Monday, August 31, 2015

False Equivalence

A Facebook friend recently shared this quote from G.K. Chesterton:

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.
This makes me think of several things -- first, the recent insistence that people (including children) be allowed to make mistakes, since mistakes are the way we learn how to do better. Fearing and preventing mistakes is a symptom of stagnation.

Second, it made me think of a commentary from today's Star Tribune, called The Dangers of Groupthink. Though the writer makes some good points about group think, he misses the false equivalence that Chesterton described so pithily. To make his case, the commentary writer summarize the points made by an economist named Albert Hirschman, who described three recurrent rhetorical strategies used by reactionaries:
  • The Perversity Thesis — radical social change will result in outcomes that only worsen the condition that progressives seek to alleviate.
  • The Futility Thesis — pursuing social transformation is futile because the laws of social order are immutable.
  • The Jeopardy Thesis — as desirable as a reform is “in principle,” the practical cost or consequence will endanger previous accomplishments.
Hirschman then counterposed those three to the strategies that "afflict" progressives:
  • The Desperate Predicament Thesis — the old order is irreparable and a new order must replace it, regardless of possible unintended consequences.
  • The History Is on Our Side Thesis — inevitable historical forces, which are futile to oppose, justify progressive action.
  • The Imminent Danger Thesis — inaction will result in disastrous consequences.
Those first three points all sound familiar from the Right's argument against addressing climate change (once they acknowledge that it exists). And the last three do sound like aspects of the argument in favor of taking action to limit climate change -- but I think the fact that the last point is clearly true has a bit of weight beyond rhetoric.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Daughter Number Three Heads Home

While on the road recently, I came across quite a find: a small cabinet with the queen of spades (the symbol of Daughter Number Three) on the door.

It (she?) was too big for the storage portion of the car, and so she got her own seat during the return trip:

Safely belted in, as you can see.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Dave Roberts Puts It into a Few Words

Here's some reading for today, if you haven't already seen it: David Roberts's analysis of why tech nerds -- successful at so many things -- fail at politics.

I haven't actually finished reading it yet, but when I got to this bit of synthesis I had to share it somewhere:

the Republican Party has increasingly become the voice of white people who live around other white people in rural and suburban areas, where they have been radicalized by burgeoning right-wing media and a network of ideologically conservative think tanks and lobbying groups.
This, of course, is in contrast with Democrats, who are most likely to be people of color, "single women, young people, LGBTQ folks, academics, and artists — clustered in the 'urban archipelago' of America's cities."

Time is not on the side of the Republican Party, given the demographic shifts happening in our country, but for now, as Roberts points out:
aggrieved older white men still punch above their weight, politically speaking. Democratic constituencies cluster in urban areas, where many of their votes end up wasted. GOP demographics are more spread out, covering a larger geographical area, thus giving them a reliably large bloc of low-population states in the Senate and a built-in advantage in the House of Representatives.
None of this is the main point Roberts makes in the article. I just want to be able to find these quotes at some time in the future when I need to explain our political situation.


Roberts writes for, though until recently he was a long-time writer for His tweets are a regular feature in my monthly Twitter roundups.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Rich Retail, Poor Retail

Driving across our country provides lots of evidence that our country divides the rich and poor.

For instance, I recently saw a strip mall plaza with this stack o' signs for poor-people stores:

  • A value-oriented supermarket (though inside it was very well-maintained, with good product selection)
  • A liquidator (or pseudo-liquidator, depending on your point of view)
  • A donation shop with its assortment of secondhand household goods and clothes
  • A dollar store (where not enough items cost a dollar or less, in my experience, and they rip off their workers)
  • And a rent to own shop, which is one step up from a pay-day lender.
Retail-location consultants exacerbate this trend, I'm sure. And in some ways, their recommendations make sense -- why not group businesses together when they have shoppers with similar demographics? It makes for less travel time, and creates "sales synergy" for all.

