Thursday, May 31, 2012

Undermining the Safety Net

From today's Star Tribune letters, this bit of thoughtfulness from Donna Pususta Neste of Minneapolis:

Food stamps
Fraud focus is really an attempt to demolish

Regarding the May 25 article Food stamp program targeted: This reminds me of the way the safety-net program of welfare was brought down. From President Ronald Reagan onward, we read and heard stories about "welfare queens," until President Bill Clinton pretty much destroyed the program. It's no accident now that there are stories in major newspapers about food stamp fraud. They will continue until the food stamp program is brought down.

When I read about the 1 percent fraud rate of the food stamp program, I wanted to say, "Really?" The military should receive such scrutiny. Sixty percent of the food stamps that are issued feed children, and 19 percent go to the elderly. The cost of this program is so small relative to the total federal budget that it would be like taking a child's allowance away in order to pay the mortgage.
Thank you, Donna.

A past related post:

Is Your Grandma a Welfare Queen?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Chiseling Bankers Collude with Colleges

In case you had any lingering beliefs that bankers might have souls, read this AP story about how banks are skimming financial aid money from college students.

Instead of issuing checks to students, colleges have for years been making deals with banks to hand out aid through debit cards. Then the banks tack on all sorts of fees:

  • $50 for "lack of documentation" -- whatever that means, since the college is the one getting information from the student
  • $50 if an account is overdrawn for 45 days
  • $10 a month if the account isn't used for six months
  • $29 to $38 for overdrawing the account through an automatic payment
  • 50 cents to use a PIN rather than a signature during a retail transaction
  • Plus replacement card fees and fees for using the card at any but a small number of ATMs on campus
A single company, Higher One, does business with one-fifth of the students in the country. US Bank and Wells Fargo, between them, have almost the same share.

As Barbara Ehrenreich points out in Preying on the Poor, from her new website the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, "Individually the poor are not too tempting to thieves... [but] the poor in aggregate provide a juicy target for anyone depraved enough to make a business of stealing from them."

That's it in a nutshell, according to Rich Williams, author of a report by US PIRG on the problem: "For decades, student aid was distributed without fees. Now bank middlemen are making out like bandits using campus cards to siphon off millions of student aid dollars."

The AP story goes on to say:
Students can opt out of the programs and choose direct deposit or paper checks to receive their college aid, but relatively few do. The cards and accounts are marketed aggressively using college letterhead and websites carrying the endorsement of colleges. Higher One also warns students that it will take extra days if they choose direct deposit or a paper check....

Offerings by financial companies vary by campus. Some issue checking accounts with debit cards. Others offer prepaid debit cards, which are similar to bank debit cards but can carry higher fees and offer fewer consumer protections.

Often, students' campus ID cards double as payment cards. At the University of Minnesota, TCF Bank issues cards that serve as school IDs, ATM and debit cards, library cards, security cards, health care cards, phone cards, and stored-value cards for vending machines, the report said. TCF also has branches on campus and 25-year naming rights to the football stadium. Its cards charge similar fees, the report says....

Under its contract with Huntington Bank, Ohio State University will receive $25 million over 15 years, plus a sweetener of $100 million in loans and investments for the neighborhoods around campus, the report said. Florida State receives a portion of every ATM fee paid by a student, it says.

It's difficult to get a full picture of how much money the schools are getting because most of them refuse to release their contracts with banks. Only a handful were available to the authors of the report. 
I think I need a new file folder: How Do They Sleep at Night?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Start Seeing Prisons

Emily Badger, writing for The Atlantic, brings us the work of grad student Josh Begley, who has compiled Google satellite images of all the prisons and jails on U.S. soil. He has begun to load them to his own site,

We have less than 5 percent of the world’s population but we're responsible for a quarter of the world’s prisoners, held in almost 5,400 facilities. I wonder how many of them are private, for-profit enterprises these days?

Badger also points out a fact I learned a few years ago, but which I appreciated being reminded about:

These rural prisons often house urban prisoners, in the process transforming both the communities where these facilities are located and the neighborhoods from which their inmates came. This population shift has serious consequences for urban, often minority communities, in part because the Census has long counted prisoners where they’re locked up, not where they’re from, costing inner-city communities resources and political capital (this practice, often called “prison-based gerrymandering,” began to gain greater attention during the 2010 Census).
Aerial view of a prison with symmetrical buildings for eyes and a border fence shaped like a skull
Doesn't this one look a bit like a skull and cross bones?

