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Autism Aesthetics

About 10 years ago, I began to get impatient with disability studies. The field was still relatively young, but it seemed devoted almost entirely to analyzing how disability was represented—in art, in culture, in politics, et cetera—especially in the case of physical disability. This, I thought, fell short of the field’s promise for literary studies. Where, I wondered, was the field’s equivalent...

The post Autism Aesthetics appeared first on Public Books.

The Controversial Core of the Clean Water Act

By James MacDonald

By all accounts the Clean Water Act (CWA), the preeminent federal law protecting water quality in the United States, has been highly successful. The 1972 law has been periodically amended, but the gist is that it limits pollution into surface waters of the U.S. through restrictions and permit requirements. The act does not directly regulate drinking water. Now the Trump administration wishes to significantly weaken the CWA by limiting its jurisdiction, a move cheered by some but bemoaned by many others. Nevertheless, according to April Collaku in Fordham Environmental Law Review, this question of exactly which waters are covered by the CWA is not new.

Upon enactment of the CWA, federal agencies charged with its enforcement saw the law as covering discharges in the “navigable waters of the United States,” which on the face of it sounds like any water that can hold a boat. The reality is more complicated. The CWA itself, in fact, defines navigable waters as “waters of the United States,” which sounds like all water everywhere under U.S. jurisdiction.

Given the ambiguity, this definition has repeatedly found itself under court review. The courts struggled to reconcile the “waters of the United States” language with “navigable waters,” roughly defined as waters used for commerce or travel. Courts have generally expanded that definition to include tributaries of those navigable bodies and wetlands that are adjacent or connected to those navigable bodies.

The rules the current administration is seeking to override stem from a 2006 Supreme Court Decision. The decision, known as Rapanos v. United States, left the exact scope of the CWA muddled, with some justices arguing for the expanded navigable waters definition above and others limiting jurisdiction only to permanent bodies of water.

To help end the confusion, during the Obama administration the EPA decided to spell out a clear definition of waters of the United States. The definition closely hews to the expanded definition of navigable waters, but specifies all tributaries and adjacent waters that have a “significant nexus” to navigable waters. This expanded definition included a lot more wetlands, as now wetlands adjacent to tributaries were also included. Certain seasonal streams and wetlands were included under this final definition as well.

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This expansion provided clarification but also controversy. The newly covered waters often came into conflict with private property. Some farmers and business interests found themselves occasionally limited in what crops they could plant, or what practices they could follow, next to what they saw as unimportant streams or wetlands.

Now the controversy rolls on, as under the Trump administration, most tributaries and adjacent wetlands will be stripped of CWA protection. Opponents fear that increased pollution will inevitably cause downstream harm. One side effect of the rule reversal is that the CWA is once again operating without a firm definition. More confusion and lawsuits are inevitable.

Editors’ Note: An earlier version of this article stated that the Supreme Court Decision Rapanos v. United States was decided in 2015; in fact it was decided in 2006.

The post The Controversial Core of the Clean Water Act appeared first on JSTOR Daily.

  • September 23rd 2019 at 00:00

By ayjay

I’m going to say something I never ever believed that I would say in earnest: I think Arsenal should sack Emery and replace him with Mourinho. It would be only a transitional move, because Mou never lasts more than three years without disaster, but if there is one thing he can do it’s organize a defense. Emery patently cannot do that. At all. And if Arsenal are going to make a change they need to do it soon, before the season slips away. Or slips away any further than it already has.

P.S. This assumes that Mourinho would take the job. I think he would, if only because the club is in London.

