Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why Johnny Brought His Gun

A guy goes into a Kroger supermarket carrying a loaded AR-15 assault rifle.

Sounds like the beginning of a very bad joke, but it happened this week when a 22-year-old man went to a Charlottesville, Va., grocery with his handy assault rifle slung across his back.

People in the store, not surprisingly, freaked out and called the police, who soon arrived. I wonder what the confrontation was like, but in the end they determined that he wasn't planning to use the gun and had the right under Virginia law to be openly carrying his legally purchased weapon of mass murder in the store.

I wonder how this all would have gone down if the guy was black instead of white? But he looks enough like Tim McVeigh, and was compliant enough with the police, to assure his safety during the confrontation.


He's the young guy in the middle.

Most interesting, though, is the fact that the guy had a piece of paper in his pocket explaining why he had brought the gun to the store (his Second Amendment rights and all that). Why would he have put that paper there?

The only reason possible is that he knew he might end up dead and he wanted to be able to make his point from beyond the grave. He was preparing for martyrdom, hoping to be a headline on Fox News, the guy who died to make the live free or die case, literally.

Do we want people who are willing to martyr themselves having guns at all, let alone ones that can kill dozens of innocents in minutes? Might that not be a reason for a mental health evaluation and cause for prying the guns from his cold, living hands?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Glenn Beck, Friend of Birds and Bulbs

Excellent segment on the Daily Show last night about what Glenn Beck has been up to lately. He's planning a "freedom town" that sounds suspiciously like a new urbanist locavore haven. Huh.

But the thing I couldn't help noticing was the odd graphic he used in the background:

Glenn Beck sitting at left of screen with graphic on a screen in background reading AMERICAN DREAM LANDS with a male figure in a suit over the words
Note its ugly wonkiness, including the use of a subversive typeface called Avant Garde, a most inappropriate name within Beckistan. (Hey, Glenn, there's a typeface called Americana -- maybe you should get a copy.)

But what is the head on that weird humanoid figure supposed to be? Here's what I thought it was:

Humanoid with odd head juxtaposed with Big Bird, which looks the same
A friend of Mitt Romney's, perhaps, but I guess now he's even tighter with Glenn.

But no, it's a lightbulb. An old-fashioned incandescent bulb, of course, and an oddly designed one at that. Because the inventiveness of American Dream Labs is best symbolized by a 19th century technology.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Apples from an Orange Crate

On days like today I wish I lived anywhere near Illinois so I could take a class with Michael Leddy, creator of the Orange Crate Art blog.

His most recent post, Bobbing for Apples, was not what I expected from the title, so I won't spoil it for you. But it's worth reading and thinking about (including the comments).

Monday, January 28, 2013

Lousy Book Covers

The internet is a big place. So it shouldn't still surprise me when I find out about a site that's been around for a while and is right up my alley, though I've never heard of it.

Such is Lousy Book Covers. Its creator trawls the book pages of Amazon.com looking for clueless cover art. And boy, is there some clueless stuff out there.

The covers mostly fall into one of (or in some cases more than one of!) these categories:

  • Extremely bad artwork 
  • Unreadable or painful typography
  • Utter incomprehsibility
The fonts used are almost exclusively either free fonts or ones that came standard with a computer operating system. Lots of Sand, Comic Sans, Papyrus, Curlz, Verdana, and Impact.

A few fine examples from the painfully many available:


This one combines bad use of photography with bad color, a bad typeface choice, too many titles, and the worst use of vertically stacked type I think I've ever seen. (Stacking type vertically is generally not recommended because the varying widths of the letters make it hard to read and awkward.) What is the name of the book? Who is the author? After some analysis, it finally became clear that the type stacked in the left column is supposed to say "Aim High" even though the designer has used a lowercase "L" instead of a lowercase "I." Is Aim High the author's name? I'm still not sure.


Bad artwork is probably the most common problem. I'm glad that people try their hand at drawing, but it's another thing to publish it on the front of a book.


Then there are the ones that you can't even read.


And the ones that have eyes coming out of Lincoln's nose.


And the ones who think they can use a little tiny scan and blow it up as big as they want and the pixels will just magically appear.


A few are not bad designs -- they suffer only from bad art.


But most have both bad art and bad design. I love how this designer made sure we could read the title and subtitle, don't you?

I can imagine the chagrin of having your book posted on Lousy Book Covers. But from what I've seen on the site, there are only a few covers included that could be considered even marginally acceptable in a bookstore. You have to learn some time.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Another Reason to Love a Snowy Day

Raise your hand if you grew up in a house with a septic tank and drainfield instead of being on a community sewer system. My hand is up.

I remember conserving water so we wouldn't have to have the tank pumped as often. I remember an occasional problem with the drainfield. But I don't remember the drainfield freezing.

Peter Leschak, a northern Minnesota writer, had a commentary in today's Star Tribune that points out one of the many unlooked-for consequences of climate change: As Minnesota becomes both warmer and dryer, we no longer have reliable snow cover, which means the ground freezes farther down.

The septic tanks commonly used for rural homes hold a thousand gallons; the typical household produces 150 gallons of waste water and sewage per day. Clearly, it doesn't all stay in the tank. Leschak explains that the liquid parts flow out of the tank into the drainfield through shallowly laid, perforated pipe. It has to be shallow to allow for the presence of the soil bacteria that treat it.

Minnesota, but especially northern Minnesota, used to have reliable snow cover of a foot or more. It would snow several feet in December, and that snow would stay until March, when we usually would get another foot or two. (The average annual snowfall in the Twin Cities is about 48 inches; up north it varies from 24 to 70 inches, depending on whether you're talking about the dryer northwest or the wetter northeast.) Leschak said that at least six inches are needed to protect a drainfield.

The winters of the past ten years, however, have been more likely to be much less snowy than that, if not snowless altogether. Leschak's drainfield first froze in 1990. He then had a decade of peace, but since 2002 it's frozen half the years.

What are the results of a frozen drainfield? Sewage backing up into your basement.

Options to deal with the problem include extreme water conservation, getting the tank pumped constantly ($185 a pop), or paying to heat your drainfield. And this is the extra ironic part:

For around $1,400 you can purchase a unit -- "easy to install" -- that will force heated air through your entire septic system. I checked it out and determined that, given our rural electric rates, running the unit the entire winter (which is what you'd have to do) would demand about 3,000 kilowatt hours, the equivalent of seven months of our regular electricity consumption...

The math didn't work for me, but more crucial was the plain absurdity of heating our poop.