Update: Yet another Boing Boing post pointing to a use of satellite photography as geography... this time a study that finds a strong correlation between the number of trees and the average income in a neighborhood.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Privilege and Pain

Headaches took up residence inside my skull during puberty. I remember taking aspirin just about every day of high school around noon. Occasionally, they slip away for a vacation that lasts a week or two, but they always come home at an inconvenient time.

Intermittent back pain waited until my 50th birthday to inhabit my body. It's more like a visitor than a permanent resident, thankfully -- at least so far.

All this is to say I have some familiarity with pain and the absence of it, which is why this line from Ani DiFranco's song "Shroud" has always resonated with me do much:

Privilege is a headache you don't know that you don't have.
I love John Scalzi's extended metaphor of straight/white/male as playing a video game on the lowest difficulty setting, but DiFranco's simple line gets the concept across so well and so quickly. Both are good tools to have handy when the need arises to make privilege visible.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Death of a Blogger: Peter Sieruta, 1958-2012

This piece is likely to be a mess, so I apologize in advance.

Peter Sieruta, writer of, has died.

I don't know why this man who is of an age with me is gone. It's shocking in an almost electrical sense.

How will anyone not in contact with his family know that he's died? His brother spoke through his Facebook status, probably only because Peter had left his computer logged in. What if his blog is not logged in? What if his readers who don't visit him on Facebook, or his future readers, will never know that he has died?

Why would that matter? It matters to me because I don't want anyone to think that Peter is just another blogger who wrote for a while and then suddenly stopped. I don't want his voice to disappear, just because he has left us.

Selfishly, I am grateful to the interweb for bringing Peter to me. I discovered his blog in 2008. I don't remember what I was searching when I found it, but I instantly recognized a member of my age cohort who loved a lot of the same books I did from growing up in the later years of the Baby Boom. I loved his voice, his sense of humor, and his slightly doofy self-deprecation.

Reading him and soon seeing comments from authors, including Newbery-winners, in response to his posts, I realized this guy was something special. His April Fool's Day posts are legends. (Similar to this Hornbook review he wrote in 1989).

Since then, Peter has inspired my writing a week of posts about Virginia Lee Burton, a review of Barbara Corcoran's A Star to the North, about being a graduate of the public library, about the illustrator Evaline Ness, and most recently about the aroma of old books. He pointed me to the Ellen Raskin tapes housed at the University of Wisconsin.

He loved M.E. Kerr and Sandra Scoppettone, didn't care for Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons, and recently helped select Pete Hautmann's brilliant The Big Crunch for the L.A. Times Book Award. He was opinionated but kind. He helped me identify several books I recalled from junior high by only a few details; he was brilliant at that.

And the interweb didn't bring Peter to me alone. It brought him to the world, including the world of children's literature, connecting him with authors, bookstores, and publishers. It put him in touch with other writers in the field, and led to a contract to cowrite a book with fellow bloggers Elizabeth Bird of A Fuse #8 Production and Jules Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. (I believe the tentative title is Wild Things! The True, Untold Stories Behind the Most Beloved Children’s Books and Their Creators.) Now, I look forward to its publication date even more.

Death in the age of the interweb: it just gets stranger and sadder. Thank you, Peter.


Here are remembrance by his coauthors Elizabeth Bird and Jules Danielson.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Before the Lights Go Out by Maggie Koerth-Baker

If you don't think you'll get a chance to read Maggie Koerth-Baker's book Before the Lights Go Out, be sure to check out this interview with her from Minnesota Public Radio. (You can watch it or read the handy transcript.)

It covers her main arguments, and refers to some of the key examples she uses. Most important is the idea that saving energy (through efficiency, rather than conservation) requires systemic change, not just or even personal sacrifice.

To support this, she tells about the nature of the U.S. electrical grid (which wasn't designed for efficiency so much as it evolved for cheapness in the short term), why renewable sources are hard to integrate into it, how the Defense Department is doing more than almost anyone to systematize efficiency, what the deal with batteries is, and what the heck they're doing down in Madelia, Minnesota, to create energy that's "smaller than centralized but bigger than off the grid."

