Saturday, May 31, 2014

Buckminster Fuller on the Post-Scarcity Economy

Sometimes I think this is where we're heading.

Then I wonder who will do the weeding and picking of food crops that are actually healthy to eat. (Not monocropped commodities that machines can pick.) And I think, there will always be farmers.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bigger than It Looks... and It's Still Not a Country

It's not news that the Mercator Projection we often see in maps of the world distorts the continents, showing the extreme land masses of the North and South in very exaggerated sizes. There's not much land in the southern reaches, however (except the eminently ignorable Antarctica), so the bias mostly over-represents the Northern Hemisphere.

Here's a great example. How large would you say Greenland is compared to, oh, say, Africa? As large, almost as large, half as big....

None of the above.

The source page goes on to say, "Greenland, in fact, is smaller than India, for example, but much bigger than most other countries."

India is not a small country, yet look how small Antarctica looks compared to the whole of Africa. That's because Africa is gigantic:

So basically, Africa is as large as a good chunk of the rest of the world combined, particularly the more populated parts of the world (most notably, this map omits Russia, Canada, Southeast Asia, and South America).

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Understanding Bill Gates's Wealth

Neil deGrasse Tyson comes up with a grokkable way to understand the extent of the Gates fortune. Imagine you see a coin on the sidewalk. What kind of coin would it have to be for a middle-class person to pick it up?

You wouldn't bother with a penny or even nickel, right? A dime, maybe, if you're not in a hurry. But you'd definitely stoop to get a quarter, right?

So now relatively... how much money would have to be lying on the sidewalk for Bill G. to bother picking it up?

The answer is in this short video:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Twitter: May 2014

The month of May in the year 2014… minus a few days, I admit.

It ends (and therefore this post starts) with just a few reactions to the mass murder in Isla Vista, California. I can't write about it, and don't feel a need to because so much has been said. This was perhaps the best piece I read, because it deals with Elliott Rodger's racial identity, which I didn't see anywhere else. He wasn't only a deluded, misogynistic, pathetic loser, he was also a self-hating biracial child of divorce.

Men I follow are tweeting about sports right now. Women I follow are tweeting about rape culture and mass murder. See the problem?
By umair haque

“Men’s rights activist” is a bullshit euphemism. The term you’re looking for is “male supremacist.” And in this case, “terrorist.”
By Erin Kissane

Black guy shoots folks = thug. Brown guy shoots folks = terrorist. White guy guns down women = "nice kid with mental health issues."
By Van Jones

Imagine an America in which it is as easy, quick, and stigma-free to obtain mental health care as it is to buy a gun.
By Xeni Jardin

"Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them." - Margaret Atwood
By Audrey Watters

When people say, "Guns aren't the problem, mental illness is," reply, "They're both problems, and we're not addressing either of them."
By Andy Borowitz

The thing about "not all men" is that it evinces a mentality of "how can I avoid getting blamed for this", not "how can I put a stop to this."
By John S Costello

Calling the (non-Muslim) perpetrators of mass shootings "madmen" is a way to depoliticize and decontextualize their violence and its motives.
By Ali Abunimah

America sure does produce a lot of weirdo loners with easy access to guns who are not at all representative of a deeper cultural pathology.
By Jim Ray

Can we stop telling men they are owed sex and telling women that they owe it. Sex is something you engage in not something you dispense.
By Emily Heller

Started reading the #YesAllWomen tweets because I've got a daughter, but now I see I should be reading them because I've got two sons.
By Albert W Dubreuil

#notallmales RT @goodbirding Best alarm clock ever! Northern Cardinal male. 

By Chris Steller
And then the rest of my Twitter feed before that, including some comic relief:
So, the Pope is in Israel with an Imam and a Rabbi... If they don't walk into a bar, it's all been for nothing.
By Just me.

The memoir is inventing speech to suggest that which lies beyond speech. To truly render a single hour would require enormous effort.
By Joyce Carol Oates

See why I love punctuation? Because when it's gone...

By Jen Glover Konfrst

Shout out to the person with all the anti-government bumper stickers at this state park.
By Sporks Pantalones

Comment sections: Where reading comprehension goes to die.
By Tim Donovan

I know gun violence cannot be completely eliminated. I just wish the Right took it as seriously as the fear of two people without IDs voting.
By Pete Nicely

The letter E used to designate a failing grade until it was phased out by the '30s over fear of students interpreting it to mean: excellent.
By Men's Facts
Staring into the fire was the original looking at your phone
By Aparna Nancherla

Stop saying "backslash" when you mean regular slash. Grace period is over. Violators should lose web access.
By Baratunde Thurston

The "go to college" response to inequality is the "let them eat cake" policy prescription of the bridge to the 21st century.
By Mark Price

The House Science Committee has held more hearings on aliens than on climate change.
By David Fenton

To the person who did this, I salute you.

By Amanda

Minneapolis has been awarded the 2018 Super Bowl! And St. Paul has been awarded the 2018 Overflow Parking.
By Stephen Colbert

Why feel guilt when you can eat it.
By Aparna Nancherla

I'll find out right away if my kids ever start using drugs, BECAUSE THEY'LL JUST DROP THEM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM, LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE.
By Greg Knauss

Googled "fish tank" — was not disappointed.

