Daily Archives: August 18, 2011

No place to sit down

I knew a couple who had spent a lot of time in the Congo in the 1950s. He was doing primatology, and she was the wife of a primatologist. And when she spoke of the Congo or Uganda, where they spent most of the time, she always said two things that always put me off a little. First, she would Uganda and Congo as “Africa” (which is technically correct, but I’ve yet to hear of someone saying “I’ll spend Spring Break in North America” on their way to Cancun) and she’d always say “The thing about Africa is that there’s no place to sit down.”

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Continue reading No place to sit down

The Mabus Maneno

See Case Study: How a notorious spammer was brought down via Twitter for a rundown on the recent events related to Dennis Markuze a.k.a. Dave Mabus.

I still don’t agree that it was Twitter that brought Mabus down. Yes, it was the medium, and a very powerful one at that, but it was carrying a very important message. Those tweets could have been phone calls to similar effect, I think.

Anyway, thanks to Tim for all his great work on this. This is an excellent work of documentation and analysis.

Now, with respect to Mabus himself …. we play the old waiting game…

That New Archaeopteryx Research

Recently, a paper came out with research indicating that Archaeopteryx, the famous feathered fossil, may not be on the bird lineage after all. This paper was discussed briefly in the blogosphere, but I was fairly unsatisfied with the level of treatment it received. The research is a little difficult to understand unless you are a specialist in the field. Essentially, a different species (not Archaeopteryx) was being studied, and in so doing, it knocked Archaeopteryx off the phylogenetic branch on which it has been resting tenuously in recent years. The other fossil species didn’t displace Archaeopteryx. It’s just that when carrying out the study a re-evaluation of the way we place these fossils in relation to each other on an evolutionary tree shifted around and Archaeopteryx got moved.

You can see why this could be complicated. You can also see why I wrote a whole blog post explaining it in a way that anyone can understand and appreciate this new research. The post is this month’s contribution to 10,000 Birds: What happened with Archaeopteryx?

Please go read it! Comment! Ask questions! Yell at me for getting Cladists wrong (cladists tend to hate me!) Tweet it! (it is a post about birds, after all). If I don’t get a lot of activity over on my 10,000 Birds posts, I’m afraid they won’t give me the nice binoculars they promised me!

Go check it out!

Our home grown racists show up at town hall to protest bedroom-community terrorists

Plymouth, Minnesota plays a fairly important role in my life. It is a big suburb to the west of Minneapolis, a mainly liberal or progressive middle class bedroom community linked to first ring extra-urban commercial development based mainly on corn. Kellogs, Cargill, Mosaic, other companies that grow corn, use corn in making products, sell corn based products and generally control a large percentage of the corn market have their Headquarters out in the Western Suburbs and many of the people who work in those places live in Plymouth, which is fairly large.

When I first moved to the twin cities I became friends with someone from Plymouth who had become a True Minneapolitonian and spent the time to take me under her wing and show me what’s cool and what’s not in the cities. As an anthropologist, I couldn’t help but to notice some of her speech mannerisms, and wondered if these little quirks that made me laugh were either slips made on accident or part of the regional patois. It turns out, as I learned more about the cities, that they were Western Suburb dialect, a subtly but distinctly different version of Minnesotan Dialect, spoken mainly in Plymouth and adjoining Golden Valley and spread among the youth of the region at the major central high schools.

Amanda is from Plymouth. She has that dialect. Her step mother’s family is actually fairly typical of the residents there, having moved one or two generations back from North Minneapolis during the nation-wide suburb-building White Flight Era. Amanda’s father’s family is from a different part of Minneapolis (Nordeast) which similarly contributed to the population of this suburb.

During the last two congressional elections, I worked for the DFL candidate for my district, and even though I live in a poor to working class community several towns away from Plymouth, in this salamander-shaped district Plymouth is one of the most important and influential communities. We were relying on Plymouth to be the progressive DFL stronghold that would put our candidates in Congress, but alas, that did not come to pass.

In fact, I was rather surprised about Plymouth during those campaigns, especially the first one when I spent several hours on the phone talking to possible DFL supporters. Our candidate was non-white and his ancestry was South Asian, though he himself was as culturally American as Apple Pie. His western suburb accent was thick, he was a U.S.M.C. Veteran of the Iraq War, and like most men his age who live in Plymouth, he was a lawyer. But despite his being just like everyone else in that suburb, many people could no see past his brown skin and found ways to hate him. One of the common questions I got from the right-leaning holdouts (of the 19th century) with whom I spoke was “Well, he’s probably against guns. What’s his stance on guns?” and my answer would be “Well, he’s a US Marine sharpshooter, but I’m not sure. I could arrange for you to ask him, though!”

Plymouth is somewhat ethnically and religiously diverse. Sure, it’s full of Christian evangelical mega-churches. The hill over by the family dentist is covered with giant mega-churches and cemeteries. On Sunday there’d be enough holy-rolling to wake the dead, and enough dead to make a rather large Zombie Amry! But there are many Jews (the White Flight from North Minneapolis was partly, maybe largely, Jewish), many South Asains (I have no idea what their particular history is) and many Muslims from the Near East (which is simply something that has been true in the Midwest for a century and a half … Palestinians or various others from the Levant were among the first non-Native immigrants to the region).

