Thursday, October 21, 2021

Woody Holton on the American Revolution

I don't have a New York Times subscription and so I rarely click on linked articles, saving the few free ones allowed per month. This transcript of an Ezra Klein podcast (guest-hosted by Jamelle Bouie) is worth the click. It's an interview with University of South Carolina historian Woody Holton on rethinking the American Revolution from the ground up.

From it I learned:

  • The Stamp Act's purpose was to fund troops the British needed to separate the Indigenous people from British settlers. "Taxation without representation" paid to keep white settlers from stealing native land, and that saved the British Empire money by preventing war with the tribes.
  • The Constitution was written to correct what its writers saw as "an excess of democracy." I knew some of this, but not quite how much it changed the way things were under the Articles of Confederation. Holton wrote an earlier book called Unruly Americans and the Origin of the Constitution, in which he argued the economic crisis supposedly caused by those out-of-control "redneck farmers" was actually caused by the elites. (Elites owned the war debt and required it to be paid through tripled taxes, which caused the post-war recession, Holton's argues.)
  • The difficulty level of amending the Constitution was by Madison's design (and, I infer, in Holton's opinion, should itself be amended).

One of the major things they talk about is whether the idea of the Founding Fathers as heroes is needed to give us (us = people in this diverse and increasingly divided country) something to unite around. Other historians claim we need people like Jefferson and Washington to keep us from flying apart. Holton argues that if we do need central figures,

Why can't we share Martin Luther King? Why does it have to be slaveholders that we unite around?... if you really want people to unite... don't try to unite us around at tiny majority of us... when half of us are women, and a fifth of us then [were] African-American, and many more than a fifth [now] are people of color. It's folly to even think just as a practical standpoint.

Later they talk about the way we are all taught by mainstream history that people of the Revolutionary era were unified about how to proceed, when they clearly were not. I liked the way Holton put it, paraphrasing his off-the-cuff wording slightly: "The textbook authors' definition of patriotism is sweeping the dirt under the rug."

This relates directly to the idea that talking about disunity then will cause disunity now. If this sounds like today's "debate" about Critical Race Theory, don't be surprised.

Here's another quote of Holton's that I want to think about: "We've got to let go of the heroes and replace them with heroics." People did and can do heroic actions (or write inspiring words) and then soon turn around and do terrible things. Bouie describes this as "trying to identify principles and moments when those principles were really embodied and holding those as something to look up to, rather than uncritically hailing these guys as great men of history." He was thinking particularly of Thomas Jefferson's opening words of the Declaration of Independence, contrasted with his other writings affirming white supremacy and his personal actions.

The interview ends with Holton recommending three books not directly related to the topic of the conversation. One is A Midwife's Tale, the second is a 1961 history of Black men fighting in the American Revolution, particularly for the British (which I first learned about from the fiction book Octavian Nothing), and the third is called Rebecca's Revival, which sounds fascinating.


After writing this, I read Holton's Wikipedia page and learned his full name is Abner Linwood Holton III. His father was governor of Virginia and his sister Anne (who is a former judge and and former Virginia secretary of education) is married to Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Street Racers: Get Off Our Streets

I don't want to be the old person who yells "Get off my lawn!" at young people, but — but! — street racing and sliding (spinning your wheels to burn rubber and move in circles) is bad.

Photograph by Peter Sherno from MSP Magazine

It's especially bad when it happens near places where lots of people live and who have to listen to it. It goes without saying that it happens late at night, since it's illegal to go 100 mph and they don't want to get caught. That means in the summer, if you want to sleep you have to keep your windows closed and use air conditioning if you have it, even when it's cool enough not to. Or if you don't have air conditioning, you're out of luck: close your windows and sweat or listen to the engines.

In all ways, street racing and sliding are bad for the climate crisis, from burning fuel while glorifying fast cars to making people run their air conditioning to destroying public property that has to be replaced.

No one knows how much public property is destroyed by street racers since, as far as we know, Public Works departments don't track infrastructure that's damaged by car drivers. We only know if someone is killed or severely injured by a hot rodder or if there's an associated shooting, as there has been lately. 

