Friday, January 31, 2014

Keeping Warm with Some Tweets

January, oh, what a January. I have to remind myself it's actually a pretty typical winter here...for 1988. On that note, here's the first tweet of January:

A giant system of smug Midwesterners boasting that no one else knows how to handle cold weather has descended on the U.S.
By aterkel
And a few more comments on the weather:
Don't worry. It will be even colder Monday. They say cold enough to throw newborn babies in the air and watch them be born again.
By Molly Priesmeyer

Cardinals in the winter time are just amazing.
By William Lindeke

Old Man Winter:

By Halloween Costumes
Special note: that snow face looks like the outline of Minnesota.

Then all the rest of my usual subjects, plus timely topics like the Macintosh 30th anniversary, West Virginia's poisoned water, and just a little about New Jersey bridges and Justin Bieber.
Of all the things a person could know, we have figured out what everyone needs to know: we call it curriculum. BONUS: It's easy to grade.
By mpljr (Sisyphus38)

Millions of people have access to #freetransit. It is a sensible policy, not an "experiment." Heating the earth 2 degrees is an experiment.
By Free Public Transit

how's it goin?

By Emergency Cute Stuff

People realize that women receiving less income because they bear children is sort of the definition of a sexist economic structure, right?
By Matt Bruenig

In feminism, if we want to create loving community, we have to talk, not assume.
By Latoya Peterson

Can't we promote the value of manufacturing and the skilled trades without denigrating the utility of a liberal arts education?
By Yoni Appelbaum 

In 2010, 6.9% of Art History majors and 10.6% of manufacturing workers were unemployed. Median earnings were about the same.
By Yoni Appelbaum

We've quit calling them anecdotes and we call them "artisanal data" now.
By Matt Wells

Infighting is a belittling, dismissive word generally applied to women. For men, it is "vigorous debate."
By Roxane Gay

All that is surreal and horrifying about marketing is contained in this image:

By Andrew VandenBossche

There’s a special place in hell for people who jump around the Jeopardy board willy-nilly.
By evelyn pollins

Paranoia is a surplus of belief in organized malevolence. Its opposite, equally tragic, is a surplus of belief in the government's goodness.
By Teju Cole

People have been walking for over 100,000 years. Now cars make walking unsafe. And #freetransit is called an experiment?
By Free Public Transit 

"Break you in half like a boy" is a weird thing to say because, among other things, it's not societally acceptable to break boys in half.
By Tim Murphy

Things made in U.S. prisons are stamped "Made in the United States."
By Chuck Creekmur

I'm glad I wasn't a cool kid because have you met a cool kid? Yuck
By Aparna Nancherla

Harvard Dropouts: Pete Seeger, Bonnie Raitt, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg. Harvard Grad: Ted Kacyznski, #QED
By Peter Sagal

The oil industry cannot tolerate a drop in demand. So let's have #freetransit and crash them now while there is still oil left.
By Free Public Transit

I think a lot more blues musicians would be happier if they stopped dating devil women what done them wrong in the city.
By Hampton Yount


By Phil Dokas

Telling a little girl, "He's mean to you because he likes you" should be followed up with "and stay as far away from him as possible."
By Dwayne Rodgers

I have found that keeping it weird in adulthood makes me happy and helps people I don't want to interact/work with avoid me.
By Erin Kissane

When unengaged children perform poorly on meaningless tests we take away their arts programs and give them another math class. #fail
By enrique baloyra

Must get beyond the myth that if we tax the rich they're going to go sulk in the corner and stop trying to get richer.
By Alan Eggleston

If we want to encourage strong confident thinkers who can solve problems and create a better future, then let them work with any content they want.
By mpljr (Sisyphus38)

Mac 128K Fun Fact! The entire available memory space on the original Mac is about equal to two icons in Mac OS X Mavericks.
By Chris Espinosa

Half the people on the Internet today: "I loved that original Mac." The other half: "Damn, you're old."
By Dave Pell

It's pointless buying your dog a camera, they said. He'll never be able to operate it, they said:

By Warren

You can claim any power structure is a meritocracy, just by defining "merit" as the ability to thrive in that power structure.
By Keegan McAllister A

Pope Francis said the internet is "a gift from God." Sounds like somebody hasn't scrolled down to the comments section yet.
By Stephen Colbert

I mean, you KNOW you're a mammal. But you never really FEEL it until you have a baby and then have to milk yourself 4 times a day.
By Maggie Koerth-Baker

TED and Medium have merged to form TEDIUM.
By Phillip Bowden

The Man With Whom You Are About To Shake Hands Scuffs His Feet On The Carpet. What Happens Next Will Shock You.
By Matthew Baldwin

Justin Bieber arrested for DUI. In other news, all of West Virginia is drinking poison water and your government spies on your every move.
By Josh Centers

Bieber is evidence that maybe we’re building the wrong damn fence.
By Daniel Foster

I think this stapler was in Spirited Away:

By Halloween Costumes

Idea: Mason jars that you use as Mason jars.
By Chris Steller

"In the media, white people debate whether race matters, rich people debate whether poverty matters, and men debate whether gender matters."
By corey robin

If a pedestrian dies, the pedestrian is blamed. If a bicyclist dies, the bicyclist is blamed. If a motorist dies, the road needs to be widened.
By Walk Farce

By Jason Elsom

I bet a tough part of fielding calls at a poison control center is not finishing most of your sentences with " unbelievable dumbass."
By Julieanne Smolinski

I accidentally disrupted when I meant to innovate, and now my iterations won’t be transformative, but merely upend existing paradigms. Damn.
By Paul Fidalgo

"How much would it cost me to make an app with you?" "The same as a car." "What kind of car?" "Exactly!"
By András Velvárt

Our Internet went out tonight & I wrote 4,000 words ... Thank God those two things are unrelated & there are no painful conclusions to draw.
By Rainbow Rowell

Will there ever be a time when talking on a hands-free cellphone setup in public will not make you look like a crazy person? I hope not.
By evelyn pollins

By banksy

I'm sure the 85 people who hold half the world's wealth are absolutely the people you'd want to have that power.
By Caitlin Moran 

People who get that rich are invariably gentle-souled humanitarians keeping "an eye out" for everyone else.
By Caitlin Moran

