Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ellen Raskin: Freak Show

No, this isn't a post about a season of American Horror Story. In 1971, Ellen Raskin published a picture book called The World's Greatest Freak Show. (You can see lots of images of the book's pages in my earlier post about the Milwaukee Public Library's collection of Raskin books.)

Freak Show is Raskin's weightiest picture book. As I wrote earlier,

The story tells of Alastair, a good-looking young man who recruits a group of "freaks" (two-headed man, etc.) to appear in a show in a nearby country. Little does Alastair suspect, but the country's entire population is made up of people who would usually be considered freaks, and he's the one who is considered to be a freak...

I have my theories about how Freak Show's story would have resonated for Raskin, as a Jew from German Milwaukee, an art geek, and a woman with a chronic, disabling illness.
A couple of the photos I took of items in this Kerlan Collection box make good contrasts with my photos from Milwaukee:

First, the cover dummy. Note that the title is typeset here, but because Raskin wanted her name to be yellow, she has painted over the type. Also notice that she used plastic rule tape around the art, instead of inking that line. (The tape is unraveling on the right side of the art.)

The inside pages of the dummy are also fun to see. This photo shows a printed page from the book (above right) contrasted with the dummy of the same spread. Raskin's production method for the dummy is to reproduce the artwork (using photocopies), and then represent the spot colors with self-adhesive color-overlay film. She would have cut out each of those areas of color with an X-Acto knife.

Next, the "blueline" of the whole book. This is a production piece, created as a final proof not long before printing. The film negatives (later used to create the expensive printing plates) are used to expose cheap, light-weight photo paper that turns blue once processed. The printer then turns those photo prints into a booklet in the same size as the finished book. In this era of printing methods, it was the last chance to catch an error before printing.

Other items in the box:

This is Raskin's neatly typed (and even designed) list of all the items in the box. She would have made this by typing the text and then rubbing down the numbers from a sheet of Letraset type. (What kind of perfectionist does that for a list of materials in a box?)

You can see in these sketches of the book's main characters how she worked on their expressions and overall appearances.

Finally, there is the original art for her beautiful pages. That theater marquee is a marvel.

I love the water that roils across the fold on this spread.

I don't own a copy of The World's Greatest Freak Show at this point (I've only seen it once, while visiting Milwaukee), but seeing the materials at the Kerlan Collection reminds me that I need to change that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ellen Raskin: Illustrator

Ellen Raskin is best known these days as the writer of the Newbery-Award-winning middle-grade book The Westing Game. Altogether, she published four novels over seven years, wrote and illustrated 12 picture books over 10 years, and illustrated a couple dozen picture books by other writers in about 15 years.

But before all of that, she was a graphic designer and illustrator in the New York market. I imagine most of her work has been lost in the sea of ephemera (though a couple of well-known pieces are the covers of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle and A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas). The Kerlan collection includes a few gems to represent this part of Raskin's career.

There's a whole box of illustrations she did for the New York Times in the early 1960s. The Times used to do a tourist calendar, it appears, and Raskin was hired several times to provide spot illustrations for hundreds of holidays and places. It's overwhelming to look at them all, but here are just a few. (As always, you can click to enlarge the images.)

The art often includes hand-written production notes. In this case, mortise means that the text would be placed to run around the tops of these illustrations.

I love this hooded guy... standing between a pair of ice skates and an ox cart. I'm not sure what culture he's supposed to be from. I assume it's not the Klan.

Likewise this woman -- I'm not sure what she represents, but she's a bit spooky.

Raskin's lettering is under-appreciated, in my opinion. She fits well within the era's Cartoon Modern vibe.

These trees are just wonderful.... are all of these different house styles. Imagine the work that went into finding visual reference to be able to draw these.

I especially love this mashup of European building styles.

This piece is also a good example one part of Raskin's technique. The art is generally inked on some lower-quality paper, and I think it has been waxed on the back as an adhesive, though it might be rubber cement. Whichever, it has browned the paper, except in the spots where Raskin touched up with white paint. There you can see how the art would have originally looked against the formerly white background.

How about those guys with the feathers on their heads? It looks like the one on the right is sneaking up on the one on the left, ready to stab him with the sword.

This piece includes a note, written in red China marker, to indicate the Times engraving department should make each piece into a separate block for printing. (Though they make a nice composition as is, in my opinion.)

The collection also holds a few covers Raskin did for others' books.

The 1968 illustrations for We Alcotts presage the look of the art in Raskin's 1971 novel The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon, I'd say.

This hand-painted mock-up of the cover for a book called People in Palestine... paired with a printed version, where the color has been shifted away from magenta to red in some of the figures.

An original black and white painting of people laboring in a field of crops... paired with the printed, tone-on-tone version, where the people pop out of the background because the teal ink overprints the plants, leaving the people in clear, single colors.

Finally, this proposed cover illustration for Elizabeth George Speare's 1962 Newbery-winner The Bronze Bow:

I'm not sure if this is an ink illustration or if Raskin did, perhaps, a linoleum cut. (This is a general question I have about many of her illustrations, given the textures in the solid black areas.)

She then took that illustration and mocked up this cover wrapper on brown craft paper, casting the people in shades of red and adding in inked lettering to represent the proposed typesetting. She also painted white spears into each soldier's hands.