P.P.S. And no, the result against Villa doesn’t change my mind. The lads fought back bravely, but they were digging themselves out of a hole their manager’s tactical ineptitude and inexplicable personnel decisions put them in.

intellectuals and influencers

By ayjay

Both the public intellectual and the public influencer play an instrumental role in shaping cultural ideals and tying them to the individual’s sense of self. When the public intellectual was ascendant, cultural ideals revolved around the public good. Today, they revolve around the consumer good. The idea that the self emerges from the construction of a set of values and beliefs has faded. What the public influencer understands more sharply than most is that the path of self-definition now winds through the aisles of a cultural supermarket. We shop for our identity as we shop for our toothpaste, choosing from a wide selection of readymade products. The influencer displays the wares and links us to the purchase, always with the understanding that returns and exchanges will be easy and free.

This from Nick Carr is short and sharp and smart. Please read the whole thing, especially the last paragraph, which ends on a zinger. (I feel zinged, anyway.) Nick’s post is a useful contribution to the understanding of what I’ve been calling metaphysical capitalism, which is the transformation of the commodified self into a religion.

Also, this gives me the opportunity to answer a question some people have been asking me: What exactly is the narrative promoted by the reporting of New York Times that I dislike so much? The short answer is: metaphysical capitalism. For the reporters on the Times, those who tell me that “I am my own” are on the side of the angels, while those who cast doubt on that proposition are to be cast into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Thus genuinely Left movements get only marginally better treatment in the Times than religious conservatives.) That is the primary means by which Times reporters evaluate everything from political candidates to religious organizations to movies and books. There is not even the slightest attempt in those pages to be fair to people who question self-ownership, for what fellowship has light with darkness?

evangelicalism redux

By ayjay

Another topic I’ve written about frequently here — though with less pleasure than I’ve had writing about Ruskin — is what evangelicalism was and is and (perhaps) shall be. I have a new short essay at theatlantic.com that doesn’t add a lot that’s new, but does have the virtue of calling attention to my friend Tommy Kidd’s new book.

about Ruskin

By ayjay

There are many posts about John Ruskin on this blog — click on the relevant tag below — but let me add to that material links to two essays, one by me and one by Gene McCarraher. They’re very different but I think they complement each other.

Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark

By Aaisha Haykal

In 1982, the American Library Association established Banned Books Week in response to the increase in challenges to books in libraries, classrooms, and school libraries.

The Reasons for Censoring

Of course, censorship and challenging creative thought did not begin in the 1980s. The earliest form of censorship was book burning, carried out in order to solidify governmental power, erase history, and prevent the spread of ideas.

Dr. Whitney Strub tackles the latter in “Black and White and Banned All Over: Race, Censorship, and Obscenity in Postwar Memphis.” According to Strub, the Board of Censors and the Memphis city government worked to censor films and media that they considered inappropriate. Ultimately, the films that they censored included scenes featuring a mixing of Black and White characters. There was a particular focus on regulating images of real or imagined intimate relations between Black men and White women, a trope that is a legacy of Reconstruction. The censors felt that the message of these films was one of “social equality” that challenged normative values. The intent was that by censoring these images, the Black community in Memphis would not get the wrong idea about their “place” in society.

Books, film, and art are commonly banned or challenged in American society because they are sexually explicit. However, as Strub notes, historically people use sex as a code for race. It is easier or more politically correct to claim that you oppose a work of art because it is sexually explicit, than to object to how it portrays race. A prime example of this comes from the challenges of Beloved and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou in schools and libraries across the country. All three of these works deal with issues relating to racism and have a sexual component. Nevertheless, they make a larger argument about the role and treatment of girls and women in American society.

The Societal Impact of Censorship

Attempts to remove texts like these limit students’ ability to engage with subject matter that will help them survive in society and understand what is happening in their own lives and the lives of others. Tonya Perry explores the impact in “Taking Time to Reflect on Censorship: Warriors, Wanderers, and Magicians.” She notes that there are three roles an educator can play: warrior (who teaches just the facts), wanderer (who encourages questioning and interpreting experiences), and magician (where learning meets action and transformation). The magician educator will have material that addresses subject matter such as sexual harassment, sexuality, racism, and sexism, and demonstrates to students how they can put this knowledge into action. Thus, students become producers as opposed to being consumers of knowledge.

