Thursday, July 28, 2016

Keeping Tabs on Policing

It's time to let go of all the tabs I've been keeping open about policing, the killings of black people, and the protests that have followed.

The grief that white Americans cannot share. By the marvelous Nikole Hannah-Jones, for the New York Times. "I needed to get to work, but the last thing I wanted to do was make small talk about inane things with people for whom this might be a tragedy, but an abstract one. To many white Americans, the killings of black men and women at the hands of the state, are individual incidents, each with a unique set of circumstances. For white people, who have been trained since birth to see themselves as individuals, the collective fear and collective grief that black Americans feel can be hard to grasp."

Also by Nikole Hannah-Jones, this time from Politico: A letter from Black America. Yes, we fear the police. Here's why.

46 stops: the driving life and death of Philando Castile. From NPR's Codeswitch podcast.

The strange fruit of the equity and empathy gap. "We have a profound... equity and empathy gap. What the too frequent impunity of police in disproportionate killing of Black men and the market competition and no-excuses behavioral prescriptions for school improvement have in common, is a failure to imagine the life experience of another. It is particularly difficult for the empowered to visualize what it is like to be disempowered, especially without social pressure to do so. And, without forging common cause, even small differences in relative powerlessness lead to a failure to empathize. In the last three decades, our ability as a nation to engage in multiple-perspective taking appears to have deteriorated."

Why we fail when we try to talk about race in America. By Eddie Glaude, professor of African American studies at Princeton. "Our conversations fail because we refuse to accept what such conversations demand: an honest reckoning with the ugliness of who we are and the racial habits and fears that animate our way of life.... We have to tackle head on what Professor Imani Perry calls our cultural practice of inequality. Easy appeals to unity in a moment of collective trauma will not help us do that. They will only deepen our national malaise."

Why highways have become the center of civil rights protests (by Emily Badger in the Washington Post). The interstate blocked in St. Paul, for instance, "a half-century ago, was constructed at the expense of St. Paul's historically black community. Interstate 94, like urban highways throughout the country, was built by erasing what had been black homes, dispersing their residents, severing their neighborhoods and separating them from whites who would pass through at high speed."

Is it okay to protest on a freeway? By local geographer and sidewalk advocate Bill Lindeke. "Civil disobedience is always breaking a rule, whether it’s “whites only” or “no stopping on the street.” I-94 between the downtowns carries 200,000 cars a day and is the most heavily used part of our road system. If the goal is to raise awareness of an issue, by changing the geography of the demonstration from a local street to a freeway, you’re turning up the volume so that everyone in the entire Twin Cities has to pay attention, for better or worse."

Something is rotten in the state of Minnesota. From Politico. "The Twin Cities... [are] home to some of the worst racial disparities in the country. In metrics across the board—household income, unemployment rates, poverty rates and education attainment—the gap between white people and people of color is significantly larger in Minnesota than it is most everywhere else." This underpins the killings of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile in my own back yard.

Five ways to reduce racial bias in traffic stops. By David Levinson, geographer at the University of Minnesota. Including automated enforcement (cameras).

Pitfalls with police recruitment in the U.S. From Think Progress. Recruiting people with aggressive personalities, using violent videos. What could go wrong?

Related: The case for more female cops. From Pacific Standard. "Preference for nonviolence does not constitute physical weakness. The NCWP report cites studies indicating that women’s typically smaller stature doesn’t hurt their survival in the field. When physical force is required, training—not brute strength—better predicts success. Meanwhile, communication skills important for defusing dangerous situations, commonly measured as higher among female officers, are under-emphasized in officer-selection standards—hiring criteria that would encourage less violent male recruits, too. In these ways, a police force over-fueled by testosterone endangers not just women but people of any gender most likely to come into contact with police, including people of color or in poverty."

The life of a police officer: medically and psychologically ruinous. From The Atlantic.  One of the toughest articles I've ever read.

How science could prevent police shootings. From Mother Jones. For instance, data analysis in Charlotte, N.C., found that "when three or more officers responded to a domestic-violence call, they were much less likely to use force than when only two officers were called to the scene."

How white liberals used the civil rights to create more prisons. A discussion of Naomi Murakawa's book The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison in America in The Nation. "More people are under correctional supervision in the United States than were in the Gulag archipelago at the height of the Great Terror; there are more black men in prison, jail, or parole than were enslaved in 1850. How did this happen?"

