Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Remember, This Is How It Happened

From the Weekly Sift, a nice summary of that period in the first Obama term when he had majorities in both houses of Congress... why didn't more get done then?

Those who criticize how little got done during Obama’s first two years not only underestimate how much accomplishment there was, they also usually overestimate the amount of time Obama was free from Republican obstruction.

Al Franken’s election in Minnesota was close enough that Republicans managed to drag a series of vote-counting challenges through the courts. Early on, they might really have thought they could get the outcome reversed, but eventually delay became its own goal: They kept Franken from taking his seat in the Senate until July 7, 2009.

By then, Ted Kennedy was in the final stages of the cancer that killed him on August 25. (Already by July 9, it was headline news when he came to the Senate to cast a vote. No 60-vote plan could rely on pulling him off his deathbed.) Another legal challenge prevented Kennedy’s temporary replacement, Paul Kirk, from taking office until September 24. And then in the special election on January 19, 2010, Republican Scott Brown won a surprise victory, taking his seat February 4.

So effectively, Obama had a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate majority for slightly more than four months. Since it ended by surprise, no one realized that everything had to be passed at once.
As a Minnesotan, I well recall how long it took for Al Franken to get seated, though the Kennedy details are a bit fuzzier in my memory. That last point — that Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts was a surprise and no one realized how little time they had — is something I hadn't thought of. And not only is September 24 to February 4 a fairly short time to start with, but remember a fair amount of it would have been spent in holiday recesses, too. Six or seven weeks of sessions, maybe.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Brexit's Effect on Ireland

Some thoughts that wouldn’t have occurred to me about the Leave vote in the U.K., written by a young Irishman named Shocko on Twitter.

1. My thoughts as a Northern Irish person on how LEAVERS DIDN’T REALISE that Brexit will likely precipitate utter carnage in Northern Ireland and, thusly, UK

2. I'm angry that the Northern Ireland point is never, ever discussed. Despite the fact we are (a) the only people who have a land border with the EU...

3. (b) simultaneously the only part of the UK for which a border would prove uniquely, and dramatically problematic...

4. (c) since we overwhelmingly voted for Remain because of the previous two reasons. So there's that. But it gets worse. It gets much worse.

5. The fact is that either they put a militarised border between North and South or all their talk of Fortress Britain is nonsense.

6. A fully open border EXISTS between the UK and the EU; one such example is
my dad's back fence; a 15 second walk from the Republic of Ireland and thus the EU.

7. You're French. You travel freely via EU to Dublin. Get bus to Lifford (3 hrs). Walk for 90 seconds to Strabane. Ta-da! You are now in the UK

8. No border checks, no machine guns, no "papers please". Just open. This is no longer acceptable to the mandate we have just been handed.

9. A border is bad for practical reasons; people like my sister live in Donegal and work in Derry, and thousands more vice versa...

10. MUCH MORE IMPORTANT are the psychological effects. A lot of the Good Friday Agreement is predicated on free movement between north and south.

11. This and cross-border bodies were just enough to comfort nationalists but not close enough to a united Ireland to antagonise unionists.

12. Actually, an awful lot of the framework of the Good Friday Agreement was underpinned by existing EU laws anyway, so it may now be entirely undone.

13. But more importantly, making people undergo any form of border checkpoint between the two countries will not just be an arse ache…

14. …it will massively inhibit the sense of security half of Northern Ireland’s population takes from it and the Republic of Ireland being part of a wider European state. HUGE.

15. I want to stress that this not a new concept for us. I'm 30, so I remember checkpoints as a kid. I remember machine guns and dogs.

16. My dad making sure we weren't nervous while he was being asked patronising questions by the armed men inspecting his driving license...

17. ..and checking under our car for explosives. This used to be EVERY FUCKING DAY.

18. This won't be some new, weird thing - this will be a direct, unbidden return to something we worked very, very hard to get away from.

19. Something that we were promised was over. That we finally thought we HAD gotten away from.

20. A notion of peace that thousands of very stubborn and dangerous people finally struck a peace for. Put down arms and moved on from.

21. A long process of peace, to which we must presume thousands of people now alive in Northern Ireland and mainland UK, **literally owe their lives**.

22. And now we see violence could sleepwalk back in as a SIDE EFFECT of Brexit. One that no one ever mentioned in any debate I watched.

