Tuesday, July 31, 2018

U.S. Land Use

Tomorrow or the next day will be my monthly Twitter round-up... but today I want to highlight a map I saw there that deserves its own post. Wow:

From which we learn just how much U.S. land goes to feeding animals one way or another, and how much is controlled by private families beyond their immediate housing needs, among other things (golf!).

The map is a summary of a lot of other maps put together for Bloomberg here. Well worth checking out the full exposition.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Houses for the People Who Live in Them

I can't remember when I learned/realized that many Americans live in or want to live in houses with huge formal entertaining spaces they will almost never use. I pore over the house plans in the Sunday paper partly to see how absurd they are.

This recent article from Curbed by Kate Wagner, the creator of McMansion Hell, does a good job of explaining the research showing people hardly ever use those kinds of spaces, and what's behind the desire for them, nonetheless. It's more about display of prestige than using the space:

In true American irony, these giant “social” spaces (and McMansions in general) are birthed from a deeply antisocial sentiment: making others feel small. Considering that so often our guests are members of our own family adds another layer of darkness to the equation.
Yet the idea that we will use the spaces — that we "need" the spaces — is hard to overcome. I feel it myself when I see other peoples' houses, and even when I look at those danged floor plans on Sunday.
Designing our homes for the worst-case scenario—a hundred people are all at our house for a party and the party is also a tribunal where all of our guests publicly judge us—prioritizes guests who spend a very short amount of time in our houses over our own daily needs.
This is what I remind myself of: a house is for the people who live in it, and even for that, I have too much of it. Not to mention that I'm super likely to entertain a bunch of people.
...not all of us were built for entertaining in the first place, and perhaps we should examine ourselves and our social preferences before building massive spaces for people we most likely won’t ever see. We think our spaces will create the lives we want: If only we had a great room with an expansive deck, we could finally host big, sophisticated, straight-out-of-Mad Men parties. That built-in Tiki bar will definitely make us reconnect with all of our friends from college, and maybe if we had that massive kitchen, Aunt Jane and Dad would finally stop arguing about politics at Thanksgiving and peace would descend upon the entire world. These sentiments reflect two commonly held American cultural beliefs: that we can solve our problems (or at least feel better about them) by simply buying things, and that the best social lives are ones that involve hosting grand parties. But we can entertain where and how we want to. It can be as simple as inviting a few people over to hang out in the spaces we already have.
I do still feel a need to clean my house before visitors come. I guess I'll have to work to eliminate that compulsion next.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Fear of a Prison Riot

Writer Cory Doctorow yesterday posted a provocative thread on Twitter:

Science fiction sucks at predicting the future, but it sure is good at predicting the present: that is, the stuff that seems plausible in science fiction at any given moment is a good source of insight into what's on our collective minds. [For instance,] lots of people have noted that the fear of AIs taking over the world (especially when evinced by the super-rich) is really just a tell that capitalism has spawned transhuman, immortal colony lifeforms that use humans for gut flora (AKA corporations, AKA "slow AIs").

But today I'd like to discuss another tell: the trope that when there is some kind of disaster, your neighbors are coming for you, that we can expect arson and carnage the moment that society's guard-labor levels drop below a critical threshold.

Obviously, this is not true. If you and everyone you know are pretty much decent people who sometimes do dumb or bad things, it's statistically likely that you know a representative sample and that means it's very, very unlikely that 99.9% of the world are total bastards. For more, read Rebecca Solnit's magesterial, vital, crucial history of selflessness, nobility, and elite panic during disasters, A Paradise Built in Hell.

So why do we find it so easy to believe that when The Event comes, the Poors will torch our cities and gnaw our bones?

To understand this, consider a related trope: the prison riot. When we encounter a story about life in prison, it's not hard to understand why the prisoners riot the instant the guards' attention wavers. Those stories are at pains to establish that the prisons are not good for the prisoners. They exist to punish the prisoners, not to rehabilitate them. They are basically slow torture chambers, designed to inflict misery on the prisoners. Prisoners set fire to the cellblock for the same reason that a galley slave would sink the ship where they have been chained to an oar for years. Whatever beneficial purpose the ship serves for its owners, for the rowers, it is an instrument of torture. I'd sink that ship too.

Back to the idea that The Event will precipitate total destruction of society and all its physical plant. That doesn't make any sense if you think of people as being served by society: water, sanitation, food, education, safety and security. But if cities are slow torture chambers for their inhabitants, it makes perfect sense.

If, for example, cities fund themselves by manufacturing petty infractions to charge poor people with, arresting them when they can't pay fines and putting them to hard labor... Or if rents are too damned high and your debt mounts and mounts, or if you spend all your time cowering in fear of a one-star review on your gig economy app, or if you face license-plate cameras, CCTVs, gait recognition, predictive policing, facial recognition, school-prison pipelines, etc... You're living in a city that exists to control you, not to help you realize safety, security, shelter, dignity, etc.

Which is, of course, totally, blindingly obvious -- and also completely outside the Overton Window. No one in (e.g.) the Democratic establishment (and certainly not in the GOP) is willing to talk about this naked class warfare.

But it comes out in our collective dreaming. If you think of cities as prisons for poor people, then The Event riots make perfect sense -- they're just another version of the prison riot. Completely plausible. As Leonard Cohen once noted: "Everybody Knows." Everybody knows we're in a state of class warfare, but we dare not speak that aloud. Instead, we whisper it in our fiction, and nod our heads in recognition when it's said.
And (aside from Chris Hayes's entire book A Colony in a Nation), there's factual reinforcement of the idea that our inequality has gotten worse since Reagan compared to, say, Europe's:

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Not Much

I am on an unreliable wifi tonight, so just posting a few words to say... still here, and back at it tomorrow.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Whirligig Park

Vollis Simpson, born 1919 to a farming family near Wilson, North Carolina, liked machinery more than growing plants. He fixed the tractors and many other kinds of equipment needed (except for four years during World War II) until he retired in the mid-1980s.

