Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spice Doesn't Always Rhyme with Nice

We all have words we pronounce incorrectly. If we knew better, we wouldn't say them wrong. In my experience, they're usually Latinates we've only read and never heard said aloud, so why should we know how to say them? The art of reading the phonetic spellings in the dictionary is just about dead, I'm afraid.

For years I thought detritus was pronounced DEHT-ruh-tus, until an editor friend corrected me with deTRYtis.

I recently heard a lawyer on a radio discussion pronounce panacea as puhNAYshuh.

But when it's a fairly common word, you have to wonder just a bit, as in this story from Not Always Right:

And the main lesson here is that it's always dicey to correct someone's pronunciation, even if you're doing it to make sure you understand what they're saying.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Scalialand, Home of the Free

Last night on the Daily Show, John Stewart played a bit of back and forth between U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli and Justice Antonin Scalia from the Supreme Court hearing about the Affordable Care Act:

Verrilli: In the health care market, [the uninsured are] going into that market without the ability to pay for what you get, getting the health care service anyway because of the social norms… to which we've obligated ourselves, so --

Scalia: So don't obligate yourself to that.
Which is a modest proposal to just let them die.

There it was, baldly put. Anyone who doesn't have insurance should just die. The idea that had seemed beyond the pale when it was called out by audience members during a Republican debate last fall was now being said by a member of the Supreme Court.

Then this morning in the Star Tribune letters to the editor, there was this from writer Michael Schwartz of St Louis Park:
As soon as the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare, I hope and expect that the true conservatives in Congress will pass a "No Care for Freeloaders" law -- if you don't have insurance and don't have a big wad of cash in your back pocket, you sit outside the hospital doors and stay sick, or die if that's what it comes to. At least you will die proud to have kept your liberty.
I'm still not sure if Schwartz was serious or writing a parody, but that's the point we've come to.

As if all or even most of the people without insurance are without it because they decided not to buy it. Everyone without it is a hypothetical healthy 30-year-old who decided not to pay. And as if a penalty, such as death, it will make people buy it. Right?

Because, the assumption is, being without health insurance couldn't possibly result from not being able afford it, or being able to afford only bad insurance that's revoked right when it's needed. Maybe you're too sick to work to afford it, as in the case of Nikki White, described in T.R. Reid's book The Healing of America, so you lose your insurance. Or maybe you have preexisting conditions that make you uninsurarable.

What reality do Scalia and Schwartz live in? What country is this?

Update: Here's a good example of a person who will die with her liberty intact under the current system. A woman with advanced cervical cancer, undiagnosed and untreated because she had no insurance.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

One More Reason to Love Maggie Koerth-Baker

It's embarrassing how much I'm a fan of Maggie Koerth-Baker. I'm counting the days until my copy of her new book, Before the Lights Go Out, arrives at the local bookstore. I follow her on Twitter and read her on Boing Boing. I even thought about going to that sledding meetup she organized back in February, and if you know me, you know that makes no sense at all.

Her Boing Boing post today about the pink slime meat controversy only adds to my esteem. I wrote about the slime back in 2009, decrying the lack of quality control and the fact that schools feel forced to buy it because the need to pinch every penny.

Maggie points out, rightly, that there is nothing wrong with trying to use every part of an animal that is as expensive to raise as a cow, and she's right about that. Being squeamish about the slime's content of leftover beef parts, heated and extruded, is a bit too precious:

I'm not convinced that pink slime is any more gross than, say, what goes on in 3/4 of French Provencal cooking. Or authentic Chinese cuisine. Or, really, any cooking tradition that hasn't bought into the uniquely American belief that only the nicest parts of the muscle are edible and everything else is gross and unsanitary.
There definitely is an element of privileged, culture-based disgust in our discussions of the slime. And using ammonia in food processing may be fine; insert your favorite crack about dihydrogen monoxide here.

But there still seem to be some problems with palatability vs. safety. When enough ammonia is used to make it safe, lots of people think the stuff tastes funny. So there's a major incentive for the producers to go easy on the ammonia, as one Boing Boing commenter pointed out:
My understanding of why the pink slime is bad is that it's made from generally bacteria-contaminated trimmings, and if you use enough ammonia to kill the bacteria, the meat tastes terrible and is pretty much inedible. So the packing companies submit a sample of super-ammoniated beef to the regulators to show it's germ-free, then decrease the ammonia content in the actual product that they sell. So you end up with a product that will, if not cooked to death, maybe kill you. (signed by someone called Bob Dole's Commie Doppelganger, believe it or not)
It's not a simple issue either way, but I'm glad Maggie is keeping a scientific approach even on visceral issues like pink slime.

