Friday, September 22, 2017

Montreal on the Street

I visited Montreal once 25 years ago. It's amazing how much I didn't remember about it. I mostly had just an impression of its Europeanness, that there was a big hill park somewhere in the middle of it all, and there were a lot of restaurants and cafes that had front walls that opened to the street during the summer.

After spending a week there recently, I promise not to forget it again.

This is a representative look at a residential street, at least in the area east of downtown and southeast of the park.

I stumbled upon Wilensky's Lunch, an institution since 1932, still run by the same family that started it. I got to talk to the son and daughter of the founders, in fact. They have their original soda fountain and serve basically one food item: the special, which is a toasted kaiser roll with bologna, salamy, and mustard (cheese optional). No, you cannot get get it without mustard.

The Mile End area was full of funky shops and holes in the wall like this.

The weathering on these creatures caught my eye.

There is a huge amount of public art in the city, including murals...

... and less formal street art:

One thing Montreal has that all cities should also allow: large posters pasted onto temporary structures, like this fence along a construction site:

Why don't we have these? Why do these kinds of walls always say, instead, "post no bills"?

I'm sure this poster on a light pole wasn't legal, but its active design sure added to my experience on the street:

Montreal is famous for its public markets, of which there are more than a half dozen. I managed to get to two of them. This is Jean-Talon:

This was the best vegetable stand I saw at either market. The attention to color arrangement was beautiful:

At McGill University, I noticed a couple of cool things inside the student center building:

This clever student club name is in English, but its acronym sounds the same as the French word for "with."

And this, from the student office door of the Plate Club. They exist to loan plates and glasses to other student groups in order to minimize waste at McGill. Wow!

I spent a lot of time on the Metro, and will have a later post about that and other pedestrian and transit infrastructure, but this bit is just an amusing visual:

That pregnant lady icon makes me laugh. She could just as easily be carrying a French horn, I think.

Three more from the street:

This green guy is the symbol of Just for Laughs, the Montreal comedy festival, which I first heard about during my previous visit. It was not running while I was there this time, but I guess he inhabits this restaurant I saw along the way all year long.

This creative reuse of ketchup cans highlights the beautiful graphicality of Heinz's packaging, especially against a white brick wall.

And finally, from Sid Lee, an ad agency down near the waterfront:

That's some beautifully designed neon, and a perfectly good description of about 90 percent of all advertising.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Minnesota Angle on Health Care

In all the current hubbub about health care around the Graham-Cassidy bill, there's one Minnesota-centric story that should be more widely known. You know how Republicans are all about local control and how they want the states to be laboratories of solutions?

Well, that's not really true. Shocking, I know.

Here's the story, but it requires some background. One of the few things the Minnesota legislature did right in its last session was pass a truly bipartisan bill that partially bailed out Minnesotans (like me) who get their insurance on the individual market, because our rates went up — literally — 50 to 70 percent for 2017. And they also passed a reinsurance provision for 2018 to head that problem off in future years.

This type of reinsurance is one of the "fixes" that people in the know often mention, including Republicans, and it was Minnesota Republicans who were the majority when this was passed last spring. I've heard this bill hailed as an example for other states to follow. Great idea, right?

But guess what: In order to do the reinsurance, the state has to apply to the federal Department of Health and Human Services for a waiver. Our governor has been waiting to hear for months, and finally got word that, while the waiver would be approved, it would mean a cut in federal money that currently is used to partially fund MinnesotaCare.

MinnesotaCare is a state program providing health coverage to people who don't have employer coverage, but who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to pay for insurance, even with the subsidies available under the ACA. It was implemented about 20 years ago, well before the ACA, with funding through fees on health care providers, and it's currently a great boon to 120,000 people in our state. (I think its numbers used to be higher before the ACA expanded Medicaid coverage to people with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty rate.) It's our gap coverage, basically, and every state should have something like it.

Under the ACA, Minnesota has been receiving the dollars that would otherwise have gone to these individuals to subsidize their insurance payments. So if a person would have gotten $500 a month to bring their insurance payments to an affordable rate, instead that $500 is going to the state to offset the cost of the person's MinnesotaCare coverage. Makes sense to me.

According to the Star Tribune, HHS plans to cut those payments to the state, $369 million, which blows past the $208 million increase the state will automatically receive because premiums are going up. The net loss is $161 million.

This is the same HHS, under its insider-trading, private-jet-chartering secretary Tom Price, that would be responsible for interpreting the provisions of Graham-Cassidy, such as the vaguely worded section on pre-existing conditions.