But sheesh, it makes for bleak landscape.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Four from the Road

A few photos from the Hudson Valley. First, a name that's bad for business:

I would be afraid to eat any of the food in this diner.

Then there's this sign at an intersection in Rhinebeck, a tony little town:

They don't need to be so obvious about it, though.

Then, a pair of wooden pants seen on the grounds of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt library:

File that one under looking down.

Finally, a person with a pair of bumper stickers that makes me think s/he either has a sense of humor or is kind of clueless:

My political bias makes me think it's a sense of humor, but I hold out the other possibility.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Frog Pond Farm (North)

I think I may have found a roadside attraction that's not on the Roadside America site: Frog Pond Farm, which includes this giant ant attacking the barn:

It's a gallery of the work of the Ferro family, based in Little York, New York, about 45 minutes from Syracuse.

The main attraction is the life-size and over-size animals and insects, sculpted in metal by Tino Ferarro.

Many are visible from outside the barn, but it's pretty easy to get in to see the rest by contacting them via the website.

Tino and other members of the family also do a bit of painting:

I met Carole Ferro when I visited. She had just been painting a peacock before we arrived.

I love the piece Carole called the Olive Tree:

The twisted trunk is made of a complete jumble of metal objects:

The piece that got my attention the most, though, was probably this cluster of steel fiddlehead ferns:

They seemed like aliens until I realized they were just friendly ostrich ferns, made gigantic and rendered in stainless.

The funniest piece was probably this, which was tucked away almost out of sight under the barn:

From the cone-shaped corsette and garters, I deduced its intended subject is Madonna, but darn if her face doesn't look more like the HBO version of Daenarys Targaryen.

Frog Pond Farm has a winter location in St. Pauls, North Carolina, also called Frog Pond Farm South. Who knows what they've got outside there.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Yankee Rebels

While traveling across rural central New York, well off the beaten path of interstates and college towns, I noticed an odd thing.

It was on a state highway that connects three small cities with populations between 7,000 and 20,000, each one the seat of its respective county. The population density along the two-lane road was low; it wasn't uncommon to drive for a mile or two without seeing a house among the fields that alternated corn with unmown goldenrod.

But during a two-hour stretch of this type of country, I saw three Confederate flags (or, more accurately, the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia) flying from the fronts of houses. The first was the worst: a straight-up stars and bars hanging from a pole right next to an official U.S. flag.

The other two were flying by themselves and had some kind of other image atop the stars and bars. I finally stopped and took a picture when I came across the third one:

Here it is a bit closer up so you can be sure it really does have those blue bars and white stars, plus get an idea about the other art that's superimposed. (I think it's probably a bald eagle.)

Then at the end of the trip, when I had arrived in the last small city (population 14,000), I saw this on one of the streets:

The owner of this work of art was too lazy or uninformed to add the stars to the bars, but the concept is clear.

As I said, these sightings were all in central New York, a place that Colin Woodward says is about as much Yankee country as you can get, so what does it mean that this many people are flying the rebel flag, symbol of the Confederacy?

Are they all members of the Klan? Do they burn crosses in the yards of black people, if they even know where to find any black people? I doubt it, though they probably are down on immigrants.

My best guess is that they fly the flag as a pointed rejection of people they perceive as urban elites. It's a big "fuck you" to anyone perceived as not part of rural (and therefore the real) America. Maybe it's seen as synonymous with Second Amendment rights. After all, the South's secession and war with the Union army is the ultimate in using your weapons to fight something that was perceived as endangering a way of life.

To go along with all of this, here's a storefront window from one of the towns along that route:

The posters in the window read:

  • Stop Obama's HHS Mandate
  • Hands Off My Health Care
  • American Jobs for American Workers
  • Stand for Something Revolutionary - Protect Our Constitution
  • NO! Amnesty
  • Repeal NY's S.A.F.E. Act - Honor the 2nd Amendment
  • Tea Party Patriots
And on the door there are two copies of a bumper sticker that says "Second Amendment: The One Right that Secures Them All."