Think of it: In order to prevent a drainfield freeze-up caused by milder winters, we'd increase our carbon footprint and thus accelerate, however modestly, the climatic warming that's the root of the problem in the first place. I'm unsure whether the appropriate response to this is laughter or tears.
And now we all shake our heads. One more unpredicted consequence of climate change.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Wordspaces — Yes and No

I was taught that an optimal amount of space between words, especially in larger, display typography, is the width of the lowercase letter "i" in the typeface.

Two photos from my week:


First is this street sign. The lack of kerning, leaving a space between the T and A almost as wide as a letter I, makes it possible to read the street name as St Andish. If it weren't for the loose space between the S and T, I would definitely think it said St Andish.


In this headline from the Star Tribune, which I originally tried to read from an odd angle such as this when I stood looking down at the paper sideways, the too-small space between "of" and "lockouts" made me read it as "oflockouts" momentarily. Perhaps it was an Irish name?

I know it's not really all that tight, but look how much tighter it is than the space between the closing single quote and "examined."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Appreciation Week: Susan Perry

If you want to keep up with current medical and behavioral research, MinnPost's Susan Perry is worth a daily read.

Her story for today, Think you're great at multitasking? Think again, is a good example of why I appreciate her. This is reporting on research I haven't seen elsewhere yet.

One of the questionnaires asked the students to rank their multitasking ability relative to other students. Some 70 percent of them said they were (like Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon children) “above average” at multitasking.

Of course, it’s statistically impossible for 70 percent of people to be above average on anything....

Indeed, the chronically multitasking students who had inflated estimates of their multitasking abilities were the least capable of doing it effectively. On the other hand, those students who tended not to multitask in “real life” were among the 25 percent who scored the highest on the study’s OSPAN test. They were much better able to keep their attention focused on the task at hand.
 Other recent stories I particularly enjoyed were:
Thanks, Susan, for keeping up and keeping me up on things.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Appreciation Week: Brussels Sprouts

I first ate a brussels sprout that I enjoyed in 1983. It was during my time in Washington, D.C., not long after I had begun to eat vegetables in general. I went to a friend's house for dinner and she made them with butter and garlic, I think. In retrospect, the fact that I tried them at all was a mark of my new-found maturity, and I was surprised that I liked them. It helped reinforce my path toward becoming a mostly adventurous eater.

I don't always like brussels sprouts as they are prepared, though. Some people seem to think that all they have to do is steam them whole and toss them on a plate. Wrong, very wrong. Roasting is much better.

But then there are the chefs at Brasa Rotisserie, who prepare them in what is probably the best way possible: Cut up into smallish pieces and pan seared with lime juice until they are caramelized, then topped with pickled ginger and sunflower seeds.

This photo in no way does them justice:


The best parts are the blackened bits. Don't rely on my description and definitely not on this photo. You have to go and taste them yourself.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Appreciation Week: Digital Cameras

When a technology changes, it's easy to forget how things were before it changed.

Silver-bodied digital point-and-shoot camera
Before the digital camera, I rarely took photos, leaving it to Daughter Number Three-Point-One's father. We would get them developed, put the best ones into an album, and then store the envelopes with the negatives and extra prints in a box somewhere.

Because film cost money to develop, photos automatically were subject to a scarcity mentality. You wouldn't take a photo of just anything, and if you did, you would end up with boxes full of hard-to-manage negatives and prints.

As we all know, managing digital pictures has its problems as well, but taking up space isn't one of them. As long as I have a camera with me -- whether a point-and-shoot like this or just my phone -- I can usually manage to make a visual record of whatever catches my attention, and if I keep on top of labeling the images as I download them to my computer, I can find them later, too.

And all with no expense and no space taken up.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Appreciation Week: Seat Belts

Hey, 50 years ago today a Minnesota engineer named James Ryan filed a patent for the retractable seat belt.

Which reminded me how much I love seat belts. I'm not sure which car of my childhood was the first to have them. I know we used to fit six kids in the backseat of my mom's widetrack Pontiac in the later years of the '60s, alternating every other kid sitting all the way back in the seat with the next kid sitting on the edge. So that car may not have had belts, or else we weren't using them.

I also remember this public service ad (from the early '70s) pretty distinctly, especially the part where the woman says, "Besides, they wrinkle my dress":


That ad had an effect on my 11- or 12-year-old mind, and I've been pretty conscientious about seat belts ever since. There's no way of estimating how many lives they've saved.

Retractable seat belt reminder via TPT Almanac (a Twin Cities public television news and affairs show).

Monday, January 21, 2013

Appreciation Week: A Block-Printed Tablecloth

This week I'm planning to do something simple: post about one object or person per day that I appreciate. I got the idea while I was looking at this tablecloth while visiting my in-laws last night:

Tablecloth in blue, green, red, and cream with elephants and arrow border
I love this tablecloth, both its colors and the varying parts of the design: elephants, vases, arrows, peacocks, fish, squiggles, zigzags.

Tablecloth detail with red elephant and green peacock
It's hand printed, and was sold by Ten Thousand Villages, the grandmother of fair-trade shops in the U.S.

Tablecloth detail with green and bicolor fish
The tablecloths at Ten Thousand Villages come from Indian (and sometimes African) women's co-ops. The workers are paid not only a fair price, but receive half of the payment up front.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

One Word

This is all I have to say for today:

Blue-lettered sign reading FREEZE with snow on roof
It is 9°F right now, though tomorrow's high is supposed to be just -5°F. (Lows should be -9°F tonight and -13F tomorrow night.) Those are ambient temperatures; no wind chill involved.

But I have to point out that this is not all that cold, compared to what's supposed to happen in these parts. Historically, our extreme low temperatures (mostly in January) are between –20° and –25°F, which is why we are rated USDA zone 4b.

–13° fits into balmy zone 5b, like southern Iowa or central Illinois.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Naked Appeal

Lots of world- or nation-oriented posts here on Daughter Number Three lately. So today is a moment for something a bit lighter -- one of those WTF?! billboard moments.

Unclothed woman's torso and thighs with white towel around her middle, leaning into a headine about world-class liposuction, with nighttime city skyline in background
This bit of amputated womanhood has been up along the I-94 corridor for months, located on the north side of the freeway near the 280/UniversityAvenue exit.

I'm not sure what's going on with that towel. It appears to be holding her up, or maybe it's part of one of those reducing belt machines they used to have in old cartoons.