I don't know why the publisher didn't use Raskin's cover (going with this work by Gilbert Riswold instead). But the collection does include a 1975 note from someone at Houghton Mifflin to Raskin:

Aside from some social pleasantries, it includes these words from editor Walter Lorraine:

As a coincidence we have been cleaning out our art file here and discovered an old, old drawing you did for another Newbery book called THE BRONZE BOW. What's that saying about dead horses rising to the surface. Oh well, it is a nice piece of art even though it wasn't used and I thought you would like to have it back.
That note is a glimpse of the life of an illustrator: you put in a bunch of work and then the piece doesn't get used. You (hopefully) get paid what's called a "kill fee," and you move on.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Exploring the Kerlan Collection: Ellen Raskin

I've written many times about my love of the writer/designer/illustrator Ellen Raskin (see the list at the end of this post), but recently I got serious about my near-obsession: I went to see the collection of her original work held at the Kerlan Collection of children's literature at the University of Minnesota.

I know, I know, I live not too far from the campus, and I've been aware of these holdings for years. But somehow I never quite got there to see them.

Then I happened to meet the past director of the collection at a party and told her about my interest. She said I should do it as soon as possible because, well, you just never know what will happen in life. So I finally got off the dime and made an appointment to see some of the collection.

Anyone can use the Kerlan's archives, but you need to make an appointment and go during business hours. You tell them in advance which boxes you want to see (selecting from this list) and a pile of large, gray, flat boxes will be waiting for you on a cart.

You have to take out one item at a time and keep them all in order. Each piece is wrapped in acid-free paper, so there's a lot of material moving around. Lots of standing over tables, too, stooping slightly, so it's a bit hard on the back.

But so worth it. Over the next week, I'll post five times with photos of what I saw, covering these topics:
The Kerlan Collection doesn't have anything from The Westing Game (that material is held at the University of Wisconsin), but they have just about everything else.

More to come tomorrow!


This is the cover artwork for Moe Q. McGlutch, He Smoked Too Much, published in 1973. I had never seen this book before my visit to the Kerlan Collection. Among all the work of Raskin's I saw in the collection, this is the book that has the most complete material. The box contained everything Raskin used to create the book and it shows her process from beginning to end. And let me tell you, it looks exhausting.


Past posts about Ellen Raskin:

Ellen Raskin

Ellen Raskin Speaks About The Westing Game

The Westing Game in Person

Clues About Ellen Raskin in The Tattooed Potato

Ellen Raskin's Legacy at the Milwaukee Public Library

The Last of the Raskin Signatures

A Reminder of Ellen Raskin

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Three from the Past

I've been seeing a lot of cool old design work lately. Here are three items from three locations in a single week.

I love the use of white ink on this book cover to create steam from the kettles. Why an efficient kitchen needs two teakettles a-boilin', I don't know, but it's a striking design. Note the kettles used in the black border, as well.

I'm not sure if the designer intended to imply a face with the kettles for eyes and the steam for hair, or if I'm just suffering from pareidolia again.

Book seen at the Book House in Dinkytown, Minneapolis. In a glass case, for sale at $100.

Then there's this extra-fine can for buckwheat flour from the Mill City Museum. The ram adds character to what would otherwise be generic claims: pure, purity guaranteed, air tight, sanitary... gee, I wonder if there were food safety problems in those days?

Finally, can you guess what this is? No, it's not a chocolate bar.

What if I told you I saw it at the Museum of Russian Art in an exhibit of samovars, one of which you can glimpse in the background?

That's right, it's a block of tea, pressed to extreme density and imprinted with an illustration and some words. I wish I knew what it says.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

At Least He's Honest

As I considered what to post for today, I wandered through Twitter until I came across this from Dave Roberts of

Basically, a guy named Joe McDermott tweeted directly to Roberts these words:

Millions like me would rather a nuclear holocaust than give up low-density life and automobiles for high density and common transit.
To which Roberts replied: "Least yer honest." Well, yeah, you have to give him that.

Another Twitter user came in with this bit of truth:
To him the deaths of billions of innocents is preferable to having to ride the subway to work and having more neighbors.
McDermott, who goes by @bdamages on Twitter, provides this description of himself in his profile:
Lawyer (real estate O&G, commercial litigation), Texan, libertarian, sci-fi fan, poker player.
I think real estate O&G may mean oil and gas. So, other than the fact that he's a science fiction fan, this guy is everything I want to avoid in a fellow human being. A libertarian oil and gas lawyer from Texas who plays poker? What's not to love!

And I'd probably even want to avoid the kind of science fiction fan he is, too, given recent disturbing trends in the SF fan community.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Free Stuff, Yeah, Right

I have a feeling that -- with the Pope's visit, Boehner's resignation, and whatever blather comes out of Donald Trump's mouth -- there won't be much notice of the abhorrent thing Jeb Bush said yesterday. Basically, he said that Republicans have to appeal to black voters with aspiration, rather than the "free stuff" that Democrats promise to give them.

This is just another version of Romney's 47 percent speech, of course, and the story the Republicans tell themselves about why black people hardly ever vote for them.

The folks who did notice Bush's stupidity, at least on Twitter, are prominent black intellectuals. Jelani Cobb, history professor and writer for the New Yorker, went on a tear that's worth quoting in full:

Jeb Bush plans to win black votes by not offering us "free stuff" — you mean like the 246 years of uncompensated labor we gave you all?

Or the uncompensated sharecropping and convict labor we gave after slavery technically ended?

Or by "free" were you referring to the federal housing subsidies that this country gave to whites for decades while excluding us entirely?

Or the intergenerational equity that home ownership gave white people to the exclusion of black people?

How about that beautiful GI Bill, structured to minimize black participation while created a college-educated class of white Americans?

It's the logic of stealing from someone and then saying that if you paid them back it would be a giveaway that ruined their work ethic.