Found a good quotation for my dissertation: “History is a tale told about the past in the present for present purposes.”
By Andrew Joseph Pegoda

Good to see Monopoly have updated some of their rules for 2013. (by @hennell and me):

By David Schneider

The fatal flaw in the quantified-self movement is that better data does not entail better decision-making—because humans.
By Erika Hall

Obama sending openly gay athletes to Sochi. Putin offering permanent asylum to Snowden. This new cold war is way more fun than the last one.
By Ben Adida

“Insulation of the body is much more energy-efficient than insulation of the space in which this body finds itself."
By Frank Chimero

When all the oil runs out this is going to be one hell of a bike lane:

By Bike Lobby

If terrorists poisoned the West Virginia water supply the right wing would be ready for war. But it was a company, so what the hey.
By Harold

Do we really believe schools plagued with violence & drugs can be fixed only with more tightly aligned instruction & rigorous tests?
By Adam Holman

Las Vegas is what would happen if a spam filter came to life.
By Megan Amram

Having millions and millions of people thinking independently would generate a lot of ideas. Let's make um think about the same things instead.
By mpljr (Sisyphus38)

"I saw the best minds of my generation..."

By Kathy Sierra

Republicans say the solution to poverty is marriage. Trump, Rush and Gingrich have had ten between them and look how rich they are.
By Pete Nicely

66 million Americans toil in low-wage service jobs, how about some Service Industry Innovation Institutes & a strategy to upgrade those jobs.
By Richard Florida

Old people who can fix cars, make clothes and build furniture think young people are good at technology because they can click on a picture.
By L Johnston

Black fathers are more involved in their children's care than white fathers, according to a CDC study:

By Judd Legum

“Have your people talk to my people.” ← The original cure to racism.
By Aparna Nancherla

Decided to stop watching Obama's speech, because I'm not in the mood to listen to more bullshit this morning.
By Nikhil Goyal

"Unpurposeful & random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city's wealth of public life grows." —Jane Jacobs
By Taras Grescoe

The fact that "get it in writing" is a lesson that has to keep being repeated is a testament to how much we really want to trust each other.
By Craig Eliason

Oil investment since 2000, up 300%, production up 12%. See a problem?
By Free Public Transit

My iPhone beats swords into ploughshares, auto-replaces "weaponized" with "sea ponies."
By Maggie Koerth-Baker

I live in Charleston, WV. We have been without WATER for 6 days. The ban has lifted -- but would YOU drink this?

By crystal good

Frustration is when +300K friends and neighbors are without water and the media is obsessed with that time an NJ bridge partially closed.
By Justin McElroy

Too bad we can't pay attention to climate change and ignore 2016 primaries, rather than the other way around.
By Tom Tomorrow

People overestimate the likelihood they will suddenly or eventually become rich, and underestimate the odds that they'll become poorer.
By LoremIpsum

Never trust someone who was a student body president.
By Matt Bruenig

So close to the truth it actually hurts (via @Philippa_Perry):

By Lauren Laverne on 6

Let's just resolve this now: "doge" is pronounced with a "g" that sounds like the "g" in "GIF."
By Nelson Elhage

"The killing underscored the debate about when to use smartphones in public." YES, LET'S DEBATE PHONES. NOT GUNS.
By Lindy West [commenting on a recent shooting in a Florida theater]

When someone is shot in cold blood over texting, & NYT thinks the issue is smart phones, safe to say we've gone completely nuts as a country
By billmon

Peak poverty maybe 75% at worst Great Depression. Compare to 16% or so at worst Great Recession. That's the effect of the welfare state.
By Stephen Pimpare

When someone from personnel refers to you as a 'resource,' call them an 'overhead.'
By Miles Forrest

Malcolm X: best exemplar of the #Horatio #Alger myth, yet he terrifies perpetrators of that myth:

By Call me Ishmael

If you were aware of how much wisdom you don't have in Youth, you'd moan about it just as Old People do of their aging bodies.
By Neil deGrasse Tyson

Helping people *get ahead* is literally a reference to *positional* advantage, which tells us nothing about overall poverty reduction.
By Matt Bruenig

Some 90% of the world’s total data were created in the past two years.
By Project Syndicate

I know we all just need to get over grammar misuse, but saying “_____ and I” when you should say “_____ and me” is killing me, guys. UUUGGGHHH.
By evelyn pollins

Don't let the discussion about #publictransit fares be about budgets. Make it about ending welfare for cars.
By Free Public Transit

Sketch of Como Conservatory Sloth & Shutterbugs:

By Avidor

And, across cultures, I certainly don't think **telling women what to wear** **so they won't be oppressed anymore** has any validity.
By Erin Matson

If I have this right, a "life hack" is anything not involving a piece of high tech equipment? #formerlyknownaseverything
By Chris Steller

Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them? — Abraham Lincoln
By Reg Saddler

Prolly gonna reach out to a few people today and then circle back with some others.
By Rob Baedeker

Typical: The Target hackers meant to get 40 million people's charge card information and they ended up with 70 million.
By Chris Steller

Only 40% of a car's pollution comes from driving. From Green Capitalism: The God That Failed.
By Free Public Transit

So what? Chris Christie caused a traffic jam to get revenge! I cause natural disasters because gays gross me out so much (and I'm perfect).
By almightygod

Seeing someone reading a book you love is actually seeing a book recommending someone. #soulmates
By Billy Porter

By Paul Irish [kind of like miniature golf]

What does our country want? Individual thinkers who stand up and question injustice... or compliant procedure followers who work and show grit?
By mpljr (Sisyphus38)
Tweet 1: ‘You deserve anxiety you stupid motherfucker!’ Tweet 2: ‘Sorry. We thought you were John Stossel.’
By Scott Stossel [if you haven't read the excerpt of Scott Stossel's book My Age of Anxiety, be prepared]

If you ever feel low, remember at least you're not a loose subscription card in a magazine.
By Aparna Nancherla

Do we honestly expect people to stand up for their rights when we indoctrinate them, through school, to just accept their plight?
By mpljr (Sisyphus38)

Geoengineering schemes that reflect sunlight are dangerous and crazy. Like sticking your feet in ice to treat 3rd degree burns on your head.
By Jonathan Foley 

