Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Funny Now, But Not If He'd Won

You can read the transcript, but it doesn't do it justice.

Last night, CNN's Jake Tapper interviewed Roy Moore's spokesman Ted Crockett, asking him why Moore has said Muslims (such as Keith Ellison) shouldn't be able to serve in Congress.

Crockett blabs on about how you have to swear on a Bible when you become a member of Congress, and it wouldn't be right for a Muslim to do that. To which Tapper replies, "You don't actually have to swear on a Christian Bible, you can swear on anything, really. I don't know if you knew that. You can swear on a Jewish Bible." [Or a Koran, like Thomas Jefferson did.]

Staying in his personal bubble, Crockett says "Oh no. I swore on the Bible. I've done it three times."

And Tapper says: "I'm sure you have, I'm sure you've picked a Bible but the law is not that you have to swear on a Christian Bible. That is not the law."

Then there are SEVEN seconds of dead air, the camera trained on Crockett's face as he blinks and works his mouth, unable to process this fact.

As the CNN story goes on to say, " Not only is there no requirement that a member of Congress be sworn into office on a Bible, the Constitution expressly forbids there being any such religious requirement."

The Constitution. That document they all claim to revere, but seem to have never read, let alone understood. This is funny today because Moore lost the Senate race to Doug Jones. I think I would feel differently about it if the outcome had gone the other way.

(The CNN video is preceded by an ad, and then the part in question starts at about the 9:00 minute mark.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Samantha Bee and North Korea

I don't know if Samantha Bee's show gets the viewership it deserves. It's sharply written and usually divergent from everything else on television.

Her recent segment on North Korea is an example:

(I hear the embedded video may not be showing up for everyone... so here's a link to it on YouTube.)

Most of the six-minute segment is an interview with Christine Ahn of the Korea Policy Institute. Ahn points out that the Kim family was able to establish its dictatorship because 80 percent of North Korea was destroyed by U.S. bombing during the early 1950s, more bombs than were dropped in all of Europe during World War II. (Have you ever heard that fact before? I haven't.)

When Bee asks her "Why have the Kims been such shitheads to their people?", she replies:

Well it depends on what you mean by shitheads. I mean, if it means having the world’s largest prison population, mass surveillance of its citizens’ communications, systematic discrimination against one group of people spending far more on its military than on the well-being of its people... I think we have to ask the very same question of our own government.
Some other things I learned:
  • It sounds as though the image of the U.S. and Americans in North Korea is about as distorted as the image we have of North Korea and its people. 
  • And Dennis Rodman actually managed to be a fairly effective emissary of peace. According to Ahn:
To have an African American, with tattoos and piercings, come to the country — I think that was awesome. To really disrupt their narrative or their stereotypes about Americans.
So check out Full Frontal with Samantha Bee in general! It's only on once a week, so it's not too hard to keep up.

Bee's earlier interview with Russian expat journalist Masha Gessen was also a must-watch that I forgot to mention when it aired in January 2017 (there must have been a lot else going on then, huh?).

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Best of the Best of Janesville

A recent trip to Janesville, Wisconsin, took me to Best of Janesville, an antiques and collectibles shop on the edge of town. I saw some cool stuff!

First, there was this colorful... something...

Each satin piece (ribbon?) is machine embroidered with the name of a country, or college...

... or whatever (the Knights Templar? the Masons?)...

It was pretty mysterious. The green background fabric is rough and ragged; the stitches that attach the pieces are clearly hand-done. But the ribbons themselves are just as clearly not handmade.

Well, it turns out there is some small lettering along the bottom of the ribbons, visible only along the bottom row (since all of the other rows overlap and cover it up). Most of them say "Egyptienne Luxury," while one says "Turkey Red." The interweb quickly told me these were tobacco brands, and the ribbons were "premiums" that were included free in cigarette boxes in the early 20th century.

The collegiate series ran for about four years around 1910. I'm not finding much information on the countries or other oddities. The Turkey Red silk in the bottom row shows the city of Rochester's seal... so they must have done a cities series around the same time.

Altogether, there are 96 silks on this piece. Google tells me they sell (in theory) for $5 to $15 apiece. The agglomeration was priced around $50.00. I have no idea if their value would be decreased by the way they have been sewn onto the backing.

As always, there was some cool packaging for funky products and nice lettering:

"For effective treatment of 'ICK'"... ! (It's important to realize this is a product for aquariums.)

But I love the pattern and the use of red, black, and white.

These beautiful letters were on the door of an old wood-burning stove.

