Go right to the source and ask the horse

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We should probably not allow the racing of 2 year old horses. I think this is only done in the US and a couple of other countries. It is not allowed elsewhere.

We may need to admit that horse-racing has become corrupt. Well, certain areas of horse racing were always corrupt. Don’t ask me how I know, but I think the statute of limitations is up on that anyway.

And now, Cancel Culture is ruining everything!

Maybe we should cancel the Kentucky Derby as it exists today. Shut it down, tweak the rules, clean the process up, and restart in a few years. Maybe be nicer to the horses.

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Republicans want to legalize corruption

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Georgia Republicans attack democracy. Texas Republicans want to rewrite democracy in their own interests. Florida … well, Florida is just as dumb as a brick. Republican wise.

Listen to Latosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund:

The Republicans have embraced full on corruption for the purpose of carrying out their racist agenda. They are not even being pro-petroleum or the suck-asses of big corporations anymore. It is all racism, all hate, all red-eyed, red-hat evil.

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This is the decade when electric cars replace gas cars

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Electric cars will be cheaper to produce than internal combustion engine cars by 2027, according to a study commissioned by Transport & Environment in Brussels. Electric car sales have been booming in Europe. Meanwhile, in North America, Uper and Lyft are acting like electric cars are a futuristic idea that may or may not work out, and lag terribly in their adoption of the only possible future technology. Part of the rising interest in electric cars is the realistic prospect of batteries that will have much longer range, use fewer nasty chemicals, and be cheaper. Buy an electric car with a 300 mile range now, after a quarter million nearly maintenance free miles, you’ll replace the batteries and upgrade your range to 500 miles, perhaps. Why would you not do that?

Electric car hate is a cultural phenomenon restricted to only certain geography and certain subgroups. Mainly, American Republicans. Especially Rural American Republicans, who do actually have a point that their vastly spread out sparsely populated regions are not quite eV ready. But they will be, and there is no reason for them to ruin it for everyone else, other than their own desire to be known as royal pains in the ass. (Not sure how one pluralized that.)

For example, in Minnesota, the adoption of a clean car rule, which would enhance access to more choice at the dealer for electric car buyers, was vehemently opposed by people falsely claiming that more eV cars on the lots would raise ICE car prices (not true, not true) or, in one case, more electric cars would cause the starvation and possible death of their children (not true, not true). Minnesota had to fight hard to get that rule instated by an administrative law judge, but it got approved, so Governor Walz can now move forward with this very important thing despite opposition from state Republicans, who seem to have only one purpose in life: to make Liberals cry.

Meanwhile, even as opposition to electric buses comes from climate deniers and pro-bio-fuel advocates alike, Lion Electric of Canada plans to build an electric bus plant in Illinois. Labor unions take note: It will create 750 actual jobs that won’t go away when we turn the petroleum spigot off. Please try to act like you care, because you should care or you should get out of the way.

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Climate Change: Flooding might triple in the mountains of Asia

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From a press release by the University of Geneva:

The “Third Pole” of the Earth, the high mountain ranges of Asia, bears the largest number of glaciers outside the polar regions. A Sino-Swiss research team has revealed the dramatic increase in flood risk that could occur across Earth’s icy Third Pole in response to ongoing climate change. Focusing on the threat from new lakes forming in front of rapidly retreating glaciers, a team, led by researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, demonstrated that the related flood risk to communities and their infrastructure could almost triple. Important new hotspots of risk will emerge, including within politically sensitive transboundary regions of the Himalaya and Pamir. With significant increases in risk already anticipated over the next three decades, the results of the study, published in Nature Climate Change, underline the urgent need for forward-looking, collaborative, long-term approaches to mitigate future impacts in the region.