Love the idea that we can blithely re-engineer solar radiation, but altering our energy mix to lower carbon is hippie talk.
By Eric Lind


By Halloween Costumes

I think, when you're worried about something, and you keep going to your friends for reassurance, and you can't get ENOUGH reassurance ...
By Rainbow Rowell

... what you're really hoping for is that someone will say, "Yes, this situation is as bad as you fear. DESPAIR! DESPAIR WILDLY!"
By Rainbow Rowell

Brains are terrible things.
By Rainbow Rowell

I love watching the religious-Republican extremists try to distance themselves from the Pope because he’s reminding them what Jesus said.
By Marco Arment

The word "fuck" is uttered 508 times in 3 hours during "The Wolf of Wall Street" so save ten bucks by watching me assemble an Ikea bookshelf.
By Kenzo

How drastically a needle changes after reuse:

By Microscopic Images

Married men earning a PhD see a 15% salary boost over single men. Analogous married women? A 23% drop.
By Tom Zeller Jr.

Why are we all so terrified of creating schools that kids might actually enjoy?
By JosieHolford

I feel like the people who took medical advice from Jenny McCarthy were probably going to make severe parenting mistakes anyway.
By Devin Faraci

Really interesting. RT @bswud: How far a child is allowed to walk on their own, then vs. now:

By Eric Berger

People who starved to death under communism were killed by communism. People who starved to death under capitalism were probably just lazy.
By Henry Krinkle

Re: global warming and the cold weather: "Liberals keep telling me the Titanic is sinking but my side of the ship is 500 feet in the air."
By Pinkerton

GOP just needs blacks to stop voting and women to stop controlling their bodies and then we'll finally have a democracy.
By Frank Conniff

Why does every recipe lie about how long it takes to roast potatoes?
By Atrios

We should have a convenient name for startups that have more dogs on their about page than they have people of color.
By Anil Dash

You can believe global warming exists despite snowstorm if I can believe evolution exists despite Duck Dynasty.
By Frank Conniff

By Science Porn

Whistleblowers Struggle to Meet 100 Percent Likeability Requirement.
By Chris Steller

We want every kid to have a 'personalized' education as long as all kids learn exactly the same thing and are tested exactly the same way.
By Adam Holman

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” — Cicero, 106-43 BC
By Karianne T. Brevik

America was founded on the double standard: A bunch of slave owners wanting to be free. — George Carlin.By George Carlin RIP

If you mention your Ph.D. in your Twitter display name, or pretty much anywhere other than your CV, you are almost certainly insufferable.
By Josh Barro

"Europe vs. the United States. Sunlight in hours per year" (small typo, green is 1600-1800):

By Arthur Charpentier

Let's take a moment to thank Barbara and David Mikkelson, who created Snopes in 1995 and run it to this day.
By Erika Hall

Here's an idea. How about we stop fixating on unity as a precursor to social change and get on with it.
By Laurie Penny

When people claim that school needs to "teach kids how to learn," do they really mean "train kids how to be successful at school"?
By mpljr (Sisyphus38)

Why do Americans assume clams are happy?
By Ishaan Tharoor

"It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages." — Henry Ford
By Amanda Lannert

I don't mean to be an armchair critic, but this armchair is terrible.
By Ben Greenman 
And, finally, one for my nativity scene collection:

Nativity scene, or two T-Rexes fighting over a watermelon?
By Jon G

Thursday, January 30, 2014

One for the Price of Two

Here's another agonizing anecdote from Not Always Right, the customer-service nightmare aggregator. This takes place in a hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland:

(An American guest approaches me at my desk.)

Me: “Morning, sir! What can I do for you?”

Guest: “Hi there! I’m going to rent a car today to drive around the highlands. Could you just tell me how much gas costs here?”

Me: “Gas? As in petroleum? Sure. Petrol here is about £1 a litre.”

Guest: “How much is that in gallons though?”

Me: “Well, as far as I know, there is slightly less than four litres in a gallon. So about £4 a gallon, I suppose.”

Guest: “Awesome, that’s $2 a gallon! That’s cheap!”

Me: “Sir, the exchange rate is currently $2 to £1, so it is in fact equal to $8 a gallon.”

Guest: “Pfft! I doubt that. The dollar is the strongest currency in the world!”

Me: “Well, it’s the largest reserve currency, but I assure you the rates are as I described.”

Guest: “You know, considering you work with tourists, you should probably know the exchange rate a little better, son! Don’t they teach you math in high school?!”

Me: “They do, sir.”

Guest: “Not well enough!”
I'm not sure how an American could manage to get to Scotland without realizing the pound sterling generally equals about two American dollars, so maybe the writer is spoofing. But assuming it's a true story, that guy must have been thinking he was having the cheapest vacation of all time until he overdrew his account.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Visit to the Aisle of Obsolescence

The work of graphic design has changed a lot during the decades I've been doing it. Most of the changes happened from the mid-1980s to the early '90s. It used to be a very manual business, but it later became almost completely virtual. I also had a bit of training in cartography during the precomputer days, and that has changed even more than graphic design.

So on a recent trip to an art supply store (Art Materials on Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis), I was surprised to see a whole aisle of nostalgia. Yes I was on my own trip to the Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies.

First, the ones I know from cartography:

Just as it says, you could use this thin bit of steel to protect the parts of your map that didn't need to be erased while you erased the part that did. What the package doesn't tell you is that the erasing was being done with a utility knife blade -- scraping away a layer of the vellum to remove the ink on the surface.

Oh, French curves, how I lusted after you in my map-making days. At some point I bought a set of smoky-gray Staedtler Mars curves and in about 1985 bought one of those flexible curves you can see in the bottom row. Mine was blue.

Then there are the obsolete paste-up supplies (or, as they call it in Minnesota, keylining):

Wax. Pounds and pounds of it. We usually bought the Portage brand shown on the right.

You would put the solid wax into either one of these:

Once melted, you applied it to the back of your typeset copy and then burnish it down on the layout boards. The tabletop model at left — which had electric rollers in the back to dispense the wax in an even coat — was common in publication offices, while the hand waxer at right was for smaller-time operations.

Really fancy shops disdained wax altogether in favor of rubber cement. Wax was a quick and dirty adhesive that I first encountered at my college newspaper.

