Tuesday, February 28, 2017

For the Want of a Size Difference, the Oscar Was Almost Lost

Amid all the havoc of our times, the Oscar Best Picture mistake was almost a relief. (Not for the Moonlight or La La Land folks, I'm sure, but for most of the rest of us.)

By now you probably know that a duplicate envelope and card of Emma Stone's Best Actress award was given to the presenters, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, instead of the Best Picture card. Beatty knew something was up, but it was such a weird situation that before anyone could stop to think enough, Dunaway had read off the name of the film Stone was in, without noticing that the card also included an actor's name (which doesn't make any sense for Best Picture, but if she even saw it, she probably thought it was a minor mistake). 

Designer Benjamin Bannister has the solution for Price Waterhouse at future awards ceremonies, assuming they don't get fired: better typography on the award cards.

Here's what the winning card looked like:

Based on that, here's what the Emma Stone card probably looked like:

Bannister writes:

You are on television with millions of people around the world watching. You are a little nervous, and you have to read a card [without your reading glasses, I would add]. You will most likely read it from top to bottom without questioning whether the card is right. That look on Warren’s face was, “this says ‘Emma Stone’ on it.” Faye must’ve skipped that part and was caught up in the excitement and just blurted out, “La La Land.”

I don’t blame Faye or Warren for this, this was the fault of two entities: whoever was in charge of the winner cards’ design...and the unfortunate person who handed them the wrong envelope.
He goes on to say:
A clearly designed and legible card...would've prevented this.

Here are the main three things wrong with the winner cards in general:
  • We all know this is the Oscars, [so] the logo doesn’t need to be at the top of the card.
  • The category, “Best Actress,” is on the bottom, in small [tiny!] print.
  • The winner’s name, the main thing that should be read, is the same size as the second line and given equal weight.
 And then Bannister offers this major improvement:

It's one of those things that seems so, so obvious once you see it, which is always a sign of good design.

I like how Bannister switched to using just the Oscar statue silhouette on the front of the card in the final design that he offers to the Academy at the end of the article:

He incorporated the full Oscar logo into the back of the card instead, which was a wise choice because every designer knows the client was going to insist on using the logo somewhere ("we need to stick to our identity guidelines!"), even if it impairs readability and usability by adding unnecessary words to the front of the card.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Meet Bob

Someone I know posted this to Facebook in the past couple of days, after the election of Tom Perez as DNC chair.

[In the original, the writer used the term "Bubba" to refer to a particular kind of Trump voter. I have changed that to "Bob" because I think the other name distracts from the good points he makes. He is unapologetic in his elitism, but I don't think that matters for the main argument as much as he thinks it does.]

So, here are my thoughts. This comes after watching the nomination, and eventual election of Tom Perez to the DNC. These thoughts go beyond the election of Perez and are, more generally, what I’ve been thinking since the atrocity of Donald Trump.

As, essentially, a lifelong Democrat and most certainly a lifelong progressive; as Democrats we do tend to sound elitist and we do tend to “miss” a connection to the everyday, blue collar, and low-income WHITE voter (this includes those who are working three jobs and on food stamps and the completely unemployed AND those on the dole). You see, if we don’t recognize that, and start to figure out how to communicate with these folks, we’re never going to restore sanity and intellectual prowess to the position of President of Unite States (when I was a kid it was predominantly believed that the President and other elected officials should be of high intellect -- kinda like Obama or Kennedy).

Our newly formed message has to find a way to make Bob (let’s call the voters we need to find a way to communicate with “Bob”) feel like we’re on his/her side and talking to him/her directly. You see, even though Trump actually lost the election, his message resonated with Bob and ours did not. Let me be elitist enough, and show enough hubris, to say that I think I actually understand Bob. I’ve been managing blue-collar workers for decades now. These workers have been both people of color and of various ethnic derivations ALONG with desperately white, high school and near high school graduates (both in unions and non-union). I have been both a front line supervisor and the manager of front line supervisors in charge of the productivity and hiring-and-firing of these Bobs.

What isn’t said, outright, by the conservative, alt-right, Republican (call them as you wish) is that they speak to the Bobs out there. They do it through the understanding of this:

Low income white men/women, those that are making something around $50,000 or less, hear: “Transfer of wealth” but really hear this:

A transfer of wealth means that those “other” people, you know the ones of color or those illegal immigrants (or in other words, the ones that don’t look like me) will have an advantage over me because those “other” people will be the ones that “get” the redistributed wealth. Their understanding is that ANY advantage will never be theirs, it will always be for someone who “deserves” it less than them. Even those who receive some type of assistance believe that if there was a redistribution of wealth that, somehow, this would benefit “others” before it would benefit them.

