Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Sad But Beautiful Sign

Old motel signs are a favorite of mine. It's a joy to see one that has been maintained and sad to see one that hasn't... yet there's a different kind of beauty in a weathered, half-destroyed sign, too.

This sign is on Brewerton Road in North Syracuse, New York, almost right across the street from Julie's Diner (where I stopped for lunch, upon recommendation from Michael Leddy).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A New Lutheran Social Service Logo

Lutheran Social Services has a new logo. And what do you know, it's a major improvement over their old one!


Boring, if readable, type (Palatino... very desktop-publishing-1987-looking). Colors that seem to evoke the old Norwest Bank identity (it's a Minnesota thing, sorry if it doesn't resonate for you). And that symbol... what is it? Someone playing ultimate frisbee?


The now bolder, sans serif type is still readable (and better for social media and web uses). The colors have a lot more pop. And the designers have made a clever LS interaction that combines to make a heart with a burning flame atop, referring to classic Christian iconography without looking stodgy.

A+ for LSS!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Farms Were Not Always What We Think They Are

Here's an etymology fact you may not have known (I didn't): the noun farm comes from Old French, ferme, "a rent or lease." It originally meant "fixed payment" rather than a place where you grow food. It comes from the Latin word firma, which also meant fixed payment, which itself came from firmare (to fix, settle, strengthen) and firmus (strong, stable).

This English meaning is from the 13th century. (Farm comes from the same root as the noun firm, meaning "business house," which dates from 1744, though it came to its present meaning along a different path.)

According to etymonline, the sense of farm meaning "tract of land" was first recorded in the 14th century, but "cultivated land" didn't come into use until 1520. The verb we all use today (to farm crops) didn't come into use until 1719. There was an earlier verb form that meant to rent or lease, and the current phrase "to farm out" is a remnant of that.

So farm, in its original sense, was all about being in debt to or renting from a land owner; essentially serfdom or tenancy. Serf comes from the Latin word servum or "slave," but it lost that meaning by the 18th century, when it had come to mean the "lowest class of cultivators of the soil in continental European countries."

Farmer, ironically, was originally the person who collected the taxes (14th century). The agricultural sense of farmer became common in the very late 16th century, when it replaced the magnificent word churl. These days, churl is an insult, but its earlier meaning was simply "man of the common people" or "country man."

Monday, July 17, 2017

Which Side Are They on?

I don't have a lot to say on this day when yet another Minnesota cop has shot and killed an unarmed citizen. But I did see this cartoon recently that tied together a few things:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Modern Library

I'm not quite sure what year this cartoon is from... I guess it says ’98 in the signature. It was co-created by Janice and Anthony Peyton Porter of Minneapolis.

Pretty relevant, huh?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Least We Could Do

Jeronimo Yanez may have been found not guilty of manslaughter, even though he shot and killed Philando Castile without reason. But that doesn't mean Yanez is innocent.

I thought we all knew by now that "not guilty" does not equal "innocent." You are not found innocent in a trial. You are found not guilty by a reasonable doubt.

Given that, and the circumstances of Castile's death, our governor, Mark Dayton, has decided to name a newly announced police training fund after Philando Castile. This seems like the best outcome still possible, given that a jury and judge have failed to find justice in this case.

The police unions, of course, immediately denounced the idea, and several letter writers in the newspapers have echoed their point of view. The writers always include the detail that Yanez was "found innocent." No, he wasn't, and he's the poster child for police training in deescalation. Not to mention (in his case) non-escalation in the first place, since he was entirely responsible for everything that led to Castile's killing.

As a child at Castile's school put it:

Naming the fund after Castile is the least we can do. It's more than "nothing" happening. It means his name will be remembered and cops will be reminded how not to act even when they aren't at a training.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Yet Another Association

Over the years, I have noticed the need in our complex society for organizations called associations. Every possible human endeavor, it seems, has an association, no matter how obscure or ridiculous.

In the past, I have noted the National Association for Information Destruction, the Association of North American Directory Publishers, the National Association of Settlement Purchasers, and SMART (the association for Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles).

