Sunday, August 19, 2018

A Grim Anniversary

This week marks the 500th anniversary of Spain allowing and creating a business monopoly on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, directly from the African coast to the Caribbean.

August 1518 was just 26 years after Columbus arrived in Hispaniola. This article by the Independent includes details on primary source research, the revelation (to me) that Spain and Portugal had already been importing enslaved people to their countries — rather than their colonies — for over 70 years at this point, and also this fact I needed to be reminded of:

this African catastrophe was linked to another terrible human disaster on the American side of the Atlantic, the sheer scale of which is only now being revealed by archaeology. For the main reason that the Europeans needed African slaves to be shipped to the Caribbean was because the early Spanish colonisation of that region had led to the deaths of up to three million local Caribbean Indians, many of whom the Spanish had already de facto enslaved and had intended to be their local workforce.
Specifically, the estimated 2 million people of Hispaniola in 1492 had been reduced to just 26,000 by 1514. As Columbus wrote in his journal, "With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want. Here there are so many of these slaves." But darn, those people kept dying (from disease or violence), so his successors had to come up more people to exploit.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

George Lakoff in One Page

Given how much I like and respect George Lakoff's work, it's amazing I haven't mentioned him here more often. He appears occasionally in my monthly Twitter round-up, and in passing in a couple of other posts. This post from 2010 has the most content of any.

Today I saw a page of notes based on one of his talks, created by someone named Kim Ellis, and it gives a brief overview of his main points describing our country's political divide:

The page summarizes an 80-minute talk he gave at Berkley, viewable here.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Terrorist Attacks in Decline

You wouldn't know it, but facts show that terrorist attacks and deaths from attacks have been declining around the world substantially over the past four years. There was a peak in 2014, but since then there have been major decreases.

This Washington Post story gives a summary. A few choice quotes:

Despite such high-profile attacks and responses [as the recent London car attack], …statistics released this month by the University of Maryland suggest that 2017 was the third consecutive year that the number of terrorist attacks around the world — and the deaths caused by them — had dropped. So far, 2018 looks on track to be lower still.

...a closer read of the 2014 statistics paints a nuanced picture. START’s data from the year found just three countries — Iraq, Nigeria and Afghanistan — accounted for 60 percent of deaths from terrorism. Even though the total number of deaths globally from terrorism that year was clearly terrible (more than 45,000, according to START), it was still less than the number of deaths due to drug overdoses that same year in the United States alone.
A very small number of the total deaths occurred in the U.S. (27 of the ones in 2014, for instance, including the perpetrators). Despite this, a "Pew poll from July 2016, for example, found that voters thought that terrorism should get more time than any other subject in presidential debates."

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Recognize It, Interrupt It When You Can

These four tweets were all in my feed just now, within about 30 seconds of scrolling:

White people reading this, do you hear about these kinds of incidents on a daily basis? Because they happen on a daily basis, and there are a lot more of them than these few.

None of these examples included physical violence, and they range from what might be considered a microagression to serious financial fraud and employment discrimination. But imagine being a person who is worn down day in and day out by this kind of crap. (Not to mention the other story I've been seeing about a 6-year-old boy who wasn't allowed to enter his private Christian school because he had short dreadlocks.)

If you see something, say something. As the organizer Brittany Packnett put it, "Spend your privilege. You didn’t earn it, so give it a way."

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Look at All Life on Earth

Researchers at Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and the California Institute of Technology did a census of all life on earth. They found that living things equal 550 gigatons of carbon. Plants make up a large majority of that, 450 gigatons, followed by bacteria at 70 and fungi at 12:

Of the animals on earth (just two gigatons total), insects (arthropods) account for half the carbon:

Humans and the livestock we feed ourselves, together, far outweigh wild mammals.

Source: The biomass distribution on Earth from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018. Graphs by Discover magazine.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Paper Is Best

Today is (finally) the primary election in Minnesota, so here's a map from the most recent issue of Mother Jones showing which states use either paper ballots or a paper receipt, and which ones use completely electronic or partially electronic balloting (which is most likely susceptible to hacking):

Ah, the South, so often the home of technological innovation. I wonder why almost every state is in the South? And what the heck is wrong with you in Pennsylvania, Indiana (honorary member of the South, it seems), Delaware, New Jersey, and D.C.?