A brief history of the "War on Cops": the false allegation that enables police violence. From Truthout. "Numerous sources confirm that there is no such war. Last year was one of the safest on record for police officers, and even with the targeted killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, being a police officer does not rate as one of the 10 most dangerous jobs in the country. It is far less dangerous than logging, fishing, or roofing." Or driving a taxi, I would note.

Remember to look for Chris Hayes's new book, due out in March 2017: A Colony in a Nation. Here's the description: "America likes to tell itself that it inhabits a post-racial world, but nearly every empirical measure―wealth, unemployment, incarceration, school segregation―reveals that racial inequality hasn’t improved since 1968. Hayes contends our country has fractured in two: the Colony and the Nation. In the Nation, we venerate the law. In the Colony, we obsess over order; fear trumps civil rights; and aggressive policing resembles occupation. How and why did Americans build a system where conditions in Ferguson and West Baltimore mirror those that sparked the American Revolution?"

What about solutions? Here are some.

The first in a series by Shaun King for the Daily News: Solutions for police brutality can begin with our overwhelmingly white male justice system.

The change we need: five issues that should be part of efforts to reform policing in local communities. From the Advancement Project.

Ideas for a cop-free world. It's time to start imagining a society that isn't dominated by police. From Rolling Stone. I think these ideas are similar to the current thinking of Black Lives Matter when they bring out the signs that say "Abolish the Police." Also discussed more recently by Mychal Denzel Smith in Abolish the police: Instead, let's have full social, economic, and political equality (from The Nation).

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Days of Past Future

Today's news about Donald Trump is that he invited the Russians to hack Hillary's emails, which is arguably treasonous. Oh, and he said he'd let them keep the Crimea.

The news about Trump is stupefying nearly every day. The New York Times's Anand Giridharadas has been going on Twitter storms repeatedly pointing out how this is not within the extreme range of normal, and that media people need to realize that and change how they are treating Trump: that by the time they get the idea, it will be too late.

On that note, I saw these two tweets juxtaposed today:

The second one is about President Erdogan of Turkey, obviously, but for a moment I had a flash forward that it was about President Trump in, say, 2017. Since martial law is the only way he could make even partially good on his campaign promises, this would make sense, right?

A few days earlier, I was caught off guard by that day's Doonesbury strip, which was from some time in 1986 or ’87:

Iran-Contra, as the strip points out, was preposterous, yet it happened. Though few remember it now and somehow it didn't tarnish Ronald Reagan's legacy with conservatives in the least.

Donald Trump makes Iran-Contra seem like good foreign policy in contrast.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Picking the Rice Cooker for You

Last Sunday's John Oliver show was great from beginning to end.

I won't explain this graphic, you'll just have to watch it. Excellent sequences on Fox News, the RNC (of course), Brexit and Boris Johnson, and the misuse of music by political campaigns.

The full broadcast is here.

Monday, July 25, 2016

What Does a Guy Have to Do?

Today I learned that Donald Trump himself (not just his father, as is widely known) actively discriminated against black renters in the 1970s. He also called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five and refused to take it back when they were completely exonerated (and he still insists they must have been guilty of something).

Obviously, Trump has made a range of insane foreign policy statements recently, and has spewed racist venom on Mexicans and Muslims. He has, over the years, said many egregiously sexist things and patted his own daughter on the butt on national television last Thursday night (this is the daughter he has said he wishes he could "date," not the one who was only a year old when he started speculating on how great her breasts would be when she grew up).

In fact, it's hard to even write this because I'm sure I'll leave out something he's said or done that would usually warrant its own blog post, but I just can't remember them all.

And, of course, he won't release his tax returns, which -- if David Cay Johnston is right -- would probably show that he has paid almost nothing in taxes (and that either he has little income relative to the billions he claims to have or has lied about his income).

When Trump was in Scotland a month or so ago, he solicited members of Parliament for campaign donations, which is an utter violation of U.S. election law. He is also soliciting money from other foreign nationals. After all of the utterly amazing violations of our social compact, I wonder if these violations may be the ones to finally topple him?

What does the FEC do with a candidate who just ignores them? What power do they have? Is it just fines, or can they put the person in jail for contempt of court or breaking election laws? What happens when the social compact breaks down?

What does a guy have to do to get arrested in this town, or at least thrown out of the election?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Two Stories About Doing Less

From today's Science & Health section of the Star Tribune, two stories on research into ways we can do less and have a better outcome.

