Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Four Screens

I was just looking through my recent photos (okay, 300 photos from the past several months) and realized I have a few screen snapshots from MSNBC, mostly from All In With Chris Hayes.

The first one is from February 9, 2017:

The second one is from February 20:

This one is from March 23:

As I always say, the Republicans promise jobs jobs jobs, and that's what people say they want. But somehow, jobs just never manage to become their actual priority once they're in office. Strange how that is.

And finally, I'm not sure when this one is from, but it's timeless, unfortunately:

Another example of misplaced priorities and manipulation of the vulnerable human brain by opportunists.

Monday, March 27, 2017

In and Near Heart of the Beast

Thirty years in the Twin Cities, attendance at something like 15 May Day parades and festivals, and I had never been to In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, proper, until yesterday. I went to see two of their Puppetlab premieres, "Mythomania" by Allison Osberg and "Bipolar Lite" by Patty Gille.

Both were very creative and thought-provoking. Osberg's show combined ruminations on lying with thoughts on gardening and narration by a human sweet potato. Her interpretations of what constitutes a puppet were especially fun. Gille's show was a musical cabaret about being a bipolar artist, and included one of the best portrayals of depression I've ever seen.

No photos of any of that, of course (though I was sorely tempted!), but here are a few from the lobby:

The two large masks above the ticket counter give you an idea of the HoBT aesthetic, if you're not familiar with it.

This sign is behind the concessions stand. Note the small sign at bottom left that says "Thank you, water." HoBT has been talking about public drinking water for more than a decade.

This drawing was part of the assemblage of ideas for the May Day parade that filled one wall of the lobby. The guy in the middle (who looks a bit like Neil DeGrasse Tyson) is the franchisee, riding the back of a fast-food worker. He in turn is ridden by corporate.

Just up the street from the HoBT building, these signs overlooked the Midtown Greenway bike path.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

New York 2140

I highly recommend Kim Stanley Robinson’s new book New York 2140, despite some significant flaws. He is one of the few writers, whether of speculative fiction or any other kind of fiction, who pursues the idea of utopia. After all, how often do you read a novel that refers to both the classic children’s novel The Pushcart War and the ground-breaking study Why Civil Resistance Works?

The general premise is a bit like that of David Brin’s 1990 novel Earth: Robinson picks a future point in time and builds an America that could still manage to be in existence, despite all the problems that will have occurred in the meantime. There have been two major glacial-melting events that he calls Pulses, one around 2060 and the other around 2100, which have resulted in a 50-foot sea level rise. And though the economy has been decarbonized for more than 70 years, that hasn’t stopped climate change.

I have arguments with the book. It takes place more than 120 years in the future, but culture and technology (other than some nifty building materials based on graphene) aren’t very different than they are now. Go back to 1897 and tell me that makes any sense. Even if you argue that technological advances stalled because of economic upheaval from climate change, that doesn’t account for the lack of culture change. But Robinson is just not that into culture, so his characters live in something like our present day, almost unchanged.

Also, Robinson’s ability to deal with the reality of poverty and cultural difference has never been his strong suit, so the book is shallow on those important topics. The characters are fun and relatively diverse given that he’s a white, male writer, but for a city of millions, many struggling to survive, there are very few glimpses of their reality.

But as an economic polemic it excels… if you can get past the depressing assumption that his economic analysis will still apply in 2140, since it’s really written to describe today:
[The sea-level rise of] the Second Pulse…. had been bad for people—most of them. But at this point the four hundred richest people on the planet owned half the planet’s wealth, and the top one percent owned fully eighty percent of the world’s wealth. For them it wasn’t so bad.

This remarkable wealth distribution was just a result of the logical progression of the ordinary workings of capitalism, following its overarching operating principle of capital accumulation at the highest rate of return….