P.S. -- Last night, John Stewart exclaimed over the official name of pink slime: Lean Finely Textured Beef. I'm sure I wasn't the first one to do that, but I beat the Daily Show.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Serves Those Slacker Asthmatic Kids Right

As the Supreme Court fiddles while Rome burns, I thought it was a good time to point to this news about a recent University of Minnesota study:

School-age children received less asthma medication when their parents had to pay more of the cost, according to a study released Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers led by the University of Minnesota's Pinar Karaca-Mandic reviewed insurance claims for more than 8,000 asthmatic children ages 5 to 18. The children also ended up in the hospital with asthma-related complications more often when their families bore higher out-of-pocket costs.

"These children aren't getting the medicine they need, which can spell serious long-term trouble for them," said Karaca-Mandic, of the School of Public Health. "The results signal one of the true impacts of rising insurance costs."

-- Jeremy Olson, Star Tribune
So conservative economists can keep telling themselves that co-pays have only positive effects, making people more responsible consumers of health care, but we know that it's not that simple.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Wordy Chicken

I'm not much of a consumer of Gold'n Plump, a local brand of conventionally raised chicken. But I do like their recent graphics, emphasizing how local they are:

Hen made out of the words Buy local. It's the neighborly thing to do.
I find the word "Buy" a tad hard to read, but it's easy to infer it from the context.

A fun and clever way to show "chickenness" without saying it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Steve at the Theater

The Twin Cities have some nice historic theaters -- the Heights, the Uptown, the Surburban World, the Grandview, and the Highland.

The St. Anthony Main theater isn't historic or particularly interesting from an architectural standpoint. It's a 1980s addition to a repurposed historic building, one of those inside-the-city shopping malls that were popular for a while but now are mostly full of offices instead of stores.

It has five screens and appears to be limping along by showing a mix of first-run, international, and almost-art films, plus housing the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul.

But my favorite thing about the St. Anthony Main is the painting of Steve Buscemi tucked away on the second floor, near the unused satellite refreshment counter:

Painting of Steve Buscemi
Not what I was expecting to see when I came out of the theater and went the wrong way.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Look What the Cat...

...dragged out of the recycling box:

He really, really wants to help with hauling it outside, I guess.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sign of a Disconnect

Looks as though these folks spent more to make their political sign than they do on upkeep for their house and buildings:

Run-down looking house and gray farm outbuildings with pristine handmade sign in front yard
Here's the sign close up, in case it's hard to read in my bad photo:

Red and blue letters on white background reading Tax and Spend Policies Bother You? Vote Republican
I suppose they'd argue they can't afford to take care of their place because their taxes are too high. Even though federal income taxes are at their lowest level in half a century.

Photographed near the Amana Colonies in Iowa.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Lights Are on, But Everyone Is Busy

First, go read this story about a customer-cashier interaction from Not Always Right.

What could explain that behavior? I have a guess.

A friend told me years ago about something she did while in the midst of writing her dissertation. She was at a grocery store, and when she went to write a check in payment, something like this happened:

Customer: What's the name of the store?

Cashier: [name of store]

Customer: And what's the date?

Cashier: It's the 15th.

Customer: Um... of what month?

Cashier (somewhat disbelieving): February.

Customer: Ummm... and... what year?
So my hypothesis is that the Not Always Right customer was in the midst of writing a dissertation or creating some other type of work that completely consumes the mind, to the point where no other inputs have a chance of being processed.

Any other possibilities?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Does Phyllis Know About This?

After all, her name is being taken in vain:

Beer bottle with label clearly reading Schlafly
As seen in Iowa City, Iowa.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cooperate and Nobody Gets Hurt

Hauled the plastics over to Eastside Co-op on Saturday. My dedication was rewarded when I spied this vintage sign over the health and body care desk:

Early 20th century poster with dove and the words Cooperation for world peace -- join a co-op!
Did you know that it's the International Year of Cooperatives? And that more people work for co-ops worldwide than work for multinational corporations?

In honor of IYC, I've created a new tag, Co-op Stalker, and I've gone back through my years of posts to tag all the evidence of my stalkerism.

