Friday, February 27, 2015

What Would I Say?

All unsuspecting, I came across a car with this on its bumper the other day:

I'm not commenting on the coat of salt, as you may imagine. No, it's the bumper sticker (combined with the Christian fishy).

It made me think about what I could possibly say to this person if we were put in a room together. How do you even start a conversation (about anything other than the weather and all the salt coating our cars) with someone whose world view diverges so much from your own?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Save the World, One Pair of Glasses at a Time

From my local AMC theater:

Of course I'd rather have people drop their 3D glasses in the box than throw them in the trash can, but is it too much to ask AMC to describe that action as something other than "saving the world"?

Going to see a 3D movie is in no way related to saving the world, even if you do recycle your completely unnecessary, headache-inducing glasses.


An earlier post complaining about trivialization of real problems at an AMC theater.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Goodbye and Thanks to Zilpha Keatley Snyder

I somehow overlooked the news that children's author Zilpha Keatley Snyder died in October 2014. It's one of the many times when I've missed the late Peter Sieruta and his blog, Collecting Children's Books. I'm sure he would have let me know in a more timely manner.

She was 87, and published her last book in  2011. I confess I lost track of her books some time around the Green Sky trilogy in the mid-1970s, but her earlier work was a key part of my childhood reading. (The obituary in the New York Times says the trilogy explores "ideas involving utopian culture, social engineering and the control of violence," though, so maybe it's time I read it.)

I think I read The Velvet Room (1965) first, but didn't know that it was by the same author when I later picked up The Egypt Game (1967). Others from that era that I love are The Eyes in the Fishbowl (1968) and Season of Ponies (1964). The strangeness and refusal to say what was real and what wasn't in the latter two books was probably my introduction to magical realism.

My favorite among her books, though, has to be The Changeling (1970). I identified so much with the main character and so wished for a friend like Ivy that it almost hurt to read. At the same time, it examines issues of class and bullying without being heavy-handed.

For some reason, Keatley Snyder's most award-winning books, like The Witches of Worm and The Headless Cupid, didn't grab me. (I do like the Newbery-winning Egypt Game almost as well as my favorites, though the sequels leave me cold.)

But I could reread The Changeling or The Velvet Room any week. The Velvet Room creates a particularly resonant version of a Depression-era California migrant worker story, set near the part of California where Keatley Snyder grew up, and again touches on class differences, all wrapped around a mystery.

Here's one thing I learned about Keatley Snyder from her obituary:
"Disney wanted to option [The Egypt Game] for a film but wouldn't guarantee a multiracial cast," her longtime editor Karen Wojytla said in an interview. "She was very forward-thinking, and wouldn't sell them the rights."
Go, Zilpha. You are a model for writers to this day.


I would be remiss if I didn't mention illustrator Alton Raible, whose work accompanied the editions published back in my day. There's just about no information on his life within this thing called the interweb... just a brief mention on the Green Sky wiki that says he was born in 1918 and implies that he's still alive.... if so, live long and prosper, Mr. Raible.


Apologies to Pete Hautman for categorizing Snyder under my Reading YA tag, but since I'm not writing for a specialized audience of YA readers -- and because my favorite Snyder books predate that category, and probably helped create it with their edgier topics like lurking child molesters and teens vandalizing high schools -- it seemed okay.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Two letters on the same topic from today's Star Tribune. The subject: an upcoming legislative attempt to change our schools' teacher retention rules so recently hired teachers aren't the first ones laid off when budgets are tight.

A strategy of undermining seniority wouldn’t appear to add up

What is your goal? I ask this question of Minnesota legislators who are introducing bills to revise the teacher seniority laws. The Star Tribune reported that “[b]etween 2008 and 2013, nearly 2,200 Minnesota teachers were laid off under the so-called ‘last in, first out’ [LIFO] provision in state law” and outlined data showing about 550 rookie teachers laid off per year. There are approximately 50,000 public school teachers in the state of Minnesota, so this accounts for about 1 percent of all teachers.

So is it possible that a small fraction of the 1 percent of teachers who were laid off were truly better than the more experienced teachers? It is possible. However, given choice between the skills of a veteran teacher and a rookie, I will place my faith in experience every time. But even if you disagree, I ask you again, what is your goal? Is it to debate laws that focus on a fraction of 1 percent of all teachers, in the hope of improving the overall performance of Minnesota students? If so, your math doesn’t add up. But what do I know? I’m just a veteran teacher.