23.The Troubles, back as A SIDE EFFECT of a tussle for the leadership of the Conservatives, a party Northern Ireland citizens don't even fucking vote for.

24. REMEMBER: Irish-Identifying Northern Ireland citizens (I don't like saying 'Catholics') risk now being physically cut off from Eire. That is DRAMATIC.

25. The vast majority are not hardened, violent. Same was true in the 1960s-80s. It takes an angry minority, with a "legitimate" grievance, to recruit.

26. The recklessness of not appreciating this powder keg AS EVEN A FUCKING TALKING POINT IN THE DEBATES disgusts me.

27. I identify as Irish (and have an Irish passport) but am happy for Northern Ireland to remain part of UK if the majority say so; and we have peace, stability.

28. Same is true of a LARGE percentage of Irish-Identifying Northern Ireland people. But free travel to Eire is part of that peace, part of that stability.

29. As is the HUGE amount of cash the EU gave us in peace dividends. (€3.5bn from EU in last round of budgeting).

30. But at least English people (and Welsh too - WTF lads???) can strike a blow against bendy bananas.



Sunday, June 26, 2016

Six from the Antiquarian Book Sale

It happens every year on the last weekend in June: the Antiquarian Book Sale, held in one of the unairconditioned buildings within the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. I've missed it for more years than I can say, but this year I got a reminder just in time and managed to cruise through it for about an hour. It wasn't enough for serious browsing, but the place is a visual delight.

This 1899 novel, about a "gentleman juror," has color and typography with a proto-Nazi look, but the art is wonderful.

Great cover! It sounds like this book about the San Francisco earthquake and fire was one of the first "ripped from the headlines" titles ever published. Charles Morris, a prolific writer of the time, went to San Francisco immediately to interview survivors and observe firsthand. The book was rushed into print a soon after. The earthquake was in mid-April, and the book does have a 1906 copyright, which is pretty fast for the technology of the time.

This cardboard display with all of its original goods intact was the best thing I saw. The neon Post-It tag obscures the heading: Malcolm X Air Fresheners. Eliminating Odors Through Any Means Necessary.

This poster, illustrated and printed by A.J. Epstein in 1968, may be come newly relevant in Cleveland this year.

I love the title of this collection of Thackeray short stories, though after looking through the book, I couldn't see why it was called that.

I apologize for this dreadful photo, but this early-20th-century edition of the Teenie Weenies reminded me of a later version my grandparents had, which was much more colorful:

That book may have been the source of my interest in all things miniature.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Without Even Scant Care

Three women have been killed in St. Paul this year while crossing the street. One was hit by a guy making a left turn, while the other two were hit on four-lane streets when the car in the first lane stopped for them to cross but the car in the second lane lane didn't.

You may know the scenario. You're driving down a four-lane street in the left lane. You're lagging another vehicle, maybe a larger truck, that's in the right lane. As you approach an intersection (one without a traffic light), the truck stops. You don't know why, but you pass it on the left, thinking it's maybe turning without signaling or stopping for whatever causes people to stop for no reason.

But it wasn't for no reason. The truck stopped because there was a pedestrian you didn't notice, waiting to cross the street. The pedestrian has the right of way, and the truck's driver knew that. The pedestrian has just made her way past the first lane and is heading into the second lane as you pass the truck.

And then it's too late.

This happened twice in my city, once in March and once in May. St. Paul police just announced that the killer-driver in the March "accident" will not be charged. She wasn't impaired, she wasn't speeding. So therefore she wasn't at fault.

The cops aren't even charging her with a misdemeanor like failure to yield to a pedestrian, which she is clearly guilty of since her victim is dead (and the victim's mother was severely injured). I don't expect much more in the May killing, either.

The left-turn case may come out a little differently, though, it seems. Yesterday, Minneapolis announced it's charging a left-turning driver who killed a pedestrian in downtown last winter with multiple crimes. And not just with failure to yield, but two additional misdemeanors: failure to use due care to avoid hitting a pedestrian (duh) and careless driving. And the prosecutors didn't stop there. He's also being charged with a gross misdemeanor, criminal vehicular operation resulting in bodily harm, which carries a one-year jail sentence.