Nothing you could give us would be free, Jeb. You're already too deep in our debt.

Slave labor, convict labor, sharecrop labor. #freestuff

A multi-century regime of plunder and theft then condescends to those whom it has robbed, accuses them of wanting "free stuff."
And Ta-Nehisi Coates had a few pithy points as well:
You don't invite somebody in by implicitly claiming they've been conning the rest of society.

FHA loans and redlining = Hard work. Obamacare = free stuff for blacks.

GOP outreach to African-Americans is mostly just outreach to white Americans who don't like being called racist.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Depressing But Probably True

The best but most depressing thing I've read today: Why are working class kids less likely to get elite jobs? They study too hard in college.

It's a Washington Post interview with Lauren Rivera, author of a book called Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs. She outlines one reason working-class students don't get the elite jobs, even if they make it to an elite school:

[they] are less likely to participate in structured extracurricular activities than their more privileged peers while growing up (and when they do, they tend to participate in fewer of them).... Given that [elite] employers—which offer some of the highest-paying entry-level jobs in the country—recruit almost exclusively at top schools, many students who focus purely on their studies will be out of the game long before they ever apply to firms. Second, employers also use extracurricular activities, especially those that are driven by “passion” rather than academic or professional interest and require large investments of time and money over many years, to screen résumés. But participation in these activities while in college or graduate school is not a luxury that all can afford, especially if someone needs to work long hours to pay the bills or take care of family members. Essentially, extracurriculars end up being a double filter on social class that disadvantages job applicants from more modest means both in entering the recruiting pipeline and succeeding within it.
This makes me think of all the Ivy League graduates who immediately go off to start some nonprofit based on their "passion," usually parachuting into a struggling community with their lady-bountiful ambitions. Ready for their photo op with all those children of color. That i, if they didn't start such an organization while still in high school.

As if that wasn't enough, there's this question, based on content from Rivera's book, for more depressing news:
Your book finds an enormous difference in how many recruiters at elite firms treat graduates from a tiny number of prestigious colleges, and how they treat everyone else. Candidates who “chose” to go to a lower ranked school are seen by some recruiters as having demonstrated moral failure. 
Moral failure?! For choosing to go to your state university, for instance?

This reminds me of a tweet I just saw by someone called @satellitehigh:
In the tech world ‘bad culture fit’ means ‘we don’t like you for reasons that would be illegal if we explained them clearly.’

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Some People Have Too Much Money and Too Much Time on Their Hands

The details of this story from yesterday's Star Tribune (Show Dog Neutered, Sparking Legal Fight) are so stupid, it's hard for me to type them. Let's see if I can put them as neutrally as possible.

A married couple of doctors purchased a bichon frisé dog, nicknamed Beau, from a breeder in 2009.

Beau won several competitions. This meant he would be valued as a stud dog once he retired from competition at age 4, up to the age of 10. (His services cost $2,000-3,000, and he can "work" a couple of times a year for five or six years, so we're talking about maybe $30,000.)

But instead his breeder had him neutered in 2013 without the owners' permission, possibly to get even with them because the couple tried to breed Beau to a dog the breeder hadn't approved.

So far it sounds like a fairly straightforward, if petty, case. The part where I got off the rails was this quote from one half of the owner couple:

“After hearing about the neutering, and I’m not overstating things at all, Mary literally cried and stayed in bed for three weeks,” said John Wangsness, whose wife never fully regained her enjoyment of life before she died this past March. “She never bounced back.”
So basically this guy is blaming the neutering for his wife's death. The breeder, on the other hand, claims Beau was in bad physical condition when she got possession of him in 2013, and he was in no condition to do stud service. Why that meant he should be neutered, she doesn't say, according to the story.

Mary Wangsness, now deceased, got interested in showing dogs relatively recently. Her main interest before 2009 had been riding thoroughbred horses in hunter-jumper shows. So the switch from showing one kind of animal to another wasn't much of a leap (pun intended).

Topping off my inclination to dislike the Wangsnesses and their extravagant lifestyle is the fact that they live in North Oaks, my least favorite Twin Cities suburb.

I know I'm not the biggest animal lover... or at least, I'm not a lover of animals kept as pets in this culture, especially given all the money that's spent on them when many people go without. Add one to the list of things that would not be part of my ideal world: dog shows and dog breeders.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why Planned Parenthood Gets Federal Funding

Yesterday, a Star Tribune letter writer (who self-identified as a pacifist Quaker) asked why Planned Parenthood doesn't just stop taking money from the federal government. Why do they (in his words) "cling" to a funding stream that comes from people who may oppose abortion?

I knew the reason in general: because what Planned Parenthood does costs lots of money on an ongoing basis, and the letter-writer's suggestion that it should replace the money with grants, donations, and corporate sponsorships would result in a funding stream that is unreliable.

Another letter-writer from today's paper did a better job of explaining it:

The answer is that Planned Parenthood is, in fact, funded with foundation grants, corporate sponsorships, individual donations and, of course, fees for services. Government money, which does not cover abortion services, comes from the Title X Family Planning Program and from Medicaid, and provides only about a third of Planned Parenthood’s revenue.

Title X, which has been in existence for more than 40 years, trains staff members to provide reproductive health care to teenagers, people with limited English, and people with complex social situations, including victims of domestic violence, the homeless and the mentally ill. Medicaid covers health care for those without the financial means to buy private insurance. Planned Parenthood is not the only health care facility to receive both Title X and Medicaid funding, nor is it the only one offering abortion services; it is, however, the only health care facility to be demonized for ideological and political purposes, likely because Planned Parenthood, more than any other facility, empowers poor women to make their own reproductive choices, without shaming and without being judgmental.