The Hindu Kush-Himalaya, Tibetan Plateau and surrounding mountain ranges are widely known as the Third Pole of the Earth. Due to global warming, the widespread and accelerated melting of glaciers over most of the region has been associated with the rapid expansion and formation of new glacial lakes. When water is suddenly released from these lakes through failure or overtopping of the dam, glacial lake outburst floods can devastate lives and livelihoods up to hundreds of kilometres downstream, extending across international borders to create transboundary risks. Despite the severe threat that these extreme events pose for sustainable mountain development across the Third Pole, there has been a lack of understanding regarding where and when related risks would evolve in the future.

Himalayan hotspot

Swiss and Chinese climatologists used satellite imagery and topographic modelling to establish the risk associated with 7,000 glacial lakes presently located across the Third Pole. This approach allowed us to accurately classify 96% of glacial lakes known to have produced floods in the past as high or very high risk. “We then compared our results with a catalogue of past glacial lake floods, which allowed us to validate our approaches”, explains Simon Allen, researcher at the Institute of Environmental Sciences of the UNIGE and co-director of the study. “Once we confirmed that the approaches accurately identified current dangerous lakes, we could then apply these methods to future scenarios.” Overall, the study revealed that one in six (1,203) of current glacial lakes posed a high to very high risk to downstream communities, most notably in the eastern and central Himalayan regions of China, India, Nepal, and Bhutan.

New threats in new places

Looking to the future, glacial retreat, lake formation and associated flood risk were considered under three different CO2 emission scenarios. Under the highest emission scenario (sometimes referred to as the “business-as-usual” scenario), the study shows that much of the Third Pole could already be approaching a state of peak risk by the end of the 21st century, or even mid-century in some regions. In addition to the larger potential flood volumes resulting from the expansion of more than 13,000 lakes, over time the lakes will grow closer towards steep unstable mountain slopes that can crash into the lakes and provoke small tsunamis. “The speed at which some of these new hazardous situations are developing surprised us”, says Markus Stoffel, Professor at the Institute for Environmental Sciences of the UNIGE. “We are talking a few decades not centuries – these are timeframes that demand the attention of authorities and decision-makers.”

If global warming continues on its current path, the number of lakes classified as high or very high risk increases from 1,203 to 2,963, with new hotspots of risk emerging in the Western Himalaya, Karakorum and into Central Asia. “These regions have experienced glacial lake outburst floods before, but these events have tended to be repetitive and linked to advancing glaciers. Authorities and communities will be less familiar with the types of spontaneous events we consider here in a deglaciating landscape, so this calls for awareness raising and education on the new challenges that will emerge”, adds Stoffel.

Complex political challenges

The mountain ranges of the Third Pole span eleven nations, giving rise to potential transboundary natural disasters. Findings of the study show that the number of future potential transboundary glacial flood sources could roughly double (an additional 464 lakes), with 211 of these lakes classified in the highest risk categories. The border region of China and Nepal will remain a major hotspot (42% of all future transboundary lake sources), while the Pamir mountains between Tajikistan and Afghanistan emerge as a major new transboundary hotspot (currently 5% of transboundary lake sources increasing to 36% in the future). “Transboundary regions are of particular concern to us”, says Allen. “Political tensions and lack of trust can be a real barrier that prevent timely data sharing, communication and coordination needed for effective early warning and disaster mitigation.”

Researchers stress the importance of exploring disaster risk management strategies to reduce the exposure of people and property and minimise the vulnerability of society. “The findings of this research should motivate relevant nations and the international research communities to urgently work together to prevent future glacial flood disasters in the Third Pole region”, concludes Stoffel.

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Potpourri des journaux.

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South Carolina is worried about obtaining chemicals to use to kill people, so they are now adding the firing squad to their toolkit.

A Georgia cop who recently killed a black man in a Wendy’s parking lot has been restated to his job. Why? Because he was fired the day after the shooting, which is not proper due process. Everybody should get due process, even this cop. Not providing due process for him led to him getting re-hired. That was a noob move and should not have happened.

The state senate in Texas has passed a bill that essentially removes requirements for owning a gun.

