agree with, so just one comment, if you please, about one of the less explored aspects of this. Consider this fantastic poem by Susan Harlan:

Image may contain: text that says 'SUSAN HARLAN MY FIRST NAME No, you can't call me By my first name, And yes, I know that A male professor Told you that titles Are silly Because a certain genre Of man Is always dying To performatively Divest himself Of his easily won Authority.'

I’m a member of the Law and Society Association, the American Society of Criminology, the Western Society of Criminology, the Society for Empirical Legal Studies, and an occasional attendee at a bunch of gatherings of other professional associations, and I see this “certain genre of man” and this sort of dynamic all the time at every professional meeting I attend. I don’t need to name names, because if you’re an academic, whatever field you’re in, you’ve seen this, too: The young folks, the folks of color, the younger womenfolk, and especially our colleagues who spent a fortune flying to the conference from places like Brazil or South Korea show up in formal, elegant outfits, with a flawless deck of PowerPoint slides and deliver meticulously prepared remarks to a room with three audience members. The guy who is a distinguished professor at Amherst College or Yale or Berkeley or Stanford and considered a luminary in the field shows up in wrinkled dockers, his sockless feet in crocs or Birkenstocks, maybe even a quirky hat perched at a rakish angle, ad-libbing without slides at the well-attended plenary about some idea he had last night.

I submit to you that the folksy, humble, down-to-earthsy, modest, approachable spiel of the dude who has been elevated to knighthood is just as performative as the bowtie, suit, call-me-doctor spiel of those who have not. I don’t mean it’s disingenuous or calculated (many of these shabby dudes are truly lovely people); I merely mean it is a self-presentation of class within class. The person who floats above and beyond the need to hustle, impress, and–most importantly–be taken seriously, signals it by dressing and behaving in a way that signals, “no matter what disheveled personal appearance or casual demeanor I dish out, I am an inalienable member of the oligarchy of the profession.” This sort of guy is above snickering at the well-dressed folks who are trying to hustle, because noblesse oblige, right? He might not even notice them hustle, or he’s a genuinely good guy who has compassion for where they are in the food chain (perhaps remembering his past, hustling self), in which case he’ll offer them a forgiving smile for their faux pas of “trying too hard.” It’s the folks a bit lower on the totem pole who do the snickering. This, by the way, tells you why the snarky takedown could only come from some poser like Epstein: The folks who are the real deal–the folks Epstein respects–are way above dishing out such garbage.

The reason women, people of color, young people, or people from the global south, appear shrill and overly self important when they dress formally or insist on being called by the title they earned, is that they know they have to hustle to be taken seriously, and if they don’t insist on the respect they are owed, they are going to be ignored, patronized, and ridiculed. I think I’ve mostly crossed the age/seniority threshold where being taken seriously is an uphill battle, but it was only last year that I stood behind the podium, prepping my slides for the first session in my own classroom (what could be a more obvious indication that I was the professor?) when an adjunct, who mistook my classroom for his, stepped in, handed me his flash drive, and asked me to pop up his slides and do something about the lighting. This, and far worse, happens every day to academics who are women or other members of disadvantaged groups. And when it happens, they try to calm their breath, swallow hard, feel their heartbeats quicken and their palms sweating, and then, in a voice that sounds ragged and shaky to their own ears and thinly masks the rage, state their honorifics, incurring the scorn of those whose position in life allows them to view this kind of hustle as crass or gauche.

I would happily have us all live in a society of equals, where each of us gets respect for their expertise wearing whatever they want and being called by their first name. Unfortunately, I don’t live in that world and neither do you. So, when you insist on being called Doctor, you are doing it to open the door a bit wider and extend a broader welcome to all your colleagues with doctorates.

There. Is. Nowhere. To. Transfer.

Today we are hearing more rumblings about CDCR’s plans (irrespective of the Von Staich decision, they claim) to transfer elderly, infirm people between prisons.

Where are they going to transfer people to? The graph above, compiled by Chad Goerzen from CDCR data, depicts the rise in new cases just in the last few days. A third of the prison population has been infected so far; a tenth is currently infected; 97 people have died. As of today, twenty-three prisons have major outbreaks (more than 50 cases):

  • CCI (156 new cases)
  • CIW (64 new cases)
  • CMC (180 new cases)
  • LAC (795 new cases)
  • SAC (115 new cases)
  • SOL (129 new cases)
  • CAC (367 new cases)
  • CAL (154 new cases)
  • CEN (419 new cases)
  • CTF (799 new cases)
  • HDSP (722 new cases)
  • ISP (120 new cases)
  • KVSP (505 new cases)
  • MCSP (733 new cases)
  • NKSP (208 new cases)
  • PBSP (76 new cases) 
  • PVSP (1,213 new cases)
  • RJD (400 new cases)
  • SVSP (83 new cases)
  • SCC (248 new cases)
  • SATF (593 new cases)
  • VSP (368 new cases)

A change in strategy is long past due. But it looks like CDCR is taking a page out of Trump’s pandemic prevention playbook, flailing about, transferring people to and fro, hoping that this will go away and arguing in court that “there is no need to act hastily.”

What worries me about this is not just the immediate danger to people. The profound and understandable breakdown in trust between CDCR and the people in its care is going to be the Achilles’ heel of any vaccination strategy. It is essential to understand that releases and vaccinations must go hand in hand. I say this not only to CDCR officials, who might be thinking that the vaccine will obviate the need to release people, but also to activists who obstinately oppose the vaccines because they worry it will weaken the struggle for releases. Without the good will that only releases can create, not only will any vaccine intervention be ineffective, but the problems that fester in the system will increase its susceptibility to the next pandemic.