Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Art of Losing

Associate professor of cultural geography at the University of Exeter. She is currently a fellow at the Centre for Advanced Study in Olso, Norway.

‘The art of losing’s not too hard to master,’ wrote Elizabeth Bishop, ‘though it may look… like disaster’. Mastering the art of losing—now there’s a project for the 21st century. Last month, the National Park Service (NPS) made a small step toward spelling out what the art of losing might entail, in a new strategy addressing the fate of its cultural resources in a climate-changed future. ‘Preservation in perpetuity’ has always been the primary goal when it comes to the archaeological sites, cultural landscapes, museum collections, and historic structures that fall under NPS management. But there is a growing recognition that the changing climate will force reconsideration of this goal in certain cases. In 2014, then-NPS director Jonathan Jarvis wrote a policy memo to his staff which promised, ‘We will ensure that our management options recognize the potential for loss.’ This may seem like common sense, but it is a radical departure from policy as usual. Jarvis’s memo went on to suggest that ‘managers should consider choices such as documenting some resources and allowing them to fall into ruin rather than rebuilding after major storms.’

The strategy released in early January (two weeks before Donald Trump's inauguration) takes Jarvis’s guidance to heart, and suggests that while reasonable efforts will be made to protect resources and mitigate the effects of climate change, when this isn’t feasible managers may choose to document threatened features and prepare for their loss. Not everything can be saved, the strategy suggests, and sometimes it may be necessary to allow ‘environmental or other forces… to destroy or remove all or portions of the resource.’ In his 2014 memo, Jarvis justified this position by saying that ‘History will judge us for the choices we make, and we will take comfort in knowing that sometimes the hard choices are also the ones that are best for our resources, our parks, and our Nation.’ It’s not clear how this new approach is going to play out in practice. The strategy stresses that ‘decisions for loss must be made with appropriate consultation and compliance’—but there are as yet no clear guidelines for how to reconcile anticipated loss with the presumption of protection embedded in historic preservation legislation.

For a glimpse into how this policy might be implemented, one can look to New York Harbour, and the cluster of properties—many of them associated with military history and coastal defence—that make up the Gateway National Recreation Area. Gateway was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and in the wake of the storm the NPS carried out a vulnerability assessment which incorporated predictions of future sea-level rise and storm surge risk. A management plan based on the assessment offered three zoning options: preserve, stabilise, and ruin. In the ruins zone, historic structures and landscapes would be allowed to ‘decay naturally, returning to their component elements by the forces of nature.’ Although some measures are being taken to ensure public safety, otherwise ‘natural processes are allowed to occur unimpeded by management.’ (One chapter in my new book discusses a similar policy—dubbed ‘continued ruination’—at a site off the east coast of England.)

Deciding which resources to let go is not an easy process, however, and so far Gateway’s ruins zoning has been applied mostly to structures that are already in very poor condition. In this sense, the new ruins classification just formalises a policy of benign neglect that had been unofficial and unstated, by recommending that some of Gateway’s derelict gun batteries and military remnants be allowed to continue to decay. But the banding will be reviewed as conditions change, and as sea levels continue to rise future designation will likely take in other, more significant, structures.

One of the key messages in the new NPS cultural resources climate change strategy is about acknowledging the power of ‘climate stories’ to engage people in understanding change. When a decision has been made to recognise loss, interpretation of that change becomes critically important. In 2009—years before Sandy’s wakeup call—Gateway managers were already thinking about how they might stage an experiment in loss and storytelling at Battery Weed, a 19th-century fort guarding The Narrows at the entrance to New York Harbour. A report flagged up that the fortification was likely to face increasing inundation due to sea-level rise, and moving the structure to higher ground would be prohibitively expensive and logistically complicated. ‘Given the Battery’s sturdy construction,’ the report concluded, ‘it is also possible to leave it as is, and dedicate it as a monument to measure and teach sea level rise.’ Future visitors could view the fort from above, as the water rose within it, reflecting on a story of defence (from invading navies and sea water) and, eventually, graceful surrender.

‘Climate change is one of the great challenges of the 21st century,’ wrote Jarvis in his 2014 memo. ‘It is remaking our world and substantially influencing how we set priorities and make management decisions. The process of adaptation will not return us to the way things have been done before, but it will assist us in making choices in the face of uncertainty and change’. It is difficult to envisage a moment more racked by uncertainty and change than the current one, caught as we are in the political storm that began on January 20 and shows no sign of abating. It is probably safe to say that implementation of the new cultural resources climate change strategy is not high on the agenda for the new Republican administration. Jarvis retired as NPS director a few days before the strategy was published, and when President Trump gets around to appointing his successor he may well decide to punish the agency for its outspoken climate change advocacy and his lingering resentment over the inauguration crowd numbers squabble.