First, from AP, less may be more in trauma treatment. Medical researchers in Philadelphia are about to start a large, randomized (but not double-blind) experiment into whether providing less emergency treatment to people with gunshot or stab wounds results in better outcomes. The treatments that will be withheld are IV fluids and intubation. The hypothesis is that for "victims who are bleeding through an open wound, these procedures may cause an increase in blood pressure that can accelerate blood loss and death."

Starting this fall and over the next five years (or until a thousands subjects have been studied), anyone in Philadelphia who's shot or stabbed will have an even chance of receiving or not receiving these treatments from EMTs. People are allowed to opt out of the experiment by wearing a bracelet saying they want the current standard treatment.

Researchers are visiting lots of people in the lead-up to the study to explain all of this. Given the history of experimentation without consent, especially in black communities (everything from Henrietta Lacks to the Tuskegee syphilis experiments), the researchers face a fair amount of skepticism.

People wonder if the researchers aren't sacrificing people's lives to test a theory. However, it appears from the data so far that the real sacrifice may be among people who receive the current treatment:

Retrospective studies...have shown that gunshot and stabbing victims given basic life support — such as an oxygen mask, CPR or immobilization — had an 18 percentage-point survival advantage over those given advanced procedures, such as intubation, in an ambulance.
The plan is to stop the study early if, part way through, the researchers are finding disproportionately adverse outcomes for patients who don't get intubation and IV fluids.

The second story is about finding ways to use fewer solvents in chemistry, and it's from the New York Times. Solvents like acetone and chloroform are harmful and volatile, and make up the majority of chemical waste, so using less of them would be great. But the average chemist would say they are essential to chemistry.

Until now, when chemists like James Mack are investigating mechanochemistry, which uses physical action (basically milling or grinding) to achieve the same end as has been achieved with solvents. Not only does the process eliminate solvents, it can also be much faster and result in more output of the desired chemical.

So if you hear someone referring to "green chemistry," this is probably what they're talking about. The linked New York Times article includes a short video showing the process.


Odd fact: The mechanochemistry story, as reprinted in the Star Tribune, carried a completely inaccurate headline: "Proponents offer greener way to make solvents." I read the story twice looking for any mention of making solvents, but obviously the copy editor either didn't read or misunderstood the story.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Election Miscellany and More

Nothing but miscellaneous stuff for today. First, I saw this on Facebook, though it appears to have been originally written by someone named stimmyabby on Tumblr:

Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority.”

And sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person.”

And they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and that’s not okay.
This point about treating other people as humans with equal significance (as Jo Walton puts it in The Just City and its sequels The Philosopher Kings and Necessity) is the key thing we human beings need to work on if we're going to solve most of our interpersonal and structural problems of oppression.

Letters about Trump

Then there were a couple of letters in the Star Tribune about Trump's convention speech that I thought were worth excerpting. From Thomas Wexler of Edina:
Donald Trump says he has the answers that will assure us of safety, but apparently he will share those answers only if he is elected. Much of the violence that concerns Americans today is caused by our own citizens, not by illegal immigrants. If Trump has a plan to stop that violence, please share it with us now. Let’s not wait another day to put that plan into action. If he also has a plan to end the threat of international terrorism, let him explain that plan and how it differs from the knowledge and experience of our military leaders.
The next writer, John Hottinger of St. Paul, joins me in my suspicions about Trump's "plan":
[his] frighteningly demagogic statement that on Inauguration Day “you will be safer” [is] an insult to every law enforcement officer in the country. Crime is primarily managed at the local level — not by the president. That’s the way it was envisioned in order to make control of the police local, not with the national government. The national crime levels are very low compared with the Nixon years, when “law and order” became a political cover for race-baiting. Unless Trump plans to declare martial law and abrogate our Constitution — his model, Turkey? — his boast is built on myth, fearmongering and his incredible ego.
Finally, Maria Bales of Minneapolis had this to say:
No point “fact-checking” the Trump speech. Many will do that. I just want to point out that while Trump promised to restore the jobs of steel workers and coal miners, he said absolutely nothing about global warming and the environment. And, to their shame, the PBS commentators I was watching did not notice or did not care to talk about this omission.
Thoughts on Tim Kaine

If there were a person with Tim Kaine's political resume and geographic base who was also a person of color or a white woman and didn't leave a Senate seat to the Republicans, I would be all for that person. However, there isn't. Kaine is actually close to unique in having been a mayor of a large city, a governor, and a senator. He's won statewide in Virginia despite opposing the NRA and a range of other right wing issues.