And now a community of Muslims wants to take over an old post office, which is for sale, and use it as a community center, which has become a euphamism for a Mosque (yes, there will be religious cermonies held there, making it a mosque). They may then lease a small part of the building back to the US Post Office because the post office needs only a small space there … which is why they are selling the building in the first place.

I’m not sure if the deal between the Federal Government and a religious organization is improper or not. And, as I’ve said before, I’m personally against the widespread conversion of land into church/mosque/temple uses because it is an offense to me that such large tax breaks — of all kinds, not just land taxes — are given to religious organizations which are, in effect, big businesses. Indeed, one of those mega-churches in the Plymouth area that is actually a full blown commercial convention center that rents its services out to all sorts of non-religious but paying corporations just like any other business came up in a recent discussion about this problem.

But in this case, the proposal seems reasonable. A bit of government property has essentially gone out of use. It is up for sale. Putting it to this new use will not change the tax base for this relatively wealthy community, and the city counsel has approved and supports the plan. In fact, most people in Plymouth who know about it seem to support it.

But, it’s Muslim. Therefore it’s Al Qaida, right? Or at least, listening to some of the yahoos who showed up at the City Council you would think so:

Go check out the story here. (You might need to go there to watch the video which may or may not have embedded properly. But please do so, you need to see the comments by some of the citizens about this community center/mosque.)

And, there is a growing comment thread on the site. To save you the trouble, I’ll show you some of the comments that appear there:

BS says:

Strange how Boyscouts have been banished from public school property? and now this seems to be OK. I have no problem with muslims at all, the nicest people I know in my life are from the middle east…. I have a beef with Nerdy White “Brownie nosed racist” Liberal people who make double standards.

MarkH says:

Islam is not a race-it is a manmade religion. Any one of us could easily demonstrate this fact (along with Judaism, Christianity, Mormonism, etc) by the simple act of converting to this ideology. Further, I readily concede that not all Muslims are radical-anymore than all Christians are radical. But we cannot ignore that it is the religion itself that perpetuates and teaches doctrines and ideas (martyrdom, misogyny, contempt for secularism, the killing of apostates, etc) that jeopardize society. In this regard Islam should be critically examined (and not given a free pass simply because it is a religion) as we would any ideology. No one here has any hesitation about criticizing Marxism, Stalinism, Nazism, the White Supremacy Movement, etc. The clear distinction between these and Islam is merely that the latter is regarded as a faith and therefore we show deference to these ideas on this basis alone. It is never dangerous to question and investigate an idea or ideology-the danger resides in silent complicity or the tendency to rationalize intolerance and hatred. Peace.

Not a real person says:

if you really want to understand what the muslims are doing read the koran then look at what they are doing to europe and tell me it is not the exact same thing!!! the muslims realized a long time ago they could not nor ever will win a war with the west!!! so instead they plan to slowly take over by using our very own laws against us and marry their daughters to our sons and have their sons marry our daughters until the conversion to islam is final and the caliphate is established they will not stop spitting in our faces. …

Sue says:

… get [the Muslims] out of here!!!! Don’t trust them, never will!! … Well at least this location they can mail their bombs faster!!

Angus says:

Sue: They have trained experts who can help you with your paranoid emotions. Please make an appointment to see them immediately!

I watch the WCCO site on a regular basis, specifically to observe and rejoin the comments, and I promise you that for every non-racist comment on the site now there were five deleted by the webmasters that would make your hair fall out. I don’t know this of course, but … well, I’m certain of it. The comments are interesting because of the concern over religion-state links. The comments about process are probably just misinformed (one person asks “why not just put it up for auction” as if the deal was struck secretly between the city, the postal service, and the mosque). Overall the comments reflect what one might like to see in a community such as Plymouth, but I’m afraid the underlying conservatism and racism is stronger and more widespread than people like to assume, and we see bits and pieces of it sticking up above the water line in the video.

If you think I’m wrong, just watch the most current comments pop up before they are deleted. “Go away! Don’t care. Don’t like ’em. Don’t want ’em here. … Isn’t this the religion of peace? You know, the one that wants to have David Letterman’s tongue cut out because they think he is a Jew … Timothy McVeigh did not commit acts of terrorism in the name of Jesus, you total fool. … ” This is a community that had the chance to vote for a man who had the same exact politics as the Congressperson who had represented them for decades … a moderate Republican who retired … or a man who is an exact clone of Michele Bachmann. But the former was not white, of South Asian ancestry and I know people did not like this because they told me during the phone banking. Or rather, more commonly, they asked me because they were confused. “Ashwin Madia, what kind of name is that? He’s not white, is he?” They chose the Bachmann clone. The hating embarrassing yahoos you see in the video are more common than you might think. And kudos to the person running that meeting for having the moral strength and the cajoles cojones to tell them to shut up and sit down.