A proportion wheel was handy in the days before calculators. You would find the size of your photo on the outer wheel, then rotate the inner wheel to line it up with the finished size needed in the layout. The needed percent of reduction or enlargement would appear in the little window.

These rulers aren't quite obsolete, but it seems as though no one ever specs type anymore. You would lay one of these transparent E gauges over the typesetting you were trying to match and find the E that matched in height. It also had a pica ruler down one long side and a point ruler across the short side. I used the point ruler all the time to spec leading (line spacing).

Oh, and the extra special bonus item: Down in the bottom right of the photo there are several different halftone screen finders. Inside that elongated oval shape, there is a row of thin lines that aren't quite parallel, but converge toward the bottom. If you take that gauge, lay it over a printed halftone photo, and rotate it a bit, you'll soon see a wicked moiré pattern develop that points at a little number printed along side the oval shape (click the little gauge at right to enlarge and see the moiré). That number is the number of lines of dots used in the halftone screen. Common screens were 85 and 100 lines (in newspapers) and 133 and 150 (in magazines and books).

These look like disks or magnetic tapes or something, but they're rolls of border tape. Hard to believe they still have this much of it. My favorite was always hairline, which was transparent and about an eighth of an inch wide, with a fine black line printed down the center. I loved that stuff after trying, once, to lay down a thin line that didn't have any clear backing. You could never get that stuff to go on straight.

Thanks, Art Materials.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger Told Us How to Do It

It's not the first time I've mentioned the song Talking Union, but in honor of Pete Seeger's death I wanted to post the complete lyrics. Written by Seeger, Lee Hayes, and Millard Lampell in 1941, it was set to the tune of the "Talking Blues" after Woodie Guthrie taught them that song.

If you substitute the 1 percent or the .1 of the 1 percent or the corporations for the boss, it works pretty well as a set of instructions for our current travail. (And make it gender neutral, too, of course... times change and we all have things to learn, even Pete.)

Now, if you want higher wages let me tell you what to do
You got to talk to the workers in the shop with you.
You got to build you a union, got to make it strong,
But if you all stick together, boys, it won't be long.
You get shorter hours, better working conditions,
Vacations with pay. Take your kids to the seashore.

It ain't quite this simple, so I better explain
Just why you got to ride on the union train.
'Cause if you wait for the boss to raise your pay,
We'll all be a-waitin' 'til Judgment Day.
We'll all be buried, gone to heaven,
St. Peter'll be the straw boss then.

Now you know you're underpaid but the boss says you ain't;
He speeds up the work 'til you're 'bout to faint.
You may be down and out, but you ain't beaten,
You can pass out a leaflet and call a meetin'.
Talk it over, speak your mind,
Decide to do somethin' about it.

Course, the boss may persuade some poor damn fool
To go to your meetin' and act like a stool.
But you can always tell a stool, though, that's a fact,
He's got a yaller streak a-runnin' down his back.
He doesn't have to stool, he'll always get along
On what he takes out of blind men's cups.

You got a union now, and you're sittin' pretty,
Put some of the boys on the steering committee.
The boss won't listen when one guy squawks,
But he's got to listen when the union talks.
He'd better, be mighty lonely
One of the days.

Suppose they're working you so hard it's just outrageous
Paying you all starvation wages.
You go to the boss and the boss would yell,
"Before I raise your pay I'd see you all in hell!"
Well, he's puffing a big seegar, feeling mighty slick
Thinks he's got your union licked.
Well, he looks out the window and what does he see
But a thousand pickets, and they all agree:
He's a bastard. Unfair! Slave driver!
Bet he beats his wife!

Now, boys, you've come to the hardest time.
The boss will try to bust your picket line.
He'll call out the police, the National Guard,
They'll tell you it's a crime to have a union card.
They'll raid your meetin', hit you on the head,
Call every one of you a goddam red,
You're unpatriotic, Moscow agents, bomb throwers (even the kids).

But out at Detroit, here's what they found,
And out at Pittsburgh, here's what they found,
And out at Bethlehem, here's what they found:
That if you don't let red-baiting break you up,
And if you don't let stoolpigeons break you up,
And if you don't let vigilantes break you up,
And if you don't let race hatred break you up,
You'll win.
What I mean, take it easy, but take it!
Keep solidarity — actively work across differences — and don't let wedge issues divide the group or coalition. We can apply those guidelines to just about anything that needs to be changed.

Here's a video of Seeger singing "Talking Union."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Vivian Maier in Minneapolis

Minneapolis is finally having its first exhibit of Vivian Maier's photographs. Her images — which were never seen, let alone shown, during her lifetime — were discovered as negatives after a storage locker auction.

One person, John Maloof, has acquired about 90 percent of her work, and that's the collection I've generally seen written up or in my visit to the Chicago exhibit. The other 10 percent was acquired by Jeffrey Goldstein and it's selections from that smaller body of work that are on view at the Minneapolis Photo Center through March 1.

Goldstein has a nice assortment of Maier's self portraits, which often involve reflections in objects other than mirrors... well the "strangers on the street" photos that are her hallmark:

As many have noted, one of the most moving aspects of Maier's work is the glimpses they give of past life, unposed, unvarnished, and sometimes unwanted. This young family, hauling boxes, bags, and children, are particularly enigmatic. Are they boarding the bus or have they just gotten off it? Is the man stretching his back after a long ride? Do they live in Chicago or have they just arrived? Their unglamorous weariness is a story in itself.

This photo of three men hanging a gigantic W above a Woolworth's store captured my eye as well. It's not often you get to appreciate the scale of signage, since once it's hung on a building, you see it in comparison to the building and it looks smaller. But the juxtaposition of the W and the man on the sidewalk shows that the letters are close to 6 feet tall.

On the whole, I would say this show is not as compelling as the one at the Chicago Cultural Center, partly because of the hallway exhibit space and partly because it doesn't include three dimensional objects from Maier's life. But it's the exhibit we've got, so hey, all you Twin Cities people — go and see it!

