Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Scenes from a Winter Yard

We got about a foot of snow yesterday between 10:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Just enough to really gum up the works out on the streets. Lots of people helping each other extract personal vehicles that weren't up to the task. Lots of shoveling and snow-blowing going on at this moment, and lots of plowing out on the streets, too, of course.

In my yard it's pretty quiet among the occupants, the snow-plastered owl...

...and the mostly buried snow bug:

Next door, there are the neighbors' snow harps...

...not far from my bird house, complete with its small-scale icicle on the lower right side:

The fertile fronds of the ostrich ferns cast shadows as they wait for spring:

Monday, January 22, 2018


I keep hearing that as long as the economy (and especially the stock market) is “good,” way too many people will think Trump is doing a decent job. That seems absurd to me, of course, but I didn’t have a good way of explaining it until I saw this:

Looking at the stock market to judge the economic health of our country is actually like looking at a dying man and judging his health based on how the leeches look.
Those words were written by Lee Camp of Redacted Tonight.

The stock market is all about extraction of wealth, so the leech metaphor is pretty apt.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Four Signs from the Women's Marches, 2018

I didn't go to a march this weekend, since the Minnesota organizers decided early on to plan an indoor event, in a place that only holds only 2,500. I guess it may have been something to do with limitations on public spaces because of the impending Superbowl, but I'm not sure if that's correct.

Anyway, there were hundreds of thousands of people marching against Trump in lots of cities, breaking records in Los Angeles, Austin, Las Vegas... Here are the signs I liked best when they came through my social media.

The first three are all on a similar theme:

The last one is just funny (and true):

Despite the large turnouts, the marches got very little media coverage. Remember back in 2009-10 when the Tea Party got covered if a hundred people showed up in a park? And they got to give a nationally televised response to the State of the Union?

I wonder what was different about them. Hmm.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Looking Back at the Black Seam

Does any other young baby boomers or Gen Xers remember Sting's album from the 1980s, Dream of the Blue Turtles? At the time, in my mid-20s, I particularly liked the song Russians (which was about nuclear war and was known for the line, "I hope the Russians love their children too").

I generally knew the other songs, too, but hadn't heard any of them for decades until I happened across this one about mining yesterday. It and its plaintive oboe (listen to it here) have been stuck in my head since then:

We Work The Black Seam

This place has changed for good
Your economic theory said it would
It's hard for us to understand
We can't give up our jobs the way we should
Our blood has stained the coal
We tunneled deep inside the nation's soul
We matter more than pounds and pence
Your economic theory makes no sense

One day in a nuclear age
They may understand our rage
They build machines that they can't control
And bury the waste in a great big hole
Power was to become cheap and clean
Grimy faces were never seen
Deadly for twelve thousand years is carbon fourteen
We work the black seam together
We work the black seam together

The seam lies underground
Three million years of pressure packed it down
We walk through ancient forest lands
And light a thousand cities with our hands
Your dark satanic mills
Have made redundant all our mining skills
You can't exchange a six inch band
For all the poisoned streams in Cumberland
Your economic theory makes no sense

One day in a nuclear age
They may understand our rage
They build machines that they can't control
And bury the waste in a great big hole
Power was to become cheap and clean
Grimy faces were never seen
Deadly for twelve thousand years is carbon fourteen
We work the black seam together
We work the black seam together

Should the children weep
The turning world will sing their souls to sleep
When you have sunk without a trace
The universe will suck me into place

One day in a nuclear age
They may understand our rage
They build machines that they can't control
And bury the waste in a great big hole
Power was to become cheap and clean
Grimy faces were never seen
But deadly for twelve thousand years is carbon fourteen
We work the black seam together
We work the black seam together
This was written (I assume) just after Chernobyl, so the warning that "deadly for twelve thousand years is carbon fourteen" makes sense. And the point of view of miners whose work goes away is real, as we are constantly reminded here in the U.S.

The thing the lyrics are missing, of course, is that coal isn't just literally dirty. It's that the carbon dioxide emitted when coal is burned lasts in the atmosphere a long time, and warms the planet. Not 14,000 years, of course, but "About 75% of CO2 emissions have an average perturbation lifetime of 1,800 years and 25% have lifetimes much longer than 5,000 years." And some of the carbon will still be around for 100,000 years. (source)

That's why climate writer and meteorologist Eric Holthaus recently wrote It's time to go nuclear in the fight against climate change. The carbon dioxide from fossil fuels — including supposedly "clean" natural gas —has to go as quickly as possible, if we are to have any decent chance of maintaining the habitat needed for human civilization (not humans necessarily, but civilization).

