Monday, September 29, 2014

What Do You Do When the Smoke Clears?

CVS's decision to stop selling cigarettes didn't fully get my attention until I was in one of their stores recently and saw what they've done to replace the area where cigarettes used to be:

Nice graphics for a good attempt at corporate citizenship.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Release the Tape

I've been away from my usual night-time television routine, and so didn't at first see the Daily Show's bit about the name of the Washington, D.C., football team (in all its racist, stupid glory).

To summarize, the show brought together (separately) a panel of team fans, dressed in their typical game regalia. In another room, there was another panel made up of native people, about half of whom are part of a native comedy group called The 1491s.

The fans told the show's "correspondent," Jason Jones, why the name needs to stay the same and how it doesn't insult native people. Scenes with the native panel showed exactly what they thought of that, including the point that the word "redskin" was used when putting bounties on native people.

Finally, Jones asked if the fans would say the same thing to the face of a native person, and one of the fans said yes. So the show proceeded to bring in the native panel to meet the fans.

What's not shown, I guess, is that at least some of the fans became emotional when confronted with the truth that their behavior is hurtful and racist. One fan said she "felt unsafe" (what?!) and that they had defamed her (which isn't possible since defamation requires an untruth, right?).

All of that is just prelude to this post, written by one of the members of The 1491s. In it, Migizi Pensoneau gives more background on how the episode came together and what was left out in editing up until this point.

But then he goes on to say that the show also took The 1491s and a camera crew to a game at the Washington team's stadium the next day, so that they could wander around the tailgating area to talk to fans. They were there for an hour, during which they weren't exactly "honored" as the mascots fans seem to think they are:

There were points during that hour-long experience where I actually was afraid for my life. I have never been so blatantly threatened, mocked or jeered. It was so intense, so full of vitriol that none of the footage ended up being used in the segment. I’m a big dude—6’1”, and a lotta meat on the bones. But a blonde little wisp of a girl completely freaked me out as I waited in line for the bathroom. “Is that shirt supposed to be funny?” she asked motioning to my satirical “Caucasians” T-shirt. And then she said, “I’ll fucking cut you.” Actually, she didn’t scare me so much as the wannabe linebackers standing behind her who looked like they wanted to make good on her threat. 
Pensoneau's shirt design, I assume, is this adaptation of the Cleveland baseball team's logo, with a dollar sign standing in for the feathers:

So you can see that it's no more offensive than any of the usual cartoonish renderings of Indians found on team shirts around the country.

I hope the Daily Show releases their recordings of what went down.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

You Want It When?

Every American over the age of 30 has probably seen one of these in an office:

I first saw it during my string of college summer jobs. (This is one of the many images of our time whose origins have been lost. Check out this blog post about it, which seems to indicate it was done by cartoonist Henry Syverson... but which is then followed by multiple commenters claiming their parents originated it. Hah.)

I also saw several others I can't recall, so if you remember the wording to any examples, I'd love to hear about it. This was definitely one of them, though it wasn't designed this well:

I'm fascinated by the tiny bit of worker rebellion that these signs represent, and the way they used to be passed around from copier to copier in the days before the Interweb: an early example of a viral pre-meme.

I was just at a service business yesterday and saw two more of these gems near one worker's desk:

The signs attempt to carve out a bit of mental space for workers who deal with either the public or a large number of internal requesters. Putting up a sign like this in your workspace puts those people on notice that you are not to be messed with. It feels a bit unfriendly but also may keep the requesters more organized and a bit less annoying.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Robert Raiford in the 1950s

In 1956, my parents were newly married and in the habit of listening to the WBT radio station from Charlotte, North Carolina in the evening -- a 50,000-watt station you could hear all the way to New York at night. My dad especially liked the evening disc jockey, who called himself Raiford at Random and played classic jazz, including the Chico Hamilton Trio, as they recall.

One night in February, Raiford expressed his opinion about equal rights (one assumes referring to black Americans). While still on the air, he got a phone call from his manager or the station owner, telling him to shut the station down and that he was fired.

He was never heard on the station again.

I wanted to write up this anecdote because it's one of the many small facts of American history that are not available despite the vast amount of information on the interweb.

Raiford is mentioned very briefly on the history page for WBT, which is how I figured out how to spell his name. That led me to his Wikipedia page (he has a Wikipedia page!). Clearly, the firing didn't stop his career. Born in 1927, he's still alive and it sounds like he's even occasionally on the air, offering "liberal political and conservative social commentaries" on the syndicated John Boy and Billy show," whatever that means.