I noticed news reports that Space X has landed a rocket ship “and it didn’t explode!” I don’t remember news reports about the Space Shuttle that said “Space shuttle lands and it didn’t crash!” even though it actually did that once (crashed into the atmosphere). Is this a new way or reporting or is this a new way of thinking about space technology and risk?

One of four young men, white, early 20s, living in conservative areas of Minnesota, has been sentenced (the others have been or will be) for burning down a police department in Minneapolis during the uprising following the death of George Floyd. They were Bugaloo Boys. Even today, in the mighty white suburbs and elsewhere, “rioters” who were said to be protesting the death of Floyd are accused of burning down the police station. They did not do that. White supremacists from out-state Minnesota came into town and did that. Not remembered by most, other white supremacists intent on starting a race war came to town to cause trouble during protests related to an earlier killing, of Jamar Clark, in 2015. They hung around the demonstration for a couple of days wearing masks (including Guy Fawkes masks), and then one of them emptied a handgun into the crowd of peaceful protesters. No one was killed but there were injuries.

This is a little strange: a trucker was being inspected by troopers near Rochester MN the other day (routine) and the driver took out a gun and shot himself in the head. Twice.

Bill and Melinda Gates are getting a divorce, but Bill has asked for privacy so we won’t talk about that.

Mothers day thought 1: Why is it that in most movies or other stories, the mother is either fierce or dead?

Mothers day thought 2: Please remember that not everyone loves mothers day. For many, it is a trigger.

I predict we will start seeing days, in individual US states (lower population ones first?) of zero PCR confirmed Covid-19 cases some time next month, certainly in July.

And now, watch this:

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Music and expertise among hunter gatherers: Distant Echos with Yo Yo Ma

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Distant Echoes is a very special documentary. I remember well when first came out. I briefly met Yo You Ma at the time, because he came to my Anthropology department for the first showing. The documentary was shown around for a brief time, then disappeared from the world (except for those of us who had pilfered copies to show in our classes). I just discovered it is now available, so I’m telling you about it.

I want to make this point, which is touched on here. Hunter gatherers, such as the Ju/’howansi in this film, typically have experts among their society, on various things. Medical/magico, various crafts (I knew an Efe knot tier everyone revered), making various tools or pottery, and music. As far as I know all hunter gatherer societies do a fair amount of music, and typically everyone participates. Music (singing and some instruments, always dancing) is practiced by everyone, but variation in talent exists, and it is (obviously) known of.

You hear Irv DeVore mentioned in the documentary. He was my advisor, and I was his last PhD student.

Yes, that is Richard Lee, and he and DeVore are the editors of the famous “Man the Hunter” volume.

By the way, you can’t figure out what the heck hunter gatherers are doing by watching. Or, often, asking. You have to immerse, learn, and do. That fact is not unique to foragers, it is true of all things that are hard to do universally. But for some reason people are surprised to find that this is true with foragers, and in this manner, a lot of bad anthropology has been done.


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Ray Bradbury Wants You To Read These 100 stories

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Ray Bradbury wrote an unknown number of stories, but over 400. Some say 600. Doesn’t matter. Back in 1980, Knopf published 100 of these stories, chosen by Bradbury himself to represent the rest. The Stories of Ray Bradbury is over 900 print pages. The stories date from 1943 to 1980. And now, for a presumably limited time and probably just in the United States, you can get this book* in futuristic electronic Kindle form for three bucks.

It is worth noting that a second book, “Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales“, was produced in 2003, and includes another 100 stories, with no overlap between the two books. As far as I know that book is not on sale at this time.

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On the census results and the new House Count

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The census results are in, and we now know which states gain and which states lose representatives to the United States House of Representatives (nickname: Congress, but it isn’t really Congress).

This is very complicated, way too complicated to trust most political reporters and their bone headed editors to properly explain to to the largely uninformed people what is happening. At least not right away.