A key quote:

A good way to think about the future of energy is to imagine it as a three-legged stool. To keep it from wobbling or breaking, you need a strong foundation in three areas--energy efficiency, energy infrastructure, and alternative generation, all three at once (page 132).
She also nailed down a statistic I've always wondered about. You know how you hear "farming uses XX percent of our energy use" or "personal cars use XX percent" and so on? And how it seems as though those numbers always add up to way more than 100 percent? Here are Maggie's numbers: In 2009, the U.S. used 94.6 quadrillion BTUs. 41 percent of that went into generating electricity. 29 percent went into transportation. Industry used 20 percent. Residential and commercial heating, cooking, and water heating, 11 percent. (Okay, that totals to 101 percent, but that's just rounding error.)

Of the almost 40 quadrillion BTUs that we put into generating electricity, "66 percent never becomes usable electricity. Instead, it falls victim to conversion losses--turning into heat that warms up the air around a power plant, rather than actually producing electricity" (pages 14-15). Of the electricity that is generated, though, 72 percent is used in commercial, residential, or retail settings.

A chapter late in the book, called "The Default Option," discusses changes needed to make energy efficiency happen without conscious thought, to make it just the way things are. And part of that is pricing things like fossil fuels to reflect their real costs, one that "reflects all of the economic factors we don't currently consider when we use them" (page 168). Koerth-Baker went from being against cap and trade and carbon taxes before writing the book to supporting them, based on her findings.
A price on carbon makes our daily energy choices easy. All you have to do is be cheap. If you're trying to decide between two products or two way to lower your utility bill, the less expensive option is probably the one that used fewer fossil fuels and produced fewer emissions. People don't have to become energy experts; they simply have to pay attention to the good deals (page 171).
 Here's a final MaggieKB point worth remembering:
When I was little, I remember reading books about "what you can do to save the planet." The truth is, it's not the planet that needs saving. It's our way of life. More important, I'm not going to save anything, and neither are you. Not alone. The way we use energy is determined by the systems we share. The only way to change our energy use is to change the systems (page 28).
If you'd like some hope mixed with your reality, and you want to be a knowledgeable part of the solution, check out Before the Lights Go Out. It's worth a lot more than the paper it's printed on and the energy that went into making it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Disappearing Fork

Green fork next to red spoon and knife
Did you ever notice this?

Let's say you buy a supply of plastic spoons, forks, and knives, 100 each, to have for impromptu picnics or special events around your house. Over time, when you want to use them you'll find that there are lots of knives and spoons, but no forks.

The same thing happens in shared kitchens, such as the one at my office. We started out with a dozen or two sets of flatware. But over a few years, all of the forks disappeared. These are metal forks, not plastic ones. There are also some boxes of plastic utensils stashed around the kitchen, but they're all knives, plus a few spoons.

One of my coworkers bought some more metal forks at a yard sale a year or so ago to add to our supply, but those have now dwindled to just a couple.

What happens to the forks? It's one of life's mysteries, along with the disappearing sock phenomenon.

But the thing I just realized about this, which amuses me most, is that the fork is a relatively recent addition to our eating toolbox. Knives, of course, go back to prehistory. Spoons started out as shells, as indicated etymologically in several languages. But forks used by individuals for eating didn't exist until about 1,500 years ago. They weren't common in Europe until the 1700s or until the 1800s in North America (source, yes, it's the Wikipedia).

Yet clearly, in the age of convenience foods and baked goods, at least, the fork is the tool we need by far the most.

According to an essay by Dennis Sherman on the Society for Creative Anachronism site,
At one time, [the] practice [of using forks] was primarily that of courtesans, prompting the Church to ban the fork as an immoral influence...

….The early forks were small, with short straight tines, and therefore probably used only for spearing and holding food, rather than scooping. The curve with which we are familiar in the modern fork was introduced in France in the seventeenth century…
So, hail the lowly fork. Nothing can replace you, especially not a spork.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Circular Logos, Past and Present

I recently saw these two logos while going about my business. Each one is a variation on the "geometric letter shape(s) inside a circle" theme, even though their designs were done at least 50 year apart.

Element Materials Technology logo, blue black and white lower case e in a circle
This logo is relatively recent. I've never heard of the company, but I gather it's an international lab business that does "materials testing, product qualification testing and failure analysis."

