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:
  • Corey 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.

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Here are a couple of past posts about NPR sponsors:

The Institute for Luxury Home Marketing

Esurance

Luther Seminary's God Pause

Pajamagram

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.

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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 without 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.

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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)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Towel Charms

I guess the Trump-introduces-Mike-Pence show this morning was cringe-inducing. I didn't watch it, and can't stand to watch the video of it either. (Trump's speeches are just... so.... boring in their repetitiveness.)

But I did read all about one thing that Pence's wife Karen spends her time on: selling towel charms. Even dumber than wine charms, Karen Pence's $6.25 product is designed to help you tell your towels apart.

The linked article skewers the product effectively, so I don't need to add to it. But it makes me think about all the waste in our society and the unneeded products we've buried ourselves in. Not to mention what Karen Pence's life must be like if this is a "problem" she was worried about enough to design a product to solve.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Inside a Can Factory

Today I got a peek at the Silgan Container factory building. It's a 480,000-square-foot former can factory on Prior Avenue in St. Paul. I've been past it before; it seemed derelict, even in recent months, but that is completely wrong.


Not only is it home to a future artist-designed, indoor mini-golf course (with a bar for all the hoped-for millennial customers), its other tenants include a new brewery called Black Stack, a sculptor's studio and gallery, a coffee roaster, and a manufacturer of small travel trailers.

I happened to see one of the proposed renderings of packaging for the Black Stack beer cans, and they are beautiful. The brand is named for the giant smokestack just outside the door of the brewery with its brand-new windows overlooking the front parking lot.

The travel trailers, made by Vistabule, are teardrop-shaped:


They're made of wood and have a fold-up Queen-size bed near the front and tiny kitchen in the back. You cook while standing under that open hatchback, which keeps the rain and sun off of you. Storage is tucked in anywhere you can think of.

I only got one photo of Can Can Wonderland, the mini-golf course:


It's very much a work in progress of bringing together lots of different artists and ideas in a space with great light, as you can see here.

Up on the many floors of the "brick and beam" building shown in the photo at the top, I saw this great sign near one of the freight elevators:



I know the next time I see the building, I won't recognize it because it will have been transformed. I look forward to it, but I'm glad I got to see it when it was mostly still as it was.

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Here are a couple of other stories about the buildings:

Twin Cities Urban Recon

Creative Enterprise Zone write up on Can Can Wonderland


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Another Way to Refer to Adult Children

Yesterday, I heard the mother of a 19-year-old activist describe how the transgender 19-year-old had been struck in the head by a cop at the I-94 shutdown on Saturday night. Aside from outrage at the story, I mostly noticed how inadequate English words are when we want to speak of our relations without gender or age.

Daughter and son are age-neutral, but there is no gender-neutral equivalent term except offspring, which seems completely wrong. Brothers and sisters can be replaced with siblings without sounding too awful, but offspring?

At the same time, child, which is the term this mother used when telling the story, can't help but imply a minor, even someone younger than adolescence. It's infantilizing. We have the neologism adult child (as in Adult Children of Alcoholics, ACOAs), which is clear, I guess, but is that the best we can do, other than the clinical-sounding offspring?

How about a return to the Old English bairn? Does that imply youth, or just relationship? I guess it feels like it implies youth, but maybe that's just because I translate it into child in my head.

The derivations of all of these words reveal some notable facts:

  • Every one of the words listed above comes from Old English and goes back (through Germanic languages rather than Romance languages) to Proto-Indo-European. Even sibling, which I had thought was probably a later word, but no, it meant relative or kinsman in Old English. Sibling fell out of use for hundreds of years as English evolved and changed, until it was brought back into use in 1903 in the field of anthropology.
  • Sister comes from one of the most persistent and unchanging PIE root words, with similar forms in all other languages descended from PIE. Brother's root word is almost as persistent.
  • Offspring is just as old as the other words, but it isn't meant to be used as a singular. It comes from words that together mean just what you'd think: those who spring off of someone.
  • Child, bairn, and son all have roots that derive from PIE words pertaining to the act of birth or carrying a child in the womb. Which is not a great fit for our era when parents are often not genetically related to their children. Child's Old English equivalent means newborn or even fetus. All those extra years up to adolescence got added later.
So, after all that, I haven't come up with any good replacement words for child that are gender- and age-neutral.

