Saturday, November 30, 2013

Remember, Remember, the Tweets of November

From Thanksgiving going backwards to Halloween, with lots of health care, school reform, and climate change.

A favorite Thanksgiving tradition is wondering why the hell fresh thyme is only sold in quantities that are 50x what anyone could use.
By Anil Dash

It's sad that this parade has gotten so commercial that it isn't even about Macy's anymore.
By Hayley Hudson

Rarely are school assignments not a chore. Some value the compensation for that chore, some don't. Some chores are more meaningful than others.
By mpljr (Sisyphus)

I give up. I can no longer tell the difference between a Snowden leak and an Onion article.
By Eva

Remember: If you camp out for a tv, you're a good consumer. If you camp out for social justice, you're a dirty hippie and will be maced.
By Joseph Herrmann III

Give get test forget.
By mpljr (Sisyphus)

It's just amazing: incomes of the top 1% grew by 31.4% from 2009 - 2012, compared to just 0.4% for the rest of us.
By Jesse Drucker

At times wonder if me hard work of leaving single glove and mitten in gutters, sidewalks + slush puddles of N. America is really appreciated
By Bigfoot TheBigfoot

Obamacare is Obama's Katrina, if Katrina was a hurricane that didn't kill anyone and eventually helped millions of people.
By Frank Conniff

Yes, autocorrect, when I mistakenly typed "cpworker", what I meant was indeed "poor owlet." Well done.
By Seany

Incredible to me how cities will put out countless sums of money for new stadiums, but not fiber.
By Matt Mullenweg

My iPhone's autocorrect helpfully turned Ebook into Ebola.
By Charlie Quimby

We could have the garden of eden. But no, we have cars instead.
By Free Public Transit

I love it when electeds and pundits who range from awful to weak on climate change claim to be motivated by concern for my generation.
By Mike Conrad

Playing "Mack the Knife" is a great way to get any room full of old people to sing enthusiastically about serial murder.
By Julieanne Smolinski

"Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of people who were oppressing them."
By Nikhil Goyal

This barn likes to sing opera:

By Halloween Costumes

"Schools in partnership with parents." Translation: "Parents, take our word for it, we know best."
By mpljr (Sisyphus)

Absurd Warsaw talks on climate show why we need to take on the fossil fuel industry that impedes all progress.
By Bill McKibben

The common core will give us the sense of motion while we are still rooted down into our deep systemic issues-poverty and system irrelevance.
By mpljr (Sisyphus)

Schools teach children that learning is difficult and boring and it only happens in a school. When none of those are true.
By Nikhil Goyal

"The school must run a race which mostly rich kids will win but which most poor people will accept as fair." --John Holt
By Nikhil Goyal

Anyone who thinks women have a tendency to be “more cooperative and pleasant” should stop by. I can disabuse you of that notion real quick.
By Mandy Brown

A Vitamin Water has as much sugar as 3 Krispy Kreme donuts.
By Erika Hall

I love our copy desk:

By JB Silver-Greenberg

The Ayn Rand Institute just emailed me to offer free Rand books for my students. Apparently the market price is wrong & subsidies are needed
By Justin Wolfers

Over 5 billion people are not on social media. There will you find many of the victims of #peakoil and #climate.
By Free Public Transit

We set kids up in an environment where it is clear that adults are not their equals but peers are. Then we wonder why they follow peers vs us.
By mpljr (Sisyphus)

How do it feel
To be own your own
Direct people home
Through construction zone
Like a traffic cone
By Bigfoot TheBigfoot

The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.
By Teju Cole

Where's the bill to drug test recipients of ag subsidies?
By AdamSerwer

What is the proper early voting period for states? My (not very strong) view is voting should start on Saturday 10 days before Election Day.
By Josh Barro

That gives voters two weekends and seven weekdays on which they can vote without encouraging voting way before the campaign has ended.
By Josh Barro

Imagine a male novelist's NYT obit saying "As a man, he pursued his own desires, professional, political and sexual."
By Elif Batuman (regarding the death of Doris Lessing)

Skunks be super intelligent and should have taken over world long ago, but are so obsessed with stink that they never really amount to much.
By Bigfoot TheBigfoot

I just find it strange that the same culture that will scream RTFM [read the fucking manual] at any question now demands it be spoon-fed feminism without doing any work.
By Andrea Jessup

Why does a Tesla fire with no injury get more media headlines than 100,000 gas car fires that kill 100s of people per year?
By Elon Musk

Then Google Maps was like, "turn right on Malcolm Ten Boulevard" and I knew there were no black engineers working there
By allison bland

I'm tired of Big Data. What we need is Big Wisdom.
By Jonathan Foley

Someone marked every death in the Game of Thrones series.

By BuzzFeed

Climate: 'Loss and damage' negotiations stall. Bathtub overflows, and we're arguing with the neighbors downstairs instead of closing the tap.
By Kees van der Leun

End of an email I received from the Educational Testing Service: "Thank you for your compliance." Yes, master.
By Nikhil Goyal

We can go outside and enjoy the wind/breeze and feel small to nature, or go inside w/ hand held fans and call ourselves wind makers. #ego
By mpljr (Sisyphus)

People aren't sheep, they just can't afford to waste courage.
By Free Public Transit

Christmas songs on retail store sound systems are like predator drone strikes of depression.
By Frank Conniff

Schools have a sort of munchausen by proxy thing going on. We diagnose the illness (deficit, that may be imaginary) then we "cure it" with an IEP [individualized education program].
By mpljr (Sisyphus)

A bunch of people sitting in a board room made a conscious decision to make this:

By lacey micallef

A racist, a misogynist, a child murderer and an NRA poster child walk into a bar. Hey George Zimmerman!
By DC Debbie

Spent most of yesterday at a secular funeral. It was held at a winery. Total celebration of a man's life. Tears, yes, but lots of joy, too.
By Hemant Mehta

I find it a bit humorous when I'm asked about writing male characters. I've spent my entire life identifying with male characters in media.
By Faith Erin Hicks

I mean, if you like things like comics, movies, TV and Star Trek, as a woman enjoying those things you'll be asked to identify with men.
By Faith Erin Hicks

When the first question the receptionist at the doctor's office asks is "What's your insurance provider?" you know you're in America.
By Molly Priesmeyer

My literary goal in life is to become a cult favorite of readers who know better than to join a cult.
By Charlie Quimby

"'Green' gifts are no gifts. Quit making and buying junk." --Said by a total jerk who may or may not be me.
By Molly Priesmeyer

What the heck is a race-themed movie? What do they call movies starring a white people? Oh. Movies. #usatodayfail
By Zerlina

“Doing nothing about the immense planetary disaster imperiling civilization is the biggest regret of my presidency.” -Barack Obama, 2017
By Gerry Canavan

Can we get past the idea that the goal of everything is "growth?" Growth for its sake is cancer's strategy, too.
By Carl Safina

Imagine not being so filled with self-disgust that you actually self-promote.
By Julieanne Smolinski

It's worse than we realized. RT @BlackManUSA: Rob Ford is actually a NAACP experiment to see how much shit a white man can get away with.
By Touré

I believe healthcare is a universal human right, and nobody should have to worry about what happens if they get sick, except getting better.
By Wil Wheaton

This will always be one of my favourite cartoons.

