Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Four Things

The fire hose has been exhausting lately. So what else is new, yes, I know. Here are four things that came through my field of vision that require comment, if only in brief.

First, a sign I saw in the background during a bit of news coverage at a protest:


That says it for me. I am unfailingly angry that we are going backwards in so many ways, having to spend our time advocating for what already existed instead of improving it.

(Except I wouldn't say "honey bees" — just "bees." Our many native bee species are more threatened than honey bees, but we don't hear that much in the usual coverage.)

This graphic is from the Blackout Coalition:


While I like its vibrancy and visual pop, for me those hearts don't work as the letter A. Bonk Block?

Here's something I never thought I would have ever looked at, let alone taken a screen snapshot of:


This makes me so angry. Irrationally, I admit. Hard to think of words to explain why.

It makes it obvious Ivanka Trump lolls in her privilege as a white, rich person to make every other woman in the world feel inadequate. She lists her identify first through her relationships to others, especially men. She portrays herself in perfect makeup and hair, working, with a baby on her lap. See. you can do it too!

Yet she's "passionate" about the empowerment of women and girls.

I don't want to know how she defines empowerment. But I guess it has to do with being able to buy what you want, especially from Ivanka Trump.

Finally, this is a look at this week's weather in Minnesota in February:


Climate change, anyone? Global weirding? Even that 29° high on Saturday is pretty warm, historically, for this time of year.

Meanwhile, Nero fiddles and gets his trademarks in China while Rome burns.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Young Malcolm

Today is the 52nd anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. I was five at the time and I assume I didn't hear about it, or if I did, I wouldn't have known who he was until that moment.

For years I had a paperback copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X (written with Alex Haley), but I never got around to reading it. It may still be here somewhere, but I suspect not. I'm not sure why I never read it.

I think my interest in his life shifted when I visited Omaha several years ago and learned it was his birthplace, yet lacks any significant commemoration of that fact. It was around the same time I learned that, when he was a kid, Malcolm told his (white) teacher that he wanted to be an attorney when he grew up and the teacher scorned his ambition.

For all of these reasons — twinges of guilt for not reading his autobiography, knowing that he came from the Midwest, and empathy for the kid he was in this racist county — I recently read the book X: A Novel, written by his daughter Ilyasah Shabazz with young adult novelist Kekla Magoon.

The book covers his life from childhood to the time when he went to prison in his 20s, ending just around the time he became part of the Nation of Islam. From the book I learned:
  • While he was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, his family moved to Lansing, Michigan, when he was pretty young.
  • His father and mother were organizers for Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association and the back-to-Africa effort.
  • His father was killed by a street car, possibly murdered for his political work.
  • After his father died, his family sometimes went hungry.
  • His mother was harassed by social service workers and finally committed to a mental institution, with the kids placed into foster care.
  • Malcolm went to Boston to live with an older half-sister when he was only about 15. There, he worked several jobs and became part of the zootsuit scene. His nickname was Red.
  • When he moved to Harlem a few years later, he was a numbers runner and his nickname shifted to Detroit Red to differentiate him from other guys called Red. (Detroit, Lansing, they're both in Michigan... close enough.)
The book does a good job of exploring Malcolm's relationships with his brothers and sisters, how people grow apart, and what it's like to move to big cities. As a reader, I feel like I know him and understand why he did what he did, and how it led him to the part of his life that's better known.

Monday, February 20, 2017

One for the List

You may have seen this piece of advice, which still pops up once in a while in my social media feeds, though it first appeared in mid-November 2016:

Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them.

Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them.
I haven't made a list, but I think about it.

Here's a perfect example of one of those things I would never do or believe until now, from the Weekly Sift:
Quincy Larson at Free Code Camp explains why you should avoid leaving the country with your smartphone or laptop: Border control officials can refuse to let you into a country unless you give up the password to your devices, at which point they’re free to vacuum up all your personal data. The U.S. might do it to a U.S. citizen before letting them come back.

That’s already started happening.
On January 30th, Sidd Bikkannavar, a U.S.-born scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory flew back to Houston, Texas, from Santiago, Chile.

On his way through through the airport, Customs and Border Patrol agents pulled him aside. They searched him, then detained him in a room with a bunch of other people sleeping in cots. They eventually returned and said they’d release him if he told them the password to unlock his phone.