Here are some other not-so-good options: spawn, fry, brood, get, progeny, prole. Like offspring, many of those imply pluralness or, worse, have negative connotations from associations with fish or illegitimacy.

Though I admit it would be funny if we all started saying, "I got an email from my prole the other day."

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou

Last week's killings of black men by police made me go back to reread a juvenile novel I read many times in the 1970s. The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou was published in 1968, probably written in 1967, after the Watts and Detroit riots, after the assassination of Malcolm X but before the killing of Martin Luther King.

I don't know where it takes place and it doesn't really matter, but I'd guess Philadelphia, since that's where the author is from. Fourteen-year-old Louretta Hawkins has always been a good girl who struggles with how light her skin is, compared to the rest of her family and peers. She doesn't feel accepted, but she finds her way in a world where the police harass young black people for absolutely no reason, and one of her friends is killed as a result.

The book handles many topics in a deft way. For instance, Louretta's mother, raised in the South, wants her children to lower their goals and be safe:
That was the essence of Momma's philosophy, Louretta thought: Be safe, hold on to what you have, don't reach out for anything bigger or better, or the world, the white world, will punish you. Stay in your place, even if it's a miserable corner, and hang on to what you have. Something must have frightened Momma terribly when she was growing up down South to make her so scared, Louretta thought. (pp. 24-25)
The reference to something very frightening happening in her mother's past in the South never comes up again, and none of her mother's history is revealed. As a teenager I probably didn't think much of it, but now, having read more history of Reconstruction and Jim Crow, I can imagine.

When the police have arrested one boy for no reason, a white teacher visits Louretta and her friends at their impromptu youth center and hears about it:
"Now, why did they take Calvin away? What happened?"

"Nothing," Louretta said. The others shrugged and were silent.

"Come on now," Mr. Lucitanno said with a perplexed look on his handsome, boyish face. "The police don't just walk into places and arrest people without a reason."

But that was exactly what they did all the time in Southside. Louretta despaired of ever being able to explain this to Mr. Lucitanno, though; he had not grown up in Southside. He would not believe her or understand.

"But they don't do that in America. This is a free country!" the teacher shouted. He must be close to thirty, yet he seemed, somehow, younger than any of the group around the piano. (pp. 98-99)
This scenario is very much in line with James Baldwin's words from 1966 in The Nation: “…the police are simply the hired enemies of this population. They are present to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business interests, and they have no other function.”

Hunter repeatedly deals with the sexism of black activist men, particularly through the character Fess, who says things like "our women always side with the white man, and blame us for the conditions he causes" and "The women in this movement respect us. And they belong to us." (Reminiscent of Stokely Carmichael's famous statement, "The only position for women in SNCC is prone.") 

A bit later in the story, the boys at the youth center are anxious to raise money and they plan a robbery. The girls talk them out of it by suggesting they hold a dance instead:
"If we don't steal, how are we gonna get the money..., Lou?" David asked reasonably.

"I don't know. But if you have to steal, you're better off without them."

"Aaaah," Fess muttered in disgust, "law and order never did nothin' for them old Toms, and they won't do nothing for you either. The only way to get what you want is to take it."

The evil advocated by this boy was beginning to tempt Louretta, which made her more determined than ever to defeat it. She had an inspiration born of desperation. "We could have a dance," she said.

"A dance! Awww!" Jethro's loud expression of disgust seemed to speak for most of the boys. But the girls immediately showed interest in the dance as an alternative to Fess's plan. Perhaps it was because it would include them, while gang-fighting and robbery would not. (pp. 103-104)
This is particularly perceptive, I think, because it recognizes the fact that nonviolent methods involve more people than violent ones, and in social movements, that larger base leads to more frequent success. (This could have been true of the American Revolution, too, if it had gone a different direction.)

Even Lou's older brother William, who is described as a stereotypical straight-arrow, comes to see that the police have it in for black people. After the boy Jethro is shot by an inexperienced officer because he (Jethro) didn't move when ordered during a police raid of the youth club's dance, William helps Lou cover up a weapons cache the boys had hidden in the youth club. She isn't sure why he did it:
"...I was afraid you would tell the cops.... I was afraid because of the way you used to say the kids were hoodlums."