That charge requires the prosecutors to prove he was driving in a "grossly negligent manner," "without even scant care." That seems kind of a high bar, but these are the facts of the case:

“The impact [which was captured on video] occurs directly in front of the defendant at what would have been the center of his field of vision had he been looking straight ahead,” the complaint said.

Prosecutors said video footage showed the truck maintained the same speed after the crash, dragging [the victim] for about the length of a bus before the rear tires rolled over her body. The truck then stopped.
So the fact that the driver never tried to stop before hitting the pedestrian (or even soon afterward) shows he wasn't looking ahead through his windshield while making a left onto a very busy, wide street in a snowstorm. I hope we all can agree that fits the definition of driving without scant care. The victim was right in front of his windshield, but he never slowed down because he never saw her.

Our St. Paul left-turn death was at a less complex intersection. What excuse does that killer-driver have? What will he be charged with?

Charging drivers in these deaths will not bring the victims back, and it's not even about justice. But maybe it will get drivers to slow down and pay attention if they know they'll be held accountable for their unintentional but negligent actions.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit as Seen on Twitter

What a turn of events in the last 24 hours. I didn't think the majority of UK voters would vote to leave the European Union, and in the absence of reliable polling, that was a reasonable thing to think. But I was wrong.

Here's what some folks on Twitter have had to say about it. Not surprisingly, some of the tweets have echoes that speak to the U.S. presidential election.

In a challenging and xenophobic era, we need courage. Greater courage is gained thru community, reflection, and vision for change!
Jennifer Godinez

Your WTF of the day: only 30% of Leave voters thought the UK would actually Leave. The others thought they could get away with a protest.
Mark Chadbourn

Good lesson for the U.S.: "Protest" votes don't know they're not supposed to count.
Nicole David ‏@obbiecole

Dear NPR: you better start being able to utter the words "racist" instead of "populist" or you'll be partly to blame for what comes.
Clara Jeffery

U.S. must lead now more than ever: address economic inequality, reform immigration, value diversity, say NO to racism and fear mongering.
Carlos Mariani

So in one hour by voting Leave, Britain lost more money than they paid to the EU since they joined in 1975...Take a while to digest that one.
Jean-Micheal Veen ‏@jbrveen

The weird thing is, Britain is the country with the *weakest* case that the EU was hurting it. It'd make more sense for Germans to flee fiscal obligations to the south, or Greeks to flee the deflationary shackles of the Euro.
Josh Barro

Globalization and neoliberalism might have worked better had its architects allowed regular people to benefit from it.
Joseph Nathan Cohen

The most invasive civilization in the HISTORY of the entire planet cannot fathom sharing their country with immigrants.
Aokiji ‏@DukeOfZamunda

This decade is shaping up to be as chaotic as the 60s. But we don't have the upside of moon landings and new Beatles records.
Andy Ihnatko

Elites think they can manage the anger that occurs because of inequality. Tonight they learned they are wrong.
Helaine Olen

Age breakdown on Brexit polls tells the underlying story. The older generation voted for a future the younger don't want:

Murtaza Hussain

So now the U.S. understands what it feels like to have other people cast stupid votes that affect the rest of the world.
Jorge Guajardo

A lesson that was learned in WWII: You can only let regular people struggle so much economically before endangering a political-economic system.
Joseph Nathan Cohen

I don't want a future in which politics is primarily a battle between cosmopolitan finance capitalism and ethno-nationalist backlash.
Christopher Hayes

Imagine trying to colonize the entire world and then saying how dare these immigrants come ruin our way of life, while eating kebabs.
Miriti Murungi ‏@NutmegRadio

Worth remembering that #brexit is happening because a center-right party threw a bone to its lunatic fringe to save a flagging campaign.
Chris Jones ‏@ProfChrisMJones

Wow. This says volumes about #Brexit voters:

Weh Yeoh ‏@wmyeoh
And to put all of that (plus the other death and destruction of 2016) in perspective, I recommend this short video about human development and history over the past 6 million years.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Moment of Transition

I use Google Images all the time. I'm not just looking for an example of what something looks like; sometimes I'm also looking for confirmation that there's a consensus on what something looks like.

Yesterday the University of North Dakota launched a logo for its recently renamed sports teams. They used to be the Fighting Sioux, but (not surprisingly) they were forced to change by the NCAA. A while ago, they chose the name Fighting Hawks, and yesterday was the day the Fighting Hawks got a new look. 