Take Texas. Texas gains two seats. The reporting on this is, like, “Republican stronghold gets two more members of Congress! OMG there will be two more Republicans!!!!11!!” But no. Texas got two more seats because Texas grew in population size a tiny bit more than other states (but since Texas is huge, that small increase added up to two seats), but that growth was in people least likely to be Republicans. A fair redistricting would produce two more Democrats in Texas.

The new numbers are all the result of the same demographic changes that we are expecting to blue-up the country generally. If redistricting is done fairly, these plus ones and minus ones around the country are simply the jiggle on the jell-o of the demographic shudder caused by old white men croaking off at a reasonable rate while younger brown people step in to take their part of the Great Pie Diagram of population.

The important thing now is to find your state-wide redistricting activist groups, and support them. Do that right now, time is of the essence.

And, keep elections free, dammit.

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Policing Reform: Then, now, next

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This post is meant to be a rough draft of an overview of police reform activism over recent decades. What I’m saying here is mainly from my own memory. Ever since I’ve been storing and retaining memories, I’ve been one sort of environmentalist or another, but police reform activism has been part of my life since, well, since the Beatles were still together, almost. Recent conversations led me to think about this more than I usually would, and I realized that there is some worthwhile historical insight to be had.

While this overview is based on memory, I did spend a couple of hours this morning looking at old articles, checking Wikipedia pages, etc. There is fodder for a well researched and closely documented essay. This is not that essay. But, feel free to throw your thoughts, experiences, and information into the comments just in case there is such an essay!

Today we are concerned with militarization of the police. This is a little odd in long term historical perspective, because at one time in the past, militarization of the police would have involved reducing their firearms and training capacity considerably.

From around the beginning of the 20th century both the British and American armies used either an Enfield rifle or similar (“Enfield” refers to a range of similar designs made by Lee-Enfield or copied by American manufacturers). You would pull the trigger, then use a bolt to move a new bullet into the chamber, then pull the trigger. The military had other weapons, of course, but the average soldier had this rifle. Meanwhile, in the 1920s and 1930s, when gangsters literally ruled large parts of the United States, both police and the gangsters commonly used a submachine gun. “Militarizing” the police in 1925 would have involved taking away their powerful weapons and downgrading. Over recent decades, militarizing means replacing a handgun with the modern equivalent of a submachine gun.

This perspective on militarization is not very relevant to modern activism, but telling the story here serves the purpose of reminding us that the “old days” were not a few years ago, and history is complex. The relevance of militarization will be more apparent below.

There was a time, back when I first got involved in police reform activism, when it was common practice for the police to shoot people in the back if they fled. It was considered normal, and was part of police training. My own early activism arose from the shooting of a young African American kid named Keith by a New York State Trooper. The kid was caught driving a motor scooter on the New York State Thruway. The trooper told him to stand there, the kid decided to drive away on his scooter. The New York State Troopers had just gotten their much coveted giant .357 magnum side arms, after a long fight in the legislature, where liberals thought the police might use them to kill people and the police wanted them to shoot at cars. My memory is that Keith was shot in the back, and nearly cut in half as the giant high powered bullet tore through his spine and exploded his internal organs, only weeks after that new pistol was issued. Within a few months, 15 year old me was on a bus going to Chicago to participate (and cover for a local anarchist newspaper) the Fight Back conference and protest, sparked by a spate of similar killings.

Our activism, and the legal process, worked. Now there are laws in all but a few states that prohibit shooting a fleeing suspect except in special circumstances. A 1986 (IIRC) supreme court decision said something similar. During that period of time, say from the very late 1960s through the end of the 1980s, our activism led to changes in law, and court outcomes, that cut the number of police killings of citizens to less than half, and made shooting people in the back mostly illegal. You are welcome.