Then he began making huge windmills in his yard.

The public (who insisted on calling the windmills whirligigs) and later the art world found him. Simpson installed four whirligigs in downtown Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics and was commissioned to create a 55’ tall one for the Museum of American Visionary Art in Baltimore.

In 2010, people in Wilson began to develop a park to hold the whirligigs and broke ground in fall 2013, just a few months after Simpson died at age 94. The park had its grand opening in November 2017.

Here are my not-always-great photos of a few of the thirty whirligigs.

The park itself is pretty great as a public space, including a stage for performances and a lawn for seating, plus a covered pavilion for farmers markets or other gatherings. The whirligigs surround the central open area, a reference to the pond that centered the whirligigs in their original locations on Simpson’s farm.

The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park has a great website with lots more information and videos.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Finding Shangri-La

When I started this blog, one of the things I wanted to write about the most was outsider artists, sometimes called environment-builders. I've seen most of the examples in my usual neck of the woods, so when I visit other parts of the country I always check Roadside America to see what bit of oddness is on view. That reliable site came through once again when it told me about Shangri-La in Prospect Hill, North Carolina (though its rating was only three smiley-faced water towers out of five, which makes me wonder what gets five water towers).

Henry Warren was a tobacco farmer who retired in 1968 and began building miniature buildings out of concrete, bricks, decorative cinder blocks, and marble blasted from his own land. From the looks of it, he raided a couple of gravestones as well.

He called his village Shangri-La and worked on it for just about every waking moment until 1977, when he died at age 84 as he was finishing the village's hospital.

Shangri-La is a little hard to find, as it should be, but if you follow the directions on Roadside America and remember it's just down the side road from the volunteer fire department building, it's right where they say it should be.

I didn't get a very good overall shot. Most of the village is below the road and driveway level and the light was not in my favor that day.

Warren commonly used regular bricks, painted red, turning their open tops or bottoms into decorative details.

Another material he liked was diamond-centered cinder blocks, often painted as shown in this building.

The roof line on this building is excellent.

Here it is from the other side.

A church, I think.

Not sure what this is, maybe a Southern mansion?

This may be my favorite building. The stone is set tighter within the concrete than it is on the others; the steps and door frame are more finely detailed; and the inset metal railings are a bonus.

This is the front and other side of that building. It's hard to see in this shot, but the black metalwork porch on the right side is a square steel milk crate.

In general, the details on Warren's buildings are worth looking for:

I find this out-sized terra cotta pipe very amusing.

Half a wheel is better than no wheel. Not sure what the railing is made from.

Possibly a gravestone detail.

The little connecting roof between a larger building and an outbuilding.

That is definitely a gravestone piece. July? Julia? Who knows.

For scale, those door knobs are made for regular doors.

I thought I'd end with this bric-a-brac obelisk.

Other environment-builders I've written about in the past:

Randyland: Not to Be Missed in Pittsburgh

Outsider artists in Sheboygan

Outsider art, 2012

Save the Wells Street Art Park

The Sculptures of Tom Every

Herman Rusch's Prairie Moon

Wouterina de Raad, environment builder

Dick and Jane's Spot, Ellensburg, Washington

The Enchanted Highway in North Dakota

Concrete Wisconsin

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Wilmington and Alfred Waddell

The first place we went after leaving the family reunion at Myrtle Beach was Wilmington, North Carolina. We couldn't spend long there, but the reason we went was to see the memorial to the 1898 insurrection and coup d'etat (which I wrote about in more detail here).

Briefly, white Democrats overthrew the elected city mayor and board of aldermen, which was a coalition of black Republicans and white populists, burned the black newspaper's office, killed dozens of black citizens, and ran many others out of town. The aggressors were called "Red Shirts." This is city hall, where the mayor's office was at the time:

As we were driving west after our short stop in Wilmington, I read more details on the attacks and found out about Alfred Moore Waddell, who became mayor after the coup. His Wikipedia page was particularly enlightening.

For the two years before the overthrow, Waddell and other orators incited fear of black men as beasts that endangered white women. Waddell proclaimed white supremacy, straight up, and advocated punishment for "race traitors" like the white members of the Republican/populist coalition. In one speech, he closed with this: "We will never surrender to a ragged raffle of Negroes, even if we have to choke the Cape Fear River with carcasses."

Despite voter intimidation and outright calls to kill black voters, the interracial coalition won the mayor's race and a majority on the board of aldermen on November 9, 1898. The next day, 2,000 white men raided the city armory for weapons and burned the black-owned Daily Record office. They then invaded black neighborhoods, destroying property and businesses and assaulting people. Meanwhile, Waddell and a smaller group forced the mayor, police chief, and aldermen to resign at gunpoint.

I knew most of that, but what I didn't know is that Waddell published a defense of his actions in Collier's magazine later that month, in which he coined the term "race riot." As the Wikipedia puts it, he
painted himself as a reluctant non-violent leader – or accidental hero – "called upon" to lead under "intolerable conditions." He painted the white mob not as murderous lawbreakers, but as peaceful, law-abiding citizens who simply wanted to restore law and order. He also portrayed any violence committed by whites as either being accidental or executed in self-defense, effectively laying blame on both sides.
Waddell claimed the fire at the newspaper office was accidental and that he sent the mob home afterward, but that "the negroes starting to come over here" and so it was natural for the white men to go into the black areas and attack. He declares that he was elected mayor by this time (though it's unclear how that could have happened). "Simply, the old board went out, and the new board came in — strictly according to law."

The quoted section of his account on the Wikipedia page ends with him claiming many black people now say they are glad he has taken charge and that the "negroes are as much rejoiced as the white people that order has been evolved out of chaos."