In many parts of the country, Planned Parenthood is the only health care facility providing family planning services, cancer screening, prenatal care, and STD screening and treatment to poor women; there simply aren’t enough clinics available to absorb the thousands of women who would lose access to reproductive health care if Planned Parenthood were to lose government funding. Is it really both cost-effective and ethical to deny poor women access to lifesaving health care? [Emphasis added.]
Thanks to Joyce Denn of Woodbury for her cogent answer.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Irony Fee for Public Defender Services

Recently, John Oliver focused on the underfunding of public defenders in our justice system. Overworked and underpaid, in some localities they have just seven minutes per case (!). This leads to defendants taking plea bargains (90 to 95 percent of the time, currently), rather than go to trial.

As NPR noted last year in its series on the return of debtors' prison, it's not unusual for poor defendants to be billed for their "free" attorneys. Almost all states do this in one amount or another, including Minnesota. Some even bill the defendant for the prosecutor's time!

Oliver is right to say they might as well charge an "irony fee."

All of this is part of the increasing transfer of the cost of government to the people who can least afford to pay for it.

(Don't miss the last two minutes of the segment.)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

On Emasculation

I just saw this tweet by someone named @OwenJones84:

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but is a British general threatening a military coup in the Sunday Times?!

The part of the long quote that I found most notable was the general's use of the word "emasculate" to describe what a Corbyn government might do to Britain's military.

It's notable that there is no commonly used verb to describe removing a woman's femininity. And if there were (defeminize?) it would refer to something like removing makeup or putting on unfrilly clothing. Maybe cutting your hair short. Nothing about removing her reproductive capacity or ability to have sex.

Emasculation is a threat of violence, the worst that most men can imagine, I would think. Using it as an analogy to downsizing a country's military force fits into the recent Alpha Male/Beta Male posturing of Right-Wing foreign policy in the age of Putin. All of this is part of a push to take the U.S. and the whole world back to an honor-culture-based way of interacting.

As Steven Pinker discussed in The Better Angels of Our Nature, we have been on a long trend away from that bad way of doing things. Women (and men) are better off when cultures are feminized. As he puts it, "A world that is less invigorated by honor, glory, and ideology and more tempted by the pleasures of bourgeois life is a world in which fewer people are killed."

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Disparate Treatment of Juveniles

I've shared my thoughts on juvenile justice in the past (here, here and here, especially). Today's Star Tribune gave us this news on a recent case in Minnesota:

This is a kid who had a storage locker full of guns, ammunition, and explosives all set to be turned loose on his high school. He was only stopped because someone saw him trespassing on his way to the storage locker and called the police, who found him in the storage space with his stuff, where he immediately confessed.

I think his probation and treatment are probably the right outcome of his case, but what if he had actually used the guns and bombs, as he clearly intended? Does anyone think this would be the outcome?

And I can't help noting that this is a white kid in a largely white community. Many other teens are tried as adults throughout this country, especially teens of color. Though being white hasn't helped the two preteen girls in Wisconsin who are being tried as adults for attempted murder of their friend. Their reasons? They were trying to impress an imaginary character. Does that motivation really sound like it could fit a competent adult?

I'm glad Minnesota justice could be merciful and fitting for the Waseca boy, but we have a long way to go in this country before we reach Bryan Stephenson's goal of Just Mercy.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Real Books, in Person

I may have to start a category just for artwork I see in bookstores. Here's the latest:

Seen at the Book House in Dinkytown, Minneapolis. The artist, Ricardo Levin Morales, has an online store.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ideas for Ferguson, Missouri, and Beyond

The new Ferguson Commission report, created under the purview of the Missouri state government, sounds like it compiles a lot of the parts of what could become a more just and equitable Missouri. Which would then (one hopes) result in a more equitable society.

As described by Emily Badger in the Washington Post, the report goes beyond stopping police violence to the underlying causes:

The report, nearly 200 pages long, fingers every interlocking policy problem — in education, housing, transportation, the courts, employment, law enforcement, public health — implicated in the racial inequality at the heart of Ferguson's unrest. Want to stabilize families in poverty? Rein in unregulated payday lenders. Want to enable a poor parent to get the job that will pay off the parking ticket that will keep her out of jail? Expand Medicaid so a single mom living on $10,000 a year can actually qualify for it (today in Missouri, unbelievably, she makes too much money).

Want to dissuade police departments from ginning up revenue off petty traffic stops that disproportionately impact minorities? Restructure how public services are provided so every micro-suburb doesn't need to fund its own police force. And so a driver with an expired tag doesn't get pulled over multiple times on the same trip as he drives through several jurisdictions (St. Louis County has 81 different municipal courts, and 60 distinct police departments).

This sprawling web — each system and institution is linked to others — isn't unique to Ferguson. That makes the Ferguson report a valuable blueprint for any place with persistent racial inequality, which is just about every place.
Yes to all of that. Now let's see if any of it happens.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Part of the Union

It's a bit out of season, but I saw this set of bumper stickers yesterday while out and about:

Seen near Rosedale Center in Roseville, Minnesota.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Not a Sphere

This is not so much a fact I never knew as a fact I never thought about. But it's really neat.

The earth is not round (spherical), or anywhere near it. Yeah, the earth with its oceans is close... but the land/solid part of our planet is not.

Now I'm going to bask in the coolness of knowing this fact and having such a nice illustration of it.