Bikkannavar explained that the phone belonged to NASA and had sensitive information on it, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. He eventually yielded and unlocked his phone. The agents left with his phone. Half an hour later, they returned, handed him his phone, and released him.
Larson has recommendations:
When you travel internationally, you should leave your mobile phone and laptop at home. You can rent phones at most international airports that include data plans.

If you have family overseas, you can buy a second phone and laptop and leave them there at their home.

If you’re an employer, you can create a policy that your employees are not to bring devices with them during international travel. You can then issue them “loaner” laptops and phones once they enter the country.
Of course, you might say to yourself: “I don’t need to take those kinds of precautions, because nothing about me should make border agents suspicious. I’m white, Christian, native-born, and look just like a normal American.” Bookmark that thought, and retrieve it the next time you feel offended because somebody has called you “privileged.”
If you had told me in October 2016 I would seriously consider leaving all devices at home when I leave the country, I would have thought you were crazy.

That's how things work in Turmp's America. Because freedom!


Cartoon by Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Iowa, Not an Inspiration

I recommend reading this commentary from the DesMoines Register,  called To Steve King: Here's the real 'cultural suicide' Iowa faces.

The author, Sangina Patnaik, grew up in small-town Iowa, with a father who had immigrated from India in the 1970s. She wrote to address Iowa Rep. Steve King, who is known for his xenophobic worldview. (He's the guy who said Mexicans who cross the border are all running drugs and have calves the size of cantaloupes.)

Patnaik does an admirable job of setting King straight on what "real Iowans" are. I especially appreciated her analysis of what has led to the decline of Iowa's economy:

My hometown...is not doing fine. And, despite your belief in the horrors of “demographic transformation,” I’m pretty sure my siblings and I aren’t the cause of its slow decline. I’ve watched over the years as small businesses on Main Street turned into vacant storefronts. Members of my high school class (myself included) left western Iowa because the jobs we could get there just didn’t compete with the ones we ended up getting elsewhere.

In fact, your sense that allowing other races to mix into an historically white area will lead to “cultural suicide” couldn’t be more off base.

Cultural suicide occurred when the unions were broken at the packing plants in our hometowns, turning respectable $21-an-hour jobs into back-breaking $11-an-hour labor that couldn’t support a family. Cultural suicide occurs every time you vote to defund public education, stripping Iowa public school teachers of the resources they need to educate the next generation of Iowans even as you accept $10,600 in campaign contributions from the College Loan Corp. — a company that profits from increased student debt. Cultural suicide occurs when you decide to display a Confederate flag on your desk, conveniently forgetting that you represent a state that fought for the Union.

I get it. It’s easier to point fingers at the brown people who take those 3 a.m. shifts at the packing plant and are now raising their families on minimum wage than it is to accept personal responsibility for the ways that your particular brand of strip-mining the Iowan economy is devastating the lives of Iowans.
Strip-mining: What a great metaphor for King's worldview. It fits with the overall extractive, rather than generative, approach that politicians like him take.

The only thing that surprised me about Patnaik's commentary is that it was published back in October 2016. Since then, Iowa's legislature has moved further down the extractive path, voting to ban collective bargaining for public employee unions. They're making noises about following Kansas into the Sam Brownback crevasse of budget cuts and killing the public schools.

And meanwhile, in Minnesota, our Republican-held House and Senate are cooking up the same kinds of bills, but we all know they will be vetoed by our Democratic governor.

2018 is not long off. It's our last chance to save our state, if not our country, from these people who want to strip mine everything they can from civil society.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Generica vs. Sense of Place

I was reading the paper today and my eye fell on this photo:


I assumed it was somewhere in suburban America. Where do you think it is?

Answer below.






















It's in Penang, Malaysia. (That's the police headquarters connected with the murder of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un's brother.)  

It made me want to apologize to the world for the invasion of this ugly American architecture and generic sense of place. This is in Malaysia, a tropical environment. I imagine they have monsoons. Yet they've planted turf grass and paved almost everything in sight. The loss of sense of place is so, so sad. I hope it's not representative of Malaysia, though I have no idea.

This photo was on my mind when I happened to listen to an episode of the podcast 99% Invisible this afternoon. Called McMansion Hell: The Devil Is in the Details, it featured Kate from McMansion Hell, a hilarious, pithy blog.