The logo communicates the company's scientific purpose without visual reference to any of the usual lab paraphernalia. It's rational but also active because of the continuing motion of the circle.

Logo with art deco-style G and A inside a circle, white on blue
The Great American logo, on the other hand, was on a box containing a soldering iron. It has a naive quality that I like, making me think of tool companies from before the age of integrated branding.

I don't care for the addition of the black type, I admit. Seems like they should have either allowed the small white letters to do the job of spelling out the name, or gotten rid of the small letters and just had the larger letters... Which should be in blue, and probably in a different typeface.

But I still like the clunkiness of it. It's huggable. For a soldering iron company.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Call the Tacky Police!

Clearly, my Ramsey County taxes were not at work the day they designed the vehicle graphics for our sheriff's department:

First, the truck is a bad color to use as a base. Nothing will contrast with it very much because it's a midrange color. Even white and black won't stand out against it very much.

So they tred to compensate by putting sunset-colored stripes around it. To go with the sunset letters, I guess.

And check out that patriotic 911! (Click to enlarge.)

Whenever you have to but a dark outline around your letters, you know you have a color contrast problem. The outline adds to the overall cluttered feel of the graphics.

And you wouldn't know it from looking at this side of the truck, but the other side has the words in the same spot, only they're back-slanted toward the rear of the truck -- as if the slant is supposed to indicate the speediness of the vehicle or something.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I Don't Believe It

Let's have a show of hands: How many people believe the woman in this photo is hiding a double chin under the knitwear?

Black and white newspaper ad for a study about double chins, showing a photo of a thin-faced woman hiding her chin with a sweater collar
She is clearly a fugitive from a stock photo.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Chris Monroe, 1993

Check out this 1993 illustration by Chris Monroe, which prefigures the work she did in Monkey with a Toolbelt:

Black and white line art of many cartoon people and animals in a tropical beach scene
(Click to enlarge substantially and see the kinds of detail that make the Monkey books so fun to see.)

It's neat to get a glimpse at an artist's evolution.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I Love This

Designed by Mike Anderick and distributed by a nonprofit group, Burning Through Pages, I guess this poster went viral last week while I wasn't paying attention:

Simple black and white poster with 4 pictographic figures These are your Kids, then same 4 figures as wizards, deep sea divers, cowboys, or knights and headline These are your kids on books

I could argue with the typeface selection or the somewhat naive layout of the lower part of the page, but the simple strength of the visual concept is so good that I won't.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Facts I Know, and Some that Aren't Facts

Many years ago, I heard Ralph Nader say that he might be the only person in the U.S. who doesn't use any cosmetics. Which seemed odd at first, but then I got his main point: Toothpaste and shampoo are classified as cosmetics, and there aren't too many of us who don't use those.

Nader uses soap instead of shampoo and baking soda to brush his teeth.

Ralph Nader photo collaged to add him sticking out his tongue with a bottle of shampoo and a tube of toothpaste floating near his head
(The toothpaste I use, Sensodyne, should probably be treated as an over-the-counter drug, since it has an active ingredient. Well, then again, I guess all fluoride toothpaste does, but Sensodyne includes instructions about contacting a doctor, so that seems a bit more extreme.)

I'm filing this under Facts I Never Knew, even though I already know it. But perhaps you didn't know that shampoo and toothpaste are considered cosmetics, and when I first heard it I was surprised -- so I think that counts as a fact I never knew until a certain point.

I was thinking I might include another "fact" I heard close 30 years ago: that baby shampoo doesn't cause tears because there's an anesthetic in it. I believed this when I first heard it at the tender age of 25 or so, but wiser, cynical, Google-enabled me thought better of just regurgitating that one. And I found, of course, that it's not true.

I love this explanation of "no more tears" shampoos from a Snopes forum:

The active part of shampoo comes from a family of chemicals known as "surfactants." Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Potasium Laureth Sulfate are two of the most common. These handy little molecules have one end which is hydrophilic and another which is hydrophobic. The result is that one end grabs oil from the hair and then hitches on to the water for a short ride into the drain. The problem with suractants is that, when they get into the eyes, the keep doing their job. The tear film on the eye is mostly water with a bit of oil and it acts as a protective barrier. Surfactants pretty much remove this protection. It gets worse though, they do a fine job of stimulating nerves in the eye. This hurts.