By _spock

Twitter made me love strangers I've never met and Facebook made me hate people I've known all my life.
By Amanda Blain

We live in a country where President Obama is being held more accountable for a website than for drone strikes.
By Zakir Khan

Sorry, important story about slow-moving, long-term climate disaster. No one will read you today.
By Kate Sheppard

Medicare for all would’ve been so much easier...
By Chris Shields

For every 100 calories we feed to farm animals we get back about 12 calories of meat and dairy.
By Momentum

"Mean" meaning "stingy" or "nasty" is from Germanic roots. "Mean" meaning "middle" or "intermediate" is from Latin.
By Peter Sokolowski

Billion dollar idea: sweaters for women with breasts.
By Julieanne Smolinski

I carry my privilege like a piece of lumber: constantly worried I’ll turn and hit someone with the half I can’t see.
By Chris Ashworth

It's amazing these history shows don't run out of white guys to interview.
By Chris Steller

Did you get that? There are FEWER than 100 shelter beds for almost 20,000 homeless children & youth in Chicago.
By Prison Culture

At Yale, 44% of students come from families making over $200,000. Harvard [is] even worse
By Sarah Kendzior

Please, stop clicking on listicles. I know I sound like an old grump, but they strangle discourse.
By Motivated Grammar

Stories on Medicaid expansion, food stamp cuts, hunger, homeless vets are all symptoms of the same central problem.
By Christopher Hayes

The labor market is totally broken, and American capitalism is failing to produce full employment, shared growth and rising wages.
By Christopher Hayes

A good time to remember our veterans would be the next time we're deciding whether to go to war.
By Andy Borowitz

"If you see race here maybe YOU'RE the racist!" is my favorite square on the Racism-Denying Bingo Card.
By jay smooth

A graph showing the frequency of miracles over history.

By Gino Zahnd

Drone strikes, stop & frisk, and the demonization of the sick and poor turn on the same logic: your accident of birth makes you subhuman.
By Erin Kissane

The rise of no-till farming in the U.S. has cut as much CO2 as taking 50 million cars off the road for a year.
By bradplumer

"Following through with" is not the same as "doubling down on." This has been a public service announcement.
By Josh Greenman

So many apologies over a website launch. Haven't hear anything over the launch of a baseless trillion dollar war which killed our economy.
By DC Debbie

What idiot called them creationists instead of primate change deniers?
By Daniel Douglas

I just found out that George and Jane Jetson were supposed to be 41 and 34 respectively and now I can't get out of bed.
By Julieanne Smolinski

I recently heard someone on the radio talk about "cat pawing" around an issue, presumably to avoid saying pussyfoot. Is this really a thing?
By Stacey Burns

People in the top 10% have an obligation to pursue #degrowth, not just change energy sources.
By Free Public Transit

Beaver marketing campaign slogan "UnbelBEAVERable!" sound like it thought of by bunch of idiots that live in mud hut in middle of pond.
By Bigfoot TheBigfoot

Instead of the Lesser of Two Evils, Vote for Both #rejectedrcvslogans [ranked choice voting, new in Minnesota]
By Chris Steller

DOG COSTUME INDUSTRY: You don’t need to design any new costumes. You will never top this:

By Lee Unkrich

No one on earth wants to click through a slide show instead of seeing things all on one page. NO ONE.
By snipy

Only one death in the line of duty in 12 years seems to suggest not arming TSA agents is working pretty well.
By Josh Barro

It took me until the last line to realise it was the room service breakfast menu, not a song about cereal:

By Monkeydog

Imagine a country where the goal was to provide the best health care possible to the most citizens, instead of scoring partisan points.
By stevesilberman

If only all the time the media has wasted discussing glitches of were spent arguing why we need a single-payer system.
By Nikhil Goyal

The longer it takes to scroll to your birth year on the web form, the less likely the site is for you.
By Ryan Freitas

Subtle, brilliant sticker/graffiti work on the 177 bus. This'll be there for ages....

By James Kennell

Just one inch. Air passenger sleep quality improves by 53% in 18 inch vs a 17 inch seat.
By Alan N.

Goes 5 yrs + $10 billion over budget on defense contract: "Hey these things happen." Needs 1 month to fix healthcare site: "Shut it Down!"
By lawblob

Looking forward to the congressional hearing for all those insurance cancellation letters people will get when they repeal the ACA.
By Aaron E. Carroll 

You can put a man on the moon but you can't make him drink.
By Chris Steller

Friday, November 29, 2013

Comments Worth Reading: A Miracle

Two particularly cogent comments in response to a Boing Boing post about the Pope's recent condemnation of capitalism:

The real importance, I think, lies in this: Since the fall of Communism, there has been no ideological competition to the free market doctrine. I certainly don't miss the Soviet model at all, but it forced capitalism to behave and prove itself - by creating a wide shared prosperity to prop up its political legitimacy.

Now that this competition is gone, the - let's face it - ruling classes feel they can get away with anything. So on the one hand, this is a very smart political move on popes part - giving the church back its relevance by positioning it as the main ideological antagonist of the status quo. On the other hand - we really need somebody with a loud enough voice to do it. (by am80256)
This is not really about capitalism, which is hundreds of years old. It is about neoliberalism, which is 30 years old. It dates from the Reagan/Thatcher era. It has been imposed everywhere around the world via the IMF/World Bank as the condition of financial assistance. It is a kind of fundamentalist capitalism that has resulted in wages falling steadily for 30 years, while incomes at the very top rocketed. It's critical failure is the 2008 financial system collapsing, leaving us with permanently stagnating economies, with inequality between the super rich and everyone else accelerating. The failure of this system has been global. (Italy is in particularly bad shape.)

The competing idea of this kind of capitalism is not socialism or communism, it is The New Deal. It's the economist Keynes. It's America from the 40s to the 70s. It's the era of prosperity, the American Dream and the middle class; when corporations weren't people and paid their taxes. And it's the promise of all the other competing economic theories that have literally been suppressed for decades. It's the possibility of an economy that is based on the interests of people, rather than solely the interests of capital. (by bradbelltv)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Chris Monroe Honors Thanksgiving in Her Own Way

It's been too long since I did a Chris Monroe post, so here is her Violet Days strip from last week, in honor of Thanksgiving.

My favorite part: Milton Glaser's mom in the lower right corner of panel 4.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Five Photos

It's road trip time once again. Here are a few sights from Washington and Oregon.

First stop: Aberdeen, Washington, located where the Chehalis River flows into the Pacific. It's a logging and fishing city that has seen better days.

We stumbled onto an alley with some great graffiti. There was lots more, and possibly better than this sample, but I liked how this one melded with a ghost sign.

It was Sunday morning while we were walking around in Aberdeen. The downtown had more than its share of storefront churches, all of the off-brand, evangelical variety. This one was located between a payday loan store and a sex shop.

These friendly fellows are from Astoria, just across the Columbia River in Oregon.

Snow White appears to have found her true love, Lucy. From the gift shop at the Tillamook cheese factory (and hey, it's a co-op).

There are outlet stores for everything else, so why not Christians? Seen in Lincoln City, Oregon.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Food for the Group

The Walmart Thanksgiving food drive has gotten lots of coverage on its merits, but I noticed something else:

The unnecessary capitalization of "Associates in Need" makes it sound like it's an official group, rather than some people who work at the store and need assistance.

Maybe they do have a formal group called that. Seems appropriate. Who knows.

Oh, and hey, bonus points -- I can name the font. It's Bernhard Antique, one of the many by Lucian Bernhard.

Monday, November 25, 2013

An Hour at Mickey's Diner

Downtown St. Paul, November 2013

We enter the restaurant just before 5:30 p.m. The row of red-covered counter stools is empty. There are four booths at the right end. The one in the back is occupied by a black man who's transferring a takeout order into styrofoam pods.

At the table in front of his there's a 20-something couple with a 5-year-old girl. The man is white with short, brush-cut brown hair and a large tattoo on his neck. Kind of beefy but healthy. The woman may be biracial, a bit overweight, with sandy hair and a crocheted sweater. The little girl is very blond, contrasting her magenta headband and sparkles in her dress.

We sit in the first empty booth, across from the family.

The black man leaves soon after. We overhear some of the conversation among the family members, mostly the man ragging on the little girl to behave and the woman telling her not to drink all of her Orange Crush before their food arrives. No, don't, not now, they say.

Their food arrives, and they eat for a while. During that time, three white men whose appearances would label them as homeless enter the restaurant and sit in the booth behind us in the back corner of the room.

They're all bearded, with weather-beaten faces and clothes in varying degrees of dirt-grind and odors to match. At least in their 40s, possibly their 50s. One looks a bit less downtrodden than the other two, but he has a strong smell of alcohol.