"What's that got to do with with tonight?" he asked.

"Well, the guns were really there. So that proves you were right, doesn't it? They are hoodlums."

"Lou," William said seriously, "I learned something tonight. Those cops can't tell the difference between a respectable Negro and an outlaw. They treated me just as rough as everybody else. So that makes us all outlaws, at least in their eyes.... And if they can't tell the difference," he concluded, ..."who am I to judge?" (pp. 139-140)
When the teacher, Mr. Lucitanno, tells Louretta that he plans to donate blood to Jethro after the shooting, she finds her heart hardened against him and his good intentions, telling him that the blood Jethro needs is "Any type but white":
The teacher blushed deeply under his olive skin, but he did not give up. "I'll go to the hospital as soon as I leave school," he said quietly. "You're not doing your friend any favor with your attitude, Louretta. Blood is just blood. It's all red, and if you were as sick as he is, you'd know it. I think Jethro will welcome my blood as much as anyone else's."

"Suit yourself," she said with a shrug, and walked out coolly, leaving Mr. Lucitanno frowning at his desk. If he were a woman, she was sure, he would be crying. It served him right. Why did white people always think they deserved extra gratitude when they offered to help you? Let him get along without it, and see if he would still be so friendly and helpful. She doubted it. (pp. 148-149)
That passage touches on one of the topics in anti-racism work that white people don't usually recognize until they've worked on it for a while: that you don't get thanked (and shouldn't expect to be thanked) for exhibiting basic decency and treating other people as human. At least, I didn't realize it for a long time. Kristin Hunter, in 1968, was fully aware of it, though.

The book ends in a more complicated way than the typical juvenile novel. In many ways Louretta and her family are better off by then, because the songs she's been singing with the boys get discovered by a record company, but she realizes that being a celebrity of a sort doesn't make for happiness:
Louretta didn't know what she had gained... There was the money, of course, but she couldn't touch that — and even when she could, what would she spend it on? Momma and William had investigated the possibility of a new house, but had found nothing available for colored families as large as theirs in better neighborhoods. After many refusals and bitter disappointments, they had decided to stay where they were. (p. 247)
Racism permeates Louretta's existence, but the word is never used in the text. Kristin Hunter showed instead of told.

__

Here are some other covers that have been used on the book over the years:



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Thoughts on the Highway Shutdown

Saturday night, protestors who had been camped out in front of the Minnesota governor's mansion marched up the street to Interstate 94 and shut the highway down in both directions for about six hours. Police demanded that they leave 20 times over the hours, according to news reports. After a number of hours, after smoke bombs and Mace gas had been used in attempts to disperse the protestors, some people moved up off the road to the areas above, including a pedestrian bridge over the highway, very close to where the police were lined up. Other people came from the side streets to those elevated positions and were never down on the highway at all.

Some people up on those vantage points threw things at the police: water bottles, firecrackers, and heavy/hard objects like pieces of concrete. One officer has a fractured vertebra and 20 others were treated and (I think, though details are little hard to come by) released.

Black Lives Matter organizers spoke against this kind of violence at the protest and did what they could to stop it. Forty-five people were arrested from the highway surface; those people were not the ones throwing things at the police, though they were obstructing the highway.

St. Paul has decided to charge them all with misdemeanor riot, in addition to unlawful assembly and public nuisance. The latter two charges make sense to me, given the civil disobedience the protesters were committing. Riot, on the other hand, is not an accurate charge against these people. The police were not able to catch the people who were violent (except one, allegedly), so they are charging the nonviolent people with riot.

This is wrong, and I think the 45 protesters will be found not guilty of at least that charge, if not the others.

Two different Facebook posts by people I don't know (but that were shared by friends) made good points about Saturday night's events in St. Paul.

First from Tom Goldstein, who is a city activist and former candidate for city council:

Mayor [Chris Coleman]'s characterization of this as a riot is a huge exaggeration, which fortunately Kerri Miller called him out on [during their conversation on MPR]. My observation is that St. Paul Police Department was in riot gear from at least 10:00 p.m. on, well before any projectiles were thrown, so I have to respectfully disagree with Chief Axtell's assessment of the timeline.

