Saturday, September 20, 2014

When It's Bad to Be Above Average

Traveling is a chance to notice USA Today, a mixed blessing. But I saw this chart yesterday:

So half of all full-time workers put in more than 40 hours a week, and the average number of hours is 47. Wow.

I wonder how many of those overtime hours are paid for. Workers who aren't salaried are supposed to be paid time-and-a-half for hours over 40 per week, but there are numerous reports on the rise of "wage theft": employers who don't pay more for overtime, or worse yet, don't pay at all (for instance, requiring workers to clock out before cleaning up, not clock in when getting set up, and even more extreme examples).

There has been recent action to enforce the Federal Labor Standards Act in California. But it takes at least a slightly empowered worker to bring a case, and in an age of race-to-the bottom pay and fear-for-your job, that's not likely to happen.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Zephyr Teachout. Yes, That's Her Name

Zephyr Teachout, recent renegade candidate for governor of New York, has one of the weirdest names I've ever heard. But I think she has a future as a leader in the world we need to make: a green democracy without big money and politicians held captive by donors.

With only a tiny amount of money, raised in small amounts from individuals, she won a bunch of New York counties in the primary versus Andrew Cuomo.

She was on the Daily Show a couple of nights ago. See for yourself.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stalin Could Been a Heart Throb

From the wonderful Retronaut photographic time machine, this image of Joseph Stalin in 1902 at age 24:

It's not often I see a photo of a non-Hollywood person of the past and say to myself, Dang, s/he could be in pictures.

How many world leaders and/or tyrants were this good-looking? I wonder if it helped or hurt Stalin in his rise to power?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Zombies Have More Rights than I Do

Yeah, yeah, who doesn't love a bunch of pretend zombies. They were out in force yesterday at the light rail station between Minneapolis City Hall and the Hennepin County Government Center, as the Star Tribune reports today with a series of fun photos.

Photo by Jeff Wheeler

Here's the thing, though: See how that zombie is standing in the area where people wait for the train? Those bricks below her feet indicate the paid-fare zone.

I was in that area a week or so ago to attend a rally in support of Mike Brown's family and the people of Ferguson, and when I returned home (on the train), I was told that only people who were taking the train should go into that area because you can get a citation, or even be arrested, for violating that rule.

That's what happened to the Occupy folks who were encamped for months in the nearby government center plaza when they tried to use the heated shelters during cold weather.

But if you're doing a zombie-in that is completely free of any speech concerns -- or better yet, if you're doing a publicity stunt for the morally bankrupt Minnesota Lottery's newest scratch game with its Walking Dead theme -- it looks like it's fine to break the rule. They even built some kind of structure in the paid-fare zone, according to Occupy Minnesota:

That's the way to encourage speech that actually means something, Minneapolis, Metro Transit, and Hennepin County. You make us all proud. And Star Tribune... maybe you could consider looking into this misuse of public property?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Drones Are Too Easy

As part of her Nieman Fellowship, all-time favorite Maggie Koerth-Baker today attended a talk by John Kaag of the University of Massachusetts–Lowell at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Kaag's topic was the moral hazard of drones, as used by the U.S. military.

Koerth-Baker tweeted a series of paraphrases of Kaag's talk, and I wanted to quote enough of them to get his main points across. (I have edited slightly to expand some of her Twitter abbreviations.)

Drones aren't qualitatively different than a sniper. But they make it more likely people will take the military option as a first resort.

Question of drones is really about older question of expediency vs. morality. Is convenience a virtue?

The easy [military] option should be morally suspect. Because, with hard options, there are other reasons to question already. Equalizing critique.

Drones undo the theory of democracies = peace. Instead of avoiding war, drones give democracy the option of just doing war more "cleanly."

Polling shows that Americans don't know much about drones. Often call them "illegal." Are still in favor of them.

Polls change when you emphasize distinction and proportionality in drone discussion. THEN most Americans are against them.