When I first heard his name being mentioned as a serious contender, I wasn't sure who he was and had him confused with some other one-term Virginia governor (since there are so many). But a quick read of his Wikipedia page relieved a lot of my nascent discomfort, especially knowing that his career roots go back to working against housing discrimination, which is the underlying issue behind much of our ongoing school resegregation, wealth inequality/poverty concentration, and generally not knowing each other enough to treat everyone as human beings.

Kaine and his wife also get points from me for sending their kids to the Richmond public schools, which is not something many in his position do (I'm looking at you, former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, not to mention the Clintons and the Obamas).

I'm not thrilled about Kaine's history on trade, but he's good on many other issues. No one is perfect. He seems affable and smart.

Here's what I think about the other options:
  • Cory Booker: would be replaced by a senator appointed by a Republican governor (Chris Christie). Well-positioned for running in the future after he's had more time in the Senate. I disagree pretty strongly with his record on education as mayor of Newark. Terrible geographic range from Hillary.
  • Elizabeth Warren: would be replaced by a senator appointed by a Republican governor. We're better off with her in the Senate, especially if the Democrats regain control. Bad geographic range from Hillary.
  • Sherrod Brown: Good geographic range and popular in an important swing state, but would be replaced by a senator appointed by a Republican governor. We're better off with him in the Senate, especially if the Democrats regain control.
  • Julian Castro: I really like Castro and think he would have been a good choice. Great geographic appeal (imagine if Hillary could carry Texas). He's really the only one of Hillary's other options that I would have fully supported, though he's still a bit light on career experience at this point. However, I think in all honesty that his last name would be a liability in a national race, especially in the second position. When he runs himself, he's able to overcome it as he has so far (similar to how Obama has overcome his name in this xenophobic culture). But Clinton-Castro is just terrible as a marketing line. I have no idea if this factored into Hillary's decision.
  • Tom Perez: I also really like Perez, but I think his resume is too technocratic/legal and not based enough on electoral office. Not great geographic range from Hillary, either (born in Buffalo, mostly based out of Maryland).
  • Bernie Sanders: It was a total pipe dream to think Hillary would name Bernie as her running mate. And we're better off with him in the Senate, especially if the Democrats regain control.
Oh, and late in the week,  I learned about an interesting bit of tea-leaf reading: You can tell who is about to be nominated by looking at the editing history of their Wikipedia pages. If the page has been edited a lot recently, that's the person who has been selected.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Reframe Minnesota

I've written twice before about the artwork in Minnesota's Capitol, which at a minimum paints an overly narrow view of our state and at most represents racist triumphalism and white supremacism.

The final decision about what artwork to include has not yet been announced, and in the meantime, two Native art galleries in Minnesota have mounted a show called Reframe Minnesota: Art Beyond a Single Story to broaden the idea of what could and should be in the "People's Building." As one poster said in the gallery:

We want art in the Capitol — the People’s Building — to better represent the state’s many peoples and their contributions.
  • Is the Capitol a museum for historic art, or should the art be as vital and dynamic as our democracy?
  • Where are the images of people of color, and how could Capitol artwork better represent our state’s diverse people?
  • How can our art take an honest look at our past and look to our future as well?
I went to see the part of the exhibit at All My Relations Gallery, 1414 East Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis and highly recommend it to anyone who can stop by to see it before it closes on September 9. It's free, but a contribution of $10 gets you an exhibit poster featuring the art of well-known painter Jim Denomie:

This painting is called "Non-Negotiable" and is well worth enlarging to see in more detail.

Denomie has a second painting in the All My Relations Gallery, "Casino Sunrise." It's a large canvas with some elements that are a bit scatological for my taste, but here are a few details:

Denomie's Wikipedia page specifically discusses this painting, saying:
["Casino Sunrise" is] Denomie's own remake of the Seal of Minnesota. Governor Tim Pawlenty is represented by "Pawl Bunyan" (a play on Paul Bunyan) and is shown with his pants around his ankles standing directly behind Babe the Blue Ox. Former governor Jessie Ventura is shown only wearing a thong and a feather boa; he has a cigar in his mouth, a fishing rod set with a grenade in one hand, and a fist of money in the other. No politician of recent Minnesota history escapes the wrath of Denomie's paintbrush; Norm Coleman sits on a toilet and Al Franken counts ballots behind him. Indian Country is represented as well through images of lynched Indians from Fort Snelling, an Indian funeral pyre, a Christian church, a member of the American Indian Movement riding a horse and more. A Minneapolis police car relating to arrests made of three Indian men and without enough room for them all in the car one was placed in the trunk, is also depicted. Of this painting Denomie said, "The Minnesota State seal needed to be updated. It's been a while...This is all history, all of it is history of Minnesota."
Denomie's painting is not the only work to refer to the Minnesota state seal (which I've mentioned before). Gwen Westerman's quilt with printed embellishments, "This Is Dakota Homeland" reframes Minnesota by using no frame at all to “limit the borders of our Dakota homeland":

The description of her work continues, "Before the grid lines of American surveyors, our homeland was defined by rivers and lakes. The Indian on the Minnesota State Seal has been re-appropriated to represent the travel of Dakota across the land from the southern shore of Lake Superior throughout the Mississippi, St. Croix, and Minnesota River valleys along rivers and trade routes in what is now the State of Minnesota."

Detail from "This Is Dakota Homeland."

Two paintings by Leslie Barlow represent the current perspective of a young woman in the Twin Cities. One is called "January 19, 2015":

It depicts a Black Lives Matter march to reclaim Martin Luther King day. This piece spoke to me because it directly addressed the experience of urban native people today, which is too often overlooked, and has much in common with the experience of African Americans when it comes to policing.

Christian Pederson Behrends' prints addressed both history and two of the specific paintings that have been in our Capitol for a century. As the accompanying card says, "Behrends uses images of children’s playgrounds, toys and games to underline the importance of play… presenting safety as integral to play…" He "reframes and satirizes the historical inaccuracies in 'Father Hennepin at Saint Anthony Falls' and 'The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux,' rejecting the colonial propaganda that characterizes [them]."

'No Father Hennepins Allowed' pushes Father Hennepin out of the frame (that's him in lower left with the cross) and rejects his proselytizing, while native people play beside the water fall:

'Ramsey Beaten at His Own Game' shows settler (and later Minnesota Governor) Alexander Ramsey, standing on a makeshift stage like the one in the "Traverse des Sioux" painting, losing at checkers in front of a crowd of his peers while native people are playing in the background:

Cole Jacobson's mixed media piece, "Two Yellow Moons," illustrates the "before and after effects of the boarding school era… The Dakota girl in both of the pictures is Yellow Moon…. [it] also speaks about how many native people, especially young people, must live in two worlds within our societies."

Jacobson, a Mdewakanton Dakota man from southeastern Minnesota, is an enrolled member of Prairie Island. He calls himself a ledger artist (check out the area of the work within the yellow moons) who uses beadwork and quillwork, plus floral and geometric motifs from Dakota material culture.

Perhaps the most visually striking piece in the show is "In the Centre of the Universe" by Christian Chapman. It's a painting of Dennis Banks, the Minnesota-born co-founder of AIM, who is also a leader, teacher, activist, and author:

Chapman writes, "He is also known as Naawakamig, translated from Ojibwa meaning In the Centre of the Universe.... Banks is a man of great stature. His portrait would be worthy to grace the walls of the Minnesota State Capitol."

I don't have a photo of Joyce Lyon's triptych of photo prints called "Where Trees Are Painted Red," but some of her text stuck with me:
“The images in the State Capitol, commissioned in the early years of the twentieth century, convey a world view based on Manifest Destiny, white power and subjugation of Minnesota’s first people…. Shouldn’t the images and stories that greet visitors and speak to those who govern represent the diverse perspectives and histories of all of Minnesota’s peoples?
Her triptych draws attention to a historical event “that is a painful part of Minnesota’s experience. When we are courageous enough to consider our failings as well as our successes, we are more honest and become more empowered to work together.”

The triptych shows trees marked with red at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, a place that was the center of Dakota creation stories. In 1862, 1,600 Dakota people were force-marched 150 miles to that spot to live in a concentration camp for the winter. Many died:
In spring, the survivors were transported…to a reservation in South Dakota…. Beginning in 2002, descendants of these Dakota ancestors…have reenacted the march as an act of commemoration, mourning and healing. Marchers carry wooden stakes tied with prayer ribbons… at the site of the concentration camp, a circle of memorial stakes [is] created in the low-lying clearing…. The prayer ribbons glowed red above the water…
It's hard to pick out one work that I liked the most, but I think Marcie Rendon's short film called "Go Back Home" surprised me the most. She describes herself as a White Earth Anishinabe “whose family was dislocated by war, the reservation system, foster care system and relocation has been puzzled forever why folks would willingly leave their beautiful country to live in another place, while denigrating each wave of immigrants that follow after them…”

Most of the film is made up of journalist-style stand-up shots of Rendon in front of various European-American cultural institutions in Minnesota (the American Swedish Institute, the Black Forest German Restaurant), extolling the virtues of these other countries and encouraging people to go back where their ancestors came from.

