Monday, November 28, 2022

Remembering and Forgetting, Grimly

If you want a content warning, this post is about mass shootings. No terrible photos, just the names of and some details about many past incidents.




This morning I started thinking about when I first began considering that mass shootings were something I should think about myself when I was out in public. 

I think it was after the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting. So that made me want to check to remember when that was exactly, and when was it relative to the Gabby Giffords shooting, in which six other people were killed, because that was another one that made me think about it, since that was also in a very public place.

It turns out those two mass shootings were a bit more than a year apart: the Giffords shooting in January 2011, Aurora in July 2012.

The Wikipedia has a handy list of mass shootings in the United States. Of course they do.

Out of all of the mass shootings that have happened in this country, I've made a list of the ones that stuck in my mind. It's an idiosyncratic list: sometimes it has to do with where I was when I heard about a shooting, or the sheer scale of the deaths and the amount of coverage, or the motivation of the killer, after that was known.

I've made up my own key for the "reason" behind each:

  • R1 - Racist
  • R2 - Religious bias
  • R3 - Random/unknown/so-called mental illness/politically motivated
  • Q - Anti-queer
  • S - School-based (not a reason, of course, though it's sometimes mental illness/bullying, but the age and setting is a commonality)

You'll notice I have not included any workplace shootings. I am not discounting them, but I admit they seem less random to me than the others, so they aren't the ones that have stuck with me.

Place, details Year, month Code
West Paducah, Kentucky – high school
1997 Dec. S
Columbine – Colorado 1999 April S
Virginia Tech 2007 April S
Binghamton, New York – immigration center
2009 April
Fort Hood, Texas 2009 Nov. R3
Tucson, Arizona – Gabby Giffords event
2011 Jan. R3
Aurora, Colorado – movie theater 2012 July R3
Oak Creek, Wisconsin – Sikh Temple 2012 Aug. R2 R1
Newtown Connecticut – Sandy Hook Elementary 2012 Dec. S
Isla Vista, California woman-hater 2014 May R3
Charleston, S. Carolina – Mother Emanuel church 2015 June R1
San Bernardino, California married couple 2015 Dec. R3
Orlando, Florida – Pulse Nightclub 2016 June Q
Sutherland Springs, Texas – church
2017 Nov.R3
Las Vegas, Nevada – concert sniper 2017 Oct. R3
Parkland, Florida – high school 2018 Feb. S
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Tree of Life Synagogue 2018 Oct. R2
El Paso, Texas – Walmart 2019 Aug. R1
Dayton, Ohio – downtown 2019 Aug. R3
Atlanta, Georgia – spa/salons 2021 March R1
Buffalo, New York – Tops Market 2022 May R1
Uvalde, Texas – elementary school 2022 May S
Highland Park, Illinois – parade 2022 July R1
Colorado Springs, Colorado – Club Q 2022 Oct. Q

That first one on my list isn't a shooting that most people remember, but I do, for some reason. Yet there are so many fairly recent mass shootings on the Wikipedia list that I don't remember anything about or only vaguely remember: the 2021 FedEx shooting in Indianapolis? that supermarket in Boulder? 

That's a commentary on how many there have been. Even some of the ones I've listed have started to fade in my memory: Dayton (which happened the day after El Paso!), the Highland Park July 4 parade, the Sutherland Springs church. Maybe in a few years I won't really remember much about those, either.

Reading through the full Wikipedia list, it's clear there have been many more in the past decade, and in the previous decade than in each one before that. In the entire 1980s, for instance, there was only one large mass shooting outside of a workplace (22 dead, 19 injured) that would fit among the ones that come up all too frequently today: the San Ysidro McDonald's massacre (remember that? I do... just barely). 

The 1990s saw just a few more than one, particularly the Luby's Restaurant shooting in Killeen, Texas (24 dead, 27 injured... which I had forgotten about), and the ’90s came to a close with Columbine, of course. The assault weapons ban expired in September 2004. State gun laws were getting laxer and laxer beginning around that time as well. If you count the number of rows in the Wikipedia table by year, you can see the number of mass shootings per year goes up starting after 2004.