…in that process—call it globalization, neoliberal capitalism, the Anthropocene, the water boarding, what have you—the Second Pulse became an unusually clear signal that it was time for capital to move on. Rate of return on all coastlines having been definitively hosed, capital, having considerably more liquidity than water, slid down the path of least resistance…

…capital has lots of better rates of return to flow to, indeed lots anywhere that was not on the drowned coastlines would do. Places competed in abasing themselves to get some of what could be called refugee capital, though really it was just the imperial move to the summer palace, as always.
I also found it a bit depressing that one of the viewpoint characters is a hedge fund trader, and we’re subjected to that twisted way of seeing the world for pages and pages. But in the end the character comes around, so that’s a bit of utopia all by itself. The character puts his realization this way in one of the later chapters:
I know how to trade…. But so what? What is all that really? A game. Games. Gambling games. I’m a professional gambler. Like on of those mythical characters in the fictional Old West saloons, or the real Las Vegas casinos. Some people like those guys. Or they like stories about those guys. They like the idea of liking those guys, makes them feel outlawish and transgressy.
The vision of New York as a new Venice, fighting gentrification, is pretty complete. Building superintendents spend their time waterproofing the basements and lower floors, “vapos” (water buses, just like in Venice) and boats carry the people when they’re not walking on connecting skyway bridges, and the piers are important once again. As in Robinson’s short story, Venice Drowned, there’s a lot of time spent diving. The area south of Central Park is called the intertidal, because it’s affected by the tides and generally has no streets. Buildings grounded in stone survive and thrive, but those built on landfill have a bad habit of suddenly tilting and falling.

I learned that an area like the intertidal would not legally belong to anyone because it falls under the law of the sea, which goes back to the Justinian Code:
The things which are naturally everybody’s are: air, flowing water, the sea, and the sea-shore. So nobody can be stopped from going onto the sea-shore. The sea-shore extends as far as the highest winter tide. The law of all peoples gives the public a right to use the sea-shore, and the sea itself. Anyone is free to put up a hut there to shelter himself. The right view is that ownership of these shores is vested in no one at all. Their legal position is the same as that of the sea and the land or sand under the sea.
But when the sea shore is the valuable real estate of Manhattan, things get interesting. People squat in buildings that are condemned, while developers want to tear them down to build new, but no one owns them:
…how do you build anything in the intertidal, how do you salvage, restore renew—how do you invest in a mangled ambiguous zone still suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous tide flow? If people claim to own wrecked buildings that they or their legal predecessors used to own, but they don’t own the land the buildings are on, what are those buildings worth?
The good news is, the people of New York are much more self-sufficient than they are now, both for energy generation and food. The story focuses on the two thousand people who live in the MetLife tower, which has a farm floor and a floor devoted to animal husbandry. Food is grown on roofs all over Manhattan, sharing space with water cisterns and photovoltaics. Madison Square is an aquafarm.

The whole place is lousy with co-ops, communes, gift economies, townships on floating islands. It's a “hotbed of theory and practice.”

So, all of that gives you an idea of the setting. Then mix in a hurricane that makes 2012’s Superstorm Sandy look like an afternoon shower, and you end up with a result that, while not utopia, sets back capital in its relentless pursuit of incidental destruction for another few decades.

Worth the 600+ pages, in my opinion.


A few favorite quotes from the text:
“…wherever there is a commons, there is enclosure.”

“It was as if nothing had been learned in the long years of struggle to make lower Manhattan a livable space, a city-state with a different plan. Every ideal and value seemed to melt under a drenching of money, the universal solvent. Money money money. The fake fungibility of money, the pretense that you could buy meaning, buy life.”

“I finally get what revolution means. It’s maximum volatility with no hedging.”

“Prices are systematically low, the result of collusion between buyers and sellers, who agree to fuck the future generations so that they can get what they want, which is cheap stuff and profits both.”

Oh, and finally, the chapters begin with multiple quotes from a crazy quilt of sources. Here are a few favorites:
“Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.” —Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

“I am for an art that tells you the time of day, or where such and such a street is. I am for an art that helps old ladies across the street.” —Claes Oldenburg

New Yorkese is the common speech of early nineteenth-century Cork, transplanted during the mass migration of the south Irish two hundred years ago.