It's hard to tell what the original source of this image is.... I got it from the Twitter account of 9GAG, which is notorious for taking images without crediting the original. It looks like it may be a color shifted version of this, which came from this, but I'm not sure. 


Update: Well, it sounds like this graphic doesn't show the shape of the Earth beneath the oceans -- it's actually a map of its gravity or something like that. Ooops... I am clearly (mis)informed. Quoting the story that corrects the error:

The reason Earth appears lumpier is because it does not have a uniform mass — which is one of the key elements in measuring gravity. If you could sample different sections of Earth's mantle, you would get different materials of varying densities.

As a result, the denser parts of the mantle exert a stronger gravitational force on the water above compared to the less-dense regions. So where gravity is strong, you see low dips..., and where gravity is weaker, you see high [peaks].

Monday, September 14, 2015

Belying Belie

We've already lost the useful phrase "begs the question" to the lame non-equivalent "raises the question." It's reached the point where you can't even use the phrase with its original meaning because no one seems to realize it exists.

The same has been happening to "belie," though it's not used as often in the pundit world. I noted this once earlier, but today I saw a great example of how the word is turned inside out, somehow magically changing from

  • contradict
  • prove false
  • run counter to
  • reveal the underlying truth
  • betray (through words)
Reading a Washington Post story, reprinted in the Pioneer Press, about how Pope Francis faces challenges from more conservative factions in the Vatican, I came across this nonsensical bit of copy:

Well, it's nonsensical if you know what "belie" means. Clearly, the copy editors at the Washington Post and the PiPress do not.

That is, if they still have copy editors.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

NutriMost Sounds Like It's the NutriLeast

Another day, another misleading ad from a Twin Cities chiropractor. This one is from Dr. Robert Shelton, DC, so at least he's not that other guy who uses two different names as he tries to steal from diabetes patients.

This ad is about weight loss:

The text promises to use TECHNOLOGY to personalize a weight loss plan, assessing lots of wooish factors like heavy metals and toxins, not to mention hormones and neurotransmitters. It uses something called NRF technology which (according to the small print at the bottom) "is FDA cleared, but it's (sic) use in our weight loss system is experimental."

The ad says you can "burn 2,000-7,000 calories of fat per day." It says the system will raise your metabolism and reset your weight set point.

Research by real scientists like Traci Mann (in her book Secrets from the Eating Lab) make it clear that this is all blather. The subtitle of her book is "The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again."

The only part of the ad that anyone should read is printed in 6-point type at the bottom. The asterisk refers to the word "guaranteed," printed in red ink in the headline:

* NutriMost MN LLC guarantees that each customer will lose at least 20 pounds of weight by the end of the plan. If customer does not lost (sic) at least 20 pounds, the customer's plan will either be extended for up to 20 days at absolutely no costs to customer to reach a minimum of 20 pounds weight or fat loss. Our guarantee is quite simple...we guarantee that you will reach 20 pounds of fat loss or weight loss and we will stick with you until this result is achieved or issue a refund* I acknowledge that the Company incurs certain costs per each client in order to provide the plan and the company's services (manual fee of $35.00, journal fee of $35.00, NRF/weight loss formula bottles at $100.00 and NRF functional scan of $600.00) which are paid by me as part of the total cost of the plan and these costs are non-refundable under any circumstances. 
To break that down:
  • You'll lose 20 pounds -- but nothing is said about gaining it back. That won't void the guarantee, of course, but it will happen in almost all cases, based on Mann's research.
  • They'll "stick with you" until you lose 20 pounds, but only if it takes no more than 20 days beyond the original time frame.
  • If you decide to bail out because it's not working, you'll get your money back, except a minimum of $770 -- jeez, if that's the part they're not refunding, what's the cost of the rest of it? Just to lose 20 pounds?
That $100 bottle of "weight loss formula" is key. Is it some kind of supplement to regular food that is supposed to "raise your metabolism and reset your weight set point"? How many bottles are needed during the 40 days of the plan?

This skeptical look at the NutriMost system includes lots of good information and analysis. The system uses a machine called a Zyto scan, which measures galvanic skin response from your hand. Those measurements are real, but they are somehow used to create a "personalized treatment" because your skin supposedly can tell what you need for weight loss.
Obesity is not caused by toxins or infectious agents. Cells do not have "resonant frequencies." And Zyto cannot "imprint" frequencies into products or "assess" anything related to obesity or body health.

The Better Business Bureau of Pittsburgh has given NutriMost LLC an "F" rating based on "advertising issues" and the company's failure to respond to seven complaints...

[The plan uses a] very-low-calorie "food plan" that supposedly causes the body to get into a "near perfect and exact fat burning state." The NutriMost manual claims that hunger will not occur because "appetite will naturally be suppressed by the 2000 up to 7000 calories of fat you will be burning dues to the weight loss program." The typical caloric intake is 500 calories per day with very little carbohydrate.
Hunger will not occur, right! The skeptical assessment notes that "diets that are very low in calories are not much different from total starvation and are dangerous. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has determined that the claim that a product 'safely enables consumers to lose more than 3 pounds a week for more than 4 weeks' cannot be true because that rate of loss can result in gallstones and other health complications."

(Oh, and how can the ad claim that a 500-calories-per-day is not a "crazy diet"?)

People generally spend about $2,000 with NutriMost. The practitioners (usually chiropractors, as in the Minnesota case, following the chiropractor behind it all, whose name is Ray Wisniewski) pay an up-front $24,999 licensing fee plus a monthly fee of $599.

So clearly, this NutriMost system is just repackaged woo and pseudo-science, playing into the idea of personalized medicine.