Brian Swiggum, Hopkins

• • •

You can’t have it both ways. Either the worst, least experienced teachers are trapped in high-poverty, high-children-of-color schools by seniority laws that allow senior, more proficient teachers to choose schools that are mostly white in middle-class neighborhoods, or more senior teachers are deadwood that can’t be eliminated because of seniority laws, leaving talented less experienced teachers to be laid off.

Which is it?

Carol Henderson, Minneapolis

Both Brian and Carol make excellent points. I wonder if states where teachers have no tenure protection provide a better education to students... What, the answer is no, you say? I'm shocked. I thought this one change was going to solve all our problems.

I guess LIFO should be better known as GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tons of Tabs

So much to know and read. I know, I know. Imagine; these were all in my browser until just now.

Florida Deputy: “Planting evidence and lying is part of the game!” An interview with an anonymous cop who details how evidence is planted on people who aren't guilty (but are guilty in the cop's mind), including this charming quote: "I wouldn’t say [we] target based on race but it is, you know, um, it is much easier to do this on a black person because they have no credibility anyways."

Followed by this for a chaser by Mychal Denzel Smith writing for The Nation about James Baldwin, who was unapologetic in his description of police as an occupying force in black communities.

When shirts cost $3,500 from Boing Boing. "An eye-popping parable about the benefits of automation: 200 years ago, it took 479 hours worth of labor to make a shirt (spinning, weaving, sewing), or $3,472.75 at $7.25/hour."

How America's "love affair with the car" was created. Quoting a historian who's written a book on the subject,

"When I actually looked into the history record, documents from the time, I found just the opposite,” Norton says. “What Americans in cities wanted in the ‘20s was to get the cars out.”

Media at the time recount pedestrians ranting against the automobile as an intrusion and an undemocratic bully. Newspapers contained cartoons portraying rich drivers in luxury cars running over working-class kids. Three-quarters of traffic fatalities at the time were pedestrians.
A depressing article: Police reform is impossible in America. "In a country that has identified black people as its criminal element, public safety (and perceived security) is more tied to the suppression of blacks than it is to the suppression of crime. And as long as the public insists on its myth of black criminality—almost as an article of faith—police practices will be impossible to reform."

And this less depressing video...

Why are we blaming technology for our lack of focus? from Pacific Standard. The article says it's not technology per se. It's our
pathologized FOMO (fear of missing out) rather than a change in our neural circuitry. “Digital devices are not eating away at our brains,” he argues near the end of the op-ed. “They are, however, luring us toward near constant outwardly directed thought, a situation that’s probably unique in human experience.”
Yes, that's how I experience life in the age of the interweb.

Students most effectively learn math working on problems that they enjoy, not drills or exercises. "While research shows that knowledge of math facts is important...the best way for students to know math facts is by using them regularly and developing understanding of numerical relations. Memorization, speed and test pressure can be damaging..."
"Math facts are a very small part of mathematics, but unfortunately students who don't memorize math facts well often come to believe that they can never be successful with math and turn away from the subject," [Boaler] said.

Prior research found that students who memorized more easily were not higher achieving – in fact, they did not have what the researchers described as more "math ability" or higher IQ scores. Using an MRI scanner, the only brain differences the researchers found were in a brain region called the hippocampus, which is the area in the brain responsible for memorizing facts – the working memory section.

But according to Boaler, when students are stressed – such as when they are solving math questions under time pressure – the working memory becomes blocked and the students cannot as easily recall the math facts they had previously studied. This particularly occurs among higher achieving students and female students, she said.

Some estimates suggest that at least a third of students experience extreme stress or "math anxiety" when they take a timed test, no matter their level of achievement. "When we put students through this anxiety-provoking experience, we lose students from mathematics," she said.
All of which is backed up in this Boston Globe op-ed by a mathematician, The real reason why the U.S. is falling behind in math:
We are pretty much the only country on the planet that teaches math this way, where students are forced to memorize formulas and procedures. And so kids miss the more organic experience of playing with mathematical puzzles, experimenting and searching for patterns, finding delight in their own discoveries....

When students memorize the Pythagorean theorem or the quadratic formula and apply it with slightly different numbers, they actually get worse at the bigger picture. Our brains are slow to recognize information when it is out of context. This is why real-world math problems are so much harder — and more fascinating — than the contrived textbook exercises.

What I’ve found instead is that a student who has developed the ability to turn a real-world scenario into a mathematical problem, who is alert to false reasoning, and who can manipulate numbers and equations is likely far better prepared for college math than a student who has experienced a year of rote calculus.
From the World Health Organization: Seven million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution. That's one in eight of global deaths. And, of course, "“Excessive air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry. In most cases, healthier strategies will also be more economical in the long term due to health-care cost savings as well as climate gains."