They are taught this by the alt-right; listen to the radio/TV broadcasts of these propaganda specialists. If you carefully instruct each lower social strata to be suspicious of the next lowest strata you get the entire lower tier to vote against their own self interest. It’s fascinating. And this doesn’t have to be the lowest of low income. This is also prevalent amongst certain civil service positions such as police, fire, EMT etc. (I’ve run security divisions who employ retired big city police officers, they are all Bobs, afraid that the "others" - people of color or lower social strata - will get more than they deserve)

I have one actual, real life, story that gets to my point (at least for me). In a management role I had an employee who was working in the U.S. on a green card and was about to become a citizen. I enjoyed this person because he was interesting and REALLY good at his job. I would discuss politics with him and this is what he would say: No one from his country should be allowed into the United States after he becomes a citizen. Here was his reasoning, all of the “other” people from his country were lazy and unworthy of admittance. He also had two additional people on his staff, one was from a country near his and the other was a low-income American from the inner city. He would tell me that these two individuals were lazy and unworthy, his basis was soundly formed from his view that only he was truly competent. It also illustrated that at this lower level of income that each was trying to figure out how they could be better positioned than the other. That is to say, there’s a hierarchy of who's better off, even if this is just a slight advantage; even the color of your skin. You might despise this fact but believe me, it’s true and it’s the core of the Bob view of the world.

If Democrats can’t find a way to communicate to [the Bobs] and to assure them that the “transfer of wealth” we are talking about is simply taxing the rich more than taxing everyone else, we will never regain political dominance. They will always think that the Democrats want to make the poor rich at the expense of all else. How do we change this narrative?

Also, it has been my experience that the Bobs of the world greatly distrust their first line, middle, and senior level management. I’ve had the more brazen of my employees tell me, directly to my face, “Oh, so you’re smart, that’s how you’ve got ahead.” They do this with obvious contempt in their tone and visible in their body language. They equate intelligence with deviousness towards THEIR position. I find this aspect fascinating because as a professional, a “knowledge worker,” I’ve been driven my entire career by those who I have believed are smarter than me. I’ve always respected their intelligence and position and have used the envy of their position to propel my own career and grow my knowledge base. The Bobs of the world have a completely opposite view. How do we communicate with those who are not "driven" to continually improvement?

If we (Democrats) don’t get this and then start to get our party to figure out how to reach the Bobs and speak to them on terms they understand, we are doomed. (emphasis added)
Clearly, this meshes well with the findings of Arlie Hochschild about Trump voters perceiving others as "line-cutters" getting ahead of them on the way to the American dream. It also fits with race theory, which says whiteness was used to give poor whites something they could have and hold over black people. It's what Matt Bruenig calls last place avoidance.

I find the Facebook writer's last point, about Bob distrusting intelligent people, the most interesting of all the things he said. This way of thinking was mentioned to me recently by another friend, who reads a lot about cognitive science. He told me there's a self-protective (maybe from evolution?) basis to anti-intellectualism, because less intelligent people may think a more intelligent person will take advantage or manipulate them, and is therefore a threat. And they aren't really wrong about that (Thank You for Smoking).

Wish I could remember where that bit of enlightenment came from, but now my friend is having source amnesia and we can't pin it down.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Lot of Miles, a Long Way to Go

My city, Saint Paul, is putting together a plan to become carbon-neutral by 2050. According to today's Star Tribune front-page story, that would be the equivalent of installing 985 wind turbines. (I would like to live in a city with 985 wind turbines.)

The first part of the challenge is knowing how much carbon we generate currently. The city's analysis does not include emissions from power plants (not sure whether they mean power plants within the city, or emissions from power plants in other places that supply St. Paul). But without that, here's what the carbon footprint of the almost 300,000 residents of Saint Paul looked like in 2015:

  • 3.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the year
  • Transportation accounted for 37 percent of that
  • Commercial businesses, 35 percent
  • Residential properties, 17 percent
  • Other sources, 11 percent
  • People drive 5.5 million miles a day within the city
The city will be holding a series of meetings to get community input for its Climate Action Plan. The first meeting is on Monday, 6:00 p.m., at the Wilder Center, 451 Lexington Avenue North.

This meeting will focus on buildings, by which I think they mean commercial buildings but possibly residential as well. The Science Museum of Minnesota is held out as an exemplar for commercial buildings because it captures and reuses heat emissions. It's also powered by downtown Saint Paul's District Energy system.

Future meetings will focus on transportation, waste, natural resources, and climate change effects on health. I'll definitely attend at least a couple of those!

This is the page on the city's website for updates and notices of future meetings.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Checks with Chains Attached

It was just a little thing in the celebrity/entertainment box in today's Star Tribune:

At first I thought Ellen DeGeneres was giving out her own money for scholarships, which was bad enough. The idea that we should fund the college education of talented youth on the whim of rich people, instead of recognizing it as a societal benefit that should be paid for by society, has never sat right with me. It's part of my overall view that common goods should be funded by the commons (taxes), rather than being subject to some rich person's preference for what's sexy or cute. I keep meaning to write about this topic, and never getting around to it.

But then I realized DeGeneres wasn't giving out her own money: she was handing over checks from Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart. Which buys some of its low, low-priced vegetables from growers who use prison labor as they race to the bottom.