No Tears shampoos also contain surfactants, but they piggyback a larger molecule on the surfactant to keep it from getting into the sensitive tissues in the eye. The substance is called and Amphoteric Surfactant. The molecule still holds the same oil/water binding properties, but it is too big to get through tissue etc. The result is... well... no more tears.

Two problems with amphoteric surfactants. 1) They are rather expensive to produce. 2) They don't lather.

Consumers like lathering because it makes them think the shampoo is working. I invite any of you to buy a few different varieties of "no tears" shampoo, use them, and try to work up a decent lather. You'll end up with very clean hair, but only a few suds.

Amphoteric surfactants are how the shampoos keep tears away.

[signed by] Jon 'No lather, no tears, no novocaine" Up North 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tabs from a Lost Week

I was super-duper busy for the past week or so and fell behind on my tabs. So now I'm going to compile a bunch of things I want to read from some of the usual suspects.

Science-Based Medicine

Pseudoscience is not cost-effective by Steve Novella

The drug expiry date: A necessary safety measure, or yet another Big Pharma conspiracy? by Scott Gavura

Homeopathy and nanoparticles by Harriet Hall

Boing Boing

Unevenly distributed futures considered harmful by Cory Doctorow

What cancer statistics actually mean by Maggie Koerth-Baker

If you put all the water on Earth in one place by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Google search ranking is editorial in nature and qualifies for First Amendment protection by Cory Doctorow

Verizon refused to help police locate unconscious man unless they paid his phone bill by Rob Beschizza

Great moment in pedantry: winter is coming by Maggie Koerth-Baker (an astronomer gives possible reason for the irregular seasons on the planetary setting of Game of Thrones)


Prejudice is impeding anti-obesity research, experts say by Susan Perry

On Pearson and Pineapplegate: Kids and future teachers challenge critical tests by Beth Hawkins

It's a lot to catch up on. Maybe this weekend.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Minneapolis, Why Are You So Stupid?

Minneapolis is a dangerous place for people my age to be, since it sure seems as though the city hates anything that's between 40 and 70 years old.

Okay, the city doesn't hate people in that age range, but it sure seems like buildings and other architectural spaces are in extreme danger when they're around the half-century mark. The Metropolitan Building (built in the 1890s, torn down in the early 1960s) is the best-known example, but there are so many others, they've kept writer Larry Millett busy for years.

Now it's Peavey Plaza, which is located on the Nicollet Mall between 11th and 12th Streets in front of Orchestra Hall. Designed in the early 1970s and built in '73, Peavey is considered to be the first example in the U.S. of a public "park plaza," combining hardscape and greenspace. It's also a great example of modernist architecture from that era.

Peavey Plaza photo by The Cultural Landscape Foundation.
Yes, it's very inaccessible to anyone in a wheelchair, and it has some other design flaws that decrease safety.

When the city put out a call for renovation designs, they got one from the original architect, Paul Friedberg -- now 81 years old -- that preserved the original design while making usability improvements.

But that approach was rejected in favor of plans that demolished the plaza completely, replacing it with a generic design that will make us cringe in less than 20 years, I'll bet.

Birdseye view of a rebuilt plaza with some trees, some open space with lots of poles, and an outdoor performance area
Architect's rendering of the new design.
A major reason for the move to demolition, according to MPR this morning, is the fact that any new work has to be paid for through fundraising. And rich donors want to build something new, not renovate something historical and architecturally significant. "They like a little more razzmatazz or tangible difference to show where their money went," according to Beth Grosen, senior project coordinator for the city of Minneapolis.

The city's Heritage Preservation Commission voted to stop demolition and find out if the plaza should be officially designated a historic resource. The City Council today, though, overturned that ruling, which means Peavey is likely to be destroyed.

Minneapolis, why are you so stupid? Haven't you learned anything from all the parts of the past you've already destroyed?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Obama Gives Romney a Hand

Steve Sack's cartoon last week, commenting on North Carolina's vote against and President Obama's statement in favor of marriage equality, had an unintended effect on me.