By Don't Call Me Gaga

Explanations fail when we are unable to translate what we take for granted to an uninformed audience. It's all about perspective.
By Joe Shindelar

"A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars, it's where the rich use public transportation." —Mayor of Bogota, Colombia
By Quotes

HBO’s Silicon Valley finally portrayed a female tech founder -- who sleeps with programmers so they’ll write code for her. Fuck that show.
By Andy Baio

When drivers say that cyclists need to obey driving laws, they should be forced to spend a day driving behind a driver that actually does.
By Ed Kohler

Stupid question but these "millennials" everyone keeps talking about, they're thousand-year-olds, right?
By Jonathan Blake

I'd be ECSTATIC if someone took off their coat to reveal they were a stack of dogs the entire time.
By Janine Brito

Learning happens best with emotion, challenge, and the requisite support. --Kurt Hahn
By Kevin Long

3-D printing is sure to revolutionize how technologies are overhyped in the future.
By carlsewall

Doomsday preppers are guilty of wishful thinking; the world never ends when you want it to.
By Jamison

Dear Marco Rubio, While you're spouting off that I'm not real, your hometown is drowning. Love, Climate Change.
By The New Republic

New fave malapropism: self-defeating prophecy.
By Tim Shey

A moment of silence for all of the fictional mothers that had to die in the name of tragic back story and character development.
By Professor Snape

You can never have enough books.
By Nikhil Goyal

British word that has no equal in American English: knackered.
By daveweigel

Complaining that solar panels only convert 15% of sunlight into electricity is silly: coal power probably = .001 of original sunlight.
By Kees van der Leun
7th grade student not put in enriched English because he doesn't hand things in and his punctuation is poor. He's read War and Peace for fun. #school
By Sisyphus38

Cat and babby once synchronized nighttime yowls. Now they work in series. I fear they're learning. This may be my last entry. God help us.
By Erin Kissane

Neoliberal education reformers are trying to do something that seems virtually impossible: make schooling even more lifeless and oppressive.
By Nikhil Goyal

Even if you really believe in capitalism, most people are 1000x more productive when they're not freaking out about making rent.
By Joshua Eaton

There can NEVER be too many cop dramas according to the laws of TV physics.
By Janine Brito

The end of history, in one sign.

By Scott Smith

Remember boys: condoms are good, but the only way to 100% make sure you don't get a girl pregnant is to yell gross stuff at her from a car.
By Erin Gloria Ryan

Top 25 hedge funders took in $21 billion last year. That's 45% of the total income of The Bronx, home to 1.4 million people.
By Doug Henwood

Childhood is not a race to quickly read, write, and count. It's a time to develop at your own pace.
By Steven Singer

Standardized tests are also eternally preppable because they are such hugely artificial tasks. This isn't learning, it's indoctrination.
By Arash Daneshzadeh

We are destroying the biosphere just to benefit the 4.2% of the population who own cars.
By Free Public Transit

It's funny how people think that owning an instrument of killing is a transcendent right while making decisions about your own body isn't.
By Maury Compson

Paul Hawken: "At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present & calling it gross domestic product."
By John Cook

I feel like Gollum really ruined the word "precious" for the rest of us.
By Rainbow Rowell

UN Population Division estimates that 2014 will be the PEAK BIRTH YEAR with 139 million births being the highest ever.

By Hans Rosling

Person steps out of 5000-pound car with windows rolled up and music blaring to tell me I'm a danger to myself & others for wearing earbuds on a bike
By Matt Haughey

If God did decree that teaching a girl to read was a sin but kidnapping and selling her was not, why would you want anything to do with him?
By Sean Jones

Invest in women farmers, smallholders and nutrition, says @DaniNierenberg. Amen.
By Jonathan Foley

What a world! When comics like Louis C.K and Jon Stewart speak hard truths, and politicians speak with forked tongue.
By Diane Ravitch

"Ahistorical liberals — like most Americans — still believe that race invented racism, when in fact the reverse is true."
By David Kaib

We like teaching things that R right or wrong. It's easy to grade. That's why we like grammar, math, and content. They make us feel like experts.
By Sisyphus38

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What Makes a City Walkable?

I recommend Jeff Speck's TED talk (just under 20 minutes and worth every one), A General Theory of Walkability.

Here's his outline. Though it looks dry here, be assured he illustrates each of these points with humor and good visuals.

One unfun fact: when the size of city blocks doubles, the number of fatal crashes more than triples. (Portland, Oregon, famous for its small blocks is the most pedestrian-friendly place I've ever seen.)

Speck's talk is full of great points, but the one where I had to pause the video and make some notes was when he said all animals are drawn to environments that offer prospect and refuge. We want to be able to see what's ahead of us (predators) and know that there's a place of refuge if needed. So that means we like places that have edges, like Italian piazzas.

The swoopy, aerodynamic curves of modernist approaches to large buildings -- built for cars -- are as far from that as you can get. "If you don't supply the edges, people don't want to be there," Speck says.

He closes with a favorite example from Columbus, Ohio. This unfriendly bridge connected two areas, a hotel/convention center district and an ethnic neighborhood with shops and restaurants. For some mysterious reason, no one ever walked across it, despite the fact that there were lots of cool things on either side.

The city fixed the problem by widening the bridge to allow for development along the path.

Resulting in this:

Which not only solved the lack-of-foot-traffic problem -- it made a little bit of gentrified Venice in the middle of Columbus.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ruth Ross Ziolkowski

The Crazy Horse monument is designed to be 641 feet long and 563 feet high. It shows the Indian leader pointing east as he rides a stallion. It's carved out of the side of a huge rock outcropping, the kind that marks the South Dakota landscape near Mount Rushmore.

Korczak Ziolkowski designed the sculpture and began demolition work in 1948, following nine years working with Gutzon Borglum on the Rushmore sculptures. Ziolkowski's dream is controversial with native people, though it was inspired by a Lakota leader, Henry Standing Bear, who told Ziolkowski that his people "would like the white man to know the red men have great heroes also."