A new NPS director may decide to shelve the strategy altogether, but deciding not to recognise loss doesn’t mean that the loss won’t happen anyway—unrecognised and unplanned. The NPS has a deferred maintenance backlog of over $12 billion, the federal hiring freeze will hit already depleted staffing levels, and the prospect of promised tax cuts makes commitment of additional resources unlikely. The reality of pinched resources, compounded by Trump’s planned gutting of the regulatory framework, could create hundreds of new ruins zones for the wrong reasons, with loss happening not by intention but by attrition. For now, as the nation is held hostage to the ‘art of the deal’, it’s worth pausing to recognise the brave and hopeful move that the NPS has taken towards learning the art of losing—as a process of attentive and informed adaptation. As the strategy points out, ‘Climate change is the heritage of the future,’ and pretending it’s not happening misses an opportunity to tell a story that may help us face that future and learn to live with the changes it will bring.


Caitlin DeSilvey is author of Curated Decay: Heritage beyond Saving; coauthor of Visible Mending; and coeditor of Anticipatory History. She is associate professor of cultural geography at the University of Exeter. She is currently a fellow at the Centre for Advanced Study in Olso, Norway.

"Curated Decay offers a sophisticated and novel account of sites that challenge the current paradigm of conservation. It also proposes a wealth of concepts by which the curation of such sites may be rethought in terms of ecological culture. The writing is fresh, direct and exciting and carries the reader along effortlessly."
—Amanda Boetzkes, University of Guelph

"Curated Decay is wondrously marvelous—a brilliant and beautiful exploration of how we can and might engage with the ultimately evanescent companions (landscapes, buildings, objects) that accompany our own evanescent lives. Caitlin DeSilvey sets her deeply thoughtful meditations on our ambivalent interactions with the transient things we cherish in evocative discourses about a dozen hauntingly depicted diverse threatened and beleaguered locales, from Montana to Cornwall to Scotland and the Ruhr. These illustrative stories are couched in a narrative of personal travel and discovery that is a continual joy to read, fresh, witty, and jargon-free."
—David Lowenthal, University College London

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Throwback Valentine’s Day: A bittersweet collection of Prince’s finest love songs


On Valentine’s Day 1996, Prince married Mayte Garcia at Park Avenue Methodist Church in South Minneapolis. In honor of the funky nuptials that day, I took the opportunity to compile a list of Prince’s greatest love songs for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, reprinted in Gold Experience: Following Prince in the ‘90s and again here, complete with music videos, although on second blush and with 20 years worth of hindsight, there could easily be 50 more songs added to this list, starting with “Adore.”

Lord knows I’m missing the little love god something fierce this Valentine’s Day, but I’m glad to have all his music finally streaming across the planet. Happy Valentine’s Day to all lovers and Prince lovers out there, I give to thee:


In honor of Valentine's Day (and the royal nuptials), here's one man's list of the former Prince's top 15 love songs:

Nothing Compares 2 U
An instant classic that the ever-prolific Prince gave to Sinead O'Connor, whose no-holds-barred vocal took it to another stratosphere. That rarest of songs, which can make lovers pine for each other - even when they're right next to each other.

Do Me, Baby
Unlike the clumsier “Head” or “Sister” of the same era, this is vintage Prince at his raunchy best. A make-out song for the ages.

I Would Die 4 U
An echo-drenched, drum machine-swathed testimonial of endless love worthy of Romeo or Juliet.

Friday, February 3, 2017

There's strength in a politics of imperfection.

Associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Department of Philosophy at Carleton University

A politics of imperfection, a politics of responsibility.

Lately it seems like every day brings a new bad thing for anyone not invested in white supremacy and capitalism. As the tweet went: “First they came for the Latinos, Muslims, women, gays, poor people, intellectuals, and scientists and then it was Wednesday.” And every day, I become more convinced that a politics based on purity will let us down. Let me explain.

Saturday, January 28, 2017, was early in the litany of bad. That weekend thousands of people converged on airports around the United States to protest the effects of an executive order imposing a ban on travel from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. Trump signed that order on Friday and by Saturday there were refugees as well as people with green cards from these countries arriving at US airports. They were then held in custody and denied access to lawyers. I was at the manifestation at the San Francisco airport. I have been at many protests, encampments, and manifestations over the last twenty years, and this one stands out; it was tremendously moving and powerful.

On the Facebook event page for the protest, someone posted: “So where was this when Obama signed a ban in 2011 against Iraqi's and again in 2015 when he put a ban on Muslims?? Hypocrisy at its finest!!” Later he clarified that he didn’t actually care about the travel ban (he thought it was a good move for the US to protect its borders and not let anyone in). He was just pointing out the hypocrisy of protesting Trump’s policies without having had an equally explosive and massive resistance to Obama’s policies.

Conservatives, particularly the subspecies whose main political work is trolling people on the Internet, are fond of this line of critique. It can take the form that it did here, calling hypocrisy on people who now are saying something when they did not raise a protest in the past. It also takes the form of pointing out inconsistencies, as when trolls tweeted to a friend that she could not both oppose human-fueled global warming and drive her car. Or it could be arguing that if someone benefits from something they cannot protest it (as when people say that it is impossible to criticize the US military and enjoy the supposed peace that it is supposedly protecting). Conservatives also use this approach in response to people opposing bigots speaking on university campus—if we care about free speech, surely we mean free speech for everyone, and “everyone” definitely includes people who think that (as the T-shirts put it) “Feminism Is Cancer.” Each of these criticisms deploys what we can call “purity politics”: because the person expressing the desire for another world is complicit or compromised, they are supposed to give up. Conservatives use purity politics to try to close down critique and action.

