Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Three More from the Bulletin Board

In this age of Zoom calls, it's hard not to become self-conscious about the background behind your head. In my case, there are two wooden doors, a bit of wall, and three bulletin boards full of stuff I've posted over the years because it meant something to me.

I've posted about a few of the items over the years (here, here, and here), but it doesn't look like I've shown these three before, so here goes:

A Jenny Holzer T-shirt promo clipping from a Walker Art Center newsletter. This is pretty old... probably from the early 1990s.

A sample of four-color chromatic type printed by Paul Akin, which he gave out at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum's Wayzgoose in 2010.

A small but meaningful tagboard print by Amos Paul Kennedy of Kennedy Prints! One of the newer pieces on the bulletin board, probably from 2017.

I also have quite an array of nametags from various conferences, but Daughter Number Three is not the name on any of them so I can't share them here.

Monday, July 13, 2020

It Can Be Done

My monthly Twitter round-ups always include a lot of tweets about sustainable cities and transportation, but they aren't the best place to show the before-and-after photos that I see go past, usually from European cities.

It's common for Americans to assume that places that have good transit or biking infrastructure have always been that way, but they haven't. Here's an example from an urban planner named Fouad:

Two girls stand in the same location in Utrecht between 1982 and 2020 (38 years). The difference is clear, not only in the street components which can be implemented and achieved by designers, but the real development is the urban mobility modes:

Which version of the city would you rather live in? Which one seems like it will have a chance of working in our climate crisis world?

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Stained Glass Chalk

One of these days I have to get some chalk out and sit on the sidewalk.

Until then, I'll let this spot I saw on one of my local sidewalks be an inspiration:

Where are you walking these days?

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Sleep Can't Solve It

I'm in the midst of reading the eight books (so-far) upon which the well-regarded television series "The Expanse" is based. I have about 2.1 books left. If you haven't watched it, I recommend it, and the books as well.

Rather than writing about the story itself, I wanted to share one bit of writing that spoke to me particularly.

One of the characters is the head of the UN. As things in the solar system are going about as badly as you can imagine, she's having trouble sleeping:

She didn't sleep anymore, or at least it didn't help when she did.... And sleep was supposed to mean rest. There was no rest anymore. She closed her eyes and her mind stumbled on like it was falling down stairs. Mortality rates and supply windows and security briefings — all the things that filled her so-called waking hours filled her nights as well. Being asleep only meant they lost what little coherence they had. It didn't feel like sleeping. It felt like going mad and catatonic for a few hours and then regaining enough sanity to push through for eighteen or twenty hours more before collapsing into herself again (Babylon's Ashes, page 100).
With everything happening in our country and world today, that's kind of how sleep seems to me. The mind in sleep keeps trying to solve the problems, big and small, that can't be solved. And it's really bad at it, no surprise.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Another Post on Cancel Culture, But More Than That

After posting yesterday's cartoon from Jen Sorensen, I saw this thread by Slate writer Lili Loofbourow that also captured my perspective on the whole thing.

I get the longing--I even share it--but the naivete is annoying. Online pundits should know (and factor in) that social media as a "public square" where "good faith debate" happens is a thing of the past. Disagreement here happens through trolling, sea-lioning, ratios, dunks.

Bad faith is the condition of the modern internet, and shitposting is the lingua franca of the online world. And not just online: A troll is president. Trolling won. Perhaps we can agree that these platforms aren't suited to the earnest exchange of big ideas.

Of course that's frustrating, especially to those who wish to debate things like abortion. But there's a history here: platforms got flooded by devil's advocates who wasted the time of people with real investments--cruelly, for sport. That tends to weed out good-faith engagement.

Add to this that most arguments worth having have been had and witnessed 1000x already on these platforms, in several permutations. We know their tired choreographies, the moves and countermoves. At this point we mostly enjoy the style of whichever dunk we happen to agree with.

Does that lead to paranoid readings and meta-debates that seem totally batshit to onlookers who aren't internet-poisoned? Yup! "All Lives Matter" sounds perfectly reasonable--as a text--unless you know the history of that discourse. (And you'll sound pretty weird explaining it.)