All of this sounds like Mulligan inciting hatred of Mexicans, Muslims, and immigrants, proclaiming there were "good people" on both sides of the Charlotte racist and anti-Semitic attacks, and making up his own version of reality generally. The only difference is Mulligan was elected (via the ridiculous Electoral College system and possibly Russian influence) and Waddell directly usurped his office.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Emancipation Park

You may have realized I’ve been on the road for the past few days. I’m home now!

The reason for the trip was a family reunion, held only every four years, this time in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I don’t recommend the place (wow… so very ugly — though I didn’t really see the main business area and maybe that's better than the endless strip malls and bad signs in the surrounding area — and so many places named "plantation"!), but I did see a bunch of other fun or historic sites along the way.

Today I have just a few photos from Charlottesville, Virginia, which was on the way from one place to another. We didn’t stop for long but I wanted to see the park that was the focus of last August’s Unite the Right rally, where Heather Heyer was killed by a neo-Nazi and so much else happened to “make America great again.”

It’s now called Emancipation Park, and it truly is a tiny bit of green space: just one block, and the blocks in that part of the city are very small, in proportion to the streets, which are maybe two lanes wide at most. In fact, the area is a perfect example of human scale and walkability, which makes sense, given when it was built.

The name Emancipation Park is quite incongruous, given the statue at the park’s center:

Yes, that’s Robert E. Lee, and the park used to be called Lee Park.

Clearly, the city has put up the orange fencing and signs to keep people from doing either pro or anti actions to the statue. It sounds as though they may remove it some time in the relatively near future, but I won't be surprised if it's done without notice, as in New Orleans.

Here's one last photo:

I like to think the horse is lifting its tail to defecate.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Fruit to Nuts

Like you, I've seen my share of church-with-a-funny-letter-sign photos, but I haven't seen too many of these funny signs in person. So I'm delighted to share this one I saw today:

Although I admit I have no idea what "We don't talk prayer, we do prayer" means.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

I Know You Are But What Am I?

It's a bit of a read, but I got a lot out of the Washington Monthly's new article, How the Right Wing Convinces Itself that Liberals Are Evil. In which the end is thought to justify the means and we see evidence that it goes back a lot farther than Fox News.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

First and 15th

Today I recommend to you the new bimonthly newsletterish offering called The First and 15th from Tressie McMillan Cottom. I have mentioned her name a few times in a too-many-tabs post or in my Twitter roundups (her Twitter handle is @tressiemcphd), but given how much she influences my thinking, she has been largely absent from this place.

Her first post on Fand15 is about Twitter itself. Women on Twitter, and especially black women, take the constant brunt of misogyny and hatred from "real" men and bots, and some are driven from that space to keep their mental health. Tressie will not be driven out. As she puts it,

There is a lot wrong with that space. It is racist. It is sexist. It is reactionary. It is ephemeral.

There is a lot great with that space. It is networks. It is community. It is culture. It is ephemeral.

That is, Twitter is us. It is horrible and wonderful because we are horrible and wonderful.

I am not leaving Twitter. Can’t leave society no matter what Thoreau tells y’all fools. We here now.

I am living a great life during really bad times. That does not always feel great.
Writing Fand15, she says, will be her attempt to make a more productive conversation than she usually finds on Twitter, though:
We will talk here. Rather than writing to an imagined audience or into a canon of thought, I want to talk with humans through the machine. On the first and the fifteenth of every month of this experiment that is what you will see in this space…if you subscribe.

The subscription is the rub. The club has velvet ropes and so does nationalism. How can I endorse a border in a time when borders appear to want to kill us?

I am a peninsula.

My waters are finite and land to which I am tethered cannot be just anywhere. My boat is not welcome at all docks. And, frankly I am tired of people’s bullshit. I am tired of hate mail and being called a monkey and famous people being mad that I retweet them or do not mention them when I should or mention them when I shouldn’t or being told that I am fortunate that I have a job but also that I do not deserve my job. And, also, my nose is big, my ass is fat, my work is meaningless, black men are kings, black women are bitches but also superheroes but aren’t those the same thing so which one am I? Just generally tired.
The name of her new offering has a meaning that I am just learning from her:
Historically, [the first and fifteenth] were the dates that cash transfer payments (or “welfare”) were issued in major cities like New York. That is how the bi-monthly cycle became hip-hop lingo for the moments of possibility that punctuate days of precarity and hustle.

The first and the fifteenth are hopeful days, when we stop to assess who we might be if we did not have to pay the bills or fight the good fight. That’s what we do here. Pause. Reflect. Think. Smark. Refuel.
I'll be subscribing and reading.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Something for Everyone in Americana

It's not fair to represent American culture based on the objects you see in a tourist shop. That said, here are three about which the only general thing I can say for sure is that it would be good if they don't represent us.

There are also specific things I have to say, though.

Wow, these mugs are so bad I can't think of a way to say how bad they are this late in the day.

There's an entire subset of products that comment on gender roles, mostly bashing men in a way that does nothing to confront sexism. For instance, one shirt said, "Any woman who's looking for a man has never been married to one" or something like that. Ha. Ha. Ha. This pair of piggy banks instead bashes women or implies we're gold-diggers or something inane like that. Ha.

I loved the juxtaposition of these two shirt designs. This shop truly had something for everyone.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Shirt for Today

Yay, parents and kid!

(I had to work up a bit of nerve to ask if it was okay to take the photo, but it was fine because they were very nice.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Privatizing the Railway Arches

I confess I never heard of Britain's railway arches until today, when I read on Boing Boing that National Rail plans to sell them all off to hedge funds and companies like Goldman Sachs. And as soon as I understood what the arches are, I was immediately sad.