No matter how much I think I will remember, it's not possible. No matter how much it seems like I will not become numb to it, it happens.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

A Street in Oxford, About 1900

Wow, this post on Twitter starts out with the original poster sharing scans of glass photo slides (possibly magic lantern slides) from the early 20th century, somewhere in England. 

In response, one person posted a photo of the high street in Oxford from around the same time, and then another person posted an image of the same street today:

The person who posted the present-day photo commented, "it's great to see mature trees on the corner of Longwall Street and the High Street. That corner looks bare today."

The sidewalks were wider in the older photo, especially on the left side. The present-day street may look as though it's about the same width, but it's probably wider, having taken four or six feet from the sidewalks. 

Finds like this on Twitter... one more thing I would miss if it goes down the tubes because of Elmo's actions.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Letting Myself Think About Clothes (Not a Good Idea)

The waste and exploitation within the clothing industry is something I mostly try not to think about as I go through life. I also try not to support it in my purchases, primarily by infrequently buying used clothes. But once in a while it's good to be reminded just how terrible it is, and how recently it became that way.

Assaad Razzouk, author of Saving the Climate Without the Bullshit, has a recent podcast episode on this topic, which he summarized on Twitter:

  • There are 75 million garment workers worldwide, less than 2% of whom make a living wage.
  • They make 100 billion new items of clothing annually, most of which include plastic. Those microplastics end up everywhere, down to the placental level of humans and in wildlife around the world.
  • In just 15 years, clothing production has doubled, with average per-person purchases increasing substantially while the number of uses per garment has decreased significantly.
  • Fashion production uses a disproportionate amount of fresh water (especially for irrigating cotton) and produces an even higher amount of wastewater.
  • There are 15,000 different chemicals used in the industry, with no good way of knowing their effect on our health.

The plastic aspect of this story is the one that comes back to me over and over again. Plastic fabrics are invisible to us, renamed as polyester, Dacron, Nylon, PolarFleece® (which can be made from recycled soda pop bottles, which I once thought made it a good thing!). 

Every time you wash your clothes made from these fabrics, you're sending microplastics into the water system. I'm personally sending them into the Mississippi River.

Giant petrochemical companies and their R&D departments spent years figuring out how to find new markets for oil, working it into the production of fabrics until it's very hard to buy clothes without it, even if you want to. 

Just as the companies have developed plastic packaging "solutions" and made them essential to convenience until almost no one questions their presence in everyday life, plastic fabrics are now the default. With the added bonus of built-in obsolescence, since most plastic-based fabrics don't wear well through multiple wash and dry cycles.


Two earlier posts in the same vein:

Facts for the Clothes-Minded (from 2018)

The Overwhelming Tabs of June (from 2013) [the section labeled "cheap clothes are just cheap"] 

Friday, November 25, 2022

Streets Changing, Two Ways

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I follow a lot of Twitter accounts from urbanist transportation people, which has led me to think about how to remake my own city to be a more humane and livable place, more resilient in a warming world, and where people can live with little or no greenhouse-gas-emitting fuels. 

Here are two recent posts that are not in opposition, but that seem to be somewhat in tension, partly because one is speaking from a European perspective and one about trying to fix American city streets.

First, from Seattle's Queen Anne Greenways @QAGreenways:

To build resilience in the face of climate change, we should require at least 20% of residential street space to be de-paved and de-motorized.

THE GARDEN STREET. How to convert a standard Seattle neighborhood street into a woonerf.
  • Add garden/living space
  • Alter vehicular path
  • Reduce car parking by half
  • Add bike and delivery parking

Then, from Melissa & Chris Bruntlett @modacitylife:

We outline the Dutch blueprint for urban vitality on the Project Chatter podcast:
  1. Build a dense network of high-quality cycle infrastructure
  2. Filter unnecessary motor traffic through a circulation plan
  3. Harness the synergy between cycling and public transport

Both of these ways of doing streets sound great, but if you compare the Queen Anne Greenways image, it's a lot greener than the Dutch photos, which look very livable to me, but have a lot more pavement in them. 