Today, I found out (thanks to Clay Jones, writing for Science Based Medicine) that there is an Association of Placenta Preparation Arts. The whole article is worth a read (ewww), but the bit about the association was the kicker.

(That they require an association is questionable, of course, but also... what about their misuse of the word "arts"? Wouldn't you think their work would be more of a science? They must think they can get away with their pseudoscience more easily if they call it an art.)

I once had a student who worked for the American Society of Association Executives. So, essentially, that's an association of associations. Which may signal the end of history. We can all go home now.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Signs with/from Impact

Impact Printing, located on Rice Street in St. Paul's North End, is a print shop that spends a lot of its time these days making signs, rather than printing on paper.

It's known as the lowest priced union shop in the area, and therefore makes a lot of political lawn signs. But it looks like they're branching out to make their own originals to sell:

And they've been keeping their equipment busy.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Around 1990, the term “political correctness” came into common use (which I have written about more than a few times). But you may not have heard the more recent term, “virtue-signaling.”

Like PC before it and various recent putdowns, like snowflake, it tries to preempt prosocial speech and behavior by labeling them and associating them with social negatives.

But let’s look at this term, virtue-signaling. It’s defined as “an action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue.”

People who post a rainbow flag over their Facebook profile photo are accused of virtue-signaling. It can be anything from a white person writing an anti-racist post to participating in a demonstration against deporting immigrants or men working against sexual violence. Somehow, it always seems to be applied to people who speak up (in however small a way) for someone not like them, on a cause that is not rooted in their own experience but is instead based on empathy.

But this use of the term is much too narrow, if we’re going to talk about who’s signaling their virtue: It seems to me the biggest signalers of all are people who post patriotic messages and “support our troops” memes.

Of course, if we’re human, we’re probably virtue-signaling: human society is all about people signaling about the self. That’s why there’s a famous sociology book called The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. That’s why there’s a school of thought called symbolic interactionism.

I’m human. I communicate with everything I do, from my words to my actions to my clothes. Would you prefer I signal about evil instead of virtue?

The world I want is one where we aspire to virtue, and inspire each other through our words and actions.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Cruel Logo

Let's say you run a business that helps people with bad eyesight. What would you do for a logo?

Well, why not design one that's completely occluded and hard to read?

Yeah, that's it: Make the first letter a lowercase shape that's enlarged. Choose a different font than the rest of the word. Run a meaningless swoosh through it that's the same shape as the letter's curve, and while you're at it, put a couple of yellow lines in there, too.

And that's not even mentioning that this version of the typeface used (Kabel) is so badly drawn, it would make its creator, Rudolph Koch, wish he'd never designed it.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Walkaway into Utopia

In these times, it's good to read fiction that leans toward utopia. Toward that end, I just started Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer. I know nothing about it, except it was the subject of this article called Why read a utopian novel in 2017? (I haven't read that piece yet because I'm afraid of spoilers, so I can't say whether it contains any or not.)

I also recently read Walkaway by Cory Doctorow, who is one of science fiction's most reliable utopia-seekers. As with all of his earlier books, I highly recommend it. It's full of interesting ideas about our possible future, extrapolating not just climate and technological change but also wealth inequality.

"Walkaways" are people who have left mainstream culture (called "default") to create settlements in waste areas, based on the ideals of a true sharing economy. As one character describes it early in the book,
"It doesn't work at all in theory. In theory, we're selfish assholes who want more than our neighbors, can't be happy with a lot if someone else has a lot more. In theory, someone will walk into this place when no one's around and take everything. In theory, it's bullshit. This stuff only works in practice. In theory, it's a mess" (p. 51).
Which pretty much sums up Doctorow's view of human nature and society. And also this:
"The important thing is to convince people to make and share useful things. Fighting with greedy douches who don't share doesn't do that. Making more, living under conditions of abundances, that does it" (p. 92).
I won't go into the plot and action, but instead will just share a couple more quotes. Almost everything is dialog in this book, as with the above quotes:
"A 'job creator' is someone who figures out how to threaten you with starvation unless you do something you don't want to do" (p. 156).