There was also some not-so-cool packaging:

As I've written before, Stephen Foster is problematic, shall we say. This album artwork shows the reason why. These "Plantation Melodies" were played by "the Plantation Symphonette."

Here's a close-up of the artwork:

Romanticization of enslavement much?

[palate cleanser]

On the wall above the checkout, there's an illustrated map of Janesville:

It was done in 1967, and the artwork is by Kathleen Jelinek. There are lots of neat close-ups, but I wanted to share just three:

It's interesting that all three are the homes of notable women. But it's funny to me that of the "famous" occupants, two are listed with just their names, while the third says her name plus what she's famous for.

Today, I'd be willing to bet the average person is more likely to know The Little Engine that Could than they are to know why the mapmakers thought Frances Willard or Carrie Jacobs-Bond were notable. Willard was a late-19th-century educator, temperance reformer, and women's suffragist. She lived in Janesville from age 7 to 19. (By coincidence, I've also seen her later house, down in Evanston, Illinois, near the Northwestern University campus.) Jacobs-Bond was a singer, pianist, and songwriter, working from about 1890 to 1940. I've never heard of her. Her best-known song appears to be "I Love You Truly," which I only know because it's used in the honeymoon scene of It's a Wonderful Life.

Frances Wiggins Ford lived in Janesville from the age of 6 months, after arriving in a covered wagon in 1854. It's unclear when she moved away (though it was after she had married and her husband became ill). The Little Engine that Could story was written in 1912, after she had moved to Nebraska and then Chicago to work as a journalist.

Unlike Willard and Jacobs-Bond, Wiggins Ford does not have a Wikipedia page. And it looks as though Janesville's claim that she wrote The Little Engine is not generally accepted: The book's cover credits Watty Piper, pen name of publisher Arnold Munk. But (as the book's Wikipedia page shows), his version was preceded by several others. The phrase "I think I can" dates to a 1902 Swedish journal; the basic story of the "engine that thought it could" is in a 1906 sermon published in the New York Tribune. Printed versions for children started in the 1920s; Munk's book is from 1930, though the 1954 version (and illustrations) is the one we all know.

The Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries says Wiggins Ford's authorship "was finally recognized in 1953 by Grosset & Dunlap publishers," but it gives not details on that. The Nebraska State Historical Society holds a collection of letters from the 1950s in which Wiggins Ford's cousin tried to confirm her authorship of the story. But I guess we have to go to Lincoln to check out those letters to be sure, because the interweb contains no proof that she had anything to do with the story, except what Janesville has to say about it.

Wiggins Ford lived to be 102 years old, by the way.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Recently from Discover

A few cool tidbits from a recent issue of Discover magazine:

From A global state of mind. Vikram Patel, an Indian psychiatrist, has been working for years to document and treat depression and other mental illnesses in developing countries. For 20 years, he's been fighting the perception (on the part of the World Bank and other power brokers) that there is no such thing. He sometimes finds himself speaking to audiences where he's contradicted by white, British psychiatrists who say it's misery and poverty, not depression, that's the culprit. Patel agrees that poverty is important, but there's more to it than that. Global epidemiological research finds:

half of the 10 leading causes of disability were from psychiatric conditions: depression, alcoholism, bipolar diseas, schizophrenia and OCD. Depression alone was the leading cause of disability in every region of the world except sub-Saharan Africa, and outranked the death and disability caused by anemia, heart disease, cancer, malaria and lung disease.
The article contains this fascinating graph:

From the same issue, The peanut plague. I've known about aflatoxin, a naturally occurring killer mold in peanuts, since I was in college (thanks to my brother-in-law, an organic chemist). But somehow I thought it was restricted to peanut butter that wasn't stored properly. I didn't realize it was a huge issue in countries that grow peanuts as a staple crop, including much of Africa.
...public health experts believe that as many as 500 million people [note to self: that's half a billion!] poor people are being slowly poisoned by long-term cumulative exposure to aflatoxins, which can stunt a child's growth, suppress the immune system and lead to liver damage or cancer.
The biomarkers for aflatoxin exposure in developed countries like the U.S., with [so far] strong regulation and testing of crops are almost nonexistent, but when people in developing countries are tested, the rates are more than 90 percent. Scientists are trying to breed a resistant peanut, without success so far, and particular farming practices help, too. But climate change is likely to make the problem worse, since hot, dry conditions toward the end of the plant's growth cycle favor the mold. One current solution is to introduce a nontoxic strain of the mold, which deprives the bad strains of resources, but that costs farmers money to apply, when few of them even believe aflatoxin is real, since its effects take years to show up.

