Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Oil Bomb Trains in Saint Paul

I don't know about where you live, but the Twin Cities have been a major hub of railroad activity for a 150 years. Several huge rail yards divide various parts of Saint Paul, particularly, creating almost-impenetrable barriers for pedestrians and bicyclists.

But even worse, these days, is the explosive cargo that is running through our highly populated areas. At any given moment, it's easy to find a train of black tankers sitting somewhere not far from my house.

As we all know, trains seem to be blowing up right and left. The Bakken oil from North Dakota that fills them is more combustible than the usual crude oil, plus, you know... it's on a train that can derail. And then one spark and whoosh!

Here are a couple of oil tanker cars I saw on Sunday:

This train is parked where everyone on I-94 can see it, and trains are frequently parked there. I saw another train parked in a different location yesterday. Note: I was not looking for these trains. They are just there in your everyday life. There's no hiding them.

A recent Daily Circuit show on MPR addressed the topic of "oil bomb trains" with guest journalist Marcus Stern, who recently published an investigative report called Boom: North America's Explosive Oil-by-Rail Problem. He said that first responders are given a schedule of the trains, but that the public is not told because that would be a "security issue."

But the trains are just sitting in plain sight all the time. Anyone can see them and plan for a future bad act, if they have a mind to.

Pipelines are not the answer, either. The answer is to leave the oil in the ground.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cards of the Round Table

Hey, look what came to my address a few days ago:

And this isn't a fake card, as far as I can tell -- it had an activation sticker on it.

What kind of company sends out a real credit card (or to be more precise in this case, a debit card that looks like a credit card) to a nonexistent person? Because it is a debit card, I suppose it has no risk to the company, but still... how did they get this name and connect it to my address?

Or maybe it's some weird promotional tactic, mailing cards like this to fans of Arthurian myth?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Just Pay More Money

This week's Star Tribune brought a double-whammy of stories about what it's like to be poor in Minnesota. First a story about the Section 8 housing list opening up for new enrollment. Then today, Lori Sturdevant's commentary on how much Minnesota pays in MFIP ("welfare") payments.

I've always thought that Minnesota's social safety net is better than in most states, but these two stories show that's not true -- or if ours is better, than everywhere else is a version of hell on earth.

Sturdevant told me that our MFIP payments have not increased since -- get this -- 1986! Twenty-nine years with no raise. The maximum is $532 a month; the average is $353 a month. It was meant to be 70 percent of the federal poverty level, but now it's only 32 percent.

This affects 70,000 Minnesota children. I'm not sure why I had no idea about this before reading the story. I didn't need to know, since it doesn't affect me directly.

What can you do with $353 a month? In 1986 you could pay for all or at least most of an apartment -- and you might even have had some money left over for diapers or bus fare. These days it comes nowhere near the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Hennepin County -- $1,373. Or even a non-average cheaper one.

Well, you might think, "those people" have subsidized housing, right? That's where the Section 8 story comes in.

The average amount of time a Minnesota family receives MFIP is three years. You can't come close to getting Section 8 housing in three years. There's a waiting list that is years long, and you can't even get onto the list until there's a special open-enrollment period, which is happening now in a couple of Twin Cities counties. This is the first chance in the metro area in the past six years.

But get this -- the counties that are opening their list will get 70,000 applications for 2,000 spots on the list, which are then assigned by lottery. They haven't even cleared out their previous list yet. 400 people are still on the one they made in 2007.

And even if you win the lottery and get the Section 8 voucher, good luck trying to spend it. The number of landlords accepting them has decreased, and more stringent rules have been applied (which I've written about before). The average amount paid with a voucher is $670… which is just about half of that average one-bedroom rent.

Sturdevant points us to the larger picture:

Even as the Great Recession retreated in Minnesota, homelessness among families with young children increased. When last measured in 2012, the number of homeless families in Minnesota was more than four times greater than it had been 21 years earlier, Wilder Research reports.

Other likely results: Low student achievement. Poor physical and mental health. Increased risk of incarceration. Hopelessness continuing into the next generation. All of those are problems that the Minnesota Family Investment Program was created to ease. All worsened as MFIP atrophied.

A note to the stouthearted Minnesotans striving to narrow this state’s educational achievement gap: Have you looked at MFIP lately?
And she asks:
Unless MFIP offers more cash assistance with fewer strings attached, poor families won’t enroll. They’ll muddle along, and in so doing deny their kids the health care, child care and other noncash benefits MFIP brings. Their kids will be more vulnerable to poverty’s risks.
MinnPost ran a much-commented-upon story a few days ago about the "achievement gap" between white students and students of color in our schools. The writer, a school "reform" advocate, blathered on about how it's all liberals' fault. Many commenters wanted to know what the solution was.

Diane Ravitch has already given the list of solutions. Lessening poverty is a major part of ending the achievement gap, and these unconscionably low MFIP payments are part of it -- causing parents extreme stress, making kids move constantly or be homeless, not to mention being food insecure. The list goes on.

The solutions are available but no one wants to pay for them, or acknowledge that returning to the income and wealth distribution of 50 years ago would solve a lot of these problems.

