Monday, November 18, 2019

Another Small Outrage

It's odd that I almost take comfort in small outrages and annoyances these days. They feel so mundane, as if we're still a normal country where things go only slightly wrong and have the possibility of being corrected.

Here's an example.

A local business, The Herbivorous Butcher, began producing vegan products in 2016. Soon after, they filed trademark paperwork for several terms, including their name and a few other phrases they were using on their packaging, one of which was "vegan butcher."

They were given a trademark on all of the terms except The Vegan Butcher. For that one, they were denied because it was said to be "merely descriptive." So the sister and brother who own the business decided they were okay with that (since it essentially means the words are in the public domain), and they didn't contest it. They kept using the phrase and knew that other vegan producers could use it too.

Meanwhile, another vegan producer named Sweet Earth Foods, based in California since 2011, was acquired by the international food conglomerate Nestle. Less than two months after Herbivorous Butcher stopped pursuing the Vegan Butcher trademark, Nestle filed for a trademark on the same phrase and in February 2019 the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted them a trademark on it.

Which is messed up, right?

The Herbivorous Butcher is contesting this, and I sure hope they win because it seems completely obvious that they should. But who knows these days.

Read all about it in the Star Tribune.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

It's Easier If You Don't Care

I really don't talk about John Scalzi that much, but I just saw him post a reaction to this tweet:

And I'm less interested in his answer than in my own, self-centered as that may seem. Because I realized I don't have any of those goals, except the sleep part, and I'd alter it to 7 or maybe 7.5 hours.

Okay, maybe I wish I had a good social life, but I know myself well enough by now that I'm okay with the fact that mine is what it is. I'm post-career and I can't imagine wanting to "have" that anymore, if I ever did (though I did have a job that I worked pretty hard at).

I don't try to exercise unless it's gardening season and then that's not exercise, it's gardening. I'm not trying to eat right particularly; I actually like foods that happen to be more healthful. And hobbies... I guess my blog is a hobby that I manage to keep up with, and gardening is a hobby, that's true. So I guess I do have some hobbies. They just don't seem like hobbies because I do them so much. And this list doesn't even mention volunteering, or maybe that's just another hobby?

Not having kids at home helps a lot with any of these. So recognizing that there's a trade-off between the joy of parenting and just about everything else is probably a healthy realization to make before it's too late.

But yeah, the sleep part. I wish I could do better at that.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

New Art in an Old Building

I'm excited that Saint Paul is going to augment the beautiful but out-of-date and unrepresentative murals that currently dominate its City Council chambers (which I wrote about here). They've just announced the muralists who will create new artwork that will be added to the room.

According to the Star Tribune,

The tentative plan is to display two of the new murals on top of two of the existing... murals, the other two of which would remain on display so that at any given time visitors would see two historic murals and two modern ones. The new and old art would be rotated and include interpretive text.
The four chosen artists are:
The selection process was run by the Ramsey County Historical Society, and the works should be complete by April, with installation in May. Longer bios of the artists can be seen on the RCHS site.

Friday, November 15, 2019

4 Degrees Celsius, 30 Percent

This morning I saw this tweet, which is a quote from a Bloomberg News article:

“In the absence of efforts to curb emissions, the earth could warm by 2 degrees by 2050, cutting global gross domestic product by 2.5% to 7.5%, Oxford estimates. Longer term, a rise in temperatures of 4 degrees by 2100 could cut output by as much as 30%.”
And I thought, as I have thought before when I've heard similar pronouncements from economists, That makes no sense. If global temperatures go higher than they've ever been since Homo sapiens existed, let alone since there was human civilization, let alone industrial civilization and civil society, there's no way to put a number on how much the economy will decline, and even if there was, it's not 30 percent. 90 percent? 99 percent?

Like, how would we even know how much it has declined if global communication breaks down completely because there's a nuclear war caused by global unrest as climate refugees flee and nuke-holding governments are destabilized by nationalist and fascist governments?

That's about as far as I got, though, before the day began. 

Then later, I saw this tweet by Naomi Klein responding to the Bloomberg story and the economists' pronouncements:
The hubris is what gets me: these economists have no idea what 2 degree of warming will cost us. Systems are already breaking down in non-linear ways with 1 degree. Imagining that we can manage 4 degrees without total breakdown is insane. Of course no mention of the cost in lives.
The thread of responses to Klein also contains many worth absorbing:
"This cascade of events may tip the entire Earth system into a new mode of operation," said co-author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute. The "carrying capacity" of a 4C or 5C world could drop to a billion people."
Extinction Rebellion MA

To start with, some economists predicted what would be the economic cost of human extinction. This is what comes out of having left economics to mathematicians, and left moral philosophy out.
Marco Senatore

I’m an economist. My opinion is that every econ graduate program should require a minimum amount of basic natural sciences coursework, especially physics and biology. A failure to understand the real-world implications of their models and results can lead to serious damage.
Julie Pierce

They seem so unable to consider any secondary effects. A 30% output loss means mass famine. Wars and social breakdown happen in such things. You don't get 30% quietly starving to death while 70% just chug along productively.

