Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Fall in Minnesota

The weather is as off as everything else in the year 2020, so here's what fall in Minnesota looks like:

It's about to get warmer, though — basically to the seasonal average — starting tomorrow. 

So that snow will probably go away over the next few days and I'll be able to rake my leaves into their appropriate spots.

The city will be able to sweep the streets to get the leaves out of the gutters and storm sewers.

Public Works will be able to finish the many road construction projects they needed two weeks to finish when it started to snow in the middle of October.

And people will be able to go and vote on November 3 (if they aren't too sick, or too afraid of getting sick, to go out). 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Hop Through This


 So instead of anything else, I'm posting this from writer Nnedi Okorafor, via Twitter:

Some beauty and magic for your timeline. It’s important to remember such things during times like this.

The idea of a grasshopper — even one as pretty as this one — chewing its way through a bunch of plants makes me think a bit of the Dalai Lama quote: "If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito."

Or the lyrics to "A Pict Song" by Billy Bragg:

Rome never looks where she treads
Always her heavy hooves fall
On our stomachs, our hearts and our heads
And Rome never hears when we bawl

Her sentries pass on -- that is all
And we gather behind them in hordes
And plot to reconquer the Wall
With only our tongues for our swords

For we are the little folk -- we!
Too little to love or to hate
Leave us alone and you'll see
That we can bring down the state

Mistletoe killing an oak
Rats gnawing cables in two
Moths making holes in a cloak
How they must love what they do!

Yes -- and we little folk too
We are as busy as they
Working our works out of view
Watch, and you'll see it some day

No indeed! We are not strong
But we know of Peoples that are
Yes and we'll guide them along
To smash and destroy you in war

We shall be slaves just the same?
Yes, we have always been slaves
But you -- you will die of the shame
And then we will dance on your graves

We are the worm in the wood!
We are the rot at the root!
We are the taint in the blood!
We are the thorn in the foot!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Giving Up All at Once

I'm used to ginkgo trees turning yellow and then suddenly all losing their leaves all at once. This fall, however, we had a sudden temperature drop and snow and then, whoosh, the leaves started dropping while they were still green.

I knew ginkgos did this but I'm kind of ashamed to admit I never looked up why they do it until this minute. It's because (according to a writer from the Chicago Botanic Garden, via the Chicago Tribune):

The stems of leaves on deciduous trees are known as petioles. Before leaves drop in the fall, these petioles produce a protective layer of cells that work like a scar to protect trees from diseases entering the exposed tissue. [A] maple tree produces these protective scars over several weeks as the amount of daylight and temperatures decrease, and they begin forming on the most exposed leaves, which is usually top.

As leaves drop and expose interior leaves to colder temperatures, these interior leaves form new protective layers, and additional leaves drop. Eventually, a hard frost causes all the remaining petioles to form this protective layer and all remaining leaves fall. For maples and many other trees, this process can take several weeks.

The way leaves fall from ginkgo trees is a little different. The petioles of ginkgo leaves form the protective layer simultaneously and wait for a hard frost to trigger all leaves to drop at the same time, which results in a lovely shower of golden leaves.

So in fall of 2020, we had our hard frost really early when the leaves were still green and they dropped without turning gold, and so missed out on that annual treat, along with a few other weeks of October's usual delights.

Just one more way that this year has let us down.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Another Good Reason to Get Rid of the Electoral College

If there wasn't an Electoral College, then I wouldn't mind the inevitable day (possibly coming soon, depending on the outcome of the corrupted census) when Minnesota loses one of its seats in Congress. Yes, we'll have one less vote in the House of Representatives, but it seems to me that it will have more meaning in presidential elections than anything else.

The district that will go away, I predict, is the giant 7th — the one currently represented by blue dog Colin Peterson. It will merge with the current 8th to become one large district across the north of the state, with the southern part of the current 7th joining with some parts of the 6th and 1st.

Land doesn't vote, as the wags say, and greater Minnesota is emptying, relative to the area around the Twin Cities and some of the other cities. It will be strange to only have seven, but it's generally clear where the lines should be drawn.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Schooling with Gene D.