A longer story on The Conversation gives more background. There are 4,455 railway arches across the country — basically the spaces below elevated train tracks near train stations — and they would be sold to a single private developer, likely for something like £1 billion.

The tenants within the arches currently are small businesses that often would otherwise be priced out of the area. Many are creative businesses, breweries, bakeries, cheesemakers, while others are more mechanics or metalworkers. And The Conversation gave me this bit of perspective:

Unlike segregated industrial estates, arches are often found within residential areas, bringing commercial life into the neighbourhoods. The large doorways and open fronts of railway arches encourage communication between businesses, which may in turn help small businesses to innovate and grow.
The fact that these arches are used as commercial spaces, or that they are prevalent across Britain, is something that wouldn't have occurred to me, but now that I know it I love it and want them to remain a public good. Even worse than when Chicago leased its parking meters for 99 years to a private company, once a public good goes into private hands, it doesn't come back.

And that doesn't have a price.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Illusive Obama to Trump Voter

Eric Garner was killed by New York police four years ago today, July 17, 2014. I saw this poem shared on Twitter to mark the occasion:

Remember, Michael Brown was killed (August 9, 2014) after Eric Garner, but it was the same summer and Garner's killing provided part of the context for what happened in Ferguson. I think some people (like me) thought that New York would do right by Garner in some way, but that was later proved too high a bar, even for New York. Both were killed after Trayvon Martin (February 2012) and Jordan Davis (November 2012).

George Zimmerman's not-guilty verdict (July 13, 2013) is considered the beginning point of the Black Lives Matter movement, but for old, white me, BLM dates from the days after Mike Brown's killing in August 2014. I remember those nights, pinned to Twitter and MSNBC, unable to see how we (whatever "we" means there) could come out of it in one piece. One piece. As if we are one piece.

And that's not mentioning Tamir Rice (November 2014) or Sandra Bland (July 2015) and so many others. Some of our local names are Jamar Clark (November 2015) and Philando Castile (July 2016).

Anyway, all of this connects with a bit of analysis I came across today. You know how journalists are endlessly trying to figure out what happened with people who voted for Obama in 2008 and maybe even in 2012, but then voted for Trump in 2016? Remember "economic anxiety," which clearly translated best to racism, since economically anxious black people didn't vote for Trump? Well, that transition may have had a specific inflection point, since a number of folks reporting from the field say the precipitating "event" appears to have been the rise of Black Lives Matter.

This Twitter thread from Slate's Jamelle Bouie starts with the statement,

There’s good evidence that a substantial number of Obama-Trump voters made their partisan switch in 2014 and 2015; before Trump entered the national conversation but during the height of Black Lives Matter.
Bouie says he will be posting data on this soon. He was responding to a tweet by Vox's Matt Yglesias, who wrote:
There’s been a lot of mostly wrongheaded second-guessing of Democrats’ pro-immigration positions but there’s more evidence that they were hurt in 2016 by adopting the unpopular view that it’s bad that cops can kill black people with impunity.
Yglesias in turn was responding to a tweet from Sean McElwee, which said:
One of the public opinion findings that disturbs me the most: consistently warm feelings for police, even among Democrats (Democrats have somewhat warmer feelings towards police than Black Lives Matter).
That tweet includes images showing polling data about positive feelings toward police and BLM from Democrats, Republicans, and independents, which reflect the divide McElwee describes. (Let's guess which Democrats it is who like the police and don't like BLM. Hmm. As it turns out, Pew has an answer for that.)

The commenters on Bouie's thread provide some anecdotal examples from Philadelphia and other parts of the country of this turn against Obama. Separately, New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah Jones concurred, writing "When I interviewed white voters who’d flipped from Obama to Trump this is exactly what they told me."

These three comments from that thread sum it up for me:
I like how “stop shooting black people” is a debatable statement.

Obama-Trump voters expected Obama to reduce or eliminate race-based demands from black people. They blamed Obama for BLM protests in 2014-2016 and turned to Trump.

Ohhhhh, I get it now. When they say Obama increased racial division, what they mean is Obama didn’t “control” the n——s on the plantation. They’re correct on that ... of course that’s not what he was elected for.
Goddess of Gumbo

Monday, July 16, 2018

Rejecting the Frame of Denialism

Not too long ago, I wrote a bit about the term "predatory delay," which is key in thinking about responses to climate change. I got the term from Alex Steffen on Twitter.

In that post, I also quoted Shaun Chamberlain, who said:

It is now impossible to be realistic about both the political climate and the physics of climate. One must decide which carries more weight and be profoundly unrealistic about the other.
Shaun Chamberlain (@darkoptimism)
Today, Alex Steffen posted a series of thoughts that fit with Chamberlain's point and that I will be thinking about in the coming days:
It is very difficult for most members of the American press/academia/punditry to accept the idea that their core thinking on climate change and the planetary crisis has been bounded and shaped by Carbon Lobby propaganda... much less grapple with the implications of that fact. Nonetheless, almost all of us accept as givens ideas about climate change and global sustainability and frames about how to discuss them that were never true, or are no longer true.

There's the really obvious one: The idea that the science of climate change is in question. No real debate about the science of climate change has existed for at least two decades (arguably much longer)—it's here, we're causing it, it's getting worse and we know why. Yet, very few journalists, academics, pundits have been willing to acknowledge that treating climate science as an open debate is itself the propaganda coup denialism sought to buy (successfully!)

This is beginning to change, 20+ years too late. By refusing to name calls for "debate" as the propaganda they are, journalists, academics, pundits have also actively participated in obscuring the fact that the polarization we see in America on climate change is an intended deliverable of that propaganda campaign.

But denialism is only the most obvious way our debate has been twisted. It goes far deeper.

Many assumptions that even smart, concerned people make when honestly trying to figure out solutions are the product of intervention by the Carbon Lobby and their allies. A great example of this is the idea that climate action has terrible costs. This is not true, and has not been true since I started writing about these topics in the early 1990s.