Yet this paragraph is offered with the assumption that it's not only interesting but that it offers readers a feel-good moment, else why would it be there? It's certainly not news in the usual sense, it's corporate P.R.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Thank You, EPA

From the Twitter feed of Robert Rohde, ‏@rarohde, a few days ago:

The worst places for particulate air quality in the USA are still less polluted than the best air in eastern China. Thank you, EPA:
Check that out. The purplish bars (at left) are the percentages of land area in the U.S. that fell within particular pollution concentrations in 2015. There's a red line around the 10 mark, and almost all of the U.S. land area is below that. The pinkish bars represent the lands of eastern China. The least polluted place is almost twice as bad as the most polluted place in the U.S., and most of the land is three to six times as bad. Beijing is about seven times as bad.

This is partly because the U.S. (with tacit consent from all of us) has outsourced its toxicity to China. But it's also because EPA regulation is effective. Unfortunately, the people who are now in charge of our government think it's no longer necessary.

The same day I saw this graph, I also came across a post on Grist called Photos: What America looked like before the EPA. The photos were shot in 1972, when the new agency had photographers documenting the country:

There are a few more on the Grist page, but to see more like this one...

...(and other photos of 1970s America that aren't so depressing), check out the full Flickr set.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Elephant Dissonance

Busy day today, so this is all I've got:

And also, don't forget, the health insurance we have in mind doesn't cover prenatal care or child birth!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Four Things

The fire hose has been exhausting lately. So what else is new, yes, I know. Here are four things that came through my field of vision that require comment, if only in brief.

First, a sign I saw in the background during a bit of news coverage at a protest:

That says it for me. I am unfailingly angry that we are going backwards in so many ways, having to spend our time advocating for what already existed instead of improving it.

(Except I wouldn't say "honey bees" — just "bees." Our many native bee species are more threatened than honey bees, but we don't hear that much in the usual coverage.)

This graphic is from the Blackout Coalition:

While I like its vibrancy and visual pop, for me those hearts don't work as the letter A. Bonk Block?

Here's something I never thought I would have ever looked at, let alone taken a screen snapshot of:

This makes me so angry. Irrationally, I admit. Hard to think of words to explain why.

It makes it obvious Ivanka Trump lolls in her privilege as a white, rich person to make every other woman in the world feel inadequate. She lists her identify first through her relationships to others, especially men. She portrays herself in perfect makeup and hair, working, with a baby on her lap. See. you can do it too!

Yet she's "passionate" about the empowerment of women and girls.

I don't want to know how she defines empowerment. But I guess it has to do with being able to buy what you want, especially from Ivanka Trump.

Finally, this is a look at this week's weather in Minnesota in February:

Climate change, anyone? Global weirding? Even that 29° high on Saturday is pretty warm, historically, for this time of year.

Meanwhile, Nero fiddles and gets his trademarks in China while Rome burns.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Young Malcolm

Today is the 52nd anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. I was five at the time and I assume I didn't hear about it, or if I did, I wouldn't have known who he was until that moment.

For years I had a paperback copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X (written with Alex Haley), but I never got around to reading it. It may still be here somewhere, but I suspect not. I'm not sure why I never read it.

I think my interest in his life shifted when I visited Omaha several years ago and learned it was his birthplace, yet lacks any significant commemoration of that fact. It was around the same time I learned that, when he was a kid, Malcolm told his (white) teacher that he wanted to be an attorney when he grew up and the teacher scorned his ambition.

For all of these reasons — twinges of guilt for not reading his autobiography, knowing that he came from the Midwest, and empathy for the kid he was in this racist county — I recently read the book X: A Novel, written by his daughter Ilyasah Shabazz with young adult novelist Kekla Magoon.

The book covers his life from childhood to the time when he went to prison in his 20s, ending just around the time he became part of the Nation of Islam. From the book I learned:
  • While he was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, his family moved to Lansing, Michigan, when he was pretty young.
  • His father and mother were organizers for Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association and the back-to-Africa effort.
  • His father was killed by a street car, possibly murdered for his political work.
  • After his father died, his family sometimes went hungry.
  • His mother was harassed by social service workers and finally committed to a mental institution, with the kids placed into foster care.
  • Malcolm went to Boston to live with an older half-sister when he was only about 15. There, he worked several jobs and became part of the zootsuit scene. His nickname was Red.
  • When he moved to Harlem a few years later, he was a numbers runner and his nickname shifted to Detroit Red to differentiate him from other guys called Red. (Detroit, Lansing, they're both in Michigan... close enough.)
The book does a good job of exploring Malcolm's relationships with his brothers and sisters, how people grow apart, and what it's like to move to big cities. As a reader, I feel like I know him and understand why he did what he did, and how it led him to the part of his life that's better known.

Monday, February 20, 2017

One for the List

You may have seen this piece of advice, which still pops up once in a while in my social media feeds, though it first appeared in mid-November 2016:

Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them.

Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them.
I haven't made a list, but I think about it.

Here's a perfect example of one of those things I would never do or believe until now, from the Weekly Sift:
Quincy Larson at Free Code Camp explains why you should avoid leaving the country with your smartphone or laptop: Border control officials can refuse to let you into a country unless you give up the password to your devices, at which point they’re free to vacuum up all your personal data. The U.S. might do it to a U.S. citizen before letting them come back.

That’s already started happening.
On January 30th, Sidd Bikkannavar, a U.S.-born scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory flew back to Houston, Texas, from Santiago, Chile.

On his way through through the airport, Customs and Border Patrol agents pulled him aside. They searched him, then detained him in a room with a bunch of other people sleeping in cots. They eventually returned and said they’d release him if he told them the password to unlock his phone.

Bikkannavar explained that the phone belonged to NASA and had sensitive information on it, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. He eventually yielded and unlocked his phone. The agents left with his phone. Half an hour later, they returned, handed him his phone, and released him.
Larson has recommendations:
When you travel internationally, you should leave your mobile phone and laptop at home. You can rent phones at most international airports that include data plans.

If you have family overseas, you can buy a second phone and laptop and leave them there at their home.

If you’re an employer, you can create a policy that your employees are not to bring devices with them during international travel. You can then issue them “loaner” laptops and phones once they enter the country.
Of course, you might say to yourself: “I don’t need to take those kinds of precautions, because nothing about me should make border agents suspicious. I’m white, Christian, native-born, and look just like a normal American.” Bookmark that thought, and retrieve it the next time you feel offended because somebody has called you “privileged.”
If you had told me in October 2016 I would seriously consider leaving all devices at home when I leave the country, I would have thought you were crazy.

That's how things work in Turmp's America. Because freedom!

Cartoon by Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Iowa, Not an Inspiration

I recommend reading this commentary from the DesMoines Register,  called To Steve King: Here's the real 'cultural suicide' Iowa faces.

The author, Sangina Patnaik, grew up in small-town Iowa, with a father who had immigrated from India in the 1970s. She wrote to address Iowa Rep. Steve King, who is known for his xenophobic worldview. (He's the guy who said Mexicans who cross the border are all running drugs and have calves the size of cantaloupes.)

Patnaik does an admirable job of setting King straight on what "real Iowans" are. I especially appreciated her analysis of what has led to the decline of Iowa's economy:

My hometown...is not doing fine. And, despite your belief in the horrors of “demographic transformation,” I’m pretty sure my siblings and I aren’t the cause of its slow decline. I’ve watched over the years as small businesses on Main Street turned into vacant storefronts. Members of my high school class (myself included) left western Iowa because the jobs we could get there just didn’t compete with the ones we ended up getting elsewhere.

In fact, your sense that allowing other races to mix into an historically white area will lead to “cultural suicide” couldn’t be more off base.

Cultural suicide occurred when the unions were broken at the packing plants in our hometowns, turning respectable $21-an-hour jobs into back-breaking $11-an-hour labor that couldn’t support a family. Cultural suicide occurs every time you vote to defund public education, stripping Iowa public school teachers of the resources they need to educate the next generation of Iowans even as you accept $10,600 in campaign contributions from the College Loan Corp. — a company that profits from increased student debt. Cultural suicide occurs when you decide to display a Confederate flag on your desk, conveniently forgetting that you represent a state that fought for the Union.

I get it. It’s easier to point fingers at the brown people who take those 3 a.m. shifts at the packing plant and are now raising their families on minimum wage than it is to accept personal responsibility for the ways that your particular brand of strip-mining the Iowan economy is devastating the lives of Iowans.
Strip-mining: What a great metaphor for King's worldview. It fits with the overall extractive, rather than generative, approach that politicians like him take.

The only thing that surprised me about Patnaik's commentary is that it was published back in October 2016. Since then, Iowa's legislature has moved further down the extractive path, voting to ban collective bargaining for public employee unions. They're making noises about following Kansas into the Sam Brownback crevasse of budget cuts and killing the public schools.

And meanwhile, in Minnesota, our Republican-held House and Senate are cooking up the same kinds of bills, but we all know they will be vetoed by our Democratic governor.

2018 is not long off. It's our last chance to save our state, if not our country, from these people who want to strip mine everything they can from civil society.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Generica vs. Sense of Place

I was reading the paper today and my eye fell on this photo:

I assumed it was somewhere in suburban America. Where do you think it is?

Answer below.

It's in Penang, Malaysia. (That's the police headquarters connected with the murder of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un's brother.)  

It made me want to apologize to the world for the invasion of this ugly American architecture and generic sense of place. This is in Malaysia, a tropical environment. I imagine they have monsoons. Yet they've planted turf grass and paved almost everything in sight. The loss of sense of place is so, so sad. I hope it's not representative of Malaysia, though I have no idea.