But when you search Google Images for North Dakota Fighting Hawks, you get something like this:

Not one of those is the new logo, as you might suspect. The one at top left is the old logo. Some of the others might have been officially in the running, while several clearly were not (ahem, especially the befeathered penis or the Third Reich wannabe).

This is the real logo:

I heard a description of it on MPR this morning, something about a stylized hawk head and angular letters. The story said people either love it or hate it. I have no feelings about it. It seems better than many sports logos, but I'm not the audience. I figure if anyone hates it, they really are just hating the  change of overall identity.

But it was fun to find myself in the middle of a transition moment, when the interweb hasn't yet figured out what's real. I wonder how many days or weeks it will take for that same search to return mostly images of the official logo?

I give it a week.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Intermodal Facts of Life

Things I learned from this Marketplace Money report on global shipping:

  • You can currently ship three semi-sized containers across the globe for no more than the cost of an iPhone.
  • Intermodal freight transport was invented 60 years ago. (I would have thought it was more like 40 years ago.)
  • Until now, ships were limited to carrying 5,000 containers, but now that a wider canal has been built through Panama, they can carry up to 14,000.
  • This increase in scale is coming on line just as global shipping has stopped growing, resulting in a glut in capacity (hence the iPhone cost of three containers).
Lots of fascinating stuff in that report, including this graphic (which wasn't on the radio, of course) showing how the ships have gotten bigger:

(Copyright © 1998-2015, Adapted from Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Department of Global Studies and Geography, Hofstra University.)

I'm grimly fascinated by the effect the switch to intermodal transport had on society. From stevedores losing their jobs (and the attendant decimation of the well-paid working class in places like Baltimore), to allowing for all of those cheap goods at Walmart, to the effect on our built environment, as warehouses changed from windowed, multistory buildings that stored crates or pallets to sprawling, faceless, one-story cinderblock canker sores with parking lots full of metal boxes...

No one voted for things to be this way, they just are, as a result of competition and innovation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Zephyr Teachout for Congress

I don't often wish I still lived in New York state, but I sure would like to vote for Zephyr Teachout, who's running for the House of Representatives in New York's 19th district.

I first heard of her on either Melissa Harris Perry or Chris Hayes's show. It was three or four years ago, so I'm not sure which. She's a law professor at Fordham University who grew up in Vermont. I remembered her right away because of her crazy name, but her work against political corruption at all levels is what's truly memorable.

I would have been in favor of having Teachout in Congress regardless, but then I heard who her likely Republican opponent is: John Faso, a lobbyist funded by hedge-fund owner Paul Singer. Singer helped fund the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry and now pitches into the Club for Growth and the Koch brothers' various efforts.

If that doesn't symbolize the kind of corruption Teachout is fighting, I don't know what does.

Teachout has been endorsed by the New York Times. The editorial board wrote,
...she has the potential to be a rarity in Congress — an effective local representative who has national stature as a legal expert on political reform.... Her political skills and expertise would make her a powerful ally for those who have become angry and disillusioned by Washington’s chronic dysfunction. Ms. Teachout could focus attention on the ways big business, big agriculture and big monopolies distort the economy and hobble those trying to survive.
One bright spot I hope to see in the polluted miasma that is our Congress.

Monday, June 20, 2016

I'm Not Kidding

This just came up in my Twitter feed:

TrumpSingles—come find someone that steals your heart, and not your guns! Making Dating Great Again.

Someone "that" steals your heart. Are the copywriters admitting your special someone is an object, not a human being?

And check out that logo:

There's a black capital T hiding in there on the left, but it's hard to see under the star-spangled jellyfish. That leaves the word RUMP to stand on its own, in all its appropriate glory.

Then there's Singles.com, with a weird heart-like squiggle at the end, which looks like a lower-case "b," and therefore as though the web address is TrumpSingles.comb. Or comb-over, whichever.

The font choices are Engraver's Gothic and University Roman. The former is similar to the letter forms used on money, and so seems appropriate, but the latter is one of the tacky fonts used by beginners because of its excessive design. So I guess it's appropriate, in a way, since Trump is known for tackiness.

The good news is, if the owners of TrumpSingles are stupid enough to select me as part of their audience, they'll soon be out of money with no clients to show for their spending.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Support the Troops, Except...