(Credit to a Linden Hills Co-op T-shirt slogan for the title of this post.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Visiting the Amana Colonies

Stone house in Amana, Iowa
The Amana Colonies were founded in the mid-19th century by a breakaway sect of German Lutherans who believed in "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" -- without any influence from Karl Marx.

They established seven towns in east-central Iowa and operated them within a completely communalist system for nearly 80 years. Families shared houses; all cooking was done in communal kitchens; parents worked on the farms or in community-owned industries for no pay, but instead received credit at the town's retail establishments. Children aged 1–7 were cared for in a centralized nursery.

Black and white photo of horses on a dirt street, front yards with wooden fences and vegetable gardens, clapboard houses
The main street in 19th century Amana, showing the front yards used as vegetable gardens.
German language ballot
The Great Change ballot,
which was written in German.
It has now been 80 years since the Amana members voted in 1932 for what they call "the Great Change." The vote ended communalism and established a joint stock corporation to share the enterprises, but  separated business from the church and family finances, so that people were paid for their work and everyone cooked for themselves.

When I read the Wikipedia entry about Amana before visiting, it seemed to me that 1932 was an odd time to make such a change. My recollection of the Wikipedia's explanation of the Great Change was that there had been a crash in demand for Amana-made fabrics during the Depression. In the short film shown at the Amana history museum, however, that wasn't mentioned as a reason. Instead, the film emphasized a fire that destroyed their mills during the 1920s. Uninsured against the loss, the industries never recovered.

But a third reason stands out the most in the Amana museum's displays. According to one placard,
Many adults, realizing that they would be provided with food and clothing whether or not they worked, feigned illness or simply refused to work. Many members simply lacked the commitment to the original communal and religious ideals that had been held by their parents and grandparents. In order to continue to manage the farms and businesses, Society leaders were forced to hire an increasing number of workers by the early 1930s.
Younger members of the community, particularly, were influenced by contact with the outside world, even though they didn't have radio. (Rural electrictrification reached Amana in 1936.) The automobile and influxes of tourists put them in touch in ways their parents had not experienced. In the 1920s, young girls would sneak off to one of the non-Amana towns to get their hair bobbed. And "many young people wanted to attend school beyond the eight grades provided by the Society's schools."

The results of the Amana experiment are hard to ignore: In the midst of plenty, people aren't willing to sustain a restricted way of life, even if it does provide for their basic needs. As another placard in the museum put it,
The Amana reorganization was noted across the United States. During the Great Depression, some individuals sought alternatives to the existing economic system of the United States. Individuals who were concerned that one alternative would be a communist system similar to that in the Soviet Union cited Amana as proof that any communistic system would fail. Others, advocating moderate change, saw in the restructured Amana Society a possible model for other rural farming communities.
Today, Amana appears to be primarily a tourist enterprise, though farming and appliance manufacturing are still part of the picture. I'm not sure if it's shrinking, like most of rural Iowa and rural America, or if it's holding its own.

In the museum, there is a collection of art and written notes from Amana school children, created in 2003. One note was particularly poignant for me, given my tendency to romanticize the original goals of Amana's founders:
My Town

I think living in Amana is OK except it needs a Walmart/Mall. I would like it better [with] less tourists. And it needs less Antique shops. Other than that I love school and the town is great! Also the prices need to be a little lower.

It needs a theme park and a cellular center or a huge dome and a Coral Ridge mall/Mall of America.
Child's note with drawings of a clock tower and a domed building

Monday, March 19, 2012

I never know what I'll see when I wander down the alleys near my house. Recently, it was this:

Handmade sign nailed to a utility pole, reading Corporations lie, people die
Followed by these:

Several odd looking organic shapes on the ground
Close up to confirm:

Closeup of one shape to show that it is a faded, flattened pumpk
Yes, those are deflated pumpkins.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Best Comics Take a Second to Get

Dan Piraro's "Bizarro" for March 17, 2012:

St. Patrick and Medusa on an ill-fated blind date. She has no hair.
I'm so glad the Pioneer Press runs this strip, even if they have censored Doonesbury for the week.

Visible in living color on Piraro's site here.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Very Special Are Friends

I can't remember where I took this photo.

Plush Yoda doll with a smaller Spongebog doll on his lap
It may have been at Daughter Number Three-Point-One's school.

It's an extra-beautiful, global-warming inspired March day outside, so now I am going to for a walk.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Ides of Tabs

So much media goodness lately.

Sara Robinson at Salon on why the 40-hour work week is more than a nicety: it's the most productive amount of time for people to work. Adding hours doesn't result in correlated amounts of output. How did the change to working more happen? She answers that, too.