You don't get much of an idea of the impact of street racing from this recent article in MSP Magazine. As someone who lives near two of the roadways that are prominently mentioned as major racing routes (highway 280 and Energy Park Drive), I know the sound I'm talking about.

According to the article, while the writer was in one of the cars, these guys went 90 mph through the Lowry Hill Tunnel, 95 on Energy Park, and 140 (!) southbound on highway 280 ("we’re passing people on I-94 like they’re standing still, like they’re in another dimension"). Imagine if you were a person driving on one of those roads or highways when he passed by, acting as if you were a non-player character, since that's what you and the rest of us are to him.

The writer has a lot of sympathy for the racers since he was a cruiser himself as a teen. Too much, in my opinion. After recounting a recent police crackdown on the drivers, including the guy he was riding with, he seems to bemoan it, writing this:

I suggest that sliding could be the new skateboarding—it had a culture that was perceived as a menace for years, and eventually adults accepted that there was social benefit and built skate parks in every suburb.... Yes, sliding is 10 times as loud as skateboarding, it takes place while people sleep, and it has an inherent menace that small collections of teens riding pieces of acrylic don’t.

I think "10 times as loud" is an extreme under-estimation of the sound and the "inherent menace" of multi-ton vehicles racing around compared to skateboards is laughably understated. 

The Hennepin County sheriff is quoted questioning why car companies are able to sell vehicles that can go this fast. That's a question raised by others, like Angie Schmitt, who are active in street safety efforts. There's no reason at all that cars can go over 70 or 80 mph, and in cities the technology exists to keep vehicles from exceeding our much lower speed limits. But nothing is done about it because "freedom."

Cities are shared places, and selfish aspects of human behavior like street racing and sliding don't fit well into them. Journalists riding along and falling for their subjects' world views don't help matters.

I wonder what would happen if this racing scene took up residence out in some rich suburb, disturbing the sleep of the good people of Woodbury or Shoreview (or Edina... imagine that!). How long would that last? Not long, I bet.


Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Wilmington on Criminal

Out of all those tabs I closed recently, there were a few that I couldn't close right away because they contained audio or video I just had to watch. One was an episode of This American Life about people who have taken the climate crisis to heart so much that it has disrupted their families. That was a hard listen.

Another was an episode of "Criminal" called If It Ever Happens, Run about the Wilmington Massacre of 1898.

I've written before about the massacre, which was not only a white race riot but a successful coup d'etat, in which white supremacist Democrats overthrew the city's post-Reconstruction government of Black and white Republican elected officials, reinstituting white rule in the city to this day.

This episode of Criminal brings together the voice of a survivor's descendant with a writer who has recently written a book on it. It brings what happened to life in ways I have not heard before. It also makes it clear how the story was covered nationwide at the time, and why.

Whenever you hear someone say the events of January 6, 2021, were the first time someone tried to carry out a coup in the U.S., remind them of Wilmington.


Past posts about the Wilmington Massacre:


Monday, October 18, 2021

Line 3, and Bomb Trains, Too!

One of the reasons we've been given over the years for building Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota is that the oil would be shipped anyway, it just would be on trains, and wouldn't that be worse? Trains can derail and burn or explode, as happened in Quebec in 2013, after all.

Oil trains (sometimes called bomb trains, even though the rail roads and oil companies hate that!) go right through heavily populated areas, such as Saint Paul, including my neighborhood. They roll across at-grade crossings in many locations. They sit on sidings where they can be sabotaged.

Now the Line 3 pipeline is complete and moving the terrible tar sands oil, despite Enbridge's treaty violations, their drilling into the aquifers of delicate wetlands and lying about it, and (of course) putting enough carbon out to equal 50 coal-fired power plants.

With all that, what are we being told?

Today's Star Tribune reports that the number of oil trains will increase, too. Under Canadian Pacific Railway's plan, the number of trains would be up to three times as high as now.

CPN and its tech partner claim they've made the trains safer, and they even dare to use the word "sustainability" in their PR, I guess because the oil would float instead of sink when there's a spill?