What should you do instead if you're concerned about your weight and health? The main takeaway from Traci Mann's Secrets from the Eating Lab are this:
  • Your weight is 70 percent from your genetic makeup and you can't do anything about that. We all have a range that our body will weigh pretty much no matter what we do.
  • To find yourself at the low end of that range, don't rely on mythical will power. If less healthful food isn't present, you can't eat it. If healthful food is present, you will eat it instead. And enlist social support around this effort -- if your family and friends are eating these healthful foods, together you become a virtuous circle. (And by the way, don't label food as healthy/healthful as  I just did -- that makes people not eat it.)
  • Exercise will not make you lose weight, but it will make you healthier and extend your life. "Active obese individuals have lower rates of sickness and mortality than non-obese sedentary people" (page 76). It will help you feel better and sleep better, too, and good sleep is an under-appreciated part of maintaining a lower weight.
I hope people don't respond to this ad. Search the words NutriMost and scam for a raft of people complaining about it.

Almost Hit

Today I saw a pedestrian almost get hit by a car.

It was a two-lane, one-way street, a frontage road along a major urban highway. The left lane was bumper-to-bumper approaching a stop sign because the street had become a one-weekend detour just a few blocks back. The right lane (where I was driving) was much more open.

As I arrived at the stop sign there was just one car ahead of me. That car drove off and as I moved up to the corner, I realized there was a young woman waiting to cross the street across my lane of traffic.

I came to a full stop (which I admit is not always a habit) and made eye contact with her. She nodded a bit and walked in front of me in the marked crosswalk.

Concentrating on her, I wasn't fully aware of what was happening in the lane to my left.

As the woman cleared my car past the center line of the street and started to pass the car in the left lane, that car began to move forward. I'm very glad that the driver realized quickly enough and slammed on the brake hard enough to rock the car.

The pedestrian was not hit, but she dropped something she was carrying, stooped down to get it, and looked at the driver with an expression that I'm sure was less than friendly. The driver said something to her and she said something back, which I couldn't hear.

I hope the driver's words were "I'm sorry, I didn't see you" and not something like "Watch where you're going!" or worse. But I don't know. The pedestrian then got out of the intersection onto the relative safety of the north sidewalk and we went our separate ways.

We all know what would have happened if the car had hit the young woman's legs: She would have been injured, possibly severely, and it would have been the driver's fault, 100 percent. But that wouldn't help the pedestrian much. Her day, week, month would be ruined, she might lose a job or a semester in school -- who knows. The fairness of the situation is out of balance.

Just another day in the life of vulnerable bodies interacting with one-ton metal tanks on paved surfaces designed to move as many cars as possible.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Weakness of Human Nature

A thought (or two) for today:

Words by Henry Ward Beecher. Letterpress printing by one of our country's living treasures, Amos Paul Kennedy.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Structured Settlements Are Structured for a Reason

The Washington Post recently did an investigative report on companies that buy "structured settlements" from people in Baltimore who are due to receive money each year, based on a court settlement for damage done to them by lead.

Melissa Harris Perry did a story on this, summarizing the problem and interviewing the WaPo reporter. Buying out structured settlements happens locally also, as I wrote back in 2011

People who receive structured settlements get their money in this fashion for a reason, and the payments should stay structured over time.

These vulnerable adults need to be protected from predatory practices, like payments of 6 or 11 cents on the dollar. This business model should be illegal.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Left at the Curb

Here are a few photos of things I've seen left at the curb in the past few days. Not all were abandoned, though this large, floppy animal from the State Fair definitely was left behind:

It was an odd sight, lying forlornly at a corner about a mile from the Fair's nearest gate.

Then there were the two boxes of New Testaments left on a bench at a bus stop. I guess this particular Gideon gave up instead of braving a brief rain:

Note that these boxes are marked "COLLEGE" -- I wonder what effect that has on the content or format of the books?

Finally, a sign that a parent is getting a young child started right:

Not abandoned, of course. Not locked, either, but I don't imagine that matters much in this case.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Free Dinner for Diabetics: Prelude to a Ripoff?

The large ad has run several times in the Star Tribune, and I tried to let it slide. I really did.

But today it finally got to me and I had to post it here and look into it just a bit.

The ad offers a free dinner event for type II diabetics, promising to tell you about "Stunning Research" that suggests you can reverse the disease in "As Little as 1 WEEK." It's free, and includes a gourmet meal (a thick steak is shown in a photo). You can even bring a friend.

It's sponsored by something called Integrated Health: Finding Solutions to Change Lives, and includes the name Dr. Brad Watts, Doctor of Chiropractic after that.

Based on my earlier examination of a chiropractor who promised a magic-seeming cure for diabetes, and knowing that the disease is a real thing that can't be cured with wishful thinking, I suspected this offer of a free seminar for a one-week cure.

Well, it turns out that not only are the ad's vague claims suspicious as they try to appeal to sick people's wishful thinking, but the chiropractor behind it all has a history of past bad action.

I found this news story from Colorado about a chiropractor named Brad Watts who was investigated, along with others in his practice, in 2011.

According to the CALL7 investigation,

Nearly all the chiropractors have left a private practice after a year-long investigation by the CALL7 Investigators brought to light videos of the owner selling his business model to other chiropractors and showing how he cashing is in on his patients.

The CALL7 Investigators received more than 200 calls and emails from people who said Brandon and Heather Credeur's claims of curing diabetes and thyroid disorders are misleading.

Dozens of current and former patients and their families filled the 7NEWS studio saying they took out thousands of dollars in loans and paid cash up front.