Past posts about Vivian Maier:

Vivian Maier Exhibit in Chicago

Finding Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier Documentary Sneak Peek

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Words for Today

I saw this on Twitter today, and it applied to my day:

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. —Soren Kierkegaard

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam Series

The MaddAddam trilogy of books by Margaret Atwood was an absorbing, painful read (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam). The stories are critical of privatization of essential services like police and schools, the problem of making the biological stuff of life into intellectual property in a capitalist economy, and creeping corporatism in general.

Though the first book, Oryx and Crake, was clearly not written with sequels in mind, leaving her timelines throughout the trilogy a bit wonky, the biggest problem I see with the books is Atwood's unconscious bending to dominant tropes of race and gender.

For instance, the two black characters with the largest roles in the stories are both sidekicks. The woman character, Rebecca, is (not kidding) the cook for her fellow ecoactivists and later post-apocalyptic survivors. The man is a little-described, almost silent Ving Rhames type whose extinct animal nickname is Black Rhino (again, not kidding). Come on, Margaret!

Oryx — whom I assume is an Asian woman though it's never explicitly said (and the paperback cover designer seems unaware of this likelihood) — is an admirable character in many ways. She plays a very important role in the first book and often challenges assumptions Western white feminists make about coercion and empowerment. But because we see her only through Jimmy's eyes, it's hard not to feel an edge of orientalism and exoticization.

Despite these problems, you'd think Atwood could manage some great white female characters, though, right? Well, yes and no. Toby is one of the most important characters in the trilogy, possibly the most important one. She's admirable and strong, but she doubts herself constantly. That's real, of course, and I love Toby. She's a great character. A reasonable woman in an unreasonable situation.

Yet many of her male counterparts are superheroes. Crake is a mental superhero; Adam One is a moral and spiritual one; while Zeb is a super hacker and fixer.

Of the major male characters, only Jimmy is normal and accessible to the reader, and he's almost a fool in the classical sense.

I don't have a great analysis of the books to share, just a sense of unease at what Atwood's characters may reveal about the way she has internalized stereotypes.

Here's another blogger's more complete review of the series.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Wisconsin's Money Becomes Minnesota's

The misbegotten Wisconsin tourism campaign (Autumn Becomes You) continues into winter:

It's good to know the state of Wisconsin has money to burn on these ads. I'm sure my local newspapers appreciate the ad dollars, even if the audience doesn't appreciate the artwork.

I guess it could be worse. The ad campaign could have been designed around Governor Scott Walker.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Now Those Are Some Covers

It's probably apparent that I'm a long-time reader of science fiction. One badly kept secret of the science fiction publishing world is that the book cover art varies between "acquired taste" and "dreadfully bad."

A lot has been written about this failing, including a little by me, so it was nice to see an example today of a couple of s.f. covers that could stand up in any design competition:

The U.K. covers of Cory Doctorow's two most recent novels, designed by Amazing15, have been nominated in just such a competition. They look so little like the usual science fiction covers in the U.S., it's almost hard to realize the genre they belong to.

I hope one of them wins the prize.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Stop Wasting Money on the Olympics

The first Olympics I remember were the ones of 1968, though my images of both Mexico City and Grenoble (with ice skater Peggy Fleming) are kind of vague. The games of 1972 (Sapporo and skater Janet Lee!) and Munich, including the terrorist attack, found me glued to the television. In 1976 I watched every single broadcast minute of the summer games in Montreal. ABC's Jim McKay still has a special place in my heart.

I lost track of the Olympics a bit during college and young adulthood, and by the time I noticed, the summer and winter games had split into a two-year alternating schedule and I found I didn't care at all about what took place in the competitions.

I know that some of my disaffection for the games over the past few decades is the result of being older and having more to occupy my mind and my time, but I don't think that's all it is. The rah-rah-rah nationalism, the commercialization, and the sheer waste of money to build the infrastructure needed are hard to overlook.

Charles Lane, writing for the Washington Post and reprinted in the Star Tribune, captured my thoughts: OK, I'll say it: Let's end the Olympics.

The modern Olympics were founded by a French aristocrat, Pierre de Coubertin, who believed in promoting international peace and understanding by reviving the ancient Greek custom of periodic truces for athletic competition.

Whatever might be said for that idea in theory, it hasn’t panned out in practice.


The Games also have created a target for extremists, from the Palestinian terrorists who killed 11 Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972 to ultra-rightist Eric Rudolph, who placed a deadly bomb at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. Consequently, these celebrations of international conviviality proceed under heavy military guard.

Rather than curbing nationalism, the Olympics have arguably exacerbated it.


Yet for all the private profit-making associated with the Olympics, the Games’ positive economic impact on host nations is pretty ephemeral.

It famously took the city of Montreal 30 years to pay off the cost of the giant stadium built for the 1976 Summer Games. One of the many reasons Greece is in such economic misery is that it ran up about $9 billion in public debt for the 2004 Summer Games, whose total cost — $11 billion — was the highest of any Games in history up to that point.
That last point may be the most important of all. Many people in Sochi live in deplorable conditions, made worse by the Olympic construction boom. And just wait until the stories start to build up about construction costs for the 2016 summer games in Rio in a country where millions live in abject poverty.

I'll do my best to ignore the hype in the coming weeks, but that won't change the massive waste of money and human effort that could be better used to solve real problems in the world.

Update: Add corruption and environmental devastation to the Sochi construction bill.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Now That's the Way to Rebrand

I just got this postcard in the mail, probably because my company is on a mailing list for Visi, a longtime Twin Cities internet service provider:

The front side shows the logos for Visi and four other companies -- four with some variant of the swoosh) -- which are combining forces... form a new company that will keep the name of one of the five original companies. That company's name is OneNeck.

Am I the only one who doesn't get that name?

What the heck does it mean? Why is it supposed to inspire me to buy services from them? Neck is not a noun I associate with anything except maybe pain in the neck. And, oh yeah, bottleneck, which  seems almost synonymous with OneNeck.

They decided to change the font used in the logo, at least. They got rid of the Rotis Serif and its 1990s idea of what high-tech looked like, and replaced it with a European-style sans serif. Kind of generic, but what can you do:

Unfortunately, they decided to keep the strange logo mark.

What is that shape? What does it have to do with necks? Is it supposed to be a squashed analog clock, maybe? A tunnel with a bird flying through it? A bottomless Rotis O with a mustache?