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According to Perry, those who censor in an attempt to “protect” students are actually doing them a disservice by not providing them the language and tools to communicate. Furthermore, it disproportionately impacts the students who come from underrepresented communities. Censorship signifies that their stories and histories are not valuable or important enough to be studied. As Strub notes, the act of censoring puts attention on the action of the challenge rather than addressing the societal issues that are facing American communities. In other words: censorship is a dangerous distraction.

The post Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark appeared first on JSTOR Daily.

Bleached Atmospheres of Dread

Myles McRae MLA was a monster of male entitlement. Any person who read the Australian newspapers in the year 1891 would have thought so. Six feet tall ...

The post Bleached Atmospheres of Dread appeared first on Public Books.

climate hope

By ayjay

At the end of this interview, the environmental historian Jason Moore says, “Capitalism … had its social legitimacy because in one way or another it could promise development. And I don’t think anyone takes that idea seriously anymore.” Which is a very strange thing to say indeed, because economic development is the one promise that capitalism has delivered on, and massively. (This is the chief burden of the books by Deirdre McCloskey that I wrote about here and here.) In fact, and quite obviously, economic development around the world is the chief reason we have a climate crisis, because that development has ravaged our environment — and the global nature of modern capitalism means that that ravaging has been dispersed over the entire globe.

Moore agrees with my friend Wen Stephenson that nothing serious can be done to avert the oncoming climate catastrophe except a world-wide political/economic revolution. Stephenson:

The sheer depth, scale, and speed of the changes required at this point are beyond anything a mere climate movement can possibly accomplish, because such a movement is inherently unsuited to the nature of the task we face: radically transforming the political-economic system that is driving us toward climate breakdown. Given the sclerotic system in which the Green New Deal — the only proposal ever put before Congress that confronts the true scale and urgency of the climate catastrophe — is dead on arrival, mocked even by the Democratic Speaker of the House, the pretense that anything less than revolutionary change is now required amounts to a form of denial.

I am skeptical about this proposal for two reasons:

  1. The revolution would have to be global, because if it happens only in Europe or North America, or both, then global capital will simply shift its attentions and energies to other parts of the world, East and South (which is already where most of the depredations of the environment are happening). But a single, ideologically unified, worldwide political revolution is simply unimaginable.
  2. I see absolutely no reason to believe that any socialist government, local or global, will implement the changes needed to slow climate change. Socialism has a uniformly terrible record in these matters, from the Soviet Union to Chavez’s Venezuela — totally dependent for its social stability on global petrocapitalism — to this little country you may have heard of called China. I strongly suspect that that pattern will continue: when socialist policies throw a spoke into the engine of commerce, and the economy starts to collapse so that there’s less and less wealth to distribute, then socialist governments, like all others, will not hesitate to exploit the environment to become more productive. (Or will become state-capitalists like the Chinese Communist Party.)

Where does that leave us? Well, you can offer a counsel of despair, as Jonathan Franzen does. Now, he says he doesn’t despair:

If your hope for the future depends on a wildly optimistic scenario, what will you do ten years from now, when the scenario becomes unworkable even in theory? Give up on the planet entirely? To borrow from the advice of financial planners, I might suggest a more balanced portfolio of hopes, some of them longer-term, most of them shorter. It’s fine to struggle against the constraints of human nature, hoping to mitigate the worst of what’s to come, but it’s just as important to fight smaller, more local battles that you have some realistic hope of winning. Keep doing the right thing for the planet, yes, but also keep trying to save what you love specifically — a community, an institution, a wild place, a species that’s in trouble — and take heart in your small successes. Any good thing you do now is arguably a hedge against the hotter future, but the really meaningful thing is that it’s good today. As long as you have something to love, you have something to hope for.

But this is frankly to admit that all the victories are short-term and small-scale. Franzen tries not to think about what’s happening in the longer term and on the global scale.