The Same Rowdy Crowd's Joe Loveland reframes Minnesota's upcoming Constitutional amendments. Requiring a supermajority to raise taxes, becoming a "right to work" state, requiring voters to show photo ID, defining marriage as between one man and one woman -- there's a succinct way to rephrase each of those to expose their pitfalls.

As Maggie Koerth-Baker said on Boing Boing, it's only a hypothesis, and it's just beginning to be tested... but there's a possibility the obesity epidemic is caused by air pollution and increased amounts of carbon dioxide. Wow. I look forward to hearing results on that one!

I have to remember this: The short-term thinking often associated with being poor (and therefore making bad long-term decisions) is a result of being poor and under stress, rather than the other way around. In one experiment, for instance, when economically privileged subjects were put into a stressful situation, it took about 10 minutes for them to start making really bad decisions.

Barbara Ehrenreich is coordinating a new effort to pay unemployed or underemployed journalists in an Economic Hardship Reporting Project. They'll be investigating all of the ways the "greased chute" of poverty operates, exactly opposite of the ladder we're all taught to believe exists in America. Ehrenreich gives her perspective on the past few decades of writing and policy about poverty here. She makes clear the need for the Project:

...a new discovery of poverty is long overdue. This time, we’ll have to take account not only of stereotypical Skid Row residents and Appalachians, but of foreclosed-upon suburbanites, laid-off tech workers, and America’s ever-growing army of the “working poor.” And if we look closely enough, we’ll have to conclude that poverty is not, after all, a cultural aberration or a character flaw. Poverty is a shortage of money.
This five-minute TED Talk uses humor to dynamite entertainment industry claims about financial losses from piracy.

Gar Alperovitz has a three-part series in Yes! magazine. (I know I should subscribe to Yes!, but the one time I read an issue back-to-back, I got so depressed I was afraid to look at another one.) But knowing that Alperovitz is all about solutions (even though he describes problems), it's safe to read these.
Oh, and hey -- did you hear that the pink slime beef byproducts that are rinsed with ammonia has a trademarked name? I kid you not. It's even capitalized: Lean Finely Textured Beef.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thoughts on Teach for America

Thanks to Diane Ravitch on Twitter, I read this veteran teacher's cogent thoughts on Teach for America:

Like so many good ideas in education (charter schools in particular), what was once a good idea...has been co-opted for other purposes.

We are witnessing an attempted takeover of one of the last public institutions left in this country, one that is fundamental to the democratic ideal upon which this country was founded. While I believe that there is plenty of good intention in this attempt, the fact that it has been coupled with huge amounts of public money has distorted those good intentions, or perhaps done away with them all together.
 And this:
...the assertion that TFA teachers are better than either new teachers or veteran teachers doesn’t really pass muster at ground level either. Why aren’t parents in the ‘leafy suburban’ school districts crying out for those awesome TFA teachers? Knowing that this is anecdotal evidence, and so considering it as such, I can’t help but point out that new teachers in my school, with all the traditionally mandated training, student teaching, and for the most part Master’s Degrees and considerable other relevant experience, take a pounding in their first few years. One of the main reasons is precisely that they are new, and this job is really hard, and getting a degree and licensure is just the beginning of learning how to do it. And kids and parents know it.
 And he reminds us:
...if we examine the majority of American schools, minus the ones that contend with poverty, American schools stack up quite well against any other system in the world. And if you consider schools like the one I teach in, on the whole, schools like that beat the crap out of every other education system in the world, by a lot, using any measure you would care to use...
Worth a full read.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Big Short

Today's interweb sensation over a New York Times op-ed by former Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith (plus Matt Taibbi's comments on it) reminded me that I haven't written anything about Michael Lewis's The Big Short, which I finished a few days ago.

Cover of The Big Short by Michael LewisLike all of Lewis's books, it's very well done. The insanity that was (and generally still is) Wall Street is exposed -- how debts were combined into larger debts, then sliced up and rated from AAA to BBB, and then BBBs were repackaged into AAAs. How the guys who figured out that it was all a house of cards managed to make some money betting against it, but also how the guys who were in it up to their necks made out like bandits, too.

The metaphor of the emperor's new clothes fits it exactly. Almost everyone on Wall Street believed there couldn't be anything wrong with these "investments" because everyone else was doing it. The massive personal financial incentives to believe in the nonexistent royal clothes may have had something to do with it. Lewis describes one high-level manager who went from making $140,000 to $26 million a year, basically to look the other way instead of understand and manage his investments.