Among many great points about what's wrong with McMansions, Kate pointed out that they are generic and have nothing to do with the place they are in. And that is not the way humans do things.

 Read up on Kate's blog if you get a chance. And be on the lookout for the scourge of generica. It's everywhere.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Something to Keep in Mind

Today a friend of mine shared these thoughts on Facebook. I am holding them close as Scott Pruitt is confirmed to destroy the EPA and Rump has the Homeland Security secretary drafting orders about using the National Guard to round up undocumented people:

there are a lot of reasons the left is losing but one of them is definitely that what we're trying to do is much, much harder. Diversity is more difficult than conformity; participation from the grassroots is harder than authoritarianism. When an injury to one is an injury to all, you have a harder fight than people who are only tending their own injuries.

also it's much much easier to create fascism through democracy than it is to create democracy out of fascism.

and leftists (by and large) are actually trying to learn something — you have white queers unlearning racism and straight Muslims unlearning homophobia and Christian Latinos unlearning Islamophobia and so on and so on and so on. it's fucking hard and necessary and it takes time and energy. if you don't believe any of those systems are real, you don't actually have to learn anything new or do any hard work on yourself — you can JUST fight for what you believe already.

anyway just have some love for yourself and your comrades — while we can all improve, this isn't our fault.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Alan Cober and Friends

When I visited the Norman Rockwell Museum last summer, it wasn't originally to see the Rockwell art. I had heard they were hosting an exhibit of work by illustrator Alan Cober, one of my all-time favorites (written about here).

Well, it turned out it wasn't just about Cober's work. While the exhibit contained a collection of Cober's notebooks and sketchbooks, it was accompanied by a number of other works by 20th century illustrators who moved illustration from the pictorial tradition of Rockwell to the provocative works we know today.

I only took a few photos, but here they are.


This self-portrait is from 1997, the year before Cober died at age 63. This was the accompanying text:

Alan E. Cober was a fearless and inventive artist who brought the precepts of modernism to published illustration. He rejected realism in favor of an expressive, symbolic approach to his art, which was designed to enhance and interpret rather than mimic textual content. In this captivating self-portrait, one of his last major works, skulls, skeletons, and shamanistic figures surround him — odd forebearers of the artist’s passing in 1998.
A case nearby held one of his president sketchbooks from 1980:


With this accompanying text:
A spiritual descendant of the nineteenth and twentieth century artist/journalis, Alan E. Cober loved to draw, and he filled hundreds of sketchbooks with everything from observational sketches and notations to more complete paintings. This compelling visual journal followed Jimmy Carter’s unsuccessful second-term presidential campaign, and was signed by Carter himself. Cover’s sketchbooks also captured the experiences of institutionalized psychiatric patients, prison inmates, and the elderly — drawings published in The Forgotten Society, a book released by Dover Books in 1972 and reissued in 2011.
Cober kept special notebooks where he made sketches of friends and family on their birthdays:


It's a lousy photo but an inspirational idea.

I recorded only two of the images by other illustrators:


Brad Holland
The Metaphysician, 1991
Holland's career started in 1967, emphasizing the visual metaphor rather than literal representation or the rendering of other people’s ideas.


Anita Kunz
Silent Night, Endless Fight, 2005 (New Yorker cover)

Wow, that is a piece of art that does everything right, and that I bet could unite Red and Blue America.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Betsy, You're No Ruby Bridges

Yesterday, in the midst of the larger outrage about Turnip and the Russians, my Twitter feed blew up about this cartoon:


That's Betsy DeVos, our new Secretary of Education, infantalized and shrunk down to child size and being protected by burly white men as she tried to enter a public school in Washington, D.C. the other day.

I recognized the reference to Norman Rockwell's painting The Problem We All Live With immediately, and shook my head:


This is what it actually looked like when DeVos tried to enter the school:


Note that she's accompanied by only one person, a black man, and he's shorter than she is. The people are not throwing things at her; they're blocking the entrance.

And this is what it looked like when Ruby Bridges tried to enter her school back in 1962:


The crowds were held back from the entrance:




(These photos are from Historical Photos. John Steinbeck was there that day in New Orleans. Some of his thoughts about it can be read here.)