“Art is not truth. Art is a lie that enables us to realize the truth.” —Pablo Picasso

My mixed feelings but generally positive read are echoed in this review from NPR. The book is also reviewed in the Guardian and on Boing Boing.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Above It All or Each Other

Just a day apart, I saw these two sets of juxtapositions. The first is two adjacent tweets about our Dear Leader:

But enough about him.

The second was from the Star Tribune as I was shaking apart the sections to discard the sports pages:

I laughed out loud.

Friday, March 24, 2017

You Are Not Alone

I have not been reading mentions of the adult man who got a light (or no) sentence for raping a 12-year-old girl (and I'm not linking to any stories about this here). But that prompted a friend on Facebook to post this. She is an adjunct professor of sociology and women's studies in the Boston area:

All these discussions about an adult man getting a pass for raping a 12-year-old girl inspired me to ask two of my classes today at what age did the women in the class first get sexually recognized by an adult man, whether it was comments, touching, cat calls, or so on.

Even I was chilled to find that collectively the average age was TEN! And everyone of them had a story about a creepy friend's or boyfriend's dad. Wake up, world, and stop fetishizing little girls!
These were predominately white, upper-class girls. The discussion today made clear that they had never even talked about it with each other before. Collectively, all the girls felt like they must've done something and were shocked to find out they all have the same stories of dads at friend's houses or a little boyfriend's daddy and they all felt they must've been leading on these grown men going as far back to age 10. Our culture is so fucking broken.
The fact of their experience is sickening, but the silence that surrounds it is almost as troubling. You don't even know that it makes sense to talk about it because no one talks about it.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Moment of Rationality

Only a few days ago, I noticed that all three of the op-eds in the Star Tribune that day were from a conservative point of view, and I wondered what was happening with our supposedly "liberal" paper, the one that gets called the Red Star by our farthest Right community members.

Today, I would classify the three op-eds as one progressive and two that are hard to categorize, but the seven letters to the editor were all progressive, which may be a record.

They covered three topics: the National Endowment for the Arts, a proposed fee on electric vehicles, and public transit.

The NEA letter took the form of a cartoon, and was in response to an earlier cartoon that belittled the NEA:

The electric vehicle letters made excellent points about how the many real costs of gas-powered vehicles are not covered through taxes or any other fees, that EV owners already pay more through registration fees than do owners of gas-powered cars in gas taxes, and that it's stupid to tax the thing you want (cleaner-energy vehicles) instead of the thing you don't want (dirty energy).

The public transit letters pointed out that people from outside the metro area benefit from public transit when they visit (helping them avoid traffic, parking fees, and unfamiliar roads), that light rail works really well for a wide range of people (with strollers, bikes, wheelchairs, not to mention legs), and that raising the gas tax 5 or 10 cents would barely be noticed in the usual fluctuation of gas prices.

I suppose the letters will swing back tomorrow, but it was nice to have a moment of rationality with my morning tea.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Poor Old Pumpkin

It has been one of those days where my best idea for a blog post is to go into my photos and pick one more or less at random.

So here it is, my October pumpkin some time in November:

Yes, we have squirrels. Why do you ask?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Wrong Turn If We Want Happiness

The World Happiness report has just hit the streets, and the U.S. has fallen to 14th place. The top five spots are overwhelmingly dominated by Scandinavian countries, with Norway number one.

The Washington Post reports some of the background of how the ratings are done. While they start from a type of self-report, the results are analyzed using six variables:

  • income
  • healthy life expectancy
  • having someone to count on in times of trouble
  • generosity
  • freedom
  • trust, which is measured by the absence of corruption in business and government
What's up with that declining rank for those of us in the U.S.? Well,
Americans...have been reporting declining happiness over the past decade, according to the report. While the United States has improved in two of the six variables used to calculate happiness — income per capita and healthy life expectancy — it has suffered when it comes to the four social variables. American citizens are reporting less social support, less sense of personal freedom, lower donations, and more perceived corruption of government and business.
Note that our declining happiness dates back to the to the Bush years, before the crash in 2008. It didn't improve during the Obama years. It has been so notable that the report includes a special chapter called Restoring American Happiness, written by Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs.
“This American social crisis is widely noted, but it has not translated into public policy,” Sachs wrote. “Almost all of the policy discourse in Washington DC centers on naive attempts to raise the economic growth rate, as if a higher growth rate would somehow heal the deepening divisions and angst in American society. This kind of growth-only agenda is doubly wrong-headed.”