Increasing Minnesota's MFIP payments would be a tiny first step.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Only 28 Days, But Lots of Tweets

February 2015 ends today. Not so many big topics dominating my Twitter feed as in other recent months.

There were a few about measles outbreaks and vaccine refusers:

America: where minorities, for good reason, fear their kids getting shot, and white people, for no reason, fear their kids getting shots.
By God

I look at the incredulity and anger the chattering class directs toward anti-vaxxers and I think, why is climate denial any different?
By David Roberts

If so many people believe vaccines cause autism, why can’t we spread rumors like “SUVs are bad for the environment” or “guns kill people?”
By Adam Isacson

I'm really $*%ing sick of the slut shaming that goes along with most mentions of Jenny McCarthy in vaccine advocacy. Stop it.
By Maggie Koerth-Baker
And just a few about the terrible shooting of three Muslim students in North Carolina:
When you think about it, Hitler was also mad about there not being enough "parking spaces" for Germans.
By Alex Pareene

If you kill three Muslims for parking space, how many Muslims would you kill for oil fields?
By Jamal Dajani

To be clear: I think responsibility for Chapel Hill murders lies with the person who did it, not those who share his beliefs: a good principle.
By Glenn Greenwald
And just a couple about Brian Williams' and Bill O'Reilly's problems with the truth:
So Brian Williams is ruined, yet every week Dr. Oz has a new "Eat pencil shavings to lose weight!" and we're all "Shhh the doctor's talking."
By Karen Kilgariff

The people gloating about it already knew Bill O'Reilly was a liar, and the people who need to know won't care.
By Joshua Lyman
There was a long tweet storm from David Rogers about the Netflix series House of Cards and how it's a bad cartoon about politics:
I think the naive view of politics, on both left and right, is that someone is in control -- probably someone hidden, *secretly* in control. And thus, the best way to understand politics is to figure out who’s really running things — whose agenda really rules.

But as I got closer to politics, started following it, talking to those involved, tracking results, I came to a different conclusion: Nobody’s in charge. Nobody is really running things. Nobody has the real, true, insider knowledge. Everyone is improvising, reacting, based on the same flawed, limited information available to anyone with an internet connection. The beast has no head.

This revelation is in many ways *far more terrifying* than the idea that there’s some secret, shadowy cabal in charge. At least in theory, one can expose a cabal, reach it, reason with it, influence it. But if NO one’s in charge, who do you talk to? How do you make change? Where are the levers, if not in the hands of some cabal?

In truth the U.S. political system, like any complex system, displays emergent properties with no simple causal chains or agents. Shit just happens.

This is not to say we can’t identify forces and people exerting particular kinds of influences on the system and hold them responsible. But the bracing truth is that no one is really uber-confident and in control like Frank Underwood.

Everyone’s winging it, in a fog of uncertainty, cross-cutting incentives and tribal loyalties. No one is rationally maximizing anything.

I side with [the show] Parks and Recreation. To me the proper response to the sheer absurdity of the human endeavor is more compassion and patience. Whereas House of Cards and the like foster our worst empirical and moral habits with regard to politics.
And then the general run of topics like education, climate change, feminism, anti-racism... and fun, too.
I'm contractually obligated to tweet a picture of this NO CUPCAKE PARKING sign every time I see it:

By Chris Steller
Thatcher, Reno, Hillary (all women whom I have no love lost for) are all called "things." Not women. And it bothers me to see feminists saying it. Because I will go to the mat for what I believe in, but you don't uphold feminism by deciding who's a woman.
By KillerMartinis

You don’t simply get to say you’re not a racist — or a sexist or a homophobe. It's an arudous, constant process of unlearning.
By Arash Daneshzadeh

"A lot of the sharing economy is about rebranding precarity as entrepreneurship." -- Molly Crabapple
By Paul Thomas

The federal government owns 28% of all U.S. land, including 85% of Nevada and 69% of Alaska:

By Sudeep Reddy

Data on [education] vouchers shows half are just free money for people who never had kids in public school.
By Mr. Purdy

Donald Trump is like if the comments section were a person.
By Laura

It is really sad that we teach boys to be ashamed of empathizing with girls, of thinking girls have worthwhile stories. Then we wonder why sexist attitudes are so hard to uproot. We tell boys from birth that girls get GIRL stuff, but boy stuff is for everyone. Girls get the same message: Stereotypical femininity is less than, other. Stereotypical masculinity is the norm from which women deviate. And that message is reinforced in everything from advertising to food packaging to entertainment media. We are saturated in it.
By Bailey

It’s almost as if everything we intuitively take as simple and self-evident were actually a rich, complex product of conflicting perceptions
By Tim Carmody

We all want "more rigor" but what they really mean is just more worksheets/definitions/homework/exercises. Not rigor.
By Julie Golden

How re-districting can steal elections:

By Christiane

I’d bet money that lobbying for Keystone created more jobs than the pipeline itself would.
By David Roberts

Study by Daphne Bugental et al: People who "see themselves as lacking power are most likely to use coercive control tactics" with their kids.
By Alfie Kohn