We know today that the economic benefits of not destabilizing the climate can be clearly shown to outweigh the costs of reducing emissions, even under incredibly conservative assumptions (assumptions that do not acknowledge the potentially massive gains from climate innovation). But going back to the 1970s, industries have been playing up the talking point that environmental protection costs too much, that we need to "balance" sustainability and growth; and that talking point — despite being untrue — has become core conventional wisdom in US debates.

A related spin has been that rapid climate action will be unjust (to workers, to communities, to companies, to investors), and that therefore delaying action is actually compassionate, sensible and fair. And, of course, at the heart of all these economic messages is the tribal message that attention to planetary reality is in fact elitism... a message trumpeted by the Right and echoed in many ways by parts of the Left.

Indeed — despite the fact that climate predatory delay is one of the worst things ever done, and done mostly to benefit a tiny group of wealthy people — that spin that sustainability suffers from elitism has made a home in universities, foundations and the progressive press.

Economic propaganda, though, is by no means the only propaganda being employed.

There is an entire propaganda focused not on the science, or the economics, but on the solutions themselves. Most often, this comes in the form of highly political efforts aimed at defining the boundaries of what climate action is, and isn't, "realistic." What is almost never acknowledged is the extent to which the foundations of much of the debate over "realistic" policy — bedrock assumptions — were laid long ago by people who either didn't understand the crisis or opposed rapid action.

Extremely normative/outdated standards of the political limits to change are almost uniformly applied. Lack of political change is essentially axiomatic in most of the American debate. Technological progress, too, is often discussed within boundaries set in part by those who stand to lose from (or simply don't understand) the technological trends behind new solutions.

I could go on, but as someone who's spent as much time as anyone on the planet reporting on sustainability solutions, trust me when I say that the American debate is all sorts of spun, and solutions that are not only possible, but practical, are often treated as pipe dreams. This all plays out in terms of the pace of response to the planetary crisis we face.

We live in a moment when speed is everything. Yet, amidst this crisis, and surrounded by tools for transforming the world, a great many American "thought leaders" continue to intone the three same mantras.
The first is that, unfortunately, we're limited to slow, incremental transitions—that gradualism is the only course.

The second is that, because our speed of action is limited, we must hope for technological miracles — cheap negative emissions, fusion breakthroughs, geoengineering... whatever.

And the third, is that we must regard climate action as a collective action problem — that we must treat all players as honest participants in the debate, seeks noncontroversial solutions, and negotiate progress with those who oppose it. Or, as I once heard an expert say, unironically, "The answer to climate has to involve the oil companies."

Because of all of this spin and drift, the core realities of the planetary crisis are almost unmentionable in some distinguished intellectual circles, and are only allowed to be discussed with ideological caveats and declarations of uncertainty in many others.

In other words, the American debate about what to do to meet the planetary crisis often begins (in large part, by design) by excluding the realities of that crisis and our capacities to meet it. We'd do well to keep this constantly in mind.
Near the end, Steffen links to his article The Last Decade and You, which includes this sentence: "Real sustainability only comes in one variety, now: Disruptive."

Sunday, July 15, 2018


I found my maternal grandfather's World War II ration book today. I assume it was the final one, from whenever it was they suspended use of the coupons, since there are so many left in it.

Check out the user agreement on the cover!

I like the design of the coupon stickers:

Looking at this makes me realize I have no idea how they were used.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Old and New Media Agree on the Solution

I'm just home from seeing the new film Sorry to Bother You, and I don't want to say too much about it. But if you liked (or at least appreciated) Get Out and you worry about how we can fix our current world order, check it out.

Remember, Pete Seeger had the answer to the question of how to fix the world order, and the movie comes to the same conclusion, I'd say.

By coincidence, I saw this shirt while I was out and about today, and it fits into the pattern, too:

Friday, July 13, 2018

Tabs Today

It's been a while since I did a Too Many Tabs post. I've been getting better about not leaving sooooo many tabs open, but now it's time to close a bunch of 'em.

On immigration

All possible responses to "they should get in line and do it the right way, the way my family did" with citations (also jokes). By an immigration attorney. Just remember: there is no line!

Mulligan constantly flails about the gang MS-13, which I confess I don't know much about. This Politico story (posted as members-only content on MinnPost) is by Hannah Dreier, a reporter who's been covering MS-13 for a year: Here are the five things Trump gets most wrong. The gist is: The gang is not growing or even particularly large compared to other prominent gangs in the U.S. It's not involved in the international drug trade, or involved in illegal immigration, and its victims are 99.x percent people they know. Not that they are harmless, no one claims that, but they exist in a context that Mulligan pretends does not exist.

On income inequality, exploitation, poverty

Laziness does not exist (but unseen barriers do). By a social psychologist. This one will stick with me for a while.

Busting the myth of the American Dream: Economist William Darity talks inequality (audio). "Why are some people rich and others poor?" Answering this elusive question has been Darity's lifelong work. He studied economics at MIT and the London School of Economics and Political Science, and later pioneered the subfield of stratification economics, an interdisciplinary approach to understanding economic inequality.

The 9.9 percent is the new American aristocracy. From the Atlantic, June 2018. "The meritocratic class has mastered the old trick of consolidating wealth and passing privilege along at the expense of other people’s children. We are not innocent bystanders to the growing concentration of wealth in our time. We are the principal accomplices in a process that is slowly strangling the economy, destabilizing American politics, and eroding democracy."

Why we should value invisible labor. A really excellent look at the idea of universal basic income from Yonatan Zunger on Medium. "Money doesn’t, in fact, buy happiness.... But poverty can buy you one hell of a lot of misery." And: "someone who has to accept a long-term loss to survive the short term is in a very weak bargaining position — and that sort of weak bargaining position is exactly what breaks the free-market hypothesis that 'trade makes everyone richer.'" So many pithy observations in one place, including the need to stop confusing "our work" with "our job."