That wasn’t enough of course, more had to be done. And circumstances conspired to make things worse rather than better in the 1980s. During the 1960s (and before) and through the 1970s, drug use was an urban phenomenon, and people would go “downtown” to buy their pot, heroin, etc. Remember the “war on drugs”? Well, that happened when the rise of suburbs shifted the drug marketplace to the suburbs. During the 1980s, you would go to the suburbs to get your pot, as likely as anywhere else. Under Reagan, the War on Drugs turned to the suburbs. I remember a friend of mine who was a cop at that time (the first woman cop in the state, IIRC) told me that if I, ahem, happened to know anyone looking for pot tell them to stay away from the ‘burbs. She could see the writing on the walls. there was going to be some serious federally funded action in the suburbs.

She was right. There were major busts in one suburb or another across the US every single day for a few years. Reagan drove drugs back into the “inner city” where they belonged, at least according to the nice people in the suburbs.

There was not a lot of shooting and killing connected with that operation, but I believe the results were deadly. By pushing drug dealing back into the urban zone, it also pushed it more into the hands of people of color. Tough drug laws, a product of the 1970s, were expanded and increased. Police were given more powers, like the ability to take property used in drug transport. They were also given more weapons and other forms of support, though nothing like the later militarization. The ultimate result: crime fighting was equated with the war on drugs, and both were equated with police repression of people living in ethnically diverse, but mainly Black or Hispanic, urban zones. It wasn’t just the drugs, it was everything in life. The systematic, daily, attacks on people in certain neighborhoods increased. Meanwhile, the police procedurals and shows like Cops taught people in the suburbs that sometimes the police just had to get tough on on the bad boys. What ya gonna do when they come for you? Don’t run, don’t hide, keep your hands in sight or you die. Police repression of the people of the “Inner City” or “Downtown” became a feature of American society and was normalized in the minds of the middle class, whose very parents or grandparents used to live in those neighborhoods.

I don’t know much first hand about political activism regarding police reform in the mid 1980s through the mid 1990s. I was mostly out of the country or buried in the library or lab in graduate school, or teaching. My weekly political act when in the US focused on pro choice clinic defense, then later I added defending science in the classroom. I was as much looking the other way as the rest of us white people of priv, speeding through higher education, or working corporate, or whatever. (Still a citizen of the urban zone, though … the ‘burbs still feel new to me.) And fruitlessly fighting the Republican takeover of everything.

Then 9/11 happened. Everyone seemed to freak out. The nation and anything that looked like defense or protection, policing or investigation, became the child who would not stop crying to which you acquiesce and give whatever candy they want. The right wing introduced a bill called “S1” which made many crimes punishable by death, gave police and investigative agencies broad powers, etc. etc. They introduced that, IIRC, in the 1970s, and kept introducing it again and again and again, and it would always be defeated, or simply ignored, because it was so extreme and draconian. It would change our society into a police state. It was unacceptable.

Within months after 9/11, that bill was strengthened and passed. You know of it as the Patriot Act. And, it made militarization of the police not only acceptable, but required, and funded.

I don’t think is is safe to say that the police were less bad in the late 1970s or early 1980s, after the right to shoot a fleeing suspect was removed, but before the War on Drugs Reagan style. It might have been, though. The police were less armed, less numerous, and had had their wings clipped, at least to some extent. But if they were less dangerous, it was only for a while.

I would like to know if it is true that there is a combat vet to cop pipeline, and if that has made our police forces more dangerous by concentrating, exacerbating, and arming PTSD. I would like to know if it is still true (or really ever was) that police forces avoid hiring people who show some degree of intelligence, on purpose. I would like to know how badly we’ve messed up by increasingly linking corporate costs of doing business to police funding. What percentage of a police officer’s lifetime salary is ultimately paid for by large corporations rather than taxpayers, right now, and how has that changed? It is imperative to get a handle on the relationship between government lawyers and police agencies, if we expect to police the police. What needs to happen there?