The key problem with Walmart is that it systematically depends on the poverty of communities.
By Charles Marohn

This turtle has a cool algae mohawk! Other incredible turtles you won't believe exist:

By Strange Animals

Crazy idea: What if instead of delivering content to kids that we know they'll just forget, cuz all us adults did, we do something different?
By Sisyphus38

Let’s come together around our goals of moving the country in diametrically opposed directions. What could go wrong? "We want a 21st century social democracy." "Oh? We want a 19th century social darwinist economy run by theocrats." "Hey, let’s compromise!" I would love for the parties to come together. Come on over to modernity, cons! The water’s fine.
By David Roberts

Private sector things like defined-contribution pensions and even health insurance are a hell of a lot more convoluted than public versions.
By Matt Bruenig

This may not be politic to say, but I kind of think the Department of Homeland Security could vanish entirely w/ no deleterious effect on the country.
By David Roberts

By snipe ツ

"Downtown St. Paul has two of the nicest downtowns in America, unfortunately separated by the ­middle part.”
By William Lindeke

Hold still kid, I'm trying to wrap this curriculum around you.
By Sisyphus38

To paraphrase Dr Phil Goff at the Police Taskforce -- when there is no metric for trust there is no incentive to make it a goal of policing.
By WalterWKatz

Standardized tests are ruining our education system. Being defined by a few numbers is so anti-holistic learning.
By James Farnsworth

I believe in: kids' ability to lead their own learning, free play teaching much of what kids need, love and cooperation. People call me a cynic.
By Sisyphus38

There is nobody on earth who has exploited 9/11 more frequently, shamelessly and self-servingly than Rudy Giuliani.
By Glenn Greenwald

Well my phone's "airplane mode" turned out to be a big disappointment.
By Jemaine Clement

Yup. Why Fahrenheit is better than Celsius:

By Patrick Ruffini

Here's your friendly reminder that The Sound of Music is still one of only 4 Best Picture winners with a female protagonist.
By Zack Ford

Youth of color know that schools have more in common with military camps/prisons than with other institutions, hence their cultural mistrust.
By Arash Daneshzadeh

A woman over 65 is less likely to be cited as an expert in the media than a boy 13 to 18.
By Patricia Cohen


By Uplcchicago

What's the German word for when the snow melts and everywhere is a minefield of dog poop?
By Aaron Sarver

It's amazing how people want to make maiming or killing people with the legal right of way no more than an oopsie. [After a bus killed a pedestrian in Brooklyn.]
By Brooklyn Spoke

Chuck Todd said Kentucky Senate candidate Allison Lundegren Grimes's comment "disqualified" her, but Giuliani's comment "brings out worst in the press." Wow.
By Frank Conniff

Evil shoes:

By Halloween Costumes

"Scalability" of curriculum is a euphemism for homogenizing learning as profit-sharing with textbook corporations, in the name of efficiency.
By Arash Daneshzadeh

Cycling has predominantly been seen as for *radicals and recreation.* Time to normalize cycling as transportation.
By jennifer keesmaat

Elephant Hawk Moth:

By Strange Animals

"Do you feel pressured to write strong male characters?" asked no interviewer ever.
By Saladin Ahmed

We think it's very important for you to know a whole bunch of stuff that virtually all adults you know no longer know.
By Sisyphus38

Fifty Shades of Grey is romantic only because the guy is a billionaire. If he was living in a trailer it would be a Criminal Minds episode.
By emre

Too many people -- white, Black, and everybody else -- view MLK and Malcolm X as extreme opposites. People latch onto that false dichotomy and truly believe if they're just nicer (like MLK) racism will disappear.
By Angry Black Fangirl

Huge if true:

By Tom Hamilton

Very often... The outspoken women are painted as angry and bitter spirits. The outspoken men are praised as revolutionaries and heroes.
By solange knowles

“Negroes - Sweet and docile,
Meek, humble, and kind:
Beware the day
They change their mind.”
— Langston Hughes, Warning
By Hannah G.

"Truth about getting older:...fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there's nothing you're sure you'll never be." -J Offill
By Alfie Kohn

Given early brain development, it's concerning that babies have poverty rates 40% higher than teenagers.
By Michele S Parvensky

Everything is not about race. But those things that are ARE. --Rev. Dr. Renita Weems
By Brittney Cooper

Hate American poverty, militarism, imprisonment? You hate America. Hate American taxation, gun laws, welfare state? You love America.
By J.A. Myerson

"Children grow into the intellectual life around them" - Vygotsky:

By Neil Stephenson

It's ok not to love America, by the way. Loving human beings is about 100 million times more important, and the two often conflict.
By Saladin Ahmed

I figure Walmart is like a discount club (a la Costco) except we're all automatically signed up and pay via taxation.
By Leon Horsley

Is there a technical term for a group of cartoonists? Like, A Depression of Cartoonists, or An Unemployment of Cartoonists?
By davegolbitz

"When the Student is ready the Teacher will appear." WRONG!!! The Teacher is here...ready or not, we have a test to prepare for.
By Sisyphus38