Monday, August 24, 2015

More from the Road

Traveling a lot in a day makes it hard to write much or even read much of all that thinking out there on the interweb... so, instead, here are a few photos for Tuesday, August 24, 2015.

First, a product that shouldn't exist, from the sale floor at a convenience store:

These over-packaged plastic bottles full of sugar-laden fruit juice are sold as "Good 2 Grow" with no sugar added. This is literally true, I guess, but fruit juice -- in this case mostly white grape juice -- is mostly sugar and water. There's no nutrition about it, cool or otherwise.

The store in this photo caught my attention because of the green generic "tattoo" sign. But then I noticed the name of the store in the top left window:

Final Solutions Ink. Huh. Sounds like the place to go for a tattoo.

And, finally, a few humorous signs on a garage door:

In case you can't read them, the left one says "Zombies" and the right one shows a farmer on a tractor being pursued by a zombie with the words "Eat Locals."

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dead Possum in the Middle of the Road

On the road. Literally.

Not figuratively.


Shot in the middle of a rural road in New York state.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Retail These Days

Here are a couple of recent retail photos from living in the age of the interweb.

I feel silly being shocked by this product, which allows you to fill a hundred water balloons at once, but I can't help it:

It seems like half the point of water balloons is finding out how hard it is to make them and hurting your fingers while trying them. And then getting the reward of being hit with one.

Then there's this section sign from a grocery store:

New Age Beverages. What is that, and does it really need its own section of shelves. I was having a hard time imagining what that would include -- Kombucha? Tapioca drinks?

But no, it was Snapple and things from Starbucks.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Serious Animals at Northern Clay Center

Currently on view at Minneapolis's Northern Clay Center: ceramic works by McKnight artists. Here are a couple of them.

First, "From Here to There: by Kelly Connole:

Each of those white things over the zebra is a handmade porcelain butterfly, hung from a blue thread. In person, the threads make a blue translucent area over and among the butterflies. The accompanying text tells the story of the artist's young friend and student who was diagnosed with an extremely rare genetic condition -- one of the "zebras" that doctors in training are taught will likely never be seen among all of the horses of mundane medical practice.

Continuing the animal theme, but in a different way and by a different artist:

This is "You Are What You Eat" by Kip O'Krongly. In case you can't tell, those feed troughs are full of red and white gelatine capsules.

O'Krongly's other piece in the show is this large-scale bar graph:

Each of those plates is about 9" in diameter with its own finely rendered image of a cow, chicken, pig, or turkey.

Here's the key, both to better explain the graph's information and show how nice the drawings and glazes are.

The exhibit closes on August 30, so get over there, if you can, to these in person and the rest of the works!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Scenes and Logos from America

A few images from Middle America.

First, this logo, seen along an interstate highway:

I guess it's not so much the logo as the name itself. I read it as s'DUMP-er, which made no sense, but it was all I could think of. But no, it's SIDE-dumper, get it? It's a dump truck that dumps sideways.

Second, there's nothing like a logo that tries to throw a large capital letter where it doesn't belong:

In this case, the designer has given us a new state, Lillinois. Maybe that's where Lil Wayne comes from.

Then there's this entrance to a Holiday Inn Express, which is a design disaster:

I'll bet they built this glass vestibule with its doors facing front into the driveway. Then at some point, to make it both wheelchair- and roller-bag-accessible, they closed off those doors and put the doors on the sides where the sidewalk slopes down gently. Despite the metal railings, I still tried to walk into the front part.

And then there's that white type on the door. See it there near the right side of the photo? It says DOOR SWINGS OUT.

Any time a door has to tell you which way it opens, it's a design failure. You should just know how it opens from how it looks.