Political cartoon of a guy in running clothes labeled equality who has tripped on a rock while running uphill. An arm with an Obama campaign logo reaches down to give him a hand up
At first glance, before I saw that the rock is labeled "N. Carolina" and the guy's shirt says "equality," I thought the fallen runner was supposed to be Mitt Romney, and that Obama was giving him a hand up.

Didn't make any sense, but that's what I thought. The runner's head shape and hair, plus something about his eyes and nose, seem like the way Sack would draw Romney.

I wonder how a cartoonist like Sack makes the decision about what type of person to turn into an everyman such as this? If he'd made the fallen person a woman, or a man of color, would it have been less clear that the cartoon focuses specifically on same-sex marriage?

Instead, for me, at least, it was less clear because the runner is a white guy who looks like Romney.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Game of Life, According to Scalzi

Yet another excellent essay by John Scalzi on -- Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.

Scalzi substitutes a metaphor well-known to every gamer to explain the concept usually called privilege. He makes the switch because he knows his intended audience reacts to that word "like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with 'privilege,' they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies."

Well done, John. A succinct, clear, and (I hope) palatable argument.

Although I have to say, the main point reminds me of a comment from a reader named Wayne Basta. He wrote last fall in response to your post about Warren Buffett's call for increased taxes on the rich:

People become rich (if they aren’t born that way) because of drive and motivation (with a certain element of luck). Taxing them more is just like cranking up the difficulty level in a video game. It’s clear they’ve mastered making money at the easy level. Now it’s time to take it to Normal Mode. People will still play the game. They are Achievers and this just makes it more of a challenge. Someone who is rich in an environment with no regulation and no taxes doesn’t have much to brag about. But someone who is rich when there is a 90% tax rate and firm stipulations that they pay their workers well, now that is someone to admire.
Every time I read Wayne's comment, I visualize a cute little Pacman Herman Cain or Andrew Carnegie racing through a maze, gobbling up the glowing fruits.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Aroma of Old Books

Peter Sieruta of has a public Facebook presence (be his friend!), where today he posted this lovely passage:

I am currently cataloging a collection of books published in the mid-twentieth century and I can't stop sniffing them! Every time I open one of these volumes, I'm enveloped by the spicy scent of old paper, the sharp tang of ink, and just the faintest whiff of mildew and dust.
Granted, mildew isn't anyone's favorite aroma (when was the last time you saw Mildew Perfume at the fragrance counter?) but just a trace of it -- mixed with old paper and ink and cracked leather and dried glue -- puts me in mind of dusty used bookstores...a forgotten corner of a library...or boxes of old children's books stored away in an attic or basement waiting for the grandkids to discover.
Today, every time I opened one of these volumes, I found myself sticking my face down into the inside margins -- known as the gutter -- and breathing deep. And I was struck again by how perfectly shaped books are. No matter how wide your cheeks, or how narrow your nose, everyone's face fits perfectly with the pages of an open book. All you have to do is adjust the covers a bit.
Try sticking your head in a Kindle.
I love the smell of old books, too, even the whiff of mildew, and this brought it all back. Thanks, Peter!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Movie Poster Deja Vu

There are 10 recurring designs in movie posters, mostly from recent years.

A French blogger named Christoph Courtois compiled the posters, and an English-language site called has been kind enough to repost for us non-Francophones.

The 10 designs are:

  1. Big heads in the sky over tiny people on a beach.
  2. From the back (often with weaponry)
  3. Big text on faces
  4. People standing back to back
  5. People in bed
  6. Through the legs
  7. Big eye
  8. Blue
  9. Running for their lives
  10. Cute red dress
A fun bit of image collecting.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Two Photos for Today

Sometimes a couple of pictures are all you need:

Snipe sign reading Huge Kid's Sale
Followed by:

Photoshopped giant baby crawling down a city street
Like they say, show, don't tell.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Worst Straight Apostrophe Ever

Those who read this blog know that I don't obsess about correct typography in this context. See, there was a straight apostrophe just then in the word "don't," and straight quotes just there as well. I also use the typewriter convention of double hyphens -- instead of the correct em dash —.

It's a habit I got into from working on websites. I became tired of seeing improperly coded special characters turning to dreck. I got over-sensitive, and decided that in this context the communication value of ' " and -- was good enough.