"The amount of stuff we consume to survive, it's crazy. End-timers used to project our consumption levels forward, multiplying our population by our needed resources, and get to this point where we'd run out of planet in a generation and there'd be famine and war.
"That kind of linear projection is the kind of thinking that gets people into trouble when they think about the future. It's like thinking, 'well, my kid is learning ten new things every week, so by the time she's sixty, she'll be smarter than any human in history.' There are lots of curves that start looking like they go up and to the right, forever, but turn into bell curves, or inverted U's, or S-curves, or the fabled hockey-stick that gets steeper and steeper until it goes straight vertical. Any assumption that we're going to end up like now, but moreso, is so insufficiently weird it's the only thing you can be sure won't happen in the future" (p. 191).
In a conversation between one of the walkaways and one of the mega-rich (named Jacob):
"Jacob, I know there will always be people like you."
"Rich people."
"People who think other people are like them. People who think you either take or get took. We'll never be rid of that. It's a primal fear, toddler selfishness. The question is whether people like you will get to define the default. Whether you can make it a self-fulfilling prophecy, doing for all of us before we do to you, meaning we're all chumps if we're not trying to do to you sooner. That default was easier to maintain when we didn't have enough. When we didn't have data. When we couldn't all talk to each other."
"Okay." No hint of overt sarcasm, all the more sarcastic for it.
"We're not making a world without greed, Jacob. We're making a world where greed is a perversion. Where grabbing everything for yourself instead of sharing is like smearing yourself with shit: gross. Wrong. Our winning doesn't mean you don't get to be greedy. It means people will be ashamed for you, will pity you and want to distance themselves from you. You can be as greedy as you want, but no one will admire you for it" (p. 375).
As you can see, Doctorow's characters run to the didactic side of things, but (as I've said before) I have a high tolerance for that, at least when it supports my world view and doesn't seem like it's the kind of thing that gets said enough.

Walkaway will stick with me as I grapple with how to say what I want for our society, rather than just reacting to all of the things I don't want.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Your Very Own Trump Train

Not long after the Bradford Exchange ad for the Life of Christ ran in Parade magazine, the same company ran a full-page ad for The President Trump Express:

It’s a working, HO-scale electric train that comes to you over six months.

  • Shipment 1: “Donald Trump 45th President” diesel locomotive
  • Shipment 2: “Make America Great Again!” engine and FREE track, power pack and speed controller
  • Shipment 3: “America First” vista dome car
The track, power pack, and speed controller are given to you “free,” though they are “a $100 Value!”.

The copy below the photo is worth a read:
“I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down.”

So promised Donald John Trump in his inaugural address to the American people after becoming our 45th President. To commemorate this remarkable time in our nation’s history as our new President assumes the responsibility of boldly guiding America’s future, Hawthorne presents the President Trump Express!

Boldly Decorated! Authentically Detailed!

This classic and real working electric train is decorated with memorable images of President Donald Trump from his history-making campaign and inauguration plus his stirring messages of patriotism and American greatness. You’ll marvel at the wealth of authentic details on this heirloom-quality, HO-scale train collection that’s masterfully crafted with solid metal chassis and gleaming gold-tone wheels for years of enjoyment!
And don’t forget, it’s an “Outstanding Value!”. The first shipment costs $79.98 (broken into three payment of $26.66), and the same amount is charged for each of the two other shipments. So that's $239.94 total, plus $29.97 in shipping ($9.99 each time).

My friend the model train fan tells me the front engine is an F8 diesel, a design that dates from the 1940s. Appropriate to Trump. The second car (described as an engine) doesn’t include a motor, I’m sure, so it’s really just a boxcar with a different undercarriage.

The cars are said to have solid metal chassis, so that implies the rest of the train is plastic.

So, three cars and enough track to make a 3'x4' oval for $270. While model trains vary a lot in price depending on their quality, it seems pretty likely to me this one should be priced at half that much.

But this is the land of the free and the home of the sucker-based profit, so have it at it, Trump fans.