Anyway, I hope their contract with ClearChannel is up soon so I don't have to look at it anymore.
____

Well, as part of due diligence in writing this post, I visited the web address given. Whoa. The soft-core photo used on the site's home page makes the one on the billboard look tame, I have to admit. I wonder if women are likely to schedule with this surgeon, based on his use of a naked, idealized, thin, white model? And have any of these folks read about the research that shows dieting women who are exposed to photos of thin women gain, rather than lose, weight, while women who aren't exposed lose weight?
____

And I can't resist. Here's the Hogue Cosmetic Surgery logo:


What is that weird tri-tone set of shapes on the left? The leftover brown fat they remove from their patients?

____

By the way, this is the same billboard frame used to portray a scantily clad woman as a way of fighting colon cancer.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Building Energy for Energy Changes

Is it just me, or have there been lots of stories lately about how country X or area Y could produce all of its electricity with renewables? First there was the study about the mid-Atlantic states, then this on Australia, and this about what Iceland is up to. Plus Germany, which gets 25 percent from renewables and is working toward much higher percentages in the near term. And the World Wildlife Fund study on how much of the world's land would be need to provide 100 percent solar power (answer: it's less than 1 percent).

That's all well and good in theory, but to make it happen, at least in the U.S., is going to require something other than wishful thinking and individuals putting panels on their roofs. As Maggie Koerth-Baker makes clear in her book Before the Lights Go Out, renewables can't be turned on or off as needed to balance the load in the electrical grid, and so therefore require storage in the form of huge, expensive batteries or large infrastructure systems like compressed air energy storage or pumped-storage hydroelectricity.

And before any of that can happen, we have to deal with the fact that competing carbon-based sources (natural gas and coal) are too cheap to encourage any substantial competition from startup technologies that have high infrastructure costs.

The only way to reweight the pricing is through a carbon tax or cap and trade. As Maggie says near the end of the book, the best way to get people to do the right thing is for the right thing to be the cheapest thing. That way, no one has to be cajoled into it.

I don't usually refer to people I write about by their first names on second reference, but since I just saw Maggie speak in a pretty intimate setting this week, I'm making an exception.

Maggie Koerth-Baker standing in front of a projected image of a 19th century old white man with a big mustache
She went over the ins and outs of how the grid functions, and what it means for the future of renewables. The audience, made up of sustainability activists, including people from Windustry and the Alliance for Sustainability, was up for some good discussion afterwards.

Last night I took part in a lively conversation about whether my neighborhood should become what's called a Transition Town. Well, I guess it wasn't really about whether, but how. The approximately 50 people branstormed in small groups on sustainable visions for our area in 2020, then followed up with actions that could bring that vision closer to reality.

I couldn't help talking about big picture items, like carbon taxes or free public transit, but I also brought up the need for Saint Paul to change to coordinated trash hauling, which would save fuel, decrease diesel pollution, and lessen the wear and tear on our streets and allies.

After listening to everyone's ideas, I came away with a short list of ideas I'll be looking into helping with that range in ambition:

  • Setting up a tool-sharing system or possibly a maker space where tools could be used, so that everyone doesn't have to buy a table saw or a ladder.
  • Doing a survey to identify large roofs, such as churches, commercial buildings, or apartment buildings, that could house a cooperatively owned solar array like the one just established northwest of Minneapolis. Our neighborhood has a lot of trees, and most roofs don't face south. Once the survey is done, of course, there'll be a need for a partner to finance and build the array, plus permission from the building owners. Because Minnesota has a law requiring its electric utilities to be 25 percent renewable by 2025, this idea might happen relatively quickly.
  • Starting a campaign encouraging people to drop a car: If you have two, go down to one. This is partly inspired by Maggie describing how she and her husband are able to function with one car because they live near an active busline in Minneapolis, supplemented with biking. My neighborhood is bounded by three buslines and bisected by another, of varying (and in my opinion nowhere near high enough) frequency. We have at least one Hour Car pickup point; we have lots of Nice Ride bike installations available from April to November. We could look into more informal car-sharing among people. It would be a big change, but I think an awareness campaign and an effort to increase the bus frequency could have some effect over time.
That's what'll be on my mind in the coming weeks and months. The Transition Town group is meeting again next month to talk more specifics. Everyone is supposed to bring several neighbors along.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Policy Whiplash

The Minnesota Legislature came back into session a week or so ago. It's a very part-time legislature, with sessions limited to only 120 days. They meet a bit less in even-numbered years and a bit more in odd-numbered years such as this, when they have to produce a two-year, balanced budget.

In the 2010 election, both houses became Republican majorities, which was a huge upset. The only thing that kept Minnesota from following Scott Walker's Wisconsin down the Koch/ALEC path is that we also elected Mark Dayton, a DFL (Democratic Farmer Labor) member as governor, who vetoed as much as he could of what the legislature passed. He couldn't veto the two state constitutional amendments they produced, however, which led us to voting on gay marriage (framed as being against it) and voter ID (framed as being for it).

Despite the fact that the amendments required only a one-vote majority to pass, neither one did. It was a sweet, sweet night.

While we were voting down those amendments, we also voted in DFL majorities in both houses, creating a matching set with our DFL governor for the first time in about 25 years. So now Minnesota government watchers are all atwitter about whether the Dems will overreach the way the Republicans did in 2011 and 2012. Both parties talked a good game about economic development and jobs, jobs, jobs, but the Republicans did zero on that front when they were in power, instead passing things about guns, gays, and God.

Will the DFL do more to stay on topic? I'm hopeful that they will, but the economy here is improving with or without them (our unemployment rate just hit 5.5 percent) so it may not matter as much as it did for the Republicans.

You can tell the DFL is in charge when you see stories like this in the paper:

  • A commission has presented its report on the possibility of restoring felons' voting right as soon as they are out of prison (not at the end of their probation). Yes!
  • Members of both houses have introduced bills to change the constitutional amendment process away from only a majority in both houses to requiring a two-thirds vote. Yes!
  • The House energy and environment committee held a hearing that gave voice to climate change experts. You know, like, scientists and people who know facts. Not like the guy who was chair of the subcommittee under the Republican majority, who thought that God wouldn't let us harm the earth.
There's also a lot of talk about whether the DFL will vote on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage (not as an amendment to the constitution, but just as a law). As much as I support such a bill, I only think it should be done if they can pass a whole lot of other bills that show their commitment to structural reform, economic development, and tax changes. Because if they look like all they care about are progressive social issues, they're likely to get booted out in 2014 as fast as the Republicans did in 2012.