But real apostrophes, quotes and dashes have their places in my life. One is in printed materials, and the other is in signage. It's cringe-inducing to see a honking-giant straight apostrophe engraved into plastic:

Light blue sign with carved white letters reading MARY'S PLACE
(Or worse, stone... I know I've seen examples of that, too, but I can't find one right now.)

But I think this is the worst one I've ever seen:

Cooper's Foods sign with handwriting script Cooper and straight apostrophe
The right slant and organic shapes of the Brush Script type are completely violated by the straight-up-and-down apostrophe. It makes it hard to read the word as Cooper's: It looks like Cooper followed by two odd, unrelated shapes. Because the lower case s in this typeface is meant to connect with its neighbor, it's truncated and doesn't look like an s at all, not even a cursive one.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

New Use for an Old Wok

Nothing says pansies in spring like a reused wok:

Rusted steel wok full of orange and white pansies, atop a wooden pillar
Seen in St. Anthony Park, St. Paul

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Dickens of a Cover

An amazing cover from a recent Smithsonian magazine:

Smithsonian cover with image of Charles Dickens, with his hair and beard made out of scrawled words

By designer and illustrator James Victore... who has just about the worst website I've ever seen.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mapping the U.S. Election Two Ways

A beautiful way to visualize the difference between U.S. states' geographic size and their population size (and therefore electoral votes) from the New York Times:

Maps side by side with red, blue and yellow states for Romney, Obama and up for grabs, one with geographic outlines, the other with scaled squares for each state

I love how the designers managed to preserve the sense of the country's general outline in the electoral vote map, despite the squarification and various sizes of the states. (Although I just noticed that the expansion of Illinois has caused Kansas Nebraska to lose touch with Nebraska Oklahoma.)

Lots more on the Times' page, including an explanation of why Minnesota is listed as leaning Democratic instead of solidly Democratic, an assessment I never thought I would see.

Monday, May 7, 2012

All Roof and No Building

I didn't know how much affection I had for the Dinkytown (Minneapolis) McDonald's until the other day when I rode past it on the bus.

Red and yellow McDonald's roof, no building visible
The north side of the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus has changed incredibly since I left graduate school 15 or so years ago. Now it houses lots of generic brick private dorms and giant athletic complexes.

When the bus reached Dinkytown, I was astounded by the lack of familiar landmarks until I saw the familiar red and yellow mansard roof, popping up just above street level, as if the building had slipped into a sink hole.

It's a sad day when a McDonald's is one of the few buildings that brings a bit of individuality to a business district.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tabs Out of Time

Some great stuff recently, but little time to write about it, so here are the links.

Why fresh water availability matters for electricity generation (from the excellent Maggie Koerth-Baker at BoingBoing).

How Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Wash., has learned to nurture the kids everyone else expels. Lessons for all schools that deal with damaged children.

A woman remembers what it was like to get an abortion before Roe v. Wade.

A nice collection of logos, especially ones that use negative space effectively, like the one at right.

A case study in how our so-called system of paying for health care doesn't work.

The final word on the UC Davis pepper spraying travesty.

A piece of World War II history I never heard before: How the German surrender was embargoed until an Associated Press reporter broke the story without permission, and why that was a reasonable thing to do.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Obviously, I'm Pretty Indignant

Hearing that Mitt Romney's oldest son and his wife just announced the birth of twin sons by a surrogate got my attention.

Surrogacy is laden with high emotion -- the grief of infertility for sure, but also class privilege and the idea of being able to pay for anything you want, even a child grown in a rented womb. Adoption and in vitro fertilization are costly enough, but I think we can all agree that surrogacy can only be afforded by the very well off.

Well, if these are the younger Romneys' only children, I thought, I can begin to see the parents' actions as legitimate. I understand the desire to have children, and I don't know their medical history, of course. A recent NPR story about such a family showed that side of the issue.

But no. The twins are the fifth and sixth children of the Tagg Romneys. Their fourth child, now two years old, was also born of the same woman.

Family size is a touchy, touchy issue. I have my opinions, which would probably be predictable for regular readers. But can we all agree that having three children by surrogacy when you already have three children is unreasonable?

Some would say "Well, they can afford and support them." And, of course, they can, since Tagg is part of the financial parasite class (he's managing partner and co-founder of Solamere Capital, LLC).