The latest issue of Discover just showed up on my doorstep, containing the top 100 science stories of 2017. The most interesting ones, to my mind, were these three:

Why do humans live to be as old as we do, when women stop reproducing by 50 years old or so, at the latest? There's been writing about the grandmother hypothesis for years, but new research assesses sleep patterns. Studying a band of Hadza hunter-gatherers, scientists studied 220 hours of data and found there were only 18 one-minute increments when all the people in the band were asleep at the same time, and that it was people over 50 who were most likely to be awake at odd hours. "Having a few members of the group awake at all times can protect everyone from predators and other threats." It's called the sentinel hypothesis, and it makes sense that groups of people who had natural sentinels would be more likely to survive over time. (I will try to take comfort from this during my next bout of insomnia.)

You've probably heard of the WEIRD bias in psychological research. If not, the acronym stands for Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic, and describes the skewed selection of research subjects in psych research. Here's an example of trying to be a bit more cross-cultural: a recent study in Child Development compared results of the delayed-gratification marshmallow test, using 4-year-old German middle-class children and Cameroonian farming children as subjects. The researchers found 28 percent of the German kids delayed gratification long enough to earn the second treat, while 70 percent of the Cameroonian kids held out for the second marshmallow. (This may be my favorite bit of research ever, since it counters all of the racist messages about Germanic superiority and African lack of self-control.)

Finally, a bit of good tech news: Researchers at MIT and Berkeley have developed a water harvester that, so far, can pull a gallon a water a day from desert air, with energy supplied by a small solar panel. (This sounds like something right out of the classic science fiction novel Dune, where the people on the desert planet Arrakis harvest water using "wind traps.")

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Peek-a-Boo Covers

Book cover designers follow trends, as I've noted before. But it's a bit ridiculous these days.

All five of these books were on the same table at Common Good books last week:

I like them all, but jeez.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Billboard House

The best thing in today's paper (and maybe any recent paper) is this from the Star Tribune: St. Paul home renovation uncovers hand-painted signs of the past. A guy named Todd Johnson is renovating an 1880 house on the hill overlooking downtown St. Paul, and when he removed the asbestos shingles he found this:

The Star Tribune has a great photo gallery of close-ups that I envy (since I couldn't go into the yard). But here are my photos:

There are rainbow-striped letters throughout. A few of those letters are visible in the upper part of this photo:

The name "Leslie," visible in the upper right of this photo, is the name of the sign painter. The Strib article fills in some of his details:

Johnson plans to cover the boards up again as his renovation proceeds. I hope (and expect) that someone has taken good photos that will allow the puzzle pieces to be assembled to show what the complete originals looked like, or as much as the parts that are on the walls will allow.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Vaccines, Morality, Facts

“It’s not hard to scare people, but it’s extremely difficult to unscare them.” — Dr. Paul Offit

I'm taking a break today from the constant onslaught to think about vaccines. It started from a recent Vox article called What makes some parents fall for anti-vaccine messaging?, which caught my attention because the research it describes is based on Moral Foundations Theory (which I have discussed here as part of Jonathan Haidt's work).

A quick recap: Haidt and other social psychologists have found, when querying people cross-culturally, that humans innately respond to six types of moral "taste receptors":

  • Care/harm (compassion for the suffering, prevention of harm)
  • Fairness/cheating (looking for balance, punishing cheaters)
  • Liberty/oppression (resisting bullies, resenting restrictions on our actions)
  • Loyalty/betrayal (tracking who is "us" and who is not, disliking traitors)
  • Authority/subversion (valuing order and hierarchy, disliking chaos)
  • Sanctity/degradation (elevating some things, seeing them as pure)
Within the U.S., researchers have found that political liberals have stronger receptors for three of those six (care, fairness, and liberty) while conservatives value all six more equally than liberals, but respond more to loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

The Emory University researchers found anti-vax appeals frequently are framed around liberty and sanctity, while pro-vaccination messages are based on straight-up rationality and, to some extent, fairness and care:
As the researchers wrote, “Anti-vaccination websites also often claim that vaccines contain ‘contaminants’. These concerns may be rooted in the purity moral foundation, with its emphasis on avoiding anything disgusting or unnatural. Another frequent message on anti-vaccine websites is that mandatory vaccination policies violate parental civil liberties.”
The Emory researchers plan to follow up to see if pro-vaccine campaigns based on these two types of morality are effective with parents:
“You could increase the salience of disgust associated with certain diseases, and say vaccines fight those,” said the Emory study’s senior author, Dr. Saad Omer. “Or you could frame purity positively — saying vaccines are a very natural product, they work with a natural system. Messages that talk about liberty, that the freedom to choose for your child is being taken away if other others don’t vaccinate, might work.”
Meanwhile, Penn and Teller have come up with a visual way of getting the pro-vaccination message across that doesn't have anything to do with morality:

This is just another version of the rational argument for vaccines, plus swearing and bowling pins. I guess you could say they're trying to unscare parents at the same time they rescare them, to follow Paul Offit's quote.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What Will It Take?

