Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Worth a Thousand Pictures

In case you were wishing for something funny out of the morass of this utter clusterf*$k of an administration, there's this observation from Dan Lavoie:

Has anyone ever explained why these guys took SO MANY PHOTOS? What kind of grown adult is constantly asking a third person snap photos of themselves this way?
It is astounding just how many photos there are of Lev Parnas with various groupings of Mafia Mulligan and/or his croneys. What role did photography play in these meetings?

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Gish Gallop by Another Name

Well, the Senate Republicans are on their way to anointing King Mafia Mulligan, so today seems like a good time to once again mention the Gish Gallop we are living in. (Wow, that post from 2018 is something to read now in early 2020. It just keeps getting worse and as we sink deeper into it.)

Fittingly, Vox has another name for what has been happening: Mulligan and Republicans are "flooding the zone with shit," a concerted strategy identified by Steve Bannon to destroy the media's role as gatekeepers of anything approaching reality or truth.

The method was pioneered by none other than Vladimir Putin in post-Soviet Russia. As Vox's Sean Illing put it:

In October, I spoke to Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born reality TV producer turned academic who wrote a book about Putin’s propaganda strategy. The goal, he told me, wasn’t to sell an ideology or a vision of the future; instead, it was to convince people that “the truth is unknowable” and that the only sensible choice is “to follow a strong leader.”

One major reason for the strategy’s success, both in the US and Russia, is that it coincided with a moment when the technological and political conditions were in place for it to thrive. Media fragmentation, the explosion of the internet, political polarization, curated timelines, and echo chambers — all of this allows a “flood the zone with shit” strategy to work.
Listening to other Russian ex-pats like Masha Gessen is essential to understanding how this works. If mainstream media were to consistently build George Lakoff's truth sandwich instead of parroting White House talking points, that would help a little.

But there doesn't seem to be any easy solution to get us out of the nihilistic pit of despair Republicans have dug for us. The only thing I can personally do was summed up by one of my friends on Facebook (of all places) today:
Despair is the grease of authoritarians. Have hope! And by that, I mean: stay awake, engage, speak write donate volunteer go forth and be passionate. Hope isn't a feeling— it's the result of doing.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Spinning Silver

I've been using books for escapism since early December, if you can count Kim Stanley Robinson's Science in the Capital series and 2312 as escapism. Well, maybe it would be more accurate to say I've been reading fiction since early December, instead of my usual attempt to alternate one nonfiction book for every two fiction books.

I've just finished two unrelated fantasy novels by Naomi Novik that I received as Christmas gifts, first her Uprooted and then Spinning Silver. I liked them both but now that I'm done, I definitely think Spinning Silver is the better of the two, which is saying something since Uprooted won the 2016 Nebula and Locus awards for best novel.

I won't give away too much, but let's just say Spinning Silver is a Jewish nod to Rumpelstiltskin (though hardly recognizable as that story), mixed liberally with the Persephone myth, a bit of Tolkienish magic, and a critique of both Trumpism and toxic masculinity. Or at least that's now I read it. Plus, it has three strong young woman characters at its core.

The book came out in 2019, so I won't be surprised to see it on award lists soon.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

A Good Story about a Bad Story

The Pioneer Press had a really good article today explaining how Mafia Mulligan's planned changes to food stamp (SNAP) eligibility will affect people in Minnesota. His minions say they want to "restore the dignity of work," of course, but it's bullshit. The number of people receiving this benefit is already down 24 percent from its peak in 2014, and the amount of money spent (in current, constant dollars) has declined almost 38 percent, because the amount per person has decreased from $144 per person per month to just $109.

$109 worth of groceries in a month is considered too much. 

There are three types of changes coming from Mulligan's Department of Unhealth and Inhuman Services:

  • Requiring more thorough checks to make sure recipients' assets are not greater than a princely $3,000. 
  • Limiting childless adults without physical or mental disability to just three months unless they are working, volunteering, or training for a job. There had been a waiver for counties with high unemployment rates, but it's being changed so Minnesota's number of counties will decrease from "more than two dozen to four."
  • The deduction for utility costs will no longer give cold-climate states a higher allowance, meaning our recipients' incomes will suddenly be higher, and therefore their SNAP amounts will be lower. I read in an another article that this will mean a decrease of about $10 a month on average (out of that $109 average). So about 10 percent of an already low amount.
The PiPress story reminds us of the 2018 legislative committee appearance by a "paper millionaire" with no monthly income who had been collecting SNAP benefits just to prove the system is broken. Oh no, this jerk got $6,000 over two years from the taxpayers of Minnesota! Let's wreck the whole system to make sure no other assholes like him can take advantage!

The story also provides a rebuttal (from the state's acting commissioner for children and family services) that "there are very few people...who are gaming the system to prove a point" and that "checking the assets of food stamp recipients will likely cost much more than it ends up saving." Not to mention the fact (which literally is not mentioned in the story) that there are thousands or tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people who would be eligible who never even apply.

Meanwhile, our state's food shelves, which pick up the slack left when SNAP is contracted, are already seeing more visits than ever, according to the head of Second Harvest Heartland. And they face all the pressures of nonprofit organizations to raise money and innovate in the fashion-conscious world of foundations and big donors. It's a sick system we have.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Just Fun for Today

This map was making the rounds on Twitter today:


There are many states I don't know well enough to assess, but for the ones I do, it seems pretty accurate. Minnesotans do kind of hate Wisconsin, and Wisconsinites do hate Illinois. All of the western states generally dislike California.