We must change how we define "successful." It perpetuates our competitive consumerism culture and is toxic for all.
By Sisyphus38

My window faces the Griffith Observatory, so I get to watch the flashes of idiots who think their iPhone flash'll help them capture LA at night.
By Janine Brito

Moneyless classless stateless communities of humanity in creative, harmonious cooperation, this is horizontal harmony:

By Rafael

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" "An honest, brave, compassionate human being." "No…I mean, how do you want to sell your labor?"
By Existential Comics

Islamic State is probably best understood as part of a global, millennia-old cult of bullying, controlling, killer masculinity.
By Saladin Ahmed

The internet: Where people who have never tried feel perfectly justified lecturing best practices to those who do it every day.
By jayewells

Freire taught 300 illiterate workers how to read and write in 45 days by making connections and using vocabulary relevant to their lives.
By Nikhil Goyal

Why do people who think it would be easy to adjust to major climate change think it would be intolerably painful to adjust to costly energy?
By Mark A.R. Kleiman

See the massive bureaucracy for auto licenses? That is Auto Sprawl Subsidy.
By Free Public Transit

My frustration at the ridiculously high cost of daycare sits side-by-side with my deep feeling that daycare providers are underpaid.
By Maggie Koerth-Baker

He's an angry fellow:

By Halloween Costumes
So, Islamic fundamentalists are somehow simultaneously medieval, 'just like the Nazis,' and an unprecedented evil. Neat trick, that.
By Saladin Ahmed

Even the most outspoken woman you know is suppressing like 70% of what she really thinks because it's just not worth it.
By dolly m

I love the idea that AP American History is itself unpatriotic, because you can only love America if you know as little about it as possible.
By Red Durkin

I'm cultivating a theory that Myers-Briggs is just star signs for smug people who don't believe in astrology.
By Aimee Nichols

Government assistance to the poorest Americans declined dramatically between 1983 and 2004.
By Sean McElwee

New Study Finds Therapy, Antidepressants Equally Effective At Monetizing Depression [from the Onion].
By Ryan Dow

When you understand slavery you know we shouldn't be ashamed of what they did to us. They should be ashamed of what they did.
By Lurie Daniel Favors

A rare encounter of a baby gorilla and chimpanzee examining leaves at the Evaro Gorilla Orphanage in Gabon:

By Strange Animals
It took Lord Grantham two episodes to figure out his dog was dying. No wonder the British aristocracy fell. #DowntonAbbey
By Robert O. Simonson

I don't believe in nationalism; it gives a false sense of belief that you rightfully inherited that which was stolen.
By Sisyphus38

Is it ironic or hypocritical to teach kids about democracy and freedom while they have no choice but to sit and listen to it?
By Sisyphus38

The design of our streets must forgive the mistakes of the most vulnerable, not just the automobile driver.
By Charles Marohn

Let's pay women less, sexually harass them, punish them for being assertive and then tell 'em that there's a confidence gap holding them back!
By Chloe Angyal

We like Americans as heroes. Not as slave owners or brutal colonialists or criminal employers.
By Ira Socol

Calls for "accountability" empower those who use that term because it's applied to people down below. - L. McNeil
By Alfie Kohn

Then there is this guy who hasn't aged in 450 years. Life is so unfair:

By Dead Kid

"The test scores of 15-year-olds have nothing to do with the productivity of a nation." -- Diane Ravitch. My hero.
By Mitchell Robinson

Idea: A poorly run discount air carrier called JoanJett with terrible service. They would not give a damn about their bad reputation.
By Chris Steller

This may be TMI, but without my cleanroom gear on, my body would emit 100,000 particles a minute by just standing there. [Referring to his show How We Got to Now.]
By Steven Johnson

The U.S. lead in per capita GDP largely goes away on a per hour basis and subtracting waste in health care system.
By Dean Baker

The world is full of plausible sounding ideas that aren't true. Be forewarned.
By Josiah Neeley

Outstanding Academic Title 2014: "De-Testing and De-Grading Schools" (Peter Lang).
By Paul Thomas

While close reading fairy tales, a student said, "I notice being an ugly woman in a fairy tale automatically means you're bad."
By Jessica Lifshitz

A lizard that looks like a dragon:

By Strange Animals

This is the flaw of "respectability" politics. The opposite of a negative stereotype isn't a positive one. The opposite is complexity.
By jelani cobb

If your movement relies on the oppression of other marginalized groups, your movement is doomed to fail.
By Son of Baldwin

I tried to explain the growth mindset to the gifted class. They just stared and blinked, fearful of the idea that the "normals" could catch them.
By Sisyphus38

True story: my 11-year-old cannot believe people ate Campbell's Soup. He thought it was something Andy Warhol made up!
By Helaine Olen

The whole notion that Washington is "broken" is absurd - it's a well functioning machine that delivers riches and power to the rich and powerful.
By David Sirota

Today in unnecessarily gendered products: the Earth:

By Julien

With unbending certainty that data and tech would save our children, Gates Foundation's education wing accidentally fed teachers into a woodchipper.
By John Kuhn