Finally, there's the pancake-making machine at the Holiday Inn Express. You press a button and a minute later it squeezes out two pancakes from between a set of rollers. It's a process that looks just a little too much like human elimination:

Making those pancakes is literally done with the press of a single button, after you put your plate on the counter as shown. My favorite part: the sign in the background reads "Children under 16 years of age may not operate the pancake machine without adult supervision."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Other NWA

I haven't seen the movie Straight Outta Compton yet, though I plan to. But in the meantime, I saw this poster along Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, in the heart of our urban Indian Country:

It was (I assume) wheat-pasted to a large piece of particle board covering the door of an apartment building under renovation.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Looking Down: A Moth

Here's another for the Looking Down file:

I don't know what kind of moth this is -- helpful or harmful or just another insect on the Earth -- but the contrast of color and texture made me stop to take a photo.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Leave Nothing Behind

Wow, Cottonelle, I'm not sure this is going to get you more sales:

This full-page ad, seen in Entertainment Weekly magazine, seems off in a number of ways.

  1. The idea that a particular texture of toilet paper would make it possible to "leave nothing behind on your behind" is a bit odd. Does anyone believe that?
  2. Even if their CLEANRIPPLE® texture does have that property, is that really what anyone thinks about when buying toilet paper, or why someone might become brand-loyal to a toilet paper?
  3. The tag line, Go Cottonelle Go Commando, combined with the saucy look on the model's face,  is just trying too hard.
  4. And finally, this is a half-hearted use of an "ethnic" model. Way to find a younger cousin of Rachel Dolezal (remember her?).
Sounds like the campaign is part of a strategy to shake up Cottonelle's third-place sales in the toilet paper marketplace, by co-opting young buyers into thinking the old brand is hip to their pantslessness. Old fuddy-duddies like me are not part of it, according to USA Today:
Executives at Cottonelle realize some folks will be grossed-out by the ads, but not many, says O'Connor. The brand tested it with more than 100 consumers for their reactions and "the percentage who felt it was gross was just 2% to 3%," she says.
They also hope it will get people talking, so I guess I have fallen for that. Oh, well.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Glimpse of the Slave Trade

Slate's stunning map of slave shipments from Africa to the Western Hemisphere is worth watching several times. Once just for the sheer overwhelming force of its information, and again to begin to get a sense of the details.

1725 to 1825...was...the high-water mark of the slave trade, as Europeans sen[t] more than 7.2 million people to forced labor, disease, and death in the New World....

By the conclusion of the trans-Atlantic slave trade at the end of the 19th century, Europeans had enslaved and transported more than 12.5 million Africans. At least 2 million, historians estimate, didn’t survive the journey. 
I've categorized this post under Facts I Never Knew, which isn't completely accurate, but it fits my lack of awareness of the scope and direction of the shipping of humans.

Sculpture of chained men below decks at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee

Less than 4 percent of the people stolen from Africa were sent to North America, and that's pretty much all I (and other Americans) hear about, especially in our schooling.

The Portuguese transported the majority of stolen people to Brazil, but the British (and Americans) did a major share as well, especially during that 18th century period noted above. The U.S. -- including the North -- was built on the money made from the trade.

As this sign from the Civil Rights Museum says (among many other things), the stolen people were mostly kidnapped from far inland. "Up to a third died during the march to the coastal European slave forts." Then another 20 percent died on the ocean "from disease, malnutrition, and abuse."

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Go with the Flowchart

I've entered the deacquisitioning phase of life, but there is one exception: books.

This must be the reason why:

Seen at Uncle Hugo's, the oldest continually operating science fiction and fantasy bookstore in the U.S.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Surprise in the Dictionary

Today I was wondering where the word “victim” came from.

Part of the Right’s argument against the Left is that progressives are always trying to turn people into victims (usually of oppression), while some on the Left point out that it appears to be the Right that is constantly claiming victimhood (of religious persecution for their anti-gay beliefs, for instance).

Victim. No one wants to be one, or especially to be seen as one. We are all the agents of our own lives. We don’t want pity. Some of us want justice for something that was done to us, or even vengeance, but not pity.

