Friday, July 31, 2015

And Now About the Elephants

As the uproar over the dentist killing Cecil the lion welled into a mob, five elephants were killed for their tusks in Kenya.

According to the Washington Post,

In recent years, the poaching of elephants has increased exponentially because of the demand for ivory in Asia, where it's used for unproven medicinal purposes. Between 2010 and 2012, poachers killed more than 100,000 African elephants — a level of destruction that put the species on the road to extinction. Unlike many other animals, elephants mourn the death of their brethren, wrapping their trunks around the bones or carcasses of the deceased.

While the African lion population is also under threat, it is largely because their habitats are being destroyed by farmers and developers, not because the animals are hunted.
Elephants have friends. They can differentiate human languages and voices. Nobody has any business killing them.

There's a bit of good news about elephants, generally, though not for these five who were killed:
Kenyan authorities say they were making progress in the fight against poachers before the recent killing at Tsavo. Last year, the government deployed 550 new rangers. Advances in technology have allowed researchers to monitor herds using GPS trackers, gauging when they might be under threat based on their movement and speed.

“We’ve increased our intelligence and our operations. We were having success,” Gathitu said. “That’s why we’re so surprised.”
I wonder if Dr. Palmer has killed an elephant?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Few More on the Deadly Dentist

Pioneer Press outdoors columnist Dave Orrick published an open-letter-style column today, addressed to the lion-killing dentist, Walter Palmer. Orrick shares Palmer's pursuit of hunting but not his pursuit of trophies, especially ones from other continents. But his main point is that Palmer is guilty of poaching, which has specified penalties -- none of which include death threats, loss of business, or terrorizing of family members.

I don't understand the way death threats follow almost every publicized transgression these days. If Palmer were my dentist, I would find a new dentist, but that's it. I wouldn't leave him a bad Yelp review, let alone threaten him or his family. Vox had a particularly thoughtful essay on why the proliferation of mob justice, as illustrated in the Palmer case, should worry us all.

Letter writers in today's Star Tribune had a few pithy points as well, mostly in keeping with Dave Orrick's point of view. The best was from Clint Carlson of Minneapolis:

Cecil is still a lion. The media wants you to believe that Cecil was stolen from a petting zoo in the middle of the night while children were using him as a pillow. He’s a lion. When his dominance is threatened, he eats lion cubs alive. His favorite thing to do is to tear flesh from zebras while they are still breathing. Please stop picturing him as a fuzzy stuffed animal.

If you really do feel this strongly about poaching, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources publishes a weekly report that lists the names of poachers. This fall there will be many. You will be very busy smearing the names of these people. If you do not plan on doing that, why are you so filled with hate toward Dr. Walter Palmer? ...You should be just as angry with John Doe who poached a black bear in northern Minnesota as you are about Cecil the lion.
(Of course, Dr. Palmer also poached a black bear, and got off with a year of probation for that.)

The best thinking on the whole sorry case (rather than the overreaction to it) comes from a Zimbabwean blogger named Alex Magaisa. He deconstructs the media's story that Cecil the lion was a beloved figure in Zimbabwe. He explains the corruption that underlies the hunting industry generally and connects it with the colonialist past and its present remnants. All of which is not something I've seen in other coverage.

Finally, this screen grab from last night's All In with Chris Hayes:

That's the front door of Walter Palmer's dental practice down in Bloomington, Minn., where my fellow Minnesotans are going out of their way to make sure the rest of the world knows Palmer is a pariah.

Check out the sign at top right of the screen. I'm sure the person who made that Cat Lives Matter sign thought they were being clever, but all they did was trivialize the lives of black human beings once again. And give me one more reason to be ashamed of living in Minnesota.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Thoughts on the Lion-Killing Dentist

I have a range of feelings and thoughts about the Minnesota-dentist-kills-Cecil-the-lion story.