Yet the Queen Anne sketch seems like a street that's still mostly designed for cars, or that assumes cars will be a primary mode of mobility. It's definitely not set up for transit, at least.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Learning Lessons from Ultra

If you care about the current Republican slide (race?) toward fascism, and you haven't already listened to Rachel Maddow's podcast Ultra, now's the time, since all eight episodes are available. 

It's a look at Nazi infiltration of the U.S. in the 1930s and ’40s, including the U.S. Congress, and how the legal system was stymied in stopping it. It's full of names I (and possibly you) never heard of, but who were prominent at the time. As I wrote earlier, it began by confounding my sense of traditional "Right" and "Left," and that continued with some of the characters in the later episodes.

The final episode reaches its conclusion with the voice of historian Steven Ross, who says:

Whenever somebody says, 'It's time to move on, let's heal and move on' — that's always a mistake. The idea was that these right-wingers ultimately aren't really a danger to America. After the mistrial, in 1945–1946, it would have done this country, I think, real good by saying, you know what, we have known about a left-wing danger in America, but we have never really openly, as a country, discussed right-wing danger.

We need to hold people responsible. People who call on fellow Americans to pick up arms need to be held accountable. And we have never done that in our history, really, for the right wing.

And then Maddow wraps up, telling us that "Fascism happens recurrently" because it has a certain appeal to a certain percentage of the population. "Previous generations of Americans have confronted this same type of threat before us," She says. "And learning what they did gives us some lessons learned about what works and what might not work."

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Annette Meeks: Still Not in the Reasonable Middle

It was odd to read today's Star Tribune, which had a front-page story with this headline: Small town enlisted in abortion fight, and an op-ed by former Republican Party candidate and apparatchik Annette Meeks titled Why Minn. Republicans can't win the big ones.

Meeks tried to brush off the idea that the party's anti-abortion extremism is the reason they can't win statewide (particularly in the populous suburbs), while in the front-page story, people in a town with 500 people are planning to pass an ordinance allowing their residents to sue abortion providers, including anyone who sends medications through the mail.

The small-town men working for the ordinance aren't out to get the pregnant women... oh no, of course not, they say. They know those women are "suffering" and aren't responsible for their own actions. (Women aren't rational actors, of course not!) These good men just want to stop "the animals who tell her that's OK and profit from it...." "We want the Christian community to wrap their arms around them."

Yeah, sure. Wrap their arms around them and choke them into submission.

Meanwhile, Annette Meeks takes her party to task for losing touch with reality, which is...good, as far as it goes. Except she's pretending the party doesn't have a vision for the future, when they do have a vision: it's white nationalist theocracy. The party just doesn't want to write that out as their platform. They want to dog-whistle it and telegraph it and only say it behind closed doors.

It's good that Meeks openly declares in her op-ed that the election system isn't corrupt, that the public schools are not a black hole, and that the party's narrowly based caucus system for choosing candidates is resulting in unelectable candidates. 

But she doesn't admit that the party (nationally as well as locally) has been hell-bent on limiting how many people can vote. She brushes the abortion issue under the rug completely. And she writes that she sees Newt Gingrich as an exemplar of a good leader among Republicans. Newt Gingrich!

So I think Annette Meeks has a way to go before we can trust what she has to say as a partner in good governance, even though she's trying to sound like someone in the reasonable middle.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The CIA and Political Terraforming

Here's another startling take from Sarah Taber via Twitter, if the link doesn't rot, thanks to Elmo:

Someday I'd love to have the time to do a podcast episode on Wendell Berry, how the state department launched his career, and how that made him The Voice of Rural America rather than Cesar Chavez, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dolly Parton, or literally anyone else with a lick of sense.

The conservatism of the rural US isn't inevitable or natural. It's from about 120 years of political terraforming.