Raiford worked in radio and then television news until the late 1980s, followed by a career as an actor, usually playing judges. (Now I'll have to watch for him in The Handmaid's Tale and Billy Bathgate, if not the three episodes of Matlock he was on.) Sounds like he's still going strong today.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Some Real Retro Designs

Objective proof that the everyday design of the early to mid-20th century was better than it has been during my adult lifetime:

If you had to get mouth cancer from smoking a pipe, at least you looked good while doing it.

Radio magazine from 1937.

This Radio-Craft magazine is from 1941. The cover proclaims "Hugo Gernsback, editor." I didn't know Gernsback, the founder of the first science fiction magazine and the person for whom the Hugo award is named, was also a radio guy. Fun fact: the large cover photo is labeled "Police 2-way radio...IN A VEST!" And is that J. Edgar Hoover in the middle?

A small throwaway brochure that came with a cassette tape recorder.

This is what things look like when people hand-letter them instead of setting a bunch of type.

Okay, I admit these pieces aren't a representative sample of design in that era, and my memory isn't representative of what we've been seeing since, either. But it sure feels like everyday items were more interesting and pleasing to look at, after seeing these.

But I also found this bit of inappropriateness, which probably raised Gloria Steinem's blood pressure (a postcard, copyrighted 1967):

Maybe that's when it started to go downhill.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Guns Do Not Make You Safer

Someone with a gun in their house may feel safer, but from an epidemiological perspective, they're not. That gun's presence is statistically much more likely to cause the death or injury of someone they know than it is to save anyone from a criminal. Believing anything else is just wishful thinking, based on the illusion of control.

I got to thinking about this (again) yesterday, after reading a post on thebicker. (Note: it starts out quoting a post from another site, kohenari):

Earlier today, I asked whether or not gun advocates who extoll the virtues of defending your home with a weapon wouldn’t perhaps do better to buy an alarm system or adopt a dog.

This question was met with a level of paranoia that’s at once depressing and exhilarating, as it provides a look into the minds of some of these gun advocates.

Here are just a couple.

The first guy explained to me that buying a gun is a sensible and cost effective way to deter crime, which a spoiled bourgeois like me obviously doesn’t understood:
It’s almost as if some of these people can’t afford to maintain a large dog or to install electronic alarm systems. It’s almost as if some of these people aren’t privileged enough to live in high income areas where these countermeasures are common. It’s almost as if some of these people would rather spend 200 bucks on a shotgun so that they can continue to afford to feed themselves and make payments rather than investing bundles of cash into alarms and dogs.

Drawing a weapon on someone who is attempting to harm you is deterrence. Most defensive uses of firearms do not result in anyone being shot. The logical response to someone pointing a gun at you as you try to rob them is to run away.
If you notice, he suggests that alarms and dogs are only to be found in fancy gated communities like mine. I suspect that he’s desperately wrong, at least about dog ownership. But, then, I don’t often drive my Ferrari out of the suburbs so I can’t know for sure.

He also suggests that drawing a weapon is deterrence. And that’s fine … as long as we’re changing the definition of deterrence. You see, deterrence involves preventing someone from doing something (in this case, home invasion). But if they’re already in your home and you’re drawing a gun, you haven’t deterred them. You’ve just significantly raised the stakes.

The second guy went about a thousand steps farther:
Wait even if you do have those things how about we cut the power to your home? No alarm? Dog? Poison it days before you plan To break in or simply lead it out and dispose of them quietly. Look your first line of defense is gone now I’m in your home armed. Checkmate.
You see, in this guy’s mind, the criminal wants so badly to break into your home that he’s planning his home invasion days in advance. He’s poisoned your dog; he’s cut the power to your house so your alarm doesn’t work; and now nothing stands in the way of his nefarious schemes. This burglar is a criminal mastermind and no one but an armed homeowner will ever be safe from him. And criminals are all like him. So forget about dogs and alarms; they’re pretty much worse than useless.

Get your guns and a pile of ammo, board up all the doors and windows, and stay awake for the rest of your life.
Oh man. I had a hearty laugh at both of these. “But home invasions!” is a piss-poor defense of American’s gun violence epidemic. Despite what police procedurals would have you believe, there are not scores of violent burglars sitting in a van with a blueprint of your home and your neighborhood’s electrical grid. Most crimes like that are crimes of opportunity: They notice a window left open, or see the lights haven’t been turned on for a few days, or think you make an easy target. A large, visible alarm and/or a barking dog is a much more obvious way to say “It’s a bad idea to rob me!” than having a gun in your nightstand.