The analyses that showed, in tweets or longer articles, why Glenn McCoy's cartoon is a vile piece of work followed soon after. (McCoy makes his money with stuff like this. Let's see... racist portrayals of Michelle Obama... ruminations on black-on-black crime... portraying Barack Obama as killing babies with a baseball bat... You get the idea. He keeps himself busy.)

What the cartoon made me think of, in addition to all of this, was my visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum late last summer. I never posted my photos at the time, but now here we are.


The museum is just outside Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which was long Rockwell's home.

My photo of The Problem We All Live With didn't turn out well, but I did get these two items on display that are much harder to find images of:


This is the tearsheet from Look magazine, and in the background the dress worn by Rockwell's model for the painting, Lynda Gunn. It's interesting that Rockwell chose a white dress, both for contrast and symbolizing innocence, when Bridges was never photographed that way.


The museum also displays these two studies of Gunn that Rockwell made before the final painting. (Note that he moved the bow from the top of her head in the studies to the back in the final painting. Interesting.) The writing on the lower right side of the study says this:

My very best wishes to one of my favorite models.
Lynda Jean Gunn
sincerely
Norman Rockwell
Nearby in the museum is another painting named Moving In (New Kids in the Neighborhood), which was created a few years after The Problem We All Live With...


...which was also for Look magazine.

Rockwell's studio, which was moved to the grounds of the museum, is just down the hill from the main building. It was the last of several studios he built or used over the years; at least one of them had burned to the ground.

I didn't take a photo of the outside for some reason, but this is the inside:






The loft area was used to store paintings.

This photo by Louie Lamone, 1961, shows Rockwell working on his painting called The Connoisseur for the Saturday Evening Post (which ran in January 1962). It was shot from the loft, and shows him conferring with his son Peter as he works on the modern art painting-within-a-painting that is the focal point of the work:


I think this may have been one of Rockwell's last paintings to appear in the Post. He started working with Look magazine by 1963, which is when he painted The Problem We All Live With (which ran in January 1964).

Rockwell stopped working with the Post at least in part because (according to information on display at the museum) his contract prohibited him from showing black Americans in any way except as servants.

__

By the way, Ruby Bridges, who is just a few years older than Betsy DeVos, is on the board of directors of the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What Is to Be Done (re: Rural America)?

Today I read two interesting articles on what can be done about the urban/rural divide that gave us President Donald J. Turnip.

First, from Pacific Standard, Why aren't rural Canadians in favor of Trump? The writer reports on the people of the Change Islands in Newfoundland, who are culturally similar to rural Americans but who don't like Trump and support Justin Trudeau. The difference, she says, is that they know their central government has given them lots of things they rely on since they joined Canada around 1950: electricity, roads, bridges, a ferry.

She contrasts this with the rural Louisianans studied by Arlie Hochschild in Strangers in Their Own Land, who believe "they" get nothing from Washington and others are cutting in line ahead of them on the way to the American dream.

What can any of us do about it?

People and organizations who want to offer an alternative to Trump can take a page from the Canadian book by going beyond Trump’s symbolic support to both symbolically and materially invest in rural communities, such as the $1 trillion infrastructure program recently proposed by Senate Democrats. But such support is not limited to new governmental programs; local and state governments can also make efforts to remind rural residents of what they are already doing for them. Political action groups can canvas rural communities’ needs and visibly go to bat for them. Volunteer groups can do work projects in rural communities. There’s a lesson to be learned from Newfoundland: that even communities facing dire times will remain invested in a shared political project if they feel that the country is also invested in them.
I try to visualize how that would work in Minnesota. Groups of Twin Cities volunteers go up to the Iron Range to do what, exactly, that would compensate for not mining the Boundary Waters Canoe Area? Or we descend upon southwestern Minnesota to somehow help farmers not pollute the water with field runoff? Hmm.

The second article, This is why Democrats lose in "rural" postindustrial America, is from the Washington Post. Its main point is that Democrats don't lose the towns and small cities of rural America: it's just that voter turnout is significantly lower there than in the completely rural or suburban areas.

That means if Democrats could turn out voters (and register nonvoters) in the somewhat denser areas of Red America, it would make a big difference. Even county-level data is deceiving, since these towns and cities are surrounded by ruralness, so Keith Ellison's call for not just a 50-state but a 3,007-county strategy is right, but not fine-grained enough.