Appealing to that need for agency, as opposed to victimhood, is one of the Right’s strengths. It’s convenient that it keeps people who have been oppressed or victimized from trying to right that wrong or even make sure lots of people know about it.

Anyway, back to the derivation of the word. I thought it would be related to “victory,” which if I remember correctly comes from the Latin victus or “victor,” in turn, from a root meaning “to conquer.”

Well, knock me over with a feather, but “victim” doesn’t derive directly from anything to do with victory or being conquered. Instead, it comes from victima which specifically meant an animal that was sacrificed in a religious ceremony. According to (my favorite quick etymology site), it was originally used in its present form in the 15th century:

"living creature killed and offered as a sacrifice to a deity or supernatural power," from Latin victima "person or animal killed as a sacrifice." Perhaps distantly connected to Old English wig "idol," Gothic weihs "holy," German weihen "consecrate" (compare Weihnachten "Christmas") on notion of "a consecrated animal." Sense of "person who is hurt, tortured, or killed by another" is recorded from 1650s; meaning "person oppressed by some power or situation" is from 1718. Weaker sense of "person taken advantage of" is recorded from 1781.
So victims used to have it a lot worse, since they were, by definition, always dead. I guess we should be glad of the “weaker sense” since it leaves us alive.

But the connection to being sacrificed for another cause makes me think, once again, of The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Unwilling, unacknowledged sacrifice is a poor basis for a free society.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

More on Political Correctness

It almost seemed as though the usage of the phrases "politically correct" and "political correctness" was starting to fade. But Donald Trump, in his usual blithering fashion, has brought them back to a new level.

I've written before about these terms and why I hate them (yes, hate), but to sum it up, I'll quote Philip Agre as I did in that post:

It is true that movements of conscience have piled demands onto people faster than the culture can absorb them. That is an unfortunate side-effect of social progress. Conservatism, however, twists language to make the inconvenience of conscience sound like a kind of oppression.
My favorite recent way of showing the wrong-headedness of the terms? The programmer who set his browser to replace the phrase "political correctness" with "treating people with respect." That sounds about like it, as seen in these examples:

Here are a couple of other articles I've recently discovered that explain why accusations of "P.C. policing" are only a tactic and not a truth claim. First, Amanda Taub, writing for Vox, put it this way:
I, personally, think that the name of the Washington Redskins is racist and hurtful to Native Americans, and should be changed. So if someone asks me what I think of the debate about the team, that's what I say. By contrast, Virginia legislator Del Jackson Miller likes the name and wants the team to keep it. But rather than making an argument on the merits of the name, he referred to the entire debate as "political correctness on overdrive." In other words, he's saying, this is a false debate — just another example of "political correctness" — so I don't have to even acknowledge concerns about racism. 
As in Trump's example during the debate, the phrase is used to dismiss a (usually valid) criticism without having to address it.

Education writer Alfie Kohn calls P.C. "the lazy bully's label of choice":
In addition to defending a conservative status quo from inconvenient challenges — again, without one’s having to offer a substantive defense — the term serves another important function: self-congratulation. To say that x is PC is to praise oneself for having the courage to see things otherwise. And to warn that something isn’t PC is to commend it — or, in many cases, oneself — as bold and refreshing. “Now I know what I’m about to say is politically incorrect, but...” sounds like a cautionary preface, but it actually invites us to view the speaker as daring even though what follows may be merely conservative. Or offensive.
Which is exactly what Donald Trump did in the debate when he tried to make himself sound heroic for calling women fat slobs who should be down on their knees.