I recommend this Toronto Star story about a family with young kids who went carless. Obviously, there are many families who have to be carless because they can't afford one, but this story gets at middle class assumptions about having a car, the idea that having kids = having a car (or a minivan), what bike infrastructure should look like, and a lot more.

The death of American unions is killing American marriage. "Poverty itself, it seems, is the chief agent of marital decline among the poor. This is especially true of falling wages among working class men, who have borne the brunt of the right-wing war on labor unions." (By Eliabeth Stoker Bruenig, writing for the new New Republic.) Because, as we all should know by now, it's not marriage that causes economic security -- it's economic insecurity that prevents marriage.

Aside from unions, what could encourage marriage? Universal benefits, argues Matt Bruenig.

The enormous racial opportunity gap in America's metro areas (from Vox). "In the nation's 100 largest metro areas, about 40 percent of black children and 32 percent of Hispanic children live in the lowest-opportunity neighborhoods in their areas, compared to just 9 percent of white children.... White children don't experience this debilitating disadvantage even in the cities where they're worst off."

Related: How black middle class kids become poor adults. "Experts" can't explain why. Duh.

Not to mention this: Americans overestimate class mobility. (That study looked upward class mobility... everyone underestimates downward class mobility also.)

More evidence of wage theft (which I've discussed earlier here and here): "Most recently, a careful study of minimum wage violations in New York and California in 2011 commissioned by the Department of Labor determined that the affected employees’ lost weekly wages averaged 37–49 percent of their income. This wage theft drove between 15,000 and 67,000 families below the poverty line. Another 50,000–100,000 already impoverished families were driven deeper into poverty." Note that the study only looked at people earning the minimum wage, so it vastly underrepresents the extent of wage theft from people who make more than the minimum.

How to topple a dictator (peacefully). Something for activists to reread frequently. From the New York Times.

And this from one of my favorite writers, Helaine Olen: Stop trying to make financial literacy happen. "It’s a noble distraction from actual consumer protection. That’s why the financial services industry loves it."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Welcome to 1957

From the basement, the fall 1957 welcome edition cover of the Minnesota Daily,  newspaper at the University of Minnesota:

This cover makes me feel several things.

It calls to my nostalgia for that kind of cartoon modern illustration, and even just for the use of illustration on the cover at all. At some point someone did a focus group and decided audiences respond more to photography (especially if overlaid with yellow type), and since then covers have taken on a sad sameness.

The illustration also makes me appreciate the reality of diversity. In 1957, this illustrator and his (I assume his!) art director thought two white guys could represent the range of in-coming students as long as one of them looked like a studious nerd and the other like a jockish future frat boy.

What a set of assumptions underpins that decision. Oh, and neither guy looks remotely like an 18-year-old.

The items used to detail the frat boy are notable. He's wearing argyle socks and short pants (really?), while carrying a tennis racket and golf clubs. With a boutonniere, of all things. And (gasp) three changes of clothes. So many! Not to mention a Date Book in his pocket.

Though I fully appreciate the Zip-a-Tone used to create the patterns on their suits (another item you can find in the obsolete art supply aisle). And the way the the spot green and red inks are used. It's really a beautiful piece of work, frozen in its particular time.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

No Duh

Your emails from the last year or five years ago are constitutionally protected from government snooping, right? As much as anything else is protected.

Well, no. In 1986, Congress passed a law declaring files like that (which barely existed at the time for the vast majority of people) "abandoned" if they are more than six months old. Despite the fact that dead letters at the Post Office are still protected.

There's a bill in Minnesota that would change our state's constitution to correct this bit of stupidity, and it sounds like it has a good chance of getting passed in the legislature so we can approve it on our next ballot.

That can't happen soon enough. But how stupid is it to have to amend our constitution to make it the way everyone assumes it already is under the Bill of Rights?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Space: A Nice Logo

Here's another one for the Good Logo file:

It's an Omni Theater film, showing at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

What a nice example of a simple type manipulation, making a connection to the film's content.

The use of a typeface that echoes a Star Trek aesthetic is also appropriate, though I'm glad they used one of the more restrained versions of the usual space-faring fonts.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Our Cars, Ourselves

I'm having one of those moments of frustration in the age of the interweb. A couple of days ago, I read a quote about why cars were such a successful invention. It said something like,

There are two important things humans want that cars provide: to be safe and secure and to see lots of new things as we move freely in our surroundings. Cars are a metal cocoon that protects us as we travel through the world.
That is not the wording as it was graciously written by the original author, just my best attempt to remember the gist of it. I think I saw it on on Twitter and it was an image of a paragraph from an article or book written in the 1970s.

