Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

A Shuttered Past

November 21, 2015

I think we need some antidote to the depths of derp we’ve seen (and on this blog picked over with all the horror that follows a good look at last night’s supper this morning) coming from the Syrians Are Coming brigade of bed-wetters.

So, instead, let’s take a look at someone who used their media smarts for good — and, in doing so, helped forge the chain that led to the fact (glory be) that we have the president we do right now, serving as a bulwark against the stupid that would have toppled a lesser person.

That would be this man:


That’s Frederick Douglass, of course, in a shot taken in the 1860s.

Here he is as a younger man:


And in old age:


Those are three of the 160 surviving photographs taken of Douglass — a figure that currently ranks as the most confirmed separate portraits taken of any American in the 19th century.*  Scholars John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd and Celeste Marie-Bernier have a new book out, Picturing Frederick Douglass,  In it they use a sequence of images to drive a new biography of Douglass, and in doing so allow us to see technological change as it was lived — and used — by a brilliant observer of his own life and times.  As the authors write in the introduction, Douglass loved photography, and saw it as an exceptionally potent tool for making the world a different and better place. Douglass loved the fact that

What was the special and exclusive of the rich and great is now the privilege of all. The humblest servant girl may now possess a picture of herself such as the wealth of kings could not purchase 50 years ago.

In that context Stauffer, Trodd and Marie-Bernier make the case that Douglass saw photography as  tool to alter social reality:

Poets, prophets and reformers are all picture-makers–and this ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements. They see the what ought to be by the reflection of what is, and endeavor to remove the contradiction.

Such reasoning (and more besides) led Douglass to the photographer’s studio over and over again, actively seeking out the camera as a tool that could help him create the reality of African-American humanity, presence, significance.

Photography allowed him to be seen.  In that determined, asserted presence,  you have (it seems to me) an early herald of of the circumstances in which Barack Obama could become president.  Alas, in the fact of the racist and vicious forces with which Douglass had to contend, we can be similarly reminded that in our times the sight of a black man commanding our gaze drives too many among us into spasms of demented, terribly dangerous rage.

But put that aside for a second, and look at some fabulous images of an extraordinary — and extraordinary-looking — man.  (A few more examples.)

And if you feel the need for some open thread, well take that too.

*The runners up are cool too:  In the research for this book, the authors found George Armstrong Custer, that avatar of puffed-up vanity taking second place, with 155 portraits.  Red Cloud came next at 128, followed by Whitman and Lincoln at 127 and 126, the poet and his captain connected again.  It seems likely, according to these writers, that when further work is done, Ulysses S. Grant may trump them all, but that doesn’t change the point of what Douglass set out to do.


1.  c. 1860s

2.  c. 1850, daguerrotype

3. before 1880, Brady-Handy collection.

Life is Short

November 21, 2014

Eat dessert first…

(h/t Tastefully Offensive)

I grew up with golden retrievers — my mum bred them for a while.  They were and are great dogs, sweet, fun, nothing but lovely.

(As always, avoid puppy mills and look for any signs of overbreeding that yields hip problems and the like…but a good golden is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.)

I have to say, though, that the video above caught the true essence of golden-hood.  They’re goofs.

Happy Friday, all.


Fables of the Reconstruction, Part Deux

August 15, 2014

If you’re reading this, you owe it to yourself to check out my Balloon Juice colleague Richard Mayhew’s post on the con in conservative proposals for health care reform.  Shorter:  the “reform” is to make sure the wrong people get less and more expensive care under the guise of a variety of measures claimed to be (but not) free market efficiencies.  Also too, why Avik Roy isn’t an expert, but a marginally policy-literate hack.

With that out of the way, more on the joys of home renovation.

First the good news.  It turns out that this problem — the wire formation inside our kitchen walls that I’ve since dubbed “Cthulu’s Hairball” — isn’t actually live electrical wires.  Instead, its what you get before you texting became the way to call the kid to dinner.  Before the internet, kiddies, it turns out, people networked their houses in other ways — including setting up, in 1920, a house-wide intercom system.  “Come, child!”

So, not the fire hazard general wiring nightmare we expected.  We’ve still got plenty of knob and tube spread round the place — wiring we’re replacing in bits as we work on the house.  But Cthulu sleeps.

However…and as those of you who know, know, there’s always something.