1. People who eat cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, fish, turkeys, and other animals every day don't have a lot of weight with me on this topic. Differentiating your animal killing from the dentist's is unthoughtful at least.

2. At the same time, killing for pure sport and a trophy is as vacuous as it is reprehensible. And I can't help feeling ashamed that he's from Minnesota.

3. Spending $54,000 to get that lion trophy (plus airfare, hotel, and other costs) adds insult to the injury. That's more than the median household income in the U.S. As a Star Tribune letter writer put it today, "I cannot help thinking of the many who cannot afford dental care even with insurance, while this man, Walter H. Palmer, makes so much that he can pay to hunt and kill a lion in Africa for sport." (Letter by Rosemary Rocco, Maple Grove, Minn.) Some people really do have too much money.

4. The killing of the lion gets all sorts of attention, though, while people die every day from bad actors worldwide and we never hear a thing about it. People working in sweatshops all over the place, kids dying from exposure to lead from mining in Nigeria, sex/rape tourists in too many countries to count...

But Walter Palmer and his compound bow are clearly not a part of the solution, either. Here are a few facts from the Star Tribune's locally written stories (here and here) that may not have made it into national media:

  • Palmer is "among two dozen hunters who have completed what’s known as the North American Super Slam, taking all 29 huntable big-game species" with a bow.
  • Palmer is "a very driven man…He lives an intense, fast-paced life, and hunting is a great passion. He’s taken all five of the dangerous Big Five of African game, including a rhinoceros..." Great! How admirable.
  • Among the 43 kills Palmer has listed with the big-game hunting group Safari Club International are an African elephant and a polar bear. (Safari Club International has 55,000 members worldwide, including around a 1,000 Minnesotans.)
  • Safari hunters like Palmer arrange their trips through businesses with names like Luxury Hunts. The spokesman for Luxury Hunts (not involved in the Palmer lion killing) blamed the local guides: “If he bought a lion hunt and they take him on a lion hunt, he [doesn’t] know where you’re going. The finger should be pointed at the professional hunter, not the hunter himself.” Sounds like an easy excuse to me, rich man.
  • Palmer killed a Wisconsin black bear in 2008 and then lied about where he had killed it; he could have gotten five years in prison, but instead got a year of probation and a fine of $3,000. And the next year, he paid a $127,500 settlement to his former receptionist (also a patient of his), who claimed he made comments about her breasts, buttocks and genitalia. Great guy, am I right?
  • After Palmer and his guides caught up with the wounded lion and the guides shot it to death, they tried to destroy the tracking collar.
Finally, did anyone else notice how the media (including NPR) keep referring to the local guides as "African" guides instead of Zimbabwean guides? Because our media doesn't know that Africa is a continent, not a country.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Now That's a Page of Commentary

Today's Star Tribune commentary page was made up of three locally written pieces, all of which made great points on their very different topics.

First, Dr. Steven Miles explained how fetal tissue, as is sometimes collected when a woman chooses to have an abortion, has led to tremendous advances in prenatal surgery. We've all heard that doctors can now perform heart surgery before birth, or close up spinal columns. That's because doctors had access to fetal remains to study.

Second, lawyer Marshall Tanick gave President Obama a hard time in Oh, Just Revoke the Medal of Freedom Already. Tanick points out that many awards have been revoked by organizations that didn't have a precedent for doing so (Little League Baseball, the Miss America pageant...). He writes, Bill Cosby has "no right to the award and [he] would lose no economic benefits if it were taken away from him. Therefore, the administration should undertake an inquiry into the Cosby calumny and consider revoking the award if appropriate."

Finally, two local law professors tell us that Obama's Categorical Reduction of Sentences Has Precedent, contrary to what some on the Right seem to think. Presidents from Washington on have done it, in fact. And even the number of people pardoned by Obama -- now the highest since Lyndon Johnson -- is not that high. "When Johnson in 1965 commuted 80 federal prison sentences, there were only about 20,000 federal prisoners, and most had a chance to earn release on parole. Move ahead 50 years — parole opportunities have been entirely abolished in the federal system, and the federal prison population now exceeds 200,000."