I've said before that one of my favorite things about Twitter is the way it lets readers listen in on conversations to learn without interrupting, especially from Black Twitter. Too often these days the legion of trolls, haters, and worse have driven too many Black Twitter users away, but sometimes there's still great thought on there if you're willing to just read and take it in.

Gene Demby of NPR recently put out such a thread. On the Code Switch podcast he co-creates there, they recently did a segment on Kamala Harris that I gather dared to be slightly critical of her as reformist vs. radical, and as part of that one of the guests mentioned her membership in the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority (which she joined as a Howard University student, but it's a life-long sisterhood).

In response, another Twitter user who's an AKA sister responded,

so AKAs are not active in racial justice conversations? Don’t have natural hair? Don’t show up?

Gene Demby replied:

Is that what was said?

There were many chewy things in that episode and it is incredibly revealing that people in an elite Black organization took issue with the 20 seconds in which their organization is referred to as an elite Black organization that has not primarily concerned itself with radical politics.

It's not editorializing to say those organizations are for the Black bourgeoisie, that their politics are deeply informed by and concerned with respectability, and that they necessarily self-select for people so inclined, especially among the first post-civil rights generation who was in college in the early 1980s — at HOWARD, no less.

I thought all of these things were the reasons y'all wanted to be in these groups!

Trying to keep in mind that people who join these organizations are already pretty motivated/true believers in those organizations before crossing — these *necessarily* ain't people who need to be convinced to pledge, but have wanted to be in them for a long-ass time. And then they *pledge*? phew.

So i get it. i'm hearing from people who have never been ambivalent about their organizations. Cool.

What i think is happening more broadly is a few things:
1) very little historical understanding of the social/political contexts that shaped these organizations —  most popular histories are written by insiders, who are again, true believers.
2) we generally struggle to talk about class.

Not to get all Erik Olin Wright about it, but USian ideas of class are sort of contradictory and inconstant. Is class about income? A family with an income of $175k is on the upper end of the income distribution — unless they live in the Bay Area. Is class about something different? Sometimes we think of middle-classedness as about "values," other times we talk about it as if it's about our relationship to both capital-capital and social capital (bank accounts, access to credit, homeownership, college education, etc.)

This gets really complicated when we talk about Black folks. When i said that Black Greek letter organizations are in the business of credentialing and connecting the Black elite, somebody pointed out: well, aren't the biggest chunk of AKAs and Deltas *teachers*? Are teachers elites now?

But like, Black educators have long occupied a really particular social location in Black America — in the pre-civil rights world, teaching was one of the most portable jobs a Black professional could have. (In DC, where schools were segregated but where Black teachers and white teachers were paid the same amount of money under federal law, Black teachers were a vital part of the area's Black bourgeoisie.)

And there were just very, very few Black people with college educations in the pre-civil rights world: only 3% of Black USians had degrees in 1960. So Black teachers had out-sized social capital in Black communities. So if we know that 3 percent of Black people had four-year degrees by 1960... can't we make some pretty safe assumptions about the relative social locations of the Black folks who were starting some of these Black Greek letter organizations in the *first and second decade of the 1900s*? (Fewer than 8000 Black people in the US received degrees in the *entire 8 decades* prior to AKA's founding in 1908.)

They were founded by Black elites *for Black elites* — and coincided with the "New Negro" movement. They were pretty openly motivated by elite Black paternalism!

Anyway, it’s revealing that the AKA aside by our [show's] guest  — meant to underline that Kamala Harris was part of the ascendant, respectability-minded post-civil rights Huxtable class — agitated more people than the point that their political successes didn't work out well for poor Black people.

The point was that Harris had the same general politics of the Black folks of her generational and class background. It wasn’t a radical politics — it was only a vaguely *progessive* one, at least by 2020 standards. It was twice-as-good aspirationalism.

That was a kind of politics that was not functionally available to poor Black people. And it’s also why the wellspring of the activist energy around policing and the criminal legal system, as one example, has been in the *most marginalized* Black spaces.

And that’s not new, right?

There’s a section in Marcus Mabry’s bio of Condi Rice where he sketches out the class dynamics of her childhood. Her father worked long hours delivering fuel to people’s homes in and around Black and white Birmingham. It was a job that codes as blue-collar, but again, the interplay of class and race are weird: they were, by Black Birminghamers standards, pretty middle class.