I'm not sure I agree that nuclear is essential to that change, since I'm more in the power-down camp than figure-out-how-to-keep-going-as-is camp, but it's worth a read.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The People of Dollar Street

How lives on Dollar Street? Seven billion people, that's who.

Anna Rosling Ronnlund takes about 10 minutes to tell something about them, and how their wealth (or lack thereof) gives them more in common than which country or culture they come from.

Anna is the daughter-in-law and colleague of the late Hans Rosling, and clearly she's carrying on the work.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Two Boxes, Two Faces

I had to go to Staples for some paper, and while there, I saw these two boxes.

One cried out to be rescued from the store...

...while the other stared me down, or maybe threatened me, as I walked past...

What are these product designers (and packaging designers) thinking?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Nothing Else to Add on Free Parking

Reprinted in full, a commentary from today's Star Tribune by Ian Klepetar, who is described as a livable-streets advocate and author from St. Paul.

The local grocery store where I shop gives a discount on store purchases to patrons who ride their bicycles there. I’ve made this perk known to others in the bike-riding community, and many respond with something like: “I’d feel bad taking money from them. Biking is its own reward.” Though I understand where they’re coming from, the truth of the matter is that as nondrivers, we should be getting a bit of a kickback each time we bike or walk to the store.

Let’s briefly look at the facts. Most, if not all, grocery stores in the Twin Cities provide free parking that costs approximately $25,000 per spot, with an additional $2,000 per spot, per year, for taxes, staffing and maintenance. These incredibly high costs to store automobiles come directly from the $4 gallon of milk, $5 jar of peanut butter or $3 loaf of bread that wait for us on the shelves inside the store.

The entirety of our transportation system has been conveniently and discreetly subsidized in countless ways that prioritize automobile travel. However, on a day-to-day basis, those who may be the most guilty of transportation inequality practices are our very own businesses and retailers that are providing parking and perks to car drivers without providing an equal benefit to those who cannot afford or choose not to drive.

Whole Foods on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis not only provides “free parking” to patrons but will pay it out on a car-by-car basis. Since it does not own or maintain its parking facilities, it directly pays the parking-management company every time you drive to that store to cover your tab through the behind-the-scenes act of parking validation. The same store that advertises itself as “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” is paying people to drive their cars and pollute.

Cub Foods has its own gas “rewards” program that is inclusive only to car drivers. Most grocers or high-volume retailers in the area provide lot or garage parking to their patrons at no cost to the user.

Just as many of the seemingly acceptable practices related to race and gender years ago are now viewed as overtly wrong, discrimination related to how we move needs more attention than ever. Foremost, our grocery stores and retailers must stop providing “free parking” and subsidized parking perks to the most-affluent group in the Twin Cities: the automobile owners. The high cost of groceries and products is partly due to the fact that retailers and grocery stores have been floating the tab to provide parking and perks to patrons and passing that cost on to the shoppers across the board.

To those who feel bad about receiving a discount for riding your bike, take what is yours and thank these forward-thinking businesses for being on the cutting edge of eliminating transportation discrimination in the Twin Cities.
I imagine I should not read the comments (of which there are 15 so far). Oops, I read them, and they 100% think Ian is ridiculous. Somehow everyone who grocery shops is buying bags of water softener salt every time they shop!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Very Sad

From the Atlantic's Derek Thompson on Twitter, reporting on a Knight Foundation survey about trust in the media:

A very short thread on the new Knight-Gallup media report. The big takeaway is that Fox News is a uniquely successful—and, I would say, uniquely detrimental—force in the news media ecosystem. Here's a look at the top "objective" news sources for Democrats and Republicans:

Democrats are evenly divided among several—CNN, NPR, NBC News, New York Times—that, while flawed and surely staffed by some liberals, are reliable sources of non-partisan (or, at least, multi-partisan) news and views.

And then you have Republicans, who basically just trust whatever Fox News says.

On the one hand, what an extraordinary commercial success story for Fox News, to have achieved unique monopoly power over the distribution of political information to one party.

There is no equivalent on the left.

On the other hand ... what a civic disaster.

FORTY PERCENT of Republicans told Gallup that “accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light” are always fake news.