Sachs told Reuters that President Trump's policies will only make things worse. In his preliminary budget, released last week, Trump has indicated plans to gut several federal agencies and slash spending on foreign aid, including to the United Nations.

“They are all aimed at increasing inequality,” Sachs told Reuters. “Tax cuts at the top, throwing people off the health-care rolls, cutting Meals on Wheels in order to raise military spending. I think everything that has been proposed goes in the wrong direction.”

The United States, he concluded in the report, is looking for happiness “in all the wrong places.”

“The country is mired in a roiling social crisis that is getting worse,” Sachs wrote. “Yet the dominant political discourse is all about raising the rate of economic growth. And the prescriptions for faster growth—mainly deregulation and tax cuts — are likely to exacerbate, not reduce social tensions. Almost surely, further tax cuts will increase inequality, social tensions, and the social and economic divide between those with a college degree and those without.”

Monday, March 20, 2017

Missing a Smile

I cut all kinds of slack to people who have to be photographed in public all the time. Imagine if every which way you looked all day long might be frozen fall time and thrown up onto the interweb? I don't psychoanalyze Melania or Michelle for what they do or don't do with their faces moment by moment. I can't imagine being under that much pressure.

But there's one less-important-than-all-the-other-things thing about President Turnip I will never get used to, and it's his inability to smile naturally:

This is about as close as he gets to a smile, and... really. What is that face? He looks like a proud five-year-old.

Whereas Barack Obama...

That man knows how to smile and make it look natural, whether it is or not. Sometimes it's bigger, sometimes it's smaller, sometimes no teeth show, but it always looks like a smile. A human thing.

One more thing to miss these days.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Random Tab: Bullying

I have something approaching 100 tabs open. No time to go through them. So for today, here's one picked at random: How being bullied affects your adulthood, from Slate.

The article is from June 2016, so that gives you an idea how behind I am.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

My Motto for the Age and All Ages

You're sitting in a meeting and suddenly you realize the mug in another person's hand says this:

And you stop the meeting to take a picture of it.

That was me yesterday.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Driven Out, Not Sent Packing

The story is bad enough: an African American couple and their three foster children moved into a house in the Twin Cities exurb of Delano only a few months ago, and over the weekend found their home burglarized and vandalized with unprintably racist graffiti and spray-painted messages like "get out."

This post is not about what happened to the family, which you can learn from reading the story linked above. My question is: What headline would you put on that news story, if you were the Star Tribune?

I'm not sure exactly what I would have done in their place, but I know it wouldn't have been worded the way the Star Tribune folks did it here:

The threats "sent them packing," the headline tells us. Sent them packing.

Have you ever used that phrase? I don't think I have, and the only appropriate headline usages that come to mind are sports-related. ("The Yankees sent the Twins packing, 12 - 2.") It's not meant to be used for something serious.

The original phrase, of course, comes from Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1, when Falstaff says to Henry about a visitor waiting to see him, "Faith, and I'll send him packing."

Some definitions I've seen: to send away ignominiously; to dismiss someone, possibly rudely. I'd even go so far as to argue that it implies a lack of preparation by the one who is sent packing. They were no match for the victor, the words imply.  

It's a phrase that speaks from the point of view of the winner, which in the case of this news story means the racists who damaged and defaced a family's home. It's inappropriate to use in this headline.

The story does refer to the fact that the family members are packing their belongings to move out of the house (to an unnamed suburb that is more racially diverse than Delano, home of our post-Michele Bachmann Congressional Rep. Tom Emmer). But I sincerely hope the headline writer wasn't trying to use word play in the headline for such a serious story.

As if to acknowledge that the main headline wasn't quite right, the jump headline read like this:

Switching the verb to "drive from" is much more of a factual rendering.

The headline on the Star Tribune website reads like this:

Nobody's been sent packing in these other two headlines, and I hope that in the future only baseball teams are sent packing in the Star Tribune.