Remember last fall? Even election night and the days right after it?

I pre-mourned a lot at the time. I mourn and act now, but in some ways I'm numb, too. I can't even find a local protest on the tax bill to attend.

Anyway... just now I was looking through past posts related to Jonathan Haidt for something I want to write about morality, and I came across this post of mine from October 1, 2016. It quotes writer Rebecca Solnit at length about "what if" Trump wins:

Don't imagine that Trump will be some joke we can sort of override or that the people in charge of carrying out his orders revolt against them. Remember that government workers rounded up Japanese-Americans when ordered to do so, under a president most people are inclined to admire, and that the loss of rights and possessions still traumatizes survivors and their children 75 years later. Remember that few besides Daniel Ellsberg revealed the lies behind the Vietnam War (one of his colleagues told Ellsberg he would, but then he couldn't send his kid to Groton, weighing prep school against hundreds of thousands of deaths and coming down in favor of the former), remember that Snowden was virtually alone in revealing what tens of thousands of NSA employees and contractors knew about the violation of our privacy.

Don't count on the revolt or the resistance. It's too iffy, and it depends on a kind of mass disobedience we've never seen, from people sworn to obedience. Remember that evil is often carried out by stages, and many people adjust stage by stage, rationalize, conform. That's how rational, obedient people exterminated my father's relations in Europe 75 years ago.

This is not to say that there is nothing to fight under a Clinton administration, just that some things—reproductive rights, attacks on Muslims in the U.S.—won't be on the table, and there are things we can fight and win, just as we fought Obama on the Keystone XL pipeline and won. On climate we can push for the agenda we need, and her climate proposals are inadequate but have many positive things. With Trump, we finish the destruction of the planet that advanced so far under eight disastrous oil-soaked years of Bush.
Solnit was right. The post-inauguration resistance may have been a bit stronger than she was predicting, but we haven't had enough effect yet, either... we haven't tucked our bodies into the gears of the machine to stop it from operating (to use Bayard Rustin's way of putting it).

What will it take?


Life these days is a constant series of flashbacks. Here's what I wrote the day after the election last year.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

When You See Yourself in a Sign

It is a mistake to go into Common Good bookstore in St. Paul. Recently, while I was making a purchase, as always happens when I go there, I saw this taped to the counter:

Here is my current set of book piles:

This does not include the ones that have been put on shelves in other rooms, of course.

The good news is that I finished all 14 of Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache books and can finally begin working on these piles.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Time to Close Some Tabs

A quick too-many-tabs post...

A recent archaeological study found that prehistoric farming women had arms stronger than contemporary women who are elite rowers. Which is interesting, but not as interesting (to me) as the fact that before this study, archaeologists thought prehistoric farming women were couch potatoes because their bones weren't as dense as the men of the same era. See, the earlier archaeologists had only compared the women's bones to men, not to women from other eras. Duh.

My recent favorite facts-I-never-knew article is the paradox of persistent vacancies and high prices from Strong Towns. When there is a high office vacancy rate in an area, why don't the "laws" of supply and demand force rents down until the vacancies are filled? Well, it has to do with banks and how loans are made. Or why aren't those offices made into housing, which we're clearly short on? That also has to do with banking and how loans are made.

Well, those are the two articles among these tabs that I read and fully recommend. Here are the others that are sitting in my tabs waiting for me to read them.

More from Strong Towns:
America's economic problems demand a strong solution. A podcast about the American growth model from Chuck Marohn.

From The Atlantic's CityLab:
We have to be careful not to romanticize cities. Writers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie confront the limits of urbanism.

From Alternet:

From Dave Roberts at Vox:
From Mother Jones:
From the Guardian:
Electric cars are not the answer to air pollution, says top UK adviser. "...while electric vehicles emit no exhaust fumes, they still produce large amounts of tiny pollution particles from brake and tyre dust.... A recent European commission research paper found that about half of all particulate matter comes from these sources." The good news: it's not carbon! The bad news: it's still bad for human health.