And I think we've had enough of policy whiplash to last us for a while.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mental Health and Gun Ruminations

All of the discussion about preventing the "mentally ill" from getting guns is way too simplistic. As Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek wrote recently in the Star Tribune op-ed section, more than a quarter of American adults have a diagnosable mental-health problem, and I'd be willing to bet that they're over-represented within the population that already has a home arsenal. (Paranoid personality disorder, anyone?) Does anyone think they can be prevented from having guns?

A quarter of the population. That means we all know someone, or we all are someone. And while very few mental illnesses would have any chance of leading to mass murder, a number of them are strongly related to suicide.

Charlie Quimby had this to say on Twitter:

Mental health check for gun purchase based on ideas 1) mental health is immutable, 2) purchase occurs AFTER illness, 3) own guns are used
And Kristine Vruno Huson made this point:
How do you do a mental health background check? Shouldn't those records be protected by HIPAA? > Idea's ludicrous on many grounds
It's already being pointed out that New York's just-passed law requiring mental health clinicians to report their patients will likely cause people who need help to not seek it, or to be less than honest if they do.

This is the exact opposite of what Sheriff Stanek wrote in his op-ed:
More than anything, we must encourage individuals facing mental-health issues to seek treatment. We must "make it OK" for our family, friends and colleagues to seek treatment.
Passing laws requiring reporting and further stigmatizing mental illness is not the way to go. Stanek also pointed out the egregiously low level of psychiatric beds available (3.9 per 100K in Minnesota, 14.1 per 100K, when 50 per 100K is the recommended number). That is unacceptable.

Treating people first, without reporting them, would go a long way to resolving the problems. Making guns less accessible to everyone, with or without a mental illness, wouldn't hurt either.

If we're concerned about more than mass shooters -- if we're concerned about suicides as well, which are most likely to be successful when a gun is used -- then we can't just be looking for people who fit the mass shooter profile described by Stanek:
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see commonalities among the 2012 mass shooters: They threatened family members, committed domestic violence, expressed unusually strong interest in mass shootings (and studied them on the Internet), were fascinated with weapons, excessively played violent video games, and exhibited a disconnect from reality.
If we really believe that suicide is the result of an illness, depression, then we should treat it like an illness, accept it as such, and treat it.
We do not secretly wish that people would just get over hepatitis; we do not assume that they know best how to cure it; we do not wonder aloud what part of their personality the hepatitis comes from; we do not shrug and say that if someone apparently wants hepatitis – and, implicitly, they have it because they want it – it’s not society’s place to stop them.
Depression is an illness and suicide is its most extreme symptom.
___

Listening today to a discussion on MPR's Daily Circuit, before and after President Obama's announcement of changes to gun policies, I came away with a few other conclusions about the gun angle on this whole question:
  • It will be possible for Congress to pass more rigorous background checks and possibly the ammunition magazine limitation, but the ban on assault weapon ban will be much harder and packaging it with the other changes may bring the whole set of changes down to defeat. I'm starting to wonder if that ban is really all that important, since very few people -- out of the many gun deaths each year -- are killed with that type of weapon anyway.
  • The background check requirement is more plausible because important interest groups like Walmart and other bricks-and-mortar gun sellers don't like the fact that their competition (internet and gun show sales) has an unfair advantage.
  • Requiring safe storage of weapons (as is done in Switzerland, and was advocated by two different gun owners who called in) doesn't seem to be mentioned on Obama's list. This has the possibility of preventing some family members (such as Adam Lanza) from using a gun, and it even more likely would prevent the theft of guns, which over time should decrease the number of illegal weapons on the street.
  • The hunters who called in all scoffed at the idea that anyone needs more than six bullets in a magazine. The counter (from one of the guests) was that a large magazine is needed for self defense if four or five people break into your house at once. That's the kind of stupidity and paranoia that passes for logic among anti-gun-safety flaks.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

AMC Cheese

Bonnie's Cafe is a classic breakfast and lunch diner. You can find it at the corner of University and Vandalia Avenues in Saint Paul, a hard-working part of the city that's home to a lot of truck-transfer warehouses.

Interior shot of Bonnie's Cafe with light green painted booths and mirrored walls, lots of signs hanging
Aside from the sprightly paint, the diner's interior appears to be untouched from half a century ago.

Except the signs. There are a lot of inkjet-printed signs to accompany the more traditional hand-lettered ones. This is my favorite because it contains what was, to me, a completely unintelligible abbreviation:

Close up of a sign that mentions AMC. CHEESE on a breakfast sandwich
I thought about it for a while and realized it had to be a shortened form of "American."

But I still have no idea why they felt it was necessary to shorten the word (there's lots of room, after all) and even if they did, why they picked an abbreviation unknown to the reading public.

It's all part of the restaurant's character.

Monday, January 14, 2013

My Week in Climate Change

Climate change has been getting a small part of the attention it deserves lately, but that's a lot more than it usually receives. I find that this directly correlates with my mood, as on Tuesday last week when Australia's all-time high temperatures got to me in a big way.

Here are a few things that have been happening on that front lately, mostly hopeful news.

I went to a showing of a video in my neighborhood about the Transition Town movement. Time to get more involved with neighbors who are trying to do something.

Chasing Ice poster with two massive icebergs colliding, a tiny boat between them
I also saw the documentary Chasing Ice, about National Geographic photographer James Balog's efforts to capture the shrinking Northern Hemisphere glaciers in time-lapse photography. If you get a chance, it's worth seeing, but if you can't, it's enlightening to watch his interview on Bill Moyers (which includes many clips from the film) and also this short video of a woman, who says she loves Bill O'Reilly and Fox News, but who was brought to tears by Chasing Ice.

There were two different good news stories in my local papers' business sections this weekend. The Star Tribune told of one local energy cooperative that's crowd-funding solar power. The Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association (in the northwest Minneapolis suburbs and exurbs) has built a ground-level array using $148,600 in member payments. One couple who bought 15 panels (out of the 171 installed) said "I look at it as prepaying for electricity" for their condo, which couldn't be fitted with panels because of homeowners' association restrictions.
Wright-Hennepin CEO Mark Vogt said the co-op intends to build additional solar arrays with the same group financing if customers want them, and that seems likely. A survey of 160 metro-area co-op members by wholesale co-op Great River Energy found that 32 percent of homeowners were somewhat or very interested in installing solar power.
Other utilities, mostly co-ops, have begun to enact this model. Xcel Energy, Minnesota's largest electric utility (and not a co-op) has not, though the Strib says it is "discussing the idea with legislators and others."