The civil rights movement was unfolding right in their city. Four schoolmates of Condi’s were killed when a Klan member bombed their church. Mabry points out that the people who had been marching, the foot soldiers of the movement, were not people like Condi’s family. Condi’s family had some relative status and business relationships to think about if they marched.

The people who were marching were poor. They were the people who had less to lose. I think about that aside a lot, because it nods at the way class is such an under-considered part of the way we talk about Black life and politics in the US — about how people’s politics are shaped and expressed and received.

Listen and read.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

John Alcorn, Part 2!

I promised a second post on illustrator John Alcorn, so tonight's the night when I can post a whole bunch of images while I watch the debate.

While looking into Alcorn's work, as described in my previous post, I found out about two books he illustrated, Books, written by Murray McCain, and The Fireside Book of Children's Songs, collected and edited by Marie Winn.

While both are meant for children, they're completely different. Books is a small, thin book full of jokes, both verbal and visual, whether illustrated or typographic.


The drawing style in this book uses a fine ink line.


The typography calls back to 19th century wood types.


It's interesting to me that no one is credited for the design of the book, so I assume that Alcorn is the designer. 


I love this lion and king.


A very fun typographic composition.

The last illustration is about goats.

The Fireside Book, in contrast to Books, is an oversized volume and fairly thick. There's a bit of Alcorn on almost every page, though he seems less involved in the design. These images have a hefty, Art Noveau line, pretty different from the fine, scratchy line of Books.

The cover is my least favorite part of the book. I don't care for the type treatment and I really don't like the color scheme (red, gold, and blue-gray), which has nothing in common with the colors used inside (pink, orange, and duller gold). I have no idea what they were thinking about that lack of coherence.

But on the book's 190 pages, there are so many great illustrations I had trouble deciding what not to include, so here we go. These aren't in any particular order.


That Adam and Eve, by the way.


The crooked house.


Wow, that was a lot more fun than a debate, wasn't it? (But Biden is doing really well, in my opinion.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Heavy Fake

I have a big pile of images that are waiting to be turned into a blog post, but that takes too long, especially with the new Blogger (whine!), so instead for today, you get this from the Twitter feed of recently named MacArthur genius award-winner Tressie McMillan Cottom:

Reader here. Who *doesn't* open a book? Seriously. What kind of sociopath assumes that a person would do anything other than OPEN A BOOK?

She was responding to this tweet by retired NBC executive Mike Sington, who was writing about Mafia Mulligan's interview for 60 Minutes recently, which I hear didn't go well (you may have heard about that). 

But this. This!

Trying to impress her, Kayleigh McEnany hands Leslie Stahl a large book containing the Administration’s work on health care. I don’t think she expected Stahl to look at the book, because it’s blank:

All surface and no content. But look at the beautiful binding and how many "pages" it has! 

Maybe Mulligan can use it to scrawl his memoir in Sharpie while he spends his final years in exile or in custody.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Quite a Map

One of the first things I saw on Twitter this morning was this county-by-county map of the U.S., made by a guy named Gabe Guidarini who says he worked on it for five months. His bio states that he's a Zoomer (Gen Z member), proud American, political analyst, and mapmaker, so that's all I know about his interests and biases.

(Click to enlarge.)

Nonetheless, his thoughts are shown in short in the full map here and in detail in the Twitter thread linked above, which has some close-ups of areas of the map, full definitions of his terms, and a bit on his methodology.

I will give just one close-up area plus the key:

This close-up covers the two parts of the country I'm most familiar with, New York and Minnesota, plus the parts between and nearby.

Check out those little purple pockets — at a quick glance, I think they're all counties where college towns are located (except in Vermont, whooboy, look at Vermont, is that accurate?). I find it amusing that Tompkins County in New York (home of Cornell University) is the only purple county in "lefty" New York, but it's surrounded by three Populist counties, a Right Wing Populist county, and two Conservatives (one of which is my home county... it's nice that he labeled my home county only as Conservative instead of Right Wing Populist, unlike all the other counties just to the west and south of it).

The major cities in New York, on the other hand, are all red (plus a couple of counties along the Hudson).