Recognizing our involvement in and complicity with things we think are wrong, fully understanding the weight of wrongdoing in the history we inherit, or understanding the harms that have come from our failure to act can feel quite awful. The right uses purity politics against the left because we're the ones who respond to being implicated in doing harm. They’re correct that we are involved in the very things that we want to stop, but they’re wrong to think that being compromised means we should stop protesting. If we stop working against them, terrible things simply continue. If we are to be effective, we who want to have a world in which many beings and ecosystems can flourish, we should reject purity for purely tactical reasons—it demobilizes us.

But we should resist purity politics for deeper reasons, too. Purity has long been the domain of the racist, nativist, and eugenicist right. It has been the technology through which laws about miscegenation were formulated, and it’s still the emotional hinge on which today’s alt-right argues that the white race is dying. Purity of the nation has been the rallying cry for tightening borders against the free movement of people; it is the engine that drives vigilante border patrols and murderous refugee policies. Purity of the species has been the scalpel that forcibly sterilizes disabled people, and that continues to support policy based on the idea that disabled lives are not worth living.

We do better to aim for a politics of imperfection. If we do not fit the mold of perfection—if we’re disabled, sick, young, old, not working, not productive—we are definitely beings who offer care, help, solidarity, and presence to the world. If we’ve failed to help in the past, if things we do are implicated in harm, if we benefit from something that harms others, or if we accord only some people access to a podium, we can still be of benefit to this world. Even people who have harmed others or the world, whose ancestors owned slaves, whose current government is actively pursuing genocidal colonial policies, who regularly make mistakes—even we can be useful.

But how to unfurl a politics that holds our imperfections? I suggest taking up a “politics of responsibility,” a concept from social movement scholar Gary Kinsman. He defines this as involving “those of us in oppressing positions recognizing our own implication within and responsibility to actively challenge relations of oppression.” A politics of responsibility recognizes our relative, shifting, and contingent position in social relations of harm and benefit; it enjoins us to look at how we are shaped by our place in history. We can take responsibility for creating futures that radically diverge from that history, seriously engaging that work based on where we are located, listening well to the people, beings, and ecosystems most vulnerable to devastation.

Listening well, taking responsibility, and acting even though we recognize that we can’t be pure is going to be much harder than disengaging would be. Two poems have helped me think about this. Johnetta Elzie co-founded an organization working to end police violence. Her poem “Where were you” addresses itself to people—largely white women—who participated in the enormous protests march the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. It asks a lot of questions, and on the surface many of those questions sound like our Facebook troll friend—the last line of the poem ends “We’ve been marching for years — where the hell have all of you been?” But Elzie’s questions are the opposite of trolling. She is calling her listeners in to responsibility for not having been there, asking us to reflect on how we are placed in history, and then inviting us to step up now. She asks,“What happens tomorrow? Will you march with us when we need you most?” Danny Bryck’s poem “If You Could Go Back” likewise calls us in to a politics of responsibility. Drawing on the fact that many of us in the present believe, looking back, that we would resist fascism, racism, and oppression with every fiber of our being, it points to things that are happening now:

“That’s King. And this is Selma. And Berlin. And Jerusalem. And now is when they need you to be brave.”

Let us be imperfect, for we are, but let us be brave too.


Alexis Shotwell is author of Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times and Knowing Otherwise: Race, Gender, and Implicit Understanding. She is associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Department of Philosophy at Carleton University.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

In latest Sherlock Holmes in Minnesota installment, the typically flawless Holmes is plagued by doubt and illness.


In his four novels and 56 short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle always depicted the great detective in the prime of life. The Holmes in these tales is not only a perfect thinking machine but also athletic, fearless, and supremely confident. Yet what might have happened to Holmes as he grew older? Conan Doyle doesn’t really address this question in any detailed way. About all that is known from his work is that Holmes retired at some point to Sussex to keep bees and perhaps write an occasional monograph on some esoteric topic related to criminal investigation.

But it’s fascinating to think of Holmes as a senior citizen, coping with the challenges of old age. It was this idea that led me in part to writing Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma, which is set in 1920, when Holmes would have been in his mid-sixties. Other writers, of course, have also explored the topic of Holmes during his advanced years. One of the most notable efforts in this regard is the 2015 film Mr. Holmes, with a screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher (who adapted my novel Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders into a fine play). In the film, Holmes is 93 and dealing with memory loss as he tries to solve one last case.

The Holmes featured in Eisendorf Enigma isn’t yet suffering from memory problems but he’s clearly not quite the man he had been in his younger years. His mind is still as agile as ever, but age has nonetheless taken its inevitable toll, especially on his body. As I was planning the novel, I tried to imagine what sort of infirmity might befall Holmes as he aged. One illness—emphysema—came readily to mind.

Smoking is a prominent cause of the disease, and as Conan Doyle’s tales demonstrate, Holmes was an addictive personality for whom tobacco was both a supreme pleasure and a dangerous vice that held him firmly in its grip. Although Holmes is most commonly associated with a pipe, he also smoked cigarettes and cigars. He was very selective in this respect and even had his cigarettes specially made in London. Holmes also enjoyed good cigars (Cubans in particular) and he rarely went anywhere without a pouch of black shag tobacco for his pipe. Such was his devotion to the demon weed that he even wrote a monograph in which he claimed he could identify 140 different types of tobacco based solely on the ash they left behind.