The Pioneer Press had a story on two different Minnesota companies that are transforming human solid waste into organic fertilizer. Despite the unfortunate headline and the initial ick reaction, it's a very exciting example of closing another loop in the cycle. One product, called MinneGrow 5-4-0, is processed to the point where it looks more like a nonorganic fertilizer, kind of dry and hard. It's made from source material from the Shakopee sewer treatment plant. The other, produced by the Metropolitan Council in the southeastern suburbs, is a bit less processed and looks like slightly damp soil (or basically what most compost is like). "It smells a little soapy, a little bit like detergent," said one farmer who uses it. (Fact I never knew: Compounds called mercaptans, which contain sulfur, are what give human feces its smell. Scrubbers remove the mercaptans from the material during the process, while heat kills the bacteria.)

I'm going to see Maggie Koerth-Baker speak tomorrow night about her book Before the Lights Go Out. She's appearing at Linden Hills Power and Light, 2720 W 43rd Street in Minneapolis. I hope I get a chance to ask her about the study that found the mid-Atlantic states could realistically be meeting their electricity needs by 2030 from completely renewable sources, using only current technologies and the kind of incremental changes that would happen over that period of time (in other words, not assuming any great leaps in storage or anything else).

I'm not thinking too much about the National Climate Assessment that was released on Friday in Washington. Almost worse than its content is the fact that it was released late on a Friday, which indicates that the government hopes no one hears about it. Here's the text of the full report, if you're up for it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

So That's Where They Come From

At my favorite independent bookstore, just to the right of the cash register, they keep the office supplies handy that might be needed at the checkout. Paper clips, pushpins, scrap paper for writing notes — things like that.

Every time I glance down at that area, I misread the handwritten label on the wooden lid.

Hand written note on wooden compartment lid says PENS but appears to say PENIS
Is it just me?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Aaron Swartz

It's odd to be so saddened by deaths of people I don't know. The passing of Peter Sieruta, or the suicide of Alex Farrell, caused in me an out-sized sense of loss because they contributed so much to the world.

Today brings news of another person dying too young, and, like Farrell, from suicide. I never heard of Aaron Swartz until today, but in his 26 years he did an awful lot of good.

Cory Doctorow, science fiction writer, Boinger, and theoretician of all things open source, has written a remembrance that details Swartz's contributions. Swartz, as far as I can tell, may have been the inspiration for Doctorow's archetypal protagonist from his young adult books, such as Little Brother and Pirate Cinema.

But Doctorow's post also contains this plea that should be heard by anyone who deals with depression and has even brushed up against the thought of suicide:

...Aaron was also a person who'd had problems with depression for many years. He'd written about the subject publicly, and talked about it with his friends.

I don't know if it's productive to speculate about that, but here's a thing that I do wonder about this morning, and that I hope you'll think about, too. I don't know for sure whether Aaron understood that any of us, any of his friends, would have taken a call from him at any hour of the day or night. I don't know if he understood that wherever he was, there were people who cared about him, who admired him, who would get on a plane or a bus or on a video-call and talk to him.

Because whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn't solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever. If he was lonely, he will never again be embraced by his friends. If he was despairing of the fight, he will never again rally his comrades with brilliant strategies and leadership. If he was sorrowing, he will never again be lifted from it.

Depression strikes so many of us. I've struggled with it, been so low I couldn't see the sky, and found my way back again, though I never thought I would. Talking to people, doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, seeking out a counsellor or a Samaritan -- all of these have a chance of bringing you back from those depths. Where there's life, there's hope. Living people can change things, dead people cannot. 
Thank you, Cory Doctorow, for that. I hope it helps many people get through the dark times.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Look Out — There's an Asteroid!

This is all I've got for today: A video of a TED Talk by Jonathan Haidt, and a link to a site he's involved in.

The Asteroids Club.

Asteroids Club webpage banner

Mysterious, I know. But genuine, I think, if only based on the ineptness of its graphics.

And worth checking out after you watch the video.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Life and Death News Judgment

What was the top story for yesterday, January 9?

It seems to me it should have been this story from the New York Times (which also was featured on NPR), describing a National Academy of Science study that shows Americans die younger and sicker, while paying more for the privilege, than people in every other developed country.

Check out these money quotes:

...Americans are actually less healthy across their entire life spans than citizens of 16 other wealthy nations. And the gap is steadily widening.

Americans of all ages up to 75 have shorter lives and more illness and injury. Strikingly, even Americans who are white, insured, college-educated and upper-income are worse off than their counterparts around the world — a finding that no one quite understands.

"People with seemingly everything going for them still live shorter lives and have higher disease rates than people in other countries," Woolf says.

Americans...had the lowest probability over all of surviving to the age of 50.
American men have the lowest life expectancy among men in any developed country; American women come in second-to-last.

This story may not shake me up the way climate change can, but it seems pretty damned important. So where was it placed in my local newspapers of record?

Page 6 in the Star Tribune; page 11 in the Pioneer Press.

Here's what they thought was more important:

Star Tribune front page
The Strib played up the flu outbreak. I agree, that is a big story, meriting front-page coverage (though it didn't make it onto the PiPress front; they relegated it to page 5). Other stories (none of which appear on the PiPress front) cover an ATF pistol turning up in Mexico, the no-steroids-please baseball Hall of Fame vote, and a weird crime story about a guy who dropped a wood sculpture on his wife to kill her. (Sad for her, of course, but is that really anything more than a local story? It's not even local, really — it's from northern Minnesota.)

Pioneer Press front page
The PiPress treats us to a big photo of some beer taps, playing up an inside package about the increase in local brewing, plus a state government/tax hike story, a mention of Joe Biden's gun-control meetings, and its own local crime story about a guy who dismembered his wife. (At least the PiPress's murder story actually took place in Saint Paul.) None of these stories appeared on the Strib's front page.

The only story that both newspapers agreed deserved front page placement was one that describes how the state is finally working on the new online health care exchange required by the Affordable Care Act. Since they both went with that story, I guess it deserves to be there.

But all of the others — are they more important than one that tells you "Americans...had the lowest probability over all of surviving to the age of 50"?

I always thought that if we got to a point where life expectancy was declining, as it does in John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up, one of the most prescient near-future dystopian science fiction novels, it would be big news.

