Robert Frank – The man who saw America

Trolley -- New Orleans
Click to enlarge — “Trolley — New Orleans” 1955

The photo, part of Frank’s groundbreaking volume ‘‘The Americans,’’ was taken four days after an encounter with the police in Arkansas that darkened his artistic viewpoint…

Frank says he was most drawn to blacks: the bare-chested boy in the back of a convertible; the woman relaxing beside a field in sunny Carolina cotton country; the dignified men outside the funeral of a South Carolina undertaker, who uncannily bring to mind the day President Obama eulogized Clementa Pinckney. At first, the South was to him ‘‘very exotic — a life I knew nothing about.’’ Then, in November 1955, Frank was traversing the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River, ‘‘just whistling my song and driving on,’’ as he says, when a patrol car pulled him over outside McGehee. The policemen’s report noted that Frank needed a bath and that ‘‘subject talked with a foreign accent.’’ Also suspicious were the contents of the car: cameras, foreign liquor. Frank was on his way to photograph oil refineries in Louisiana. ‘‘Are you a Commie?’’ he was asked.

Ten weeks earlier, Emmett Till was murdered a hundred miles away. ‘‘In Arkansas,’’ Frank recalls, ‘‘the cops pulled me in. They locked me in a cell. I thought, Jesus Christ, nobody knows I’m here. They can do anything. They were primitive.’’ Across the room, Frank could see ‘‘a young black girl sitting there watching. Very wonderful face. You see in her eyes she’s thinking, What are they gonna do?’’ Because his camera had been confiscated, Frank considers the girl his missing ‘‘Americans’’ photograph. Around midnight a policeman told Frank he had 10 minutes to get across the river. ‘‘That trip I got to like black people so much more than white people.’’

RTFA. It’s long and interesting as anything you may find in the NY TIMES Magazine. Which means “very” interesting. I piss and moan about the politics of the TIMES, sometimes. That’s an editorial fault. That’s the fault of owners who like to stay on the side of the American State Department regardless of issue or history.

They have some of the best journalists in the country. Not as often as they used to – but, in the digital age that’s a problem to be expected.

Beancounters in Congress say don’t worry about bridges and roads

Version 2
Pickup truck crashed into collapse of Interstate 10 bridge

All traffic along a major freeway connecting California and Arizona was blocked indefinitely when a bridge over a desert wash collapsed during heavy rain, and the roadway in the opposite direction suffered severe damage…

The collapse Sunday of Interstate 10 in southeastern California left one driver injured, stranded numerous motorists and complicated travel for countless others for what officials warned could be a long time.

The closure will force drivers seeking to use I-10 to travel between California and Arizona to go hundreds of miles out of their way.

The rains came amid a second day of showers and thunderstorms in southern and central California that were setting rainfall records in what is usually a dry month. Forecasters expected scattered rain through Monday as the remnants of a tropical storm off Baja California continued to push north…

One driver had to be rescued from a pickup that crashed in the collapse and was taken to a hospital with moderate injuries…

Hundreds of other cars were stranded immediately after the collapse, but the California Highway Patrol worked to divert them and it wasn’t clear if any remained, Kasinga said…

Saturday’s rainfall broke records in at least 11 locations, including five places that had the most rain ever recorded on any day in July, said National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Sirard.

July is typically the driest month of the year in Southern California. Because of that, Saturday’s 0.36 inch of rain in downtown Los Angeles exceeded the 0.24 inch recorded July 14, 1886, which had been the wettest July day in nearly 130 years.

The storm brought weekend flash floods and power outages and turned Los Angeles County’s typically packed coast into empty stretches of sand when the threat of lightning forced authorities to close 70 miles of beaches.

Rebuilding, repairing infrastructure across the nation was a non-starter when President Obama and his economics advisors suggested the process in his first term. He could have suggested the sun rise in the East and Congressional Republicans would have opposed the concept. The amalgam of racism, contempt for working people, fear of science and real change has kept the Republican Party tightly bunched into a herd of cattle stupidity for several years, now.

Ayup. No problems from climate change either. As long as you have sufficient money to relocate to a McMansion further inland – on a mountain top – with no fire danger.

A simple way to end gerrymandering — which Congress made illegal in 1967

Years back, a law professor told me that when she teaches a class on the drawing of legislative districts, she leaves the issue of multi-member districts for last because it solves all the problems too well and makes the rest of the material uninteresting.

I was reminded of that when I read Kim Soffen’s Upshot column about the way geography rather than gerrymandering disadvantages Democrats in Florida when it comes to the US House of Representatives.

Everything she writes is true. Given the concentration of the state’s Democratic Party voters in high-density, deeply blue areas around Miami, it is extremely “natural” to draw a map that has a heavy GOP tilt.

But even though every state in the union does it this way, it’s not a law of nature that you have to allocate Florida’s 27 House seats by dividing the state into 27 equal population slices. You could easily treat the state as one 27-member district whose members are elected proportionately. That’s how they do it in Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, and many other countries that prefer not to be beset by highly politicized district boundary questions. A really big state like California or Texas you might want to split into two or three multi-member districts…

The point, however, is that how to create a fair system, in which the number of seats in a legislature that a party receives is proportional to the number of votes it receives, is a solved problem.

The trouble for the United States is a deeply misguided 1967 law that banned multi-member districts. The government’s concern was that a state like Georgia might say, “We’ll just elect all 14 of our House members at large,” and that way no African Americans would get elected. Of course this concern doesn’t apply to a proportional system, which, if anything, would have the opposite result — you could ensure that black and Latino members would get elected without needing to resort to funny-looking majority-minority district boundaries. So the problem of holding fair elections in Florida isn’t unsolvable, but it will take an act of Congress to fix — which is almost as bad.

Doing anything up to and beyond reason to keep the 2 useless parties in power gets you into quandaries like this. There are a few folks in Congress with the gumption to introduce legislation to correct this. Maybe – as we sneak up on the next census – there may be a for-real attempt to sort out democracy.

Who knows? Maybe even lose the silliness of the Electoral College designed to protect white men who also were major land owners/slave owners.

Nice piece of writing from @mattyglesias.