Does anything remain? Possibly: technological fixes. Any potential fixes are fraught with uncertainty and danger, but more and more scientists are quietly hinting that they just may be our last resort. But why are those scientists being so quiet in their hinting? Largely because almost every climate activist I know of is absolutely and unremittingly hostile to any such proposals. Like my suspicions about global socialist revolution, their suspicions about technological fixes come in two varieties. The first is straightforward and reasonable: Why would we trust the very technocracy that got us into this mess to get us out?

The second one, though, is a little more complicated. I think that many climate activists hate the very idea of technological fixes because if they should happen to work that would mean that the bastards got away with it. That is, if the global capitalist elite that has soo cheerfully and brazenly and heedlessly destroyed the natural world should, at the last moment, pull a technological rabbit out of their technocratic hat that stops the worst from occurring, that would feel like the biggest miscarriage of justice ever, because a group of people who have a very strong claim to the title of Greatest Criminals in History would walk away scot-free and indeed might even be thought of as heroes. It offends one’s sense of justice so profoundly that it’s hard to root for such technological fixes to work, even if they could indeed avert the worst consequences of capitalist exploitation of the planet.

But a planet saved is better than a planet ruined. Even if in the saving the Greatest Criminals walk free.

So I am thinking a lot about the various technological means of addressing climate change. I’m looking for actions less dangerous than the great big global fixes that some of the more imaginative technocrats propose, but that also would have, at least potentially, far greater effects than the strictly local actions that Franzen recommends. Ideas in this post seem to come in twos, so here are two very promising ideas:

The first involves making plants a little better at holding carbon dioxide:

Chory believes the key to fixing that imbalance is training plants to suck up just a little more CO2, and to keep it longer. She is working on engineering the world’s crop plants to have bigger, deeper roots made of a natural waxy substance called suberin — found in cork and cantaloupe rinds — which is an incredible carbon-capturer and is resistant to decomposition. By encouraging plants to have bigger, deeper, more suberin-rich roots, Chory can trick them into fighting climate change as they grow. The roots will store CO2, and when farmers harvest their crops in the fall, those deep-buried roots will stay in the soil and keep their carbon sequestered in the dirt, potentially for hundreds of years.

The second would turn air conditioners into carbon-capture machines:

A paper published Tuesday in the Nature Communications proposes a partial remedy: Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (or HVAC) systems move a lot of air. They can replace the entire air volume in an office building five or 10 times an hour. Machines that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — a developing fix for climate change — also depend on moving large volumes of air. So why not save energy by tacking the carbon capture machine onto the air conditioner?

Let a thousand such flowers bloom — a thousand ways to address our changing environment that are technologically feasible and highly scalable but do not require the complete transformation of the whole human order. Keep those ideas coming, scientist friends. We desperately need them.

  • September 20th 2019 at 00:00

Whose Life?

This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom, by the philosopher Martin Hägglund, who teaches at Yale, is a book anyone committed to public-facing scholarship ought to take note of. This is all the ...

The post Whose Life? appeared first on Public Books.

  • September 18th 2019 at 00:00

Facing the Great Reckoning Head-On

By zephoria

I was recently honored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Alongside Oakland Privacy and William Gibson, I received a 2019 Barlow/Pioneer Award. I was asked to give a speech. As I reflected on what got me to this place, I realized I needed to reckon with how I have benefited from men whose actions have helped uphold a patriarchal system that has hurt so many people. I needed to face my past in order to find a way to create space to move forward.

This is the speech I gave in accepting the award. I hope sharing it can help others who are struggling to make sense of current events. And those who want to make the tech industry to do better.

— —

I cannot begin to express how honored I am to receive this award. My awe of the Electronic Frontier Foundation dates back to my teenage years. EFF has always inspired me to think deeply about what values should shape the internet. And so I want to talk about values tonight, and what happens when those values are lost, or violated, as we have seen recently in our industry and institutions.