Korczak Ziolkowski died in 1984 with only the general outlines of the sculpture in place. His wife, Ruth Ziolkowski -- who had "lived with him in a log house, bore 10 children and tended to the museum and gift shop near the planned monument" -- took over the project and its foundation. She shifted the work to concentrate on sculpting Crazy Horse's face, succeeding in making it visible in time for the 1998 dedication ceremony to celebrate the project's 50th anniversary. She "expanded and developed the 1,000-acre site, which includes an American Indian history museum, a restaurant and the Indian University of North America, which works with the University of South Dakota to offer credits for college-bound high school students."

Ruth Ziolkowski died recently. What will happen to her body?

According to subhead of the obituary, "She will be buried at the base of the mountain, next to a tomb her husband carved for himself."

Subordinate to the "great man" until the end and beyond.


Photo by M. Spencer Green, Associated Press, 2006.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Noise Pollution

I don't know how many times I have thought these exact sentiments. Thanks to Phil Norcross of Roseville for writing them as a letter to the editor in today's Star Tribune:

… think door-locking can happen silently

The guy who invented the car that honks just because you lock the door should be hunted down and sentenced to life with a car horn hung around his neck on a chain.

I can’t be the only person who’s stood on a sidewalk, or walked through a lot, minding his own business, only to be jump-startled by a car horn because the driver can’t be bothered to push the button on the door, or put the key in the hole.

It’s a ridiculously lazy waste of noise, that honking button in your pocket. I hope your batteries wear out and leave you stuck in the rain.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mid-Century Hardware

Does anyone else have one of these hiding in the basement?

It was built to make use of the wooden boxes that cheese used to come in (yes, those are the drawers). Or maybe it was just Wisconsin that put cheese in long boxes?

It's been in our basement forever, since it was made by my other half's paternal grandfather. Today I was looking for an odd bit of hardware and opened the drawers for the first time.

Aside from lots of hinges, pieces of chain, and wooden knobs, I also found some nice examples of mid-20th-century vernacular design.

I have no idea what window markers are but these cry out to be used in an art project.

All the too-hardened-to-be-useful faucet washers you could ever want. But the packages make them worth keeping.

Matches, including two from Wisconsin's vacation lands (Wisconsin Dells and Minocqua). Plus one promoting veal patties with Hunt's Tomato Sauce. Mmm, mmm.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Few Glimpses of the Glasgow School of Art

The Glasgow School of Art caught fire around noon local time today. Reports indicate there was substantial damage to major parts of the building and its collections, including the library. Designed by Arts and Crafts icon Charles Rennie Mackintosh at the turn of the 19th century, the building has been a functioning art school until today, which was the last day of the spring term.

I visited in 2007. Here are a few photos. Click any to see them larger.

The building backs onto a pretty steep hill, successfully echoing the look of a Scottish fortress.

The entrance gives glimpses of some of the details: the stone work, the square windows in the doors and side panels, the lettering on the sign.

This somewhat inauspicious stairway -- reminiscent of the concrete fire-safe stairs of the present day -- still managed to evoke the brooding nature of a castle.

Loved these brass push panels on a pair of the interior doors.

Mosaics like this are built into the higher walls of the main entryway.

One of Mackintosh's famous chairs (sometimes seen in science fiction shows and movies, for some reason).

This was the main light in the library. None of my photos of it are great; this is the best one. I'm sure the library is full of irreplaceable documents and books, not to mention its recently renovated interior design.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Kitchens for Kids

Toy kitchens have changed a lot since I was in kindergarten. Well, first of all, it's pretty common for middle-class kids to have one at home, while the only one I ever saw was at school.

This is the closest picture I could find to the type of kitchen we played with when I was five years old:

Rugged and unbreakable, I'm sure it lasted the school many years.

A friend with two young boys has this kitchen in their play room:

Note the microwave, water dispenser in the fridge door, CD player, and dishwasher. The range burners light up a nice cherry-red, and there are controls at left and right for some type of grill unit and another mysterious cooking surface.

I was amused by the variety of features in this modern kitchen, compared to the basics I remembered, until I went searching for photos of play kitchens and ran across these:

I suppose the functions of these three aren't much different than my friend's, but sheesh, someone put some money into the pseudo-stainless steel finishes, backsplashes, and fancy faucets. How about that paper towel holder!

Do the kids really care about the high-end look of these, or is that for parents with too much money, trying to impress their friends?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Birchwood Reopens

Hey, local readers, the Birchwood restaurant has reopened after a four-month renovation. More seating, a new open kitchen, two (more accessible) restrooms, and better sound management.

Oh, and all new chairs and tables. The benches along the back wall are untouched, but otherwise everything has been replaced and there are several large community tables to share in the middle of the original dining room, rather than a lot of separate ones (you know, those ones that made it difficult to walk through the room).

Another big change: At dinner, you're seated right away and waited on at table, rather than ordering before finding a seat. I understand they still do it the old, pre-order way at lunch and breakfast, though.

One thing that hasn't changed: Lots of local food, as described in this nice new chalk art over the front counter (click to enlarge).

The menu will change eight times a year. Right now they have an excellent vegetarian handpie and some very tasty grass-fed beef, among lots of other things (the menu seems to be a bit larger than in the past). Prices are about the same, though, which was a welcome semi-surprise.

Welcome back, Birchwood! We missed you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

More Wise than You Know

Despite Muphry's Law (which guarantees I will make some kind of error in this post), I have to share this sentence from a recent post by a friend:

The problem with ignorance is that you never know what your ignorant about.
Clever, that.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Drawing the Gecko, Badly

Spring has finally arrived, so it's office-cleaning time. As I shuffled through random papers, casting armloads into the recycling, I found this doodle I made during a meeting:

I'm not sure if someone in the meeting had used the phrase, or if s/he had said it correctly and it just reminded me of this eggcorn.

Here's an earlier post on eggcorns and the misuse of the gecko.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Koua Fong Lee Graduates

A piece of excellent news: Koua Fong Lee graduated from Inver Hills Community College in the past few days.