"He took all my money. I felt worse than I have in years," said one former patient.
The story goes on to say that Brad and Kristin Watts, part of the Credeur's practice, have moved to Minnesota.

Clearly, Brad Watts has moved his practice and his rip-off business model to Minnesota. I'll be contacting the Minnesota Board of Chiropractic Examiners to report him, based on this earlier case in Colorado and these ads he's been running. Anyone else who cares is welcome to email also (micki.king [at]


Oddly enough, the chiropractor and wife in this case have the first names Brad and Kristin... which are the same first names of the chiropractor and wife in the other rip-off offer I've described in the past. Both couples even have last names beginning with W. I'm pretty sure the earlier couple, the Wildbergs, are from Wisconsin, though, so unless they lived for a few years in Colorado under a different last name, it's probably just a coincidence.


Update: Well, digging a little more, I found that the address for Brad Watts's Integrated Health practice is the same address as Brad Wildberg's -- 7250 France Avenue in Edina. In the same suite -- 300. So I guess these are the same people, and Brad must have run out to Colorado for a few years between his Michigan law suit and his Minnesota bankruptcy filings (as described in my earlier post).

Monday, September 7, 2015

For Labor Day: Another Way of Working

While on a trip a few weeks ago, I picked up a historical artifact about the road not taken in American industry. Published in early 1927, the 80-page booklet tells the story of the Endicott-Johnson company and its workers.

Starting with the title, “WE” — including those quotation marks and that capitalization — it is a relentlessly positive portrayal of the company and its 17,000 workers, all located in a small geographic area in central New York state: the Triple Cities (Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott).

As you can tell, two of the cities got their names from the founders of the company. They grew up together, after the company formed in 1890. Binghamton, the largest of the Triple Cities, was founded in the late 18th century, but the adjacent Johnson City was originally a tiny bedroom community with a different name, and Endicott, further west, was still farmland.

Endicott-Johnson made shoes at an affordable price, part of the industrialization of clothing manufacturing that happened after sizes were standardized following the Civil War. This allowed people to buy off the rack or shelf, rather than hire a tailor or cobbler.

The company’s founders, developing it during our country’s era of strong unionization and the Russian Revolution, tried a different tack: give the workers most of what they would have gotten by unionizing, but leave out the union.

The “WE” booklet describes all of those things in loving detail, beginning with the booklet’s subtitle: “The Story of an Industrial Democracy Unique in Business History.” I didn’t see evidence in the booklet of a democracy in the company, but it definitely is a company that spent years sharing the wealth with its workers far beyond the usual.

Endicott-Johnson [believes in] the broad humanitarian assumption that every life is worth living — that hope, happiness and contentment should and can exist for those who toil in factories as well as for those who manage them — that human relationship between employer and employee is the greatest factor underlaying business success — and that true business success is something which belongs not to the employer alone, but to all who have a part in its making.
The company made much of the concept of “the Square Deal” — going so far as building stone arches across the main streets proclaiming the towns to be the “Home of the Square Deal.”

The arches -- built and paid for by the workers -- stand over the streets of Endicott and Johnson City to this day.

The booklet goes on to proclaim:
Here is found a democratic spirit, an air of good fellowship and pride of mutual achievement not paralleled in any similar organization or industrial community. There are no class barriers. No pretentiousness. No high-and-mighty exclusiveness.

We call our president by his first name and he calls us by ours. He is our neighbor. So are all of the other officials of the Company. We swap yarns with them over back yard hedges and rub elbows in the movies.
All this while tanning 20,500 sides of leather and making 130,000 pairs of shoes every single day.

The company provided libraries, homes, hospitals, free health care, pensions and sick relief, parks and pools. And annual profit-sharing. Plus:
We have factory restaurants where more than 12,000 wholesome meals are served to us daily, at an average cost of about 20 cents ($2.65 in 2014 dollars). We make good wages the year round. We have reasonable working hours. We share in the profits of our Company.

We fill all our good jobs from the inside by advancement. We have never had a strike.
Now for some details on those good wages, houses, pensions, and profit-sharing.


Homes worth living in were sold, it says, at cost or less, and available in a variety of sizes to fit different families.

These are not “Company Houses” crudely designed, monotonously alike and cheaply constructed, in quantities — like many commonly found in mining and other industrial localities where housing is so often regarded purely in the light of commercial expediency.

Each Endicott-Johnson house is planned to be a home, pleasing in design, substantial in construction, complete in detail, cozy, warm, easy to furnish and economical to maintain.
The houses still stand and are as good as any other houses from the era, so this part is definitely true. Their lots were at least 50 x 150 feet (a standard size in many cities, including St. Paul), with room for a lawn and garden.
  • A four-room (plus bathroom) house was $2,100 ($28,000 today).
  • A five-room (plus bath) bungalow was $3,000 ($40,000 today)
  • A seven-room, two-and-a-half story four-square went for $4,000 ($53,000 today).
Clearly, these were bargain prices for houses with hardwood floors, porches, heating, plumbing, and bathrooms.

Wages and Profit-Sharing

EJ’s workers, it says, “receive the highest wages of any leather and shoe workers in the world.” The average yearly wage reported for 1925 is $1,309.88. This works out to $17,500 in 2014 dollars, or $8.50 an hour — just about our current minimum wage, if the workers were putting in only 40 hours a week. But the average number of hours worked a week is not given; just that general statement, “We have reasonable working hours.” (The Wikipedia page for EJ president George F. Johnson says, though, "Endicott-Johnson was the first company in the shoe industry to introduce the 8-hour workday, 40-hour workweek..." This started in 1916.)