They look at the menus and decide what they're having. One guy puts a cigarette in his mouth and for a moment we worry that he's going to light it, but he goes outside to smoke it.

While he's gone, the waitress takes their order. One guy asks for a half-pound bacon cheeseburger. The second wants steak and eggs; this is the guy who is outside smoking, and his friends guess that he prefers wheat toast to accompany. I didn't hear the third guy's order. The smoker returns just as the waitress is leaving, and she confirms that he does indeed prefer wheat toast.

I think that's when I realize they are interesting.

I overhear some of their conversation. Their vocabularies are decidedly not limited, especially compared to what I was hearing from the young man and woman across the aisle. I hear one of them say "magnitude." They discuss fire and safety issues in a building. One of them says something about the Veterans Administration. They sound like any three guys who have interests, sitting around with friends, talking about whatever comes to mind. Meanwhile, one of them is making funny faces at the sparkly little girl.

She and her parents soon finish eating and leave, the grownups grousing at her all the way out the door, and their table is quickly cleared. Two young white women sit down at the counter near the booths and order milkshakes. (Chocolate-strawberry was recommended because the restaurant uses fresh strawberries.)

Not long after, a white guy in his 30s comes in with a little boy who appears to be his son and sits at the just-vacated table. A waiter ascertains that they are waiting for a third person, his wife. The dad says that it's the little boy's birthday, and his son wanted to celebrate at Mickey's because they drive past the restaurant frequently and he loves the building. (A future architect or graphic designer!)

Just a little while later, one of the homeless guys gets up from their table and stops beside the dad and son. He asks the little boy his age, and the boy shyly holds up two fingers. The homeless guy then produces two dollar bills and gives them to the little boy as a present. The dad is very gracious and thanks him, trying to get the shy one to speak, which he never does, but that's okay. We all know how little kids can be with strangers. The guy returns to his seat and he and his friends finish eating, still talking.

I realize the homeless guys are discussing hundred dollar bills. One of them says something like, "It's been so long since I've seen one, I've forgotten what they look like." Another one says, "I don't remember which president is on it." (At which point I thought to myself -- it's not a president, it's Benjamin Franklin.)

The waiter brings the check to the back table, and ours as well. As we finish our food, one of the guys goes up to pay at the register. We get in line behind him, and I notice he's paying their $27 tab with a $100 bill. The cashier holds it up to the light and scribbles on it with ink, checking to make sure it's real, I guess. The guy leaves a $10 tip because the cash drawer doesn't have enough change. He seems glad to do it.

I say happy birthday to the little boy before we leave. The two young women with the milkshakes smile at me.

We go back into the cold night.


Photos from top to bottom: (Sightseeing in St. Paul)

Liv Taylor

Wild and Wayward


Oh, and here's what Mickey's Diner looked like when the Republican National Convention came to town and the city was turned into a police state:

Photo by Veterans for Peace

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What About the Folks Who Won't Take Medicaid?

Today's Star Tribune editorial about a Kentucky man who died of colon cancer because he didn't have health insurance was moving, of course. It ended with a reminder that people with incomes like "Mr. Davis" would be eligible for either Medicaid or tax credits for purchasing insurance, and that 71 percent of people in the current individual insurance market (only 5.7 percent of the population to start with) would qualify as well.

But the novel I'm currently reading, Charlie Quimby's Monument Road, plus a recent Facebook post, remind me of another reason why a single-payer system would be better than the ACA's patchwork of current programs, subsidies, and full payment.

The novel opens on the one-year anniversary of Inetta's death from pancreatic cancer. She and her husband, the main character, were eligible for Medicaid coverage, but refused it:
"We're being screened," said Inetta. On the top of the statements, bills and official letters she showed him a pamphlet: Colorado Indigent Care Program.
"Not for welfare," Leonard said. They were not indigent. They were not a case.
"Don't get all in an uproar. They're trying to help us. It's just how they do it when you don't have insurance. They want you to put it on a credit card or show you can pay or show you can't. If you can't, well, you do this form…"
"We'll pay."
As he said it, he knew what it meant. Not the exact dollars and cents of it, but the simple choice: the ranch for Inetta.
(By the way, that's sure a nice shaming name you picked for your Medicaid program, Colorado!)

This response rings true to me, especially because I had just recently read this response to a post by a friend of a friend on Facebook:
I am truly glad that your insurance options went down, but mine didn't, mine got cancelled. And I guarantee my company cares more deeply for me than yours does for you....because I work for MY company, me. The one that was trying to get off the ground in a shaky economy. The one that didn't borrow a dime, but bankrolled ourselves for thousands of dollars. Who employed myself, my husband, my children, my parents, then expanded into a depressed area and created 3 more jobs, where once there were none.

And what do I get for researching, refiling, and begging companies to take thousands of my own dollars to insure me, from being "blacklisted" from getting private insurance ANYWHERE because 12 years ago I couldn't have babies? I got the cancellation letter. The one that tells me that the high-risk insurance pool in my state (which ironically is my President's own state as well) is cancelling me because of the new ACA--which it promises will give "better and cheaper" insurance (yes, I have that in writing!)

But what do I have? A website that I generally can't get logged into, and when I do, it tells me to go sign up for MedicAid--telling a hardworking, self-employed citizen who WANTS to pay thousands of dollars a year for her own insurance that she should take the easy government handout. Oh, and what is the next surprise? Hubby and kids policy cancelled as well, first of the year! What happened to the "If you like your insurance, you can keep it" line?

I researched it, I had our policies in place, I paid the premiums, managed my HSA, and it was all jerked out from under me. The easy answer...go back to work for big business, keep my cushy job I used to have. Oh ya, and back to unemployment go my employees...Great plan for growing the middle class!

So this woman also would qualify for Medicaid, but refuses it because she sees herself as an entrepreneur, not a "welfare" recipient.

Single payer, based on the idea that health care is a right, like voting, would not have this stigma (or could overcome the stigma). If everyone feels like they are contributing to it through taxes, the way they feel ownership of their Social Security and Medicare, there will be no stigma.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I'd Go for the Chimney Sweep

Oooo, ouch, ouch, ouch. Check out this fashion magazine spread shown in a 1960s-era design book:

First thought: wow, how much girls' fashion has changed.

Second thought: geez, how little the turgid copy and sexist attitudes have changed.

Little Girls' Fashions

Your subject: Your daughter -- Little Girl of a Hundred Looks. In the course of an ordinary day she runs the gamut from Botticelli angel to chimney sweep and finally (back to bed) back to angel. Being a female, how she feels and behaves are influenced to no small degree by how she looks. For her, the adage "Handsome is as handsome does" reads backward. Frame her face in fluffy fur, and she assumes the mined of a Russion countess; dress her in Victorian costume, and she lowers her eyes and gently smooths her skirt. Here and on the following six pages, photographed by Bert Stern, we bring you fashions to mold her manners -- marvelous old-new fashions with the nostalgic air of period pieces. They range from the demure to the dashing, from the brilliant to the romantically moody, but all have the elegant authority for which she, and you, and all of us thank heaven.
Personally, I thank heaven for copywriters who don't use clichés, but there's no one to thank here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Put Your Ears on

I'm not known as a fan of Walt Disney, but I did like this bit of cleverness from a recent Parade magazine Q&A:

Although with that fancy letter Q, it's probably a better representation of Minnie Mouse.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Not So Simple

Oh, Real Simple. I don't read you but I somehow thought you might be into things that are... well... simple.

But this holiday entertaining cover doesn't look simple. Not only do I have to cook brilliant recipes and create family harmony during a foolproof party, I'm commanded to feel grateful now.

Might as well change the name to Real Perfect.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thanks for the Tabs

Apologies to any readers who find the "too many tabs" posts overwhelming... but that's why they're  here (because the tabs are overwhelming me, too).