Finally, I think we need to assess our victories. The Chauvin murder conviction is only barely a victory. It is a great thing for those immediately involved, and it is a demonstration that accountably is possible. But saying that the Chauvin conviction is a step in the right direction is ingenuous. He held the man down for 6 minutes while he died, and another 3 minutes for good measure, guarded by his fellow cops, whom he was teaching how to be a cop, while surrounded by citizens making the moral, legal, and logical case against what he was doing, filming the whole time. This is like saying to your dog, “you pooped, good boy.” This was not an accomplishment of the system.

One of the more recent changes in police behavior and associated law, the one we are dealing with now, is the right of a cop to kill a person if doing so conforms to expectations of what a cop would do, with special consideration to the cop being afraid. This is why the police who carried out most of the recent killings in Minnesota got off. There is recent case law supporting the concept. It is like the shoot the fleeing suspect rule. At one time shooting the fleeing suspect was considered normal by much of society, was codified in law, supported by the courts, and taught in police training. Now, none of those things are true (mostly). Today, killing a suspect because you are afraid of black people is codified in law and court doctrine, built into training, and accepted as normal and expected behavior by much of society.

Stop that.

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Daunte Wright: Geographical Context

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Once again, I find myself writing notes for interested parties on the geography of a killing, by police, of a black man. I lived a block from the site in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, where Philando Castile was killed. I wrote about that here. I did not ever live too near where Jamar Clark was killed, but I did live for a few years within gunshot sound distance from where George Floyd was murdered, which by the way, is a half block away from where Tyesha Edwards, at the age of 11, lost her life in gang violence while working on her homework, in 2002. But I digress.

Duante Wright was killed in Brooklyn Center. Brooklyn Center is on the Mississippi, bordering on Minneapolis, and has a population a bit over 30,000. It was at one time the Center of “Brooklyn Township” but incorporated as a separate city in 1911, so it is now bounded on the north and west by Brooklyn Park, and on the south by North Minneapolis and Robbinsdale. My fair city, Plymouth, is just to the west, about one kilometer.

Minneapolis is a very urban city, meaning, it as an incorporated entity does not include any significant non urban areas that are not parks (of which there are many). It is surrounded by a ring of “inner ring” suburbs, which either touch the city (like Brooklyn Park does) or, in a few cases, touch a city that touches the city. Without exception, these inner ring suburbs are not suburbs by the usual definition. They are as urban, or in some cases even more urban, as the adjoining areas of the city itself, and they generally reflect the adjoining areas of the city with respect to the overall nature and character of the streets and houses, the demographics, the predominant business, etc. So, for example, you can hardly tell the difference between the la-la-shi-shi parts of South Minneapolis, along “The Creek” and nearby “The Lakes” from Edina, a wealthy inner ring suburb (that’s where Al Franken is from, but from the days when it was less wealthy). If you stand on one of the key intersections at the boundary there, and you are very observant, you’ll notice that Minneapolis and Edina have different streetlights. The Edina streetlights are a bit nicer. That’s about it.

Brooklyn Center also adjoins Columbia Heights and Fridley across the river (where I lived for a year) across the river, and abuts North Minneapolis (part of Minneapolis proper). North, Columbia Heights, and Brooklyn Center together form a vast urban zone with primarily residential properties and a very high level of ethnic diversity. As Minneapolis developed in the 20th century, it became a highly segregated city, with North Minneapolis including a majority share of Black neighborhoods, and adjoining Columbia Heights and Brooklyn Center were eventually, in the 1980s and 1990s, to become spillover areas for the adjoining populations. However, as this spillover happened, these neighborhoods doubled down on diversity. In 2010 (according to the census) Brooklyn Center was majority-minority white (just under 50%), about one fourth African American, and the rest Hispanic/Latinx, Pacific Islands, Asian, and everybody else. Since then, the diversity has increased, I’m pretty sure, with fewer White people, more people of African diaspora links, Central and South Asian people, and others. Brooklyn Center and nearby Brooklyn Park is where you might want to go if you need African food stuffs.