The few people who said the emperor was naked weren't believed. One of the skeptics profiled in the book, Michael Burry, ended up being sued by his investors even though the investments he made for them were returning over two hundred times what the S&P had over the life of his fund.

The ratings agencies come off incredibly badly in Lewis's book. They were putting grades on financial packages they couldn't begin to understand. According to Lewis, they employ all the people who aren't smart enough to work in the Wall Street banks. And we know how smart those guys are.

A few favorites lines:

  • The title of a report written by one of the skeptics: "A Home Without Equity Is Just a Rental with Debt."
  • "Any business where you can sell a product and make money without having to worry how the product performs is going to attract sleazy people." -- Sy Jacobs, investment banker
  • The turning point -- when Wall Street investment banks really started to go wrong -- was after 1981 when Salomon Brother CEO John Gutfreund took the company public. Once it was no longer a partnership, where the partners had personal risk, it "became a black box. The shareholders who financed the risk had no real understanding of what the risk takers were doing..." And: "No investment bank owned by its employees would have leveraged itself 35:1..."
It's hard for me to not analogize the scenario Lewis describes to our society's general attitude toward sustainability, whether economic or environmental. When all of the people who were making money from these garbage investments gathered in Vegas for a conference, one of the skeptics couldn't believe their self-deception:
He walked around the Las Vegas casino incredulous at the spectacle before him: seven thousand people, all of whom seemed delighted with the world as they found it. A society with deep, troubling economic problems had rigged itself to disguise those problems, and the chief beneficiaries of the deceit were the financial middlemen (page 154).
They were comfortable and happy with their lot in life; they thought they deserved everything they were getting. But it was all built on false assumptions, and it crashed. Doesn't that sound familiar?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's Greek to Me

I saw this at a garage sale recently:

Worn paperboard box with word SPHYGMOMANOMETER on it
I admit I had no idea what that incredible word meant, but was soon informed that it's a blood pressure meter.

Sheesh. Why didn't you just say so?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Viva Las Vegas

The growth of Las Vegas, 1972 - 2010. Incredible for a city in a desert.

On the YouTube page, there's this bit of background:

Landsat 5 launched on March 1, 1972, Las Vegas was a smaller city. This image series, done in honor of the satellite's 28th birthday, shows the desert city's massive growth spurt since 1972. The outward expansion of the city is shown in a false-color time lapse of data from all the Landsat satellites.

The large red areas are actually green space, mostly golf courses and city parks.
From, via Maria Popova

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kirk Lyttle Gets into the Spirit

Another fine illustration from today's Pioneer Press by Kirk Lyttle:

Cut paper looking illustration of a guying being dive bombed by a Spirit Airlines plane-mosquito and lots of flying nickels and dimes
(Click to enlarge)

Spirit Airlines has just begun service to the Twin Cities. I gather they advertise very low prices and then charge you for everything they can think of... like your first carry-on bag or reserving a seat. Essentially, it's an above-board bait and switch tactic.

Lyttle's illustration combines a mosquitofied Spirit plane and a swarm of flying nickels and dimes, about to make a meal of an apprehensive air traveler.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

An Example of Heard Immunity

Peter Sagal's radio show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me probably has more laughs per minute than anything I've ever listened to. I only caught a bit of today's show, but it included this gem.

Sagal told of a British furniture seller named Sofa King whose advertising campaign slogan was just found to be objectionable by a government agency, after nine years on the air.

What was the slogan?

Sofa King low prices

And then Sagal added something like (I'm paraphrasing), "Company representatives Mike Rotch and Hugh Jass responded by saying the company has no idea what the agency is talking about."

(If it doesn't seem funny, be sure to read it out loud. Radio is the theater of the mind, after all.)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Stephan Guyenet on the Obesity Epidemic

One of the longest reads I think I've ever seen on Boing Boing, but worth it: Nutrition researcher and neurobiologist Stephan J. Guyenet explains the current thinking on causes of the U.S. obesity epidemic.

Commercial foods are professionally designed to maximize reward, because reward is precisely what keeps you coming back for more. Processed junk foods such as ice cream, fast food, sweetened soda, cookies, cake, candy, pizza and deep fried foods are all archetypal hyper-rewarding foods.  Palatability is a related concept—it’s determined in part by inborn preferences (e.g., a taste for sugar and energy dense foods), and in part by the reward system (acquired tastes).