This photo was on my mind when I happened to listen to an episode of the podcast 99% Invisible this afternoon. Called McMansion Hell: The Devil Is in the Details, it featured Kate from McMansion Hell, a hilarious, pithy blog.

Among many great points about what's wrong with McMansions, Kate pointed out that they are generic and have nothing to do with the place they are in. And that is not the way humans do things.

 Read up on Kate's blog if you get a chance. And be on the lookout for the scourge of generica. It's everywhere.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Something to Keep in Mind

Today a friend of mine shared these thoughts on Facebook. I am holding them close as Scott Pruitt is confirmed to destroy the EPA and Rump has the Homeland Security secretary drafting orders about using the National Guard to round up undocumented people:

there are a lot of reasons the left is losing but one of them is definitely that what we're trying to do is much, much harder. Diversity is more difficult than conformity; participation from the grassroots is harder than authoritarianism. When an injury to one is an injury to all, you have a harder fight than people who are only tending their own injuries.

also it's much much easier to create fascism through democracy than it is to create democracy out of fascism.

and leftists (by and large) are actually trying to learn something — you have white queers unlearning racism and straight Muslims unlearning homophobia and Christian Latinos unlearning Islamophobia and so on and so on and so on. it's fucking hard and necessary and it takes time and energy. if you don't believe any of those systems are real, you don't actually have to learn anything new or do any hard work on yourself — you can JUST fight for what you believe already.

anyway just have some love for yourself and your comrades — while we can all improve, this isn't our fault.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Alan Cober and Friends

When I visited the Norman Rockwell Museum last summer, it wasn't originally to see the Rockwell art. I had heard they were hosting an exhibit of work by illustrator Alan Cober, one of my all-time favorites (written about here).

Well, it turned out it wasn't just about Cober's work. While the exhibit contained a collection of Cober's notebooks and sketchbooks, it was accompanied by a number of other works by 20th century illustrators who moved illustration from the pictorial tradition of Rockwell to the provocative works we know today.

I only took a few photos, but here they are.

This self-portrait is from 1997, the year before Cober died at age 63. This was the accompanying text:

Alan E. Cober was a fearless and inventive artist who brought the precepts of modernism to published illustration. He rejected realism in favor of an expressive, symbolic approach to his art, which was designed to enhance and interpret rather than mimic textual content. In this captivating self-portrait, one of his last major works, skulls, skeletons, and shamanistic figures surround him — odd forebearers of the artist’s passing in 1998.
A case nearby held one of his president sketchbooks from 1980:

With this accompanying text:
A spiritual descendant of the nineteenth and twentieth century artist/journalis, Alan E. Cober loved to draw, and he filled hundreds of sketchbooks with everything from observational sketches and notations to more complete paintings. This compelling visual journal followed Jimmy Carter’s unsuccessful second-term presidential campaign, and was signed by Carter himself. Cover’s sketchbooks also captured the experiences of institutionalized psychiatric patients, prison inmates, and the elderly — drawings published in The Forgotten Society, a book released by Dover Books in 1972 and reissued in 2011.
Cober kept special notebooks where he made sketches of friends and family on their birthdays:

It's a lousy photo but an inspirational idea.

I recorded only two of the images by other illustrators:

Brad Holland
The Metaphysician, 1991
Holland's career started in 1967, emphasizing the visual metaphor rather than literal representation or the rendering of other people’s ideas.

Anita Kunz
Silent Night, Endless Fight, 2005 (New Yorker cover)

Wow, that is a piece of art that does everything right, and that I bet could unite Red and Blue America.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Betsy, You're No Ruby Bridges

Yesterday, in the midst of the larger outrage about Turnip and the Russians, my Twitter feed blew up about this cartoon:

That's Betsy DeVos, our new Secretary of Education, infantalized and shrunk down to child size and being protected by burly white men as she tried to enter a public school in Washington, D.C. the other day.

I recognized the reference to Norman Rockwell's painting The Problem We All Live With immediately, and shook my head:

This is what it actually looked like when DeVos tried to enter the school:

Note that she's accompanied by only one person, a black man, and he's shorter than she is. The people are not throwing things at her; they're blocking the entrance.

And this is what it looked like when Ruby Bridges tried to enter her school back in 1962:

The crowds were held back from the entrance:

(These photos are from Historical Photos. John Steinbeck was there that day in New Orleans. Some of his thoughts about it can be read here.)

The analyses that showed, in tweets or longer articles, why Glenn McCoy's cartoon is a vile piece of work followed soon after. (McCoy makes his money with stuff like this. Let's see... racist portrayals of Michelle Obama... ruminations on black-on-black crime... portraying Barack Obama as killing babies with a baseball bat... You get the idea. He keeps himself busy.)

What the cartoon made me think of, in addition to all of this, was my visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum late last summer. I never posted my photos at the time, but now here we are.

The museum is just outside Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which was long Rockwell's home.