But before I begin, I would like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence out of respect to all of those who have been raped, trafficked, harassed, and abused. For those of you who have been there, take this moment to breathe. For those who haven’t, take a moment to reflect on how the work that you do has enabled the harm of others, even when you never meant to.

<silence>

The story of how I got to be standing here is rife with pain and I need to expose part of my story in order to make visible why we need to have a Great Reckoning in the tech industry. This award may be about me, but it’s also not. It should be about all of the women and other minorities who have been excluded from tech by people who thought they were helping.

The first blog post I ever wrote was about my own sexual assault. It was 1997 and my audience was two people. I didn’t even know what I was doing would be called blogging. Years later, when many more people started reading my blog, I erased many of those early blog posts because I didn’t want strangers to have to respond to those vulnerable posts. I obfuscated my history to make others more comfortable.

I was at the MIT Media Lab from 1999–2002. At the incoming student orientation dinner, an older faculty member sat down next to me. He looked at me and asked if love existed. I raised my eyebrow as he talked about how love was a mirage, but that sex and pleasure were real. That was my introduction to Marvin Minsky and to my new institutional home.

My time at the Media Lab was full of contradictions. I have so many positive memories of people and conversations. I can close my eyes and flash back to laughter and late night conversations. But my time there was also excruciating. I couldn’t afford my rent and did some things that still bother me in order to make it all work. I grew numb to the worst parts of the Demo or Die culture. I witnessed so much harassment, so much bullying that it all started to feel normal. Senior leaders told me that “students need to learn their place” and that “we don’t pay you to read, we don’t pay you to think, we pay you to do.” The final straw for me was when I was pressured to work with the Department of Defense to track terrorists in 2002.

After leaving the Lab, I channeled my energy into V-Day, an organization best known for producing “The Vagina Monologues,” but whose daily work is focused on ending violence against women and girls. I found solace in helping build online networks of feminists who were trying to help combat sexual assault and a culture of abuse. To this day, I work on issues like trafficking and combating the distribution of images depicting the commercial sexual abuse of minors on social media.

By 2003, I was in San Francisco, where I started meeting tech luminaries, people I had admired so deeply from afar. One told me that I was “kinda smart for a chick.” Others propositioned me. But some were really kind and supportive. Joi Ito became a dear friend and mentor. He was that guy who made sure I got home OK. He was also that guy who took being called-in seriously, changing his behavior in profound ways when I challenged him to reflect on the cost of his actions. That made me deeply respect him.

I also met John Perry Barlow around the same time. We became good friends and spent lots of time together. Here was another tech luminary who had my back when I needed him to. A few years later, he asked me to forgive a friend of his, a friend whose sexual predation I had witnessed first hand. He told me it was in the past and he wanted everyone to get along. I refused, unable to convey to him just how much his ask hurt me. Our relationship frayed and we only talked a few times in the last few years of his life.

So here we are… I’m receiving this award, named after Barlow less than a week after Joi resigned from an institution that nearly destroyed me after he socialized with and took money from a known pedophile. Let me be clear — this is deeply destabilizing for me. I am here today in-no-small-part because I benefited from the generosity of men who tolerated and, in effect, enabled unethical, immoral, and criminal men. And because of that privilege, I managed to keep moving forward even as the collateral damage of patriarchy stifled the voices of so many others around me. I am angry and sad, horrified and disturbed because I know all too well that this world is not meritocratic. I am also complicit in helping uphold these systems.

What’s happening at the Media Lab right now is emblematic of a broader set of issues plaguing the tech industry and society more generally. Tech prides itself in being better than other sectors. But often it’s not. As an employee of Google in 2004, I watched my male colleagues ogle women coming to the cafeteria in our building from the second floor, making lewd comments. When I first visited TheFacebook in Palo Alto, I was greeted by a hyper-sexualized mural and a knowing look from the admin, one of the only women around. So many small moments seared into my brain, building up to a story of normalized misogyny. Fast forward fifteen years and there are countless stories of executive misconduct and purposeful suppression of the voices of women and sooooo many others whose bodies and experiences exclude them from the powerful elite. These are the toxic logics that have infested the tech industry. And, as an industry obsessed with scale, these are the toxic logics that the tech industry has amplified and normalized. The human costs of these logics continue to grow. Why are we tolerating sexual predators and sexual harassers in our industry? That’s not what inclusion means.