Conservative media did not build an ecosystem to rival the perceived (and, sometimes, fairly described) "liberal" news media. It built an army to overthrow trust in news reporting and replace it with a propaganda network that protects GOP ideology and individuals.
Aside from the obviously distressing Fox News data, the thing I can't get over is that significantly more Democrats mentioned CNN as objective than they did NPR... and both were mentioned more than three times as often as the New York Times. (I guess this may be more of a "top of mind" awareness measure, than an actual rating of perceptions, where the respondents would be prompted to rate each media source. People in general are more likely to see one of the 24-hour news stations or the 24-hour radio service than they are to read a print newspaper, even if it's online, so in a sense it's a popularity vote.)

It's worth noting that these assessments of objectiveness are drawn only from the people who said they could think of an objective news source in the first place. Over all, that was only 44 percent of respondents (42 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of Democrats) (source: page 12 of the Knight report). So the 60 percent number for Fox, while still alarming is 60 percent of 42 percent... therefore, about 24 percent of Republicans.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Unclear on the Concept

Thanks to Cory Doctorow, I happened across this vintage photo:

What I don't get about it:

  1. Wouldn't she be at least partially suffocating in there, despite the opening at the bottom? Wouldn't it be steaming up, at least?
  2. If the idea is to keep your hair dry while washing your body, why spray the water directly on top of your head? (Maybe she's trying to clean the shower cap.)
It's from a page called Wacky Inventions. The rest of the photos are pretty wacky, too.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Word Order, Commas, People

A while back, Jason Kottke had a post called the adjective word order we all follow without realizing it. He pointed out that native English speakers and writers automatically put things into this order: opinion-size-age-shape-color-origin-material-purpose Noun.

His source (The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth) gives this example: "lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife," and notes, "...if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac."

The Cambridge Dictionary's version of the word-order list varies just a bit: opinion, size, physical quality, shape, age, colour, origin, material, type, purpose Noun.

Then there's the thing about whether or not commas are needed between each of those adjectives or not. Generally they are, though there are exceptions when it's the final adjective. Sometimes that final adjective is what's called a cumulative modifier and in a sense becomes part of the noun. This particularly comes into play when describing plants. For instance, which reads better?

  • Giant, ragged, pink flowers OR giant, ragged pink flowers
  • Blowsy, perfumed, 2” blooms OR blowsy, perfumed 2” blooms
All of this came to mind yesterday when I was listening to NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me while out and about. One of the questions posed to the panelists involved the phrase "black women's maternity pants."

I thought to myself, well that's an awfully particular thing — do they really make maternity pants for black women specifically?

The host, Peter Sagal, immediately caught the error and pointed out that they were talking about "women's black maternity pants." (Or he could, maybe, have said they meant "black, women's maternity pants," but that would require saying "comma" out loud to make it clear on the radio.)

But if you switch the order to "women's black maternity pants," it sounds out of order, given the rules above (though neither possession nor gender are not included in the lists, I note, but it sounds weird, doesn't it?).

In this specific example, there's a simpler solution: just remove the word "women's" since it's maternity pants we're talking about, right? And everyone knows who needs maternity pants. So just: black maternity pants.

But the question could still arise for other items, such as black women's shoes. Women's black shoes. Black, women's shoes. The last choice is the best one, I guess, but it's only completely clear in print, not when spoken. (And imagine the adjacent concept, white women's shoes.)

The larger problem all of this reveals is that applying colors to people was not a good idea. Who started that, anyway, white people?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Don't Let that Shithole Distract You from What's Happening to Medicaid

About the shithole heard round the world... Here's what Twitter and some of the rest of the world has had to say about it.

The critiques:

Can't quite put my finger on why the president would call Haiti and African countries "shitholes" but want more immigrants from Norway...hmmmm...
Nathalie Baptiste

"Shithole countries" is especially notable because the administration's public justification for removing Temporary Protected Status [from Haitians and Salvadorans] is basically that the countries have ceased to be so bad.
Daniel Dale

In any school, college, business firm, or civic organization, an employee who talked like Donald Trump regularly does would be fired.
Langdon Winner

The president's fixation about women's bodily fluids, his freakout over Ebola, his claim that Haitians "all have AIDS," his expressions of STD-phobia to Howard Stern, his hatred of handshakes, his food hangups and well-done steaks — we see the thread here, yes? Trump has called himself a "clean-hands freak" and says handshaking is "one of the curses of American society." The man has an immense disgust impulse and is terrified of communicable diseases.
Josh Barro
My ancestors did not come from shithole countries. They were neither tired nor poor. They were forcibly brought here to live in a shithole created for them.
Kimberly Atkins