My primary way of seeing it is as a very stylized female figure: long hair flowing around a woman's body, which is suggested only by a triangular crotch shape.

But maybe that's just me. OneNeck = OneCrotch?

Monday, January 20, 2014

How Much Is Too Much?

A letter in Friday's Star Tribune suggested that the problem of income inequality and the minimum wage could be solved by decreasing the gap between the lowest-paid employees in a company and the highest (usually the CEO). The writer,  Jeff Moses of Minneapolis, asked:

Is there an optimum difference between the incomes of the wealthiest of us and the poorest? Is there a point where the income difference becomes dangerous to a healthy economy? When some executives make 400 times more than their employees, have we passed that point?
What would be a good limit to set on this ratio?

I think part of the problem with this thought experiment is that numbers like 200 and 400 don't sound that unreasonable... they're not large numbers, we can grasp them, we can even visualize something in those quantities. I think there's even a tendency for the mind to think of them as 200 or 400 percent more, rather than 400 times.

Because let me tell you: If a CEO makes a $1 million a year and the lowest paid employee makes a bit over the minimum, $8 an hour, that's only a 60:1 ratio (basing that on each person working 2,080 hours a year, the federal definition of full-time... yes, I know, it's possible the CEO works more than that, but this is a for-instance).

A ratio of 60:1 is already a huge difference because really, who needs to make even a million dollars a year? I'm not talking about having a million dollars in savings for retirement, or a million dollars in assets, including your house. A million dollars in income. A year. Other than gold-plated doodads, what could you find to spend it all on that comes close to being something you actually need?

Two hundred times $8 an hour is more than $3.3 million a year. Four hundred times is just about six-and-two-thirds of a million dollars.

After thinking about this, I've come up with a ratio that I'd like to implement in my ideal country: 30:1.

Lots of room there to encourage people to get ahead and be the one to earn the top money, but not ridiculously. If the CEO wants to make a million dollars a year, s/he can pay the lowest-paid workers $16 an hour.

That doesn't seem like too much to ask.


After writing this, I came across a New York Times commentary by a former Wall Street trader, titled For the Love of Money. He describes the need to continually earn more and more millions of dollars as an addictive behavior and then puts in perspective the idea that those who earn hundreds of times more than others must be doing something inherently more valuable:
I made in a single year more than my mom made her whole life. I knew that wasn’t fair; that wasn’t right. Yes, I was sharp, good with numbers. I had marketable talents. But in the end I didn’t really do anything. I was a derivatives trader, and it occurred to me the world would hardly change at all if credit derivatives ceased to exist. Not so nurse practitioners.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

We Need a New Action Verb

No, no, no, Star Tribune:

What is this, the Hunger Games?

Though it's not really the headline writer's fault in this case. What other verb of a similar length could have been substituted? "Focuses on" is wimpy and long. "Addresses" is wimpy and unclear.

Sometimes it seems as though all of our metaphors come from war and sports, at least the ones that have to do with carrying out a plan in a concerted fashion.

From war

Collateral damage
Battle plan
Plan of attack
Target (and target market)
Defend (your market share)
Win (your business)
Gaining ground
Joining forces
Rallying the troops

From sports

Kickoff (meetings)
Slam dunk
We're in the ninth inning
Keep your eye on the ball
Game plan
Touch base (somehow this came to mean "communicate")
Level playing field
Come out swinging
The ball is in your court (I use this one all the time at work!)
Run interference
Play hardball

I'm sure there are a lot more of each.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Street Corner Coffins

I probably read about it in the Pioneer Press back in 2012, but somehow I overlooked the arrival of a storefront prominently labeled "Affordable Coffins" on Snelling Avenue, just north of University, in Saint Paul's Midway neighborhood.

Not sure why this strikes me funny. It's probably the fact that it's in a storefront, complete with hand-painted grocery store signs suggesting the coffins' many uses.

I'm kind of a fan of cremation or, even better, the new environmental methods of disposing of your body, like resomation. But if you want a traditional burial, I'd definitely give Affordable Coffins a call.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Front Page News, for Real

What a front page in today's Star Tribune!

Not even counting the story about how Target's recent data breach indicates a much wider problem or the one recounting a divided open hearing about allowing copper mining in the wilds of northern Minnesota, there were three stories that made me exclaim in dismay:

Climate risk

It's simple: If nations keep dragging their feet about reducing carbon emissions for another 15 years, "the problem [will be] virtually impossible to solve with current technologies." The only way to fix it would be to suck huge amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere and store it underground… "But it is unclear whether such technologies will ever exist at the necessary scale, and even if they do, the approach would likely be wildly expensive compared with taking steps now to slow emissions."

And get this: "The report said that governments of the world were still spending far more money to subsidize fossil fuels than to accelerate the shift to cleaner energy."

The slight decrease in U.S. emissions over the past eight years was rightly pegged as a result of outsourcing our carbon emissions, along with the manufacturing of the goods we use, to China and other developing countries. And our increased use of less carbon-emitting natural gas (while we ship our coal overseas.)

It doesn't matter what country burns it, guys. It's all one atmosphere, and one world.

Drug testing in Duluth schools

Infected by the drug war and bad example set in Scott Walker's Wisconsin, just across the border, Duluth schools are considering random drug tests for their students. They'll only be able to require them of students who take part in voluntary aspects of school: sports, clubs, and parking in the school's lot because earlier court decisions have ruled out taking away students' rights completely.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Especially since research shows this type of testing has no effect on student drug use. "But a positive school environment? That cut down on the share of students who started smoking cigarettes and using marijuana, according to research published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs." A positive school environment: isn't that the opposite of what you get by mistrusting your students and randomly testing them for drugs?

Superior, Duluth's Wisconsin neighbor, has been doing random drug tests since 2006. "The district has seen a surge in the number of students expelled…" Which gives the lie to a Duluth official who claimed the tests would be used to "get help for the students who need it."

As Chuck Samuelson of the Minnesota ACLU pointed out, testing only kids who participate in voluntary activities discourages participation in things that might be keeping them in school. It makes me think of Carl Hart's participation in basketball. If his school had been doing drug testing, would he have dropped out of basketball, or quit using recreational marijuana? Who knows, but it's stupid to force the choice.