A bit less than four years after he was released from a wrongful prison sentence, Lee -- a father of four who came to the U.S. with little English -- has taken a big step in his life and in the life of his family. Congratulations!

Star Tribune photo by Renee Jones Schneider. Thanks to columnist Jon Tevlin for covering Lee's graduation.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fact of the Day

Public transit buses spend a quarter of their time sitting at red lights. When buses are given signal priority (meaning they can make the light stay green or turn green early) and their stops are just after traffic lights instead of before them, the average route time is decreased by 25 percent.

Plus we get to see this cool sci-fi head-cone effect.

Friday, May 16, 2014

An Unintended but Welcome Consequence

Yes, it's too early to gloat, and I'm sure there will be more bumps along the way for the Affordable Care Act, but this Washington Post story put a smile on my face.

States that refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are experiencing a boom in enrollees anyway, growth a new report attributes to increased awareness surrounding the health-care law.

In 17 of the 26 states that did not expand Medicaid, more than 550,000 new individuals signed up for coverage under Medicaid during the first quarter of 2014, according to Avalere Health, the company that produced the study. That represented a 2.8 percent average increase in state Medicaid rolls.

Avalere said the new enrollees were previously eligible for Medicaid but hadn’t signed up. They were likely spurred to apply for benefits after hearing about their eligibility, which the company dubbed the “woodwork effect.”

The states receive federal funding for the new enrollees through 2016, but only at standard rates. States that expanded their Medicaid rates receive more federal compensation for new enrollees.

“Many of these non-expansion states that politically oppose the ACA are now facing unexpected financial and operational pressure due to woodwork enrollment,” Caroline Pearson, Avalere’s vice president, said in a statement.

That means states that decide against accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid are paying for their decisions.

More than 98,000 new enrollees signed up for coverage in Georgia, and more than 50,000 individuals signed up in North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina, the report found. Montana saw 14,100 new Medicaid patients sign up in the first three months of 2014, a 10 percent increase of the state’s Medicaid rolls. Idaho, Kansas and New Hampshire also saw their rolls grow more than 5 percent.
As I've written before, people who are eligible for benefits like SNAP don't always apply for them, whether out of pride, distrust of government, or lack of information. Medicaid has the same coverage gap. It looks like the ACA is doing its bit to move a few more people into coverage they were eligible for all along.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Pay Us Back, All that You've Stolen from Us

It may have been 11th grade social studies. We were supposed to do a collage illustrating a topic of our choice.

I was 16 and it was 1976. Despite growing up in a daughters-only household within a neighborhood that had hardly any boys, in a time with the least gender marking of probably any in U.S. history, I still somehow felt the effects of sexism in my life, though probably less than many others.

I don't know what slights and discriminations I experienced, although not being allowed to take shop class in 8th grade was part of it. But I reached the conclusion any sensitive person can come to, living in this culture that tells girls and women that they are not really part of the human race.

But anyway, back to my collage. I somehow had gotten a direct-mail offer from Ms. magazine, which included a small fold-out poster featuring the woman symbol, a circle with a quartered cross attached at the bottom. The shape was a collage of small photos of women.

I cut up a bunch of my family's Life magazines, showing women from all walks of life and parts of the world, and pasted them onto poster board with the women's symbol in the center. Then I added a (probably-ransom-note-like) headline that said:
Pay us back, all that you've stolen from us.
I wish I still had the collage so I can see if it's as I remember.

I was only 16, living outside a small town in the middle of a rural area. I had little awareness that there are lots of other kinds of people who also need to be paid back for the exploitation and abuse they've been subjected to. But I was onto something.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I'm Not Proud

Why do we use the word proud the way we do?

  • I'm proud to be an American.
  • Son, I'm proud of you for getting into such a great college (or doing so well on that test).
  • Proud parent of a [school name] honor student
What does it mean, and where did it come from?

First, a moment of dictionary recitation.

Proud: Middle English from Old English for proud, probably from Old French words meaning capable, good, valiant. From Late Latin prode meaning advantage, advantageous, a back formation from the Latin prodesse -- to be advantageous -- from pro-, prod- (for, in favor) + esse (to be).

Definitions: Feeling or showing pride: as a) having or displaying excessive self-esteem b) much pleased: EXULTANT c) having proper self-respect 2 a) marked by stateliness: MAGNIFICENT b) giving reason for pride: GLORIOUS

Pride (which derives from proud, how's that for circularity): 1 the quality or state of being proud as a) inordinate self-esteem: CONCEIT b) a reasonable or justifiable self-respect c) delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship <parental pride> 2 proud or disdainful behavior or treatment: DISDAIN 3 a) ostentatious display [plus other meanings less germane, for instance, pride of the litter and pride of lions]

The Online Etymology Dictionary has this to say:
Meaning "elated by some act, fact, or thing" is from mid-13c. To do (someone) proud attested by 1819. Related: Proudness…. The sense of "have a high opinion of oneself," not found in Old French, might reflect the Anglo-Saxons' opinion of the Norman knights who called themselves "proud." Old Norse pruðr, probably from the same French source, had only the sense "brave, gallant, magnificent, stately" (compare Icelandic pruður, Middle Swedish prudh, Middle Danish prud). Likewise a group of "pride" words in the Romance languages...are borrowings from Germanic, where they had positive senses (Old High German urgol "distinguished").

Most Indo-European languages use the same word for "proud" in its good and bad senses, but in many the bad sense seems to be the earlier one.
How it's used

Aside from its semi-archaic meanings (such as a proud [stately] ship or a proud tradition), there seem to be two primary meanings in use today, and my discomfort comes from their divergence. One is a kind of generic state of being very pleased while the other has negative connotations of disdainfulness and vanity. (For instance, what other noun than pride can you put after the adjective overweening?)