A shithole is a nation that institutionalizes white supremacy and then blames those who aren't white for the barriers they face trying to live under a racist system.
(This tweet wasn't the only one to point out that what makes a country a shithole may better describe the U.S. than our sister countries. Chet Powell told a powerful story of a 1930 lynching and the present-day reaction to it in a Georgia county clerk's office, for instance.)
When a group of Italian immigrants were lynched in Louisiana in 1891, President Teddy Roosevelt called the lynching “rather a good thing” and a NYTimes editorial described the victims as “sneaking and cowardly Sicilians.” Those who demonize “others” forget their ancestors were demonized too.
Sally Kohn

The root of the problem is public outrage and private acceptance of racism.
freda bryson

Worth noting that today is Alexander Hamilton’s Birthday — you know, the immigrant kid who came from the shithole of Nevis to create the USA
John Avlon
Then (and almost immediately), there were the critiques of the critiques:
FFS the controversy is not that Trump used profanity. It's that he hates non-white immigrants and structures policy around that hatred.
Sarah Kendzior

"I can't BELIEVE Trump said something that someone in my peer group or family has thought or expressed every single day of my life." –White Proverb
Crystal Fleming @alwaystheself
I don't know what's worse: The white hypocrites who call Trump "racist" without acknowledging their complicity, or the white hypocrites who refuse to call Trump racist at all. What you all still don't want to admit is that Trump broke white folks' "gentlemen's agreement" (also known as "political correctness") to publicly disavow the racist views they privately express and actually act upon on a daily basis.
Crystal Fleming @alwaystheself

If you have the impulse to post stories about amazing people from Haiti or other "shitholes," stop. Everyone — even racists — knows people like that exist. There are amazing people from every group. Equality isn't making room for the exceptional, it's embracing the average. Stories of exceptions don't help equality. We are a country that believes in exceptionalism — that we are fundamentally better than other people in the world. We need reminders that people are people, and just like us, everywhere.
N. K. Jemisin

Please stop asking the 81% of White US Churchianity members to denounce the President's remarks. They agree with everything 45 said, and will quibble with you over lexis and syntax so that you'll get nothing else done today.
Ebony Elizabeth @Ebonyteach

You're upset about 24 hours. You need to be upset about 400 years. That's the point.
Crystal Fleming @alwaystheself

Now if only this incident would get the news to offer the tiniest bit of useful coverage of Africa as a normal place where normal people live, that would be something. Who am I kidding though.
Lyman Stone

Nothing Trump says is more shocking than what the white supremacists who founded this country have actually done, or what they continue to do in their various positions of power on a daily basis. I just wish folks understood that the white supremacist fantasies Trump regularly expresses accurately reflect the common beliefs and existential anxieties of millions of ordinary people. He is not an outlier, so stop pretending that he is.
Crystal Fleming @alwaystheself

lots of people joking about the shithole thing. 190k+ U.S. citizen children are at risk of having their parents deported on the basis of the president's animus toward Salvadorans. This is no joke.
Power to Puerto Rico
There were reminders that Haiti is in the condition it is for reasons:
The reason why White nationalists like 45 always name Haiti because the Haitian nation and people are unique. Haiti defeated Napoleon, threw off the chains of slavery, and exposed the lie of White supremacy and European imperialism. So there’s no end to their hatred for Haiti.
Ebony Elizabeth @Ebonyteach

Trump called Haiti, the first Black Republic in the world, the first country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery, a country consistently targeted by violent, anti-democratic US policy ever since, a shithole. Reagan backed the brutal dictator(s) Duvalier in Haiti, Bush/CIA ran death squads and facilitated the overthrow of democratically-elected president, Clinton destabilized Haiti further and put Haitians in horrid conditions in Guantanamo. The US government has been the shithole.
jeremy scahill

In order to do a victory lap around the GDP difference between, say, Norway and Haiti, you have to know nothing about the history of the world. That includes, especially, knowing nothing real about the history of the United States… You’d have to not know that the French colony that became Haiti provided the wealth that fueled the French Empire — and 2/3 of the sugar and 3/4 of the coffee that Europe consumed… (with the full series of tweets here)
Jonathan M. Katz

If you are looking for something to read or share with students about the centrality of Haiti in global history, here's my piece from @aeonmag making the case.
Laurent Dubois @Soccerpolitics
And some education about our country's racist history of immigration generally:
This is the underlying issue of Trump and much of the GOP’s “merit-based” immigration policy. Now that European immigration has slowed and it is Black, Brown + Asian folks coming here, these folks want new immigrants to be measured by different standards than their ancestors were
Brittany Packnett‏ @MsPackyetti