I am here today because I learned how to survive and thrive in a man’s world, to use my tongue wisely, watch my back, and dodge bullets. I am being honored because I figured out how to remove a few bricks in those fortified walls so that others could look in. But this isn’t enough.

I am grateful to EFF for this honor, but there are so many underrepresented and under-acknowledged voices out there trying to be heard who have been silenced. And they need to be here tonight and they need to be at tech’s tables. Around the world, they are asking for those in Silicon Valley to take their moral responsibilities seriously. They are asking everyone in the tech sector to take stock of their own complicity in what is unfolding and actively invite others in.

And so, if my recognition means anything, I need it to be a call to arms. We need to all stand up together and challenge the status quo. The tech industry must start to face The Great Reckoning head-on. My experiences are all-too common for women and other marginalized peoples in tech. And it it also all too common for well-meaning guys to do shitty things that make it worse for those that they believe they’re trying to support.

If change is going to happen, values and ethics need to have a seat in the boardroom. Corporate governance goes beyond protecting the interests of capitalism. Change also means that the ideas and concerns of all people need to be a part of the design phase and the auditing of systems, even if this slows down the process. We need to bring back and reinvigorate the profession of quality assurance so that products are not launched without systematic consideration of the harms that might occur. Call it security or call it safety, but it requires focusing on inclusion. After all, whether we like it or not, the tech industry is now in the business of global governance.

“Move fast and break things” is an abomination if your goal is to create a healthy society. Taking short-cuts may be financially profitable in the short-term, but the cost to society is too great to be justified. In a healthy society, we accommodate differently abled people through accessibility standards, not because it’s financially prudent but because it’s the right thing to do. In a healthy society, we make certain that the vulnerable amongst us are not harassed into silence because that is not the value behind free speech. In a healthy society, we strategically design to increase social cohesion because binaries are machine logic not human logic.

The Great Reckoning is in front of us. How we respond to the calls for justice will shape the future of technology and society. We must hold accountable all who perpetuate, amplify, and enable hate, harm, and cruelty. But accountability without transformation is simply spectacle. We owe it to ourselves and to all of those who have been hurt to focus on the root of the problem. We also owe it to them to actively seek to not build certain technologies because the human cost is too great.

My ask of you is to honor me and my story by stepping back and reckoning with your own contributions to the current state of affairs. No one in tech — not you, not me — is an innocent bystander. We have all enabled this current state of affairs in one way or another. Thus, it is our responsibility to take action. How can you personally amplify underrepresented voices? How can you intentionally take time to listen to those who have been injured and understand their perspective? How can you personally stand up to injustice so that structural inequities aren’t further calcified? The goal shouldn’t be to avoid being evil; it should be to actively do good. But it’s not enough to say that we’re going to do good; we need to collectively define — and hold each other to — shared values and standards.

People can change. Institutions can change. But doing so requires all who harmed — and all who benefited from harm — to come forward, admit their mistakes, and actively take steps to change the power dynamics. It requires everyone to hold each other accountable, but also to aim for reconciliation not simply retribution. So as we leave here tonight, let’s stop designing the technologies envisioned in dystopian novels. We need to heed the warnings of artists, not race head-on into their nightmares. Let’s focus on hearing the voices and experiences of those who have been harmed because of the technologies that made this industry so powerful. And let’s collaborate with and design alongside those communities to fix these wrongs, to build just and empowering technologies rather than those that reify the status quo.

Many of us are aghast to learn that a pedophile had this much influence in tech, science, and academia, but so many more people face the personal and professional harm of exclusion, the emotional burden of never-ending subtle misogyny, the exhaustion from dodging daggers, and the nagging feeling that you’re going crazy as you try to get through each day. Let’s change the norms. Please help me.