“It’s going to be awful when output is cut by 30%” is a strange way of discussing our extinction.

We really have lost the plot now. Based on the best evidence it's now cheaper to act. Don't even worry about lives, moral issues, or future of humanity. It is just economically cheaper to act. There is literally no argument not to act, except that you don't believe experts.
Dave Wiltshire

Indeed. There's a quote from WWII that says "It'd be cheaper and less damaging to the economy to just let the nazis win." Darned if I can find the source right now though. Very apt.

I am not a climatologist. But as a microbiologist, I do know what the melting of arctic ice and the releasing of germs from permafrost can do to modern human population as we have never encountered some of these viruses and bacteria before. We are NOT immune.

The impact costs are already mounting, escalating out of control, across the human and environmental systems and generations. They have to see this, in which case they are unethical at best and thieves at worst. #WakeUp #riskmanagement is not a belief system! #ActOnClimate

And concepts like GDP growth are entirely nebulous for most people – who aren’t beneficiaries of our runaway capitalist system. We know climate change is going to cost lives, homes and biodiversity, yet those real costs are juxtaposed with growth as if it’s an equal moral value.

The wealthy are already aligning themselves with climate change. They do not want to let the cat out of the bag until they are in position to capitalize on it.

Economists seem more isolated from the bodies of knowledge produced in other fields than the members of almost any other discipline. It’s frustrating since the sphere of “the economic” does not have any precise social boundary.
Dan Kervick

The complexity involved in predictions like this are maddening, and we delude ourselves by making authoritative-sounding claims like this. The truth is harder: We really don't know just how bad it can get. Do we have to wait and find out?
Trevor Sutherland

Indeed economics does not optimise for sustainability or human welfare. For a brief period some climate change effects create short-term opportunities; ice-free Artic navigation, arms deals for the extra conflicts caused by displaced populations, storm defences etc.

Because if they look at that the numbers would be telling them about an almost completely locked in genocide of the majority of the human race, and if they acknowledge THAT the sustainably sourced guillotines might start to appear even earlier.

Economists are mere ideologues in mathematical-looking disguise. I stopped paying attention to them many years ago, except to reject through evidence their invariably incomplete, biased and wrong assumptions.

Direct your attention to this Turkish artichoke farmer who asks: what happens when the seasons no longer work?

It's a total crap shoot. With precious little time, profiteers will look to gain wealth, the unenlightened will continue to deny, some will wring their hands and wait for the rapture and the rest, with herculean efforts embrace, improve and implement changes required to sustain. VOTE
I know these low-ball percentages are at least partly because these economists are afraid of sounding crazy, because that's how I feel, and I'm not in a conservative academic field.

This is why we need not just activists but science fiction (so-called cli-fi) writers to visualize these negative scenarios and show the existential danger. And their opposite, people who write and create other works showing the type of world we can build that's connected and based on cooperation and regeneration instead of competition and extraction.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

John Oliver

You don't often get to laugh out loud about our hell-in-a-handbasket present reality, but John Oliver does it for me. One example was the way he described this guy:

That's Roger Stone, who Oliver described as "basically steampunk Andy Warhol."

And then there was the elaborate song and dance sequence at the end of the same episode. This concerned coal baron Bob Murray, who sued the show several years ago for libel. They and HBO recently won the lawsuit, so Oliver gave a great explanation of how SLAPP suits by rich people and companies work to suppress free speech, and then ended with this NSFW bit:

I watched it twice and got a lot more out of the lyrics on second hearing. Murray, by the way, rhymes with furry.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Decade Is Almost Done

As we approach the end of 2019, a bunch of people have suddenly realized it's the end of a decade and they're sharing on social media their accomplishments over the past 10 years. (Note: these are the people who think a decade starts on the even-numbered year and ends on the odd-numbered year, which, I guess... whatever. Remember that whole conversation about how the millennium didn't start in 2000 but instead 2001?)