"Why would you refuse to debate someone who's simply saying that All Lives Matter?" is the kind of question an Enlightenment subject longing for a robust exchange of ideas might ask. Well, the reason is that most of us know, through bitter experience, that it's a waste of time.

It wouldn't be a true exchange. We know by now what "All Lives Matter" signals and that what it signals is orthogonal to what it says. Your fluency in this garbage means you take shortcuts: you don't have to refute the text to leap to the subtext, which is the real issue.

To outsiders, that leap will look nuts. That's obviously what all the coded Nazi shit is for and about--the 14 words, the numbers, the OK hand sign that both is and isn't a white power sign, the Boogaloo junk. They're all ways to divorce surface meaning from intentional subtext.

Yes, this is bad for discourse! Yes, it inhibits intellectual exchange! Yes, it makes productive dissensus almost impossible. But that's not because of "cancel culture" or "illiberalism." It's because in this discourse environment, good faith engagement is actually maladaptive.

It's possible and likely that knowledge gaps between people who are online too much and folks who aren't are making things worse. If [Margaret] Atwood (or whoever) isn't online much, she might be shocked to see people accuse a nice-looking boy in a Hawaiian shirt of wanting a second Civil War.

It might indeed look like cancel culture gone mad. He's just standing there! Civilly! Offering support to Black Lives Matter protesters, of all things! Can't we all, whatever our disagreements, come together in support of a good cause?

It's *also* possible that people who've learned to read *through* stuff (to whatever bummer of a subtext we're used to finding there) sometimes overdo it. Some of us might reflexively ignore the actual text--fast-forwarding to the shitty point we "know" is coming even if it isn't.

"Free speech defender," for example, will mean something different to an idealist than it will to someone who watched reddit hordes viciously defend revenge porn and sites like r/beatingwomen, r/creepshots, and r/Jewmerica while people whose pictures got posted there begged for help.

Free speech! they were told.

Anyway. Sure, good-faith debate would be nice. Instead, the internet pressure-cooked rhetoric. Again: people can watch the same argument be conducted a million times in slightly different ways, and that's interesting, and a blessing, and a curse.

It produced a kind of argumentative hyperliteracy. If you can predict every step of a controversy (including the backlash), it makes perfect sense to meta-argue instead--over what X *really* means, or implies, or what, down a road we know well, it confirms.

This isn't great. People talk past each other, assume bad faith. But it's not the fault of "illiberalism" that good faith is in short supply. And if that's where your analysis begins, I can't actually tell whether you're naive or trolling. And I'm no longer sure which is worse.
There are so many great quotes in there. I made myself resist adding emphasis to the ones I particularly liked because there were too many. So I'll just call out one of the last phases: "argumentative hyperliteracy." Yes, that. That's a state I feel like I have reached or am on the edges of, even though I'm mostly a spectator/reader in these social media discussions.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Jen Sorensen on Cancel Culture

Another great cartoon from Jen Sorensen (in case you've forgotten about her, here's an earlier one):

Maybe you're lucky enough to not have read all the agita about so-called cancel culture... I've found it hard to avoid.

I tend to agree with this thought from essayist and poet Isabel Rae MacKenzie:

after my recent experience with nazis/the alt right online, i’m even more wary of any/all arguments being made about how free speech is under attack, etc.

free speech ideals are weaponized as a MAJOR coded alt right platform point and many do not realize this still.
Should we all have free speech? Sure, and other people get to say what they think of it, too. And if our free speech includes calling police to fake being hysterically afraid of a Black man who's birdwatching in Central Park, and as a result we lose our job over that... I am not sad.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Dumbest Mask I Can Imagine

I saw this ad somewhere online the other day:

I don't know if this mask is actually made of bandana fabric, but if it is, it's almost worthless as a mask, as you probably know from the various mask studies you've seen. (Bandanas rank near the bottom of effectiveness, just above pulling up your T-shirt, if I remember correctly.)