Maybe the folks who use proud to describe how they feel about their country are using it in that generic way: I'm glad to be an American, I'm glad to live in America. That wouldn't bother me so much, although it still seems a bit narrow-minded unless you've traveled a bit and have something to compare it to.

I suspect, though, there's more going on than that simple expression of happiness with a place, person, or outcome. The connotation of excessive self-esteem is strong in the American English usage of proud.

Also, how can you be proud of something that's an accident of birth, such as the country you were born into? Or of something you didn't do -- your child's achievement?

I know what I'm saying may seem unfeeling -- I do feel connection and love for the places I'm from; I just wouldn't call that feeling pride. I love my daughter and am amazed by what she can do, but proud isn't the word for it.

Maybe pride is okay when used to talk about an accomplishment of your own or with a group, what about that? Does the word make sense there?


But even then I feel uncomfortable with it, as though there is a better word, one that's less...unexamined. My heart swells with emotion when I recall group efforts I've been part of, and I think that's evolution talking. People who are wired to feel positively about group participation are descended from ancestors who were more likely to survive in tough times. Makes sense.

But is that really pride? It's belonging, camaraderie, accomplishment. Those are valuable things. Pride doesn't get at any of that. It seems the antithesis of humble because it's all about me and mine, and only about us and ours if we are contrasted with them.

I can live without the word in my vocabulary.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Teach For Awhile

Diane Ravitch, currently recovering from knee surgery and complications, posted this to her blog. It's written by a Teach for America alum, who went on to continue as a teacher and still is.

I’m ashamed of doing TFA and I was a '96 Corps Member. I don’t put TFA on my resume or fess up to it unless directly asked, because I value my reputation as a dedicated, knowledgeable, lifelong educator. I have spent 18 years watching Corps Members come and go.

So many things have disappointed me about TFA over the years, but my recent experiences as an instructor in their Johns Hopkins University Masters program left me feeling that there is no hope for this organization to regain its moral compass. While preaching the power of high expectations, TFAers leave JHU with artificially inflated GPAs and a masters degree that they do NOT deserve. They have done a fraction of the work that other grad students in similar programs in the School of Education are required to complete, with virtually no expectations as to the quality or timeliness of their assignments. The courses are created by Laureate Education and the professors are almost all TFA alums, some of whom have as few as 5 years experience and manage to teach 5 graduate level TFA sections while working for Baltimore City Schools full-time as well.

I keep hoping that someone will write an article about this part of the TFA attempt to convince the world that corps members are the smartest and hardest working teachers around, especially now that they have expanded this rigorous program, that was so carefully crafted to bring about transformational teaching, to several other regions. Of course nobody wants to talk about these things because that MS Ed degree is pretty much a jobs program for the alums that are “teaching” the 85+ sections of TFA-only classes.

If I were a student at Hopkins, I would be livid that other grad students can submit all assignments as late as they want (with strict limits on the amount of points that can be deducted) and resubmit every assignment to ensure that they can get a better grade. If I were a parent of a student in a public school, I would be outraged that my child’s teacher could plagiarize graduate work with impunity while standing in a classroom lecturing students about integrity and perseverance.
The comments include this from another TFA alum:
Too many involved in education policy are former corps members with only 2 years of teaching, thinking that experience makes them experts entitled to reshape the profession and public education in ways that do not serve the vast majority of our students.
And this:
So how do you stop kids from drinking the TFA koolaid? How do you stop them from turning down a job in this economy and the perks that come with it (like guaranteed loan elimination, reduced housing costs, an unearned Master’s degree)?

When will the kids graduating college realize that Teach For Awhile is using them to privatize education, bust unions, demoralize, villainize, and ruin teachers’ careers, and victimize over and over again the very children they purport to “save” and make millions/billions off their backs? Maybe it was noble 20 to 15 years ago to do a stint at TFA and move on, but these days the mission is so twisted and evil.... Perhaps there should be a grassroots effort to stop people from entering TFA. If there are no worker drones, there is no more organization. How do we organize that effort?
TFA is one of those things that sounds like a good idea, and may have been a good idea at the start when there was a shortage of qualified teachers, but it exists in a context and has been taken advantage of by larger economic forces. (Its founders, one could argue, weren't unhappy about being taken advantage of, since that's where the money is).

When "free" labor is supplied it can't help but undermine paid labor. I've seen it with AmeriCorps wiping out entry-level jobs in nonprofit organizations as well. Possibly no one intends it, but that's the effect.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Vivian the Spy

Touching on the gendered aspects of the usual Vivian Maier narrative, akin to the thoughts of Pamela Bannos,  Rose Lichter-Mach writes about Vivian Maier and the Problem of Difficult Women for the New Yorker's blog:

For filmmakers, for her fans, and for the people who knew her when she was alive and now must reconcile that elusive figure with her posthumous reputation as an artist, Maier’s story is titillating precisely because of how it deviates from the familiar narratives about artistic aspiration. They can’t understand why she never put aside her profession for her passion. People who never saw her without a Rolleiflex around her neck express bewilderment that they were in the company of a great talent. (“She was a nanny, for God’s sakes.”)