On sustainable cities, utopia, climate change

The little-known behavioral scientist who has transformed cities all over the world. Meet Ingrid Gehl, whose husband Jan is more well-known for popularizing her ideas.

Alex Steffen's recent keynote speech to the UN Forum on Sustainable Development. Steffen is the person I've cited who uses the phrase predatory delay when discussing climate change.

Density does not have to equal more driving (and less parking). From StreetsMN.

I'm an environmental journalist but I never write about overpopulation. Here's why. By Dave Roberts at Vox.

A dazzlingly delicious taste of the future in Liége by Rob Hopkins, founder of Transition Town.

Traffic engineers still rely on a flawed 1970s study to reject crosswalks. From StreetsBlogUSA. You may not know this, but traffic engineers always claim that painted crosswalks don't make pedestrians safer. Turns out... they don't have much to back that up.

Utopia is all around us. A conversation with Ruth Potts of Schumacher College in STIR magazine.

And here's an 11-year-old article from the New York Times called Local groups use peer pressure — and fines — to cut carbon emissions. Back when they had reporters covering climate change, I guess.

A five-step guide to having the talk, from StreetsMN. In this case "the talk" is the one about biking and walking instead of driving everywhere.

How the Koch brothers are killing public transit projects around the country. From the New York Times, June 19, 2018. (Minnesotans are all too familiar with the relatively recent Republican attack on transit at our state legislature. What a coincidence.)

Humans didn't exist the last time there was this much carbon in the air, by Eric Holthaus for Grist. That's a grim but true way to put it. As climate scientist Michael E. Mann put it on Twitter today, "We have ZERO years left to solve climate change. Emissions have to come down steadily in the years ahead to avoid committing to catastrophic climate change impacts."

And then a few random things of interest

From This American Life: Heretics. "The story of Reverend Carlton Pearson, a rising star in the evangelical movement, who cast aside the idea of hell, and with it everything he'd worked for over his entire life." I confess I haven't listened to most of this yet, but the part I heard on the radio sounded worth listening to the rest.

When America's basic housing unit was a bed, not a house. A very cool extended info graphic from City Lab.

Johan Hari discusses the ideas about depression and anxiety in his book Lost Connections (audio).

What Americans think about abortion. It's a lot more nuanced than polling can show. (For instance, 39 percent don't identify as either pro-life or pro-choice.) From Vox.

Did you hear that Mulligan and his cronies are covering up the fact that U.S. military personnel on bases have been drinking contaminated groundwater for years? No? Well, it's true.

Power causes brain damage. From the Atlantic, July/August 2017. Psych professor Dacher Keltner has found over a few decades that subjects with power "acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view." But neuroscience research now finds that the brains of those with power show signs of impairment to "a specific neural process, 'mirroring,' that may be a cornerstone of empathy."

Some of what's wrong with David Brooks, from Pacific Standard. Personally, I just don't listen to or read anything that includes him. I figure he's had his chance and I will spend my time on other people who don't have his megaphone. "In the zero-sum choice between American patriotism and critical thought, Brooks is always happy to take the former."

White people abandon diverse neighborhoods for racial, not economic reasons. From Quartz. Not a surprise to anyone who's read The Color of Law, but worth checking out nonetheless. The findings hold up not just when there's an influx of black people into white neighborhoods but also for incoming Latinos and Asians. (But the tipping point is lower for black people: somewhere around 10 percent, while whites can tolerate up to 20–25 percent Latinos and Asians... they're somewhat more tolerant of Latinos than Asians, in case you were wondering.) Here's an Indiana University article where the cited research is described in more detail.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Be Ready to Interrupt

Reading this morning's Star Tribune, I was hit with a double whammy of proof that policing in my community (as an exemplar of this country) is bad, bad, bad.

First there was a story called Lawsuit says police detained innocent man at North Memorial, urged paramedics to use ketamine to sedate him. In which we learn of a 2015 case where Minneapolis cops grabbed the wrong guy outside North Memorial Hospital (um... their victim is black and the person they were looking for was described to them as white or light-skinned Hispanic). When he objected to being treated the way they were treating him, they got hospital staff to inject him with the sedative ketamine (which was then being used in a now-suspended non-consensual study in Minneapolis). The victim then had trouble breathing and had to be intubated. He spent a day in the hospital, unconscious, and nearly died. It took his wife three hours to find him after he disappeared into what seemed to be police custody. She thought he was dead.

As I said, this took place in 2015 and this is the first we're hearing about it, as far as I know. How was this either overlooked or possibly suppressed?

Then there was the story called Fear-based training for police officers challenged. You may or may not have heard of the so-called "warrior cop" training that is common these days. For instance, Geronimo Yanez, killer of Philando Castile, had been through 56 hours of this crap where the cops are told it's kill or be killed over and over. A pioneer of the training is a guy named Dave Grossman, who claims to be a former Army Ranger (not true) and a Pulitzer Prize nominee (also not true). He offers 200 of his Bulletproof Warrior trainings a year, which is basically a full-time schedule. Imagine the income he makes from that.

The biggest piece of news for me in that article was this: "Minneapolis officer Justin Schmidt, who killed Thurman Blevins in a North Side alley last month, teaches similar training." The article provided no more detail on that claim, however.

Not long after reading the paper, I was in the car and MPR was broadcasting a roundtable discussion among four people of color (called Should people of color have to prove they're Americans?), discussing all of the recent cases of white people calling the cops on or attacking black and brown people for existing in public (at pools, wearing T-shirts, being on subways). They particularly called attention to the Chicago-area cop who did nothing when a white man verbally attacked a Latina for wearing a Puerto Rico T-shirt. It's a glimpse of the Fugitive Slave Law days, or at least I'm sure that's how it feels to the people affected by it.