But these days, when something that's almost worse is found to be true, my local newspapers don't even notice.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Inferiority Complex

You know a business has problems with its reputation when it feels the need to put up a sign like this:

Lit plastic sign, faded by sun, with two words: HONEST COMPETITIVE
I love this sign, though. It screams "I know nothing about marketing," and therefore can't help but be charming.

Seen in the North End of Saint Paul along Dale Avenue.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A New Meaning of Summer in Australia

I recently started following Bill McKibben of 350.org on Twitter. It's not as though I wasn't aware of climate change before that, but I still wasn't prepared for how much my outlook would be affected by seeing a constant stream of reminders about anthropogenic warming.

With Australia adding a new color to its weather maps to document the new record high of 52°C (that's over 125°F in case you are Celsius-challenged), it's hard to take almost any other issue seriously. Civil liberties and Bradley Manning? Health care costs? Education? I care about all of those things, but today they seem almost unimportant.

This juxtaposition was particularly startling:

Two tweets side by side. The first, by Bill McKibben, says Aussies evacuating national parks. The second, by Grist, says In the future, your computer could know what you want for dinner
Grist.org doesn't usually focus on this kind of "don't worry be happy" content, so I don't mean to make fun of them, but jeez. How trivial does that seem, and how out of touch with the likelihood that every tree alive today will most likely be dead by 2050 because of warming? Or that droughts are causing shortages that drive up food costs, so who cares what you want for dinner anyway?

As Maggie Koerth-Baker says, it matters only a little what we each do as individuals, such as turning off lights. It will take society-level policy changes to reverse the havoc we're wreaking on the climate, whether through carbon taxes, free public transit, or an overall change away from the idea that growth is the only acceptable economic model.

Maybe the U.S. isn't the country to take this on, given our political gridlock and seemingly intractable commitment to the winner-take-all business model. I don't know. But we have to do something.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Fact-Challenged Letters Are Not Helpful

My grumble for the day: Why do my local newspapers run letters to the editor that are premised on faulty assumptions or completely obvious misunderstandings of the facts? They both do it on an almost weekly basis, it seems, but here's the most recent example.

On January 2, Dinah Meron of Woodbury wrote about the movement to approve a National Popular Vote law in Minnesota.

As readers of this blog know, the point of that law would be to assign Minnesota's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, but only after enough states have passed it to assure the winner of the popular vote would get 270 electoral votes. Until then, Minnesota's electoral votes would continue to be awarded in the current manner.

But Dinah wrote this:

It has long been apparent that we need to eliminate the Electoral College and rely on popular votes alone to elect our president ("Popular vote for president? Lawmakers hope so," Dec. 18). However, the so-called solution proposed by Rep. Pat Garofalo, to award Minnesota's electoral votes to the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states, only serves to dilute the impact of the votes of the people of Minnesota. The Electoral College cannot be repaired or eliminated by individual states. It has to be done with a Constitutional amendment.

Dinah Meron, Woodbury
No, Dinah. That is incorrect. Today, the Pioneer Press made it right by publishing another letter, which pointed out her error:
A Jan. 2 letter writer criticizes the proposal to award Minnesota's electoral votes in presidential elections to the winner of the national popular vote, saying it "serves to dilute the impact of the votes of the people of Minnesota." This reflects a misunderstanding of the proposal..., which includes the provision that it goes into effect only when the states that adopt it have an electoral-vote majority.... That goal is much more easily achievable in this way than by the letter writer's suggested method of constitutional amendment. Eight states and District of Columbia have already adopted the compact.

Carl Voss, St. Paul
But the paper could have saved Carl the trouble by not printing Dinah's inaccurate letter in the first place.

There's no reason to publish inaccurate letters -- this isn't a matter of opinion, after all, it's a fact. And they have editors of these pages for a reason: Given limited space, only the letters that contribute something useful to public discourse should be selected. Accuracy is a minimum requirement for useful discourse.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Wash Your Mouth Out Afterwards

Another name that (I would think) would have been bad for business, but I guess  not:

Art deco Eau de Suez dentifrice poster with huge female head and sparkling white teeth
I understand from Google that this was a popular toothpaste. What clean teeth have to do with water from the Suez Canal, I have no idea. Maybe it's just turn-of-the-century exoticization of all things Egyptian?

Nice poster, though.

Seen at Salut, Grand Avenue, Saint Paul

Saturday, January 5, 2013

More News from the Best of Times

I came across this Gallup poll, primarily focused on whether people think the U.S.'s "best days" are behind us or ahead of us. Not surprisingly, 74 percent of Republicans think those days are in the past, while 69 percent of Democrats think they are in the future. (Independents, as always, come out in between, with 55 percent agreeing with Republicans.)

The article contained a number of other interesting points, though, and one in particular caught my attention. The question was whether the person predicted a year of rising or falling crime rates. Check out the answers:


So those increasing predictions of more crime are not a one-time occurrence, and they didn't start after Barack Obama was elected.

And here's a nice graph of the actual crime rates over more or less the same time period:


This crime graph doesn't make it all the way to 2012, since those stats aren't reported yet, but you get the idea—crime is down, way down, and it's completely the opposite of people's perception of an increase in the crime rate.

What's up with that, America? Time to stop watching all of that scary television and get outside with your neighbors.
___

After writing this post, I read the Mother Jones article about leaded gasoline as the cause of the 20th-century violent crime spike. It sure would explain a lot.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Disability Coverage for Me, But Not Thee

I have to admit I've felt twinges of discomfort with the increasing number of people applying for (and getting) Social Security Disability Income or SSDI, beyond U.S. population growth and, possibly, beyond what might be expected from the Baby Boom bulge. Wednesday's Star Tribune included an op-ed by economics professor Edward Glaeser, decrying this as part of the "jobless trap."

With that on my mind, I happened to listen to Kerri Miller's Daily Circuit show on MPR as I drove to work. The topic was the aftermath of the Fiscal Cliff vote, and how to solve our larger budget problems. I didn't hear much of the show, but I did catch this caller:

Steve in Stillwater: My feeling is that all parties seem to dance around the greatest entitlement of all, Social Security. It appears to be an untouchable thing that nobody talks about dismantling. It's the greatest tax, and it is a tax, it's the Social Security tax on the American public. And if you amortize the amount that you put into SS over a period of your work career, at least mine as a middle incomer, ends up to be approximately three-quarters of a million dollars. It all ends up in the government's pocket.

Kerri Miller: But then you get the benefits back, Steve.