As far as his Minnesota assessment goes... It's a bit odd that the county that makes up the Congressional district that literally elected an icon of "purple" is shown as red (Ilhan Omar's Hennepin County, home to Minneapolis). And before that they elected Keith Ellison! I think some of his greater Minnesota assessments are a bit off, too, though if he's basing it mostly on how the counties voted in the 2016 presidential election, it's understandable. (They voted pretty differently in 2008 and 2012. We'll see what happens on November 3.)

If 2016 is a major part of Guidarino's basic formulation, his Wisconsin assessments seem off. Counties that went for Clinton in that state are sometimes colored Populist green. But one thing is sure: there are no liberals in Wisconsin. Hmm.

As far as definitions go, Guidarini's differentiation of Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy is a bit fast and loose. Basically, it's Bernie, Cornel West, and the Squad in purple, with Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Kamala Harris, and Chris Hayes in red. Get it?

Yellow, though — which represents Liberalism — goes all the way from Beto to Bloomberg, so I don't know about that. And while there may not be many yellow counties on this map, the ones that are have a lot of population (they seem to mostly be suburban areas of very large cities).

Populism, not surprisingly, seems to lack coherence. The symbols and photos he uses there are mostly unrecognizable to me except Joe Manchin and an old Bull Moose Party logo, which I don't think have a lot in common. I guess these are the "give me economic goodies if I'm white but take away women's rights" and "government is bad" people? Yeah, yeah, Robert La Follette, how does he fit into that? 

Liberal Conservative isn't really worth talking about because, as you can see, it has hardly any counties on the map. Mostly Mormons, I guess.

Then he gets into the two that have lots of land mass, in his estimation: Conservative and Right Wing Populism. Conservatives are generally represented by the people who started out being anti-Trump but are now pro-Trump (Cruz and Rubio) plus Ben Shapiro, while you can imagine who's in the RWP camp (oh, why leave it to your imagination: Pat Buchanan, Michelle Malkin, Tucker Carlson, and a MAGA hat for good measure).

One funny thing in the Twitter thread is all the young commenters who can't get over the fact that Guidarini used blue to represent conservatives and red for lefties, which is, of course, the color assignments used in the rest of the West to this day and was the familiar color-coding in the U.S. (especially red!) for more than a hundred years. 

Oh, and they were also perplexed that purple could mean anything but half way between red and blue. Talk about living in the present and being literal-minded. 

For me, using green to represent this weird idea of populism is more jarring than anything. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Oh, No! Don't Step on Me!

Are you familiar with how stool pigeons were called "stoolies" for short? 

I recently saw this distressed-looking stoolie:

I wonder what tales it could tell, sitting in the corner, pretending to be a piece of furniture.


Yes, I admit, there's an increasing amount of pareidolia around here.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Bottles Up

I don't collect bottles, because if I went down that rabbit hole I would never come out and if you did find me, it would be with a pair of long ears and a stubby, fuzzy tail somewhere in Watership Down.

That said, I do have a few on the shelves in my kitchen among the odds and ends of my smallish teapot and pitcher collection. One that my mom got for me… a Lydia Pinkham snake oil flask to remind me that I used to study the history of advertising…a blue glass water bottle I brought back from my one trip to Germany…and these two:

I don't remember when or where I got them, exactly, but it must have been at an antique store somewhere in the area near Endicott and Binghamton, New York, since they're bottles for products from those two places, the Endicott Creamery on the left and Jos. Laurer Brewing of Binghamton on the right.

I'm not from either place, but close enough that they're meaningful to me, so I've kept them through the years I've been out here in Minnesota.

But today, when I was cleaning around them near the kitchen sink, what they made me think was this: 100 years ago when these bottles were made, every town of any size in the U.S. had a place that could make these customized bottles out of raw material (sand). They were collected, returned, and reused multiple times. They're still here, although I imagine many broke at some point. But they're heavy and thick-walled, and there's a reason for that. 

These days we use 50 billion plastic bottles a year just for water in the U.S. (that's 1,500 per second). For water. Which doesn't even have to be in a bottle, and buying it in a bottle costs you 1,000 times more than drinking it from your tap. 17 million barrels of oil are used to make those plastic bottles each year.