This is the site of the homestead, now an historic site and conference center, of the locally famous Earle Brown, who was the founder of the Minnesota State Patrol and the first sheriff of Hennepin County. This important historical connection to policing in Minnesota will be lost on pundits and observers, but it is locally poignant. For me, I’ve been to education and science related conferences at the Earle Brown center, and our son’s pediatrician is right there, at the local health clinic.

The top local business in Brooklyn Center is Medtronic (you probably heard of Medtronic). The third biggest employer is Caribou Coffee.

Where does the name “Brooklyn” come from? The settlers of the earlier and larger Brooklyn Township came from Brooklyn, Michigan, a tiny village near the racetrack. Brooklyn Michigan is named after Brooklyn, New York. Brooklyn is a versionized form of Breukelen, a town in the Netherlands. In Dutch, it probably means “Broken Land.” Which applies today to its namesake’s namesake.

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Do Androids Dream? And Longmire

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Suddenly available cheap from Amazon*, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: The inspiration for the films Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 by Philip Dick.

While we are on the subject of cheap books, did you know that the popular, and pretty good, “Longmire” of TV started out as a series of books? The Highwayman: A Longmire Story (Walt Longmire Mysteries) by Craig Johnson is also cheap on Kindle, which is the 11th point five in the series (apparently it is complicated). The first is The Cold Dish: A Longmire Mystery. (Kindle edition of the first in the series here.)

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Framing Is Greater Than Fishing

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Framing is a concept important in understanding how language works. It originated in anthropology, developed in sociology, re-employed in anthropology and linguistics, and is now a major part of communication science. It is the new thing. Framing is a verb that has come to mean correctly, or effectively, communicating a message in a way that is convincing. It isn’t, really. Framing is part of normal day to day linguistic communication, and I assure you, it is possible to “frame” something in an utterly disastrous way. So, “I did framing today” does not guarantee you did not screw up your message. “I was a good framer today” means you believe you didn’t screw it up, and maybe did a great job!

Here, I want to look at one example of communication to critique it from the perspective of framing, to give an idea of what framing is all about.

Have a look at this bumper sticker:

A bumper sticker from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

Framing is always part of linguistic communication. Linguistic communication is a symbolic process, by which meaning is generated in a recipient, meaning that originated from another linguistic being, by reference to a commonly understood system of symbols and symbolic relationships. If I say the word “fish” you might think of some aquatic vertebrate animal easily available to your mind, maybe a trout. That is not because the word “fish” sounds, looks, or feels inherently fishish, but because we are communicating in a language in which “fish” is a shared symbol.

Which of the following words is not a word for “fish”?

se i?a
seekor ikan
eng Geess

You would not know that the first three mean “a fish” while the fourth one means “a goat” unless you also know Samoan, Indonesian, Shona, and Luxembourgian. The link between the thing and the word is arbitrary. That is what makes the word a symbol for a fish, instead of, say, an icon for a fish (which would look at least somewhat like a fish, and might be hard to say out loud using voice).

But what if I meant the verb “fish” instead of the noun? Go get a fishing pole, a worm, and the other gear, and try to catch a fish. You would probably know the difference between the noun and the verb because of other parts of the sentence. Like I might say, “Hey you, go fish” (verb) as opposed to “Hey you, look at that fish” (noun).

The difference here is typically thought of as grammatical. The actual symbol being used is not really “fish” but rather the collection of words arranged in such a way to be identified as a noun, or a verb, or some other thing. This can be less obvious in English which tends to disassociate the grammatical elements compared to some other languages. (This is probably a feature of both Romance and Germanic languages generally). Thinking of words as distinct sets of letters set off by surrounding white space is a hindrance for English speakers when it comes to understanding the symbolic nature of language.