Rich people get far more out of government than poor people. Far more.
By David Kaib

Keynes: "Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will work for the benefit of all."
By Nikhil Goyal

Almost every major patent concept from the 1930s was in chemistry. Today, all software.
By Derek Thompson

Impostor Syndrome is a small problem. Blowhard Syndrome is a big one.
By debcha

holy shit this perfect painting of a perfectly happy solitary woman single-handedly redeems all of western art:

By Mallory

Jails are warehouses for people too poor to make bail, and the seriously mentally ill who need treatment.
By Uplcchicago

The U.S. wants you to hate Muslims so they can kill them for oil because the U.S. elite has trillions of dollars locked in auto sprawl investment.
By Free Public Transit

"Last year, U.S. Special Operations forces conducted secret military missions in 133 countries." [citing The Nation]
By Nikhil Goyal

Nothing says "manly" like buying a truck because a commercial said a focus group said the guy with the truck was manly.
By Tom Tomorrow

The "Welcome to the best part of your day" line in the Taco Johns commercial is profoundly depressing
By Jim Hammerand

Beautiful Velvet Snail from Australia:

By Strange Animals

Stereotype Threat is my favorite California-based early 80s thrash band whose T-shirts are currently available at Target.
By Chris Steller

Hey, I just noticed something... Most of the kids that struggle in school are poor. Has anyone else noticed? Maybe there is a connection.
By Sisyphus38

The only way children are going to learn how to live in a democratic society is by practicing democracy.
By Nikhil Goyal

Kenji Ekuan, designer of the ubiquitous soy dispenser, died yesterday. Respect to people who make everyday things:

By Brendan Cormier

What does it mean if a high percentage of people I know hire math tutors for their kids? Why must they pay extra to pass math?
By Sisyphus38

Another point (apparently unknown to most policy experts) is that "fertility of the poor" is often just "fertility of young adults." Our child benefit discussion could greatly benefit from life-cycle income stuff here. You ain't depriving the poors, but rather the youngs.
By Matt Bruenig

As a share of the economy, the federal budget now spends 3X as much on seniors as kids. [citing the National Journal]
By Ronald Brownstein

When job openings go unfilled during a weak labor market, companies may be holding out for overly qualified candidates at cheap prices.
By Elise Gould

Baby wombats look a bit like old Kung Fu masters:

By Stevie

"Sanctioning someone with a mental health problem for being late for a meeting is like sanctioning someone with a broken leg for limping."
By Paul Lewis

It's odd that an industry that prizes college drop-outs and autodidacts also blames the lack of diversity on a lack of female and people of color STEM grads.
By Ⓘⓢⓐⓐⓒ

Branding used to mean burning an animal's flesh with a hot iron to claim it as your property. #business #metaphors #brands
By The Wordmonster

Suggestion: "Named" and "Naked" should be more than one letter apart.
By Chris Steller

If we look at the civil rights act of 1875 and its evisceration in 1883 it highlights exactly what we're dealing with now.
By jelani cobb

Our well-regulated militia:

By Ken Paulman

"Gay" is often a stand-in for "might think about me the way I think about women," which is a killing offense to some.
By Josh Jasper

Before Darwin, the idea was that blacks had "degenerated" as humans. After Darwin, the idea was they weren't highly evolved.
By Eric Kleefeld

Call it "Obamacare” and 85% oppose it. Call it "Insure Tennessee” and just 16% oppose it.
By Sahil Kapur

My 4-year-old son said the word prototype. When I asked him what it meant, he said "People are a prototype" and I was too scared to ask what he meant.
By Kristin M-F

You should have to go to a welfare office to collect the Mortgage Interest Deduction.
By Sean McElwee

The endless blacktop era is over. Cities can rebuild their streets in living color. Coenties Slip, Manhattan:

By Janette Sadik-Khan

In every field, students on RateMyProfessor are more likely to call men geniuses.
By Justin Wolfers

A life filled with drama indicates that a person is disconnected from purpose and meaningful goals. People with a purpose don't have time for drama.
By Life Advice

Amazing if really true: About 2/3 of rich Chinese already have emigrated or want to, mostly to North America.
By Charles C. Mann

Quick fact: George Wallace's "Segregation Forever" speech has 27 allusions to "God." He calls activist government "the very opposite of Christ."
By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Someone finally said it:

By President Mikayla

Our parents paid a quarter what we do for major milestones - college, housing, childbirth and care. I mean, come on. Who can compete?
By KillerMartinis

Do the most important academic journals know how obscure they really are? Do they know how important they could be without pay-walls?
By John Roman

Let's create an urban agenda that links sustainability with shared prosperity.
By jennifer keesmaat

Blaaarg. Living in this country is like being trapped on a high-tech submarine, forced to share the controls w/ poo-flinging toddlers. We can’t get out, they can’t get out, we can’t drive properly, they need warm milk and a f*cking nap.
By David Roberts

A non-tech alternative to self-driving cars is walkable cities. But those sound hard.
By Eric Gilbert

"This gay marriage thing has happened very quickly." - People who believe homosexuals were invented in 1997
By Guy Branum

"In the absence of disruptive, active leadership, all organizations evolve to maximize the short-term comfort of managers."
By David Roberts

This whole room of people is one Excel spreadsheet. Imagine all the middle-class unemployment Excel created:

By Benedict Evans

But he can't make time for global poverty? "1 in 4 Americans believe God helps decide who wins...the Super Bowl."
By Tom Zeller Jr.