By the time he reached his sixties, Holmes had probably been a heavy smoker for at least 40 years, so it did not seem a stretch to think his lung function might have become compromised. So it is that in the opening scenes of the Eisendorf Enigma, Holmes travels to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester (where in my earlier novel, Strongwood, Dr. John Watson underwent gallbladder surgery). At the clinic Holmes is diagnosed with moderate emphysema, a condition that leaves him short of breath, especially during any kind of exertion. The disease is a trial for him, as is the daunting possibility that he will have to give up his beloved tobacco for good.

While in Rochester Holmes, who has traveled to Minnesota by himself (Watson must stay in London to attend to his medical practice), suddenly finds himself facing an old nemesis known as the Monster of Munich. The Monster, who had committed a series of grisly murders in Munich in the 1890s, is now ensconced in the village of Eisendorf, a tiny community tucked into a steep little valley not far from Rochester.

I created Eisendorf (population 40 and dropping) as a place profoundly isolated and full of hidden dangers. Its seclusion reflects Holmes’s own circumstances during his years of retirement. Based (very, very loosely) on New Ulm, Minnesota, the town owes its existence to a band of German freethinkers who arrived in the 1850s with the dream of creating a small utopia devoted to reason and enlightenment. But Eisendorf is anything but a paradise on earth. Instead, it is a dying, haunted place that harbors terrible secrets.

Once he makes his way to Eisendorf in hopes of unmasking the Monster, Holmes must confront not only a vicious killer but also his own doubts. In the process readers will see a more vulnerable Holmes than they are used to, not the “high-functioning sociopath,” as he describes himself in the BBC series featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, but a man dealing with his own troubling emotions. Uncertainty, loneliness, and even hints of existential desolation assail Holmes in the Eisendorf Enigma, and yet as he moves toward his ultimate showdown with the Monster he finds two women who help revitalize his long sterile heart.

Watson, too, finally arrives on the scene, hurrying to Eisendorf after Holmes is injured, and together they are finally able to hunt down the monstrous killer who has made the town his home. I hope readers will enjoy my novel—the seventh time I’ve had the privilege of bringing the world’s great consulting detective to Minnesota.


Larry Millett is the author of twenty books, including Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma and seven other mystery novels—most set in Minnesota—featuring Sherlock Holmes and St. Paul detective Shadwell Rafferty. A longtime reporter and architecture critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Millett is also the author of numerous books on architecture.

"I always look forward to a Larry Millett book. I’ve read every one of them."
—Steve Thayer, New York Times bestselling author of The Weatherman

"Larry Millett breathes new life into the classic character of Sherlock Holmes in this intriguing, home-grown mystery. Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma is both elegant and entertaining."
—Allen Eskens, author of The Life We Bury

"Millett’s descriptions are lush and rich, and anyone who likes to craft a good visual in their head will appreciate his attention to detail with the setting. Minnesota is a beautiful place, and the author’s descriptions create a written picture that will match any photos you pull up on the Internet or in a book."
—The John H Watson Society

Monday, January 30, 2017

Research Libraries, University Presses Oppose Trump’s Immigration Order

This press release was originally posted on the website of the Association of American University Presses.

January 30, 2017—President Trump’s recent executive order temporarily barring entry into the US by individuals from seven countries is contrary to the values held by libraries and presses, and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) stand unequivocally opposed to this immigration ban.

The order blocks some members of our communities as well as students, researchers, authors, faculty, and their families from entering or returning to the United States if they are currently abroad or leave the country, even if they hold the required visas. The ban will diminish the valuable contributions made to our institutions and to society by individuals from the affected countries. This discriminatory order will deeply impact the ability of our communities to foster dialogue, promote diversity, enrich understanding, advance the progress of intellectual discovery, and ensure preservation of our cultural heritage.

The work we do—particularly the books we publish and collect—illuminates the past and sheds new light on current conversations; informed by this work we believe that the rationale for the ban both ignores history and places assumptions ahead of facts. More importantly, this decision will greatly harm some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. The United States should not turn its back on refugees who are fleeing their war-torn homes and have already endured long, extensive screening procedures in the relocation process.

Finally, while temporary, the ban will have a long-term chilling effect on free academic inquiry. This order sends a clear message to researchers, scholars, authors, and students that the United States is not an open and welcoming place in which to live and study, conduct research, write, and hold or attend conferences and symposia. The ban will disrupt and undermine international academic collaboration in the sciences, the humanities, technology, and global health.

ARL and AAUP have longstanding histories of and commitments to diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. As social institutions, research libraries, archives, and university presses strive to be welcoming havens for all members of our communities and work hard to be inclusive in our hiring, collections, books and publications, services, and environments. The immigration ban in its current form is antithetical to notions of intellectual freedom and free inquiry fundamental to the missions of libraries and presses. By serving as inclusive communities, research libraries, archives, and university presses have deeply benefited from the contributions of students, faculty, staff, and scholars of all backgrounds and citizenships.