My photo of The Problem We All Live With didn't turn out well, but I did get these two items on display that are much harder to find images of:

This is the tearsheet from Look magazine, and in the background the dress worn by Rockwell's model for the painting, Lynda Gunn. It's interesting that Rockwell chose a white dress, both for contrast and symbolizing innocence, when Bridges was never photographed that way.

The museum also displays these two studies of Gunn that Rockwell made before the final painting. (Note that he moved the bow from the top of her head in the studies to the back in the final painting. Interesting.) The writing on the lower right side of the study says this:

My very best wishes to one of my favorite models.
Lynda Jean Gunn
Norman Rockwell
Nearby in the museum is another painting named Moving In (New Kids in the Neighborhood), which was created a few years after The Problem We All Live With...

...which was also for Look magazine.

Rockwell's studio, which was moved to the grounds of the museum, is just down the hill from the main building. It was the last of several studios he built or used over the years; at least one of them had burned to the ground.

I didn't take a photo of the outside for some reason, but this is the inside:

The loft area was used to store paintings.

This photo by Louie Lamone, 1961, shows Rockwell working on his painting called The Connoisseur for the Saturday Evening Post (which ran in January 1962). It was shot from the loft, and shows him conferring with his son Peter as he works on the modern art painting-within-a-painting that is the focal point of the work:

I think this may have been one of Rockwell's last paintings to appear in the Post. He started working with Look magazine by 1963, which is when he painted The Problem We All Live With (which ran in January 1964).

Rockwell stopped working with the Post at least in part because (according to information on display at the museum) his contract prohibited him from showing black Americans in any way except as servants.


By the way, Ruby Bridges, who is just a few years older than Betsy DeVos, is on the board of directors of the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What Is to Be Done (re: Rural America)?

Today I read two interesting articles on what can be done about the urban/rural divide that gave us President Donald J. Turnip.

First, from Pacific Standard, Why aren't rural Canadians in favor of Trump? The writer reports on the people of the Change Islands in Newfoundland, who are culturally similar to rural Americans but who don't like Trump and support Justin Trudeau. The difference, she says, is that they know their central government has given them lots of things they rely on since they joined Canada around 1950: electricity, roads, bridges, a ferry.

She contrasts this with the rural Louisianans studied by Arlie Hochschild in Strangers in Their Own Land, who believe "they" get nothing from Washington and others are cutting in line ahead of them on the way to the American dream.

What can any of us do about it?

People and organizations who want to offer an alternative to Trump can take a page from the Canadian book by going beyond Trump’s symbolic support to both symbolically and materially invest in rural communities, such as the $1 trillion infrastructure program recently proposed by Senate Democrats. But such support is not limited to new governmental programs; local and state governments can also make efforts to remind rural residents of what they are already doing for them. Political action groups can canvas rural communities’ needs and visibly go to bat for them. Volunteer groups can do work projects in rural communities. There’s a lesson to be learned from Newfoundland: that even communities facing dire times will remain invested in a shared political project if they feel that the country is also invested in them.
I try to visualize how that would work in Minnesota. Groups of Twin Cities volunteers go up to the Iron Range to do what, exactly, that would compensate for not mining the Boundary Waters Canoe Area? Or we descend upon southwestern Minnesota to somehow help farmers not pollute the water with field runoff? Hmm.

The second article, This is why Democrats lose in "rural" postindustrial America, is from the Washington Post. Its main point is that Democrats don't lose the towns and small cities of rural America: it's just that voter turnout is significantly lower there than in the completely rural or suburban areas.

That means if Democrats could turn out voters (and register nonvoters) in the somewhat denser areas of Red America, it would make a big difference. Even county-level data is deceiving, since these towns and cities are surrounded by ruralness, so Keith Ellison's call for not just a 50-state but a 3,007-county strategy is right, but not fine-grained enough.

How bad is the turnout split? According to the article, whose author did detailed analysis of counties in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, it's as bad as 30 vs. 60 percent turnout in Terre Haute and Muncie and their surrounding areas, or 50 vs. 75 percent in parts of Pennsylvania.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Hans Rosling, Storyteller of Facts Not Enough of Us Know

I can't believe I've barely mentioned the work of Hans Rosling on this blog, and now he's dead.

Just 68 years old, he died of pancreatic cancer on February 7. I don't believe he had let it be known he had been ill for about a year. He just kept going with his work in public health and what he called "edutainment." That term doesn't sound like a positive thing to my American ear (a bit too much like reality TV, a la The "Learning" Channel), but he really meant the "edu" part of it, combining data with appealing visuals to make it not just lively but also more understandable.

There are lots of videos to demonstrate this:

All of this information comes together in his work with Gapminder, which tries to educate all of us about the gaps in our knowledge of reality. For instance, is the number of people living in extreme poverty higher now or lower lower than it was 30 years ago? Or, what is the average life expectancy around the world? Almost everyone gets these questions wrong, and always in the more pessimistic direction. Take the Gapminder quiz here.

A few years ago, Rosling spent much of a year in Liberia, helping to fight the Ebola outbreak there. While many other Westerners were just talking, or even worse, making the situation worse with bans and unneeded quarantines, he was acting to help.