If you don't want to go back to the country of your origin, the film suggests, you can apply to stay here by visiting one of the tribes, such as the Red Lake Embassy in Minneapolis:

The requirements of citizenship to remain here are listed at the close of the film, clearly modeled on U.S. citizenship requirements:
  • Individuals must select a specific tribe to apply for citizenship to. Take time to learn which tribes exist in Minnesota so you can make an informed choice.
  • Tribes will provide incentives for certain occupations to remain, like nuclear physicists, neurosurgeons, alternative energy experts, excellent nannies, certain people who have already adapted to a nature based lifestyle.
  • Everyone else must apply for a work visa.
  • Interdependence will be practiced over individualism and must be able to provide documentation of willingness to do so.
  • It will be advised to find a tribal member who can vouch for you in the application process. Applicants will sign up to learn the indigenous language of the tribal member who vouches for you.
  • Each applicant will be required to attend an American Indian Movement survival school for 500 hours, constantly or part-time over the first 6 months your work visa is in existence.
  • Applicants will demonstrate how to skin and cook a beaver. Applicants will demonstate how to set a net and clean fish in an ecologically friendly manner.
  • Applicants must transfer all existing personal and business monies into tribal banks like Woodland Bank of the Mille Lacs Band and maintain a minimum balance of $1000.
  • Applicants will agree to acculturate into tribal life at each and every opportunity.
Where would I return to, I wondered? Would the people of White Earth or Mille Lacs or Prairie Island accept me if I were to apply?

All this and more at All My Relations Gallery, 1414 East Franklin Avenue:

They're open 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Line in the Sand

Really, I spend a lot less time listening to NPR (via MPR) than I used to. Just a few minutes in the morning when I wake up and then daytime if I happen to be in the car.

But it's amazing how many odd sponsorship messages I've noticed over the years, even now. Today's was from ADT, the home security company. This is what I think it said:

ADT: It's more than a yard sign — it's a line in the sand.

What?! A line in the sand sounds pretty ephemeral, while at the same time threatening, as if there might be an armed guard inside your house.

When everyone knows that services like ADT don't offer protection, they just ring a bell somewhere and rely on the police to come. (If you're lucky... here's a case where a Minnesota woman was murdered by her ex despite spending almost $2,500 with ADT just weeks before.)

It's just one more piece of the incessant drum beat of fear we've got going in this country (RNC, I'm talking to you) that makes people afraid to go outdoors, let alone talk to strangers. It's good for certain types of businesses — from alarm systems to defense spending — but bad for just about everything else.


Here are a couple of past posts about NPR sponsors:

The Institute for Luxury Home Marketing


Luther Seminary's God Pause


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Race, Racism, My Mind

I'm not sure if I've made it clear in past posts or not, but I live about a mile from where Philando Castile was shot by police a week and a half ago. While I've worked on anti-racism causes for a long time, this close-to-home event (maybe combined with the rise of Donald Trump) has me almost frantic about racism, white privilege and white supremacy, and my own complicity in it all.

Today I saw this from writer Fran Lebowitz:

It is now common—and I use the word “common” in its every sense—to see interviews with up-and-coming young movie stars whose parents or even grandparents were themselves movie stars. And when the interviewer asks, “Did you find it an advantage to be the child of a major motion-picture star?” the answer is invariably “Well, it gets you in the door, but after that you’ve got to perform, you’re on your own.” This is ludicrous. Getting in the door is pretty much the entire game, especially in movie acting, which is, after all, hardly a profession notable for its rigor. That’s how advantageous it is to be white. It’s as though all white people were the children of movie stars. Everyone gets in the door and then all you have to do is perform at this relatively minimal level.