Second, why would you want to cover up any more of yourself than you absolutely have to?  The idea is to cover your nose and mouth. Am I the only one who gets hot from wearing a mask? I don't want it covering up my neck and chest for absolutely no reason.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Standing Up in a Small Town

If you haven't already read this article about a small demonstration organized in the southern Ohio town of Bethel in support of Black Lives Matter, I highly recommend reading the whole thing. The writer, Ann Helen Peterson, spent three weeks reporting and writing it.

The demonstration took place on June 14, 2020, almost three weeks after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police, during a period of many other protests but well after some devastating property damage had occurred. It was organized by a couple of women from the town (who grew up in the town, live in the town, work in the town). Several of them are teachers at the local school, which didn't surprise me, because it reflected the way teachers in my own conservative small town were often more aware of social issues than the other residents.

They went out of their way to call it a demonstration in solidarity rather than a protest because even the word protest, they sensed, was inflammatory in the Fox News-drenched world they live in. I was not aware of that fine-grained difference, myself. I guess the time-honored concept of protest is inherently associated with violence now. Thanks, right-wing propaganda!

Bethel doesn't have a local newspaper anymore, just social media. All of their community events have died, as have their "third places" like the Blue Haven restaurant, famous for its pies. As one person quoted put it, "Now it’s just a bunch of people loosely living together in the same place."

Yet the organizer were immediately told in the comments on Facebook, where they put the word out: "You can't bring this into our town." This. A demonstration? This. Looting? Riots? Busing in anarchists? It's sad that so many people are being brainwashed by propaganda.

Another local resident, known for railing against "political correctness," used his own Facebook following to urge people to turn out in opposition, and defined the demonstration as "hate":

"Sunday at 3 o’clock, they’re supposed to be bringing a Black Lives Matter,” he said. “I’m gonna tell you right now, I hope that everybody that feels like me, I hope we outnumber those people a thousand to one, and not let that shit happen here in our little town of Bethel.”

“You’re not going to bring hate to our town,” he continued. “We don’t have hate in it right now. You’re gonna bring hate.”
On the day of the event, he went on Facebook Live and exhorted people to show up and "protect your community," claiming to have seen multiple "antifa people" scoping things out.

The upshot is that the 50 to 80 people who came out to demonstrate and say Black Lives Matter were met by more than almost 700 counter-protesters, including armed biker gangs, who tore the signs from their hands. One person was sucker-punched in the head. Meanwhile, the "handful of cops" present did nothing about it. (I guess we should be glad they didn't make it worse.)

A Black Lives Matter sign that was ripped up by counterprotestors in Bethel, Ohio, June 14. Photo by Maddie McGarvey

Most of the attackers were not from Bethel, according to the demonstration's organizers, though they recognized some faces in the crowd.

Some quotes:
The people who showed up to “protect” the town say a Black Lives Matter demonstration doesn’t belong in a place like Bethel, Ohio. There’s no need, they say, for those sorts of conversations. Others blame the demonstrators for giving Bethel a bad name: for the dozens of articles in the national press, the outsiders flooding local Facebook comment sections, the Wikipedia entry for the village briefly changed to describe it as “composed of many, many racists.”

"...was it really the right thing to do, bringing that protest here? It’s okay to have one of those in the city, but in a predominantly white town — what they were doing was basically doing was inviting racists in.”

If there hadn’t been a protest, the reasoning goes, there wouldn’t have been a problem, and everything in Bethel would’ve been like it always has been: just fine. But what happened on that Sunday afternoon showed just how unsustainable that belief has become.
The middle part of the story is about a Black man who grew up in the town and is held up as kind of a "black friend" example by the jerk who incited the counter-protest to prove that Bethel is not racist. Well, the reporter tracked this Black man down and found that he does indeed think Bethel was (and probably still is) racist. He hasn't been back to find out, though.

I hope you take the time to read the whole story. 


This cincinnati.com story has additional reporting on what happened on June 14, including police estimates on who was there, such as 250 people on motorcycles, and that there were six cops and one sheriff's deputy total.