In the film, domestic work is placed in opposition to artistic ambition, as if the two are incompatible. But are they? Street photographers are often romanticized as mystical flâneurs, who inconspicuously capture life qua life, who are in the world, but not of it. The help, like the street photographer, is supposed to be invisible. Menial tasks like child care have, historically, been relegated to working-class women, who give up domestic autonomy to live in intimate proximity to their employers while remaining employees. In the best circumstances, a nanny becomes a trusted member of the family and allows her identity and independence to be entwined with, even subsumed by, the people for whom she works. In the worst circumstances, she is expendable, replaceable; her bath-time instructions and dinnertime offerings and bedtime kisses are tasks just as easily completed by the helpers who precede or follow her. Both the photographer and the nanny evoke fantasies of invisibility that rely on the erasure of real labor, but for opposite ends. “Women’s work” is diminished and ignored while the (historically male) artist’s pursuit is valorized as a creative gift. Perhaps the nanny could be the perfect person to photograph the world unnoticed.
And this:
The people who knew her described an impenetrability that, even in retrospect, threatens the fantasy that people who choose to care for children are all hugs and rainbows. Her story suggests the unsympathetic possibility that a woman might choose something like nannying because it has an economic rather than emotional utility.... Maier challenges our ideas of how a person, an artist, and, especially, a woman should be. She didn’t try to use her work to accumulate cultural or economic capital. She was poor but uninterested in money... She didn’t marry or have children, and, when people mistakenly called her Mrs. Maier, she would reply, “It’s Miss Maier, and I’m proud of it.”

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Dumb Terminology of the New Way of Smoking

E-cigarettes are not my favorite thing in the first place, but the terminology that surrounds them would sink them even if the technology and outcomes were acceptable.

Unreadable. The first time I saw this I had no idea what it said.

Another fine example of graphic design.

And the word "vape" -- what branding genius came up with that? Short for "vapor," which has vaguely medical yet old-fashioned connotations. Vicks Vap-o-Rub. Vaporizers. "My lawd, I have the vapors."

It rhymes with "rape" (allowing for awful slogans like this) and could be a nickname for "vapid."

That last one is at least appropriate.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Stacking the Deck

I was going to write a post about a bunch of different research that shows why black kids have the deck stacked against them... lots of tabs sitting open, waiting for me to link to them. But then I saw this TruthDig post that wrote it all for me.

Some of those links, though:

  • Black boys are perceived to be older than they are by both cops and college students. They're not allowed to be children, and therefore not allowed to make mistakes that can be forgiven or only lightly punished. They're seen as less innocent than white children.
  • When preschool-aged children are observed by teachers while doing pretend play, black kids find themselves rated as less school-ready than kids of other races. "Among Black preschoolers, imaginative and expressive pretend play features were associated with teachers’ ratings of less school preparedness, less peer acceptance, and more teacher–child conflict, whereas comparable levels of imagination and affect in pretend play were related to positive ratings on these same measures for non-Black children."
  • Even in preschool, black children are much more likely to be suspended for behavior. Suspended. What good does that do anyone, especially a four- or five-year-old?
A resource I discovered from the TruthDig post:
More than 20 years ago, Smith College professor Ann Arnett Ferguson wrote a groundbreaking book based on her three-year study of how black boys in particular are perceived differently starting in school. In Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity, Ferguson laid out the ways in which educators and administrators funneled black male students into the juvenile justice system based on perceived differences between them and other students. 
Sounds like a good book to read.

And it brought to mind these stats that ran in a Star Tribune article in mid-February:
White students in poverty graduate in four years at a higher rate than black students who are not poor, according to district data.

Even among black students not tagged with the labels usually linked to low performance -- poverty, special education, English learner, or homeless-highly mobile -- only 49 percent graduate in four years.
 That disparity looks like this:

Yes, that says 44.5 percent of poor white students graduate in four years, while only 36.2 percent of non-poor black students do. And that the worst-attending white students significantly outperform the best-attending black students in reading proficiency (50.7 vs 27.8 percent, respectively).

This graph shows that American-born black students, while reading more proficiently than foreign-born black students, graduate at a lower rate than those students (and, of course, even lower rates than white students).

Tuppett Yates, author of the study comparing how preschoolers engaged in pretend play were rated by teachers, pointed to an example from Ferguson’s book Bad Boys: “when a white student fails to return their library book, they’re seen as forgetful and when a black student fails to return a library book, terms like ‘thief’ or ‘looter’ were used.”

How do you overcome that? You can't, as an individual. It requires systemic change and the recognition that racism is an institutional outcome, not just a personal prejudice.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Paul Thomas

Here's another name for you: Paul Thomas, who also publishes under P.L. Thomas.

I think anything he writes is probably worth reading, but his recent post on children and childhood is worth noting particularly. It covers everything from Southern honor culture to why drivers of cars are mean to bicyclists, all while really talking about educating children.

Thomas came to my attention because of his clear critique of "grit" as a factor in student success, which pointed out that slack (as in the book Scarcity) is what's needed, rather than grit.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Map of White People

Julian Abagond put together a world map showing where the white people are:

The colors scheme:

  • bright blue is 75 percent or more white,
  • medium blue is 50 - 75 percent white
  • light blue is 25 - 50 percent white 
  • gray is 0 - 25 percent white. 
Abagond explains in greater detail how these numbers were arrived at. He then scaled the maps in terms of total population to even out the variations in population density:

Look at that little teeny Australia and the way Russia almost completely disappears. North and South America are scaled to just about half size, too.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Advice from a Morning Person

From the Twitter account of Edward Tufte, most revered of data visualization geeks:

In doing creative work, do not start your day with addictive time-vampires such as the New York Times, email, Twitter. All scatter eye and mind, produce diverting vague anxiety, clutter short-term memory. Instead begin right away with your work. Many creative workers have independently discovered this principle.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mapping the Murder Rate

From the excellent Hans Rosling, this map of murder rates in Europe:

Which reminded me that when folks like Steven Pinker write about Europe's low homicide rates, they're not talking about all of Europe.

It's a bit hard to see the labels and color differences on this map, but remember that Minnesota's homicide rate is around 1.8 per 100,000, which would put us in the middle blue color with Scotland and Greece. The darkest blue on this chart reflects a rate above 7 per 100,000. Only three U.S. states had homicide rates that high in 2012 (Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi).