Steve: And the benefit ends up to be the government's tax. My greatest issue is, I have friends who are ex-drug addicts and alcoholics who are on SSDI who have worked very little and draw from that system for a lifetime, who could work. They sit home and watch TV during the daytime.
Hearing Steve brought me back to my senses. First, Steve, if you are in truth a "middle incomer," you don't know how to do math. Let's say you make around Minnesota's median household income of $50,000 a year. If those were your average wages over your whole career (unlikely, since you would have made less when you were younger, but I'm being as fair as possible to Steve), you'd be paying in a total of $155,000 at 6.2 percent, or $310,000 if you include the employer match or if you're self-employed. Neither number is anywhere near three-quarters of a million dollars.

You'd need average annual wages over $240,000 to pay in that much, excluding the employer match, or $120,000 a year if we're talking about a self-employed person. Not really what anyone would have had in mind when Steve said he was a "middle incomer." And both those salary amounts are higher than the current cap on Social Security wages, so what's up with your three-quarters of a million bloviating, Steve? Maybe you should read this advice on how much the average person pays in and how much s/he gets out.

And then there's Steve's attack on his TV-watching friends and their SSDI. I wondered about that, so I looked it up. It turns out that people who receive SSDI must have worked at least half of the previous 10 years before they can apply -- not exactly Steve's statement that they "worked very little." They have to meet pretty stringent requirements, showing medical evidence they can't work at any job available in the nation. Many, many people are turned down for SSDI benefits: only 39 percent are successful, even after a series of possible appeals.

As one woman (a Republican) who successfully filed for SSDI wrote in the Strib last fall,
I wonder how anyone pulls off a fraudulent disability claim. The process is daunting, with mounds of paperwork; letters and forms from multiple physicians explaining your disability; painful statements from friends and family about how your disability affects not only you, but them; access to all medical records; a required examination by a SSA doctor, and much more. The [Social Security Administration] also has an active fraud department. Nobody is declared disabled because his "back hurts from time to time."
Drug addiction and alcoholism are not considered to be disabilities under SSDI, but damage done by drugs or alcohol that prevent a person from working and are not reversible by stopping consumption can make a person eligible. So an alcoholic with cirrhosis might be eligible if it's severe enough, including esophageal bleeding and excess fluid in the abdomen. They would have to show with medical evidence that they can't work, but I guess Steve would like for that person to work until he drops dead.

As with the 1 percent fraud rate within SNAP (food stamps), calling attention to cases of SSDI fraud that may exist plays on our brains' tendency toward loss aversion and dislike of unfairness. We focus on the outliers instead of the 99 percent who really need the benefits.

In looking into these issues, I came across the excellent Inequalities blog, written by a bunch of sociologists and policy wonks in the U.K. and the U.S. One post, called Perceived Fraud in the Benefits System, described these findings from the British Social Attitudes series: When asked how many of each 100 claimants of disability or unemployment benefits were falsely claiming them, the average response was 30 and 35, respectively.

The actual numbers: 1.2 and 3.3.

And those single-digit numbers include any kind of false claim, from working a little extra on the side or mistakes in the paperwork -- not the straight-up fraud most people would have in mind.

The same writer told of interviewing a woman on disability who, to all appearances, was not disabled.
But afterwards, she mentioned as an aside that the interview was the main thing she was able to do that day – it had taken up all  her energy. It became clear that the same was true when she saw her friends; she would see them for an hour or two when she was feeling well, but they would never see her at her lowest....

From the outside, in those two hours, Rachel would seem ‘undeserving’ – she wasn’t working, yet she was bright, articulate, funny, and capable of doing a variety tasks around the house. It’s only when you spoke to her more closely that you realised that it was impossible for her to work in any realistic scenario.
In fact, I'm so inclined to think the vast majority of claimants are on the up and up, I don't even have a problem with that Right-wing militia guy collecting SSDI. He sounds like he needs it.

A Seattle Times op-ed, written by two people who work with Washington state's homeless, made this point:
Earlier this year, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty released a report showing that denying Social Security Disability Insurance benefits perpetuates homelessness. The study stated that up to 40 percent of the national homeless community could qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, but only 14 percent actually receive them.
As with SNAP, it's likely there are many more people eligible for SSDI than get it, or even apply for it. So in a sense, the single-digit false claim incidence doesn't even matter from a financial standpoint, relative to the money that's not being paid to people who could be collecting it.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Mini-Golf Test

Dear Abby might say that if you want to observe a potential mate's true nature and temperament, meet her/his mother and see how the two interact. How does he treat her? How does she respond?

Sometimes, though, it's not practical to meet mom, or maybe it's too early in the relationship. In those cases, I suggest this runner-up of assessment tools.

Play a few games of miniature golf.

Young girl playing a windmill shot on a mini golf course
I got the idea last summer when I saw a 10-year-old boy melt down on the 15th hole. His 11-year-old cousin was beating him, I gathered, and he couldn't take it.

I saw Daughter Number Three-Point-One behave similarly at a much younger age, as well as a niece when she was about five.

What does your guy do when he blows a shot? Where does the blame lie? What's your gal's overall attitude -- is she playing for fun or as a serious competition? And if he's good at the game and wins easily, what kind of winner is he?

Take DN3.1's father, for instance. He's probably less athletically inclined than any man I know, but he usually wins at mini-golf. Despite this, he never lords it over anyone; he takes a kind of technocratic pleasure in figuring out the angles and strategies of playing each hole.

I, on the other hand, can be petulant when it doesn't go well. It's not as though I consciously believe the competition is important, but I can't help being annoyed if I blow a shot or the ball just doesn't go in the hole when it could have.

And I would say those two descriptions fit our temperaments pretty well: He is solid and mostly unperturbable and I am, shall we say, less so.

I know this is only anecdotal, but my years on the little links tell me there's something to it. So give it a try, or recommend it to your friends who are part of the dating game.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Which One Is a Public Health Risk?

Today's letter of the day from the Star Tribune:

Recent articles have illustrated how gun violence is treated entirely differently than other risks in the United States. The first was about the tragic death of a child who was run over because her mother couldn't see her in the blind spot of an SUV. The mother is pushing for backing-up cameras on all SUVs to prevent such deaths. Total child deaths from being run over by SUVs? About 230.

The next day there was an article about baby recliners and the huge recall to get these dangerous items out of stores. Total baby deaths? Five -- possibly because safety instructions were ignored. Remember the poisoned Tylenol and what happened? (Hint: It's why you need a crowbar to get into your over-the-counter drugs now.)