But that doesn't excuse the use of resources raising three more rich children in a rich country, kids who will be jetting (and I use that word advisedly) to Aspen and yachting while visiting one of their many vacation homes.

The final defense of their decision would probably be, "It's a free country, and they can do what they want." Yes, they can, but they can't be free from the judgment of other citizens in this free country.

Oh, and one more thing. I learned from the New York Times story that both in vitro and surrogacy are heavily discouraged by the Mormon church, and have even resulted in "disciplinary actions" against parents who used them. But since grandpa Mitt was a bishop in the church, I guess his kids are exempt from that.

All of this points up, once again, how disconnected Mitt Romney and his family are from average Americans.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Haymarket and Matewan

Whenever I start to entertain hyperbolic thoughts about how political repression is worse now than it's ever been, I remind myself of events like the Haymarket massacre, which took place 126 years ago today. Clearly, a bunch of people died there in uncertain circumstances. What wasn't clear was who was responsible, but the press coverage and trials that followed convicted people based on their politics and not their actions.

Another example can be found in John Sayles' 1987 movie Matewan, which I watched tonight. I had seen it once before on VHS, probably around 1990, and ever since counted it as one of my favorites. On second watching, it felt a bit slow and less amazing, but it still gave a good feeling of how hopeless the coal mining people of West Virginia must have felt in the pre-union, 16-tons days, when hired "detectives" enforced the mine owners' wishes with impunity and there wasn't even hope of national media to raise an outcry.

The Matewan Massacre happened on May 19, 1920. 

Sayles's film is basically unavailable through the usual channels -- which these days means it's not in the Netflix library, or on instant watch. I had to buy it to see it. How many films by well-regarded, still-working directors aren't on disc from Netflix? Not too many, in my experience.

That reminded me of how accustomed I am to being able to get any movie that's ever been made, and how odd and entitled that expectation is. Which circled back to how things today can't compare with many moments of our history.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Vote No on Minnesota's Poll Tax

MinnPost yesterday had a great post about our upcoming referendum on requiring voters to show ID. The writers,  Jay and Iris Kiedrowski, describe the situation of one particular voter, an elderly woman (Jay's mother). Like an estimated 200,000 older voters in the state, she doesn't have a driver's license or a state photo ID. To get one, she had to get both her birth certificate and her marriage license, which required a lot of paper- and legwork.

The amendment requires the state to cover the cost of the ID itself, but not the documents needed to get the ID, which, as several commenters point out, constitutes a poll tax. And a higher tax on women than men, generally, because of the need for the marriage license to document name changes.

And even the idea that the state will pay for the IDs is dubious. As one commenter put it, "Everyone who trusts the Republicans to set up an adequately financed and efficiently run government program raise your hand."

The one good thing about this and our other referenda is that it's easy to know how to vote: Just write NO on everything.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Talking About Heads

I had front-page headline whiplash twice this morning, once for each paper.

First there was the Star Tribune, describing Obama's unannounced trip to Kabul:

Obama jets to Afghanistan, sees 'light of new day,' long war's end
What I reacted to was the word jets, used as a verb. Am I being over-sensitive to hear judgment in that word? What's wrong with the neutral goes or heads? Either one would fit.

The only people who jet places are jetsetters. And while Obama clearly travels by jet, so has every other president in the past 40 or so years. Does the Strib use the word routinely when describing presidential travel? No, they don't.

Then there was the Pioneer Press, grasping for a metaphor, I guess, to describe the Legislature's sudden change on the Vikings stadium strategy:

On 4th and 1, a GOP stadium audible
Honestly, I still have no idea what this headline means. I got the football reference at the beginning, but I'm not sure what audible means here. It just doesn't make any sense. Can a stadium that's not built yet be audible? Can a stadium (rather than the people in it) be audible at all, even after it's been built?

For contrast, here are the comparable headlines from each of the papers, both much clearer and fairer:

In Kabul, Obama declares wars of 9/11 near an end
Pioneer Press on Obama's trip

GOP throws stadium curve
Star Tribune on the stadium

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mind Your Ps and Qs

There was a real groaner of a thinko in the Star Tribune letters a few days ago:

Letter to the editor text that says companies take their queues (should be cues) from their leaders
How many pairs of eyes did that slip past, I wonder?

Or then again... I've stood in a few lines at Best Buy. Maybe it was a play on words?