First, two quotes from

“We have shifted from biological racism to cultural racism. Sixty years ago most people in America believed that Blacks were biologically inferior, made-by-God inferior. Today there is a cultural racism that says that Black parents are not giving their children the right values, and it’s often offered as the reason for why Blacks are not doing as well as other groups. It associates ‘Black’ with a range of negative assumptions that are so deeply embedded in American culture that people who hold them are not bad people. They’re just ‘good Americans,’ because it’s what American society has taught them. Researchers put together a database of ten million words from books, newspapers, magazine articles, various documents. They found that when the word ‘Black’ occurs, what tends to co-occur is not only ‘poor’ and ‘violent’ and ‘religious’ but also ‘lazy’ and ‘cheerful’ and ‘dangerous.’ Being violent, lazy and dangerous, other research shows, are widely held stereotypes about Blacks. All racial ethnic minority groups are stereotyped more negatively than Whites, with Blacks viewed the worst, followed by Latinos, who were viewed twice as negatively as Asians. Southern Whites are viewed more negatively than Whites in general. There is a hierarchy.”

Dr. David Williams, “No, You’re Not Imagining It,” from the September 2013 issue of Essence.
“Look at the difference: In 1977 I bought a small house in Portland Oregon for $24,000. At the time I was earning $5 per hour working at a large auto parts store. I owned a 4 year old Chevy Nova that cost $1,500. Now, 36 years later that same job pays $8 an hour, that same house costs $185,000 and a 4 year old Chevy costs $10,000. Wages haven’t kept up with expenses at all. And, I should point out that that $5 an hour job in 1977 was union and included heath benefits.” an anonymous online commenter on the current economy.
Vaginas are like "little Hoover vacuums," and other things abstinence lecturers get paid to tell teens (from Mother Jones). Such as these gems: "the HPV vaccine only works on virgins" and "dateable girls know how to shut up."

Faith healing: religious freedom vs. child protection (by Harriet Hall at Science Based Medicine). Just a taste of the crazy:
In 1997...a 6-year-old boy in Oregon died from a necrotic bowel due to a hernia that could easily have been treated. The pathologist’s first reaction was “Not again!” He and his associate had compiled evidence of 18 children who had died over the last 10 years from curable diseases in a Followers of Christ congregation of 1200 people. That worked out to 26 times the usual infant mortality rate. And it wasn’t just children: followers’ wives were dying in childbirth at 900 times the usual rate. One died of a type of infection that hadn’t killed anyone in America since 1910.
Old Testament vs. New Testament journalism by Jay Rosen. Objectivity as a journalistic value is a 20th-century invention (aka the New Testament). Not a bad invention, Rosen says, but we're best off with a balance between activist journalists like Glenn Greenwald (the Old Testament, in Rosen's terminology) and objective ones.

The future must be red, black, green, and female by Bob Jensen. One of the best summations I've read on finding a way forward in this world.

Do our bones influence our minds? (from The New Yorker). There's this stuff in our bodies (particularly our bones) called osteocalcin:
As we age, our bone mass decreases. Memory loss, anxiety, and depression also become more common. These may be separate, unfortunate facts about getting old, but they could also be related. “If you ask physicians the best things to do to prevent age-related memory loss, they’ll say exercise,” Kandel points out. Does exercise help partly because it works to maintain bones, which make osteocalcin, which in turn helps preserve memory and mood?
Game play has no negative impact on kids, UK study finds. 11,000 children were involved in the study.

New spin on hydropower (from Ensia). Small turbines offer big opportunities to transform energy from flowing water into electrical current.

Also from Ensia: Changing the global food narrative. The dominant story about the future of the world food supply is logical, well known and wrong.

Why aren't there novels about women that aren't about love? "Literary girls don't take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men."

The messy link between slave owners and modern management (from Forbes).

A TED talk by the Rational Insurgent showing nonviolent resistance campaigns are twice as likely to succeed as violent insurgencies.
Researchers used to say that no government could survive if five percent of its population mobilized against it. But our data reveal that the threshold is probably lower. In fact, no campaigns failed once they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population—and lots of them succeeded with far less than that. Now, 3.5% is nothing to sneeze at. In the U.S. today, this means almost 11 million people.

But get this: Every single campaign that did surpass that 3.5% threshold was a nonviolent one. In fact, campaigns that relied solely on nonviolent methods were on average four times larger than the average violent campaign. And they were often much more representative in terms of gender, age, race, political party, class, and urban-rural distinctions.
Colin Woodard, author of American Nations, analyzes the divide on gun control from region to region of the U.S. The article also gives a neat summary of the book, so it's great for the time-challenged.

Female aggression is not so much sugar and spice, according to recent research cited in the New York Times. And our negative body images may not come from media:
[One researcher] found that women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies did not correlate with what they watched on television at home. Nor were they influenced by TV programs shown in laboratory experiments: Watching the svelte actresses on “Scrubs” induced no more feelings of inferiority than watching the not-so-svelte star of “Roseanne.”

But he found that women were more likely to feel worse when they compared themselves with peers in their own social circles, or even if they were in a room with a thin stranger, like [a lab] assistant who ran an experiment with female college students. When she wore makeup and sleek business attire, the students were less satisfied with their own bodies than when she wore baggy sweats and no makeup. And they felt still worse when there was an attractive man in the room with her.

“Sexual competition among females seems to increase due to circumstances that tend to be particularly common in affluent societies,” Dr. Ferguson said.

In traditional villages, people married at an early age to someone nearby, but young men and women in modern societies are free to postpone marriage as they search long and far for better options. The result is more competition because there are so many more rivals...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Button, Button, Which One Is the Button?

Here's a great example of a bad user interface:

See how the G and 1 are bright white, while the 3, 4, and 5 are kind of faded looking?

The paint is worn off because all of the people who are new to the elevators (located in a hospital) think the black circle with the number is the button. Which I have to say seems like a reasonable assumption.

Folks eventually figure it out and press the silver circle instead, and when they return to the lower floors, they press the silver button instead of the black G and 1, hence the bright white paint on those.

I guess no one goes to the second floor. Must be where the offices are.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Follow the Constitution on Releasing Sex Offenders

I'm sick of politicians treating the sex offender situation as a way to score political points. Pioneer Press columnist Rubén Rosario put it this way on Sunday:

As a survivor of childhood sex abuse, I can say that I detest these types of criminals and offenders. I know what these predators rob from their victims. But another thing I detest is political grandstanding.
We're talking about people who were convicted, served their sentences, and now have been in "civil commitment" inside a razor-wired mental hospital for 20 years. They've completed evidence-based treatment and been assessed, with the best tools available, as being able to rejoin society. And they would only be "released" to halfway houses with very close monitoring, including electronic ankle bracelets.

It seemed at first as though there might be some progress in releasing some of them, but then it hit the news and the exurban town where the halfway house is located went berserk. If it had been North Minneapolis, no one would have cared what the neighbors thought.

As I've said earlier, we have to get over blaming the governor or department head who OKed a release if something goes wrong. Things will go wrong because these are human beings. But people have rights, too.

Now it looks like it will take a federal judge's ruling to remind Minnesota that we live under a Constitution in this country. That means someone outside Minnesota will get to decide for us what happens with our tax dollars, as pointed out on MPR's Daily Circuit program last week. I'm ashamed of my state.

As Rosario concluded in his column,
I don't blame any victim of these folks for wanting to keep them in confinement. But if raw emotions dictated laws, there would be bodies lying on the street and chaos.
There is no perfect justice, as Steven Pinker points out. We can't be perfectly safe in a world that has free people in it. Get over it, realize the risks are minimal, and stop watching Law and Order SVU.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What About the Woman in "We Gotta Get You a Woman"?

When you've got a song stuck in your head, you might as well analyze the lyrics. This morning it was Todd Rundgren's "We Gotta Get You a Woman," which was a hit in 1970 when I was 10 or 11 years old, then permeated the airwaves throughout my teen years.