Who gets state sponsorship to tell the public how rural areas work, and how they *should* work, is a huge part of that political project.

Anyway if you wanna know more, here's a nice primer on the Iowa Writers Workshop and how the CIA backed it as an anticommunist propaganda shop.

Berry's career was launched by its sister program at Stanford, which has gotten less attention, in 1958.

And if anyone's tempted to explain to me "but no, Berry isn't conservative, he's all about racial harmony!" I'm BEGGING you to google Jim Crow, sharecropping, and paternalism and re-read what he has to say about Black Americans with fresh eyes.


I haven't read that much Berry, I admit, and now I feel less regret about my choices.

I'm very much looking forward to the publication of Taber's book, which should be coming out fairly soon.


Past posts involving Sarah Taber:

About that Pox

Learning About "Traditional" Farming

Sarah Taber, Pellagra, Pecans, Wow

O Pioneers!

On Corn and Farm Land


Monday, November 21, 2022

Nicole Kelner, Part 2

Another painting from artist Nicole Kelner, translating the complexity of the Inflation Reduction Act into something humans can quickly understand. (Here's one of her earlier paintings.)

This time it's for larger buildings:

(Click to enlarge.)

The painting was commissioned by Get Grid Rewards.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Quinsy and Other Archaic Terms

In early 1921, my father's maternal grandmother died of quinsy, which is severe, strep-induced tonsillitis (peritonsillar abscess), usually on one side. Here's the description from her obituary:

[She] died at at 11 o'clock Wednesday night after a short illness of quinsy. [She] was taken ill on Sunday morning. On Monday, her condition being more serious, a consultation of physicians was held and everything possible done for her relief. The following morning however, it was deemed advisable to remove her to the hospital, where she died late Wednesday night. Her case was pronounced the most serious one of quinsy which any of the local physicians have known in their practice.

She was 29 years old. My grandmother was 10.

My great-grandmother's bier. Her funeral was held in her family's home, which was in a second-floor apartment along Main Street in the business district of her upstate New York city. It's hard to imagine someone holding a funeral in such a setting today.

Finding out what quinsy was made me think about all the other old-fashioned names one reads for medical conditions in primary sources or historical fiction. Here are modern translations of a few of them, from Merriam Webster and VeryWell.

Ague: an infectious fever with chills and sweating. Associated with malaria.

Apoplexy: stroke.

Bloody flux: dysentery

Camp fever, jail fever: typhus

Consumption: tuberculosis, of course.

Croup: "an obstruction caused by swelling of the larynx, trachea, and bronchi that occurs in children as a result of a virus and is, by definition, 'marked by episodes of difficult breathing and low-pitched cough resembling the bark of a seal.'" I coughed like this as a child, and still do sometimes when I'm sick. I thought croup was synonymous with pertussis (whooping cough), but I guess it's used more broadly for any bronchial swelling-type cough. It sounds like it may have also been used for cases of diphtheria and strep.

Dropsy: edema.

French pox: syphilis.

Grippe: could be any viral contagious illness, but most likely influenza.

Horrors: I haven't heard of this one before. Depression, or (separately), the shivering from a fever.

Lockjaw: tetanus. I grew up using this term, and fearing that I had this every time I scratched myself on a rusty object.

Lumbago: back pain.

It's interesting that many other common diseases and conditions never had different commonly used common-sounding names in English, as far as I can tell: diphtheria, malaria (though it was sometimes vaguely called congestive fever), cholera, pleurisy, asthma... and that others have common names that are still in use even though they have more current medical names (yellow fever, smallpox).

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Lydia Ricci

On the way home from the annual Wayzgoose at Hamilton Wood Type Museum a few weeks ago, we stopped off at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, as we have many times before, but for the first time since the pandemic. Lots of good things to see, as usual.

Probably my favorite were the small, "messy, imperfect sculptures" of Lydia Ricci.

We went through the small exhibit of her work (which is combined with paintings by Sarah McEneaney) backwards, which meant we saw the video of her stop-frame animations first and had no idea what it was about.