I ran my own list, which has some accomplishments, sure, but at this point in life it's more like a list of things that happened around me that I had to respond to and be part of (mostly the deaths of elderly parents and in-laws and their aftermaths, or the adulting of Daughter Number Three-Point-One, who went from being 16 to 26).

But while doing this I also realized that because I was born in late 1959, the world's decades — when based on the 00–X9 formulation — march in lockstep with my own decades. I was 51 at the start of the decade and I'm 60 at the end. I am the decade.

I may have realized this before, but I don't think so. Of course, I share this with all the other people born in years ending in 9, something like 10 percent of the population, so whoopee.

I wonder if I can I add this new awareness to my list of achievements?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

O Pioneers!

I've mentioned Sarah Taber's writing just once before, but what a piece that was. Here's another one, not as closely tied to her field of agriculture, but it's in the ballpark:

So I learned something fun about the word "pioneer" today. It was originally a military rank in the late medieval period workers.

Specifically, construction workers who went ahead of armies to cut down forest, clear trails, build roads/bridges, identify fording spots, etc. so the REAL army could march through later. In other words, they were doing all of this in enemy territory while getting shot at.

So like this sounds super badass, right? That's the sentiment we attach to "pioneer" today. Except it comes from Latin "pedestrian," as in "not high-class mounted cavalry," aka broke-ass serf trash. It's from the same term as "peon" and "pawn."

"Pioneer" means disposable people who pave the way for invasion. The cannon fodder that goes in before the usual rank 'n' file cannon fodder.

Indigenous people talk about the growth of the United States as a military invasion. And, uh, we agreed with them. We openly used military terms to talk about what we were doing. It's only later that we romanticized it into forgetting.

This also slots into something I've been seeing with how we Euro-Americans settled the US: rank classism amongst ourselves, covered up with rose-tinted glasses. We openly acknowledged that the earliest settlers in an area were probably gonna get killed and the perks were all going to go to gentlemen coming in later. And OUR GOVERNMENT WAS MORE THAN OK WITH THAT.

We had inequality that created desperately poor people, willing to do anything for a chance to escape poverty— like invade Native land knowing there was a high and justifiable risk of being killed for it. We weren't just OK with that system. We deliberately weaponized poverty.

The US's refusal to enforce treaties allowed poor whites to squat on Native land. When they were evicted or killed, that was used as a pretense to formally invade Native land (because we're "hard on crime" I guess). And THAT's when land speculators were able to gobble up vast tracts. The land speculators couldn't make money without genocide AND the casual disposability of their. own. people.

I'm not saying this to claim we had it worse than Native people, who suffered actual genocide. White settler deaths never amounted to the numbers Indigenous people faced. But … settler "technological and logistical superiority" was really more about how it creates poor people and then treats them as expendable. Nothing is impossible when you have hordes of impoverished, desperate peon-eers to throw at the problem.

It's interesting to me how much Americans fear China for its real and/or perceived willingness to just throw human bodies at a thing until it's conquered because that's exactly what we did to Indigenous people.

Anyway, the most impressive piece of engineering to me is the social engineering we did to convince people that pioneering was awesome. Nowadays the word makes us think strong, virtuous, honorable, badass Paul Bunyan-type shit instead of, y'know, what "pioneer" really means. An underclass that cuts down trees and gets shot at so other people can ride in and take the goods.

This is just one reason it's important for white settlers to understand how much we've damaged *ourselves* with colonialism. Every phase of colonialism had its own set of broke colonists paving the way with infrastructure. Cutting down trees, to building roads and ferries, to building railroads. That work was always done by the dregs of our society.

In other words, colonial society NEEDS DREGS. The American invasion economy needed broke desperate people.

It still does. Because we still haven't figured out any other way to live, than by weaponizing poverty to get people to wreck themselves for the empire. It's also just one reason "it's all about class!" brocialism isn't good enough. Rich whites didn't pick on poor whites just for shits and giggles. They did it to weaponize us against other people. And it WORKED.

We can't repair that — or ourselves — by making it "all about class." That just keeps rich whites at the center of the universe instead of aligning ourselves with other people that they — and we, through our participation in colonialism — harm.

Welp that's a lot of technocolonialism and thoughts on how if the white working class is serious about living our best lives, we gotta get our heads out of the white upper class's ass, take responsibility for where we've been, and make some better friends.

happy Sunday
"It's interesting to me how much Americans fear China for its real and/or perceived willingness to just throw human bodies at a thing until it's conquered because that's exactly what we did to Indigenous people." That part especially.