I loved the song, probably because of Rundgren's harmonies, upbeat sound, and shifting rhythms. As a girl and later a woman, though, the lyrics should have given me pause. But they didn't. And this morning I thought to wonder why.
We Gotta Get You a Woman
By Todd Rundgren

Leroy, boy, is that you?
I thought your post-hangin' days were through,
Sunk-in eyes and full of sighs,
Tell no lies, you get wise,
I tell you now we're gonna pull you through,
There's only one thing left that we can do.

We gotta get you a woman,
It's like nothin' else to make you feel sure you're alive.
We gotta get you a woman,
We better get walkin', we're wastin' time talkin' now.

Leroy, boy, you're my friend
You say how and I'll say when
Come and meet me down the street
Take a seat, it's my treat
You may not ever get this chance again
That empty feeling's just about to end.

Talkin' 'bout life and what it means to you,
It don't mean nothin' if it don't run through
I got one thing to say, you know it's true
You got to find some time to get this thing together.

Talkin' 'bout things about that special one
They may be stupid but they sure are fun
I'll give it to you while we're on the run
Because we ain't got time to get this thing together, 'cause we
Got to get together with a woman who has been around,
One who knows better than to let you down,
Let's hope there's still one left in this whole town,
And that she'll take some time to get this thing together.

We gotta get you a woman
And when we're through with you,
We'll get me one too.
First, there's the idea of getting a woman. Get is one of those Anglo-Saxon words that has so many meanings that it's almost undefinable. It could mean possessing her, that the woman is an object, like get you a present. Which would be offensive. But I always heard it as get you with a woman: make a connection, find a woman for you.

The second and most objectionable line is "They may be stupid but they sure are fun." I do remember being offended by that in my youth, but thinking about it today I realized that it's softened by the use of the word may -- some women may be stupid, of course, and so are some men. And also that it essentially made no sense to me that a man could think a woman who's his "special one" is stupid. It seemed like one of those flumoxed remarks made about not understanding the opposite sex, rather than a statement of fact.

I never took the song to mean they needed to get him a woman for casual sex. I think the lyrics indicate the need for a relationship: they want to end an "empty feeling," they're looking for a woman who "knows better than to let you down." One who will "take some time to get this thing together." Doesn't sound like a casual hookup.

And the change in the music to a soft, dreamy sound in two of the verses -- "Talkin' 'bout life and what it means to you" and the one about the woman who knows better than to let him down -- reinforces the seriousness of the attempt. He cares about this, as connoted by the key change and shift in tempo.

All of this may be cognitive dissonance on my part. But I prefer to think of it as my girlhood self asserting agency. I am a person, not an object, so this guy can't mean that. He knows women are people, too, right? How could he not? That would just be stupid.

So despite the problems I should have with the song, I don't. And it's a good song to have stuck in your head. In fact, I think I'll go listen to it one more time.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Regulating Payday Lenders in Minnesota

While reading the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (referred to in this earlier post about how poverty causes bad decisions, rather than the other way around), I came across this fact:

There are more payday lender branches in the U.S. than McDonald's and Starbucks combined.

Specifically, there are 23,000 branches vs. 12,000 McDonald's and 9,000 Starbucks.

Scarcity gives short shrift to the idea of limiting payday lenders through regulation, but 15 states already ban the practice, and a group of Twin Cities religious organizations is gathering steam to improve regulation in Minnesota as well.

The coalition includes the Minnesota Council of Churches, Islamic Center of Minnesota, Minnesota Catholic Conference, and Jewish Community Relations Council.

According to the Star Tribune,

Among the recommendations: Limit the number of high-cost, short-term loans a person can get in a year, and close a loophole that lets lenders register as an Industrial Loan and Thrift, avoiding existing payday rules.

It also recommends payday lenders verify a borrower’s ability to repay, and ask about whether they or family are military members and subject to a 36 percent interest rate cap.
The Strib continues:
Payday lenders can lend up to $350 in Minnesota...and the state caps the interest rates at varying levels by loan amount. A two-week loan for $200 at the maximum 7 percent interest rate plus a $5 fee equals an APR of about 247 percent.

About 25 lenders in the state operate under those rules. But a handful don’t. The report said some lenders qualify as an Industrial Loan and Thrift, allowing them to charge higher rates.
Payday lending has doubled in Minnesota in the past five years (due mostly to the recession, I assume, but once they get a foothold, look out).

Colorado's regulation is considered the model. That state "requires lenders to offer payday borrowers a six-month installment repayment plan in addition to the standard lump-sum repayment."

The Star Tribune editorial endorsing the movement ends with a call for greater financial literacy. As Scarcity makes clear, however, financial literacy -- while a nice idea -- will not solve the problem. People experiencing scarcity operate in a psychological tunnel that precludes them seeing anything outside the tunnel. The authors have done numerous studies showing the tunnel works on anyone who ends up in a scarcity situation -- no matter what their overall level of education or financial well-being is.

The six-month installment repayment may be a worthwhile change, though, since spreading out the first repayment may keep borrowers from taking out new loans to pay off the old ones, which is what happens all too frequently. Let's hope so.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Putting the Men in Menu

For context, this menu is from a restaurant called D'Amico & Sons. It doesn't completely explain the third menu item's name, but it's better than nothing.

Seen in Roseville, Minn.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Quotes from Carl Hart's High Price

There's so much good stuff in Carl Hart's book High Price, as I've already said, but I wanted to include just a handful of other quotes, ranging from his thoughts about growing up to how to treat drug addiction.

You may have already heard about the research that finds children of poor parents hear far fewer words by age 5 than do children of professionals (only 616 total words vs. 2,153). But Hart points out some additional findings from that work:

…families headed by professionals -- whether black or white -- spent more time encouraging their children, explaining the world to them, and listening to and responding specifically to their questions. For every discouraging word or "No!" there were about five words of praise or encouragement. Verbal interactions were mainly pleasant, enjoyable, or neutral. In the working class homes, there were also more "attaboys" than prohibitions, though the ratio was smaller. But in the families on welfare, children heard two "noes" or "don'ts" for every positive expression. Their verbal experience overall was much more punitive. (pages 30-31)
Generally, the two divergent parenting styles are called "concerted cultivation" (professional class) and "the accomplishment of natural growth" (working class and poor).
The middle-class way was not, as some might expect, superior all around. The working-class children were often happier and better behaved. They were much closer to their extended families and were full of energy. They mostly did as they were told. They knew how to entertain themselves and were rarely bored. They were more adept at relationships.

The middle-class youth, however, were much more prepared for school and far better situated to deal with adult authorities. (page 36)
On why education wasn't valued in his family or community:
Because their opportunities had been limited, because the people they knew who were educated hadn't actually been allowed to move up in management or become anything better paid than a high school teacher or licensed practical nurse, [the adults in his life] saw a focus on academic achievement as a distraction, one that would more likely lead to disappointment and bitterness than it would to real success. They'd never seen academic success genuinely rewarded. (pages 54-55)
On his experiences with teachers and the schools, starting in first grade. This was in the earliest years of Florida's desegregation by busing, and Hart was one of four or five black kids in his first grade class in a white, working class school:
Although we started our day with Miss Rose…, for much of the time, all the black boys in my class would be sent to the "portable." This was a small, supposedly temporary outbuilding at the back of the main school. Inside, it looked like a playroom with blocks, trains, and other toys. But most of our time there was spent in small groups, being drilled with flash cards on basic skills like letters and numbers. We were sent there because we had "learning difficulties."