So great, let's trust the people who want to make sure poor people have no health coverage, and penalize states that have managed to come up with a bipartisan solution. Sounds like a plan.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Kennedy Prints! in Ann Arbor

While on a recent trip to Montreal by car, I stopped overnight in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And it so happened that on the following morning, a Sunday, it was the Ann Arbor Book Festival, which is held at their cute farmers market. We almost literally stumbled upon it as we were checking out the neighborhood, which is also home to People's Food Co-op and the famous Zingerman's Deli.

Then, as we walked the path between tables filled with books from local authors and publishers, who did we see standing behind a table but Amos Paul Kennedy, one of my favorite printers.

He's been working in a smaller size lately than I've mostly seen from him, and I bought three mini-posters, which he graciously signed:

More on Montreal later.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


The bagel shop was a bit busier than usual, so I had to get in line behind a half-dozen people, which put me near a farmhouse-style table where three people were seated. As I dug my phone out of my pocket to kill time while waiting, I heard the voices from the table and glanced over at them.

The speaker was a white man, probably around 70. His companions were two white women of a similar age or just a bit younger. He was doing almost all of the talking, and his voice, while not the loudest I’ve heard in a restaurant, was prominent enough to carry well beyond the table. I could hear him pretty clearly, and when the sound in the rest of the place ebbed, anyone within 10 or 12 feet would be able to hear him, too.

I don’t remember what he said exactly because my mind was switching into fight-or-flight mode, with adrenaline starting to hit my bloodstream and the shaking that comes with that. But it was racist as hell. He wasn’t using the N word, or saying people deserved to die, or anything along those lines. But he made repeated statements about how he didn’t understand black culture, how it was deficient, how black people can’t help themselves, how they trash houses and neighborhoods… things like that.

Now mind you, there was an African American employee of the bagel shop standing five feet in front of me, working dutifully. He probably couldn’t hear this jerk, but I could, the person in line behind me could, the person ahead of me probably could, and the four or five people at adjacent tables could.

Then for a moment the conversational background noise of the restaurant faded and I clearly heard the guy saying something positive about Bill Cosby’s lecturing of his fellow black people and knew the young employee might be able to hear him also.

I got out of the line and stood at the end of the farmhouse table, shaking and quaking for a half-second. The three of them looked at me as I started to speak. “Excuse me, sir,” I said in what I hope was a fairly even tone. “I know you have the right to sit here and express your opinions, but could you please keep your voice down so the rest of us don’t have to listen to you?”

I think that’s what I said. I know I’ve remembered the beginning and the ending correctly… I can’t quite recall how I put the part about him being able to express his opinions. I didn’t say he was a racist or characterize his words in any way, except by saying that I didn’t want to listen to them.

They all looked at me in astonishment.

I went back to the line, ordered my food, paid for it, and sat down. By the time I got to a table on the other side of the room, they had left.

I may have ruined his day. I guess I kind of hope I did. I wonder if he has any idea why a white lady not that much younger than him would say she didn’t want to hear what he had to say. I wonder if the other two women agreed with him or were just too polite to tell him to shut up.

It’s a weird thing. He wasn’t proclaiming to the other people in the room on purpose, or directly addressing a person of color with his racism. The situation wasn’t like the one with “your racist uncle at Thanksgiving,” exactly, where you're sharing a common social space and there are impressionable young nieces and nephews listening, as NPR's Gene Demby has put it.

So when is it okay to interrupt racist speech?

I think because he was speaking loudly enough to impinge on the space of a dozen other people, it was appropriate. If he hadn’t been speaking loudly I wouldn’t have heard him and wouldn’t have said anything, right? If he wanted to stand on a street corner and spout off, he would have the right to do that, and anyone else would have the right to heckle him back, or even shout louder than him. But in a private space like a restaurant, or maybe on a bus, what would you do?

I was shaking for another 15 minutes as I calmed down. Ruined my lunch, mostly. But I'm glad I did it; it would have been ruined worse if I hadn't.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mary Singleton

Wisconsin is a land of folk art. While traveling through recently, I saw some of the work of Mary Singleton, an Americana painter.

While I can see that Singleton's concepts may be based in a reactionary romanticism, I like the paintings anyway. 

The resemblance to Virginia Lee Burton's work, especially in The Little House, probably explains my interest in this work, though of course Burton's composition and drawing ability shine through.

I can't find any information on Mary Singleton, though the person at the shop in Mauston where I saw these told me she lives in Camp Douglas and is a well-known artist, featured in a particular folk art calendar each year. I can find lots of places where that calendar is for sale, but no one discussing her work and no bio for her.