Kohn also points out that the use of "P.C." only cuts one way:
If “PC” were just a neutral pin for puncturing any balloon thought to be overinflated, then it might be applied to, say, the view that when the U.S. invades or occupies other countries, it is doing so in the interest of spreading democracy — or that soldiers who participate in these military adventures around the world are “defending our country.” But when did you last hear someone say with a smirk, “I know, I know. It’s politically correct to ‘Support Our Troops.’ But I happen to believe…”?
The things that it's actually not politically correct to say -- like the idea that one can support the troops by not sending them to die in stupid wars, that all wars are stupid, that U.S. foreign policy is implicated in the rise of violent terrorism exemplified in 9/11 -- are instead called wimpy pacifism or even subversion.

The bounds of what can be said are limited, but not in the way the critics of political correctness want us to think.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Narrow Definition of Freedom

From the back of a Chevy Silverado pickup truck I saw recently (Wisconsin plates):

The stickers, from left to right:

  • NRA Stand and Fight
  • Vote Freedom First (an NRA campaign)
  • We All Win with Walker
  • NRA emblem
Where freedom = the right to carry any kind of gun anywhere.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015


The more I think of life in our age, the more I like Dr. Seuss's book The Sneetches.

The yellow, birdish Sneetches are all basically the same, but for some reason half of them have green stars on their bellies and half don't:

The stars are a status symbol that gives the wearer privilege and benefits the others don't have. One day, a capitalist huckster comes to town and uses a  machine to put stars on the bellies of the starless Sneetches:

The former elite can't stand this idea, and quickly pay him to remove their stars. Now being starless is the way to be if you want to be the best.

You can guess where this absurdist story goes next: the Sneetches line up to add and remove stars until no one can tell who originally had a star and who didn't.

The huckster makes a pile of money and rides away happy.

The only unrealistic thing about Seuss's tale is that, at the end, they all realize how silly it was and shake hands, finally equal (and out of money).

Now that's a fairy tale.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Inspiration for the Day

I saw this on an office door at a local nonprofit recently:

My new favorite phrase for times when something seems impossible.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


It's bad enough that there's a thing called "swatting." I've learned it's done among online gamers, who make fake distress calls or bomb threats to police -- sometimes at schools, sometimes at the homes of people they are playing against online.

They claim to be a person who's being held hostage, or that they've just been shot with a gun by a person who is still in the house. The police respond with a SWAT-like response at the home of someone who is doing nothing at all -- a very dangerous situation, obviously.

I say it's bad enough that this happens at all, but the thing that's even worse is that a white 19-year-old Texas loser who just pleaded guilty to several of these dangerous stunts embroidered his stories even more by saying the violence was being committed by black men:

On Friday, Zachary Morgenstern, 19, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, to one count of “threats to kill.”...

In phone calls, e-mails and tweets, Morgenstern threatened imminent bombings and shootings at Marshall schools and reported other fake hostage incidents....

On Feb. 16 Morgenstern called a Marshall dispatcher, saying he was a 13-year-old boy and that two black men had just broken into his apartment and shot his mother in the leg. The caller said he was hiding in a bedroom closet and he could hear the men yelling at his mother.

Morgenstern also admitted to placing similar calls to dispatchers in Ohio and Massachusetts.

In a call to the Amesbury, Mass., police dispatch center on Feb. 10, he claimed to be a boy hiding in a closet. “He falsely stated that four black men had broken into his residence and shot his mother,” according to court documents. “The call resulted in an armed police entry into the residence, after which police concluded the call was a hoax.”
It's amazing no one has been killed in any of these raids. In my opinion, this type of behavior is worse than a broken window in Baltimore. While racial hoaxes are not new, swatting takes it to a new level of resource waste and danger to innocent bystanders.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

What's this a Boot?

No, that's not a Canadian accent in the headline.

The bumper sticker probably dates from not long after September 11, 2001. It says 9/11/2001 NEVER FORGET. With an eagle and a flag, of course.

The ink is faded almost to the point of unreadability; I've darkened it here, and it's still hard to make out. I imagine it was originally a full-color image, but all of the inks have faded completely, leaving only a bit of the black.

The boot on the hitch is even less clear.


Seen in Roseville, Minn.