My advice to anyone (especially white people) reading this: practice your interrupting skills so they're ready when you need them. Interrupting cops would be the scariest of all, of course. But be ready.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Memo Pad, an Antenna

Once again digging through some old archives, I came across this memo pad and my attention was caught first by the lettering:

Then I noticed the pattern in the background, which is most visible on the back cover:

I feel as though the floral art nouveau motifs on the cover clash with the more modernist background pattern, but the whole package is a fun period piece, nonetheless.

Then there's this:

It's a box antenna, something I never heard of. While it was the "gee whiz!" look of the design that caught my attention, once I realized what it was inside it, it became even more interesting. And it also reminded me how great the Zenith logo was.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A Pedestrian Bill of Rights

David Levinson, the transportist, has compiled a pedestrian bill of rights, primarily from suggestions he solicited on Twitter. Here it is in its entirety.

Imagine what a world based on these premises would be like.

  1. Pedestrians have the right to safely and conveniently walk along and cross any public right-of-way without regards to who they are, with whom they are associating, when or why they are traveling, or where they are coming from or going to. #NoPoliceStops
  2. In the event of a conflict with vehicles, pedestrians automatically have the right-of-way. Where no dedicated footpaths are available, any pedestrians have the right-of-way over any other traffic and speeds shall be limited to that traveled by those pedestrians. Pedestrians shall never be required to give way to self-driving vehicles. #Right-of-Way #Footpaths #SharedSpace #StopForNoBot
  3. Any pedestrian may cross roads at any point at any time where they will endanger neither themselves nor others by doing so. #JaywalkingIsNotACrime.
  4. In the event of a collision with a pedestrian, the controller of the vehicle is always liable. #TheCarIsAlwaysWrong
  5. The space on a right-of-way allocated per pedestrian shall be no less than space allocated per traveler by vehicle. #SpatialEquity
  6. Any place accessible by vehicle must remain accessible to pedestrians on a route no less direct. In the event of blockage due to weather or other causes, pedestrian paths shall be cleared before vehicle paths. #SnowPriority #AccessEquity #Connectivity #MinimizeCircuity
  7. Speed limits on streets shall be established both to minimize total pedestrian collisions and to minimize total injury and loss of life in the event of a collision. #SlowTraffic
  8. Every intersection of two, or more, rights-of-way contains crosswalks. There is a crosswalk on every side of every intersection. Such crosswalks must remain unimpeded when pedestrians have right-of-way. #EveryIntersectionIsACrosswalk
  9. All at-grade road crossings shall be at the elevation of the pedestrian way. #BowToNoCar
  10. Every traffic signal shall have automatic pedestrian phases that allot at least as much green (“walk”) time for pedestrians as is allotted to vehicles, and is long enough to ensure pedestrians safe passage. At least one such phase per cycle shall ensure pedestrians may cross diagonally unimpeded by vehicles. #EndSignalInequity
  11. All pedestrian routes shall be designed such that wheelchairs may pass at all times. No temporary or permanent signs or utility posts or parked vehicles or other temporary or permanent street furniture shall obstruct this minimum passage width. #FreePassage #Inclusion
  12. Previous or current rate of use must not be used to determine future use, or proposed infrastructure. #HistoryIsNotDeterminative
  13. Should traffic levels, the built environment, and topology warrant, paths for pedestrians may be grade separated when that is safer and more convenient for pedestrians. #KeepThemSeparated
  14. The air quality for pedestrians along roads shall be no more dangerous to health than the level experienced in the absence of vehicles, and the noise level experienced by pedestrians along roads shall be no louder than the level that would be experienced in the absence of vehicles. #NoNoise #NoEmissions #EVs.
  15. Pedestrian paths shall be buffered from high-speed vehicles. Footpaths and the adjacent environment shall be designed to bring joy rather than dread to the act of walking. #WalkingIsAGood #Verges
Definition: A pedestrian is a person traveling by foot and is inclusive of those using assistive devices.

Definition: A vehicle includes any road-worthy vehicle including car, truck, bus, and bicycle capable of traveling at speeds faster than a pedestrian could sustain, and includes electric or motorized vehicles, excluding assistive devices traveling at pedestrian speeds.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Seen on the Street

Two photos of things I saw along the street recently:

You never know what's going to turn up.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

What I'm Thinking About Today

I saw this a few days ago on Twitter and have been thinking about it since. When I decided I wanted to post it, I couldn't find it at first (because Twitter isn't searched by Google), but now I have, so here goes.

These are tweets by Pete Saunders, a Chicago-based, Detroit-raised urban planner who is editor and publisher of The Corner Side Yard (a blog I will now have to check out!).

Here's my big thought of the day (so far). Americans get caught up in the political/economic divides we see. But it might be more instructive to take a more anthropological look at things socially/culturally. Red/Blue, working class/elite, etc. - doesn't get it. If we continue to look at things that way we'll never resolve them. Here's how I see things.

There's Restorationist America. Part middle class/working class, part white evangelical, part Old Manufacturing. Not all rural, or poor, or even Republican. Inward orientation. The phrase #MAGA appeals to them even if today's politics don't. 

There's Globalist America. Highly educated. Managerial/professional. Largely but not exclusively located on coasts. But not all coastal, or urban, or even Democrats. Outward orientation. Still believe in our nation's potential, and their own.

Then there's New America. Majority minority. Latinos, blacks, Asians, Muslims of all backgrounds. All across the economic spectrum. Indeed all across America. Socially/culturally *between* Restorationists and Globalists.

We know/believe the Restorationists are motivated by changes to the nation proposed by some combination of Globalists/New Americans. That's what #MAGA is all about, right?