His work at Gapminder will be carried on by his son, Ola Rosling, and daughter-in-law, Anna Rosling Rönnlund.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Comfort, Comfort, Who Had the Comfort?

A week or so ago, there was this tweet, which I saw shared a lot:

Then there was this quote by Andrew Sullivan, from a New York magazine article about Turmp, that was getting a lot of approval on Twitter in the last couple of days:

One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all. The president of a free country may dominate the news cycle many days — but he is not omnipresent — and because we live under the rule of law, we can afford to turn the news off at times. A free society means being free of those who rule over you — to do the things you care about, your passions, your pastimes, your loves — to exult in that blessed space where politics doesn’t intervene. In that sense, it seems to me, we already live in a country with markedly less freedom than we did a month ago. It’s less like living in a democracy than being a child trapped in a house where there is an abusive and unpredictable father, who will brook no reason, respect no counter-argument, admit no error, and always, always up the ante until catastrophe inevitably strikes. This is what I mean by the idea that we are living through an emergency.
And I understand what both of them are saying. I identify with it. I long for that comfort, the ease of not having to think what malevolent thing my government could be planning any moment.

But the fact that I understand them both is just an indication that I am part of the large, privileged group of people who have not had to worry much about this in the past. Black people, native people, queer people, trans people, and people who are more than one of those kinds of people have always had to live in worry, if not absolute fear.

Welcome to America as many people have lived it. It sucks.

I hope we remember that, if we manage to survive this more or less intact.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Supporting Planned Parenthood on Saturday Morning

Five thousand people turned out in St. Paul this morning to say they stand with Planned Parenthood. It was scheduled to coincide with a defund Planned Parenthood rally, located just outside the clinic.

This photo was taken from the roof, and I got it from Twitter. It's larger if you click on it:

The rest of the photos are mine. This guy was one of the first people I saw:

The sign on the left has coat hangers dangling from the bottom edge. He had the forethought to wear carpenter jeans, so the bottom ends of his two poles are resting in the pockets.

This young person addressed the many kinds of people that Planned Parenthood helps, which is often forgotten in the midst of sign-making:

A favorite, pithy message:

Creative lettering and drawing:

Two women whose signs presented topics that are not as common:


Best use of a yard stick:

Sorry I cut off the top of her sign.

Finally, these three silent figures stood together watching the defund Planned Parenthood rally:

As I took this photo, they were asked to move away from the rally because their presence was too likely to cause a confrontation. Meanwhile, anti-Planned Parenthood demonstrators prayed in the faces of their counterparts half a block away at the barricade between the two groups.

A bit of a double standard.


According to the St. Paul police via today's Star Tribune, there were 6,000 people there, with 250–400 of them at the defend rally and 5,600–5,750 at the support march.

Friday, February 10, 2017

About that Wall Ad

I don’t watch the Super Bowl and so didn’t see the Lumber 84 ad until the next morning. Someone shared it enthusiastically on Facebook and I watched it. If you haven’t already seen it, here it is on YouTube.

My impression: It’s a bunch of movie-like footage, clearly designed to manipulate the viewer into sympathizing with the main characters, a Mestiza woman and her daughter. It’s nicely shot. The mystery of what the girl is doing with all that plastic film detritus along the way was a bit perplexing until it resolved.

There were also these oddly interspersed shots of a white guy building something somewhere. If I hadn’t known it was for a business called Lumber 84, I would have been totally at a loss about what that had to do with anything, and even knowing that, it was confounding.

Then suddenly, after trudging and struggling for what seemed like minutes of air time, mom and girl are confronted with a wall (Trump’s wall, obviously), blocking their path. Mom sadly freaks out. Daughter reveals that her found-object craft project was a tattered American flag all along.

For no apparent reason they walk to the left and find a giant door in the wall, which swings open to let them through as soothing music plays.

Finally, the camera cuts to the builder guy as he drives along some anonymous American highway in his pickup truck with tools and lumber in the back. Words appear over the final frame: THE WILL TO SUCCEED IS ALWAYS WELCOME HERE.

Generally, I thought the whole thing was kind of incoherent but moving. Trump built a wall, but this one symbolic guy made a door and these two people got through. (Though no one else appears to.) Weird, but okay.

Well, no. It turns out the owner of Lumber 84, Maggie Hardy Magerko, is pro-Trump, pro-wall, but also in favor of the “big beautiful door” that Trump talked about at some point during the campaign.

When I heard Trump use the “big beautiful door” phrase, I assumed he meant legal immigration through H1B visas for people with skills, or who want to work at places like Wisconsin Dells or Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. But the funder of this ad seems to think it means access for exactly the kind of people the wall would keep out: women who come over the border with kids, women with no apparent skills except survival. As long as they’re patriotic enough to make a plastic flag.

