Thursday, July 29, 2021

Earth Overshoot Day

Today is Earth Overshoot Day, the day when "we" collectively have used as many resources as the planet can produce in a year. Starting tomorrow, humans are using resources that are, in effect, provided by future generations. 

What I hadn't thought about before, I admit, is that this is an average, and so (of course!) the U.S.'s overshoot day was months ago.

March 14, to be exact, according to this graphic from the Global Footprint Network. There aren't many countries worse than us — just two small oil-producing nations and Luxembourg, with Kuwait and Canada tied with the U.S. What's up with Luxembourg?

Meanwhile, here in Minnesota we've just come off a day with a 105°F heat index, and now today we have the highest particulate reading in our history because of forest fires north and west of here. Oh, and we're in a drought, too, but our state climatologist says that's not part of climate change (for us), since Minnesota's future is projected to be wetter than our past, not drier. 

Stop Line 3, Governor Walz, or President Biden, or whoever can.


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

From Party Snacks to Buttons

Did your mom or grandma have a button jar?

Mine did, and at some point I acquired one of my own, not by saving buttons myself, but by buying some other mom or grandma's collection at an auction. 

It came in a giant jar, and this is the lid:

I think I wanted it partly because of that metal lid and its printing. Party snacks — pickled herring, of course!

Here's a close-up of the two gnomish, red-coated fellows who are carrying a giant herring, ringed with the name VITA:

It turns out Vita Party Snacks in Wine Sauce are still around! You can buy them here (not to mention from that other giant Bozo-created retailer), but their jar has changed. And now you will pay $5.13 for 12 ounces, rather than $2.39 for 2 pounds, 8 ounces. 

I'm not sure what year my jar lid is from, so with inflation, that price increase and package size decrease may not be a bad deal for a bunch of herring, which we're now told contains 297 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per 2-ounce serving. Imagine needing to buy 40 ounces of pickled herring at a once, at a time when people were using iceboxes instead of refrigerators.

Here's what the packaging looks like these days:

That's definitely a decrease in quality. And it would only hold a small button collection.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Robert P. Moses

I hope you read one of the many articles written about civil rights organizer Bob Moses, who died this week at age 86. I knew just a bit about him, most of it learned in the past 10 or 15 years. (I remember thinking "Robert Moses, the Power Broker?" when I first heard his name, whenever that was.)

He organized the organizers and trained the trainers. He helped start the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project. He helped create the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and was one of the leaders holding out for full recognition when Walter Mondale sold them out at the 1964 convention, as ordered by Lyndon Johnson.

In 1965, he spoke at his first anti-war protest, seeing the connections between civil rights and war abroad. According to his New York Times obituary,

Not long afterward, he received a notice that his draft number had been called. Because he was five years past the age limit for the draft, he suspected it was the work of government agents.

He and his wife Janet left the country for Tanzania, where they remained for eight years.

Quite a way to treat a hero, America. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Women and Men, Star Tribune Op-Eds, Six Months

It's the end of the six months of data collection I've been doing on the gender breakdown of Star Tribune op-ed writers and editorial cartoonists.

July 2021 was bad, almost as bad as May, with 70% of the bylines by men and 30% by women (plus one by the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board). To add insult to injury, among those male writers were two from the Center of the American Experiment and one from former State Senator Scott Jensen. Oh, and on one single day there were two by men named Douglas and another named Dick, but no women. I thought that was a particular affront for some reason. All those "D" men on a single page.

Once again there was not a single cartoon by a woman.

As far as local/regional writers go, the imbalance was not quite as bad as the total imbalance, as has been typical. 67% of the local writers were men vs. 33% women. Still, that's really bad and much worse than it was last month.

So now that I have six months of data, where did we end up?

Unfortunately, I can't find my original data tally for two of the months and in one of those month's blog write-ups I didn't include the data count for the local writers (just the percentage), so I can't provide a six-month total for the locals. (I'll keep looking, but I suspect I recycled it, since my very official tally sheets are on the backs of unneeded envelopes.)

But here's the tally for all of the writers:

324 men vs. 153 women (plus one nonbinary writer, one I could not determine, and three institutions/editorial boards). For the men and women writers (omitting the few others from the total), that comes out to an imbalance of just about 68% of the op-eds by men and 32% by women.

So that's significantly worse than two-thirds/one-third, when all was said and done.