And it made me think of Minnesota's Dakota War and the crap from white people that goes on about it to this day. Thinking of the white guy in the Minnesota State Seal as a pioneer through Sarah Taber's lens — as an expendable peon sent out by the rich — sure makes it feel different. Though the Native man riding by isn't any safer from the rifle leaning against the stump.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Re-enacting the German Coast Uprising

I saw a story last Wednesday (via AP in the Star Tribune) about the upcoming re-enactment of the 1811 rebellion by enslaved people near New Orleans, but didn't manage to write about it. Now it has been covered on NPR and in the Guardian, so you may have heard about it already. I hope so!

The fact that rebellions like the German Coast Uprising — thought to be the largest one in U.S. history — are not better known, let alone celebrated, is indicative of the white supremacy inherent in our country. It's all about whose point of view you take when you think of a "slave revolt," right? Nat Turner in 1831 was either a crazy preacher inciting mayhem and unreasonable violence against the harmless gentry... or a freedom fighter. The leaders of the revolt in Louisiana, who — according to the AP story — "were field hands who toiled in hot, wet conditions that contributed to their 13% yearly death rate" were inspired by the recent successful Haitian revolution.

A 13 percent yearly death rate; don't you think you might get violent if you lived in those circumstances? Wouldn't that be reasonable, and perhaps worth commemorating as an outstanding example of our supposed American love of freedom?

The artist who organized this reenactment, Dread Scott (!), worked with 500 volunteers who marched 26 miles from the forced labor camp (so-called plantation) where the uprising started to New Orleans. Among the volunteers were the aunt and uncle of Oscar Grant, the young Oakland man who was killed by BART police in 2009. 

As NPR put it,

The original German Coast Uprising didn't succeed. Roughly one-fifth of those who revolted were killed. Some were put on trial first and executed — their heads then put on display to intimidate others from pursuing future uprisings.
But the re-enactment did not show that part, thank goodness. Instead, it transformed the arrival in New Orleans into a cultural celebration. As Scott put it in the Guardian,
“Even if you don’t know much about this history, you know that white people did terrible things – brutal, medieval torture of people during enslavement. That is not news. What is news is black people having agency within enslavement and, frankly, having the most radical ideas of freedom in the United States at the time.”
Not surprisingly, the story from the UK-based Guardian is the best of the three stories I've read on the re-enactment, covering more of the original rebellion's history as well as reaction to the re-enactment by black and white Louisianans.

AP photo by Gerald Herbert

And I can't end this post without connecting it with these words from Mary Annaïse Heglar, who writes about the climate crisis and environmental justice:
I can’t hear about this story of the largest slave revolt in American history without being blinded by the parallels to the climate crisis today. Just think about the odds against them? The uncertainty before them?

New Orleans is literally as far south as you can get. Any farther and you’re in the water. Even if they had succeeded in taking New Orleans, their odds of keeping it were so slim they had to have been inscrutable. I think they knew that. And did it anyway.

I don’t think they sat around debating whether or not there was hope. I think they decided whether or not they wanted to live. I think they decided living a slave was a thousand times worse than dying free. I think they decided it wasn’t a decision at all.

The climate movement could use some of the energy. Some of that Claude McKay “If We Must Die” energy. That “Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back” energy.*

P.S. Today is also the anniversary of the 1898 Wilmington Massacre (better described as a coup), in which the fairly elected, cross-racial government of that city in North Carolina was overthrown by a violent white mob. Here are some past posts on the Wilmington Massacre:
* If We Must Die
By Claude McKay

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Here's an Example

There are little things — whether in writing, visual media, or social interactions — that systematically undermine particular classes of people, and those people know an example of such when they see it. People who are not part of that particular class are apt to not see those things as undermining.

This is a very simplistic way of describing one way that oppression operates. I saw a tiny glimpse of it today, an example from an old trade publication in the printing business. It had this inviting cover, so I opened it, completely unsuspecting:

While leafing through, looking over the pages of writing and illustration about the alphabet, I came across this sidebar:

Note the second "deftnotion" on the list, which reads:

Woman's Vocabulary: Small, but think of the turnover.
While it's not as though the rest of the text is as clever as its writer thinks it is, that one stands out (at least to me, part of the class it applies to) as more than just something to roll your eyes at. It assumes the reader is male, first of all. Second it's completely incorrect, because women have larger vocabularies than men, even back when this pablum was written. And finally, it's just spiteful and insulting as it speaks to its assumed insider audience of men, punching down with its so-called humor.