How bad is the turnout split? According to the article, whose author did detailed analysis of counties in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, it's as bad as 30 vs. 60 percent turnout in Terre Haute and Muncie and their surrounding areas, or 50 vs. 75 percent in parts of Pennsylvania.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Hans Rosling, Storyteller of Facts Not Enough of Us Know

I can't believe I've barely mentioned the work of Hans Rosling on this blog, and now he's dead.

Just 68 years old, he died of pancreatic cancer on February 7. I don't believe he had let it be known he had been ill for about a year. He just kept going with his work in public health and what he called "edutainment." That term doesn't sound like a positive thing to my American ear (a bit too much like reality TV, a la The "Learning" Channel), but he really meant the "edu" part of it, combining data with appealing visuals to make it not just lively but also more understandable.


There are lots of videos to demonstrate this:

All of this information comes together in his work with Gapminder, which tries to educate all of us about the gaps in our knowledge of reality. For instance, is the number of people living in extreme poverty higher now or lower lower than it was 30 years ago? Or, what is the average life expectancy around the world? Almost everyone gets these questions wrong, and always in the more pessimistic direction. Take the Gapminder quiz here.

A few years ago, Rosling spent much of a year in Liberia, helping to fight the Ebola outbreak there. While many other Westerners were just talking, or even worse, making the situation worse with bans and unneeded quarantines, he was acting to help.

His work at Gapminder will be carried on by his son, Ola Rosling, and daughter-in-law, Anna Rosling Rönnlund.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Comfort, Comfort, Who Had the Comfort?

A week or so ago, there was this tweet, which I saw shared a lot:


Then there was this quote by Andrew Sullivan, from a New York magazine article about Turmp, that was getting a lot of approval on Twitter in the last couple of days:

One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all. The president of a free country may dominate the news cycle many days — but he is not omnipresent — and because we live under the rule of law, we can afford to turn the news off at times. A free society means being free of those who rule over you — to do the things you care about, your passions, your pastimes, your loves — to exult in that blessed space where politics doesn’t intervene. In that sense, it seems to me, we already live in a country with markedly less freedom than we did a month ago. It’s less like living in a democracy than being a child trapped in a house where there is an abusive and unpredictable father, who will brook no reason, respect no counter-argument, admit no error, and always, always up the ante until catastrophe inevitably strikes. This is what I mean by the idea that we are living through an emergency.
And I understand what both of them are saying. I identify with it. I long for that comfort, the ease of not having to think what malevolent thing my government could be planning any moment.

But the fact that I understand them both is just an indication that I am part of the large, privileged group of people who have not had to worry much about this in the past. Black people, native people, queer people, trans people, and people who are more than one of those kinds of people have always had to live in worry, if not absolute fear.

Welcome to America as many people have lived it. It sucks.

I hope we remember that, if we manage to survive this more or less intact.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Supporting Planned Parenthood on Saturday Morning

Five thousand people turned out in St. Paul this morning to say they stand with Planned Parenthood. It was scheduled to coincide with a defund Planned Parenthood rally, located just outside the clinic.

This photo was taken from the roof, and I got it from Twitter. It's larger if you click on it:


The rest of the photos are mine. This guy was one of the first people I saw:


The sign on the left has coat hangers dangling from the bottom edge. He had the forethought to wear carpenter jeans, so the bottom ends of his two poles are resting in the pockets.

This young person addressed the many kinds of people that Planned Parenthood helps, which is often forgotten in the midst of sign-making:


A favorite, pithy message:


Creative lettering and drawing:


Two women whose signs presented topics that are not as common:


Yes:


Best use of a yard stick:


Sorry I cut off the top of her sign.

Finally, these three silent figures stood together watching the defund Planned Parenthood rally:


As I took this photo, they were asked to move away from the rally because their presence was too likely to cause a confrontation. Meanwhile, anti-Planned Parenthood demonstrators prayed in the faces of their counterparts half a block away at the barricade between the two groups.

A bit of a double standard.

__

According to the St. Paul police via today's Star Tribune, there were 6,000 people there, with 250–400 of them at the defend rally and 5,600–5,750 at the support march.