Immigration policy in the USA has *always* been racist b/c it's part of the same white supremacist system. USA is majority white because of quotas that limited immigration from Asia, Africa and southern Europe in order to create a "white nation."
Bree Newsome

Shared from a friend on Facebook: "'Chain' immigration laws, more commonly known as family reunification, were passed in 1965 at the insistence of conservatives because they wanted to make sure there would be more immigration from Europe, thus continuing the past practice of restricting immigration from Asia. Of course, the opposite has happened and now White people are freaking out as our country becomes majority minority."
Pat Thompson‏ @pattho
Tomi Lahren (whom I will never link to) said something not just historically clueless but completely illogical ("If they aren’t shithole countries, why don’t their citizens stay there? Let’s be honest. Call it like it is.") and there were some great replies:
So which shithole country did your grandparent come from? It must have been a real shithole because... you're here now.
Bree Newsome

Why do you live/work in California/NYC instead of your native South Dakota?
andrew kaczynski @KFILE

Hey Tomi, Washington Post shithole bureau chief here. Love your foreign affairs reporting. Did you know there are 8.7 million Americans living overseas? Can’t imagine why they would leave home.
Kevin Sieff

Right?! The same way your great great-grandfather should have stayed in his country, but instead he FAKED his documents. (With link.)
Nicholas A. Ferroni
Outside of Twitter, a friend sent me this:
It bugs me that many responses to Trump’s shithole remark are to say what good people come from Haiti and Africa and how much they have contributed to America instead of responding by attacking the remark itself and Trump himself for saying it.  It’s as if Trump said “nigger” and then everybody talked about all the really worthy black people they know.  Like, defending them.  Isn’t this response odd?  Does it bug you, too, and if so, exactly why?
 I responded:
Yes, it bugs me [much too weak a word] for that same reason… and there are a lot of people (at least on Twitter) who have been pointing that out. It’s the reduction of the concept of racism to only very specific acts (like using the n word, or as someone said yesterday, spray painting it inside the Oval Office) rather than a structural concept of oppression, built on white supremacy. Like how T and others say they aren't “a” racist… when all of their actions point to the fact that they hold racism deep in their hearts and show it in their actions (and sometimes their words).

The other annoying part of this current discussion is that if he had said something other than “shithole” that meant the same thing generally, it wouldn’t have been a problem. If he had said the exact same sentiment (as he had earlier about all Haitians having AIDS and Nigerians and their huts), it might have been noticed but not at all the same way it is because of the use of a vulgarity. The policy that underlies the point of view gets way less notice.
And she said:
The other thing that occurs to me now is that to list examples of good people from Haiti and Africa is somehow acknowledging that the “disagreement” is about truth — is what Trump said true or not, or even “well, even though these places are shitholes there’s still lots of good things about them” — instead of how foul and damaging his whole worldview is. Plus, of course, Trump lacks any concept of truth, so there’s no point in telling him that something he says isn’t true.
And then there's Star Tribune cartoonist Steve Sack's pithy take on it:

(I love how Sack makes Trump look like a fish, and at the same time, makes each of his eyes look like a fish.)

Meanwhile, the Republicans are setting up to gut Medicaid, including work requirements and even literacy tests (though that's only in Kentucky so far). How will those work requirements fit with people over 65 who receive Medicaid to supplement Medicare or for nursing home support? A recent study found that 87% of people covered by the Medicaid expansion are already working, in school, or seeking work, and the 75% of those who aren't are taking care of someone else, either children or disabled/elderly relatives. So they're working, just not working for pay. How will literacy tests work for people with Alzheimers, not to mention people who just can't read, or read English?

Friday, January 12, 2018

More on "Ope"

Following up on one of my recent Twitter round-ups, which included this:

In Minnesota we don’t say “excuse me.” We say “ope” which directly translates to “oh excuse me kind sir/lady, I did not mean to bump into you, please accept my apology as I am a fellow midwesterner and meant you no harm”. Isn’t that amazing?
Sam Rossini‏
Today I saw this from a fellow Minnesotan, Adam Miller @ajm6792
For the record:
Excuse me = I need you to move
Sorry = apologies for bumping you
Ope = let's just acknowledge the near conflict in our personal spaces
Ope, sorry = I’m a native Minnesotan and assume even the potential for human contact scares you a little
I'm not originally from Minnesota, though it has been 31 years and counting... and I still find this usage very amusing.

Though it feels as if I would have used "ope" before I lived here in that circumstance. Hmm. Maybe I brought it with me and I am patient zero? (Imagine the feeling of power.)


Well, it turns out there's a whole story about "ope" in our local alternative weekly.