ARL and AAUP support all members of their communities and all students, researchers, authors, and faculty who are impacted by this executive order. The two associations urge President Trump to rescind this order and urge Congress to intervene on behalf of those affected by the immigration ban.

Media Contact
John Michael Eadicicco
+1 917 244-3859

About the Association of American University Presses
The Association of American University Presses (AAUP) is an organization of over 140 international nonprofit scholarly publishers. Since 1937, AAUP advances the essential role of a global community of publishers whose mission is to ensure academic excellence and cultivate knowledge. The Association holds integrity, diversity, stewardship, and intellectual freedom as core values. AAUP members are active across many scholarly disciplines, including the humanities, arts, and sciences, publish significant regional and literary work, and are innovators in the world of digital publishing.

About the Association of Research Libraries
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 124 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Save Us.

Author of The Child to Come

“Maybe it would be better not to survive.”

That’s my favorite line from The Child to Come though I didn’t write it. It is spoken by Camilla Del Ray, a military woman and computer specialist from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s accidental colonization novel Darkover Landfall (1972), after learning that she will be forced to keep her pregnancy. How, wonders the nurse who drugs her and drags her away, could she be so selfish? They have precious little chance of survival on their new planet. Every woman must bear as many children as possible. Camilla wonders if survival is worth the price of bodily autonomy.

I’ve been thinking about that line a lot recently. When I put it at the opening of the second chapter of the book, a chapter that takes the impossible position against life, I thought I knew more or less what it meant. If human life is the central political value, I argued, then all political positions will find their grounding in women’s reproductive capacity. Yet the future is stranger than we imagine. A non-reproductive relation to futurity is not only possible but continuously operating within the logic of self-similarity, whether we recognize it or not. Such, anyway, was my claim. Now I find myself wondering if I wasn’t too modest. The future, the child, the reproductive woman: these elements make up a drama with species-level stakes, or so the story goes. What though about that other form of survival, the kind that concerns this very body at this very moment, the kind that arises when faced with violence or violation? What of the violation that isn’t of the body but of its mantle of protections? What of the violence that takes the form of the desire to intimidate? Would it still be better not to survive?


November was a beautiful month in Bloomington. The 9th was no exception. Blue skies behind trees crowned in gold leaves. The sepulcher white of the limestone campus buildings. The garish red of IU letter gear. At home, our five cats purred and pounced. The mail came. Students showed up to class and we showed up too. But the daily newspapers stayed creased in their plastic wrapping, a small sign of difference.

By week’s end, the weirdness was too much, so we went sojourning for dinner and a movie. Dr. Strange with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. A little nothing to distract us.

There were an astonishing number of previews. Who even knew there were that many franchises? Guardians of the Galaxy 2; Wonder Woman; Fast 8; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Logan (Wolverine 3); The Great Wall starring Matt Damon. With a science fiction horror film rounding out the selection, it was a thoroughly bloody half hour. All conventional, of course. Spectacular in the way of digital film techniques: post-continuity editing, throbbing sound. But I study science fiction and so I was attentive to the subtle markers of a shifting episteme made visible in these phantasmagorias of light and sound, though I didn’t want to be. At all.

And, of course, there it was. The refrain, repeated across trailers, repeated even in the same trailer, hailing me to thought.


Again and again. Save.
The world is coming undone. We must save the world.
Violence and salvation. Just war. Hopeful rebels. Last stands.
Guard. Protect. Save. Save you. Save us. Save her. Save my family. Save our tribe. Save our people. Save our nation. Take back our world. Whatever I do, I do it to protect you. Our rebellion is all that remains to push back the empire. We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope. Save the rebellion. Save the dream. You’re all rebels, aren’t you? It is our sacred duty to defend the world. Overcome. Attack. Defend. Push back.

Rhetoric familiar from decades of American heroes and superheroes, good guys staring down enemy gun barrels, outnumbered but righteous. And indeed Dr. Strange is in many ways like any other entry in the Marvel comic cinematic universe. It is the story of a broken man, Steven Strange, who makes his way to the spiritual sanctuary of Kamar-Taj in the hopes of healing. There he find his destiny as savior of humanity and foe of the malevolent Dark Dimension—a timeless realm that hungers to consume the energy of our time-bound world.

The film introduces a twist on this otherwise familiar plot in the form of renegades who seek to join our world to the Dark Dimension. In a key scene, the renegade leader Kaecilius tempts Steven Strange by arguing that time is an insult to human superiority. Kamar-Taj doesn’t protect the Earth; they perpetuate the enslavement of humanity to time. They are the true enemy.

For a moment, Steven Strange vacillates—just long enough, as it transpires, for a minion to arrive with a knife for Strange’s back. From there, the film moves on to greater certainty and ultimate vindication for Strange and the guardians at Kamar-Taj.

I’d like to stay with this vacillation for a moment. While quickly resolved, the moment introduces doubt about how best to protect the future. It opens a zone of indistinction between harm and protection, reminding us not only that protection often means harm to others, but also and more unsettlingly that the harmed other may be identical to the protected person. For Kaecilius, it is the very act of protecting this world that constitutes the harm. This is his revolution.