We don't pay enough attention to how race/racism are made and re-made; wired very early, in the private realm, at home and amongst family.
By Sharon H Chang

What do people in Europe think when Prince says, "Act your age not your shoe size"?
By Chris Steller

The motive for "irregardless isn't a word" is same as "Kwanzaa is made-up." Sanctification of power.
By Ta-Nehisi Coates

It's funniest to me that the "not a word" brigade rarely takes on corporatespeak. Their focus is only everyday language.
By David Crockett
The worst thing about people who seek to uphold hierarchy is not they are upholding hierarchy. It's that they won't admit it.
By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Happy little heater:

By Halloween Costumes

I can't think of a more disingenuous, easily disproven, intellectually bankrupt way to grub for votes than Scott Walker's drug testing idiocy. I just really don't get hating poor people enough to be willing to embarrass yourself on a disproven program. There are not, I promise you, thousands of unfilled unskilled jobs, simply waiting for a sober awake person to waltz in and take them.

It's possible that maybe he can't read, though. Have we considered this? Anyone who can read knows how badly this went for Rick Scott. Like most of the people on food stamps aren't employed already. YOU CAN'T READ BASIC DATA. Don't come at us and call us dumb. We can read.
By KillerMartinis

Was gonna watch the film adaptation of The Hobbit but I didn't have time so I just read the book.
By Sean Thomason

The Andromeda Galaxy's actual size if it were brighter:

By Andrew Rader

Working on a laptop that's connected to the internet is like trying to write on a typewriter that's been welded to a circus.
By Andrew O'Neill

Friday, February 27, 2015

What Would I Say?

All unsuspecting, I came across a car with this on its bumper the other day:

I'm not commenting on the coat of salt, as you may imagine. No, it's the bumper sticker (combined with the Christian fishy).

It made me think about what I could possibly say to this person if we were put in a room together. How do you even start a conversation (about anything other than the weather and all the salt coating our cars) with someone whose world view diverges so much from your own?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Save the World, One Pair of Glasses at a Time

From my local AMC theater:

Of course I'd rather have people drop their 3D glasses in the box than throw them in the trash can, but is it too much to ask AMC to describe that action as something other than "saving the world"?

Going to see a 3D movie is in no way related to saving the world, even if you do recycle your completely unnecessary, headache-inducing glasses.


An earlier post complaining about trivialization of real problems at an AMC theater.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Goodbye and Thanks to Zilpha Keatley Snyder

I somehow overlooked the news that children's author Zilpha Keatley Snyder died in October 2014. It's one of the many times when I've missed the late Peter Sieruta and his blog, Collecting Children's Books. I'm sure he would have let me know in a more timely manner.

She was 87, and published her last book in  2011. I confess I lost track of her books some time around the Green Sky trilogy in the mid-1970s, but her earlier work was a key part of my childhood reading. (The obituary in the New York Times says the trilogy explores "ideas involving utopian culture, social engineering and the control of violence," though, so maybe it's time I read it.)

I think I read The Velvet Room (1965) first, but didn't know that it was by the same author when I later picked up The Egypt Game (1967). Others from that era that I love are The Eyes in the Fishbowl (1968) and Season of Ponies (1964). The strangeness and refusal to say what was real and what wasn't in the latter two books was probably my introduction to magical realism.

My favorite among her books, though, has to be The Changeling (1970). I identified so much with the main character and so wished for a friend like Ivy that it almost hurt to read. At the same time, it examines issues of class and bullying without being heavy-handed.

For some reason, Keatley Snyder's most award-winning books, like The Witches of Worm and The Headless Cupid, didn't grab me. (I do like the Newbery-winning Egypt Game almost as well as my favorites, though the sequels leave me cold.)

But I could reread The Changeling or The Velvet Room any week. The Velvet Room creates a particularly resonant version of a Depression-era California migrant worker story, set near the part of California where Keatley Snyder grew up, and again touches on class differences, all wrapped around a mystery.

Here's one thing I learned about Keatley Snyder from her obituary:
"Disney wanted to option [The Egypt Game] for a film but wouldn't guarantee a multiracial cast," her longtime editor Karen Wojytla said in an interview. "She was very forward-thinking, and wouldn't sell them the rights."
Go, Zilpha. You are a model for writers to this day.


I would be remiss if I didn't mention illustrator Alton Raible, whose work accompanied the editions published back in my day. There's just about no information on his life within this thing called the interweb... just a brief mention on the Green Sky wiki that says he was born in 1918 and implies that he's still alive.... if so, live long and prosper, Mr. Raible.