Quoting that story:
The Facebook video [co-organizer Andrea] Dennis recorded shows a woman trying to wrestle a BLM sign away from one of the demonstrators. One man repeatedly shouts, “Don’t put that in my face” at the demonstrators. Another man with his face covered by a confederate flag rips a poster to the sound of cheering. Two men can be seen down the street carrying semi-automatic rifles.

Monday, July 6, 2020

All the Same, Sort of

In case you didn't already know this, here's a nice graphic depicting one of the fun facts you learn soon after you start vegetable gardening:

I already knew this, but what I like about this graphic is the way it points out the specific part of the parent plant that was enlarged to create each of the different plants we all know and grow.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Coping in the Emergency Room

In some alternate life, I would be writing academic papers about all of the systems humans set up in different settings. Emergency rooms are an example, where elaborate methods are carried out day after day with specialized equipment and supplies, all stored and disposed of in standardized ways. I'm sure recording the details of a single ER would fill a book.

But for today, I have just one small example: The triage nurse's station at a Level 1 Trauma Center comes equipped with one of these:

It's a "Cope Tote," and as the handwritten note to the right says, "These items should NOT be handed out for toys in Triage. DISTRACTION ITEMS ONLY."

All of those notes adhered to the bag tell a story about a perceived system failure: the toys are given out to children and they don't find their way back to the bag. Someone thought that applying strips of all-caps type and then an extra note would make it more likely there would be less material loss. Maybe the parents would make the kids give the toys back more often because of the notes?

I wonder if it works.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Mount Rushmore Shouldn't Exist

I used to be a fan of Mount Rushmore, probably as a kid or a teenager. The idea of the human achievement involved in blasting and carving huge faces out of a cliff impressed me, I guess. The romantic story of sculptor Gutzon Borglum, as spun by the government PR machine, got me too: "Man vs. nature" and all that, as we were taught in school.

I'm from the East, so I never saw it in person until I moved to Minnesota and then not until well after arriving in the Midwest. I think it was in the late 1990s, while we were on a trip to Colorado, taking the South Dakota route. I remember not liking the jingoistic accoutrements that filled the public spaces where you have to stand to view the giant heads, but the memory is vague.

I don't know if I knew at the time that the mountain was sacred to the Lakota people, or that it was called the Six Grandfathers and looked like this:

I knew about the Crazy Horse monument, not far away, and we visited that as well. (That has its own problems and its completion is not a solution to balance out Mount Rushmore.)

Now when I hear people say things like, "We should add a woman to Mount Rushmore" (once we have a woman president), all I can do is shake my head. Mount Rushmore shouldn't exist, and adding a woman to it won't change that fact. It's a symbol of white supremacy, blasted into rock on unceded Lakota territory. And even if it wasn't, as this Guardian article recounts, Borglum was a member of the Klan. The presidents depicted and honored were enslavers and Indian-killers.

In some ways Mount Rushmore is a perfect symbol of this country: permanently defacing other people's sacred places, while thinking it's a way to honor the heroes who really matter. Creating a spectacle to visit while driving a polluting car so someone can make money via tourism. Hubris, once again, writ large.

This final observation is a small bit of comfort:

never realised how gross and sad mt rushmore looks when you can actually see the whole mountain:


Sidenote: In case you've ever wondered who it's named after, you won't be disappointed because the answer fits squarely with all the other ways the sculpture is a perfect symbol of this country. From the Wikipedia:
In 1885 Charles E. Rushmore came to the Black Hills of South Dakota to check the titles to properties for an eastern mining company owned by James Wilson, following the 1883 opening of the Etta tin mine. How Mount Rushmore came to be named after Charles is subject to contradictory recounting [two possibilities are listed in the footnotes], but the United States Board of Geographic Names officially recognized the name in June 1930, five years after Rushmore donated $5,000 (equivalent to $72,894 in 2019) towards Gutzon Borglum's sculpture.
So basically, Rushmore was a rich business guy who bought the naming rights. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Infinite 12

So many Zoom calls (I know, right?) and while they continue, I bend twist ties. One day I noticed they were starting to look like numbers. Soon I had assembled this:

I think it means something, maybe more to some people than others.