I’ve been thinking about this moment a lot since watching the film. Of the many things that have become clear since election night, the most pressing is that, like the Kamar-Taj for Kaecilius’s renegades, my continued well being and the well being of everyone I love is tantamount to harm.

And they? They are rebels in a war to save the future. From us.

Bloomington, IN, 11.11.16: KKK KKK
The New School, NYC, 11.12.16: Swastikas
Brown County, IN, 11.13.16: Fag church. Heil Trump
Natick, MA, 11.14.16: Natick has a zero tolerance for black people
Iowa City, IA, 11.14.16: You can all go home now we don’t want n----- terrorists here #trump
Silver Springs, MD, 11.14.16: Kill Kill Kill Blacks
Warick, NY, 11.14.16: Heil Hitler, SSS
Reed College, Portland OR, 11.14.16: The white man is back in power you fucking faggots
Denver, CO, 11.16.16: DIE HESHE TRANNY FAG DIE
Oolitic, IN, 11.17.16: Crossdress faget. Fag lives here. Trump. God save us from gay
Sarasota, FL, 11.17.16: My new president says we can kill all you faggots now
Augusta University, FL, 11.17.16: Not seeing the America you want? Start changing it today! Euro-Americans! Stop apologizing, living in fear, denying your heritage. Be white!

Whether appearing as scrawled graffiti and chalkboard profanity or typed letters and well-designed posters, the message is the same: War on social justice warriors. The oppressed rise.

Daily Stormer, 11.15.16:

History has been made.
 Today, the world ended. A new world has been born.
Anything is possible now. The future is wide open….
We have won so much. And it has led to the ultimate win.
 The battle is far from over. Much, much, much work to be done.
 But the White race is back in the game. And if we’re playing, no one can beat us.…I am humbled to have had the honor of narrating this epic story for all of you amazing people.

The future is wide open. The enemy has been defeated. America is saved.

I’m scared. I am scared of the violence these and other acts promise and deliver. But the claim to fear is shared. They are scared of the future our safety and vibrancy suggests. This is not an equivalence. It is a Mobius strip and the future is the fabric that holds it together. For while violence happens in the present, the consequences that violence seeks to ward off is not here and now but soon. Any day now.


So: “Maybe it would be better not to survive.”

The Child to Come speaks at times in the oracular, but I never saw this coming. Yet the question persists: To what does it commit us to labor for the future, when that labor takes the form of protection and protection proves so hospitable to violence?

Such a position is hardly articulable, then or now. Indeed, Zimmer Bradley raises the objection only to refuse it. By the novel’s conclusion, Camilla has come to find her own position as alien as the planet had once been. Survival, Zimmer Bradley’s novel suggests, is merely the occasion for restoring right relations.

The Great work. The ultimate win. Work to be done. Epic story. History has been made.

Save us.


Rebekah Sheldon is author of The Child to Come: Life after the Human Catastrophe. She is assistant professor of English at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Wendell Anderson and the Minnesota Miracle: A look back.

Learning from a major bipartisan effort orchestrated in 1971 by Minnesota governor
Wendell Anderson and joined by Rep. Martin Sabo and Sen. Stanley Holmquist.
Anderson died in July 2016 at the age of 83. 


On November 8, 2016, a political wave arose from a sea of resentment and urge for change and swept across the country. Whether the wave will roll on for awhile as happened after the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, or will disintegrate after crashing into electoral rocks in just a few years, is anybody's guess. A look at some state history provides thoughts and ideas for coping with the current political turmoil in both major political parties.

The 1960s and '70s were also a time of bitter resentment and at times violent turmoil in America, with rallies and bombings against the Vietnam War, civil rights battles, rancorous abortion arguments, protests against high taxes, and demonstrations over environmental degradation in the forefront of political action. This was the backdrop in Minnesota in November 1970, when a statewide election signaled a wave of change forming in state politics and government. The 1970 election led to major changes in public policy that quickly sent fiscal and political shock waves throughout the state.

Democrat Wendell Anderson was elected governor of Minnesota in 1970, and fellow Democrats came close to breaking the long-standing Republican control over the Minnesota Legislature. I had the privilege of being a part of this as I was elected to a first term to the legislature in that election. One of the first things I observed was Governor Anderson's (or "Wendy," as he was commonly called) remarkable relationship-building and negotiating skills. Wendy brought people into government who combined long-term strategic policy and short-term tactical politics in a most impressive manner. Wendy gave his staff flexibility to suggest, create, and develop policies. Once he made a decision, he commonly turned the matter over to others for implementation. This approach also provided the legislature with some latitude to make changes. He was not afraid of compromise.

In his first legislative session as governor, Anderson needed bipartisan legislative support to bring about the major policy changes on which he had campaigned, and he claimed a mandate to "fix the fiscal mess" he had inherited. This 1971 legislative session involved a sharply divided government, with the Republicans barely retaining control over both the House and Senate. Anderson's relationship-building skills and flexibility paid off when Anderson, with strong help from then-House Minority Leader Martin Sabo (D) and Senate Minority Leader Nick Coleman (D), crafted complex fiscal legislation that gained the support of Senate Majority Leader Stanley Holmquist (R). This critical bipartisan leadership led to additional support from several of Holmquist's Republican colleagues. After a bitter political and protracted fight that lasted through the longest special legislative session in the state's history, the major fiscal overhaul passed with bipartisan support.