Palatability is governed by the hedonic system in the brain, which is closely integrated with the reward system. Imagine yourself sitting at the dinner table, stuffed after a large meal. Then the cake and ice cream appear, and suddenly you have enough room left for another 250 calories of food. Would you have eaten a large, unseasoned baked potato (250 calories) if someone had put one in front of you at that point? Foods that stimulate the hedonic system have a well known ability to increase food intake, and this effect can be replicated using drugs that activate these circuits directly 
Overlaying two of Guyenet's graphs reinforces his line of thinking:

Graph showing increase in money spent on food away from home, broken down between fast food and other sources, compared to the increase in obsese and very obese people in the same time, post 1960

I've taken Guenet's graph of obese and very obese people as a percent of the U.S. population, post-1960, and laid it atop the graph showing percent of food spending at and away from home, with the rise of fast food since the late 1960s highlighted in red.

His full article makes it clear that this is not the only reason people become obese -- he mentions mid-19th century autopsies of obese people who showed damage in their hypothalamuses, for instance. But it could account for what changed so suddenly in the last 50 years.

Read the whole thing for yourself. The comments are even worth reading, for the most part, with Guyenet responding. Almost like a real conversation on an important issue.

Guyenet's blog is Whole Health Source: Ancestral Nutrition and Health

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Too Bad It's Tea for Me

Handmade coffee signs, made with love and enthusiasm, if not exactly skill:

JAVA coffee label in red and green

Farmer to Farmer Guatemala coffee sign with hand drawn flower
At the Bean Factory, St. Paul, Minnesota. They'll brew you a cup made from any of their beans, all roasted in-house.

Too bad I don't drink coffee. It almost makes me wish I did.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tabs from a 60° March Day

All of these tabs are from yesterday. It was a busy evening, reading all of this, let me tell you. I didn't even get a chance to go outside when it hit 60, although it seemed like 60 when it was 57, so I guess I didn't miss much.


It's hard to believe, but David Wong of Cracked (of all places!) has written the definitive essay -- punctuated by rambunctious photo/caption combos -- explaining why those of us who are better off didn't get that way on our own. Yes, even the 1%. Now I have to read every day. Jeez, thanks a lot, David.

Photo of wealthy-looking people laughing with champagne glasses and caption At the best parties, the words social mobility are the only punchline you need


"And she goes --" , "So I go --," "And then she went" ... Guess what? Those alternates for says, say, and said are a lot older than you'd think, and that usage may have a different meaning than plain old say/said.


A fine piece of journalism about the little-heralded Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, which finally struck down sodomy laws throughout the U.S. in 2003. The defendants were far from perfect, from the point of view of legal activists -- and worst of all, they weren't even guilty of the crime they were charged with.


You know how Fox News has been going wild about Obama causing the recent increase in gas prices? Here's what Fox News had to say about gas prices back in 2008 when the president belonged to that party whose name begins with R. Both sides should declare a moratorium on trying to use this issue to score points with voters.


The economic impact of the Pill (over the past 50 years) was written up in the New York Times. "...a number of studies have shown that by allowing women to delay marriage and childbearing, the pill has also helped them invest in their skills and education, join the work force in greater numbers, move into higher-status and better-paying professions and make more money over all."


More Jonah Lehrer goodness from Wired, this time on why some people learn faster or better than others.


The huge release of test data within New York City schools, purporting to show which teachers are most and least effective, despite margins of error between 30 and 50 percent, had one upside: It allowed blogger Gary Rubenstein to analyze the 4th grade scores of kids in charter schools vs. the public schools. His finding: students at charter schools are not the kids who need help the most. Instead, they're at the middle of the pack. The kids in the deepest holes are in the public schools, left behind by charters who don't want them.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Clear-Cast, Another Waste of Your Money from UMS

The Universal Media Syndicate has a misleading new product: the Clear-Cast antenna.

Full page newspaper ad for Clear-Cast
The product looks like a cable box -- it even has a wifi symbol on it -- but it's just an antenna that will pull in broadcast signals. According to Stop the Cap!, it's priced well beyond the amount you'd need to pay for an antenna to get equivalent reception.

The price listed in my Pioneer Press of March 2, 2012, was $47 plus shipping and handling. It's fascinating that the price listed by Stop the Cap from the Syracuse, N.Y. paper was $38. I guess they think Minnesotans are bigger suckers, or have more money to spend than their upstate New York counterparts.