Monday, August 13, 2018

More on the Greensboro Massacre

A week or so ago, I posted this photo:

This plaque marks a less well-known and more recent historic moment in Greensboro, which seemed anomalous to me back when it happened almost 40 years ago. Wasn't the Klan dead, I thought then: but today it seems a bit too current.
Today I learned from @bell_shakur on Twitter that the Greensboro Massacre was partly planned by a an FBI informant, and some of the weapons were supplied by an undercover ATF agent:
one prominent example of the FBI utilizing not only the KKK but also local police at the same time came in the form of the Greensboro Massacre, when several Communist Workers Party members were killed while protesting the American Nazi Party/KKK. the FBI and Greensboro police anticipated violence would occur, however they permitted it to occur in the first place. a paid informant for the police, Edward Dawson, who was previously an FBI agent and helped startup a KKK organization, assisted in the planning of this massacre.
She included this image, which comes from

I would note that shootouts like this are what happens when both sides of an argument (or existential disagreement) are armed. If only one side is armed... same thing.

After posting, I read the Wikipedia page on the massacre. From that I learned many of the dead CWP members were doctors and nurses who worked on brown lung issues among textile workers.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Too Sleepy

I am newly home from over a week away and sitting here falling asleep at the screen. Time to go to bed and see what I have to say or show tomorrow!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Minnesota Going Berserk

Wow, things are crazy in Minnesota politics right now.

The big story is the governor's race and the fact that our sitting attorney general, Lori Swanson — now running for governor — has been violating campaign laws for years by using her taxpayer-funded office staff (including attorneys) as campaign "volunteers." Many of the accusers are unnamed, but quite a number of others are on the record. Swanson has attacked the primary accuser by releasing his expunged criminal record (!) and says the publication, The Intercept, is biased against her, even though the reporter pitched the story to them. There's a lot more to this case, but wow. Check it out here, here, here, and here. I've been exclaiming over it all week.

Aside from the obvious (that we don't want someone who does that in office!), the problem is that if Swanson manages to win the primary, this issue will be used against her in the November election, making it all too likely the Republican candidate will win. And Minnesota just cannot have that happen.

The other off-the-wall story is a Minneapolis one. A blogger working under the name Wedge LIVE! has been active for four years. (The Wedge is the neighborhood in Minneapolis where he lives.) He's a renter, attending public meetings to get the word out about building more housing and increasing density and non-car transportation. Over the past couple of years, he's one of several people who has been confronting an elected official named Carol Becker (member of an obscure city board who has become a spokesperson for NIMBYism and driving your car everywhere).

Today the guy behind Wedge LIVE! discovered that Becker has reserved the name Wedge Live with the Minnesota Secretary of State and filed for a trademark on it as well, claiming that she plans to do a podcast on how "wedge issues" divide us. (Another crusading blogger has the story here.) She swore, on penalty of perjury, that she is doing business with that name or plans to do so. "Plans to do so" is pretty vague, of course, so she's unlikely to be prosecuted but petty crap is a real head-shaker, and she makes paranoid statements about Wedge LIVE's funding, implying something like a George Soros dark money conspiracy.

Whew. And that's not even mentioning the city council race in Saint Paul where one minor candidate has been arrested twice and kicked out of public buildings twice in the past few weeks.

Friday, August 10, 2018

A Fan of This Fan

Recently I saw this fan spinning near the ceiling at a gift shop within the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.:

And then while I was standing near the door, I noticed a plaque headlined Big Ass Fan, followed by these words:

Friends of the National Zoo is committed not only to the comfort of the people within this building, but also to the concepts of sustainability and conservation of our resources.

The Big Ass Fan overhead is evidence of this. This extraordinary fan covers more area than 9 small ceiling fans while using 66% less energy, and can improve the efficiency of our heating and air conditioning units by as much as 30%.
The last sentence is a lot of information packed into a small bit of text. A lesson on fans wasn't what I had been expecting alongside the T-shirts and stuffed pandas, but I got one anyway.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

It Does Exist

If anyone ever asks you if there's such a thing as "warp drive," you can tell them yes, because I have seen it:

As seen in Northern Virginia.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

We're Number Two, and It's Not Good

If you're not from Minnesota, you may not know that many people here pride themselves on Minnesotans being above average. Our state's now-disgraced bard, Garrison Keillor, even had a recurring line about all the children being above average.

Well, here's another way else we're clearly above average: racial inequality. We're second-worst in the country, after Wisconsin. Differences in income and wealth, divergent rates of unemployment and incarceration... all are at extremes in Minnesota.

We take care of "our own" and have a narrow definition of who fits into that phrase.