It's kind of weird, in fact. But, oh, well. Maybe this is a start.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Names that Are Bad for Business, Canada

These two winning business or product names are from Montreal, though only one is in French.

Fashion is a culture where I can't tell the winks from the blinks, as anthropologist Clifford Geertz put it, but "bodybag" seems like a name to avoid in any Western culture.

This wine, called Pisse-Dru, is just one of those language things that happens, like the Chevy Nova car, whose name mean "no go" in Spanish. Pisse is just never going to sell to an Anglophone audience, but maybe that's part of the point in Quebec. I guess it translates as something like "the juice looks very concentrated." Okay, then!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Tonypandy, Another Name for Fake News

In my last semester of college, when I was too busy with student government and other nonacademic pursuits to be taking classes at all yet somehow had a number of credits to complete, I was supposed to have read Josephine Tey’s novel The Daughter of Time in a class called History and Historical Fiction. I could swear I read it (though I know I read the Cliff Notes of Vanity Fair to cover another assigned reading, the only time I ever used those in my academic life, so maybe I only skimmed it). But when I picked up a used paperback of Daughter recently and read it, it seemed completely unfamiliar. I apologize to my professor.

I knew the book revolved around the true story of Richard III and the murdered princes in the Tower of London, but I somehow thought it had something to do with time travel. But no, there’s no time travel, just research and detective work, set in 1950 or so. A Scotland Yard detective, laid up with a broken leg, charges a young American researcher to delve into the files of the British Museum, and together they find that Richard was clearly not the one who did in the little princes.

I won’t give away the name of who they conclude did carry out the murderous acts (though I’m sure it’s easy to look up these days if you want to, and as always, it helps to ask cui bono?), but along the way they raise many interesting issues about how history is written, epistemology, and what we call these days “fake news.”

Their shorthand word for that fake news is Tonypandy, after the Tonypandy riots of 1910. Here’s how Tey’s character, Detective Alan Grant, describes those events and fake news that followed (p. 102):
If you go to South Wales you will hear that, in 1910, the Government used troops to shoot down Welsh miners who were striking for their rights. You’ll probably hear that Winston Churchill, who was Home Secretary at the time, was responsible. South Wales, you will be told, will never forget Tonypandy….

The actual facts were these. The rougher section of the Rhondda valley had got quite out of hand. Shops were being looted and property destroyed. The Chief Constable in Glamorgan sent a request to the House Office for troops to protect the lieges.
In the novel, Grant says the troops never engaged with the strikers at all, though the Wikipedia entry disagrees with that point, but both agree that no shots were fired. One miner died from a head injury (Grant again omits that, saying there were only bloody noses), and there were probably hundreds of injuries from fights and blunt force trauma caused by truncheons. But despite Tey’s fairly innocuous description of the police response to the miners, it does appear that no one was shot by police, let alone soldiers.

Grant concludes his lesson on Tonypandy proper with this:
The point is that every single man who was there knows that the story is nonsense, and yet it has never been contradicted. It will never be overtaken now. It is a completely untrue story grown to legend while the men who knew it to be untrue looked on and said nothing (p. 103).
Another example of Tonypandy given in the book is the Presbyterian martyrs of Scotland. These words are written in a letter by Detective Grant’s cousin Laura, who lives in Scotland:
Scotland has large monuments to two women martyrs drowned for their faith, in spite of the fact that they weren’t drowned at all and neither was a martyr anyway. The were convicted of treason — fifth column work for the projected invasion from Holland, I think. Anyhow on a purely civil charge. They were reprieved on their own petition by the Privy Council, and the reprieve is in the Privy Council Register to this day.

This, of course, hasn’t daunted the Scottish collectors of martyrs, and the tale of their sad end, complete with heart-rending dialogue, is to be found in every Scottish bookcase…. They are even a subject for fine Presbyterian sermons…. And tourists come and shake their heads over the monuments with their moving inscriptions, and a very profitable time is had by all.