But what about this difference: I say to you “go, fish!” as you stand on the dock next to a boat loaded up with angling gear. This might compel you to get in the boat and start hunting for fish. But if instead of standing on the dock, we are inside sitting around a table and we have a bunch of playing cards in play, and I say “go fish!” we are probably playing the card game by that name, and your next move is to look for a card in the deck.

The difference between being on the dock and looking in the deck is a matter of framing. The symbolic utterance is “go fish” but it has multiple possible meanings. But there is something else involved in this act of symbolizing, that allows you to be more likely to correctly interpret my words. In this case, it is the physical context (out by the lake vs inside at the table) and the presence of certain artifacts (the paraphernalia of angling vs a deck of cards). That additional information keys the frame to either being about an outdoor activity involving fish or an indoor activity involving a deck of cards.

In the symbolic structure represented in the NCSE bumper sticker, what is the meaning of the three elements “EVIDENCE”, “>”, and “Misinformation”?

I believe you are supposed to take the “>” as a greater than sign, so EVIDENCE is greater than Misinformation. The details of the typeface (bold vs. not bold) reinforces this. The additional symbol, the Darwin’s Phylogeny drawing in the earthy sphere tells us this bumper sticker is about science and evolution, and is anti-misinformation, but never mind that for now. Just given the two words and the greater-than sign tell us all we need to know.

Or does it? Stick with the assumption that the symbols are symbols, ie., arbitrary in meaning. If so, why is “>” greater than? If this bumper sticker is meant to convince mathematicians that evidence is greater than misinformation, then yes, that makes sense, the meaning is clear, but this is also a waste of good paper and glue, because mathematicians, or sciency people who have some affinity to math, already know that. But what if the person interpreting this symbolic entity happens to be primarily a computer expert who programs in the scripting language bash? That might sound like a small, obscure, group, but it is not. Raise your hand if you know enough bash to know what two words with a “>” between them means! In bash, greater than is symbolized by “-gt” and the “>” symbol means something totally different. Like this, for example:


means spew the contents of a file named “EVIDENCE” to what is called “standard output,” which means onto the screen, normally. However,

cat EVIDENCE>Misinformation

means redirect from standard output, and copy the contents of a file named “EVIDENCE” to the end of the file called “Misinformation” and if that file does not exist, create “Misinformation” and fill it with the contents of “EVIDENCE”.

From the bash point of view, evidence is the basis for misinformation. This bumper sticker is, maybe, saying that evidence is bullpucky, or creates bullpucky, or the basis for bullpucky. This would be an example of the framing stepping big time on the message.

Here, the framing is pre-done, or primed, in advance. A person who is likely to see a “>” as a mathematical symbol understands the bumper sticker as meant. A person who spends all day with bash scripts may well get the same meaning, but their brain may alternatively go right to “>” as the redirect symbol, and figure that evidence becomes misinformation, or that misinformation is made out of evidence. That would be a bumper sticker fail.

On top of this, consider that even though the meaning of symbols is arbitrary, icons also exist as part of our linguistic communication. So, that green thing that looks like an arrow might be showing us that EVIDENCE becomes, or goes to, Misinformation. That is still a matter of framing, but in this case, more the absence of a key to set the frame up properly. The recipient of the message is simply trying to interpret what starts out as nonsense (as do all symbols until our brains figure them out), by giving a meaning of implied directionality to the thing that looks like an arrow, and coming up with a reasonably comfortable interpretation of the message. Evidence leads to misinformation.

I love the NCSE. I’m a big supporter. They have helped me greatly in the past. This bumper sticker, though … might be lesser than other options.

*Framing was originally formulated in the work of Anthropologist Gregory Bateson, though not everyone acknowledges (or knows) that. This was picked up and greatly expanded by Erving Goffman, and his work was sufficiently significant to attribute the origin of framing to him, though he was building on Bateson. Framing then spread as an idea across anthropology, linguistics, and philosophy, and was noticed by linguist George Lakoff and evile Republican strategist Frank Luntz, and applied to communication strategy. Biographies of the framing concept will vary, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it.

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