Soon, though, I was bored out of my mind. Despite the fact that my parents never read to me as a child, I did know my ABCs and 123s. My older sisters had taught me about letters and numbers [plus he had been to preschool and watched lots of Sesame Street]. But the school assumed that because I was black, I must be behind. So, off to the trailer I went. (page 56)
In high school,
Rather than challenging me to learn, they gave up, figuring that it didn't matter because I was just one more nameless black kid who would never go to college anyway. And of course, given an easier option and no reason to challenge themselves, almost any teenager -- and most adults, too -- will take it.
His high school schedule consisted of two or three hours of basketball practice, three hours of vo-tech classes from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m., followed by a job in the afternoon, for which he got school credit. "One-third of the time I spent in supposedly educational programming consisted of classes like parking patrol." (page 107)

He points out that all three of our most recent presidents used marijuana and two used cocaine:
Their drug use was inconsequential -- in large part because they all avoided legal consequences from it. If Barack Obama had come up in a time when the drug war was being waged as intensely as it is now, we probably would never have heard of him. A single arrest could have precluded student loans, resulted in jail time, and completely ruined his life, posing a far greater threat to him than the drugs themselves did… (page 122)
Even after his first years in the Air Force,
I was so lacking in the mainstream form of what academics call "cultural capital"--the kind accumulated in the United States by growing up in the white middle or upper class -- that I made some mistakes that I now cringe to think about. Cultural capital is the knowledge of the way a culture…really operates. It's knowing the things that "everyone knows" in that class or place and the things that everyone automatically assumes that other people know. (page 178)
He points out that this lack of cultural capital is what leads poor young people to fall for shady for-profit colleges. Hart, for instance, almost enrolled in an expensive correspondence course, and later almost signed up for a women's studies course because he thought it would teach him how to get women to do what he wanted (!).
Ignorance feels shameful; attempts to hide it can prevent learning and perpetuate the problem. When you publicly illustrate that you don't know what "everyone" knows, it can be intensely embarrassing. Many of the difficulties faced by people who try to move from the hood into the mainstream involve the lack of these types of knowledge, which marks them as outsiders and can lead to repeated humiliating experiences. (page 179)
He refers to Gil Scott-Heron's song "Home Is Where the Hatred Is," which is about a man who uses drugs to relieve his pain and alienation (page 181). A line from the song that has always stuck with me is:
You keep saying kick it, quit it,
Kick it, quit it, kick it, quit it.
God, but did you ever try?
In the live version of the song from the album "It's Your World," the refrain becomes:
Why don't you stop using drugs?

That's easy for you to say.
That's easy for you to say.
That's easy for you to say.
That's easy, easy, easy.
Hart looks back on his upbringing within
the southern culture of honor that doesn't allow even the slightest dis, like a stepped-on shoe or dirty look, to go unchallenged… The motives of young men who engage in these types of potentially fatal interactions over slights to honor are frequently portrayed as irrational overreactions. But these types of altercations that seem to have such petty origins are by far the leading motivation for deadly violence -- contributing to significantly more crimes than the pharmacological effects of drugs. In their influential study of homicides in Detroit, Martin Daly and Margo Wilson concluded that the young men involved, far from being irrational, "may be acting as shrewd calculators of the probable costs and benefits of alternative courses of action." (page 183)

…such crimes take place overwhelmingly among young men who have little to lose, with few resources and limited future prospects. This type of behavior had characterized male youth in my neighborhood long before crack cocaine was even invented. (page 184)

Once crack came in, the change meant upheaval in established drug sales territories and power groupings. It wasn't the nature of the drug itself, but rather the addition of a new drug that caused the violence. And for people with no opportunities, selling drugs seems like a good option.

While the risks of selling crack may not, on the surface, seem worth the low salary ultimately earned, to many young men it seemed the best of a bad lot. At fast-food chains or in similar low-level jobs, these youth would have to wear dorky uniforms and submit themselves to often demeaning treatment from (typically) white bosses and customers, with rigid hours and little apparent chance for advancement. Selling crack, however, offered a choice of hours, the opportunity to work with friends, and visible routes to success… The potential glory made the risk of prison and death seem worth taking. (pages 187-188)
On the differential treatment of crack vs. powdered cocaine (disparate sentence lengths were 100:1 for a long time and are still 18:1) and stepped-up enforcement in black communities:
…in Los Angeles, for example -- a city of nearly 4 million people -- at the peak of the crack epidemic, not a single white person was arrested on federal crack cocaine charges, even though whites in the cities used and sold crack. (page 191)
After reading historical documents that demonstrated the racism that underlies the demonization of drugs like cocaine, Hart began to realize there was more going on.
…I'd always assumed that the legal status of a particular drug was determined primarily by its pharmacology. However, I found that there was actually no sound, pharmacologically rational reason behind why alcohol and tobacco were legal, and cocaine and marijuana were not. It was mainly about history and social reasons, about choosing the drug dangers that would be highlighted to spur public concern and those that would be ignored…. Bans on drugs were inevitably preceded by hysterical coverage filled with scare stories about drug use by despised minorities, often immigrants and the poor. (page 242)
And I learned that withdrawal from opioids is not as bad as I have been taught:
The symptoms usually begin about twelve to sixteen hours after the last heroin dose and look something like a case of the 24-hour, or intestinal, flu. Most of us have experienced these symptoms at some point in our lives: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, aches, pains, and a general sense of misery. While this condition is most unpleasant, rarely is it life-threatening or accurately depicted in films that suggest the sufferer is on the verge of death. (page 264)
Why didn't crack (or meth, for that matter) ravage the suburbs or afflict large percentages of middle or upper class youth?
Money has a way of insulating people from consequences. In addition, it carries with it more reasons for abstaining -- there are things a high-socioeconomic-status person has to do that are incompatible with being intoxicated. Becoming an addict is tantamount to disavowing one's social niche. (page 271)

There is now a whole body of literature showing that providing alternative reinforcers [to crack users] improves addiction treatment outcomes. It is far more effective than using punitive measures like incarceration… (page 272)
And what about treatment with those alternative reinforcers, which is the focus of Hart's research?
Fifty-eight percent of participants in the contingency management group [with alternative reinforcement] completed the 24-week outpatient treatment -- compared to just 11 percent in the 12-step group. In terms of abstinence, 68 percent achieved at least eight weeks cocaine-free, versus just 11 percent in the 12-step condition. (page 274)
In Portugal, where drugs have been decriminalized for the past decade, a panel reviews the cases of users thought to have a health problem. If treatment is recommended but doesn't stick, repeat offenders can get noncriminal punishments like having their driver's license revoked or being prohibited from areas where drug sales are known to happen.

As a result, "The number of drug-induced deaths has dropped, as have overall rates of drug use, especially among young people (15-24 years old)" (page 325). And Portugal has greatly decreased spending on prosecution and imprisonment, of course.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Depressing Stats

If you ever wondered whether racism was still with us, here's a set of statistics to keep in mind.

Yes, it really does say that white job applicants with a criminal record were more likely to get a call back than black applicants with no criminal record.

The jobs in question were in the private sector.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Education Tabs

A few recent stories about education.

From the Star Tribune, What works for kids? In Norway, it's a less-stressful classroom atmosphere. Commentary by a Minnesota mom whose 9-year-old, diagnosed with ADHD back home, suddenly finds himself "normal" in a classroom that has three recesses and much less emphasis on testing. Somehow he managed to learn how to speak Norwegian at the same time.

A parent whose now-adult daughter went to a Quaker school visits the school and sees a good example of the way education should be, thinking about the box instead of trying to get outside it.

From the Washington Post blog, a teacher’s troubling account of giving a 106-question standardized test to 11 year olds. Best to take your blood pressure medication before reading.

Finland's Pasi Sahlberg takes on the GERM (Global Educational Reform Movement) in a presentation (pdf). The characteristics of GERM:
  • Competition
  • Standardization
  • Test-based accountability
  • School choice
  • Education as industry
Contrast that with the Finnish way:
  • Collaboration
  • Personalization
  • Trust-based responsibility
  • Equity
  • Education as human right
There's even one slide that has just these words on it: "Children must play."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Argument for an Activist President... and Why There Are No UFOs

A few odds and ends of media goodness.