I never got around to linking to that overwhelmingly outraging NPR story from a month ago, about how plastic recycling is basically a lie. So if you haven't read it... you really should. Essentially, it documented how it's financially cheaper to make plastic out of new oil than it is to make it out of old plastic, that old plastic is hard to work with for a range of reasons, and that oil companies wanted to sell oil so they have undermined recycling while pretending to promote it. Since the early 1970s

The headline of the story is How Big Oil Misled the Public into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled.

Recycling glass is much better than recycling plastic because recycled plastic isn't really made into new plastic, it's down-cycled into other products, while glass gets reused as glass and it needs less energy than making new glass from raw material. Note that the weight and breakability of glass make it less good of a recycled product than recycled aluminum, though, when you take shipping and handling into consideration (source). But as that source shows, if you can't get recycled cans — given where the bauxite comes from to make new cans — glass is the most responsible container, especially if it's locally made.

Reusing glass — even just a few times — is even better than recycling it, obviously. We used to be able to do this, as evidenced by the bottles still in my kitchen and that were in every city and town across this country 100 years ago. They and how they are made should be part of a Green New Deal, and that doesn't get talked about enough. 

Let's bring them back, updated in ways I'm not imagining, maybe. But let's bring them back.


Jos. Laurer Brewing was in business from 1894 to 1920 (source). I couldn't find a date online for the Endicott Creamery, but I bet if I could go to the library in Endicott, they would know.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Goodbye, Harry Dresden

I've been reading Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden novels since about 2004 (based on the fact that the first four books were out in paperback when I started, and the first book was published in the year 2000). As you can see in the sidebar, the series is listed as one of my guilty pleasures.

Well, I should probably remove it from that list, because I think I'm going to stop reading them now, finally. His two most recent novels of 16 total were just published very close together: Peace Talks and Battle Ground. I don't know if Butcher is getting tired of the series generally (who could blame him after all this time) or if our current world is weighing him down (again, who could blame him), but I think the story has both run out of steam and gotten too ugly to keep me as a reader. 

These two books have been a slog to finish, plus the second one gave me nightmares, which I have enough problems with these days anyway. As the title indicates, that book was literally 344 pages describing a single battle. Which is hard to make interesting and more and more it just sounds like blah-blah-blah. Plus, I find I don't care about the characters enough to continue with them (the ones who survived it all, anyway).

So goodbye, Harry Dresden. No more money from me, Jim Butcher.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Alfie Kohn on Fame

This blog post by education thinker Alfie Kohn, titled Fame Is the Name of the Game: A Meditation on Why So Many People Dream of Being (or Even Just Meeting) Celebrities, starts out as a big subtweet of Mafia Mulligan, which is pretty great:

18-year-olds with a very strong desire to be wealthy were likely to have parents who were not very nurturing. When parents are “cold and controlling...their children apparently focus on attaining security and a sense of worth through external sources.”

The trouble is that even in the unlikely event one attains great wealth or celebrity status, it’s unlikely to provide meaningful satisfaction. Being valued for these distinctions just accentuates the emptiness, insecurity, or self-doubt that pushed one to achieve them. Unhappiness is both the cause and the effect.... Yet judging by what they are willing to sacrifice in time, effort, and dignity to get on a reality TV show.... some people want to be famous (whether or not it makes them rich) with an intensity that is both poignant and psychologically fascinating.

But it goes on from that, and there's something in this post to make just about everyone uncomfortable, even me. 

I think I can honestly say I don't want to be famous or rich. I know I don't like being recognized when I've done something positive somewhere. I've written before about not liking (and not wanting to use) the word proud about what my kid accomplishes, or even what I personally help accomplish. 

I know I have trouble dealing with celebrities and authority figures as people because their status interferes with my ability to just talk to them (which I sometimes have enough trouble with as I deal with everyday people under typical circumstances), so I don't think I'm extra-drawn to celebrities, either.

But when Kohn got to the part about social media, well. Hmm. I can't say I don't use social media (especially Twitter) as a way to eavesdrop on people I admire, and therefore associate myself with them in a way. He's got me there. But I'm not stalking them and I don't expect to have a relationship with any of them... there's only one of each of them and many people who are like me. I am the audience, and I know it. I'm just listening to them talk and occasionally asking a question.