Yahoo put out a list of nine ways to deter burglars. Dogs and alarms (along with visible surveillance cameras and motion-activated lights) are on there. So is having neighbors make it look like you’re there when you’re out of town. Notably, the list — compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services — does not have “own a gun” on there. Alarms and dogs make criminals think twice before robbing you. Having a gun in your house makes it significantly more likely that you or a family member will die from being shot with it.

If a criminal comes to your house, cuts the power, and poisons your dog, they proooooooobably have a plan for if you have a gun. Look, I don’t want to scare anyone, but if someone is going to that length to get into your house they’re going to get into your house.

Yes, there are occasionally news stories about someone shooting and killing a home invader. But there are many, many more about kids or irresponsible adults accidentally shooting someone.

If you want a gun because you hunt or shoot or because you think America is destined for ~tyranny~, at least those are semi-valid reasons to have one. Owning it to protect your home is just a bad and dangerous plan.
The sad paranoia of that commenter is encouraged (if not caused in part) by media portrayals of real and fictional violence. From an evolutionary standpoint, we're not meant to know about every bad thing that happens somewhere in the world, because it feels as though it's happening to our tribe. And we're especially not helped by the beautifully produced Law and Order-type fictional representations of killers lying in wait in our cars, houses, and around every corner. I can't tell you how much my mood lightened after I stopped watching that junk.

It also reminded me of a piece I read a while back and haven't linked to enough. It was an answer to an question on Quora by an former Marine, a weapons instructor who outlined why you are less safe with a gun than without. A few quotes:
You are much more likely to have a burglar take the gun from under your bed while you are at work or on vacation than to actually arrive when you are present....

I've literally shot thousands of rounds from several different weapons systems and even in a completely stress free environment; a nice indoor range with my family just practicing, and I still don't always hit where I want to. If you have never fired before then how well do you think you are going to do when you really need it?

...what if you are disarmed because you aren't ready to use the weapon.... Now your weapon is his weapon, and you are worse off than if you just got a dog.

As a side note, I also have a serious grievance with those who think that they can use a weapon for personal self defense outside the home. The fact is that if you are considering carrying a weapon in your pocket or purse, you are literally endangering everyone around you with virtually no chance of being of any use to anyone. First, a weapon that is not holstered is one of the most dangerous things a person can do to those around them. There are many ways that a weapon floating around can go off. If you carry one like this, I hate you. You're going to hurt someone....

I know that questions like this are often asked out of fear. People want to have a great deal of control over their situation, but when others put you in danger you can almost always never get it back. The best bet is to rationally consider your options before a situation occurs.
It also reminded me of a blog post by writer Pete Hautman, from just after the Newtown killings, describing a night in his life when someone was trying to break into his house. Or so he thought. And why he doesn't have a gun at home anymore. (I've linked to this once before, but it's worth a reread.)


Here's an earlier post with my thoughts following the Newtown shootings. We all said we'd never forget. We proclaimed that things would change. Uh-huh.

And also this:  The gun is in the eye of the beholder. A post from February 2013 listing justifiable uses of guns for defensive purposes in Minnesota.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Borrowed Character

I don't know who Jaakko Seppälä (other than that he's Finnish, based on the name), but here's a piece of his fun art that I looked at for quite awhile:

Ten characters, 100 styles. The diagonal from top left to bottom right shows a character as drawn by its original illustrator. Then each column shows the other nine characters drawn in the style of the other nine illustrators. I'm not sure who all of the characters or illustrators are, but it doesn't matter a lot.

Particular favorites of mine are Donald Duck in the styles of Batman and Peanuts, Batman in the style of Garfield, and Asterix in the style of Calvin and Hobbes.

Lucy from Peanuts is kind of boring in most of the other styles. Calvin a la Charles Schultz looks like Pigpen with better hair.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How to Supervise Women

Here's another fun one from the Retronaut: This image plus two others from a brochure intended for male managers at an RCA plant on how to manage women workers. It's from World War II, of course:

Aside from that patronizing label at top left, "Women are teachable," there's nothing in the text that seems particularly gendered to me:

  • Make clear her part in the process or product on which she works.
  • Allow for her lack of familiarity with machine processes (well, maybe reword that to say Show her how to use the equipment).
  • See that her working set-up is comfortable, safe and convenient.
  • Start her right by kindly and careful supervision.
  • Avoid horseplay or "kidding"; she may resent it. (Maybe men like this, but horseplay from a supervisor seems inappropriate to me for employees of either sex.)
  • Suggest rather than reprimand.
  • When she does a good job, tell her so.
  • Listen to and aid her in her work problems.
Other than my couple of parenthetical ponderings, do any of those instructions seem like bad advice for someone supervising male workers?