Oh, and they say it's "safer" because they've figured out a way to add less flammable crap into the tar sands sludge when they make it liquid enough to pump. Bonus: they don't have to list their cargo as hazardous anymore, so no one can keep track of the number of shipments!

Minnesota State Rep. Frank Hornstein (D-Minneapolis), chair of the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, questions the lack of transparency from CPN. "We have to depend on the company making a profit to guarantee its safety," he said, and of course, he pointed out that it's wrong to launch this "at a time when a climate emergency is building day by day."

On that note, I must point out that CPN's partner in this rail expansion has just built a brand-new terminal in Port Arthur, Texas, to receive and ship this crap all over the world.

These companies and the people who run them must be stopped. They will not stop on their own until they have burned the last drop, or in this case, the last smudge of sludge.


There's no indication of why using trains to move the oil is necessary from a capacity standpoint, given that there's a pipeline, or what percent of the tar sands oil would be carried by these additional trains. As I posted earlier, the amount of oil the pipeline can carry is vastly more than the available train capacity, so why are oil trains being added, except to increase profits to CPN and its partner, and danger to everyone else?

This is a classic example of externalizing costs.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Bad News

I recommend McKay Coppins' Atlantic article on the way Alden Global Capital is destroying local newspapers. If you can't get past the paywall, Cory Doctorow gives a thorough summary on his blog.

One of the MSNBC shows (I can't remember which one) did a good job of crystalizing a couple of points that I hadn't remembered from the story, since there are so many other outrages to distract you there:

  • More than a quarter of newspapers in the U.S. have gone out of business in the past 15 years. (Which is not related to Alden Capital.)
  • Half of the daily papers left are now controlled by financial firms like Alden.
  • Alden owns more than 200 newspapers.
  • Donald Trump did best in counties with limited access to local news. (The loss of local news actually costs taxpayers money, too, as I've mentioned before.)

While the stories of the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun dominate Coppins' article, our local angle on the destructive Alden juggernaut is their liquidation of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. The details about selling off historic buildings and making single reporters cover more and more beats were all too familiar, as was the bit about jacking up the subscription rate as the paper gets thinner and thinner. 

I've also heard that you can't cancel your subscription to the Pioneer Press. That is, you can say you want to stop the automatic payment you've set up (which is required now for home delivery), but it won't stop. I haven't tested this rumor yet because until I read the Atlantic article, I've been hanging on as a subscriber to support the remaining reporters. 

But now that I know even more clearly than I already did that my money is going into the pockets of such evil people, even if a tiny amount of it also supports a few good people... I'm not sure it's worth it. They're playing us for fools.

Reading this and looking back over these summary numbers made me think of what the solution could be or could have been. Why is one company allowed to own so many newspapers? Gannett is no great shakes either, though compared to Alden it's fine. In the days of the Fairness Doctrine, television station ownership was limited to a very small number of markets, though that never applied to newspapers because of First Amendment case law. 

It seems to me that the idea of the First Amendment applying to ownership is a form of money equaling speech, and I do not agree with that. I think there must be a way to restrict ownership concentration without infringing on true press freedom. That freedom does not require the freedom of one person or one company to own the mechanisms of the press everywhere. 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Flips of the Tongue 2021, Part 2

And now for something light: six months' worth of Flips of the Tongue.

As I heard or read these, I tried to record their context, but I wasn't always successful in remembering it or having time to note it.

During the aftermath of the Daunte Wright shooting by a Brooklyn Center cop, police in the north metro suburb shot "nonlethal" ammunition at protesters and assaulted members of the media. In one of the stories covering this, a Star Tribune photo journalist was quoted, saying he was punched by cops. He described it — in print — as being caught up in the “ball rush” of cops who ignored his credentials. 

In a Twitter conversation about the New York Times 1619 Project, one commenter referred to it as seminole work. I'm sure this would come as a surprise to both the Seminole and the creators of the project.

I'm not sure what story or comment thread this is from, but it was probably people talking about the  January 6 attempt to overthrow the election: "As soon as the right wing shows up, the police use kiddy gloves."