Apologies to Pete Hautman for categorizing Snyder under my Reading YA tag, but since I'm not writing for a specialized audience of YA readers -- and because my favorite Snyder books predate that category, and probably helped create it with their edgier topics like lurking child molesters and teens vandalizing high schools -- it seemed okay.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Two letters on the same topic from today's Star Tribune. The subject: an upcoming legislative attempt to change our schools' teacher retention rules so recently hired teachers aren't the first ones laid off when budgets are tight.

A strategy of undermining seniority wouldn’t appear to add up

What is your goal? I ask this question of Minnesota legislators who are introducing bills to revise the teacher seniority laws. The Star Tribune reported that “[b]etween 2008 and 2013, nearly 2,200 Minnesota teachers were laid off under the so-called ‘last in, first out’ [LIFO] provision in state law” and outlined data showing about 550 rookie teachers laid off per year. There are approximately 50,000 public school teachers in the state of Minnesota, so this accounts for about 1 percent of all teachers.

So is it possible that a small fraction of the 1 percent of teachers who were laid off were truly better than the more experienced teachers? It is possible. However, given choice between the skills of a veteran teacher and a rookie, I will place my faith in experience every time. But even if you disagree, I ask you again, what is your goal? Is it to debate laws that focus on a fraction of 1 percent of all teachers, in the hope of improving the overall performance of Minnesota students? If so, your math doesn’t add up. But what do I know? I’m just a veteran teacher.

Brian Swiggum, Hopkins

• • •

You can’t have it both ways. Either the worst, least experienced teachers are trapped in high-poverty, high-children-of-color schools by seniority laws that allow senior, more proficient teachers to choose schools that are mostly white in middle-class neighborhoods, or more senior teachers are deadwood that can’t be eliminated because of seniority laws, leaving talented less experienced teachers to be laid off.

Which is it?

Carol Henderson, Minneapolis

Both Brian and Carol make excellent points. I wonder if states where teachers have no tenure protection provide a better education to students... What, the answer is no, you say? I'm shocked. I thought this one change was going to solve all our problems.

I guess LIFO should be better known as GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tons of Tabs

So much to know and read. I know, I know. Imagine; these were all in my browser until just now.

Florida Deputy: “Planting evidence and lying is part of the game!” An interview with an anonymous cop who details how evidence is planted on people who aren't guilty (but are guilty in the cop's mind), including this charming quote: "I wouldn’t say [we] target based on race but it is, you know, um, it is much easier to do this on a black person because they have no credibility anyways."

Followed by this for a chaser by Mychal Denzel Smith writing for The Nation about James Baldwin, who was unapologetic in his description of police as an occupying force in black communities.

When shirts cost $3,500 from Boing Boing. "An eye-popping parable about the benefits of automation: 200 years ago, it took 479 hours worth of labor to make a shirt (spinning, weaving, sewing), or $3,472.75 at $7.25/hour."

How America's "love affair with the car" was created. Quoting a historian who's written a book on the subject,

"When I actually looked into the history record, documents from the time, I found just the opposite,” Norton says. “What Americans in cities wanted in the ‘20s was to get the cars out.”

Media at the time recount pedestrians ranting against the automobile as an intrusion and an undemocratic bully. Newspapers contained cartoons portraying rich drivers in luxury cars running over working-class kids. Three-quarters of traffic fatalities at the time were pedestrians.
A depressing article: Police reform is impossible in America. "In a country that has identified black people as its criminal element, public safety (and perceived security) is more tied to the suppression of blacks than it is to the suppression of crime. And as long as the public insists on its myth of black criminality—almost as an article of faith—police practices will be impossible to reform."

And this less depressing video...

Why are we blaming technology for our lack of focus? from Pacific Standard. The article says it's not technology per se. It's our
pathologized FOMO (fear of missing out) rather than a change in our neural circuitry. “Digital devices are not eating away at our brains,” he argues near the end of the op-ed. “They are, however, luring us toward near constant outwardly directed thought, a situation that’s probably unique in human experience.”
Yes, that's how I experience life in the age of the interweb.

Students most effectively learn math working on problems that they enjoy, not drills or exercises. "While research shows that knowledge of math facts is important...the best way for students to know math facts is by using them regularly and developing understanding of numerical relations. Memorization, speed and test pressure can be damaging..."
"Math facts are a very small part of mathematics, but unfortunately students who don't memorize math facts well often come to believe that they can never be successful with math and turn away from the subject," [Boaler] said.

Prior research found that students who memorized more easily were not higher achieving – in fact, they did not have what the researchers described as more "math ability" or higher IQ scores. Using an MRI scanner, the only brain differences the researchers found were in a brain region called the hippocampus, which is the area in the brain responsible for memorizing facts – the working memory section.

But according to Boaler, when students are stressed – such as when they are solving math questions under time pressure – the working memory becomes blocked and the students cannot as easily recall the math facts they had previously studied. This particularly occurs among higher achieving students and female students, she said.

Some estimates suggest that at least a third of students experience extreme stress or "math anxiety" when they take a timed test, no matter their level of achievement. "When we put students through this anxiety-provoking experience, we lose students from mathematics," she said.
All of which is backed up in this Boston Globe op-ed by a mathematician, The real reason why the U.S. is falling behind in math:
We are pretty much the only country on the planet that teaches math this way, where students are forced to memorize formulas and procedures. And so kids miss the more organic experience of playing with mathematical puzzles, experimenting and searching for patterns, finding delight in their own discoveries....