All of this made for welcome reading this morning.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Chaos in the Laundry

Ceramic artist Erik Riese makes small ceramic disks he calls Coin of the Realm. I have a few, including some with magnets attached to the back. Recently, one got detached from its magnet but still had the adhesive in place... and somehow it got stuck to my washing machine.

Here it is in its new permanent location:

Marking my washing machine and its eager maw of sock consumption:

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Images of the Midwest

I am freshly returned from a weekend in Wisconsin Dells, a place I never heard of when I lived on the East Coast, but which is well-known to anyone within a 500-mile radius in the upper Midwest. It's a place that attracted tourists in the 19th century because of its natural beauty. After the number of cars increased post World War I and especially after World War I, those tourists were seen as an opportunity for quaint roadside attractions, motels, and (finally) dozens of waterparks and amusement parks.

Now it's what I would call a working-class to middle-class vacation spot for people with kids. There's a three-block stretch of the original downtown that's like a boardwalk, including lots of shops selling tacky T-shirts.

Several shops put the "art" on the walls and you can get it printed immediately onto whatever type of shirt you want. This wall o' stuff caught my attention because of the rip-offs of Shephard Fairey's OBEY graphic. Especially the Mickey Mouse OHBOY version... why not infringe two copyrights while you're at it, right?

I just noticed the ones at top left that say "I heart my crazy boyfriend girlfriend" and "I heart my crazy wife husband." Is this an example of the slippery slope we were promised after the marriage equality decision?

I've never understood the trend that involves printing words on the butt of clothing. Of course, it's only done on clothes for women. The words on these very short shorts read "Can't touch this."

And this is classic Wisconsin: pink camouflage meets traditional (and therefore I guess male) camouflage. The idea that the deer themselves would be camouflaged is particularly odd since the people who wear camouflage intend to kill them. Of course, the "girl" deer has to have a bow on her head.

The Dells has more than just tacky clothes. There's lots of room for stuff no one needs!

There's something wrong with this horse painting: The eyes are too close together, pointing forward rather than being placed almost on the sides of the head. Because horses are prey animals, they need to have greater range of vision, while predators need to look straight ahead when they're pursuing. It makes the horse look more like a wolf with a weird nose. I wonder if there are fangs hidden in that overbite?

And finally, from a shop full of breakable stuff, this message, "Children are not to handle." I read it several times before I understood what it meant. I kept thinking it was something like "Children are not to be mishandled" or something like that. Do you think any kids or even parents understand this passive phrasing?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Beyond the Cartoon of White Supremacy

First, a photo and some words from Twitter:

Nothing is so effective at turning people off white supremacy as letting its hilarious champions march in public.
For a second I thought, Yeah!

And then I thought: No.

That photo and those marches are a cartoon of white supremacy. The rest of us white people all benefit from actual white supremacy, and photos and marches like this allow us to think we're not part of white supremacy.

White supremacy (the belief that whiteness is better) is engrained in our culture, from the beauty standard and Hollywood movies to home-purchasing and hiring decisions and food deserts, from loitering laws to mass incarceration and the drug war. Even this: There were no voter registration laws in this country until black men were given the right to vote after the Civil War. Then, it suddenly became necessary to control who was voting.

And that’s just current white supremacy — it doesn’t include the way our country was built on white supremacy by enslaved black people and exterminated native people. For instance, New York City with its great harbor became what it is by profiting from the slave trade. Even our most elite universities were raised up with profits from slavery.

White privilege is a result or aspect of white supremacy, and every white person in this country has white privilege, even if we don’t have class privilege, straight privilege, or other forms of privilege.

The fact that we're taught to believe white supremacy equals the Klan or neo-Nazis, rather than the way our society is structured, works in favor of white supremacy, hiding it and making anyone who calls it out sound like an extremist.