Not a single U.S. state would fit into the lightest blue category, however. Though New Hampshire comes close (1.1).

Eastern Europe looks a lot like most of the U.S., and Russia is worse.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Felons and the Right to Vote

I admit I never thought much about felons' voting rights until the past few years. I was unaware that they lost the right to vote. If you'd asked me whether felons in prison should be able to vote while incarcerated, I probably would have said no. I also didn't realize that the rules on voting were decided at the state level.

Across the country, the range of voting rights for felons varies incredibly, pointing once again to our need for more consistent rules about the right to vote:

  • Vermont and Maine allow felons to vote, even while incarcerated.
  • Thirteen states allow people to vote once they are released, whether on probation or not.
  • Minnesota and 23 other states don't allow voting until probation and parole are finished, but once those are complete, voting is allowed.
  • Eleven states, including Florida and Iowa (!) don't restore voting rights at all unless the person asks for their rights to be restored, and those requests are, in some states, infrequently granted. (source).
I'm with Vermont and Maine, or at least the 13 states that allow voting as soon as you're out of prison. What is the point of keeping people from voting? And particularly, what is the point of making them beg to have their rights returned to them, and even more so, making the hoop they have to jump through extremely high?

Whose interest is served by creating a permanent underclass?

Remember, those felons count as part of the population when it comes time to apportion legislative seats. Urban men incarcerated in rural prisons boost those counties' populations, but they can't vote. Sounds a bit like the U.S. Constitution's three-fifths rule that was used to count enslaved men, doesn't it?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Now Here's an Example of White Privilege

Law professor Dorothy Brown appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry a week or so ago. Brown's research shows that white people don't want to live anywhere there are too many black people. Without conscious efforts to build a diverse neighborhood (as is practiced in places like Oak Park, outside Chicago), when the number of black households hits 10 percent, white people leave, no matter that those black people have similar incomes to the white people. In one of her papers, Brown quotes comedian Chris Rock:

I will give you an example of how race affects my life. I live in aplace called Alpine, New Jersey. . . My house costs millions of dollars. . . In my neighborhood, there are four black people. Hundreds of houses, four black people. Who are these black people? Well, there‘s me, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Eddie Murphy. Only black people in the whole neighborhood. . . Do you know what the white man that lives next door to me does for a living? He's a dentist!
As a result of so many people trying to sell their houses, home values are undermined and as a result, black homeowners rarely have as much equity in their homes as an average white homeowner. Just another depressing aspect of structural racism. White people, what is our problem?

This ties in with the recent news from ProPublica about the prevalence of segregation in schools, which we all thought had somehow magically disappeared, as well as housing.

And it reminded me of a tab I've had open since last November that I couldn't bear to write about: The Paradox of Diverse Communities by Richard Florida, writing in The Atlantic. He tells about a recent study, called "The (In)compatibility of Diversity and Sense of Community," by a sociologist and psychologist. The authors ran 20 million simulations of community composition and arrangement, and kept coming back to this:
The more diverse or integrated a neighborhood is, the less socially cohesive it becomes, while the more homogenous or segregated it is, the more socially cohesive. As they write, “The model suggests that when people form relationships with similar and nearby others, the contexts that offer opportunities to develop a respect for diversity are different from the contexts that foster a sense of community....

...the models demonstrated that it was impossible to simultaneously foster diversity and cohesion “in all reasonably likely worlds.” In fact, the trends are so strong that no effective social policy could combat them.
Florida points out that it's only a simulation (even if there are 20 million of them), and also tries to balance that grim conclusion with this:
If diversity is unattainable at the neighborhood level, might it be possible at the level of the city, as essentially a network of more or less similar neighborhoods? Jane Jacobs liked to say that great cities are federations of neighborhoods. It’s exactly what I see in vibrant cities like New York or Toronto. When I asked Neal about this, he sounded a more optimistic note: “Their patchwork of segregated communities allows for both diversity and cohesion. We usually view segregation as problematic, but when it comes in the form of a patchwork of neighborhoods and enclaves that each have their own character, it may actually ‘work.’”
Clearly, that's not enough. But it may have to be the place to start.

Saturday, May 3, 2014


The tabs are sagging with the weight of so much great reading lately. Time to empty them out before the fall out the bottom of my screen.

Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow had a banner 24 hours yesterday/Thursday:

Why your brain keeps you off the train by urban planning writer Marlys Harris at MinnPost. Lots of cognitive dissonance in the comments, too.

Also from MinnPost, by Sarah Willliams: Untangling the relationship (if any) between mental illness and crime. A write-up of a local sociologist's research that tries to explain this graph:

From one of the few economists worth reading, Dean Baker: Outlandish CEO Pay Is a Matter Between Friends. Great examples of how and why corporate boards can't rein in CEO pay. Includes this comment from reader Joe. T.:
Why can they overcharge?

In my youth, I used to posit that most rich people get that way from overcharging. My obvious answer to how they could get away with overcharging was "patents!". But eventually..., I came to see there were several other reasons the market didn't quickly eliminate the overcharging. Here's a list from the top of my head (thanks, Dean, for supplying "deals with friends" in today's post, which we see also in cases of successful salespeople who do little work because they're friends with a powerful buyer):
  • obfuscation (think outlandish investment fees),
  • collusion,
  • bribery or coercion of the regulators (this includes your direct regulator, and the regulators of any competing technologies)
  • patents,
  • deals with friends
  • economic rents (needs to be broken down into specific types).
That's one for the file drawer. Joe T. is onto something.

7 Facts About Our Broken Tax System by George Zornick, writing for The Nation.

Violent Crime Drops Where People Have Access to Marijuana, Study Suggests. From Alternet.