Thank you.

 

we’re all taught how to justify history as it passes by
and it’s your world that comes crashing down
when the big boys decide to throw their weight around
but he said just roll with it baby make it your career
keep the home fires burning till america is in the clear

i think my body is as restless as my mind
and i’m not gonna roll with it this time
no, i’m not gonna roll with it this time
— Ani Difranco

How Ken Liu Translates, and Why He Writes

Ken Liu is a celebrated author of American speculative fiction and a pathbreaking translator of Chinese science fiction into English. He has won the ...

The post How Ken Liu Translates, and Why He Writes appeared first on Public Books.

along the coast

By mimi smartypants

A WHOLE LOT OF HUMANITY IN THE MORNING

The teen’s high school is on my way to the train so we walk a few blocks together. The rest of my commute is normally very introspective, solitary, and earbuds-and-reading-material intensive, with nary a word spoken until I get to my office and usually not even then. (Until about an hour in, when colleagues both near and distant start to realize they can ask me to solve their problems rather than making the slightest twitch toward self-sufficiency. Oh sorry do I sound bitter? START AGAIN.) 

Today was very different! Near the train station, a kid headed toward (and wearing an ID from) the high school was zipping down the sidewalk on one of those weird skateboards with the bend in the middle. He was weaving all over the place and getting way too close to people on foot, and he then swerved right toward me, to the point where I had to step off into the parkway, so I said, calmly, “Careful.” The kid then spun around and yelled, “Fuck you, cunt!”

Which is QUITE the escalation!

I am not going to let that go, especially from a child, and especially when I did nothing wrong, so I also turned around and yelled, “Shut up and get your tiny dick to school!” I don’t know what happened after that. Hopefully he and his micropenis made it to class as it would be a shame to mess up your attendance record so early in the year. 

After getting off the train I realized I had my very nice iced coffee cup with me but had forgotten to fill it with cold brew at home, so I stopped at one of the seventeen thousand Starbucks on the way to the office. There was a bit of a traffic jam at the coffee-additives bar and a lot of people seemed hell-bent on being FIRST to get to the half-and-half, but I had a pretty chill playlist going in my ears so just waited my turn. 

A guy held the door for me on the way out and started talking about the scene inside, people just have no common courtesy, you know? Just say excuse me! What is the rush? We’re all trying to do the same thing and get on our way, sometimes you have to be patient! Normally my reaction would be ugh, why do we have to speak, but he was actually pretty pleasant and funny about it, so I pulled the earbuds out and we congenially bitched about the entitled rudeness of River North Starbucks customers for about half a block before parting ways. 

So that was way more interaction than usual on a Thursday morning, plus way more trading of sexually charged insults than I ever expected, and now I am tired. No-Delete Thursday means you get all this plus (too much) more, without the benefit of reflection. 

SIXTEEN GOING ON THREE AND A HALF

I realized that the very exasperating Big Questions from the teen (last entry) are just another way in which this age mimics toddlerhood. Toddlers are great at asking questions like “Why are apples?” and “Is five a lot?” Usually when you’re trying to parallel-park in the snow or something like that. Mom? Is five a lot? Um…it’s not a lot of M&Ms. It is a lot of severed heads. I realize all toddlers and all teens are different but in my case see also: increased need for sleep, dramatic expansion of palate/types of acceptable foods, more sophisticated sense of humor. 

I have also come to learn that teenagers can take nothing, absolutely nothing, in stride. My kid is relatively drama-free and still, setbacks or everyday irritants get crabbed about. On the other hand, clearly no one ever really grows out of this behavior (may I direct the jury’s attention to Exhibit A: Twitter). I am far from the ideal practitioner of mindfulness but I find myself espousing its techniques on a weekly basis. My advice is just a drop in the fake-high-stakes bucket that modern teenagers are drowning in, though, with all these artificial SUCCESS DEADLINES like college admission, standardized tests, and deciding what to do with the rest of your life. 