It told me this text was not meant for me and warned me there would be other little bombs of insult throughout. So I set it back on the table and moved on.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

A Not-Bad Logo

Ya'll know I love to complain about bad logos, and occasionally I praise a good one. Here's an in-between one:

I realize that in some ways it should go in my bad logo pile, but I find this one charming in its naiveté. Yes, it probably was drawn on graph paper and yes, the "employee owned" both needs a hyphen and has been awkwardly force-justified. But overall it makes me smile, nonetheless.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Making Your Own Selectivity

Today's thoughts are from Maggie Koerth, writer for Five Thirty Eight and former science writer for Boing Boing. Maggie is also the author of Before the Lights Go Out.

Today on Twitter she was ruminating about the news that colleges buy the names of students with low SAT scores from the College Board,  then encourage the students to apply, knowing they will reject them in order to boost the colleges' selectivity rating. Ugh.

Maggie had this to say:

I've been thinking about this for a day and a half now. And here's why. This game exists because a metric (selectivity) exists. And the metric exists because ... once upon a time a news magazine decided they could make some good side money ranking colleges.

Does "selectivity" actually tell you anything useful about how good your education will be? What does "selectivity" actually measure that is of value to a student?

Why do I have the feeling somebody chose this metric cause they just needed more stuff to rank by?

A few years ago, I read a research paper that used the US News and World Report college rankings as an example of how we take subjective arbitrary metrics and adopt them as representative of objective worth and then reshape whole systems around them.

And it boils down to this: You could make a useful-to-students guide to colleges. But that takes a lot of reporting. Because many of the things students want to know are subjective and can't be well captured in numbers. And you have to do it, yourself, over and over.

Or, you could come up with a bunch of metrics that colleges submit to you and that look scientific and objective. And that's a lot easier. Requires fewer reporters. Makes the universities compete for your favor in ways you can maybe monetize. So why not?

That, my friends, was an editorial decision.

An editorial decision that has had broad-ranging effects on how kids feel about themselves, how schools treat them, what schools feel pressured to spend $ on (and raise tuition for) ...

And I guess the big takeaway for me is to spend more time thinking about the downstream effects of editorial decisions. When I make a choice, what could the consequences of that choice be?

Well, that, and my usual rant about "just because it's data doesn't mean it's objective fact that tells you what you need to know."

Relatedly, parents, keep this shit in mind when you're thinking about Great Schools rankings in your area. Ask questions about the metrics your public school is judged by. And then think about whether they are really telling you what you want to know.

At one point, I was looking at a house in a neighborhood whose grade school at a "2" ranking with Great Schools. And I got all worried. And I looked into it. It had low test scores because more than 50% of its students were ESL. But the teachers were winning awards.

The principal was beloved. It had some really cool after school robotics and language and arts stuff. It was not a bad school. It was a school that scored poorly on a ranking system.

I once literally heard the principal at my kids' current school tell a prospective parent that part of why our school didn't score as high as another school across town was because we didn't hire a person whose sole job was to massage the Great Schools ranking.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

In Case You've Been Wondering What Minnesota Democrats Think

Remember the Democrats' nonscientific "bean poll" from the Minnesota State Fair in late August? My eyeball-level count found a strong majority for Warren, followed by a close race for second between Klobuchar and Buttigieg, Sanders in fourth, and Biden in fifth.

Now there's a real survey, and among Minnesota Democrats, these are the first choices for the Democratic nomination:

  • Warren 25%
  • Klobuchar: 15%
  • Joe Biden: 14%
  • Bernie Sanders: 13%
  • Pete Buttigieg: 7%
So that's not extremely different from the Fair poll. The biggest difference is how much Buttigieg has faded, when he's supposedly coming on strong in Iowa.

According to MinnPost, "The poll was jointly conducted in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and the Cook Political Report."

Even more interesting, Warren’s lead among Minnesota DFLers actually grew, and Biden dropped to third place when the surveyers combined first and second choices, as follows:
  • Warren: 43%
  • Klobuchar: 25%
  • Sanders: 24%
  • Biden: 21%
  • Buttigieg: 16%
  • Kamala Harris: 8%
Mulligan's disapproval/approval numbers in the four states are also interesting:
  • Minnesota: 58-42
  • Michigan: 59-41
  • Pennsylvania: 61-39
  • Wisconsin: 57-42
But here's one WTF table for Minnesota's Demoractic organizers:

Yes, that table shows that Minnesota Republicans have more enthusiasm to vote in 2020 compared to 2016 than Democrats do... unlike the other three states. And while the Minnesota Republican enthusiasm number is higher than the other three states, the Democratic enthusiasm number is also significantly lower than the other three states.

Minnesota's rural voters are also the most supportive of Mulligan among rural voters in the four states.

The whole report can be seen here.