I believe SPPD's failure to secure the area above the highway and stop people from congregating on the pedestrian overpass created risk for the officers below, and failing to have a police presence along Concordia [one of the frontage roads] to address possible rock throwing or other violent behavior was a significant tactical error that I don't understand.

Doesn't excuse any of the violence directed toward the police, but trying to brand those peacefully protesting on the highway below as "rioters" is ridiculous. Those who actually committed acts of violence presumably slipped away into the night because there was no one on Concordia there to make arrests or deal with the violence.

I'm sure SPPD will argue it was a manpower issue, but I will maintain it was a tactical failure in how officers were deployed that contributed to the injured officers--and for those responsible not being apprehended. Trying to pin the actions of those few in the surrounding crowds who threw projectiles on those who were peacefully protesting below is the same approach that the City Attorney's office took in 2008 during the RNC. Lots of bogus charges that will distract us from having the necessary community-wide conversation about the police shootings that inspired these protests.
I imagine the police chief would argue they had no reason to think people would throw things from above, given their past experience with peaceful BLM protests.

The other post was a response to the many, many people who say "I support the idea of Black Lives Matter, but they shouldn't shut down highways." It's by someone named Madeleine Elizabeth from Monrovia, California.
Hi friends, I’ve begun to see some folks grapple with Black Lives Matter’s action to shut down major roadways as a form of protest. Basically, the criticism goes, “Argh! Inconvenient…trying to get to work...what if ambulance?”

I’d like to talk a little bit about this. White friends, mobility/access to transit is a privilege, made all the more accessible to us by our whiteness. For example, privilege along a roadway for a white lady like me looks like:

It’s the morning and it’s time for me to go to work. So I hop in my car. Let’s say I own that car. I got a fair car loan that I can afford. If financial misfortune befalls me one month and I can’t afford to make a payment, I have a close friend or relative who can afford to help me out. In my income bracket, almost a quarter more white people than black people know someone who can lend them $3,000 in an emergency. Even if by some extreme misfortune, I fall behind on my payments, because I’m white, I’m far less likely to have my car repossessed. That is privilege. You can learn more from a extraordinarily thorough study here.

But oh no! My car won’t start. I’ll need to call an Uber. No problem. The driver sees my picture and which neighborhood I’m in and decides to accept my ride request. I don’t think I need to belabor this point, but you can read more about the racism and the sharing economy here.

So either by my car or by Uber, I’m on my way to work. Let’s say I take the freeway. Did you know many of our major roadways were literally and purposefully constructed to isolate minority neighborhoods? In the words of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, “The values of the 1950s are still embedded in our built environment...” If you’ve spent time in St. Paul, Minnesota, you probably know that I-94 bifurcated and thereby decimated a vibrant African-American neighborhood called the Rondo. If you’re from LA, you know that the quality of the neighborhood is defined by whether it’s north of the 10 freeway or south of it. But for me? Hey, that road didn’t ruin my community. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty conveniently located. That is privilege. NPR actually has an optimistic story about this topic here.

Let’s say my commute goes smoothly—it almost always does. I don’t have to worry about being pulled over to quibble with an officer about a ridiculously minor violation. Those violations don’t add up to saddle me with debt. I don’t have to worry about being late to work because the officer decides there’s probable cause to search my vehicle. And I sure as shit don’t have to worry that a traffic stop will end my life. Studies all over the country have shown that black drivers are far more likely to be stopped and searched even though white drivers more regularly are found with contraband. I’m not stopped. That is privilege. The New York Times has more here.

Given all of these longstanding racial inequities that plague our roadways, I’m finding it curious that many folks are now deeply concerned about the impact of a protest shutting down a section of the freeway for a couple of hours. White friends, we’ve chosen a really interesting time to care about mobility and access to transit. Respectfully, I’m calling bullshit.
These points are like many of the ones on the recent #alllivesdidntmatter Twitter hash tag. If "all lives matter," how come they didn't matter when Syrian refugees needed help, when Japanese-Americans were interred during World War II, when Native Americans were killed or had their land stolen? If free-flowing access to transportation is such an inviolable right that it can't be stopped for a few hours, why don't the same people care about the many people who lost their homes to make that highway in the first place, or who are overcharged for insurance or even the price of the car in the first place?

Oh, and that point about the ambulance getting through the protest in an emergency... obviously, they would let an ambulance go through. Sheesh.