The northern New England states do kind of hate Massachusetts, and New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut do find New Jersey pretty distasteful (or at least they make fun of it). Though I would say that Upstate New York probably hates downstate New York more than it hates New Jersey... but no one ever includes Upstate when they discuss New York, so that's par for the course. New Jersey, of course, hates everyone.

I love the subtle grouping of Georgia and Alabama as hating Florida... with Florida. I guess South Carolina also hates itself, but who can blame them. And Hawaii (the happiest state, according to polling) and North Carolina (for some unknown reason) don't hate anyone.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Five from an Antique Store

Looking back, here are a few photos I never managed to post. These were taken at the Missouri Mouse antique store in Saint Paul last year around this time.

As I review the items I captured that day, I realize once again that I have a weakness for Victoriana:




Yes, that book is about the Henry Stanley of Livingstone and Stanley. In looking him up, I found that his exploration enabled the murderous occupation of the Congo by Leopold II of Belgium. He's also the person who came up with the all-too-ubiquitous term "dark continent" to describe Africa.

There are also 20th century items. I think I included this spatter gun because I had no idea what it was:


The tag reads "ink spatter gun" and on the side it says Use With Spatter Ink. I gather, from a brief look around the interweb, that it may have been for spattering ink onto fabric? But it's not very clear.

The purpose of this King Koil mattress company clock (klock?) is a lot clearer:


King Koil was based in Saint Paul, so the clock has valuable local cachet. The company got its name from a naming contest in the 1930s, which was won by Era Bell Thompson of North Dakota. When she arrived on the train in Minnesota to collect her $25 prize, the company's owners were surprised to find that she was a 13-year-old Black girl. They gave her the money but didn't do the publicity they had planned, much to their shame. Thompson later went on to a career in journalism and was an editor at Ebony magazine.

The last item from the store is probably my favorite:


These lightable nativity figures approach life size. Their faces (especially those of Mary and Joseph) are not well-painted, and their cloak colors are cartoonish. To top it off, each of the hand-written tags says its particular version of "Joseph Blow Mold." Yes, I know it means they're blow molds, and this one is Joseph, but Joseph Blow Mold just strikes me as really funny.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

This Is a Job for Lying Cat

Meet Lying Cat, official mascot of the current occupant, the Republican Party, and particularly the members of the Senate like Mitch McConnell who swear they will be fair and impartial jurors in Mafia Mulligan's impeachment trial:


In case you are not familiar with Lying Cat, here's a little background from Gizmodo:

Lying Cat is a creation of Bryan K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, creators of the epic sci-fantasy comic Saga. She’s a tiger-sized, hairless blue Sphynx cat, and partner of the intergalactic bounty hunter called The Will, but that’s beside the point. What’s important is that if you tell a lie in front of her, she will instantly pipe up and say “LYING.”
O Lying Cat, how we need you.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Bats from West Salem

West Salem, Wisconsin, is a town of about 5,000 just east of La Crosse. It was built along a rail line, which is now part of the La Crosse River Bike Trail. Its main street is lined with bars, antique shops, and a single remaining supper club.

Along the former rail road tracks nearby, at least one of the 20th-century warehouse/industrial buildings has found a new use:


I admit it was the font on the sign that first caught my attention, but then the words registered: Three Brothers Bat Co.

Bat Co.?

Yes, indeed. The Schneider brothers are making baseball bats in West Salem, and have been for more than five years. Good for them!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

If They Belong Anywhere

In a just world: pipelines through golf courses:


Thanks to Extinction Rebellion Twin Cities for pointing me to this. Cartoon by Kim Warp from the New Yorker.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Goodbye, 98.6

When I learned that you didn't have to use a No. 2 pencil on standardized tests, it shook my world. I don't remember how old I was when I found out you could use a No. 1 pencil — which is darker — with results that were just as readable by the OCR scanners. You just couldn't use a lighter No. 3 pencil. Finding out about base 10 in math class had a similar effect on me. Numbers were no longer just numbers, a natural thing: they were something people had devised. They were pretend, in a sense, as my child self thought of it.

And now I've just found out that humans' average body temperature is no longer 98.6°F (37°C). We've been cooling off since the 1860s, according to researchers who analyzed data from over 670,000 temperature readings:

“The most likely explanation in my view is that, microbiologically, we’re very different people than we were,” says [the lead researcher]. Modern people have fewer infections, thanks to vaccines and antibiotics, so our immune systems are less active and our body tissues less inflamed.
You heard it hear first, hot (or not quite as hot) off the presses.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

On and Near a Pole

This photo includes some of my favorite things:


On the pole, we have stenciled art from the Flower Offensive (circa 2015), some positive graffiti, a couple of fun stickers, and two name tags with spots for your pronouns. In the background, we see not just copious bike parking but a bike repair station (hiding a bit on the right side of the photo), and—over a winter-empty patio with picnic tables—one of the Chroma Zone murals. There's even a small ghost sign to the left of the door to the patio.

Oh, and it even includes housing density near transit (the building at left in the background).

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Life During Perpetual Wartime

Here's how much of your life the U.S. has been at war (though not always officially called war, of course):


(Click to see the graphic larger.)

Graphic source and more context in the Washington Post.