From New Scientist:
SUVs double pedestrians' risk of death. And that's for small SUVs... large vans, SUVs and pickup trucks triple the risk of death.

From Truthout:
How to fund a universal basic income without increasing taxes or inflation.

From the Washington Post:
Canada tests "basic income" effect on poverty amid lost jobs.

From Matt Breunig:
What if everyone benefited when stocks soared?

From Slate:
Is violence the only way to end inequality? A certain read of history says yes. "[The] collapse of states [reduces inequality] because the rich and the powerful are either the same people or are very closely allied, and if you destroy state structures, then the rich simply have more to lose."

From Demos:
Why are we not making progress against racism? "We need Americans to go on fact-finding missions on racism, not try to engage in conversation when there is no agreement on the basic facts."

From Huffington Post:
Thrutopias: Why neither dystopias nor utopias are enough to get us through the climate crisis. (By British philosopher Rupert Read. I have to check him out more thoroughly!)

From Salon:
Reconsidering “The Reactionary Mind” in the age of you-know-who. Is Trump “not a conservative”? Political theorist Corey Robin begs to differ, in a new edition of his landmark book.

From Fast Company:
The Airbnb for affordable housing is here. Nesterly, a new platform that pairs older homeowners with young renters, is riding a wave of interest in multigenerational living.

From The Atlantic:
How American politics went insane. It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse. (Update: I just realized this article is from summer 2016—before Trump was elected!)

From the Niskanen Center:
How Libertarian democracy skepticism infected the American Right.

From Signature:
Language matters: the true definition of "working class." A critique of J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy.

From Cracked:
Seven reasons so many men don't understand sexual consent. Starting with this film trope: "assault a woman until she loves you."

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Virus vs. Beast

Almost a month ago, I took a photo of a paragraph within a Star Tribune story. It's one of those things I would have clipped for my filing system in the past:

In one 2015 study, people who saw crime as a “virus” afflicting society tended to be in favor of addressing the social forces — such as poverty, inequality and poor housing — that spawn criminal activity, while those who thought of it as a “beast” generally pressed for more aggressive policing.
The story didn't have much to do with that bit (it's more general, about how crime is discussed in social media), and it doesn't cite the research source. But that fact stuck with me.

Here's the story it's from.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Midwestern Values?

More than nine years ago, my credit union renamed itself "Spire," and created a wholly inappropriate logo (memorialized in blog posts here and here).

Recently, I was doing some online banking and realized they changed their tag line at some point to "Driven by Midwestern Values.." (dot dot — I kid you not, look closely at the graphic):

At first I only noticed the design of the tag line:

  • It's hard to read, because it's set so tightly, especially for an on-screen graphic. This is meant to be a large display typeface, not for use this small. 
  • It's also technically a bad use of the font, because the font has contextual alternate characters that can make it look more like hand-lettering — but the designers didn't used them. Check out the weird "Dr" combination in "Driven," the awkward way the "y" in "by" almost touches the "M" in Midwestern but has clashing shapes to the two curves, and the long tails on the lower-case "n"s at the ends of "Driven" and "Midwestern"; that tail is only supposed to be used when the "n" connects to the next letter. Here's a sample that shows how contextual alternates improve the look of this font, connecting the letters as they would naturally if hand-lettered, and ending with the proper kind of stroke on the final letter:

  • The font itself is Filmotype Honey, originally designed in the 1950s during the brush script craze, pre-Mad Men. It's a weird choice for "Midwestern Values," unless Midwestern values are backwardness and butt-grabbing. (Make America Midwestern Again?)
And that's when I started to think about the meaning of the tag line, secondarily. "Midwestern values" means something different to white people than it does to immigrants, people of color, and Native Americans. At best, Midwestern values are "Minnesota nice," with its double meaning of surface niceness that  excludes newcomers, never letting them get close. At worst, they gave us the 1863 mass execution at Fort Snelling, right? Midwestern values definitely create a vision of hard-working farmers in small towns. They imply historical whiteness.

Does my credit union know this is a dog whistle, or are they just as clueless about this as they are about the religious connotations of their name and logo? It's weird, because I (a white lady) don't get the feeling they are exclusionary when I am at the credit union, and believe they are doing themselves a disservice in their identity and branding.


I was already planning to write this post when I saw a Tweet that said, "DC Metro sued for rejecting Catholic ad urging people to find God this Christmas," accompanied by this image of the poster rejected by the Metro:

I wonder if the Washington, D.C., Catholic group is using the same graphic designers as Spire?