Additionally, children of movie stars, like white people, have at—or actually in—their fingertips an advantage that is genetic. Because they are literally the progeny of movie stars they look specifically like the movie stars who have preceded them, their parents; they don’t have to convince us that they can be movie stars. We take them instantly at face value. Full face value. They look like their parents, whom we already know to be movie stars. White people look like their parents, whom we already know to be in charge. This is what white people look like—other white people. The owners. The people in charge. That’s the advantage of being white. And that’s the game. So by the time the white person sees the black person standing next to him at what he thinks is the starting line, the black person should be exhausted from his long and arduous trek to the beginning.
I love this because it ties in a pet peeve of mine — dynasties of actors and politicians — to take the usual metaphors of white privilege to a new level. (Although what this metaphor says about poor whites, I'm having trouble extrapolating. Is it possible for a white person to not be the right kind of white? Where is class in all of this, Fran?)

More specific to the type of policing that killed Philando, today's Star Tribune reported that across the metro area, there are wide racial disparities in arrests. Pair that with a Pioneer Press story from last week about the data for St. Anthony police specifically, where 7 percent of residents are black but 38 percent of arrests based on traffic violations are of black people. The overall arrest record is even more disproportionate to population share (close to 50 percent).

That type of policing led to Philando's 46 stops in 16 years, detailed here by NPR.

(Pioneer Press graphic)

All those extra traffic stop warnings to white people are white privilege in action.

Yet I have let myself live without discomfort in this world, even though I knew it was so. That article from today's paper cited well-reported studies from 2000 and 2002 that concluded "police appeared to have different rules of enforcement for whites and blacks — especially for minor crimes such as loud car stereos, lurking, trespassing and not carrying proof of auto insurance. Minorities were arrested more often but were less likely to be convicted of those crimes than whites."

I don't remember those studies specifically, though I'm sure I read about them in the papers back then just like I'm reading all of this now. But somehow I didn't do anything to influence my local government or police to change their ways.

If those statistics don't make the case for you, here are three pieces of personal writing by black men that might:
But I know that even calling all of this white supremacy is considered a radical act by white people. Until a few years ago, I thought that term covered only people like the KKK, who overtly claim that white people and white culture are better than others (as Iowa Rep. Steve King did the other night on MSNBC). I have to credit Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog posts (maybe this one? but it may have been a cumulative effect) for waking me up to the fact that white supremacy is a system, just like racism, not something done by an individual. It permeates U.S. culture in ways that are hard to describe because they go down to the bedrock. I don't know why I never heard that message before, even though I learned almost 30 years ago that racism is not synonymous with prejudice based on race, but instead requires the power to enforce that prejudice.

But calling it white supremacy in front of other white people gets you the side eye, and probably closed ears, too.


At this point in writing, I set this post aside. While away, I saw a Twitter post by @gildedspine that helps me think of what to do, though I admit it's more attuned to the national level (Trump) than my local level (policing).
Stop talking to the echo chamber. Have conversations where you challenge the viewpoints of your family and friends.

Listen to people of color. Listen to people of color. Listen to people of color. Take your education on Muslims from Muslims.

Before you pressure marginalized people with what you should do...take a breath. And listen. Usually, we tell you what you can do. Sometimes, we need support. Sometimes, we need a voice that will be heard when ours isn't. And we definitely need you to VOTE.

Right now, in all honesty, I'd rather hear that you plan to do something positive in your area and for every member of your country rather than be offered a hug. Or be told that you plan to move to Canada when people I know don't have [residency] papers [in the U.S.].

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

RNC Day 1

Day 1 of the Republican National Convention... not much news from outside the hall (though I can guess it's quite a scene out there).

Meanwhile, inside,

  • One of the Duck Dynasty boys spoke with his head wrapped in a pseudo-American flag. (So much for the false outrage about a Muslim woman who wore a flag-patterned hijab.)
  • The bereaved mother of a dead soldier accused Hillary Clinton of directly causing her son's death at Benghazi, which has no basis in fact or the House Republicans would have found it in their years of investigations. (There weren't any appearances by the mothers and widows of soldiers killed in Iraq, of course.)
  • Washed-up actor Scott Baio refused to apologize for indirectly calling Hillary Clinton a c*#$.
  • D-list actor Antonio Sabato (who is Italian, not Latino, in case you were wondering) proclaimed that Barack Obama is a Muslim.
  • Rep. Steve King of Iowa asserted that white people are responsible for all the good things in civilization and that "sub-groups" have never contributed much.
  • Melania Trump gave an okay speech that turned out to be partly cribbed from Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech.
At least no one talked to a chair this time around. Though I didn't listen to Rudy Giuliani or Joni Ernst, I admit, so maybe I missed it. Like some of the other speakers, I hear they were basically running a Rally to Restore Fear.