The ad has the usual earmarks of a misleading UMS product. The headline uses the phrase "Free TV" and refers to "953 crystal clear over-the-air digital TV shows." And I know it says shows right there, but when I read it, I thought it said channels (as did the several other people I tried it out on without prompting).

The footnote at the bottom of the ad -- set in condensed sans serif type in a very wide column with tight line spacing -- says:

The number of channels received will vary by zip code. Residents living in large metropolitan areas may get up to 53 crystal clear channels, while people in outlying areas will get less. That means even in rural areas that pull in just NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX and PBS broadcasts, there are up to 953 shows each year to watch for free.
I added the emphasis on the weasel words: It "may" get 53 channels (or not). And that big 953 number not only doesn't refer to channels, it refers to shows per year. I'm not even sure what that number means -- 953 episodes? 953 different titles, including series, movies, and specials?

I give them credit for including the price of $47 as numerals with a dollar sign, something they have avoided in all of their past ads, to my recollection. At least you can see what the price is pretty easily, once you get past all the misleading uses of "Free."

But it doesn't change the fact that this is an antenna that you could get for much less money just about anywhere.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Invisible Welfare State

From Ezra Klein:

If Americans who either rent or own their homes outright were asked to accept a tax increase of $150 billion in order to subsidize the mortgage payments of their indebted friends, it seems unlikely they would find that appealing. The same goes for asking Americans who don’t get health insurance through their work to spend $100 billion or so annually subsidizing the benefits for those who do. Of course, that’s exactly what’s happening right now, but it’s hidden in the tax code, so most Americans don’t know it and can’t protest it.

The Worst Reader Ever Given a Book

From today's NPR story on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time:

Despite considerable misgivings, Farrar, Straus and Giroux bought the book. They sent it to an outside reader, who called it "the worst book I have ever read."
The story is worth a listen just to hear L'Engle reading from the text. Not to mention her granddaughter's recollections about her grandmother and the book.

FSG has issued a commemorative edition with a new cover based on the original, which was designed by Ellen Raskin:
Original and 2012 covers of A Wrinkle in Time, one blue, one orange, both with circles

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mike Lester Brings "Fair and Balanced" to the Star Tribune Editorial Page

It appears the Star Tribune editorial page editors have decided to invoke yet another false equivalence in the art that graces their pages. After all, they have the moderate Steve Sack as an in-house political cartoonist and feature L.K.  Hanson's "You Don't Say" once a week. And gosh, Hanson had the nerve to say something that some saw as critical of religion in early February. (Hanson's cartoon is used with permission.)

So what does the Strib do to make up for these extremities? They've begun running cartoons by an artist I can only describe as around the bend to the right, Mike Lester of the Rome (Georgia) News Tribune. I noted the first of his cartoons, a few weeks back. It portrayed the issue of abortion as being between an angel quoting the commandment against killing and a devil spouting Margaret Sanger, who was speaking about birth control, not abortion. (Not to defend Sanger's views, but Lester is misusing them.)

Yesterday's cartoon was worse, if anything.

Cartoon showing an African-American veteran with no lower legs sitting in a wheelchair. Back wheels are missing, up on blocks. Reading a newspaper about Obama cutting benefits to military. In background, Obama is running away with the wheels
First, you notice that it shows a legless American veteran sitting in a wheelchair. He's reading a paper with the screaming headline "Obama: Health Care Cuts for Active and Retired Military."

Then you realize that his wheelchair is lacking its large wheels, and that they've been replaced with cinder blocks.

And finally, you see that there's a small figure in the background, running away, with the wheels under his arms. His large ears make it clear: It's supposed to be Obama.

So, in effect, Obama is just another ghetto hoodlum, stealing car parts.

Mike Lester's signature. Between the large M in Mike and the L in Lester, there's a large circle shape in the lower case e, while the i and k are cramped, so it looks like it says MOLesTer
You could argue that it's only a metaphor, that Lester could have applied in any comparable situation under Bush or Clinton. But he wouldn't have. The allusion makes no sense if it's a white guy running away, because everyone knows that the stereotype is of black (or maybe Latino) young men stripping down cars. For this cartoonist, being black is Obama's salient characteristic. If Lester had wanted to make the same general point about Clinton undermining the military, he would have invoked Clinton's weight or his philandering. About Bush.... well, let's all just agree that Lester probably didn't make many critical cartoons about Bush.