Duluth officials claim they're "highly invested in creating positive climates" in their schools, with "responsive classrooms" and other programs. They believe drug testing will "amplify those efforts," despite the research that shows otherwise.

And they seem to have an unrealistic idea of the financial (not to mention the human) cost of the proposed program: They're budgeting $5,040 a year, despite the fact that Superior's program costs $30,000.

The story ends with this quote from a school official: "Whether its's something to do with drugs, academics or another area, our job is to take good care of these kids."

This is the wrong way to do that.

Cuts to rental aid

First, let's all remember: Getting a Section 8 housing voucher already meant spending an average five to seven years on a waiting list. And the mean household income of a Section 8 recipient is only $13,564 (not much more than the annual cost of a market-rate two-bedroom apartment in the Twin Cities).

So the program should be increased, not cut. But no. Now over 10 percent of the existing vouchers will be eliminated. Because of the sequester, people like Brittannea Stevenson, a Walmart cashier who finally got a voucher after two years on the waiting list in Mankato, had her voucher revoked just as she was finding an apartment.

Others, like Vicki Parchman, who lives with her adult son and 13-year-old grandson, are told their apartments are too large, so they'll have to pay the difference or move out. In her case, that's $325 more a month. Families with children are scrambling to get into one-bedroom apartments, leaving the parents to sleep in the living room, if they're lucky enough to find a place at all. And often it means changing buildings and neighborhoods, and thus their kids' schools. I'm sure that will improve educational outcomes.

Richelle Richardson, developmentally disabled and receiving $800 a month in disability payments, is being told she'll have to pay $200 more a month in rent. Her current place lets her 15-year-old attend what's considered the best high school in Minneapolis, and it's near a bus line and grocery store.

These are often the same people who have been hit by Head Start cuts, food stamp cuts, and the termination of long-term unemployment benefits.

What effect will this have on homelessness, which we're all so "committed" to ending? Where are these folks going to live?


These were all front-page stories. But when I went to the Star Tribune website to find links, the only stories that I found on the home page were the ones about Target and the mining hearing. I had to search the site to find the Section 8 and Duluth drug stories, and could only locate the climate change story by using Google. Even putting a unique bit of text from the Times story in quotes in the Strib's search engine didn't find the story.

A good example of how a physical newspaper is a completely different thing from a news website.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Anonymity Is the Default Condition

I get bent out of shape over the abuse of the Fourth Amendment, so I was happy to read Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld's ideas about how to get past the idea of privacy and begin to value the concept of anonymity.

Anonymity is very different from privacy. Walking the streets, you’re not in private, but you may be anonymous if no one recognizes you. If you go into a store and pay cash for a book, what you’re doing isn’t private, but, again, you may be anonymous, and that anonymity might be very important to you. When people post material on a freely accessible website, their postings are public, not private — but they may well be anonymous. In such contexts, the question is not whether privacy should be honored but whether anonymity should be protected.


[Federal judge] Richard J. Leon..., who ruled against the NSA program last month, ...saw that there was something wrong in the NSA program apart from whether metadata is private.

Given the way cellphones are used today, Leon concluded, metadata can be mined to produce a live-streaming digital portrait of an individual’s entire life. “Records that once would have revealed a few scattered tiles of information about a person,” he wrote, “now reveal an entire mosaic — a vibrant and constantly updating picture of the person’s life.” For example, well-mined metadata could reveal a “wealth of detail” about a person’s “familial, political, professional, religious and sexual associations.”

I don't know that I completely agree with Rubenfeld's proposed solution, but at least it's going in the right direction.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Stronger than the Storm Over an Ad Campaign?

Aside from the George Washington Bridge scandal, Chris Christie is being investigated for possible malfeasance in selecting the agency that was hired to create a post-Sandy "New Jersey is open for business" campaign.

Two things are at issue:

  • That the selected agency did not have the lowest bid ($4.7 million vs. $2.5 million from the other finalist).
  • That the agency's proposed campaign prominently featured the governor and his family while he was running for governor, essentially giving him free airtime of the best possible kind.
The agency, Brushfire Marketing, working with a PR firm named MWW, hinged its pitch on the message "Stronger than the storm," and I have to admit, that's a good slogan. Selecting an ad agency is not usually a matter of selecting the lowest bidder, and I generally think that type of requirement can be counterproductive to a good final product (as evidenced in the disaster).

Note that the work was done on a very tight schedule: five days to put together the pitch, then three weeks to execute the campaign. According to the agency's CEO, "This took the entire agency giving up their personal lives for weeks, but it was worth it."

Who knows why one bid was more expensive than the other? One company can easily estimate its costs differently than another for the scope of a project like an advertising and promotion campaign, even by 88 percent. (Case in point: the other two agencies that bid had even higher prices than Brushfire/MWW's $4.7 million.)

It's possible that when it came time to select the winner, Brushfire/MWW's concept and plan were 88 percent better. We'd have to see the pitch from Sigma Group, the other finalist, to know the answer to that. But even then it would be subjective.

What's not subjective is that Christie's campaign clearly got more for the state's money (which came from federal disaster relief funds), and that's the issue the investigation should focus on, in my opinion. Including Christie in the ads should not have happened. 

Some coverage suggests that using Christie in the ads was the deciding factor in selecting the agency:
At oral presentations for bidders on March 15, state officials “inquired if we would be open to featuring the governor in the ads,’’ said Shannon Morris, president of Sigma Group of Oradell.

“They stated an interest. They asked us about using the governor,’’ Morris told NJ Press Media adding that officials “didn’t ask us about anybody else as a subject.’’


MWW spokesman Bill Murray said in a statement Monday that MWW’s proposal “included no mention or suggestion of using the governor in the paid advertising campaign.”

But Shannon Eis, the company’s senior vice president, said in a May interview with the Press [before the ads became controversial] that MWW executives pitched using the governor in a starring role when they met with state officials on March 15. Eis in that interview said the company made it clear that Christie would have a prominent role.
So it sounds like MWW is now trying to hide the fact that Christie-casting was part of their pitch. It's notable that Sigma Group made its presentation a few hours before MWW: which means the selection committee had the idea on its own, before its members heard it in the MWW pitch.