MPR's Daily Circuit this morning hosted a discussion with John Nichols of The Nation about the possibilities for President Obama's second term. I didn't hear the whole thing, though I know they at least heard calls from listeners urging action on climate change, clean energy jobs, and financial reform to prevent another banking disaster. I'd like to distill and bottle one Nichols' responses and see if the president can drink a bit every night before he goes to bed:

John Nichols: What we're hearing from people [in the calls to the show] is they want an activist agenda -- they want this president to do big things. It is true that the president does have a great deal of power, if exercised cautiously, both domestically on executive orders and regulatory initiatives, and using the cabinet more boldly. And then internationally through treaty powers or at least powers to work with other countries and try to achieve things.

These realities exist, but I do think they have to be linked to something. And that is, the president -- if he's going to go for an activist agenda, which I actually think would be a great idea -- it has to be linked to the reality that Congress is going to object to a lot of it. And it won't necessarily be only Republicans. And so then the president must take that activist agenda on the road to the American people.

He's got to say, I'm doing these things. It's my purpose to achieve a great deal in my second term. I don't want to have a failed second term or a written-off second term. I want to make great accomplishments. And then doing that messaging, and not being just an activist president but an instructive and educational president, he must also frankly link it to the politics of 2014. The fact of the matter is, if this president goes and says, I want to do a bunch of big bold stuff, I'm going to do as much as I can even though Congress is giving me a hard time -- but I need a different Congress.

Then he begins to get into the zone of Franklin Roosevelt. Remember, Roosevelt's New Deal was not achieved fully in his first term. He actually had a highly successful reelect in 1936, carrying all but two states. And was able in those first two years after to do a lot because Congress was with him.

This president doesn't have that, but Barack Obama could try to initiate a bold agenda and then ask the American people to confirm that in the 2014 election.

Kerri Miller: Essentially he'd be going out to say, Do we really have time to waste? If they write me off, you allow them to write off most of this second term -- do we really, on all these issues, have three years to wait? I think most Americans would be pretty impatient.

Nichols: You nailed it.
And on a completely different topic, this letter from today's Star Tribune about the recent news that there appear to be many Earth-like planets in the galaxy:
Earth visitations might face pretty long odds

The Nov. 7 Letter of the Day asked why, if planets like Earth are common, is it so far-fetched to believe that UFOs and aliens may be common occurrences on Earth? Let’s answer that with some numbers.

First, we don’t expect 40 billion Earthlike planets in the Milky Way. Twenty-two percent of sunlike stars (10 percent of the 300 billion in our galaxy) have an Earthlike planet, leaving 6.6 billion Earthlike planets. Let’s say maybe half have the right conditions for life. Assume maybe one in four will develop intelligent life before a life-ending event.

Note that of several intelligent species on Earth, only humans have developed sophisticated technology like rockets. Let’s say one in four survive longer than 100 years with both rockets and nukes. Four hundred million left. A sunlike star lives about 12 billion years before becoming inhospitable. Assume 4 billion years go by before anyone can develop rockets (we took that long). Let’s say a space-faring age lasts, oh, 1 million years. So: 50,000 civilizations currently exploring space in our galaxy.

Our galaxy is 100,000 light years wide. That means on average, the nearest civilization is 500 light years away. Even going 1,000 times faster than Voyager 1, the fastest spacecraft we’ve built, it would take 7,000 years to reach the nearest star, which is only four light years away. So the nearest civilization is 1 million years away.

And these were some very generous numbers. See the problem?

Adiv Paradise, Minneapolis

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Rainbow Rowell: Wish Fulfillment

It's no secret that superheroes are popular because they provide wish fulfillment for young (and not so young) males. Overly muscled men in tights with physics-defying powers have never appealed to me, and I occasionally wondered what form my wish fulfillment could take, if it even existed.

I found it last week in Rainbow Rowell's YA novel Fangirl.

Having just finished reading her debut YA novel, Eleanor & Park -- which is funny and stupendous even as it treats difficult topics like bullying, growing up in poverty, and being biracial -- I was a bit doubtful of the premise of Fangirl. Its main character, Cather, writes fan fiction, for god's sake, clearly setting the story in the present, so I was afraid the book would be full of the kitschily formatted texts, IMs, and other padding that occupies the pages of too many YA books these days.

But no. The fan fiction provides a well-integrated backdrop for the story. The reimagined Harry Potter stories (transformed into an alliterative doppelgänger named Simon Snow) are deftly written, as is the fan fiction based on them.

The wish fulfillment began for me almost from the first page. The book is about an anxious, intellectual, creative-writing girl starting college with a worldly stranger for a roommate. Gee, that sounds familiar. But in Rowell's capable hands, what could have been mundane becomes a believable one-year transformation of the ugly duckling into a swan. Without removing her glasses.

It takes longer than that in real life, of course -- but that's why it's wish fulfillment.

Cather has been writing slash stories about Simon Snow and his nemesis Baz (a vampire cognate of Draco Malfoy). If that's not the 21st century equivalent of a small-town girl like me writing stories about boys in gangs, I don't know what is. But Cather has found success on the interweb, to the tune of 20,000 readers waiting anxiously for her next installment. (Wish fulfillment yet again.)

Cather's experience in the world of academic creative writing is also familiar and yet different. Like me, she comes to the class writing something that's considered inappropriate for that world. The difference is that her teacher loves her work, despite one bad grade when Cather turns in a slash story. The teacher, whose own writing is described as being "about decline and desolation in rural America," is open to any type of writing as long as it's original and not derivative of another writer's characters. My teachers discouraged anything that wasn't realistic fiction. So having a teacher who was open to fantasy or science fiction would have been a dream to me.

I've always said I lost my ability to write fiction as I aged from 17 to 22 because I stopped observing life and began to participate in it. Best and wish-fulfillingest of all, Fangirl's Cather gets to do both.

Rainbow Rowell clearly has made that work, too.


More about Rainbow Rowell:

Interview with Rowell on My favorite quote:
I think anything that predominantly women like is discounted, and anything that teenage girls like is absolutely reviled. It’s the lowest of the low. If teenage girls like something, everyone feels like they can -- and maybe should -- hate it, even the girls themselves.

The thing that really enrages me is when women and girls are demeaned for wanting romance. Like there’s something weak and dumb about wanting characters to fall in love, or wanting love for yourself. THIS IS SO WRONG. Love is the finest thing. It’s the thing everyone wants and needs and searches for.
Omaha World-Herald column about Rowell's cancelled appearance in Minnesota. The upshot is that librarians in the Anoka County library were forced to rescind an invitation by a book-banning parents' group in the school district, but she was rescheduled to appear at the St. Paul Public Library (talking about censorship during Banned Books Week) and at Avalon School, a St. Paul charter school.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Little Printing from Hamilton

It's time once again for the annual Wayzgoose at Hamilton Wood Type Museum. So far, what I have to share is the work of four print artists. Hamilton has been undergoing a major change this past year -- they had to move out of their original home, find a new place, then move 27 semi-trucks full of printing equipment. The museum is not quite open yet, but they're holding the Wayzgoose anyway as a kickoff to the reopening scheduled in the next few weeks.

First, this poster from the new and improved retail shop:

Not sure who the artist is on this, but I'll add it once I find out.

Next, a bit of purposeful misspelling by Peter Fraterdeus of Dubuque, Iowa:

That's transparent white ink printed on dampened white paper, with little bits of colored ink flecked onto the wood type before the impression.

A collection of insect prints by Bill Moran of St. Paul, Minn.:

Definitely click this one to enlarge and see the different posters, all created with pieces of wood type and often metallic inks.

And finally, this greeting card by Jen Farrel of Starshaped Press in Chicago:

Farrel's intricate designs are best appreciated by seeing her locked-up type, so check this out enlarged also.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Primaries of Fall

The leaves have been holding onto the trees here in Minnesota this fall. It's gotten so late that it has confounded the street-sweeping schedule.

But yesterday the trees began to give up. After our snow storm on Wednesday and a single coldish night afterward, the maples with yellow fall color suddenly dropped their leaves. All of them in less than a day.

Unsuspecting, I parked my car on the street alongside a St. Paul city park. Went to a meeting for two hours. Then came back to find the car completely covered in yellow leaves.