When students memorize the Pythagorean theorem or the quadratic formula and apply it with slightly different numbers, they actually get worse at the bigger picture. Our brains are slow to recognize information when it is out of context. This is why real-world math problems are so much harder — and more fascinating — than the contrived textbook exercises.

What I’ve found instead is that a student who has developed the ability to turn a real-world scenario into a mathematical problem, who is alert to false reasoning, and who can manipulate numbers and equations is likely far better prepared for college math than a student who has experienced a year of rote calculus.
From the World Health Organization: Seven million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution. That's one in eight of global deaths. And, of course, "“Excessive air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry. In most cases, healthier strategies will also be more economical in the long term due to health-care cost savings as well as climate gains."

I recommend this Toronto Star story about a family with young kids who went carless. Obviously, there are many families who have to be carless because they can't afford one, but this story gets at middle class assumptions about having a car, the idea that having kids = having a car (or a minivan), what bike infrastructure should look like, and a lot more.

The death of American unions is killing American marriage. "Poverty itself, it seems, is the chief agent of marital decline among the poor. This is especially true of falling wages among working class men, who have borne the brunt of the right-wing war on labor unions." (By Eliabeth Stoker Bruenig, writing for the new New Republic.) Because, as we all should know by now, it's not marriage that causes economic security -- it's economic insecurity that prevents marriage.

Aside from unions, what could encourage marriage? Universal benefits, argues Matt Bruenig.

The enormous racial opportunity gap in America's metro areas (from Vox). "In the nation's 100 largest metro areas, about 40 percent of black children and 32 percent of Hispanic children live in the lowest-opportunity neighborhoods in their areas, compared to just 9 percent of white children.... White children don't experience this debilitating disadvantage even in the cities where they're worst off."

Related: How black middle class kids become poor adults. "Experts" can't explain why. Duh.

Not to mention this: Americans overestimate class mobility. (That study looked upward class mobility... everyone underestimates downward class mobility also.)

More evidence of wage theft (which I've discussed earlier here and here): "Most recently, a careful study of minimum wage violations in New York and California in 2011 commissioned by the Department of Labor determined that the affected employees’ lost weekly wages averaged 37–49 percent of their income. This wage theft drove between 15,000 and 67,000 families below the poverty line. Another 50,000–100,000 already impoverished families were driven deeper into poverty." Note that the study only looked at people earning the minimum wage, so it vastly underrepresents the extent of wage theft from people who make more than the minimum.

How to topple a dictator (peacefully). Something for activists to reread frequently. From the New York Times.

And this from one of my favorite writers, Helaine Olen: Stop trying to make financial literacy happen. "It’s a noble distraction from actual consumer protection. That’s why the financial services industry loves it."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Welcome to 1957

From the basement, the fall 1957 welcome edition cover of the Minnesota Daily,  newspaper at the University of Minnesota:

This cover makes me feel several things.

It calls to my nostalgia for that kind of cartoon modern illustration, and even just for the use of illustration on the cover at all. At some point someone did a focus group and decided audiences respond more to photography (especially if overlaid with yellow type), and since then covers have taken on a sad sameness.

The illustration also makes me appreciate the reality of diversity. In 1957, this illustrator and his (I assume his!) art director thought two white guys could represent the range of in-coming students as long as one of them looked like a studious nerd and the other like a jockish future frat boy.

What a set of assumptions underpins that decision. Oh, and neither guy looks remotely like an 18-year-old.

The items used to detail the frat boy are notable. He's wearing argyle socks and short pants (really?), while carrying a tennis racket and golf clubs. With a boutonniere, of all things. And (gasp) three changes of clothes. So many! Not to mention a Date Book in his pocket.

Though I fully appreciate the Zip-a-Tone used to create the patterns on their suits (another item you can find in the obsolete art supply aisle). And the way the the spot green and red inks are used. It's really a beautiful piece of work, frozen in its particular time.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

No Duh

Your emails from the last year or five years ago are constitutionally protected from government snooping, right? As much as anything else is protected.

Well, no. In 1986, Congress passed a law declaring files like that (which barely existed at the time for the vast majority of people) "abandoned" if they are more than six months old. Despite the fact that dead letters at the Post Office are still protected.

There's a bill in Minnesota that would change our state's constitution to correct this bit of stupidity, and it sounds like it has a good chance of getting passed in the legislature so we can approve it on our next ballot.

That can't happen soon enough. But how stupid is it to have to amend our constitution to make it the way everyone assumes it already is under the Bill of Rights?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Space: A Nice Logo

Here's another one for the Good Logo file:

It's an Omni Theater film, showing at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

What a nice example of a simple type manipulation, making a connection to the film's content.

The use of a typeface that echoes a Star Trek aesthetic is also appropriate, though I'm glad they used one of the more restrained versions of the usual space-faring fonts.