If this version of events holds up under the increased scrutiny it's going to get, it was clearly wrong, and it reveals another facet of Christie that makes me not want to vote for him. But if the selection was based on the merits of the campaign itself, I don't have a problem with going with the higher bidder.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Happy New Year, Pacific Standard

If you haven't checked out Pacific Standard magazine, do it today. I discovered it about a year ago and look forward to its bimonthly arrival in the mail the way my cat awaits his food each morning.

The most recent issue has been getting a lot of notice lately because of its cover story, Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet. I read that article and thought it was worth doing because it put a lot of facts in one place where they can be cited, but it wasn't news to me. The truth -- that women writers are threatened with rape and dismemberment for daring to string a few words together -- is a revolting fact of life these days. It hasn't happened to me (thanks, readers!) but reports have been common.

A lot of men, however, seem to find it a revelation and have been tweeting about it, which is good. Thanks, guys. When I saw the recent response by Ross Douthat, conservative columnist for the New York Times, in which he called on men to cleanse the Internet of its worst misogyny, I knew it had passed some kind of threshold of recognition. So congratulations to the writer, Amanda Hess. I hope it does some good.

The two things from the issue that did surprise me were on unrelated topics. First, this graphic:

One percent of power plants make 30 percent of the entire energy industry's carbon emissions. Not just emissions of the coal-burning part of the energy industry. Wow. Seems like there should be something relatively easy that could be done about that.

The other notable piece was Crash Course by Helaine Olen, who brings together the work of various researchers whose findings challenge the conventional wisdom that financial literacy can improve things for the poor and struggling. Requiring financial literacy courses in high school, for instance, has no effect on savings or investment behavior.

So what about "just in time" financial literacy classes? When a person starts a new job and has to make decisions about a 401K plan -- that's the time to teach, right? But that opens up a big can of conflict of interest worms, with the student (who by definition lacks knowledge) being asked to judge what's unbiased info and what's not. And even if the teaching is unbiased, the time of life of the students may keep them from hearing the advice:
[With] instruments like the 401(k), consumers must begin saving early in life to maximize the money they will have on hand at the end of their careers. But that often doesn’t happen. People stay in school until their late 20s, or, faced with competing demands on their funds, come to believe they can’t afford to put money away for some ill-defined future need. They make bad decisions for what seem like good reasons. If a counselor comes along at some point in this process, it’s likely not going to be “just in time,” but either too early to make an impression—or too late to make a significant difference.
And even if a young worker hears the message about saving, what about all those student loans that have to be paid back?
College tuition has soared at rates well beyond that of inflation, forcing students to turn to loans to get by, which in turn leaves them servicing massive amounts of debt in their 20s, a time when financial literacy classes--citing the power of compound interest--say they should save.
(Noam Chomsky, among others, has written that increasing tuition and the resulting debt may have been intentionally deployed as a means of social control of young people after the unrest of the 1960s and early '70s. Hard to be an activist when you're buried under crushing debt. A bit paranoid, but who knows?)

And how will financial literacy keep you out of trouble when the biggest cause of bankruptcy is debt from a family health crisis? As the work of Elizabeth Warren has documented (in her pre-Senate days), medical bills top the list above even job loss and family breakup.

Olen ends the article by telling about a different take on financial literacy, which doesn't try to educate as much as make you appreciate financial constraints: the game Spent, which I've written about before.
Spent, like the controversy that ended up swirling around McDonald’s suggested employee budget, points to an oft-buried truth. The financial literacy movement presumes that with a modicum of education, we can all be equal in the financial and economic marketplace. But that’s a false promise. Financial literacy is, first of all, no substitute for financial regulation. It’s also an ultimately ineffective personal solution to a systemic political and economic problem.
There's a lot more to why people make "bad" decisions, and why the poor are poor. Simplistic notions like financial literacy only make people feel guilty about things, like scarcity, that are too often beyond their control.

Helaine Olen is the author of a book called Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry. Sounds like it's worth a read. She blogs about the problems of our do-it-yourself retirement system at

Monday, January 13, 2014

Who Put the F in REEDOM?

The recent chemical spill in West Virginia -- the one that's keeping more than 300,000 from their drinking water -- was caused by a company called Freedom Industries, which produces "specialty chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries."

"As much as 5,000 gallons (18,927 liters) of industrial chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or Crude MCHM, leaked into the river on Thursday," according to officials quoted by Reuters. Symptoms of poisoning from the chemical include vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, rashes and reddened skin.

And check out the logo for Freedom Industries:

That design sure sets my mind at ease about their patriotism, if not their competence.


The Guardian's Ana Marie Cox argues the West Virginia spill should be bigger news than the Chris Christie bridge scandal.

There's no compelling narrative, no unfolding drama, no whodunit to solve, and catastrophic environmental destruction in West Virginia, on an even larger scale than the nine counties affected by the spill, is old news. The state harvested its entire 10m acres of virgin forest between 1870 and 1920. In the past 50 years, mountaintop-removal mining has made over 300,000 acres of unfit for economically productive use, and the clean water supply has been systematically reduced by 20% in the last 25.

I suspect there's a more subtle yet uglier motivation in how the New Jersey story beguiles us even as West Virginia toxifies.

Bridgegate as we understand it right now in no way asks us to take a look at our own lives or behavior. The questions people have about the Fort Lee lane closures take as a given that people should be able to drive to and from work minimal interference; we want to get to the bottom of "why the traffic was held up for hours?" but not, "Why are there so many people driving?"

That people identify with the drivers ("that could happen to me") and see the West Virginia chemical draught as a merely a terrible misfortune ("those poor folks") illustrates why dust-ups like Bridgegate decide elections but environmental issues continue to lag far behind as an issue voters care about, despite the growing urgency to combat climate change. We can personalize a scandal, but the effects of environmental damage happen to other people – the people of West Virginia, to be specific.

Because make no mistake: our country's national habits are at the heart of West Virginia's regional tragedy – perhaps even this specific one. As coal production has shifted away from the Appalachians to Wyoming and the plains....West Virginia politicians have become increasingly desperate to make their state as attractive as possible to industry. In that context, that state authorities knew about Freedom Industries' massive stockpile of MCMH as long ago as last year and did nothing about it makes sense.

Compared to the systematic devastation of an entire region's environment, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" seems like the petty feud that it was.