From today's Star Tribune: our military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan burned their garbage right next to the bases. That includes plastic and styrofoam and electronics and all sorts of things whose burned particles no one should be breathing.

And it wasn't incidental: burning your crap has always been military SOP.

One of the most notorious was in Balad, site of the largest and busiest air base operated by the military in Iraq. More than 10 acres in size, the pit burned at all hours and consumed an estimated 100 to 200 tons of waste a day. It was hastily constructed upwind from the base, and its plumes consistently drifted toward the 25,000 troops stationed there.
Yeah, that's brilliant. On top of building a 10-acre burn pit, you put it upwind. (Though if it was downwind, I suppose it would have poisoned Iraqis instead.)

And how does having a 24-hour-a-day column of black smoke fit with the supposedly secret locations of these bases? Or at least, American soldiers aren't supposed to tell their families where their bases are at. But I guess it's okay for anyone in Iraq to know where they are.

The military learned nothing, it seems, from Agent Orange or Gulf War Syndrome. Though since 2009 they've halted the practice, so maybe they finally did, after they had 36-year-old veterans like Julie Tomaska developing pancreatic cancer, as described in the story.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Bad Graph, Disturbing Meaning

I have my reservations about Hillary Clinton, but her being a liar—any more than the average politician—is not one of them. It's hard not to think some of her coverage isn't rooted in sexism (especially the incessant male whining about her voice).

But even with that suspicion as a starting point, I was still surprised by this graph, which I saw on Mother Jones, though it's drawn from a study by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

The graph is badly rendered, in my opinion (more on that in a minute), but what it means is even worse: While Clinton's coverage was more likely to be about issues than the other candidates (29% vs. 12% or less for the others), the issue coverage she got was 84% negative, while Trump's issue coverage was only 43% negative. As Kevin Drum at Mother Jones put it,

Hillary wasn't just savaged on her tone or her clothing or her poll numbers. She was savaged on the issues, the one place where practically everyone agrees she's strong and knowledgeable. Even if you disagree with her—and that isn't supposed to affect media coverage—she knows what she's talking about.... Even the non-scandal portion of Clinton’s issue coverage—what she was saying on trade, jobs, foreign policy, and the like—was reported more negatively than positively. Clinton was the only one of the major candidates whose policy platform generated an unfavorable balance of news coverage.
Not surprisingly, that kind of coverage shows up in this Shorenstein-study graph of 2015 Clinton coverage by month:

Note all of the negative numbers. There's only one month with a positive number.

Bernie Sanders' 2015 graph looks like this:

As Kevin Drum said, no wonder Clinton doesn't like talking to the media.

Oh, and here's why I think that original graph is bad: the red bar is supposed to represent a subset of the blue bar (the percent of issue coverage that's negative). But instead, it's external to the blue bar and overwhelms it. At first glance, the graph looks like Clinton got more coverage than the other candidates (rather than more of a certain kind of coverage), and that the red to blue height ratio is consistently about 3-to-1 for all of the candidates, so that seems kind of fair.

When what it really means is this:

Or if you treat the tone as a separate data point, you get a graph like this, which really shows how startling the difference is in how Clinton is covered:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Maybe I Lack Imagination

I get an odd feeling when I read about conservatives and Republicans tearing their hair out over Donald Trump. There have been many, of course, but here are two recent ones.

Campaign consultant Rick Philips (who appears occasionally on Chris Hayes's show) has been losing it on Twitter lately. He even coined the name "Cheeto Jesus" to describe Trump.

Then I found this post called the Self-Immolation of the Republican Party from the editor/founder of a conservative site called freebeacon.com:

What disturbs me most is the prospect that Donald Trump is what a very large number of Republican voters want: not a wonk, not an orator, not a statesman, not even a leader, really, if by leader you mean someone who persuades and inspires and manages a team to pursue a common good. They just want a man who vents their anger at targets above and below their status.
I like his definition of leadership, and Trump definitely in no way fits it. And the writer is very perceptive about the venting that goes both "up" and "down."

I feel kind of bad for these guys. I'm trying to think what the equivalent would be if it were happening to the Left, but it just doesn't work. Is there a Hollywood celebrity with a Gwyneth Paltrowish alt health agenda who wants to lock up white supremacists?

Maybe I lack imagination, but there's just no equivalent. We have our problems, but this really couldn't be one of them.