HERE IS WHERE I CONTRADICT ALL MY MINDFULNESS TALK BY LISTING EIGHT EXTREMELY MINOR THINGS THAT NONETHELESS BUG ME

  • Books where you can somehow tell the author was simultaneously thinking of the screenplay/movie of the book
  • Makeup: excessive use of facial highlighter, particularly way up past the cheekbones and onto the temples
  • Referring to anything and everything as a “journey” and any negative emotion as being “devastated”
  • The fact that there are so many Skarsgards—I’m not convinced that Big Skarsgard isn’t secretly adding a new one each year to see if we notice
  • The media’s attention to UK politics: not to be rude but we are busy having our own constitutional crisis over here
  • The media’s attention to new Apple products
  • My stupidity whenever I entertain, and how I completely forget that guests are polite and will bring alcohol to a party; so I buy too much alcohol and then everyone brings alcohol and WOW, TOO MUCH ALCOHOL: MY HOUSE IS NOW A WINE STORE
  • The fact that some popular thinking about mental illness has failed to acknowledge that you can be both mentally ill AND an asshole, and that mental illness is no excuse for poor behavior; I propose we work to  #endthestigma but also #takenoshit

—hashtag mimi smartypants.

Harold vs. Donald, round 2

By Philip Nel
P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon

Last year, there was Donald and the Golden Crayon, a satirical look at Mad King Donald, inspired by Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955). For more on that, see my interview with the book’s author and publisher from October 2018.

John Darkow, Donald and the Black Sharpie (6 Sept. 2019)

This year, it’s Donald and the Black Sharpie, in which at least four five six people have invoked Johnson’s hero to mock our Evil Orange Overlord’s insistence that, with his magic pen, he can change the weather. Even before John Darkow’s cartoon (above), Bradley Whitford tweeted:

We have a President who thinks that the Climate Crisis is a hoax and that “Harold and the Purple Crayon” is a documentary.

— Bradley Whitford (@BradleyWhitford) September 5, 2019

On September 6th, Dana Milbank and Tom Toles published a full-length parody of Johnson’s book, which they titled Donald and the Black Sharpie.

Tom Toles, from Donald and the Black Sharpie (words by Dana Milbank, 6 Sept. 2019)

Well, the text is a full-length parody. Toles provides a select few illustrations.

Also on Friday, Jimmy Kimmel did a Donald and the Magic Sharpie parody on his show.

On CNN on Sunday the 8th, Jake Tapper presented his own version of Donald and the Black Sharpie.

(I can’t embed the video here, but you can see it on CNN.)

Finally, on September 16th, Ward Sutton published Donald and the Purple Sharpie in the Boston Globe.

Ward Sutton’s Donald and the Purple Sharpie (16 Sept. 2019)

Sure, it would be better if Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi did her job and began impeachment proceedings against our Traitor-in-Chief. And, no, I don’t expect any elected Republican to step up: they have been Quislings throughout, only occasionally murmuring an objection.

However, until enough elected officials find the courage to act, we can at least laugh at the deranged orange bloviator. Laughing in no way offsets the damage he continues to inflict, I know. But shared laughter reminds us that we’re not losing our minds. It reminds us we are not alone. We see what he and the entire treasonous Republican Party are doing.

In his classic comic strip Barnaby (1942-1952), Crockett Johnson understood the power of satire. And so Johnson would I think be pleased to see Harold’s crayon wielded to mock the malignant narcissist and his sharpie.


For calling these to my attention, thanks to Ellen Gilmer, Dave Rintoul, Thomas Hamilton, Maureen O’Hara, Olga Holownia, Linda Nel and Stephen Sloan.


Updated (thanks to Olga) on 10 Sept. 2019 to add the Jimmy Kimmel Show, and again (thanks to Linda and Stephen) on 18 Sept. 2019 to add the Ward Sutton cartoon.


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