Check out this:photo-2

That’s what you get when you open up the wall, and find a sill that has been so chewed up by termites you can sweep it away.  I mean, with a broom.  (We did chunk up the rotten timber a bit, before getting out the sweepers, but still.)

Which is to say, it seems our house was holding itself up out of habit.

Here’s another view:


That’s the post at the end of that run of sill.

Ah, our six-legged friends.

What’s bugging y’all today?

Random Monday Thoughts, Pasta In All Its Glory Edition

August 5, 2013

With a hat tip to my science writing friend, the inimitable Steve Silberman, here’s a story about a Czech citizen who has won the right to wear a colander on his head in the photo on his government ID.

The reason?  He’s a pastafarian, which makes the issue the Czech equivalent of a first amendment issue:*

Czech officials ruled that the nation’s religious liberty laws required this result. According to a government spokesperson, Novy’s request “complies with the laws of the Czech Republic where headgear for religious or medical reasons is permitted if it does not hide the face.”

As a langiappe:  In today’s image — a pasta/founding father connection:


Got some more substantive stuff going for this space, but couldn’t resist this little niblet.

What’s saucing your spaghetti today?

*Full disclosure:  the Think Progress piece at the link connects back to the Daily Mail, and I have presumption of distrust at anything from that particular source.  But there is a category of journalistic endeavor known as the “too good to check” story — and in my view, this is one of those.  You’ve been warned.

Image:  Thomas Jefferson, Design for a maccaroni (sic) making machine, c. 1787.

Because…Freedom! or Guns Can’t Shoot No NSA Sweep…But They Do Just Fine Against WAGs

June 9, 2013

Via The American Prospect’s incredibly valuable E. J. Graff, this:


You can have my metadata, but you will pry the projectile fired by my  [firearm of choice] out of my cold, dead partner.

Not to mention this.

This is not to diminish the implications of Osama Bin Laden’s victory — his ability to terrify the US into surrendering willingly what we have long said was worth fighting for.  That’s been coming a long time –see this ProPublica timeline (h/t TPM) for a quick overview of just how we’ve done it to ourselves over the last four decades.  But, I can’t cease getting heart sick at each new anecdote, each new framing of the rolling massacre that takes Americans by the dozens every damn day of the year…every year.

So, for those who declare the 2nd amendment the one sure bulwark against tyranny, I have a question:

Where were you when the surveillance state was forming?  What are you going to do about it now?  What tree, exactly, has been watered by the blood of all the men, women, and children lost to suicide, to partner-murder, to bad luck, to whatever.


Update: On tweeting this post I got a message from Chris Clarke, who made this chart and posted it to his Facebook page almost exactly a year ago.  I’m glad to be able to make the acknowledgement here.

Traitors in our Midst

May 4, 2013

I know John posted on this already, but I was struck again this afternoon by the actual meaning implied by incoming NRA president James Porter’s assertion that Barack Obama is a “fake president.”


Let’s review.  In 2008 Senator Barack Obama and his running mate Senator Joseph Biden received 69,498,516 votes, accounting for 52.93% of the total ballots cast.  Their principle opponents, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin (yes, that happened) garnered ten million fewer votes, for a 45.65% of the total.  Obama and Biden took electoral college victories in 28 states, the District of Columbia, and in Nebraska’s second congressional district, to capture a total of 365 electoral votes out of 538 available.

In 2012, lest anyone has forgotten, Obama/Biden again won an absolute majority of votes cast — 65,910,437, or 51.1% to Romney/Ryan’s 60,932,795, accounting for 47.2% of the total.  The President took 26 states and the District to the Republican ticket’s 24 states, and the victors captured a commanding 332 electoral votes to the losers 206.

In other words, Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States, earned and retained his office by every legal measure — handily at that.  There’s a strong case that George W. Bush, “43” was, if not a fake, an illegitimate claimant to that office, losing as he did the popular vote in 2000 while gaining his electoral college victory by a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court that one at least of those in the majority now regards as an error.

But Obama?  If you accept the idea of small “d” democracy, if you believe that the casting of ballots amounts to an expression of public will, then Obama is as real as it gets.

Which, of course, everyone in eyeshot of this post gets.

So what that’s the corollary to that positive statement?