All this in spite of the fact that the original collector of the material, canvassing the…district only forty years after the supposed martyrdom and at the height of the Presbyterian trim, complains that “many deny that this happened” and couldn’t find any eyewitnesses at all (pp. 129-130).
When Grant later relays the story of the Scottish fake saints to his young research assistant, he refers to the Presbyterian partisans as Covenanters and puts it into a then-current context:
The Covenanters were the exact equivalent of the IRA in Ireland. A small irreconcilable minority, and as bloodthirsty a crowd as ever disgraced a Christian nation. If you went to church on Sunday instead of to a conventicle, you were liable to wake up on Monday to find your barn burned or your horses ham-strung. If you were more open in your disapproval you were shot. The men who shot Archbishop Sharp in his daughter’s presence, in broad daylight on a road in Fife, were the heroes of the movement…. They lived safe and swaggering among their Covenanting fans in the West for years… (p. 142).
After a few more examples of killings by the Covenanters, Grant continues:
They were actually worse than the IRA because there was a fifth column element in it. They were financed from Holland, and their arms came from Holland…. They expected to take over the Government any day, and rule Scotland. All their preaching was pure sedition. The most violent incitement to crime you could imagine… No one ever stopped them from worshipping God any way they pleased. What they were out to do was to impose their method of church government not only on Scotland but on England… You should read the Covenant some day. Freedom of worship was not to be allowed to anyone according to the Covenanting creed (pp. 142-143).
Whether Tey's rendering of the Scottish situation is accurate, I cannot determine because it's darned near impenetrable for an American reader. She seems to have her own anti-Irish and anti-Catholic bias, for instance, though she's also clearly not a fan of Scottish nationalism either, even though she was Scottish. But despite those caveats, all of this resonates in our current era, including the desire on the part of some in society for theocracy as they define it.

At the end of the letter from Grant’s cousin Laura, she includes a P.S. that merits separate note:
It’s an odd thing that when you tell someone the true facts of a mythical tale they are indignant not with the teller but with you. They don’t want to have their ideas upset. It rouses some vague uneasiness in them, I think, and they resent it. So they reject it and refuse to think about it. If they were merely indifferent it would be natural and understandable. But it is much stronger than that, much more positive. They are annoyed. Very odd, isn’t it? (p. 130)
And that also resonates with today, doesn’t it? People stick to their tribal epistemology, as Dave Roberts calls it, using the "rational" part of their minds to justify what they already concluded in the lizard brain (or System 2 and System 1, as Daniel Kahneman calls these aspects of the brain in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow).

So, as Talleyrand said centuries ago, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Fake news is not new, it just travels faster through social media, with Russian-funded bots to help it it along. Tonypandy lives in Charlottesville and Berkeley and in the rumors of looting during Hurricane Harvey.

Maybe that's almost a hopeful conclusion from all of this, eh? People believed and believe all of these untrue things, but the world keeps going.

Friday, September 15, 2017

On Hochelaga and Subsistence

Montreal is celebrating its 375th anniversary, some say. That dates from 1642 when the Ville Marie was founded at a point along the St. Laurence River on the island later called Montreal.

But of course, people lived there before that and the number 375 does not include them. On a recent visit, I saw evidence of a small piece of this omission. This marker stands along the central green at McGill University:

The plaque reads:

Near here was the site of the fortified town of Hochelaga visited by Jacques Cartier in 1535, abandoned before 1600. It contained fifty large houses, each lodging several families who subsisted by cultivation and fishing.
People have been on Montreal’s island for at least 4,000–5,000 years. It was underwater from 12,000-6,000 years ago, and covered in glacier before then. The first sedentary settlements were about 1,300 years ago. (Signs of habitation in other parts of Quebec date to 12,000 years ago.)

Cartier's visit was more than a hundred years before the 1642 settlement of Ville Marie, but even so, the possibility of a visitor like Cartier would not have been unheard of the people of Hochelaga. According to the head archaeologist at the history museum in Montreal and a local historian quoted in the Montreal Gazette,
Europeans had been visiting other parts of the St. Lawrence Valley for years for whaling, cod fishing and seal hunting, and had interacted with indigenous communities.

“The aboriginal people were very mobile and information travelled fast,” Pothier said.

“Around the late 1400s and early 1500s, you have growing numbers of fishermen coming from Europe (French, British and Spanish), especially to exploit the Grand Banks,” near Newfoundland, Taylor said.

“Some of the fishermen would go ashore to pick up firewood or for trapping and would encounter the people living there. A trade develops. They’re offering knives, fishhooks, glass beads in exchange for fur” along the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Canadian archaeologists have been digging to discover the exact site of Hochelaga, including this summer.

With that as background, what made me want to write about the stone marker and this topic was one word in the plaque: subsisted. Hochelaga’s “families subsisted through cultivation and fishing.”

It occurred to me that the verb subsist is used to unconsciously denigrate the way of life of non-European peoples. According to a couple of dictionaries, it means
  • to maintain or support oneself, especially at a minimal level.
  • to get enough food or money to stay alive, but no more.
Subsistence is defined this way, making the connotation even more central to the meaning:
  • the action or fact of maintaining or supporting oneself at a minimum level.
  • denoting or relating to production at a level sufficient only for one's own use or consumption, without any surplus for trade.
“Without any surplus trade.” Yet there’s plenty of evidence that the native people of North America were trading with each other before Europeans arrived, so they must have had something to trade, yes? Why do “we” (and the makers of that plaque) use the word subsistence for their way of life?