I can't even remember any specific words that were in the quote, other than "car." Even that might have been "automobile." I'm pretty sure "cocoon" was part of it, but when I search that in Google, it keeps turning up links to child car seats.

At the time I thought, Yeah, ain't it the truth, but for some reason I didn't save it in any way that I could find later. And now it is lost in the ether so I can't cite the author or even get the wording right.

The closest I've gotten is this quote from young-adult author Barry Lyga:
Cars are little privacy cocoons that we take with us. If you could refuel while driving you could, theoretically, stay moving forever.
But that is not it. Just a bit similar.

Oh, and by the way, did you hear that fatal road rage incidents have increased tenfold over the past decade (from 26 to about 250)?
As a barometer of highway rage these numbers are a drastic undercount: They include only fatal accidents, not nonfatal ones. Cases like the one in Nevada also wouldn’t be included because they involve shootings, not car accidents. And they don’t reflect the thousands of unkindnesses drivers inflict on each other daily that don’t end in violence.

These figures roughly comport with Washington Post surveys on driver rage. Between 2010 to 2013, the percentage of Washington-area drivers who say they often felt “uncontrollable anger toward another driver on the road” doubled, from 6 percent to 12 percent. Commuters are more likely to experience blinding rage than non-commuters, the young are more angry than the old, and, politically speaking, Democrats are the political group least likely to drive angry, while independents are the most.
Which makes me wonder if Democrats are less likely to have bumper stickers, too?


Update: Well, darn, I found it. Here it is:

The human animal has two profound and conflicting impulses; he wants to be safe and warm, snug, enclosed, 'at home.' And he wants to roam the wide world, to see what is out there beyond the horizon. The automobile is a kind of house on wheels, but it will take you anywhere you want to go. You can conduct your sex life in it, you can eat and drink in it, go to the movies, listen to Vivaldi or the Stones, and you can dominate others, if you have more power and are adept with the gearshift lever. It is a whole existence. Or it is till the gas runs out.
--McDonald Harris, New York Times, May 16, 1979
So aside from the use of generic "he" (in 1979! was it the NYT style?) it's pretty good.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

New York Underwater

Back in December 2014 in one of my Twitter round-ups, I posted this from Amazing Maps:

With this comment:

All of those lightest green areas will flood if the sea level rises enough. Ursula LeGuin's book Always Coming Home takes place in a post-climate-change Northern California that has an inland sea just like the one that this map shows could exist.
I felt a little weird posting it back then because I didn't have any links to back up what I said about flooding in the lightest green areas. So when I saw today, I was happy. Oh, no, wait, I wasn't happy because this map is bad news, but I was glad to get a visualization of what happens when the sea level rises:

This is a map of the New York City area if the sea rises 100 feet, made by a geographer named Jeffrey Linn for his website Spatialities. 100 feet is the amount the seas will rise if/when one-third of the world's ice sheets (in Greenland and Antarctica) melt. No one thinks that kind of melting will happen soon, but we're definitely accelerating the process.

The projected flooded areas come from the USGS, which has data on what it would look like from this 100-foot rise up to 250 feet. At that level of increase, all of this part of New York and New Jersey is under water except the Palisades.

More on Linn's maps (and ones of other cities) can be found in this story on

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Laugh for Today

I've been reading some really depressing stuff lately, so instead of any of that, this is what I have for today:

put a wig on the dog and frightened the crap out of the postman.

From Steve Joy, @annoyedwasp of Wokinham, England.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Another Example of How Implicit Bias Works

You can intellectually believe that all people, in the abstract, are equal and still reach points in your interactions with actual people where you think of them as less than human. (It's not uncommon for men to do this in their interactions with women, for instance.)

Having a bias against difference -- a bias we all have as humans, and actively need to work to counteract -- will come out in times of stress. It's part of what makes cops shoot black men and boys when they have no reasonable need to. "He looked older than he was." "He was going for a gun."

Craig Hicks, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, shot three people who were clearly identifiable as Muslims. It may have been in the context of a "parking dispute," since it sounds like he had problems with lots of other people in his complex and many were afraid of him. Carrying a gun on you while acting like a jerk can have that effect on people.

But the human beings he shot were the ones who looked different from him and who thought the most different from him. And that's not a coincidence.


Note: North Carolina is a "stand your ground" state. My prediction is that Hicks will say Deah Barakat threatened him to the point where he (Hicks) feared for his life. How he'll explain shooting the two women is another story... maybe they "reached for their waistbands."