Which is highly unlikely, as we already were pretty sure, and now definitely know as ICE has begun deporting undocumented long-time residents with no criminal history of violence, like Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, who came to the U.S. when she was 14 and who has two children who are U.S. citizens.

Buh-bye, Guadalupe! Guess you didn't make that flag fast enough! Don’t let that big beautiful door hit you on the way out!

It funny-unfunny that the ad is so incoherent it can't get across the point of view its funder holds, and Trumpians are angry at Lumber 84 for being pro-immigration. We can only hope this incompetence continues at all levels until they are all driven out of power.


Here’s what veteran journalist Maria Hinajosa has to say about the ad.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Pipelines Under Rivers

Writer Greg Seitz is the resident writer for the St. Croix Watershed Research Station, part of the Science Museum of Minnesota, and editor of St. Croix 360, community news and river stewardship for the St. Croix River region. For readers not from these parts, the St. Croix is a tributary of the Mississippi, forming much of the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Seitz today tweeted this series of thoughts on oil pipelines:

Oil pipelines under rivers is a topic I've been researching and writing about since late 2014. I constantly hear how it can be done safely.

Yes, I think pipelines under rivers could be semi-safe. Could be. That safety depends on rules and oversight. Pipelines have almost none.

There are 2.5 million miles of pipelines in America. A small federal agency – part of the Department of Transportation – oversees much of it.

There are 90 inspectors in the agency assigned to making sure companies follow the rules about pipeline safety. 90!

So, because it's not realistic to enforce stringent regulations, there are not stringent regulations.

Pipeline companies mostly get in trouble when there's a spill due to negligence. But negligence must be proven. That's what lawyers are for.

Rivers pose a particular threat to oil pipelines: the power of raging water. In a flood, they can dig deep into their beds – scour holes.

If they expose the pipe, then there is torsion on it. Logs, boulders, ice, or other debris getting pushed down the river strike it.

So pipelines should be buried deeply, right? And we better make sure they stay buried over the years, right? Nope.

Pipeline builders should study any river's potential to flood and scour, and bury their pipe deeper, but they don't have to.

There is no requirement that they make sure their pipes stay buried sufficiently deep under rivers as the years pass.

Scour was key in both the big pipeline spills into the Yellowstone River in the last seven years. One of which was complicated by ice cover.

So: I stand with Standing Rock. Forcing a pipeline under a river, low safety standards are an affront to humans and the water we share. #NoDAPL

Something to know as we watch the Turmp administration force its will upon the native people in North Dakota.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


We all know the Dear Leader seems to do whatever he wants because “his base” agrees with him, and that’s all that matters.

Well, if his base decided (or is deciding) he’s a lunatic destroying our country, how could they communicate that to him?

He doesn’t believe in polls. There are no elections for two years. And I’m sure that any people who call or write to say they’ve changed their minds about him would be called liars when they claim to have been his supporters.

The Turnip has set up an unfalsifiable supposition: “the people” support him, and if a bunch of people say they don’t support him, they’re not part of “the people” or the “majority,” and so don’t count.

It can’t be disproven. It’s faith, not facts.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Scary Trivia

Q: What is the longest running record of plant bloom times in the world?

A: The cherry blossom records in Japan, which were started in 850 C.E.

Why does this matter, you may ask? Because it shows how much warmer the world has gotten in the last 50 years:

You'll note that the labels along the left side are dates, with April 5 at the bottom and April 15 up around the red line. Somewhere around 1950 or 60 the black line went earlier than any previous date and then kept going.

For more than a thousand years, the date bounced back and forth between April 10 and April 20, but recently it headed down toward April 5. The data on this graph end in 2010, notably. When they are next updated, I imagine some new dates will need to be added at the bottom.

Monday, February 6, 2017

It's Wrong to Exploit Sick People

Remember how Joan Rivers died because she was addicted to plastic surgery? This form of body dysmorphia has featured on at least two fictional television show (Law & Order and House, if I remember correctly), but when it's a real person, it feels wrong for media to cover that person.

Why is it wrong? Partly because it feeds the person's illness to give them coverage, and partly because it normalizes their response to dysmorphia for other emotionally marginal people who can fall into the same affliction.

Stop it, Daily News. Get some real news.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

More on Edel Rodriguez

It's a weird thing to realize you've been appreciating an artist's work for a while but you never bothered to learn his name. Yesterday I posted about some of the art we're seeing in the Turmp era, and realized that two of the pieces were by Edel Rodriguez.

Here are some other pieces by Rodriguez from the past couple of years, starting with the most current. These are all available on his Twitter feed, where he also shares snapshots of protest posters that people have made using his art.

The meltdown at the last debate:

This piece is from the fall or summer, but it could have been done now:

One of the earlier debates:

This one is called Please Curb Your Trump:

From those halcyon days when we all thought Republicans were destroying their party by flirting with Turnip:

If you get back far enough, you find work not related to Trump. Here are a couple on guns in America:

And finally, from the early days of Pope Francis:

I think it's safe to say I will recognize his work the next time I see something new.