Here's the problem. That split is entirely unsustainable. Globalists assume New Americans are in their back pocket; not so. Forward-thinking conservatives have no home with today's Restorationists. And in a nation whose political structure was built on majority rule but minority protection, a nation split three or more ways is always in a state of tension.

A new political majority must be crafted along the socio/cultural lines of this nation. I don't think Restorationists are about building a working majority, just defending their interests. This has to be about Globalists and New Americans working out a new political majority built on a message of our nation's potential: one of optimism and progress. That's still a work in, you know, progress.

Case in point: New Americans haven't completely gotten behind Bernie Sanders' message, and there's frustration among many progressive types (a subset of Globalists, IMO) as to why. My guess is that it's due to a lack of direct inclusion and engagement by progressives. "We devised these policies to *help* them; why aren't they behind it?"

80 years ago FDR went the other way and crafted a political majority composed of Globalists and Restorationist-oriented Southerners to kick off the New Deal. There were few New Americans then (blacks, mostly). He had to go that way. FDR negotiated with Solid South politicians for tangible outcomes to maintain his majority. Yeah it was a deal with the devil but it allowed much of his New Deal agenda to move forward.

My fear is that if today's Globalists and New Americans can't come together, the Globalists and Restorationists *will*, as in FDR's day. But it will have potentially worse results. You hear some of this from some politicians who say "we have to listen to the working class" or "we have to reach out to rural America" or some such. There is a fear among Democrats (IMO) for being known as the party of minorities.

Gotta wrap this up. Today's Restorationists have the upper hand because they *feel* this in a way the Globalists don't. New Americans *feel* this too (passion over border family separation issue?) but Globalists are still thinking in political/economic terms.

If a new political majority can't be created out of the Globalists/New American groups, I fear a Restorationist rule by a minority of the nation will last far longer than we even think possible. 
I am not comfortable with the term "New America" including African Americans (let alone Native Americans who are about as far from "new" as you can get)... But I get that Saunders means "new" as in the wave of the demographic future, rather than newly arrived (though many people within New America are somewhat newly arrived). Outsider America may be a more inclusive term, but not as good from a marketing perspective.

There's just a bit of conversation following, where another person replied,
It seems like Obama embodies the globalist/new American alliance you propose. However, the alliance didn’t filter through Congress in a way to allow most policies to be fully implemented. Quite the opposite actually.
And Saunders (who is African-American, by the way) responded
This captures my concern about blacks within a Globalist/New America coalition. In many respects blacks are "Old America" but as you say could never align with Restorationists. And I wonder if a black agenda aligns well with other New Americans.
I don't see a lot of other people responding to his thoughts or discussing this, yet. It's not perfect but it's a good beginning for thinking about coalition-building and keeping the big picture in mind.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

A View from and of Silicon Valley

From the Twitter account of Anton Troynikov (@atroyn), a robotics researcher:

Things that happen in Silicon Valley and also the Soviet Union:

- waiting years to receive a car you ordered, to find that it's of poor workmanship and quality

- promises of colonizing the solar system while you toil in drudgery day in, day out

- living five adults to a two room apartment

- being told you are constructing utopia while the system crumbles around you

- 'totally not illegal taxi' taxis by private citizens moonlighting to make ends meet

- everything slaved to the needs of the military-industrial complex

- mandatory workplace political education

- productivity largely falsified to satisfy appearance of sponsoring elites

- deviation from mainstream narrative carries heavy social and political consequences

- networked computers exist but they're really bad

- Henry Kissinger visits sometimes for some reason

- elite power struggles result in massive collateral damage, sometimes purges

- failures are bizarrely upheld as triumphs

- otherwise extremely intelligent people just turning the crank because it's the only way to get ahead

- the plight of the working class is discussed mainly by people who do no work

- the United States as a whole is depicted as evil by default

- the currency most people are talking about is fake and worthless

- the economy is centrally planned, using opaque algorithms not fully understood by their users

I appreciate the thinking!

Friday, July 6, 2018

To Serve Mankind

Scott Pruitt is gone, yay, but the fact that he wasn't fired after the first scandal is indicative of the deep well of crap that is this administration. And that's not even getting into the policies Pruitt implemented (with Mulligan's approval), all designed to undermine the reason for the EPA's very existence. His planned successor will continue those policies with (I assume) no overt scandal, so in a way we will be worse off with him gone.

But none of that is why I am posting about Pruitt today. I'm posting because of his resignation letter, highlighted here by media critic Jay Rosen:

This level of ass-kissery would be more fitting (though still embarrassing) in a monarchy, and the religious language is revolting in a supposed non-theocracy.

Scott Pruitt clearly wanted to service Mulligan in some way (ahem), but when it comes to his fellow citizens, he may as well say he wanted to serve mankind in the Damon Knight tradition.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

How Big a Problem Is Wage Theft?

If you read this blog, you already know I'm angry about wage theft. But I don't know if I had a grasp of how large a problem it is. What's the scale?

This graphic answers that question:

We hear all the time about theft and burglary (for instance, "my car's glove compartment was rifled!" seems to be all my neighborhood discussion groups can talk about lately), but the scale of wage theft through minimum wage violations alone overwhelms all of those.

The source of data for this image is described here. It was based on a study of 4,000+ workers in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago with those findings extrapolated to the U.S. economy. Numbers for the oother types of theft are from the FBI's statistics.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Meet Khalil Gibran Muhammad

Whether you know of him and his work or not, pleae take a few minutes to read this story about Khalil Gibran Muhammad from Harvard magazine.

It knits together stories from his life, his academic writing (including his 2011 book The Condemnation of Blackness, which I wrote about here), and his public work.

He's one of our most important public intellectuals, shedding light on how we got to now.

 Photo from Harvard magazine by Stu Rosner.