How about the shoe bomber? How about lawn "Jarts?" Now, how about gun deaths? Around 32,000 per year in this country (half suicides). What can we do about that? Apparently nothing, not a thing, nada. I don't believe this at all.

It takes a strong movement and strong personalities, but culture can change. Think of drunken driving, smoking, seat belts -- ideas and behaviors changed over time for all of these.

I believe we can have change, but it will require matching dollars and willpower with the big bucks that gun manufacturers use to control our elected officials. The Constitution does say "well-regulated."

CINDY EARNEST, BLOOMINGTON
And, I would note, as of this moment there have been 393 deaths from guns in the U.S. — including six children and 20 teenagers — just since the Newtown, Conn., shootings. (Via Slate.com... I wonder how long they'll maintain daily updates on this grim infographic?) 

Slate's graphic probably doesn't include many suicides, since those are usually not reported in the newspapers that are the primary source for @GunDeaths, Slate's data source. It's sad that @GunDeaths only has about 6,500 followers on Twitter. I guess not many people honestly want to know how bad it is.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

End-of-the-Year Tweets

Wrapping up 2012 while averting my eyes if not the Fiscal Cliff, here are some favorite tweets from the last month of the year.

Kerning could make 20B the worst year ever.
By Quinn Norton
(Hint: The joke works better in a font that doesn't use oldstyle numerals so that the B is the same height as the 20.)


What I want for New Years: a Democratic Party that acts like it won the last election.
By Markos Moulitsas 

"The Internet will put jobs in two categories: People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.”
By chris dixon

Saw someone with t-shirt that said Truth + God = Life. I hope they realised it therefore follows Truth = Life - God. Do the maths, people!
By Dave Steele

Remember these secrets of success: Show up. Speak up. Team up. Don't give up. Lift others up. Then things will look up.
By Rosabeth Moss Kanter 

Even with 100 years of cheap oil, capitalism has been an inefficient disaster.
By Free Public Transit 

(After a series of tweets about whether the Civil War was necessary to end slavery.)
You can't even "talk" folks off beef. We're talking about owning a guy, and all the social power that comes with it.
By Ta-Nehisi Coates 

Dear naps, I'm sorry I was a jerk to you in kindergarten.
By Brian Gaar

"Comport" doesn't seem like it should be a word.
By Chris Steller 

Who better to illuminate the issue of middle-class tax cuts than Meet the Press's panel of millionaire beltway pundits?
By Frank Conniff  

If USA spent what other rich nations spend in health care as % of GDP, it would not have a budget deficit.
By Martin Varsavsky  

"The government reads your emails without a warrant." "Boring!" "Also, Instagram wants to use your pictures in ads." "Over my dead body!"
By Joel Grus

Don't get me wrong, skiing is great if you're really into bitter cold, uncomfortable footwear, and the threat of serious physical injury.
By Steven Johnson 

Do people say "obviously" because they think it's not obvious that the thing they're saying is obvious?
By Chris Steller 

In those days, Caesar Augustus decreed that all must return to the town of their birth, that they might sort out their parents' computers.
By Unvirtuous Abbey 

After Trayvon Martin was shot, I don't remember the NRA saying that every black teenager should go out and get a gun for protection...
By Ola Betiku

One day our children will post little condescending observations about us on social networks we don't understand.
By Jeff Atwood 

Maybe I am religious. To me, NBC's brutal editing of "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" was a desecration of a scared shrine.
By Frank Conniff 

We're raising our kids Catholic so they'll be militant atheists.
By Jocelyn TestesHarder

Hmm, is a guy who quickly volunteers to stand in school with a gun...really a guy you want standing in school with a gun?
By Bill McKibben 

'98 study on guns in homes: For every use in self defense, there were 4 accidental shootings, 7 assaults/homicides, & 11 suicide attempts.
By Brooke Jarvis 

Question: why do conservatives say that controlling guns won't prevent gun violence, but outlawing abortion will prevent abortion?
By Shelly 
Which requires a question for Shelly (and me): Why do liberals say that controlling drugs won't prevent drug use, but outlawing guns will prevent gun violence?
Gun violence since 1968 has killed more Americans than all the wars in all of U.S. history combined.
By DougHenwood 

Thinkers are never wrong, only early. Traders are often wrong, never in doubt
By Mark Dow 

Gun marketers don't kill people, toxic visions of masculinity that are bulwarks against existential fear of impotence, mortality kill people
By Brian Cook  

The elephant in the center of the room: white fantasies of shooting minority home invaders
By William Gibson

20 years ago, no way would I have ever imagined gay marriage would be a fait accompli. This debate CAN shift too.
By Tom Tomorrow

Number of homicides in Detroit, MI, 2010 - 310. Number in Windsor, ON, Canada, one mile away - 0. Same movies, video games.
By Mike Sloan

Journalists: NRA leaders ducking you today are betting that you’ll lose interest in the topic in a week. Prove them wrong.
By Jamison Foser

I don't think I stuttered the first time, but just to be safe: THOU SHALT NOT KILL.
By almightygod

The gun lobby already hates Obama. I wish he'd give them an actual reason.
By Mat Honan

sometimes me stick raisins to my body to feel like a cookie.
By Bigfoot TheBigfoot

Removal of lead from gas increased American IQ by 6 points. (Removal of cars from cities might increase it by 60.)
By Taras Grescoe 

Even if the authors of the 2nd Amendment thought people should have guns, I doubt they thought the US should have more guns than people.
By Andy Borowitz 

Everywhere I look, I see people falling prey to confirmation bias. Just as I suspected.
By Noah Gray  


Kerning can be useful.
By Gino Zahnd

Most people live in cities. In most cities you can't see stars. Has anything fallen more steeply out of human consciousness than real stars?
By Chris Steller 

The reason to use "may" in a headline is because "I don't really have a story here" is too many words.
By Bob Collins 

A bunch of African bands should do a Christmas fundraising tune called "Do They Know It's Condescending?"
By Jim Antle  

Governor Cuomo: I want you to take the ridiculous standardized tests you prescribe to me and my fellow peers + publish your scores publicly.
By Nikhil Goyal 

Kate Middleton is pregnant! It's always exciting when an average person with no particular talent does something ordinary.
By Frank Conniff 


Grammar be funny is it.
By Tim Minchin 

Hanukkah is the most American holiday because it's a celebration of burning oil that we don't have.
By Andy Borowitz

You never hear about people's "struggles with coffee."
By Chris Steller