3M's new cooling tech could cut data-center energy use 95 percent. (MinnPost)

A couple for parents: Parental Involvement Is Overrated, from the New York Times Opinionator, which looks at research showing there is no clear benefit from parental involvement in homework and other aspects of school. In many cases, there is actual detriment to the student. And My Children Are Not Gifted, by a mom explaining how her financially advantaged children get labeled gifted in a system that deprives lower-income kids of opportunity. Those labels then build until they become "reality."

Another one for the department of "there's so much we don't yet know": Fungus is the key to soil’s carbon content.

Philosopher John Rawls was outraged by the Supreme Court's 1976 decision, Buckley v. Valeo, which is the source of  the concept that "money equals speech." Matt Bruenig recently recounted some of Rawls's thoughts on that big mistake.

Ta-Nehisi Coates explains the difference between oafish and elegant racism. "'The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,' John Roberts elegantly wrote [in one Supreme Court decision]. Liberals have yet to come up with a credible retort. That is because the theories of John Roberts are prettier than the theories of most liberals. But more, it is because liberals do not understand that America has never discriminated on the basis of race (which does not exist) but on the basis of racism (which most certainly does." And this: "Ahistorical liberals — like most Americans — still believe that race invented racism, when in fact the reverse is true."

Why did humans grow four inches in 100 years? It wasn’t just diet. (Originally seen on Boing Boing, via Maggie Koerth-Baker.)
Something else is at work: exposure to infection. Repeated infection during infancy and childhood slows growth as nutrition intake declines or is used by the body to fight disease. Predominant among these illnesses are respiratory infections, notably pneumonia and bronchitis, and gastro-intestinal infections, especially diarrhoea and dysentery.

The key factor here is the urban environment.
Did you hear about the guy who's trying to bring a liquid food-replacement (called Soylent, yes, really) to market? He's a weird mix of germphobe and Taylorist efficiency expert. No sooner had I read about that than I saw this article from NPR on the role of our gut bacteria, which Soylent promises to kill off with its lack of fiber:
And we need to keep these colon-dwelling critters content, Kashyap says. When they gobble up food — and create gas — they also make molecules that boost the immune system, protect the lining of the intestine and prevent infections.
So go ahead and drink your Soylent and kill your bacteria. Let's see what happens to your immune system.

Friday, May 2, 2014

April Showers May Bring Flour

A Minneapolis photo to remember our rainy week:

Local readers may know where this was taken, but I wonder if out-of-towners have any idea?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Vivian Maier: Attention Must Not Be Paid

The film, Finding Vivian Maier, is playing locally, and I hear it's available on demand, too. I saw it a few weeks ago and was once again amazed by Maier's photos. The story of her life, as much as it's known, is revealed throughout by the film maker, John Maloof, who is the person who found Maier's negatives in a storage locker auction.

He interviewed people she worked for, kids she took care of, and shop owners whose businesses she frequented. He talks to two well-known living photographers about her work. He tracks down her mother's small French village of origin. And he shows her stuff -- not just the photos, but the detritus she hoarded until her death in 2009.

Maloof was recently interviewed by Jim Walsh at MinnPost. This is one quote that I found particularly resonant:
“That’s one of the things that really compels me to know more and also to have so much respect for [Maier], because she did this for herself,” said Maloof. “She’s a true artist. She wasn’t doing this to submit to LIFE magazine or to show off to other photographers or galleries that she’s better than someone else, or just as good as someone else. She didn’t do that. She didn’t need that. She knew that her photos were good, and she kept going, and it’s all that she knew and that’s all that she did and it’s all she needed.

“Most people I think really want to be that person that doesn’t need somebody to validate them. If you look at Twitter or Facebook, all it is is people showing off what they’re doing, or trying to get somebody to favorite or tout or get somebody to pay attention to them. She didn’t need any of that to be happy, and I think a lot of people really wish they could be like that and still be happy — but it’s not the case, especially in this social media era.”
From what little I know about folk artists, that's one of the things that separates them from mainstream artists. Not only are they untaught, they are outside the art world altogether, and they make their art for themselves or some other personal reason, not to speak to an art audience.

Walsh's post is titled The 'Punk Rock Nanny,' and I suppose that's appropriate.


My past posts on Vivian Maier and her work.


Update: Here's a Chicago Reader story about Maier that just appeared. It addresses the way her work has been controlled by several collectors, including Maloof, and whether she went out of her way to keep her work private or not. Also that she had a large collection of photography books that are never discussed (since they were sold separately in the auction).
...Pamela Bannos, a photographer and senior lecturer at Northwestern who specializes in historical projects... [s]ays the nanny narrative, honed by men who control Maier's legacy and "like a good story," gives the photographer "short shrift."

In an interview last week, Bannos—who's had full access to Goldstein's and Slattery's collections but none to Maloof's (in spite of two years of requests, she says)—told me she doesn't think Maier is such a big mystery. She points out, for example, that Maier was the third generation of her family to support herself as a live-in domestic worker, so there's nothing very surprising about her choice of occupation....

"She was also a voracious reader," with a very large collection of photography books, Bannos notes. (Slattery, who still owns most of what he bought at the 2007 auction, says hundreds of them were sold then.) As for the idea that Maier didn't want her photos printed, or that she was making them only for herself, "there are what I call the lost portfolios," Bannos says—"presentation portfolios," at least four of them, containing a total of about 150 11-by-14-inch prints, sold at the auction, resold, and not tracked down since. "What we've seen so far is just a piece of the story."
I wonder what prints were in those portfolios? They would be incredibly valuable to understanding Maier because they reveal her vision as an editor of her own work.

Putting some prints into presentation portfolios doesn't mean she intended to show them to anyone, though. But it -- like Bannos's other comments -- highlights how much more there is to know about Maier's work and life.