The booklet doesn't mention that the workers were paid under a piece-work system, but that was the case. According to the Wikipedia, Johnson "saw the hourly-wage-system as a form of mental slavery."

Profit-sharing is described in glowing terms. In 1925, the Workers’ Share was $1,153,824 — or $68 per worker ($908 in 2014 dollars), which is a bit under three weeks’ pay.

Pensions, Disability, and Vacation (Not)
When time at last begins to take its toll in physical decline, our Endicott-Johnson pension system offers the faithful worker a kindly helping hand. And this aid is not an arbitrary, fixed sum, but is determined by the actual need of the worker — according to his ability to continue in part time or less arduous duties. When complete retirement is finally necessary his needs and the comfort-giving needs of his family are provided for as long as needed.
Which is pretty vague.

If a worker died while employed, the company continued his paychecks
for a year, or two, three or five years if there is need. There is no mechanical limitation on this insurance. It does not stop at some arbitrary fixed sum. The needs of each case are separately considered and conscientiously met. This is the most equitable form of insurance we know — insurance paid for from the profits of those who can spare it…
I wonder what the actuaries thought of that!

Sick relief (short-term disability insurance) was available but not required for sale at 20 cents a week. That’s $10.40 a year ($136 in 2014 dollars) to a worker who made $1,300 a year--so pretty affordable. In exchange, the worker got:
After the first week’s illness we pay to members in good standing $10.50 per week during illness; maximum payment not to be over 13 weeks.
That means the yearly cost would be paid off in a single week out of work (after one week), with another three months covered as well. But the sick relief payment of $10.50 was about 40 percent of regular weekly wages, so this benefit must have left families struggling.

No mention is made of paid vacations. I guess the workers and their families were supposed to take advantage of the parks and pools for their down time.

Public Markets

One of my favorite parts of the booklet is the description of the towns’ public markets.

There were two large public markets, I assume one in Johnson City and one in Endicott.
…as many as 1,670 farmers’ trucks and wagons have gathered over the period of one month and served between 15,000 and 20,000 people, the sales totaling $86,320.10.
From the photos, it appears the markets were open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

This was in an era well before supermarkets, when there were only small corner stores. Having a large public market would have been an enormous benefit in towns of this size.

The Value of the EJ Dollar

A summary page attempts to find the worth of all the company did for its workers.
No monetary standard can measure the value of happiness, human friendship and the serenity which comes from knowing that every reasonable contingency of one’s future is thoughtfully provided for. Yet those are some of the precious possessions of those who live in “The Valley of Fair Play” and under the benefaction of “The Square Deal.”

Our parks, playgrounds, libraries and social centers hold limitless measures of enjoyable recreation and entertainment. Our community system promotes mutual friendship that is priceless. Our hospitals, medical services, pension, insurance and other relief systems, and our home-establishing plan makes us rich in contentment.

We cannot begin to estimate the value of these assets. But we can to a degree, estimate the material value of those benefits which may be classified as direct (omitting such as are factors for pleasure, recreation and entertainment…). We can thus arrive at some sort of tangible value of the Endicott-Johnson Dollar to the Endicott-Johnson Worker.

Based on estimated cost, the value of direct Endicott-Johnson Benefits received in one year (1924 estimate) is approximately as follows:

EJ Medical Expense: $1,293,379
Outside Medical Expense: $191,647
Accident relief not covered by state: $70,035
General Relief [payments to dead workers’ families?]: $185,376
Sick Relief [disability]: $114,078
Pensions: $92,470
Ambulance and funeral car service: $50,720
Public Markets (saving as compared with current public retail prices): $600,000
Workers’ Homes (saving as compared with public cost): $250,000
Legal Services and Miscellaneous Benefits: $250,000
Which totals to $3,087,705. Divided by 17,000 workers, that's $182 each ($2,431 in 2014 dollars).

Here's one bit of info from the EJ Wikipedia page:
...labor organizer Samuel Gompers visited E-J on several occasions, and spent time with both rank and file employees and with the Johnsons. When asked why no attempt had been made to organize E-J workers, Gompers said that E-J already gave workers more than unions had achieved elsewhere, and that the Federation of Labor was working to bring other workforces to the pay and benefits levels E-J provided on its own initiative.
A Snapshot

The “WE” booklet is a glimpse of the company in middle of the 1920s, after a success-filled run since the 1890s. They grew from one factory with 200 workers to 17,000 workers, 22 factories, and seven tanneries over 35 years.

What happened to the company during the Depression? Sales must have fallen. How did that affect their commitment to workers? Did they share the losses together? (Some of the answers are in this NPR story from 2010).

The company boomed again during World War II, under contract to the military. But in the 1950s management didn't catch the wave of changing fashion in shoe styles and fell behind other companies. I know from personal knowledge that Endicott-Johnson was a declining business by the 1960s, but I don’t know how company policies changed during the rise of globalization.

One legacy of EJ was its effect on the employment policies of IBM, which was founded across the street from EJ's Endicott factories. As the Wikipedia puts it,
IBM, due at least in part to the influence of E-J's example, became one of the earliest and most important providers of employee benefits. Although they didn't provide free medical and hospital care or build houses for employees they recognized that good pay and benefits were key to remaining non-union.
All of that later history is something to look into the next time I’m out that way. Or maybe I'll read the book Life and Labor in a Corporate Community: An On-Line History of the Endicott Johnson Corporation (available online!) by George Zahavi of SUNY Albany.

Either way, the "WE" booklet was quite a find for a history buff like me.