Lester tried to soften the extremity of his image by drawing the veteran as a black man as well, but that doesn't change the fact that the whole purpose of the cartoon is to paint the president of our country as a two-bit thief who would steal the wheels out from under a veteran, just because he's black.

The only good thing about the cartoon is that Lester's signature is so badly rendered that, at a glance, it's hard not to read it as "molester."

His cartoons certainly molest any sense of civil discourse in the art on the Star Tribune editorial page.

Update: Mike Lester takes his extreme views and lack of judgment one step further with this cartoon that portrays Obama as Sandra Fluke's pimp. Yes, really.

Thanks to commenter artguy1 for telling me about Lester's latest outrage. I found the link above, to, by googling "Mike Lester racist." Over a million hits. I'm sure they're not all about this Mike Lester.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Barry Blitt on the Radio

Terry Gross recently interviewed illustrator Barry Blitt on his latest children's book assignment, George Washington's Birthday, and all of those New Yorker covers, including the Obamas' fist bump.

Ink drawing of 7-year-old George Washington measuring himself

Instant Tears and Harry Chapin

Actors have a technique to bring on tears; they remember something that instantly makes them incredibly sad. I know what that thing is for me: it's recalling specific people who have died when they were much too young.

Extra tears leak out for sudden deaths. That's even worse, I know, but it has something to do with how my emotions are wired.

It's not dead children or teens that make my eyes leak the fastest, but midlife adults who've seen a lot but not the lives of their children as adults, or who didn't get a chance to enjoy retirement and grandchildren. And this isn't a recent thing, as you might assume. The first time I realized it, I was not yet 21.

One example is Harry Chapin, the singer-songwriter who died in 1981, age 38, after a car crash on the Long Island Expressway. I was 22 at the time, and a long-time fan. I was sharing a house with a woman from Long Island who was friends with his daughter, so I'm sure that added to my reaction.

I recently added a bunch of songs I hadn't heard in years to my iTunes list, and one of them is "Circle" by Chapin.

All my life's a circle, sunrise and sundown
The moon rolls through the nighttime
Till the daybreak comes around.
All my life's a circle
But I can't tell you why
The seasons spinning 'round again
The years keep rolling by.
Hearing it was enough to turn on the faucets. It's a live recording, and he sounds so full of life and fun, pulling in the band's cellist and even the roadies to sing part of it.

And then there's the second verse:
It seems like I've been here before
I can't remember when
And I've got this funny feeling
That we'll all be together again.
There's no straight lines make up my life
And all my roads have bends
There's no clear-cut beginnings
And so far no clear ends.
I know it's not great poetry, but there's something about the way the words interact with the music, the fact that I learned it when I was young, and that he died so suddenly, leaving so much and so many behind, that make it poignant for me.

Friday, March 2, 2012

All I Can Say About Rush Limbaugh

I was managing not to hear about the recent Rush Limbaugh misogyny until last night, when I happened to watch a bit of MSNBC while waiting for the Daily Show to start.

I'm pretty much wordless with shock and disgust about it, so please read Michael Leddy's brief rumination on book 22 of Homer's Odyssey. It's related, believe me.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tabs, You're It

A few morsels of media goodness that have been hiding out in my browser tabs lately:

Who's picking, packing, and shipping that thing you bought online? Folks like this, in conditions like these.

A couple of word/image combinations I saw recently that I would have filed away in a drawer if I was still filing things:

Obama photo with quote explaining that religions need to make their cases in secular society

Banksy explains why advertising can't expect to be unassailed in the world

Guess I could have put them on Facebook, but I made a vow not to post word/image combinations there.

And this beautiful bit of time-lapse video via Science Friday:

Also viewable here in case that embed doesn't work. It's ice melting and changing as seen through polarized glass (if I understood the photographer correctly).

Plus a fun bit of writing about the politics of Ellen Raskin's novels.


And Mother Jones's take on street photographer Vivian Maier. Since I already knew about Maier, what I like best about this piece is its focus on John Maloof, the guy who found her negatives and has been scanning them and bringing them to the world.


By the way, have I ever mentioned that I used to absolutely hate the word browser, when used in the context of the interweb? It felt so artificial, so much as though it were consciously coined. And worst of all, browser already had a meaning, which has now been washed away. But whenever I would hear it used back in the mid-1990s, I couldn't help picturing a person casually looking through books in the old Odegard's store in Uptown (Minneapolis).

It makes me sad that I use the word now without thinking about it at all.