When entering the stage to introduce Melania, Donald Trump was accompanied by the song "We Are the Champions" by Queen, despite the fact that he has been asked (told?) not to use Queen's music by its guitarist and composer, Brian May. Which prompted this graphic on social media:

(Freddie Mercury, Queen's lead singer and arguably the key to their sound and popularity, was both gay and of Iranian descent.)

The Melania plagiarism debacle led to conversations on Twitter, largely among black women, that pointed out how Michelle Obama would have been treated if there were any hint she had copied parts of a speech from another first lady.

Later in the day, I saw this screen snap from a Politico article about Melania's fans among the Republican delegates on the floor of the convention:

Catch that... Melania is elegant "after what's been in the White House" — what, not who. The Obamas and Michelle especially are objects, things, while Melania is not only a human, but is elegant, with grace, poise, and intelligence.

These are the same type of folks who objected to Michelle wearing a sleeveless dress a few years ago, and now have nothing to say about the fact that Melania has posed for paid photographs with a lot more than her sleeves missing.

(And I can't help mentioning that Melania spends part of her time selling and promoting a line of skin care products that contain caviar. How elegant. That may top the towel charms.)

So, in total, quite a spectacle of America at its worst.


Here's a more thorough summary of Day 1 from The Hill

Monday, July 18, 2016

More than One Meaning

Has anyone else come across abbreviations that are used in more than one field or area of modern life, but mean different things?

I first noticed this in my work with nonprofit organizations. We had two different groups called CDF: the Children's Defense Fund and the Cooperative Development Foundation. Plus others called the similar-sounding CDS and the one-extra-letter NCDF. Fun conversations ensued.

Here are a few others:

SRO: I first learned this term as "standing room only" (in theater). A little later I knew it as "single room occupancy" (in housing). Now I know it also means "school resource officer," which is the euphemism for the police who try to control public schools with metal detectors and by tackling girls to the floor when they refuse to get out of their seats.

CRM: My first knowledge of this letter combination was "customer relationship management," which is a major category of software, both desktop and web-based. There are NPR sponsors like the German company SAP who offer "CRM solutions," for instance. This kind of software is used by nonprofits to track their donors and corporations to manage their sales contacts. But it also stands for the Civil Rights Movement. I don't know if they used it back in the 1960s, or if it's come into use since Twitter forced us all to get our thoughts into 140 characters.

TFA: To me, this stands for Teach for America, often referred to in social media about education reform. But suddenly in late 2015 I kept reading tweets about TFA that made no sense. Finally, I realized they were talking about Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

There's also the word "development," which in my experience means any of these:

  • fundraising for nonprofit groups
  • creating software or building websites
  • working with food co-ops to get started or add more stores to an existing co-op
  • rehabbing or constructing buildings in cities
  • the process of industrialization (or leapfrogging to post-industrialization) in economies that had been primarily based on subsistence agriculture
  • the process of a child growing up from birth to adulthood
My favorite confusion, though, is probably over the term "lead organizer," which means an organizer who leads other organizers, but could just as easily mean an organizer who works to decrease lead exposure in the environment.

Although I guess nothing can top the confusion we used to have in the printing business, which routinely ran ads for jobs with the title "stripper."

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Science Stories for Today

From today's Star Tribune Science & Health section, several bits of knowledge or glimpses of possibilities. These stories are all from other newspapers, but I see them combined into one small section on Sundays, so I always look forward to reading that.

Mary Todd Lincoln may have had pernicious anemia (B12 deficiency), explaining both her erratic behavior and known physical symptoms. I've always thought she sounded as though she had bipolar disorder, but one doctor's current thinking is different. (From the New York Times)

A new look at Alzheimer's disease finds correlations between genes and brain factors, even when people are young (18 - 36), that later can predict Alzheimer's onset with some reliability. I may have overstated or misstated that; it's pretty complicated. (From the Los Angeles Times)

Yet, remember, dementia rates have been declining 20 percent per decade over the past 40 years. Other conditions that are declining: colon cancer (50 percent decrease since the 1980s) and hip fractures (15 - 20 percent declines per decade for 30 years). One possible explanation for the hip fracture decrease is that as people have gotten heavier, their bones have become stronger, preventing hip fractures. (From the New York Times)