And, of course, out of half a year of daily cartoons (182 days, to be exact) there were just 3 by a woman, and when I say "a" woman I'm being literal, because they were all by the same woman: the almost unintelligibly right-wing Lisa Benson.

In fairness to the Star Tribune, this is not one of the Benson cartoons the paper ran: I just wanted to show a bit of her work. But what is the pink Lyft mustache supposed to mean here? And Trump is driving a little compact car instead of something that symbolizes bigness and greatness? And of course, everything Benson doesn't like is "socialism" (that was a recurring theme in about half the cartoon samples I considered). 

As I've said before, the Star Tribune needs to explore some other women cartoonists for the days when they are not running Steve Sack and L.K. Hanson. It's not as if they don't sometimes run non-right-wing cartoons by syndicated cartoonists when they run non-local content. Throw the women a bone, editors!


Past posts:


Remember a couple of rules I used in my data count: 

  • I based my assessment of the gender of the writer on their name (or if I knew who they are, personal knowledge). If it did not seem clear, I determined their  gender by searching for a text reference that included pronouns or if that wasn't possible, a photo. None of this is not fool-proof, I acknowledge, and I may be the fool.
  • If a piece had multiple authors, I decided that just two authors would both be counted, but if it had three or more, I would count only the first named author, because after two it seemed like more of a gesture of representation in a public forum rather than indicating the piece was actually written by each of the people. (For instance, a list of politicians.)


Sunday, July 25, 2021

A Hungarian Rabbit Hole

It all started with some ice cream sandwiches at Sunday dinner. They reminded me of the Good Humor man, and a picture book we had when I was a very young child called The Good Humor Man. I thought maybe it was a Little Golden Book.

Soon Daughter Number Three-Point-One was searching it and sure enough, she found images of the book and it was a Little Golden Book. 

Who was the illustrator? Someone named Tibor Gergely. Who was he? He was a Jewish Hungarian who immigrated to the U.S. in 1939. In addition to many children's books you may have seen, he did New Yorker covers and other illustration work.

His wife was known as Anna Lesznai and she was, it turned out, even more interesting. Fifteen years his elder, she was a writer, painter, designer, and part of the Hungarian avant-garde before the rise of the Nazis. She was a member of the country's political intelligentsia and even in the education ministry for a brief period.

Tibor Gergely was her third husband, and Lesznai married him only after a long period of relationship during which he helped raise her two sons from her second marriage. Kind of unusual for the time, though probably less so in the Bohemian and artistic circles they were part of.

After they arrived in the U.S., she ran her own school of painting and wrote an autobiographical novel. It doesn't appear to have been translated into English. She died in 1966 at about age 80.

Here are some of her paintings.


And all from an ice cream sandwich.


Saturday, July 24, 2021

Two Ways of Looking at Deniers

I spent this warm Saturday outside tabling and talking to the public at two consecutive community events in Saint Paul, so there aren't a lot of thoughts in my head to spare because I've used up all my energy pretending to be an extrovert. Thank goodness there were a couple of interesting things on the interweb today.

When I got home, a thread by Dartmouth sociology professor Brooke Harrington was all over my Twitter feed. She explained why (most) vaccine deniers should not be treated with kid gloves, cajoling them into compliance — as the National Review recently advocated. They've been conned and they increasingly know they've been conned, and now they're just trying to save face. They're complicit in the lie at this point, she says (using more academic language and citing Erving Goffman's classic study called "On Cooling the Mark Out"). Hence, they are partly to blame for continuing the problem:

Goffman's work, along with 100s of articles that have built on it, suggests that many victims of con artists make a conscious choice to protect themselves socially and emotionally at the expense of others. "Be kind" does not require that we accept this unkind, even deadly choice.... People who fail to warn others of life-threatening dangers ("don't swim out to that reef--I nearly drowned in the undertow!") ARE responsible for that choice. They SHOULD be condemned, just like people who drive drunk & knowingly infect unaware partners w/HIV.

There's a lot more in the thread, including her thoughts on how to reach the deniers (which is based on Goffman's concept of "cooling the mark").

Dave Roberts also had a thread about vaccine deniers and, by extension, climate deniers, which is much more cranky and less academic:

The fear-based authoritarian personality dominant on the right is heavily prone to system justification. They need to feel that the social order is basically legible and proper. It's not any ideology or principle, it's just "what I know and am comfortable with." It's *change*, unfamiliarity, novelty -- that's what makes them anxious.

So consider masks and vaccines. Is there some principled objection? No. There are already other mandatory vaccines. There are already plenty of mandated safety behaviors (seatbelts, no smoking in public buildings, etc.). There are already all sorts of ways that the government tells you what to do and what not to do in the name of public safety. The only difference? Those ways are *familiar*....

Point being: there's no principled or even coherent *reason* why reactionaries are fighting masks and Covid vaccines. They're just new and unfamiliar. In a few years they'll be normal and the authoritarians will meekly accept them as part of the status quo all the while bitching and moaning about whatever the *next* public safety measure is.

That's the most maddening thing about this, all the angst and fighting and sickness and death these people are causing. It's not *about* anything. They're just frightened, rigid people, so the rest of us have to suffer while they throw a tantrum. They'll get over it after a few years, when the novelty has faded, and then throw a tantrum about something else and we'll all suffer again....

Oh, one semi-related addendum: the above explains why I'm so skeptical of "conservative solutions to climate change." The choice on climate is radical, rapid policy change, or radical, rapid weather effects. Either version of rapid change is a nightmare for reactionaries. So they are much, much more likely to either a) deny global warning -- and the inevitability of change -- altogether, or b) pretend there's some sort of policy that could keep the status quo basically intact through incremental, marginal tweaks.

You're not going to get a fully sorted, self-selected group of reactionaries to embrace radical change. You just aren't. No amount of fact-checking or scientific reports will do that. You go over or around them or nothing gets done, on climate as on every other issue.

One question I have is why does the U.S. have so many people prone to the authoritarian personality? Has it increased in the last few decades? It reminds me of that spring 2016 Amanda Taub piece on what could be provoking the rise of American authoritarianism. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt — the playbook of the Right — combine to feed it, for sure.

I don't know how Harrington's analysis works with Roberts' thoughts on the permanent rigidity of authoritarian personalities. They come from two different schools of sociology (or social psychology and sociology), and I'm not sure they work together. But they both seem true to me.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Back to the Salt Mines

I usually read my Discover magazines when they first arrive, but somehow I missed the June 2020 issue. There must have been a lot going on last May or something.

One good thing about reading it now is that I can link to an article I'd like to share from that issue, since its year-old date means they've posted it on their website. The title in print was "More Than Child's Play: Researchers piece together the stories of the smallest ancient laborers." Online, it's called The Ancient Practice of Childhood Labor Is Coming to Light

The story is about a salt mine in Hallstatt, Austria. It's been a salt mine for at least 7,000 years and is still mined today. It's 30 stories below the village of 800 people which, in the Bronze Age, was a prosperous place. But that was partly because everyone worked in the mine, including children as young as 3.

Salt was valuable, not just as a seasoning, but as a preservative. The preservative nature of the mineral means it's a great place to find archaeological finds, too, like small shoes and hats.

In the town's cemeteries, they also found signs of repetitive work in skeletons, such as children as young as 6 with arthritis in their elbows, knees, and spines or with snapped joints from strain. "They believe the youngest children...may have held the torches... By age 8, kids likely assumed hauling and crawling duties, carrying supplies atop their heads or shimmying through crevices too narrow for grown-ups."

Despite all of this, the life expectancy of people in Bronze Age Hallstatt was average for the time when they lived. The article doesn't give an idea of what that length of time was. 

But that fact tells us something about everyone else's life.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Places of Emmett Till, Remembered

You may think you know enough about the murder of Emmett Till (I thought I did), but you should read this new article from The Atlantic by Wright Thompson.

It focuses largely on the barn where Till was tortured before he was shot and then thrown in a river, and why we know that is the case. I didn't know any of that.

It's also about the way white Mississippians at the time worked to distance themselves from the killers, while also allowing them to go free. That part sounds just like the way cops and their unions (and other cop apologists) talk about "bad apples" these days. Later, over the years, white Mississippians managed to mostly forget it ever happened.

From this article, I learned that Till was partly a convenient scapegoat for white "economic anxiety." He visited that summer just after the Brown v. Board of Education decision and a second decision told Mississippi it had to desegregate its public schools. It was at a time of drought, and when cotton prices were flat. Banks called their loans. There had been several years before this without a lynching in the state, but two others had been carried out in the two months before Till arrived.

From this article, I learned that every Black person who testified in the original trial moved out of Mississippi immediately afterward because they knew they would never be safe if they stayed there.

From this article, I learned that a white dentist now owns the barn where Till was killed. The dentist is about my age, I think, and grew up in the area. He never knew much about Till's murder and didn't know the barn's history when he bought it and built a house next to it. He feels a deep attachment to the area and is glad he has stayed there to raise his family. But I couldn't help noticing this sentence: "His family arrived here by way of a New Deal program two generations ago." We all know (or should know) that that New Deal program probably prohibited Black participants, or at least was very biased against them, so it was a stepping stone for white men that has led to this dentist's success and ability to own this land with its swimming pool next to the barn where Emmett Till was murdered.

I did know that a sign commemorating Till's murder was constantly shot up and defaced, but I didn't know how bad it was:

Fourteen years ago, Tallahatchie County issued a formal apology for the acquittal of Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam. The state installed a green historical marker outside the courthouse.... There was [also] a marker at the Delta Inn, the hotel where jurors were sequestered and where, during the trial, a cross was burned just in case any of the jurors didn’t understand what their neighbors expected of them. That marker was taken down one night by vandals and has not been replaced. A sign was placed along the Tallahatchie River, where Till’s body was found, but someone threw it in the water. A replacement collected more than 100 bullet holes until, made illegible by the violence, it came down and was given to the Smithsonian. A third sign got shot a month after it went up. Three Ole Miss students posed before the sign with guns, and one posted the photo to Instagram. The current sign is bulletproof.

Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." That is clearly the case here, but it's a matter of which parts of the past are grieved, and which parts lionized or deplored.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Oo, Ah, Bozos in Space

I posted a photo of what Jeff Bezos's rocket looks like some time ago, and the rest of the world found out about it yesterday if they didn't already know.

That's because he got a lot of free air time. As Joshua Potash pointed out on Twitter, using a graphic from Media Matters:

Free coverage for the billionaire space tourism industry vs. informing people about the biggest crisis in history:

Yes, that graph compares morning network show coverage in one day of to an entire year.

And it's not as if these billionaires' ability to fund a personal space-race isn't related to the existence of the climate crisis. But thinking about it on that level would be too big of an ask for anyone in the mainstream media, I know.

But that rocket sure is a funny design.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

We Sure Get His Opinion

The Star Tribune loves to print letters from the same people, over and over and over.

One example is James Brandt of New Brighton, who had a letter in today about "critical race theory." He was responding to a recent op-ed by an AP social studies teacher named Bill Boegeman who explained how he teaches about race (and racism) in his classes.

This was the paragraph of Brandt's that got my attention and sent me down this James Brandt rabbit hole:

Another claim that Boegeman makes is that the United States is a country that is "literally founded on the idea of white supremacy." That is false. Our country was founded on two main ideas — freedom of enterprise and freedom of religion. The foundation of the country was freedom, not slavery. Slavery is an ugly scar on the nation's history, but it is not the whole history, as some proponents of critical race theory would have us believe. It is important to acknowledge historical injustices, but equally important to put them in the context of the whole picture, both good and bad.

Of course, this is the crux of the Right's disagreement with (or hatred of) the 1619 Project, rather than anything to do with Critical Race Theory, since the former is grounded in history specifically and the latter is mostly about law and policy and their implications for outcomes. Brandt is wrong or at least blinkered, since how can a country's foundation be in freedom while also enslaving a large number of people within its boundaries? It's illogical.

And of course the idea that our country's foundation is based on only two main ideas, one of which is not even mentioned in the Constitution, is interesting. (And I wonder how much Brandt supports freedom of religion for Muslims and other religious minorities and freedom from religion for everyone.)

Finally, when it comes to the "context of the whole picture, both good and bad," I want him to name what parts of slavery (and later Jim Crow and the Klan) were good. And for who.

Brandt's past letters will give an idea of his world view, if that didn't give enough of it:

  • Just a few weeks ago, he had a letter advocating a law prohibiting protests at private residences
  • He was published in January 2021 after the Strib's excellent long story on who George Floyd was as a person, complaining that it was biased. As this writer points out, he doesn't mention all of the other pieces that were written delving into the lives of Derek Chauvin or the other cops involved in killing George Floyd.
  • In August 2020, he had a "reverse discrimination" letter about an article on tenure issues at the University of Minnesota. "I'm curious to know what exactly [U students] mean by 'prioritize.' The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlaws discrimination based on race. Prioritizing hiring people based on their race could violate the law... If less-qualified candidates are hired because of their race, it would violate the law; however, if race is used as a tiebreaker to decide between equally qualified candidates, that would be legal. My question for the students would be: Do they want to end discrimination, or change it in their favor?"
  • In June 2020 (June 2020!), he posited that maybe the reason cops kills so many people every year is because those people deserved it (oh, okay, the way he put it is "most of the killings were justified").
  • From late May 2020 (right after George Floyd was murdered, and the day after the 3rd Precinct burned): "Until the judicial process is complete, we can’t be certain that what happened was a crime. Meanwhile, innocent people are being hurt by this reprehensible behavior. The riots need to stop and we need to wait for the process to complete."
  • April 2020: "Helping someone to steal classified information is espionage, not free speech." Responding to an op-ed about Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and others.
  • November 2019: A defense of Francis Fukuyama's book The End of History, and this: "Private enterprise and private property have done more to alleviate poverty than has any other economic system. It’s unfortunate that so many people have come to revile the system that has brought us so much prosperity."
  • May 2019: Essentially, Brandt argued that the $20 million settlement payment from Minneapolis to the family of Justine Ruszczyk Damond was too much, since the city was not at fault because one of its cops killed her for no reason.
  • March 2019: Brandt wrote in response to a review of Jonathan Metzl's book Dying of Whiteness. "To state that conservative policies are intended to hurt minorities and support systemic racism is ignorant and bigoted, and it serves only to further alienate people from one another." He called the reviewer a bigot. The reviewer was essentially relaying what Metzl's book says.
  • February 2019: In response to an article about democratic socialism, he argued with the author's definitions and moves the goalposts around a bunch.
  • January 2019: Brandt disagreed with one of the Strib's business columnists about the brokenness of our country's privatized retirement "system." If people don't have enough money to retire, it's their own darn fault because they shouldn't have gone to so many sporting events or drunk so much coffee.
  • November 2018: Oh, this one is great. "[The Pope] believes that the rich got rich by taking money from the poor. That may happen in countries where the government is not properly functioning and warlords control everything, but it is not the norm in developed countries. It certainly doesn’t describe the situation in the U.S." And this: "The pope... tries to stir up envy of the rich."
  • September 2018: He claimed that an earlier op-ed was setting up libertarians and their ideas about free markets and growth as straw men.
  • June 2018: In which he tried to claim that the 1997 Flores settlement required the Trump administration to separate parents from their children at the border (rather than that Flores could have been used to require the government to release the parents and the children together to appear at a later date for their asylum hearing).
  • May 2018: He argued that Minnesota's Legacy Amendment, which funds the arts and environment, was not necessary and its preallocated money has misshapen the state budget.
  • December 2017: He argued for allowing concealed carry permits to cross state boundaries, and cited the questionable — some would say discredited — researcher James Lott, Jr.
  • May 2017: He gave examples of the times U.S. foreign policy could be seen to side with a Muslim country, in response to an op-ed that outlined the many more times when that was not the case.
  • January 2017: Once again he made the argument that it's false to say "the rich are making money at the expense of the poor." And that the best way to end poverty is to "further the spread of the private-property, free-enterprise system that has worked well in the U.S. and other developed nations."

There may have been other letters in 2017 (and earlier), but the Star Tribune's search engine gave up on me at this point. So that's four or five per year, probably.

Does the Star Tribune letters editor realize how often Brandt's letters are run? Do they not care? What makes his repetitious arguments so great? Or doesn't anyone else write in to say this is a free country and the rich deserve all their wealth?

Monday, July 19, 2021

How It Started, How It's Going

Today I learned the identities of the first person known to have been killed by a motor vehicle in the world and later the first one in the U.S.

I've never thought about this before. 

But there it was, in this article about the 1920s invention of a traffic speed-governor that was not adopted

  • Henry H. Bliss was the first American to die in a car accident. An electric taxicab ran him over in the streets of New York City in 1899.
  • Thirty years earlier, an Irish scientist named Mary Ward was run over by an experimental steam car. She was the first person anywhere in the world to die from an automobile.

Now, of course, the U.S. sees almost 40,000 deaths per year from road crashes of one type or another. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

No Excess

I ordered a used book through an AbeBooks seller and it came via USPS packaged in something called a C2 Bukwrap from Lil Packaging

I don't order books through ecommerce much, so I am behind on these things, probably.

As packaging goes, this is as functional, minimal, and recyclable as I think it could be. 

Structurally, it completely protected the book (which was also wrapped in brown craft paper) from being crushed. It was easy to open, and soon it will be recycled right here in Saint Paul, just a few miles away.

Bookstores are better, but when you do order online... this is how books should ship.