Thursday, October 27, 2016

How to Lose the Message

There must be a special hell experienced by the graphic designers who make signs for shopping malls. Is the result of their work always stupid, or is it just me?

This is the latest from Rosedale Mall in Roseville, Minnesota:

Here's the brief: Make a sign telling visitors the mall has free wifi. Sounds simple, and the bottom part gets to that message pretty directly.

But what is that thing at the top? Is it supposed to be a heart made of a phone and a price tag? With wifi waves emanating from it?

And who thought "ShopPings" was an effective slogan or name or whatever it's supposed to be? When I first saw this, I thought Pings was the name of a store in the mall (Shop Pings!) even though I'm familiar with what ping means. What percent of the mall-shopping public knows what ping means?

And even if someone does know, is pinging what 99.999% of shoppers would plan do with the free wifi at a shopping mall? Are there many developers hanging out in the hallway pinging devices?

I can only imagine that shoppers look at the sign and ignore the top part completely, or perhaps they don't even see the key message about free wifi because it's overwhelmed by incomprehensible stuff above.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Son of Baldwin

Today I am inspired by the writer who creates the anonymous Twitter and Facebook accounts called Son of Baldwin (as in James Baldwin). He posted this to Facebook:

You know what I'm tired of?

That when a black person shares their experience with casual racism, folks can't wait to come into the discussion to implicate the black person.

"You sure you're just not being too sensitive?"

"How do you know it was racism? You don't know that lady's heart!"

"Why do you have to make everything about race???"

"You sure you're just not misreading the situation? I mean, if you look for racism, you're sure to find it."

Yeah, well, you're sure to find it because, in America, it's ALWAYS THERE.

Like Melissa Harris-Perry said:

"In a nation with the racial history of the United States I am baffled by the idea that non-racism would be the presumption and that it is racial bias which must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. More than 100 years of philosophical, psychological and sociological research that begins, at least, with the work of W.E.B. Du Bois has mapped the deeply entrenched realities of racial bias on the American consciousness. If anything, racial bias, not racial innocence is the better presumption..."

Black people don't make everything about race. White people made race about everything. This is THEIR invention. THEY were the ones who blanketed it over everything living and not. They can't get mad at black people for noticing the blanket. Well, they can get mad; and they can stay mad, but it doesn't at all alter that irrefutable truth....

Racism in America is as pervasive as air, and as natural a response for racists as breathing.

Racists don't even have to think about it. It's automatic.
"Black people don't make everything about race. White people made race about everything."

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sick at Heart

This morning, Minnesota Public Radio woke me up (in more ways than one) with a story titled Anti-Islam speakers urge rural Minnesota crowds to prepare for Muslim attack. It's even worse than it sounds.

Two different speakers are highlighted, one an ex-FBI agent and the other the son of a Baptist missionary in Egypt. They appear at churches, mostly, all over the northern two-thirds of Minnesota, warning

that refugees from Somalia, Syria and other Muslim countries intend to wage holy war on the United States, and overthrow the government and the justice system. He claimed that Muslims are buying up gas stations and working at airports to pave the way for a violent takeover. And told the crowd to prepare.

"You're essentially getting the county fortified," he said.
That's the FBI guy. The Egyptian guy is, maybe worse:
"Islam is not a religion," he said, highlighting one of his frequent talking points. "It's a savage cult. Therefore, it is unconstitutional for a Muslim to practice Islam in America."

Dakdok argues for the mass deportation of Muslims from the United States. He wears a Donald Trump pin on his suit jacket. He warns of the end times.
This was both the stupidest and the most awful part of the story:
Dakdok holds the bulk of his Minnesota events in small northern towns — places with few, if any Muslims. So does Guandolo, and he said that's intentional. The Twin Cities, he told the Warroad crowd, are overrun with Muslims.

"Minneapolis is lost," Guandolo said. "Gone." A woman in the crowd asked if there was no hope to get it back.

"No I didn't say that," he said. "I'm telling you. Marines, we fight for hills. We take them back. It's time to put freedom back on the offensive where it belongs."
Let me tell you, Minneapolis is not "lost." I worked for more than a decade in an area of Minneapolis these hateful people would consider "lost" and it's completely fine. This is a new form of Fox New's "no-go zones" — completely made up.

The absurdity continues:
Paul King sat in the first row of Guandolo's audience. He's a former Air Force translator and coder for Marvin Windows. He's been researching Islam for years and said people in rural Minnesota are in a better position to recognize what he called the threat posed by Muslims.

"If you're rubbing shoulders with a lot of Muslims," he said, "there may be an immediate dismissal as, you know that's just racist, or that's just xenophobic, or that's hateful. So, there might be more of an open-mindedness to look at what's a possible threat up here."
Yes, you become more open-minded the less you know about something. Knowing people makes it much harder to hate them.

Meanwhile, Anthea Butler pointed out on Twitter that "A majority of white evangelical Protestants (62%) and white mainline Protestants (54%) favor the temporary ban on Muslims," according to a PRRI poll released today.

Gee, I wonder why that might be?


Treat refugees as human beings and they will love you forever. —Yanis Varoufakis 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Homemade Hillary

The number of political lawn signs in St. Paul this fall is definitely lower than in the past.

One recent Star Tribune letter writer said she's going without because her car was vandalized in 2012 just after she put up a Romney sign. So that was a vote for fear.

I tend to think it's because people hate this election — not only for its agent orange provocateur but just for the sheer length of it — so much that they don't want to be associated with it. Which doesn't mean they don't have an opinion on the candidates, or don't plan to vote, though.

But at least one household in my neighborhood cares enough to have made their own sign for Hillary:

It took me a few trips past this yard to notice it in all its subtlety. So I'm not sure it's effective as signage, but as's nice.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

David Duke, Meet Clay Shirky

I've been saving this screen snapshot of a David Duke tweet:

In it, Duke conflates "Western civilization" with a doe-eyed blonde gal, the classically virginal white woman who must be protected from rape by black and brown men. "This,"  he says with an unclear antecedent, is worth preserving.

The words superimposed over her photo say Western civilization, but the image says white womanhood, especially when Duke continues by saying he plans to "guide our people up the evolutionary stairway to the stars." Jeez louise. The evolutionary stairway takes us to being blonde and porcelain-skinned? And here I was hoping it would take us to more empathy and the ability to get along with everyone who doesn't look like us.

More recently, Clay Shirky responded to a Vox first-person story that has this headline: I’m voting for Jill Stein. It’s a moral choice. It reflects who I am as a person.

This is everything wrong with third-party voting, in one succinct headline.

A vote is a choice to join a power-seeking coalition. It is not a personal affirmation of a coherent ideology. It is not a moral choice.

Voting can never be a reflection of any individual voter's preferences, because those preferences are too varied between voters. There is no correlation among voters' ideal policy choices for economic vs. social vs. international issues.

If you want legal marijuana, I have no idea what you think of Syria. If you want a Syrian no-fly zone, I don't know what you think the top tax rate should be.

An imaginary world with only three issues — Legalize / No Fly / Raise Tax — and only Y/N preferences would still need eight parties to represent voters. A world with six issues and a moderate position between Y and N would need over 700 such parties, each representing ~0.1% of the electorate.

Even multiple parties can't represent most voters' preferences most of the time, and the U.S. system limits viable parties to two at a time. A strong Presidency and winner-take-all voting has cemented two-party politics since before the first competitive election, in 1796. This is a Constitutional issue, not an electoral one. A third party could only succeed if the Constitution were re-written.

Since democracy prevents the government from being run by a coherent ideology by design, it can only ever offer choices among lesser evils. Under these circumstances, all a Presidential vote can say is "This politician will use power in ways I marginally prefer over that one."

And all a third party vote can say is "Whatever everybody else decides is OK with me." It's a refusal of political engagement altogether.
"This politician will use power in ways I marginally prefer over that one" doesn't make for much of a slogan that appeals to our evolution-derived brains, however. Our brains vastly prefer a simple story with a clear moral, and tribal thinking like that displayed by David Duke.

One more piece of evidence against the idea of a divine creator.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Old Stuff

I didn't intend to go antiquing, but there they were: about a dozen high-quality dealers set up adjacent to my noon commitment today. I bought a few things, but took more pictures.

First, two sides of a crate from Griggs, Cooper and Co. coffee roasters:

"Makes the best drink." Now there's an assertive slogan.

Check out the shapes of the letters in COFFEE. Pretty crazy!

Then there was this litho stone:

Be sure to click to enlarge this one because each part of it is a different logo for a local business, and there's some cool type and lettering in there.

I couldn't resist this sign as a name that may have been bad for business:

For the next time you need an image to go with your thoughts about how so much of modern culture has turned to pablum: informs me that pablum is a form of the Latin pabulum, which meant fodder, food, or nourishment. Its more current, negative connotation derived directly from this product, sold starting in 1931, and was first attested as used by Spiro Agnew in 1970.

Finally, this amazing box:

It still has the Belgian (or maybe French?) price tag on it. I have no idea what the product is; searching "ouate revulsive" leads me to believe it may be cotton soaked with capsicum (pepper oil). Maybe for muscle pain?

Friday, October 21, 2016

What Will the Rollout Look Like?

As seen on Twitter today, here are a few thoughts from Tony Dutzik, a senior policy analyst at Frontier Group, a progressive think tank. He was ruminating about the path we may or may not take toward automated vehicles:

Fleets/networks have two big advantages over individual ownership.
  1. Fleets/networks can deploy a lot of vehicles in a defined market quickly. Turnover in personal ownership model is slow and scattered. 
  2. Fleets/networks are far better equipped to capture efficiency/utilization gains from automation than individuals.
In other words, there is a strong case for shared/mobility-as-service models benefiting disproportionately from automation. It’s not for nothing that the first deployment of (sorta) autonomous vehicles was with Uber in Pittsburgh. Even Tesla itself is planning for its autonomous vehicles to be part of a proprietary ride-sharing network. And the fact that most mass automakers have shared mobility partners suggests they get this, too, at least enough to hedge bets.

Does that mean the fleet/network model will inevitably win out everywhere? Heck no.

Why? Look around. Our existing transport system is already loaded with inefficiency, irrationality and waste. Path dependencies and bad policy could make the automated future look as problematic as the manually driven present.

But we need to understand how automation can change the game if we’re going to pull the right policy levers to get a better result. Policy nudges – taxation, pricing, parking policy, access restrictions, etc. – can go a long way to move things toward "heaven.” Automation provides a sense of urgency to do those things, many of which we should’ve been doing all along.

If advocates and officials get educated and organized, automation can be lever to achieve long-awaited public-interest goals.
When self-driving cars are everywhere in 10 years or so, remember you read this here. If it hasn't happened in the way that's most spatially and energy-efficient, you'll know what went wrong.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

After the Debate

If you stay up late enough watching MSNBC after a presidential debate, you get to hear some off-the-wall stuff, such Hugh Hewitt saying the Al Franken election in 2008 went Franken's way because of election fraud (by election officials) in Minneapolis, and that Democratic voters in open-primary states got Trump elected to the Republican nomination. Yes, he really said those things last night.

But you also see footage like this, in which Rachel Maddow says the following about Trump's perpetual claim that Clinton should have changed the tax laws to stop him from paying no taxes or stopped Chinese steel imports:

The problem is, when [Trump] said, You should have stopped me from doing it, you should have passed a law to ban me from doing it.... Well, if you're conceding that you'll act as badly as you can, as immorally as you can, in your own interest, whenever you can — why should we elect you to be president of the United States, where there will be fewer constraints on your power as a human being than any other human in a nondespotic country on earth?
A good question, Rachel. So much of how civil societies run is premised on the idea that people will mostly do the right thing, even if it's not written in the law. Sociopaths take advantage of that. But usually, we don't elect one to be president.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How Geology Affects Voting

If you've ever seen one of those county-level presidential voting maps, this may look familiar:

What's up with all of those red counties across the South, except that curving belt of blue? I've always assumed those counties had more black people, but I didn't think too much about why until I saw this tweet by Nick Baumann today:

See the blue belt on the Obama/Romney map? That's Cretaceous coastline. Fertile soil later led to high cotton production + high slave population.
And that high enslaved population led to a higher number of black voters today.

Here's a map, also by county, showing the concentration of enslaved populations in the 1860 census:

It's not completely one-to-one, but I'd be willing to bet the counties that were black or dark gray in 1860 and are now red are ones where black people were run out of the county during Reconstruction or had extra-large outflows of black people during the Great Migration in the early 20th century.

But you can definitely see that most of the blue counties today were among the black and dark gray counties on the 1860 map, even though the white people in those counties are the least likely to vote for a modern-day Democrat.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Term Limits and Lobbying Bans

You may not hear about it, since he can't help going off his script to talk about rigging the election and Crooked Hillary, but since yesterday Donald Trump has put out some actual policy proposals.

He wants to impose term limits on members of Congress and ban lobbying by former members and administration officials. His proposal would:

  • ban executive branch employees and members of Congress from lobbying the government for five years after leaving office
  • prohibit senior executive branch officials from ever lobbying on behalf of a foreign government
  • expand the definition of lobbyist to include people who label themselves “consultants” or “advisers” while helping clients access Washington elites and craft federal policy.
Trump's term limit proposal is vaguer than that; no number of years is given. Term limits sound like a good idea, and may even be something we could find common ground on between right and left. But of course, it's not that simple, as shown in this article from Governing magazine, which describes in detail the problems with term limits since they were imposed in California in 1990.

Still, I could imagine some form of term limits, just not extremely short ones like California's eight years. But surely, three or four six-year U.S. Senate terms and 20 years in the House is enough? I believe our elected representatives need time to become experts, but two decades should do it.

As for the lobbying ban, again, I think that some workable system could be figured out to decrease if not stop the revolving door. Decreasing or ending our current Supreme Court-endorsed legal assumptions — that money equals speech and corporations are people — would help.

Any lobbying restrictions will have to be modified once people figure out how to game the new system, but it's worth trying, and updating to improve it.

Clinton already has some similar proposals, though they're never covered in the news (though I bet they're on her website). According to USA Today:
Clinton has promised to call for a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s [Citizens United] decision in her first 30 days as president and has endorsed legislation by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., that would clamp down on lobbyists posing as “consultants." The measure also would bar former executive branch employees from taking a job at a company they regulated for two years after leaving the government.
Those are obviously less extreme measures than Trump has proposed. I wonder if anything will come of any of this, though, since there is such a fox-guarding-the-hen-house reality when it comes to Congress regulating itself.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Headless Bride

I saw this illustrated sign over the weekend:

And maybe it's just me, but I first interpreted the image as if the white part at left was a head and shoulders and the pinkish stuff at the top left was hair, kind of like this:

See how it can look a bit like Pippi Longstocking? Or am I out of my mind?

But within a second or two I realized that it was actually a headless bride, and there was also a receding groom hiding behind that huge, detailed flower bouquet at right. (The light blue type also receded on first look, so I didn't get the wedding reference from that, either.)

Once I realized what it was, I found I couldn't bring back my initial vision of it. Adding these simplified facial features helps me flip it back again to my original interpretation.

Do you see the way it can be either a face with hair or a body with no head?

Just for fun, here are two of the most famous ambiguity illusions:

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Just One Concussion

This brief story was compiled from uncredited news services in the Sunday Star Tribune's Science and Health section:

A single concussion experienced by a child or teenager may have lasting repercussions on mental health and intellectual and physical functioning throughout adulthood, according to a new study.... [Y]oung people who experienced a single diagnosed concussion were much more likely than the nation’s general population and than their own siblings to receive medical disability payments as adults.

They also were significantly more likely to have sought mental health care and much less likely to have graduated from high school or to have attended college than their uninjured brother or sister. And they were about twice as likely as siblings to die prematurely. (emphasis added)
I wish the Star Tribune reported just how much the likelihood of these negative outcomes increased, rather than using generalities like "much more" and "significantly more." Here's a lengthier story about the research from the New York Times. It may be the primary source for the Star Tribune's shortened version, but it still doesn't include the numbers in question. The Times story also included this sentence about additional effects:
The possibility of lingering physical or psychological problems during adulthood rose precipitously, the researchers found, if someone had experienced more than one concussion while young, or if his or her brain injury had been more severe than a concussion.
Again, I wish I knew what "rose precipitously" meant, but it sounds like it clearly exceeds the "twice as likely" level used for premature death.

But regardless of the exact extent of the effect, it's obvious that concussions are a serious public health concern, and it's irresponsible to structure major parts of our culture around sports that can't be played without substantial risk of head injuries.

Ahhh, here is the abstract of the report, including a few of the data tables.