The interaction between the state and local units of government in this legislation illustrate an important aspect of the flexibility built into our federal system. In what became known as the "Minnesota Miracle," (most thought it a miracle that it passed), the state's fiscal policy was overhauled in a manner that changed the state for decades. State government suddenly assumed the burden of funding the lion's share of education and local government costs. State revenues, primarily from the income and sales taxes, were raised by a whopping 23%, and local property taxes were substantially reduced. The higher state funding was then redistributed through complicated but fair formulas to school districts and other local units of government. Such revenue sharing and other legislation which passed proved popular, and in 1972 the wave of change grew larger with Democrats winning control of both houses of the legislature. This was the first time since statehood that the Democrats controlled both the legislature and the governorship.

One lesson illustrated by the passage and workings of the Minnesota Miracle is the flexibility built into our federal system. It is helpful to think of this system as having three dimensions (federal, state, and local), each of which has constitutional, statutory, and historical restrictions on what it can and should do. Too often well-meaning change runs into constitutional or other legal impediments that could have been avoided with more forethought. Whether pursuant to constitutional mandate, federal or state laws, or longstanding policies, some actions are best taken at the federal or first dimension level, some at the state or second dimension level, and many at the all-important third dimension or local level. This critical third dimension is where most federal and state policies are implemented. Mechanisms such as zoning codes, location of sewer and transit lines, administration of schools, welfare and health programs, and the conduct of police and sheriffs’ personnel are vital to a successful policy and are local in nature. The thoughtful use of the second dimension in raising state revenues coupled with using the third dimension in the distribution of the new funds to school and municipalities was carefully thought out in drafting the Minnesota Miracle. This proved critical to both the successful passage and implementation of the legislation.

The second and third dimensions have also proved important for both progressives and conservatives during the recent years of gridlock in Washington. Several states and local governments have carefully used their power to bypass Washington and implement programs raising the minimum wage, providing paid sick leave for employees, allowing use of marijuana, establishing gun safety programs, and adopting critical environmental safeguards. Unfortunately, other states and localities have used their powers to try and restrict voting and cut school funding. While this dimensional complexity is the inevitable consequence of our federal system, it also provides an avenue for change. The 2016 election provides ample opportunities for thoughts on how this should and will play out in coming years.

Wendell Anderson understood the three dimensions of government. He invested heavily in relationship building in the 1970s and showed willingness to compromise. This knowledge and conduct paid off handsomely for the people of Minnesota for over a decade, as the policy improvements adopted during the 1970s lived on. Yes, it was a different time. But the Minnesota Miracle showed it can be done, even in unsettled times.


Tom Berg is a Minneapolis attorney who was a member of the Minnesota state legislature from 1971 through 1978. He later served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota. He is author of Minnesota's Miracle: Learning from the Government That Worked.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Ford Century in Minnesota: The Postwar Boom and Challenges


Excerpt from The Ford Century in Minnesota

Ascent of the Autoworkers
The Postwar Boom and Challenges

When [World War II] ended, there were about twenty-five million cars on the road, and most were more than ten years old. People wanted new cars and Ford was eager to meet the pent-up demand. Several hundred workers, including many returning veterans, were brought back to the St. Paul plant during the summer of 1945 to start the plant's conversion from military to civilian production. Ford shipped three hundred new 1946 model cars from Michigan to the Twin Cities to showcase its new lineup. After the new production equipment was installed, the new vehicles rolled off the assembly line, starting with school-bus chassis, followed by trucks and cars. The glass plant started up on July 6, 1945.

Soldiers, many without jobs or permanent housing, returned home to families they had not seen in years. Under federal law, veterans could return to their jobs at the Ford plant and keep their union seniority, receiving credit for their years in the military. Some of the women who had been working at the plant wanted to stay but did not have the same protections. There were only 1,800 job openings at the plant, down from the three thousand during the war. During the war, women were viewed as important contributions, portrayed as Rosie the Riveters, but demobilization abruptly changed this perception. Now they were seen as competitors to men for jobs in an uncertain labor market. According to polls taken at the time, most women wanted to continue working, but there was enormous pressure for them to return home. "All of a sudden, in every medium of popular culture," wrote Doris Kearns Goodwin, "women were barraged with propaganda on the virtues of domesticity."

During difficult economic times, there was resistance to women working. During the Depression, a number of states passed laws prohibiting married women from working if their husband had a job. The United Automobile Workers (UAW) had little interest in expanding employment opportunities for women, and on more than one occasion opposed women's participation. During the war, the government instituted protections for women, including equal pay for equal work. This sentiment, however, was not widely shared by autoworkers. Recognizing the problem, UAW president Walter Reuther said, "Industry must not be allowed to settle the labor problem by chaining women to kitchen sinks." Maury Maverick, a federal official at the Smaller War Plants Corporation, said, "Women have learned too much to go back . . . [they] will either be out hooting it up or doing something constructive so we have to be doing something to make it so they can work."