Maybe part of the point of publishing the brochure was to improve these guys' overall management and supervision, because if they weren't doing these things already, what were they doing? Did the brochure about supervising men read like this?
  • Assume he already understands the process or product on which he works.
  • Assume he already knows how the equipment works.
  • Pay no attention to the work set-up. If it's uncomfortable, safe or inconvenient, that's not your problem.
  • Provide mean-spiritied and sporadic supervision.
  • Create a culture of horseplay or "kidding." Men love that stuff.
  • Reprimand rather than suggest.
  • When he does a good job, ignore it.
  • Don't bother to listen to or aid him in his work problems.
Maybe the women workers brochure is just evidence of the general professionalization of management, forced by having to deal with a different set of workers.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Term that Never Caught on

It's hard not to be fascinated by new words that arise to label changing technologies and ways of living. One minute it doesn't exist and the next, it seems, almost everyone knows its name.

Sometimes the terms make me cringe, though. I remember holding out against the word "browser" for years, though I never had a better suggestion.

Digging through some old books, I came across this booklet from 1986:

Yes, these authors thought that what we all spend our time doing with computers these days was or should be called "phonewriting," which they defined this way:

Today there are new means of sending and receiving information. They stem from the combination of technologies -- the information processing chip, the electronic typewriter and the telephone. It is now possible to engage in an electronic telephone conversation, much like a voice conversation. The conversation can take place directly with someone on the other end, or more likely, it can take place with an electronic information service that receives your typewritten messages and responds to them. In short, you can now send and receive electronic communications over the telephone.

We call this process, "phonewriting."
The book included this helpful illustration of the tech you need to get started with phonewriting:

(Check out that acoustic coupler modem. It had a top speed of 300 baud, which is slower than I can type. In 1985, a direct-connect modem like the one at lower right cost more than a computer these days: I spent about $600 on one, which would be $1,300 today.)

I gather from a quick perusal of the book that phonewriting would have included email, but also bulletin boards and user groups like Compuserve, and even services like Skype if they had existed, though they seem the antithesis of writing. Texting, too, I guess. And the World Wide Web, of course, though it wasn't yet a gleam in Tim Berners Lee's eye.

Of course the phone part of all this got lost a while ago, as dial-up modems have dropped away. And now it seems odd to even think of it as related to the telephone.

Phonewriting. Now there's a term I'm glad didn't catch on.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

When It's Bad to Be Above Average

Traveling is a chance to notice USA Today, a mixed blessing. But I saw this chart yesterday:

So half of all full-time workers put in more than 40 hours a week, and the average number of hours is 47. Wow.

I wonder how many of those overtime hours are paid for. Workers who aren't salaried are supposed to be paid time-and-a-half for hours over 40 per week, but there are numerous reports on the rise of "wage theft": employers who don't pay more for overtime, or worse yet, don't pay at all (for instance, requiring workers to clock out before cleaning up, not clock in when getting set up, and even more extreme examples).

There has been recent action to enforce the Federal Labor Standards Act in California. But it takes at least a slightly empowered worker to bring a case, and in an age of race-to-the bottom pay and fear-for-your job, that's not likely to happen.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Zephyr Teachout. Yes, That's Her Name

Zephyr Teachout, recent renegade candidate for governor of New York, has one of the weirdest names I've ever heard. But I think she has a future as a leader in the world we need to make: a green democracy without big money and politicians held captive by donors.

With only a tiny amount of money, raised in small amounts from individuals, she won a bunch of New York counties in the primary versus Andrew Cuomo.

She was on the Daily Show a couple of nights ago. See for yourself.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stalin Could Been a Heart Throb

From the wonderful Retronaut photographic time machine, this image of Joseph Stalin in 1902 at age 24:

It's not often I see a photo of a non-Hollywood person of the past and say to myself, Dang, s/he could be in pictures.

How many world leaders and/or tyrants were this good-looking? I wonder if it helped or hurt Stalin in his rise to power?