"We had to read The Bluesy Eye." (In a conversation about lists of books required in high school English.)

Fully fledged out. (I have no idea what that phrase came from, but it clearly was supposed to be "fully fleshed out.")

From a negative Twitter description: Blind and deft. This is an odd turnaround from the usual phrase, but I like the rebalancing it unintentionally implies.

From a Twitter conversation about the benefits of dying alone vs. not, a person used malingering when they meant lingering: “a fear of malingering alone.”

"...they should charge a rate commiserate..." (when commensurate was meant).


Other flips of the tongue posts:

Friday, October 15, 2021

An Extinction, an Anniversary

Tomorrow is the 162nd anniversary of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. When I was 12, my family visited Harper's Ferry on one of those historic-site trips some American families do. We also went to Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, and maybe some other battlefields.

I don't remember much about Harper's Ferry from that trip, and when I learned more about it in 11th grade social studies, I think I absorbed the standard line that John Brown was a bit insane, rather than that he was correct about abolitionism. 

What should you do if there is an existential wrong being carried out by the powerful in your land? 

John Brown literally made himself a race traitor to the people who believed race is real, and that the white race is on top. He took up arms to end enslavement and all of its embodied violence.

I recently read (finally) James McBride's The Good Lord Bird, and so found out the title refers to an actual bird, which is the ivory billed woodpecker. As it happens, it was just announced that the species is now confirmed to be extinct. I also learned a lot about John Brown's time in Kansas as well as the Harper's Ferry Raid as filtered through McBride's fictional main character. 

Right now the bird's extinction and the exigency of Brown's actions are combining in my head with the "What Is to Be Done?" question of the climate crisis and climate justice. It isn't just about making a renewably powered electric grid, or even getting rid of cars (even if they are electric). As George Monbiot wrote today on Twitter,

Current climate plans are based on a mistaken belief: That, through incremental change, we can stop a complex system from crashing. But complex systems don’t work like this. They steadily absorb stress, then suddenly flip. We don’t know how close the tipping points might be.... What is needed now is sudden and drastic action to stabilise our life support systems....

Can it be done? Of course! The US switched its economy from civilian to military in a couple of months, following the attack on Pearl Harbour. And that was before digitisation made everything faster. What's lacking is not money or technology. It's political will.

The problem is the power of legacy industries, and the people who have used them to become extremely rich. Their economic power currently outweighs our democratic power. This is what we need to change.

Monbiot has published a book called Out of the Wreckage, which offers an outline of where to go, what he calls the political/economic destination: 

  • private sufficiency
  • public luxury, and 
  • politics that are much more deliberative and participatory. 

Altogether, that sounds like sharing instead of selfishness to me. I've also recently heard it called the solidarity economy.

To prevent extinctions, many of us will have to be traitors to the current status quo.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Opposite of Resilience

I'm sure you've heard about the "supply chain problem." You may have seen the photos of giant ships waiting to dock near Los Angeles and Long Beach. But have you heard this?

According to Twitter user @as_a_worker, shipping problems are not just because of fits and starts from recovering from covid disruptions. Part of the problem is that

the three biggest shipping companies own 80% of the world’s container freight and consolidation [which] led them to shed 13% of their capacity in 2020. meanwhile, shipping rates have quadrupled. hapag-lloyd, for one, expects profits to rise between 815% to 1025% over last year’s levels

also, freight companies have the habit of leaving their workers stranded at sea in sinking shops rather than pay them their wages. there are currently over 1000 seafarers just abandoned by capital floating around the ocean

rather than use their super-profits to, say, invest in capital outlays, the majority of their profits are going into
a) dividend payments to shareholders
b) war chests for continued mergers and acquisitions. 

hong kong’s COSCO lines is putting 99.6% of profits into dividends

and shipping is only one factor of the supply chain crisis. but all anyone wants to talk about is the political dimension (what does it mean for biden, derp) when this is a clear case of capital’s inner tendencies leading to an entirely irrational social outcome for us all

biden’s plan, by the way, is exactly what you’d expect: he got a bunch of the capitalists together and convinced them to force overtime on their workers

Here's one source he supplied to support his analysis.

Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times

It's similar to the way hospitals have had their capacity gutted over the past few decades, whether by the decrease in number of hospitals overall (especially in rural areas) or within departments, such as ICUs. Everything is run for financial efficiency and profit maximization instead of redundancy and resiliency in an emergency.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Remnant Tabs

I haven't made a Too Many Tabs post in a while. That's because the tabs have been so out of control I didn't have the mental energy to wrangle them into a post or a series of posts.

Well, today I threw 50 or 70 links — unread — into bookmark folders (gulp), and now I'm going to share the ones that didn't fit into the folders. I also closed another 20 or 30 outright.

First I'm going to tell you the folder names, so you won't see any articles on these topics today:

  • Transportation and Cities
  • Climate and Environment
  • Privilege and Racism
  • Fascism and the Right
  • Blog Ideas (that one is vague, but it contains tabs for which I had an idea for single post when I first read it)

Here are the tabs that didn't belong in any of those categories. I have not read these but they look interesting and I want to be able to find them later.

Joel Salatin's Unsustainable Myth from Mother Jones back in November 2020. "His go-it-alone message made him a star of the food movement. Then a young Black farmer dug into what he was really saying."

From Strong Towns: Multigenerational Living Isn't Immigrant Culture, It's Human Culture. "My hope is that by thickening up our cities and making meaningful changes to zoning codes, we can ease many peoples’ financial struggles and our epidemic of loneliness."

The look of gentrification by one of my favorite Twitter writers, Darrel Owens (@idothethinking). "If you think of gentrification as coffee shops and bike lanes then you don't understand gentrification at all. It's about what's inside, not outside."

What are the five dimensions of curiosity? From Psychology Today.

America's long (unaddressed) history of class. From WNYC's "On the Media" back in March 2016. Before Trump "won" the election.

Also from spring 2016, Anil Dash on The Immortal Myths About Online Abuse. "After building online communities for two decades, we’ve learned how to fight abuse. It’s a solvable problem. We just have to stop repeating the same myths as excuses not to fix things."

Anand Giridharadas interviewed economist Stephanie Kelton about the "deficit myth," Modern Monetary Theory for dummies, and why the age of capital may finally be ending. The Trillion-Dollar Woman.

"This American Life" from November 2018: But That's What Happened. As they describe it, "Stories of women in unsettling situations. When they try to explain what’s wrong, they’re told that they don’t understand—that there’s nothing unsettling about it."

A lecture (YouTube video) by historian Heather Cox Richardson on how the gilded age created the progressive era. We can only hope.

From Press Watch, January 2021: What the next generation of editors need to tell their political reporters. "First of all, we’re going to rebrand you. Effective today, you are no longer political reporters (and editors); you are government reporters (and editors). That’s an important distinction, because it frees you to cover what is happening in Washington in the context of whether it is serving the people well, rather than which party is winning."

From the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Keeping NYC Land Out of Corporate Hands — Episode 118 of Building Local Power. Looking at land banks and land trusts, particularly.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Glennis Ter Wisscha and the Willmar 8

When I moved to Minnesota in the mid-1980s, there were a number of news stories that I quickly learned about. Every area has stories like this that have been going on for a while, and that it's assumed everyone knows about. When you first move to a place, you don't know about them and you have to play catchup.

A few of Minnesota's at the time were the Hormel strike in Austin, the Andrea Dworkin-Catherine MacKinnon anti-pornography civil rights ordinance in Minneapolis, and the case of the Willmar 8.

I had almost forgotten about the Willmar 8 until last week when I saw an obituary in the Star Tribune for Glennis Ter Wisscha, who died recently at the age of 62 (my age, but let's not think about that).

She was just 19 in 1977 when she and seven other women bank tellers went on strike against the Citizens National Bank of Willmar for sex discrimination. (Willmar is a small city about a hundred miles west of Minneapolis.)

Essentially, the women were outraged because the bank's loan department hired a man at a higher starting wage than the women were getting and then told the women to train him. To top it off, the bank president went on record with one of the women employees as saying, "We're all not equal, you know."

I shake my head as I report that their strike was not successful: the National Labor Relations Board — even though this was pre-Reagan — ruled that despite the bank's use of unfair labor practices, the strike wasn't justified. So the women were called back to work without back pay.

A documentary was made about their case in 1981 by actor Lee Grant, and a few years later there was a TV movie called A Matter of Sex.

Glennis Ter Wisscha did not go back to the bank, I'm happy to report. Instead, she became a union organizer, then worked in affordable housing and for a community land trust in Minneapolis.

I'm sorry I didn't know more about her before now.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Follow Indigenous Leaders on Climate

It was galling on Indigenous Peoples Day today to hear Minnesota's governor or President Joe Biden talk about their commitments to honor treaties with Indigenous people. We know the opposite is happening when it comes to oil pipelines.

Honor the Earth put out a series of tweets and illustrations today calling for solidarity:

Stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples' climate leadership.

We must call on our leaders to recognize the sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples and end fossil fuel expansion once and for all. We know that in order to halt the worst of the climate crisis we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Indigenous resistance has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution = 25% of U.S. and Canadian emissions.

Indigenous leaders are calling on Biden to move past promises and commit to real climate action. Like ending fracking and shutting down all pipelines. It’s time to #StopLine3 #BuildBackFossilFree

Stand in solidarity and call on our leaders to recognize the sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples to decide what happens in our own territories. #IndigenousPeoplesDay #HonorTheTreaties

As depressing as the current status of the Line 3 pipeline is, Honor the Earth's Winona LaDuke had a bracing op-ed in the Star Tribune over the weekend, highlighting just how much was won from the struggle.

If you're a person who wonders about the wisdom of stopping a pipeline (especially now that it's completed, thinking, Won't the oil just get through some other way, like by train or truck?), this thread is for you.

Essentially it makes this point: the Canadian tar sands oil that Enbridge will pump through Line 3 is already less economical to unearth than the liquid oil that's pumped out of the ground. It doesn't pay to mine it when the price of oil is low. If it can't go through a pipeline to reach refineries, other modes of transport would add to its cost and make it even less financially viable and more likely to be left in the ground where it belongs. 

And even if they could afford to move it, the capacity needed to move the oil on rails does not exist by Enbridge's own calculations, which was shown in their permit filings. Plus, railroads don't want to move this product because they know oil trains are dangerous. The pipelines are dangerous, too, as Enbridge has found when it was recently told it's uninsurable. (Yes, did you hear that?)

But too many people keep saying, "They would move the oil anyway, even if there wasn't a new pipeline." They could keep using the old pipeline —which is running at partial capacity — yes, but that's about it.

So there is value in closing down this new pipeline, whether it's to keep it from causing a future spill, violating the treaties more than it already has, or worsening climate change. 

Moving oil at the highest capacity possible is not a natural law that cannot be changed. It can be stopped.

Follow Indigenous leaders. They've been showing the way.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Murals from Open Streets

I moved to Saint Paul from Minneapolis more than 28 years ago. I never thought I would be a person who rarely went to Minneapolis, but over the years, it has happened, and of course, covid hasn't helped.

So it was really nice to spend several hours today at Open Streets Lyndale, walking down the middle of the usually car-busy thoroughfare between 22nd Street and 31st Street. (The Open Streets area extended another 20 or so blocks south of that, but I only got that far on foot and back.)

Every politician and cause in the upcoming Minneapolis election was out, of course, plus food, lots of music, and random people doing interesting things. Along the way I saw some murals.


Treehouse Records, 26th Street.


Next to the VFW, south of the Midtown Greenway.  


South of Lake Street. 

This final image is from the middle of the bridge over the Midtown Greenway near 28th Street. It's an area that's usually particularly dangerous since it's close to Lake Street, and because car drivers wait to turn left onto the one-way. 

Today, though, children were safe standing in the middle of the street.