It took me a long time to realize this, and I thank Ta-Nahesi Coates’s writing for the Atlantic over the years for making it clear to me.

In his short and worthy book Between the World and Me, Coates calls us white people “people who believe they are white,” after a turn of phrase by James Baldwin. We are not actually white, since that is both a bad description of our skin colors and a socially agreed upon category that only exists in comparison to someone who is defined as “black.”

Black people also do not exist, of course, but the way they are treated in society has real effects that matter and can’t be wished away with the vacuous proclamation “I don’t see color.”

Black people in the U.S. not only have created a multifaceted culture that mainstream culture continues to copy and profit from: they have solidarity together in the face of oppression. Coates sums this up in one of his pithiest phrases: “They made us into a race; we made ourselves into a people.”


The photo and thoughts on the most obvious form of white supremacy are from the Twitter account of Charles C.W. Cooke.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Joke of the Butts

An odd confluence of butt packaging today.

I never heard of Boydreaux's Butt Paste in my days an infant-parent. And cat butt purse coin purse... I don't even know where to start with that one.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Who Gets a Ticket, or Worse

I'm getting on the road today, so I don't have much time to post. I've been thinking a lot about the Sandra Bland police stop (and her subsequent suicide), and wanted to share this post by Michael Leddy about the cop's previous stop, which happened just minutes before he pulled Bland to the side of the road. Michael took the time to watch the whole video, while I have not. He even transcribed the trooper's side of the conversation, which shows the trooper letting off a college student for speeding, even though s/he had no proof of insurance.

I've been stopped for traffic infractions three times in my life.

  • Speeding on an interstate, 1986, going 72 in a 55 zone. White female trooper. Got a ticket.
  • Speeding on a county road, 2008, going 52 in a 35 (hey, I was in a excuse). White male surburban town police. No ticket, just a warning.
  • Failure to stop at a stop sign on a residential city street, 2014. Black male city police. I got a ticket, which I thoroughly deserved. (I didn't blow through the stop sign, but it was nowhere near a full stop either.)
I know three times does not a pattern make, but I've always found it interesting that I, a white woman, was let off by the white man but not the white woman or the black man.

The one thing that stands out for me in the parts of the Texas traffic stop video I've watched is the moment when the trooper asks Bland to put out her cigarette as she sits in her car and he stands outside the window. His tone is clearly annoyed (listen to how he says "please"), and after he finishes speaking, there's a long pause before she answers. I think Sandra Bland thought hard in that second or two about whether to go along with him or not, and decided she had had enough.

It was a fateful decision, but one she was legally entitled to make.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wait Three Years for that Shot

It's been a while since I mentioned the unconscionable price of EpiPens (here and here). Well, there's some good news on that front: A new product, Abiliject, is in the works that will compete with EpiPen and have a longer shelf-life.

Abiliject isn't subject to the patent that protects EpiPens because Abiliject stores the epinephrine as a powder, which is reconstituted in seconds when needed. Storing the drug in dry form is what increases the shelf life.

The only problem: it's not due out until 2018, so lots of people can get ripped off or even die in the meantime.

And I wonder what Abiliject will sell for? Seems like it could actually be more expensive. But -- I hope -- its presence in the market will drive down the EpiPen price, if nothing else.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Leonardo's Cradle

Leonardo's Basement is a kid-oriented, creative learning place for kids to design and build from their imaginations. It's in South Minneapolis. I've never been there, but stopped by yesterday to drop off some Make magazines and a box of old model car parts fit for kit bashing.

This is what greets you when you walk in the door of their lower-level workshop space:

Yes, that's a bowling-ball-scale Newton's Cradle.

I had to resist the temptation of knocking one ball into the others.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Funny for Today

From today's wanderings:

Bumpersticker that says Old upholsterers never die they always recover

Seen in St. Paul at Bargain Upholstery.