Ricci places her miniature sculptures into brief, comedic situations with life-size objects, and the video on display showed them one after another. I tend to have little patience for videos that play in museums, but this one was worth watching all the way through.

After watching, we moved into the gallery to see her tiny sculptures displayed inside their plexiglass boxes. In a way, they were less enchanting that way, almost forlorn compared to their lively existences in the video. But it's hard not to appreciate the creative vision that goes into recreating these objects, at this scale, from the materials she uses.

You can see more (and better) photos and a few brief animations of the sculptures on the homepage of her website, and longer animations on this page.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Barbara Willard and Mantlemass

I just finished rereading all of the Mantlemass novels by Barbara Willard, plus the short stories she added in The Keys of Mantlemass. The novels take place from about 1479 to 1644, and one short story is set (I think) contemporaneously to when it was written around 1980.

The books were fairly well-known in the UK in their time, but I think less so now, and are close to unknown in the U.S. They take place in the Ashdown Forest of Sussex (the same location as the Hundred Acre Wood from the Winnie-the-Pooh books), and follow the lives of several families as they interweave through generations, usually focusing on young members for at least part of each book.

The forest setting is an ongoing character, including the way it changes over time through development and the foreshadowing of industrialization. Seasonality is another constant companion, with detailed description of harvesting, food preservation, effect on travel, fauna, and water variation in streams. The events of English political history are a backdrop: the end of the War of the Roses, ongoing religious upheaval, war with Spain, and the English Civil War. 

A bridle path in Ashdown Forest, present day.

Willard's characters are strong, memorable, and fairly gender-balanced, which was unusual even during the 1970s, considering she wrote about these particular time periods and this place. I always appreciated that about her work.

Her weakness for classism is less positive, though I think she was of two minds about that. As an American, it's hard for me to sympathize with the deference some British people have for royalty and their "betters" generally, which shows up here.

There are strains of belief in "good blood" behind some of Willard's characterization choices — genetic essentialism that is not borne out by science. The best example is the character Robin Medley, who in one book is a fine young man, and in the next — just six years later! — has become an unstable jerk, with only the explanation that his father (who had almost nothing to do with his upbringing) was a jerk. (Those books are The Iron Lily and A Flight of Swans.)

Conversely, though, in the prequel The Miller's Boy, the titular character is the hard-working grandson of a miller, whose friend is from the gentry, and Willard treats their relationships with great understanding of how that would feel for the working-class boy. In the short story "A Different Day," from The Keys of Mantlemass, the two characters meet again as middle-aged men, and that complexity goes even deeper. There are a number of other examples where the forest people are shown to be "just as good" as the gentry, but it always seems as though there's a tug toward valuing, or valorizing, the upper class characters a bit more.

Finally, rereading the last book, Harrow and Harvest, in combination with my recent read of Rosemary Sutcliff's Simon, made me think about why so many English people left their native land for the North American colonies in the mid-17th century, as more than half of my ancestors did. They were fleeing war and the aftermath of war, like other migrants since then and many today. And there was a continent just "waiting" for them to exploit it, with people to colonize or convert. Disease would run ahead of them, emptying the path. Opportunity (!). But even so, the thing they were leaving behind was terrible, or they wouldn't have taken the risk.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Moving to Mastodon, Sort of

Twitter may (or may not) be dying tonight, so I've been spending the evening setting up on Mastodon, and pre-saving November's tweets in case they all disappear before the end of the month. No time for much else. I'll be kind of befuddled by new technology for a while, I imagine.

Back on Twitter, there are lots of references to deck chairs on the Titanic and people saying "So that's it then, we're all going to die." 

Elmo has caused almost all of the staff to quit, if he didn't lay them off directly: The payroll department, the people who deal with taxes. The people who control access to the building. 

For all we know, the website will keep running for days, or this is all rumors and nothing will change at all. Or not, and it will be gone tomorrow or this weekend. (That's a lot of "ors.")

It just occurred to me that this might be the ultimate "Life in the Age of the Interweb" post.