Easy:  anyone who denies the reality of Obama’s right to his office is telling the majority of the American electorate that their votes are fakes too.  That public decisions don’t count.

That — given that we’re talking NRA here — the armed rump of the American right, among whom are over-represented amongst those who want to refight the Civil War, are the arbiters of who gets to hold power, and damned be to the rest of us.

I don’t know what you all call an armed minority spreading such stuff, but to me?  Well, it ain’t treason until someone actually takes up arms and attempts to enforce that view…but it sure is dancing near that line.

I’m not simply name calling here:  this is dangerous talk. There is a responsibility that lands on the elected leadership of the right to reject such talk, to dismiss it, to banish it from public discourse, because the failure to do so expands what Obama wonkishly termed the permission sphere for anti-democratic behavior — along with increasing the potential for political violence itself.

It may be all fun and games for a Republican party that gets to say “hell, we aren’t shooting anyone, so denying voting rights is OK, right?” But if the elected leadership — looking at you Boehner, McConnell, not to mention the 2016ers — fails to shut this kind of talk down, they will be complicit in the results.

Image: Toyohara Kunichika, Sen Taiheiki gigokuden, 1890(Description, via Wikimedia Commons: Taira Masakado (901-940), an evil usurper of the throne, charges into battle surrounded by look-alike decoys.)

In BoBo’s World, Pointing Out How Much The GOP Hates Data Is Bad Manners

May 1, 2013

I don’t even know how to begin with this.

Republican members of the House of Representatives have decided that knowledge of what actually is happening in US society and its economy is just too….

I don’t know what…

Inconvenient?…Unfortunate?…Too…useful?…Too important to the actual act of governing?

That last is the one, I think.  Representative Jeff Duncan, out to make sure that his great state of South Carolina doesn’t lose the lunacy title to its sibling to the north, has introduced a bill that would bar the US Census [PDF] from conducting any surveys or censuses except for the constitutionally-mandated decennial one.


What would that mean?  Over to this report from the Huffington Post:

Such a step that would end the government’s ability to provide reliable estimates of the employment rate. Indeed, the government would not be able to produce any of the major economic indices that move markets every month, said multiple statistics experts, who were aghast at the proposal….

“It’s hard to take this seriously because they’re really saying also they don’t want GDP. They want no facts about what’s going on in the U.S. economy,” said [Maurine] Haver, [founder of business research firm Haver Analytics and a past president of the National Association for Business Economics]. “It’s so fundamental to a free society that we have this kind of information, I can’t fathom where they’re coming from. I really can’t.”

“It’s so unimaginable. It would be like saying we don’t need policemen anymore, we don’t need firemen anymore,” said [Ken] Prewitt, [the former director of the U.S. Census who is now a professor of public affairs at Columbia University]. “To say suddenly we don’t need statistical information about the American economy, or American society, or American demography, or American trade, or whatever — it’s an Alice in Wonderland moment.”

I get Duncan’s reasoning, by the way.  It’s a simple syllogism.  If the data show that tax cuts, or austerity, or universal gun ownership don’t actually solve all economic and social ills, then, who needs data?

Ladies and gentlemen, your modern Republican party.

Oh, and with a nod to Mr. David Brooks and his paean to disinterested opining:  this is engaged writing.  I got a horse in the race.  I think the Republican party in its present form constitutes a clear and present danger to the Republic.  I believe it needs to go the way of the Whigs, so that we can go about the business of constructing an actual second party to engage the necessary debate our politics requires.

It is in the context of that belief that I certainly pay attention to stories like this one.  This is the anecdata that, as it accumulates, tells you the problem is real; the Republican party is increasingly simply a freak show, divorced from any conception of governance.  But it ain’t my fault — and it is no indictment against this or any other comment like ti that the Republican party continues to advance my argument.

Another thing:  I’d vastly prefer it didn’t.  But the problem isn’t that I don’t — because I can’t — say that the Democrats are just as bad on, say, anti-empiricism, for example, or that the issue of paying attention to what happens in the world is kind of important in modern political and social life.  Rather, it is that in this reality there are consequences when a failed party retains its access to power — and hell, may very well expand its reach.

IOW, pace BoBo, I believe it is my patriotic duty to point in horror at the crater that is all that remains of the Party of Lincoln.

Image: Pieter Breughel the Elder, The Census at Bethlehem, 1566.


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