Cartier only stopped at what was later called Montreal in 1535 because the Lachine rapids were in the way. As he and his men looked around the area, they saw the big hill on the island and named it “Mont Royal.” They also came upon the village of Hochelaga, which was “surrounded by hills and cultivated fields of corn” — “ploughed and very fertile” — with 50 long houses, each home to multiple families, inside a wooden stockade. Cartier wrote at the time:
The said town is all in a circle, enclosed in wood, in three ranks, in the manner of a pyramid, crossed at the top, having a row perpendicular to it all. And this town there is only one door and entrance. There are within this town roughly fifty houses, each about fifty steps long, and…
He also described the longhouse interiors and how people lived in them, “in each one of them, there are several hearths and several rooms.” In the center of each house was a common room, where the families built a fire and lived as a community.

Near the village were fields where squash, beans and corn were grown, with an area reserved for tobacco.

Now, remember how the typical European lived at this time — probably in more squalor and hunger than the people of Hochelaga, as readers of Charles Mann’s book 1491 know. Remember that the idea of “subsistence” is used as an excuse for manifest destiny and land-grabbing (“they weren’t doing anything with the land anyway,” as the Randian philosophy goes).

And then remember what the etymology of subsist is, according to etymonline,
from Middle French subsister and directly from Latin subsistere "to stand still or firm, take a stand, take position; abide, hold out," from sub "under, up to" (see sub-) + sistere "to assume a standing position, stand still, remain; set, place, cause to stand still.” The meaning "to support oneself" (in a certain way) is later, from 1640s.
Which, ironically, was right around the time Montreal was “founded.”

The connotation of a minimal existence and lesser-than status that we now associate with the word is not mentioned and I assume is undated, but I would argue it has ruined it for common usage if you intend it to mean "support oneself." It now inherently implies that living with what you produce is bad and must be changed to a growth economy.

Whether that’s used to denigrate past native societies or current attempts at sustainable economies, it’s something we have to stop assuming.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

He'll Be Happy Since It's Gold

Here's one from the design community:

By Mark Fox and Angie Wang of Design is Play.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Boycott Motel 6

Unless and until you hear they have established and are enforcing a new policy, I urge you to boycott Motel 6 and tell everyone you know, too. At least some of their locations are working hand-in-glove with ICE, reporting every morning on who's just stayed overnight and what type of ID they showed. Then ICE shows up to round up anyone whose papers aren't in order. The ACLU has just filed suit against the chain.

Oh, and if you're a person who watches ESPN, be aware of the developing situation around Jemele Hill, their only African American woman reporter. She had the temerity to say that Trump is a white a supremacist, and now a bunch of people — including Trump himself, via spokesperson Sarah Sanders — have said she should be fired for saying what is clearly true, given his actions both in the past and present.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Harrowing History of Hearse

It started because I had a mental lapse and couldn't remember how to spell "hearse" while playing a word game.

That led to noticing the oddness of its spelling vs. pronunciation, which meant I had to look up its etymology, and that gave me this from etymonline:

c. 1300 (late 13c. in Anglo-Latin), "flat framework for candles, hung over a coffin," from Old French herse, formerly herce "large rake for breaking up soil, harrow; portcullis," also "large chandelier in a church," from Medieval Latin hercia, from Latin hirpicem (nominative hirpex) "harrow," a rustic word, from Oscan hirpus "wolf," supposedly in allusion to its teeth. Or the Oscan word may be related to Latin hirsutus "shaggy, bristly."

The funeral display is so called because it resembled a harrow (hearse in its sense of "portcullis" is not attested in English before 15c.). Sense extended to other temporary frameworks built over dead people, then to "vehicle for carrying a dead person to the grave," a sense first recorded 1640s. 
So, historically, a hearse is less a vehicle for carrying a body than a frame for candles that looks like a harrow, which is somehow similar to a wolf's teeth. And a harrow looks like a portcullis, by the way, which I never thought about before, either. But the most common usage of harrowing as a verb these days has nothing to do with dragging the soil in preparation for planting, but instead means "acutely distressing."

Another bunch of reasons to love the English language.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Barcelona's Answer to Vivian Maier

If you've appreciated the street photography of Vivian Maier, you'll want to find out about Milagros Caturla, a Barcelona woman whose photographs were found at a flea market about 15 years ago.

The finders had no idea who the photographer was, and it was process of investigation before Caturla's identity was discovered. She had died in 2008.