My car is bright blue, so you can imagine that this was an attractive sight. Made all the better by this accident of nature that found a home in my door handle:

Ah, fall. How can we not love you.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thanking the Miami Dolphins and Mercury Morris for Carl Hart

If you need proof that kids growing up in poverty are wasted potential, there's no better illustration than Dr. Carl Hart. His early life in a poor black neighborhood in Miami made it very likely he would become nothing. But a few flukes sent him out of the 'hood, and the particular timing of his youth squeezed him between Vietnam, crack cocaine, and the first Iraq War.

Before I read his book High Price, I knew Hart had come up poor, but I assumed he was one of the "good" kids whose mothers somehow kept them out of the street, that he had watched "the life" from the sidelines. But that's wrong. Hart was in it just the same as his brothers, male cousins, and friends, and he has the gold teeth to prove it.

The only difference was that he wanted to play sports (first football and then basketball), which kept his smoking and drug use to a social minimum, and he stayed in school with a C average in hope of getting a scholarship. He had an occasional teacher who recognized that he wasn't bad at math. And when he was a senior, with no college basketball scouts in sight, he (almost accidentally) took the U.S. military entrance exam.

Born in 1967, he finished high school in 1985, the year before crack hit it big on the east coast. He spent four years as a supply clerk in the Air Force but got out just a year before the build-up to Desert Storm.

He was finally sent on the way toward his academic career at 18 by the military's discipline and closest-thing-we-have to racial equity, combined with black consciousness-raising from a fellow soldier and the music of Bob Marley and Gil Scott-Heron. Soon Hart was taking college classes during his service years, at first thinking of a business degree, but later changing to psychology. From there on, he found mentors and his way to testing the effects of drugs, starting with rats and later with humans.

Clearly, though, Hart succeeded in spite of what was offered to him by life, not because of it. Though he had an intact family until he was six, his father was alcoholic and abusive. There was a very successful sports franchise in town that his dad loved, and Carl therefore loved the Miami Dolphins, too. The team happened to have its first successful black player around the same time, Mercury Morris, and that provided just enough motivation to the boy.

Hart touches on the ACES matrix (Adverse Childhood Experience Scores), acknowledging that he would have a high score. But he wonders if living in an abusive family, for instance, is the thing that causes life problems later on, or if instead the abuse was caused by the same underlying stimulus -- the stress of racism and poverty -- and that's what causes the outcomes. Maybe protective factors, like a tight-knit extended family, make a difference.

Either way, the outcome that is Hart's life was no foregone conclusion: There was a lot that worked against his chances. He almost got caught stealing some car batteries at 16, which would have resulted in time in the system, but he got lucky in the escape because he could run fast. His sister was shot as an innocent bystander, and if the shooter hadn't been in custody, Hart may have gone after him in revenge. He was in a car when one occupant threatened an innocent passerby with a rifle while the rest of the guys laughed. He smoked pot, drank, had sex, and even fathered a child (which he didn't know about until he in his late 30s).

Hart makes the case that incarceration of young people for any reason less than pretty extreme violence is not worth it because of the downward spiral it causes, and there's research to bear this out. Two set of kids who've done crimes are assigned to either jail or alternative sentencing. Even if the kids in the alternative plan had committed a worse crime to start with, they're three times as likely to come out as productive members of society than the kids who serve time (page 133). Prison is a factory for making criminals, not to mention the fact that once you have a record you can't get a legitimate job, live in public housing, get financial aid for college, and are subject to many other punishments that last forever.

They're kids and their brains aren't developed. The case with Hart and his friends in a car with a rifle, threatening a pedestrian, made that clear. In the text he tries to remember what he was thinking and it's clear there just was no empathy for how it made the victim feel. They knew the guy was scared, but they didn't care if what they were doing was wrong. They were building off each other, having a laugh at his expense. They weren't planning to shoot him, just scare him. But would any person with a normal brain, post-adolescence, do that?

Another thing I learned from the book is that, at least in Miami's black culture, it's considered unmanly for men to masturbate, and that accounts for a lot of the baby daddy thing. You have sex starting as a teenager not only because it feels good: It's to prove you're a man, and there's a lot going on that otherwise undermines your masculinity. You commit petty and not-so-petty crimes with the group for the same reason. It's all about representing yourself as a man and being loyal to the group: boggled my mind that someone would every say no to his boys; for me, cool and its requirement of loyalty to our group always came first. It was the foundation of my values, one of the few things that really meant something to me and structured my social life. Putting those ties at risk, to me, seemed much more dangerous and threatening than anything the system could do to you if you ever got caught. If you stayed cool, you could handle that. If not, you weren't a man and there was nothing much to live for anyway (page 131).
My only fear of Hart's narrative is that it will be used by the Right to point out what they see as an inherent pathology in poor black communities. Look, they might say, every young man was involved in robbery, violence, casual sex and baby daddying, and drugs -- even a smart guy like Carl Hart. They were fatherless and that caused the problem. Oooo, single mothers. Those boys need the military to straighten them out.

Not seeing that these young men were fatherless because of the stress of discrimination and lack of opportunity, and more recently fatherless because of the drug war and incarceration. Hart's male relatives have almost all served time, even the ones who managed to become functioning members of the community.

Having economic opportunities for the adults in kids' lives -- instead of a 20 percent unemployment rate and discrimination that confined them to the lowest-wage jobs even when they could find one -- is a better solution than sentencing them all to boot camp so they can be IED fodder in the war on terrorism.

Related posts:
Quotes from Carl Hart's High Price

Why Not Try Life in a Rat Park?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Another Joke, Literally

Following up on those science jokes from a month ago, this from Twitter user Northern Monkey:

My wife asked me to put the dinner in the oven at 120 degrees.....took some doing but I managed it.
It's good to see there are still a few people who mean literal when they say literal, even if they are a bit insensitive to context.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Center of Attention

You know all those photos of male celebrities that are shot with the guy surrounded by scantily clad, fawning women?

This is how dumb they look:

See, it doesn't work when the genders are reversed, either.

Monday, November 4, 2013

I Miss the Fourth Amendment

So you think there's this thing called the Fourth Amendment, do you? You believe it protects you from government carrying out unreasonable searches and seizures of your house or person. When you imagine what a reasonable search looks like, you probably think of the cops having some evidence to indicate a crime has been committed. Something more than what you look like, where you are, or what you're wearing. And you assume they have a warrant, too.

But no. Not so much any more. We've got stop and frisk -- where you can be stopped for being brown and male, with or without saggy pants -- we've got the NSA snooping on just about everybody with permission from judges who should know better, and in the southwest we've got checkpoints staffed by INS and Homeland Security agents who don't want to take no for an answer.

Thanks to NPR's On the Media, I discovered the story of Terry Bressi, an Arizona man who frequently has to drive from the University of Arizona to the Kitt Peak National Observatory for work, along a road that's 40 miles this side of the Mexico border.

Yet he's stopped almost every time at a checkpoint. He refuses to cooperate with them. They get bent out of shape. He records them. 300 times since 2008.

At some point he started a website called, where he writes about his experiences and receives carloads more of examples from other people who've encountered similar treatment.

As Bressi writes on his site:

While roadblocks are conducted under a number of different guises, they all share a common set of traits. Specifically, they:
  • Operate with no individualized reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing
  • Seek to control and intimidate local communities as opposed to serve and protect them
  • Raise revenue for expanding government programs through fines, citations & arrest
It's easy to not know this goes on if you're white and live far from one of our borders. (And it's not just the southern border -- there was a stir back in 2008 about immigration checks on ferries inside Washington state.) But like Martin Niemöller said, you have to speak up so there will be someone left to speak up for you.


Update: Here's an incredible story from New Mexico of a guy who was stopped for rolling through a stop sign and ended up being subjected to multiple enemas, rectal searches, and xrays, plus being sedated for a colonoscopy! All because one of the cops thought he was "clenching his buttocks." Then they billed him for the "services." I am not kidding.

He's suing the police.