Most women at the Twin Cities Assembly Plant left voluntarily, but not Verna Welsch, who lost her husband in a car crash a month before their son was born. For her, the well-paying Ford job was a necessity. She was assigned a variety of difficult jobs after the war, which she believed were intended to force her to quit. In one incident she believed her rib was broken by a not-so-friendly bear hug from another male worker. She remembered one particularly difficult day, where "they put me down on body build washing floor pans. I had to get all the wax off so that the paint would stick and jiggle them apart and turn them over. It was hard." In another instance she was assigned to cleaning parts with chemical solvents that her coworker across the line splashed on her, causing an allergic rash. One day the men in the department were watching her closely, but they abruptly left, perplexing Verna. She assumed it was because they didn't want women workers, but when the men returned, one said, "That's not it at all. We went up and put our money down on a bet to see how long you would stay." Verna responded: "Seeing you were so nice to come and talk to me, I hope you put the largest amount because I'm going to stay here till they carry me out on a stretcher!" In 1946, Verna and a number of women were assigned to the instrument panel line, which was similar to their wartime work on the Pratt & Whitney engines.

Years later, Al Hendricks, a union official in both St. Paul and the International UAW in Detroit, acknowledged that "both the union and management made it so a lot of them quit, the way the guys treated them and the mentality that they were taking men's jobs that come out of service." When car production resumed, Hendricks encouraged women to apply for better jobs as they opened up. "Verna Welsch was a very bright woman. I told her, 'There's a stock status job open . . . Put your name in for it.'" Verna declined, believing she had little chance for the job, but Hendricks put her name in anyway. She came out on top in the test score and worked in that position until she retired in 1974. In 1957, the St. Paul Pioneer Press profiled the four remaining "Rosie, the Riveters." One who "stuck it out" said she received a good wage but the challenges she faced were very real, as the article stated: "They are vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts, some 450 to one . . . The present assembly line is not geared for employment of women, except in the jobs these four do."

During the war, women made enormous contributions working in factories. Those with families were able to place their children in nursery schools and day-care centers that had been set up with federal funding. After the war, Minneapolis mayor Hubert H. Humphrey lobbied to keep these programs in place until all veterans had returned and found employment. He also pushed to have the government fund housing programs to address the serious shortage.


Brian McMahon is author of The Ford Century in Minnesota. A trained architect, he has lectured and written extensively on industry, urban history, and architecture.

"The Ford Century in Minnesota tells the story of how Henry Ford's pioneering company arrived in the state and built its giant plant in St. Paul in the 1920s, how its workers became involved in the international organized labor movement, and how a variety of forces led to the plant's closure. Combining political, economic, social, and architectural history, this richly detailed, handsomely illustrated book will appeal to a wide range of readers."
—Larry Millett, author of Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury

"A substantial literary gift."
—St. Paul Pioneer Press

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Going Underground: Jim Walsh on his earliest memory of music writing.


Excerpt from the Introduction to Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes

My earliest memory of scribbling in a notebook while listening to music is New Year's Eve, 1974.

I was fourteen and then as now not a big fan of mean girls and boys, so that night I intentionally stayed away from the junior high parties and was happy to have my big brother Jay's bedroom all to myself. He was at work as a busboy and waiter at Anchor Inn, now Bunny's in St. Louis Park, where our Uncle Tommy tended bar for many years.

I can still see the view from Jay's window that accompanied so much of my marathon listening sessions those long-ago dreamy nights: a basketball hoop and our driveway, that still swishless nylon net alit by the Fifty-first and South Colfax–Aldrich alley lamp, and all those Minnesota stars as I hit the outer limits with Rod Stewart, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, the Monkees, America, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, John Denver, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, Bread, Cat Stevens . . .

Jay had great taste, smart ears, a luscious glow-in-the-dark turntable, a killer stereo system, and all the good records, and he almost always indulged my hanging out in his room at all hours of the day and night, locking myself in his little vinyl church as I would at a time when my Catholic school education was fast being eclipsed (and augmented) by the real-time fire and mysticism I was mainlining via rock 'n' roll and singer/songwriters.

That last night of 1974 as I plowed through my eighth grade favorites, in a bed heaped with shimmering black vinyl records laying out of their jackets and all across the bed and floor, I listened intently into the wee hours of 1975 and wrote about how the music made me feel, where I was in my life, how it helped give me perspective on all those as-yet out-of-reach adult ideas of love, desire, and the big mysteries of life. I quoted lyrics and doodled and wrote down questions and observations until 4 a.m.

Jim Walsh will read from Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at the downtown Minneapolis Barnes & Noble location, 801 Nicollet Mall.

Jim Walsh is a Minneapolis-based writer, journalist, columnist, and songwriter and the author of Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes: Jim Walsh on Music from Minneapolis to the Outer Limits; The Replacements: All Over But The Shouting: An Oral History; and, with Dennis Pernu, The Replacements: Waxed Up Hair and Pointed Shoes: The Photographic History.

"Jim Walsh's Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes is as much a chronicle of the past few decades of the Minneapolis scene as it is a pitch-perfect memoir of what it means to live for music. A crucial read for anyone who has spent their days and nights tangled in the tether of a song."
—Jessica Hopper, author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic