Friday, August 31, 2012

WPA at the Fair

I just got home from a day at the Minnesota State Fair, and I'm too tired to load my photos, so look for those tomorrow. But in the meantime, here are two signs from the Fairgrounds that reminded me how our government dealt with massive unemployment during the Great Depression:

Infrastructure that still serves the people of Minnesota 76 years later.

Both in or near the Heritage Square area.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Incident (in Wisconsin)

While driving 'cross Wisconsin,
Car full, conversation keen,
I stopped near downtown Shawano*
To get some gasoline

Now I was new and unaware
Of the SIST cult's case against the mayor,
So I drove into a station
To find this message to all payers:

Gas pump with this sign attached: Because of an organized drive-off campaign by the Mayor, all pumps are prepaid only. Please come inside to pay BEFORE pumping.
I saw the whole of Shawano
From the first exit to the second
The sorrow I feel for town and mayor
Is more than I had reckoned.

(Extreme apologies to Countee Cullen.)

* Note: It's pronounced SHAWN-o, not shah-WAH-no.

You may be asking, what's all this? Well, therein lies a tale.

For no particular reason a few weeks ago, I chose to drive into a gas station called People Express in Shawano, Wisconsin. I think it was on the more convenient side of the street as we headed toward the on-ramp, after stopping for ice cream.

Once I read the bizarre sign shown above, I went inside to prepay as requested, doubtful that anyone who had been elected mayor of a town would organize a drive-off campaign against a local business.

The woman behind the counter was middle-aged and appeared to be what I, at first, thought was Amish. But not quite: she was wearing a dark teal, high-necked blouse with no obvious fastenings and black corduroy somethings down below the counter (couldn't tell if it was a skirt or slacks, but the waistband was baggy). Her brownish hair was tied back severely from her face into a bun and she wore wire-framed glasses plus, I think, a hair net.

I had to leave my debit card with her while I pumped the gas, which made me uncomfortable, though I went along with it. But after I pumped, paid, and retrieved my card, I Googled the whole thing as we drove toward Green Bay. (Daughter Number Three-Point-One was behind the wheel, so don't worry about whether I was watching the road).

It turns out that People Express station, plus two other gas stations in Shawano, is owned by a cult called SIST, formed by a guy who's changed his name several times and has gone from being Hindu to "Christian" to "Jewish."

He and his followers have a vendetta against the town's mayor, Lorna Marquardt, that goes back years. They make websites that purport to be official Shawano sites, but are full of invective against the town and the mayor. They say she runs a cult, for instance!

I don't want to know any more about these people than I have to, but I found out enough to feel very sorry for the people of Shawano, and especially the mayor. I also regret that I got gas there and helped fund their assinine empire of intimidation and repression.

SIST also owns a gas station in St. Paul, as it turns out, and a couple of its members have recently been in the news for bizarre behavior during a Minnesota civil case related to the station. The station is at Smith and Grand Avenues, near West 7th Street and the High Bridge. You've been warned.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Sad Week in Minnesota

The recent Minnesota Supreme Court rulings on our upcoming voter- and marriage-rights amendments make me angry and annoyed, of course. But what I feel most strongly about the decisions is sadness.

I'm sad that the voter amendment were originally passed through the Legislature with Republican-only votes, when changes as important as who votes should be done on a bipartisan basis. I'm sad that GLBT people have to live in a state that may enshrine discrimination in its constitution.

And I'm even sadder that our supposedly impartial court split 4 - 2, with the four in the majority all appointed by conservative Republican Tim Pawlenty, while the two dissenters were not. Alan Page, generally seen as aligned with the Democrats, was elected to an open seat by the people, and Paul H. Anderson was appointed by moderate Republican Arne Carlson. (The decision and dissents can be read here.)

As today's Star Tribune editorial argued, our amendment process is broken. The entire amendment should be on the ballot, not just a "summary" that may or may not represent what the amendment says. Titles should probably be done away with altogether.

And the Legislature (and the people) should be required to marshal 60 percent of the vote, not just 50.00001 percent, to pass it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More Logos that Don't Read

It's not a new topic for me: Logos that don't read the way their designers intended. This was a particularly good week for bad logos, though.

First, there's this:

Mug with logo on the side that says innesota quarium Society with a weird shape off to the left
Here's a hint: The mug represents the Minnesota Aquarium society. That thing on the left that looks like neither an M nor an A nor any creature known to inhabit wet environments is supposed to be an M and an A. I don't think I've ever seen a logo that tried to use the same shape to represent two different letters.

And then I saw this shirt in a story that ran in the Star Tribune:

Back of a man wearing a t-shirt that has a black church shape on it with the words Church Helping inside it and then the words People People to the right
How do you see it? For me, the dark shape of the church focuses my eye so that I read Church Helping and then People People. Kind of like Little Caesar's Pizza Pizza, only different.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Time to Retire "Begs the Question"

I'm not the first to notice that the phrase begs the question is almost always misused. A fine example can be seen in this Pioneer Press headline from the past few days:

As in this case, it's mostly used to mean raises the question, when it's actually

a form of logical fallacy in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself. When one begs the question, the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any logic to show why the statement is true in the first place. (From, believe it or not.)
I think that true meaning is somewhat useless, personally. How often does anyone need to express that idea?

But the substituted meaning of raises is also useless. Why not just use raise or ask? What do you get from begging?

I confess I always thought it meant something closer to leaves the question unasked, which to me is a useful construction. The questions we don't ask need to be pointed out more often.

But since I'm not allowed to assign a new meaning to the phrase, I guess I vote for retiring it. No one ever knows what it means anyway, so it's lost its function as communication.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Marching to Say No to Voter Restrictions

I spent my Sunday afternoon at a rally and march in Minneapolis, opposing one of the ballot questions facing Minnesota voters this fall.

Woman holding hand-painted sign reading Vote No on Voter ID
The language that will be on our ballots is this:

Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters?
Seems pretty simple, right? When people are polled on that question, about 70 percent say yes. It seems like common sense, since showing ID doesn't seem like that big a deal.

But the actual amendment to the state constitution is longer and more involved:
All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot. The state must issue photographic identification at no charge to an eligible voter who does not have a form of identification meeting the requirements of this section. A voter unable to present government-issued photographic identification must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot must only be counted if the voter certifies the provisional ballot in the manner provided by law. All voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.
All of the items I've bolded are problematic, beyond the basic idea of having to have photo ID, who's going to pay for it, and what documents you'll need to present to get one. The Minnesota Secretary of State has a good explanation of the problems with this language.

As one speaker at the rally noted, her White Earth tribal ID, which is good enough for the TSA, will not be good enough because it's not state-issued. College IDs will not be good enough either.

The latter part of the amendment contains terms that require a lot more policy to make them enactable. How will provisional ballots work? What is the "manner provided by law"? How will an absentee voter prove s/he is the voter in a way that's "substantially equivalent" to showing a voter ID?

Woman dressed as a suffragist
Folks at the rally were mostly laid back, but this woman felt moved to dress up as a meaninful historical figure. In case you can't read it, her sign says "Is it 1963? Is it 1912?? Or is it the 21st Century???"

Man holding hand-painted sign reading Voter ID is expensive unnecessary VOTE  NO
Addressing the cost issue.

Woman holding hand-lettered sign reading Voter Fraud Doesn't Exist, Fake IDs Do
Another thought, not addressed by the law.

Woman holding hand-painted sign reading One Citizen One Vote No Barriers
I particularly like this one.

Man holding sign with list of people hurt by requiring voter ID, ending with Helps the 1%
It's a complicated issue and hard to fit on a sign, but this works if you get to read it up close.

Tracine Asberry with microphone, speaking
The rally and march were organized by Tracine Asberry, who's running for Minneapolis School Board, to coordinate with events in the nearby Martin Luther King Park, commemorating the 49th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Man holding hand-made sign reading 'Voter ID' Is the Fraud

Bumpersticker reading VOTE NO VEMBER on both amendments
A bumpersticker that combines both of the statewide ballot questions we'll be facing on November 6.

Woman holding official Vote No on Election Restrictions sign
This is the lawn sign opponents have just produced (signs available here). I like the way it reframes the issue away from "voter ID" to "voter restriction," since that's what it's all about.

Only 77 days until the election!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Romney Thinks You Didn't Build That, Either

Rachel Maddow got ahold of this video of Mitt Romney speaking at one of his $50,000 a plate private fundraising dinners:

The YouTube title trumpets that Romney "admits to using Chinese slave labor" while at Bain, but I think a possibly more notable point is that after he concludes his description of the inhuman conditions he witnessed, he says:

The Bain Partner I was with turned to me and said, you know, 95 percent of life is settled if you are born in America. This is uh, this is an amazing land and what we have is unique and fortunately it is so special we are sharing it with the world.
So 95 percent is all set for you to make it in America. That's what that means, right?

How different is that from what Barack Obama said (even if you quote him without the part that made it clear what he was saying), that if you've got a small business in the U.S., "you didn't build that"? How come when Romney says we're interdependent -- relying on everything that makes our society what it is (much of which is government funded, it goes without saying) -- it's okay, or even seen as praise of the U.S., but when Obama says it, it detracts from small business owners' efforts?

All part of the difference in how the Right (and the media) treats Obama. Recommended viewing on that topic: this morning's Up with Chris Hayes, with discussion among The Atlantic's Ta-Nahesi Coates, Melissa Harris-Perry, W. Kamau Bell, and Jay Smooth.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Charity or Subsidy?

I love the Nuns on the Bus.

Most people on food stamps work full time. They work full time but they don’t have enough money to pay for food for their kids. So really, in some ways, food stamps are about a business subsidy because it allows low wage business workers to… feed their families and continue working. But we call it charity, or the Republicans call it charity.
They want to cut food stamps so badly that every church, synagogue, mosque, house of worship in the United States—every single one—[would] have to raise an additional $50,000 every year for ten years to replace what he wants to cut. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna work.

—Sister Simone Campbell
Sounds kind of like the Walmart subsidies we used to talk about... like when they advised employees to apply for food stamps and Medicaid.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Piles and Piles of Excellence

Lots of great reading this week:

Fear of a Black President by Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic. (Coates will be on Up with Chris Hayes, MSNBC, this Saturday to discuss the article.)

Stats on U.S. nationwide school tests over the past 40 years. The trend is up, and mostly way up. But you'd never know that from the national discussion on education.

Excellent graphs from NPR on the number of immigrants in the U.S. in 1910, 1960 and 2010, showing that the percentage of foreign-born people in the U.S. is lower now than it was in 1910. It's just the ethnicities that have changed. A good companion for this story on how everything thing we think is true about Mexican immigration is wrong.

A report on the Gates Foundation's Inventing the Toilet of the 21st Century. (Yes, I've written about the toilet competition before.)

A brilliant essay on The Problem of Men Explaining Things.

Super fun article on the great vowel shift that's happening in the northern U.S. I never knew I was a part of a vowel movement until now.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A New Meaning of "Great"

Standards are a bit odd in the editorial department of the Star Tribune these days:

Star Tribune editorial headline A Great Olympics: Few Scandals, Amazing Athleticism, and No Terrorism
Is that what it takes to be great these days?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Debt Collection Eye-Opener

I loved every bit of this morning's Daily Circuit show about aggressive collections of credit card debt. I especially admire that it was inspired by another segment just a week ago, during which a consumer protection lawyer named Mark Heaney called in to explain how screwed up collection practices are. Keri Miller said then that they should have him on the show to talk more about it, and sure enough, they did it a week later.

Photo of Mark Heaney, a bald young guy in a suit and tie
They paired Heaney with Jeff Horwitz, an investigative reporter for American Banker, who has been looking into collections practices. Horwitz brought not only a journalistic but also a business-side perspective -- he wouldn't let anyone say that the big banks that handle consumer credit cards were crooked or even lax about tracking billing information on the front end. But he did explain that on the back end -- particularly consumer payments and then collections for nonpayment -- their systems are not as reliable. He said that they are less automated, and therefore more subject to human error.

Then there's the next problem. The banks try to collect what's owed them (including all of the finance charges they attach), but when they can't they sell their debt to third parties. These companies pay the classic "pennies on the dollar" for the right to collect these debts. According to Horwitz and Heaney, often the collections companies are given as little as a spreadsheet that contains a name, Social Security number, address, and dollar amount. No proof that the amount is owed except that it appears on the sheet -- no detail of how it was accrued, what part of it was actually charged by the consumer, or which part was finance charges or interest.

The collection companies then try to harvest the money and their primary method is to file a civil suit against the consumer right off the bat. Supposedly they serve the person with papers, but the vast majority of people don't show up in court. Imagine if you received a summons from a company you'd never heard of telling you that you owed them money. In this day and age, it's not unlikely that some people think it's a scam.

With that uncontested judgment in hand, the collection company can garnish wages or put liens on property. As the Star Tribune showed in its excellent 2011 series "Hounded," people have been sent to jail for failure to appear: a return, in effect, to debtor's prisons.

Several people who called into the show recounted stories of having paid off a debt, only to be hounded by a second or even third company, still after the money. And it was obvious that there is no control of the collections companies; they could be adding charges onto amounts owed, and no one would ever know.

Heaney urged anyone in this situation to ask for documentation of the amount owed. He referred to the federal law that sets limits on collection agencies, and also to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He cited Elizabeth Warren's research (before she went to Washington) on how people get into debt in the first place, and credited Minnesota's attorney general, Lori Swanson, with being strong on consumer protection.

It was a great, great show. Eye-opening and well worth a listen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Move on, You're Obsolete

Sunday's Pioneer Press reported on worries among "health care agents," who are anxious about what is to become of them once the state's online health exchange goes live.

These are the middlemen and -women who have made their living by consulting with small businesses and individuals to find a health plan at some level of affordability. They have been needed because the mess of plans makes it impossible for regular people to understand the costs and options.

Under Obamacare (a term I use affectionately), each state will create a website that does a lot of the comparison work that used to be done by the agents. This means the agents won't be able to get commissions because they won't be needed.

This is a prime example of the potential benefits of the Affordable Care Act -- cutting out middlemen who don't add true value to anyone's health. Inefficiencies like this are part of the reason the U.S. spends such a disproportionately large part of its GDP on the health care (although much more of it goes to insurance company profits and administrative overhead).

The agents, of course, are up in arms because the new law specifically (and rightfully in my view) prohibits paying commissions to anyone who helps consumers navigate their way the health care purchasing decision.

Early 19th century image of the Charles River Bridge
All of this reminds me of the first bridge built across the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge. A ferry had been operating on the site since 1630, and was operated to benefit Harvard College after 1640. When a bridge was finally opened in 1786, its builder had to pay Harvard College £200 per year to make up for the lost revenue!

The upshot of the situation for both the ferry and health care agents is this: You aren't guaranteed your job or that your economic function will continue to exist. Tell it to the people who set type by hand, only to be replaced by the Linotype, let alone every other innovation that has ever put someone out of a job.

Get over it, move on, and do something productive for society.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Vote While You Still Can

I'm just back from a short vacation where I had the most limited internet access I've experienced in about ten years. I'm ashamed of how out-of-sorts it made me. When I managed to get a half-hour of wifi access this morning, it was as close to the feeling a drug addict has after a fix as I'm likely to ever get.

So just a few catch-up items.

I apologize for the ad that runs before this Daily Show segment, and also for the tasteless title they put on it, but other than that, their analysis of the voter ID situation is right on. It's about 5 minutes long.

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show: Democalypse 2012 - Cockblock the Vote
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Let's see... Pennsylvania's Republicans can't show any cases where someone impersonated a voter, as would be prevented by an ID law. And they're on record as saying they're motivated by partisan political advantage. Sounds like a necessary and fair law to me.

I can't help but wonder if the Pennsylvania judge who upheld this awful ID law is being paid off, as in the case of the judge in that state who was taking bribes from a private prison company to put teenagers in jail.

Meanwhile, states like Mississippi, Florida, and Texas have set the income ceiling for Medicaid recipients at absurdly low levels for a family of three ($8,200, $11,000, and just $5,000, respectively) -- basically getting rid of Medicaid in their states. Who is it that wants to turn over even more control of safety net spending to the states? Who elects the people who makes these laws?

Yet unlikely and unregistered voters favor Obama over Romney about 2.5 to 1. They say they don't plan to vote because "nothing ever gets done in Washington" and that their vote doesn't matter. But if they all voted, Obama would win, and possibly they would vote out a few of the jerks trying to take away their right to vote and destroy the safety net at the same time.

Another argument in favor of mandatory voting.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

More from Beloit

Well, it turns out that the folks from Beloit Youth Hockey were sick of their logo too, so they redesigned it last year:

Good job, BYH!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Mystery Logo

Clearly, this logo has something to do with Beloit (Wis.) Youth Hockey, but I have no idea what the stuff below the B is supposed to be:

If I try really hard, I can imagine that the bottom part of the shape is supposed to be the wide blade of a hocky skate, and the upper part is sort of a boot, but when you put the B on top of it the resemblance to is destroyed.

This is a logo that doesn't communicate anything to anyone.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Anniversary of the Dakota War

The largest mass public execution in U.S. history was carried out in Minnesota 150 years ago. 38 Dakota men were hung in Mankato after the so-called Dakota War.

Minnesota was shaped by that war and the executions; the names of the white military and civilian leaders surrounds us--on our counties, towns, schools, and buildings--every day. The story of the war was told by the victors, of course, but with each major anniversary, a little more of the story has come out.

With this sesquicentennial, a lot more has been written and shown. The Minnesota History Center mounted an exhibit called The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, and this past week the Star Tribune's Curt Brown published a six-part series called In the Footsteps of Little Crow. I recommend the series strongly -- as well as the op-ed from today's paper offering more information about Sarah Wakefield, who was caught up in the conflict.

There are many facts in the stories that I never knew, but some that stand out from today's story:

  • 303 men were sentenced to be hanged. After an Episcopal bishop interceded with Abraham Lincoln, 265 of them were reprieved from hanging because they had participated in battle but not in killing civilians. What I didn't know was that 120 of those reprieved men died the next winter in a military barracks in Davenport, Iowa. 
  • Hundreds of noncombatant Dakota (including women and children) died in a detention camp at Fort Snelling near what are now the Twin Cities. The next year, they were shipped down the Mississippi, up the Missouri, and then sent in boxcars to the Crow Creek reservation in South Dakota. Curtis wrote, "Many starved that first winter. Some survived by plucking grain from the dung of livestock."
  • William Mayo, who went on to found the Mayo Clinic, was working in a field hospital during the war. After the mass execution in Mankato, the bodies were buried "only to be dug up that night by doctors who drew lots to get the cadavers for anatomy research. Dr. William Mayo claimed the body of a man known as Cut Nose to use teaching his son Will and Charlie before they formed their famous clinic."
The war is still contentious in Minnesota, as evidenced by a series of letters that appeared in the Strib before Curtis's articles appeared. But Curtis's stories and the History Center's exhibit both provide a lot of substance and subtlety to an event that is much too easily oversimplified.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

They've Got It Backwards

Yeah, yeah, the New York Times wrote a story about authoritative parenting, sometimes called "Just Right" parenting -- as in not Too Hard, not Too Soft, but Just Right.

It's the kind of thinking that makes so much common sense you can't help but agree with it. Heck, I linked to it myself from my Facebook account.

But when I noticed that Jason Kottke had mentioned it, and used a quote from the story about child development researcher Diana Baumrind, I thought... wait a minute, I know that name. Judith Rich Harris must have had something to say about her and her research.

And sure enough, Harris nails Baumrind for drawing conclusions from correlations, when the causality could just as easily run in the opposite direction. Harris wrote:

Here's what I think: Middle-class Americans of European descent try to use the Just Right parenting style, because that is the style approved by their culture. If they don't use it, it's because they have problems or their kid does. If they have problems, it could be because they have disadvantageous personality characteristics that they can pass on to their kid genetically. If the kid has problems--a difficult temperament, for instance--then the Just Right parenting style might not work and the parents might end up switching to the Too Hard method. So among Americans of European descent, parents who use a Too Hard child-rearing style are more likely to be the ones with problem kids....

In other ethnic groups -- notably Americans of Asian or African descent -- cultural norms differ. Chinese Americans, for example, tend to use the Too Hard parenting style... not because their kids are difficult, but because that's the style favored by their culture. Among Asian and African-Americans, therefore, parents who use a Too Hard child-rearing style should not be more likely to have problem kids. Again, this is exactly what the researchers find (page 46, The Nurture Assumption).
Ah, Judith Rich Harris... I really must return to her books in a future post. There's so much that should be more widely known.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Not Perfect, But Better than Us

I've been waiting for someone to respond to the recent op-eds attacking the British National Health Service. Today's Strib includes this letter from Lisa Surber of Minneapolis, who has lived both there and here:

Actually, there's much to envy about the U.K.

So the average Briton is ignorant when it comes to their belief that the NHS is the envy of the world ("Unenviably meager medicine," Aug. 10)? After living in England for several years and now finding myself back in the United States, I envy the Brits and their NHS every day.

If average Brits really understood the risks and the costs of the U.S. health care system, they would treasure their NHS even more. From my experience of both systems, the NHS provides the peace of mind that comes from knowing that if you are hurt or ill, you will be taken care of quickly, completely and competently.

People and institutions profiting from the U.S. system want us to believe that health care in the U.K. is unfairly rationed. People in the U.K. love their NHS because it ensures that every citizen has a right to adequate health care. Just like in the U.S., if one wants additional care or a specific service, private health insurance is available.

Unlike Americans, Brits don't need to choose between food and medicine. They don't have to wonder which services are covered under their plan during a medical emergency. They don't need to fear medical bankruptcy.

Our system forces people to gamble with their health and make choices that can have devastating consequences. The fact that in our first-world country any citizen can find that he or she is one health care crisis away from financial devastation is absurd. Why do we tolerate it?
I'm sure the NHS is far from perfect, but when compared on overall health outcomes and cost, it comes out ahead of the U.S.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Believe It or Not, Comments Worth Reading

MinnPost's Eric Black today posted his thoughts about Paul Ryan's plans for Medicare, to which a couple of commenters added some quotable quotes.

Jeremy Powers posted this pithy putdown: Ryan's budget would "reduce Medicare to a Groupon."

Neal Rovick had this to say about the idea of senior citizens shopping for the best plan:

Can you really imagine a nation of 70, 80 and 90 year-olds struggling to figure out what insurance plan they can afford?  Especially with their retirement dependent upon the latest stripping by Wall Street. Can you picture millions winding up with exactly the wrong plan for them, because the cheapest plan is going to be exactly the one that doesn't covers their needs? Can you picture the scams and games that are played with the elderly because regulations and rules are "bad"? What happens with those drifting into senility?

Death panels indeed.
Having assisted some of my family elders with deciphering Medicare Part D, I can begin to imagine what that would be like.

(MinnPost has a "real names only" policy, which accounts for the lack of silly monikers.)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Are You Motivated Now?

Steven Heller, font of all design knowledge, recently posted a series of motivational posters from the early 20th century. They range from fairly innocuous ("Count ten and then don't say it... self-control earns praise") to jingoistic ("All true Americans give thanks they are Americans. Think well - speak well of your country.")

My favorite one is this unintended put-down of employee suggestions:

Yeah, we welcome your "idea." Right. So much so that we put it in quotes. That's believable, especially when it's preceded by a poster that reads, "Some one must give orders. Some one must take orders."

On the whole, they seem to be meant to train workers to be good cogs in the machine of industry. After all, "Respect for authority is the first principle of business success. Without authority there is no business, no pay envelope."

P.S. Don't miss Heller's second post with additonal posters, including this one:

I like this one because it so clearly foreshadows the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Is It a Phase or Not?

The Emily Program is a St. Paul-based for-profit treatment program for people with eating disorders. I've critiqued their parking signs in the past, but that wasn't a serious comment on their communication efforts.

Their new billboards, however, fail the glance test.

Orange and yellow billboard reading An eating disorder is not a teenage phase
When I look at this sign, especially if I'm driving by in a car, what I see is "a teenage phase" and the Emily Program logo. I doubt that's what they were wanting from the campaign.

Note to the designer: Put the words you want everyone to remember in the biggest type size.

In this case, maybe you could have dropped the word "teenage" altogether: "An eating disorder is NOT A PHASE." The audience already associates the word "phase" with teenagers, so it's seven letters of superfluousness squatting in the midst of your prime real estate.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Outsider Art, 2012

If I were allowed to rewrite a tourism slogan, Milton Glaser's "I Love New York" would become "I Love Wisconsin." It's a good thing I live so close by.

Regular readers know I visit the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan pretty frequently. Its current exhibits are excellent, as usual, but the two that stood out the most for me were glimpses of two environment builders from the museum's collection.

First was Emery Blagdon (1907 - 1986). I wasn't familiar with his work, despite his presence in the book Sublime Spaces & Visionary Worlds. Blagdon lived in a small town in Nebraska, and had spent years as a hobo and seasonal laborer before returning to his home town, where he made his way as a subsistence farmer and general handyman.

After the deaths of his parents by the early 1950s, he began making what he called his "pretties" -- wire sculptures reminiscent of lace. He built a workshop and shed to house the pieces. Then he began to paint, but he often didn't hang the paintings, instead stacking them face to face on the ground.

Blagdon believed that his shed, full of wire, wood, metal, and plastic sculptures and paintings, conducted energy and was literally a Healing Machine.

According to the museum's exhibit notes,
He pursued these possibilities until he died in 1986. By then, Blagdon had been ravaged by cancer for what the doctors supposed had to have been a decade; his Healing Machine was the only aid he ever sought.

After the Blagdon's death, the pharmacist who had [supplied him with empty pill bottles for his sculptures]--Dan Dryden--returned for a visit to find Blagdon gone and his entire oeuvre up for sale. With friends, Dryden bought and preserved The Healing Machine... In 2004, the Kohler Foundation acquired The Healing Machine, consisting of some 400 individual components....
The museum's installation includes a half-size recreation of The Healing Machine (pictured above), surrounded by dozens of individual pieces, hanging from the gallery's ceiling and walls, or rising from the floor on pedestals.

Blagdon's work has echoes of wooden tramp art and the hexes of the Pennsylvania Dutch, but the overall impression is distinct -- and mysterious.

The second environment builder whose work is currently on display is Dr. Charles Smith (1940 - ). I've seen a few of his works during an earlier visit, but this larger showing of the collection reveals its power more clearly.

Smith, an African-American Vietnam veteran who knew trauma before, during, and after his military service, began to sculpt in concrete in the mid-1980s with the intention of creating what he called the African American Heritage Museum & Black Veterans Archive.

By 1999, he had created 600 sculptures outside his Aurora, Illinois, home (photos of his sculptures in their original location can be seen here). He realized the weather was damaging them and sought out the Kohler Foundation, which worked with him to restore and preserve 200 of his works.

These works together are called Memorials to Unknown Slaves. The huge heads reminded me of the ceramic Face Jugs I had just seen at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

This sculpture, titled 3/5 of a Man, was the most striking of all to me.

Smith now lives and continues his work in the New Orleans area, near where he was born -- 709 East Louisiana Avenue in Hammond, Louisiana. Yet another place to visit!

Mary Nohl's (1914 - 2001) work is also part of the Kohler's collection, but none of it is on exhibit currently. But I did get a chance to stop at her house in Fox Point and get a few photos through the fence. (Find out more about Nohl's work in the book Mary Nohl: Inside and Out.)

Nohl's property and sculpture garden are on a narrow, two-lane road with no parking nearby. It's now owned by the Kohler Foundation, which preserves it while not opening it to the public as a compromise with the neighbors.

According to Roadside Architecture:
Dubbed "The Witch of Fox Point," rumors spread that she had killed her family and buried them in the sculptures. The fact that she never married or had children added to her "witchy" reputation. High school students from all over began to taunt her and vandalize the property. Mary was forced to surround her property with barbed wire topped chainlink fencing and to put metal grates over her windows. She also chained down many sculptures.
I wonder if the oddball male environment builders like Fred Smith and Herman Rusch encountered that type of harassment?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Clue from My Childhood

I think my love of cartoon modern began with the Clue game board my sisters and I used when we were kids. I'm not sure when it was first designed, but clearly, it's from some time in the 1960s.

The outside of the box, with its giant magnifying glass, has a lot of visual impact.

1960s Clue box, gold with huge magnifying glass and thumbprint
And the character designs are so stylish.

Contents of Clue box with character cards shown
I was fascinated by Miss Scarlet's dress (who knew a woman could be made from two triangles!), though it was probably Professor Plum who had more influence on my fashion sense.

Close up of Miss Scarlet, Professor Plumb, and Mrs. White with their cartoon modern styling

P.S. -- This box isn't actually from my basement. I saw it at the Hixton (Wis.) School House Antique Mall. I love that store because it fills an entire small high school, including the linoleum-tiled gymnasium that also served as the seating area of the auditorium. It even fills the stage itself.

It makes me sad and glad to walk through the maze of rooms, looking at 20th century detritus, while imagining the students who spent the formative years of their lives there. I wish I knew where Hixton's children go to school now.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wikipedia, Renewed

I love this eloquent and convincing case for a Wikipedia redesign.

It has almost as much simplicity as the original Google interface, without losing track of the complexity that underlies the site.

Good job, New!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Screening Is Not Prevention

Susan G Komen ad
What will it take for prevention guidelines, such as those for screening mammograms, to be based on logic and evidence? Probably too much, according to Handel Reynolds.

It's a head-shaking bit of writing, and my head almost hit the table when I made the mistake of reading this comment on his op-ed. It quotes Reynolds, who wrote, quite accurately, "...because breast cancer is less common in women under 50, the task force found that in order to avert one death, 1,904 women in their 40s would have to be screened."

The commenter, buttefly62, responded: "I question this. I know two women who had breast cancer before the age of 40."

Yes, butterfly, we all know women under 40 who have had breast cancer, but that doesn't mean routine mammograms would have discovered it, and even if they had, that the discovery would have prevented death. And it doesn't take into account all of the over-treatment that happens because of unneeded screening tests.

Susan Perry at MinnPost recently recapped the Susan G. Komen ad brouhaha, and breast cancer surgeon David Gorski, writing at Science-Based Medicine, provided even more valuable information. Both do a good job of explaining why the five-year survival rate cited in the Komen ad (click the image to enlarge to a readable size) is beyond misleading.

Screening is not prevention. Common sense is not science. Wishful thinking doesn't cure anyone.

Update: An excellent discussion on MPR's The Daily Circuit about unnecessary medical testing with doctors from the Dartmouth University and the Cleveland Clinic. Worth a listen.

Monday, August 6, 2012

I Was Wrong

You know when I recently showed what I thought was the worst straight apostrophe ever?

I was wrong. There is a new reigning champion:

Photo of a store window with lit neon reading Kehr's Candies and printed sign below saying Kehr's with the apostrophe way over above the letter s
It's beyond me how anyone could make a sign with letters this size (even if it is done automatically in a computer) without noticing the apostrophe not only goes straight up and down while the letters slant, but that it's way over above the final "s."

And that's not even addressing the bad decision to make the sign with a bad script typeface instead of creating lettering to match the original logo.

Sign seen at Milwaukee's Public Market in the Old Third Ward.

P.S. When I Googled "Kehr's," one of the search engine's helpful suggestions of frequently searched terms was "Kehr's sign," so I thought perhaps someone else had written about this topic before, or at least that lots of people had searched it. But no. Kehr's sign is a medical condition where shoulder pain results from blood or liquids pooling in the peritoneum, such as from a ruptured spleen. Who knew?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Happy Road Warrior

In Minnesota, they've unveiled a new statue of Hubert H. Humphrey at the State Capitol:

Bronze statue of Hubert Humphrey with hand raised
(Star Tribune photo by David Joles: full gallery here.)

But in Milwaukee, they like him so much, they've been painting his initials in the street:

Red spray-painted shapes on asphalt look like H H H

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Truth in Advertising

I spend a lot of time on this blog berating advertisers who stretch or break the truth. But recently I saw the opposite:

White truck with large script lettering Hernia Movers
Here's a close-up of the door:

Close up of truck door with illustration of truck and tagline The Potentate of Totin' Freight
Nice illustration! Clever and honest -- a potent(ate) combination.

Seen in Milwaukee, Wis.

Friday, August 3, 2012

If You Were Free Associating...

...Is "service" a word you'd associate with this business name?

Plastic sign with name MOFOCO Auto Parts & Service
It wouldn't be high on my list.

Seen in Milwaukee, Wis.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Last of the Raskin Signatures

My tendency toward completism recently led me back to the Milwaukee Public Library to photograph the Ellen Raskin signatures I had missed during my earlier visit.

Because I wasn't familiar with her picture books, I'd spent all my time on those and hadn't looked at the novels. Here's the title page of The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel).

One of the end papers of Figgs & Phantoms is graced with a hand-drawn ampersand.

And a stopwatch for The Tattoed Potato and Other Clues.

It's interesting that the MPL doesn't seem to have a copy of the Newbery-winner The Westing Game in their collection.