Americans care about killing civilians. Way more than formal normative structures of war crimes and legal behavior.
I think the Berkman Center will have video of Kaag's talk up soon. (They were running a livestream during the event.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

No Cut Block at Menards?

Yet another case of a missing hyphen leading to confusion:

This billboard has been up around town in multiple locations lately. Every time I see it I think, "They don't have any cut blocks at Menards? Then why are they advertising that product?"

After a second, I always figure out that this is what they meant to say:

I'm sure the do-it-your-selfers in the ad's intended audience don't sit around ruminating on that missing hyphen. What gets seen is the picture, the THIS IS EASY line, and the Menards logo -- which together get the point across. But still. Can't they check their wording before they make it 20 feet tall all over town?

Come to think of it, the phrase "no-cut block" is pretty awkward no matter how you write it. Maybe some copywriting genius should think of a better name for it.


For those who are unfamiliar with the Twin Cities, Menards is a big-box hardware and lumber store, comparable to Lowe's or Home Depot. It's relatively locally owned, with its headquarters in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Some Dream

I've been known to take photos of tacky souvenirs sold at truck stops along our nation's highways, but this one posted to Twitter recently by comedian Andy Richter tops anything I've seen:

Richter accompanied the photo with these words: "Perhaps some dreams shouldn't be caught."

It's hard to imagine the cluelessness of the person who thought, "Let's use a Native American symbol to promote the ideals of the American Confederacy, while also claiming the bald eagle -- icon of freedom -- for slave-owners."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Send Rick Nolan Back to the House

There are a lot of things wrong with Congress, but Rick Nolan isn't one of them.

Representing Minnesota's huge 8th congressional district (which runs from just north the Twin Cities to the Canadian border, and two-thirds of the way toward North Dakota), Nolan was elected in 2012. But the unusual thing about him is that he also served in the House from 1974 to 1980 as part of the "Watergate Class." He decided not to stand for reelection in 1980, going on to run businesses in Minnesota until he giving it a go again a few years ago.

Nolan has a perspective almost no one else has: He sees how Congress was when it could get things done, and before big money changed it into the mess it is today. As he said on NPR just after he was elected:
One [way that Congress is different now] is that [it] no longer works in the same number of hours and the same manner that it once did. My first term of service, we worked 48 out of the 52 weeks. If you look at the schedule for the coming year, Congress is scheduled to work 32 out of the 52 weeks. Secondly, most of our weeks were four and five-day weeks and they were all day long.

Now, a day is defined quite differently. On Tuesday or Monday, you go in at 6:00 in the evening is when you have your votes scheduled. What you don't finish up on that evening, you finish up the next day and the following morning at best....

[In the 1970s] we were meeting in committees every day, getting to know one another and in the process, developing a measure of respect for one another and in the process, learning where the opportunities for cooperation, collaboration existed. Every bill that I passed, I had a Republican partner. I put together a presidential commission on world hunger.
Nolan also has spoken out to decry how the rest of a member of Congress's time is used:
NOLAN: We’re told should be spending 30 hours a week in fundraising and call time dialing for dollars.

CHUCK TODD: Let me stop you there [...] They want you to spend 30 hours a week making phones calls?

NOLAN: For money. And you know I’m not going to do that, I haven’t done that. I’m here to govern. But the fact is my last election contest years ago I think I spent $250,000. The total amount of money in my election contest this year was well over $20 million. You know, back when I was here before that was more than was spent in the presidential contest! We need to change the way we do politics. We need to take money out of politics, and the Congress needs to go back to work governing.
Now Nolan is running for reelection and his opponent, Stewart Mills III, appears to be from Hollywood central casting: 42-year-old wealthy heir to a regional retail giant, good-looking, even quirky (wearing longish Brad Pitt hair and casual clothes while Tweeting photos of his visits to kitschy landmarks in the district). Millions of dollars in dark money is being spent on ads against Nolan because Republicans think the seat is one they can win.

Today's Star Tribune story on the race presents both the challenge and the challenger. Mills is paraphrased as saying Nolan "is too deeply embedded in the Washington establishment," which is clearly not true, given the story's lead, which describes how Nolan refuses to stick to Democratic party talking points and works against policies that he sees hurting his district. (Policies that I personally would agree with, by the way -- the 8th is a district torn on environmental issues, given its economy split between mining and nature-based tourism.)

Here's another way that Nolan shows he isn't a Washington insider:
...this week proposed reforms to Congress that would ban fundraising during Washington work periods and limit spending on congressional campaigns to a period 60 days before an election. He said change is needed because “it’s too much money and not enough governance.”
Banning fundraising during the Washington work week. What a concept! I think a lot of people would agree with that.

You know who will be a Washington insider, if he gets there? Stewart Mills III.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Stupid War for the Oaks

Science denial is too much with us; we all know that. Its most extreme form is climate-change denial, but it occurs in many other areas of modern life, from vaccine resistance to thinking genetically modified plants can harm people who eat them.

Yesterday's Star Tribune included a story of science denial with a local angle. People in the northern suburb of Ham Lake forced the reversal of a city policy that allowed arborists to enter private property to identify oak trees that are afflicted with wilt, marking them for removal.

Oak wilt is a serious disease that kills the tree. It travels from tree to tree through the roots when a sick tree is close enough to a healthy one. Arborists are good at spotting the disease when it's not obvious to a layperson, and homeowners have the option of having the tree tested before it's cut down down, just to make sure it's really sick.

But none of that is good enough for the know-nothings in Ham Lake, each sitting on at least an acre of land so they don't have to share space with anyone else. "Ham Lakers are responsible people. We are not children," said the mayor, Mike Van Kirk.

The whole point is that you can't tell the tree has the disease until it's too late and will affect other trees. You can't see it, but an arborist can.

The mayor is also quoted as calling the law a "jackbooted, stomp-on-your-property issue." At least he didn't say the law had been "shoved down our throats," like every other right-wing politician and pundit in this country.

He did say this, however:

The mayor also questioned the effectiveness of removing diseased trees, saying it could constitute a losing battle against Mother Nature. “This is analogous, to me, to trying to stop the common cold by shooting everybody in the head that is infected with the cold virus,” he said.
Well, Mr. Mayor, if the common cold could kill everyone around it, you might quarantine the people who have it, right? In the case of trees, quarantining is not possible. All you can do is remove the tree. And you need to do it before the symptoms are bad enough to see, because by then it's much more likely to have traveled to other trees in the area.

And get this. One of the paranoid, enclave-loving council members said:
“Being a father of two daughters, I don’t like anyone uninvited in my yard,” he said. “I understand the police and firefighters in my yard. The arborist was the other person on that list. It didn’t seem right.”
After regaling us with this series of dumber-than-dumb quotes from city officials, the Strib story returns to information based in a factual world view, which was nice.
Mel Aanerud, chairman of Ham Lake’s tree and park commission, helped craft some of the city’s original policies to manage oak wilt more than 20 years ago. “We had the second-worst infestation in the state 20 years ago,” he said. “We had 9.7 infestations per square mile. We got it down to one infestation per square mile [under the policy that was just repealed].”

Aanerud said the City Council’s defense of property rights was too narrow.

“We have to deal with everybody’s property right,” he said. “I predict we will see an increase in oak wilt in the city. Some point, five to 10 years from now, people will ask why we didn’t keep doing what we were doing. It has worked.”

In neighboring Blaine, City Forester Marc Shippee called the Ham Lake policy change a shocker.

“Ham Lake was the most vigilant on oak wilt, even more than Blaine,” he said. “This is almost a 180 from what they have been doing. It’s a little disappointing. It affects our efforts here to control it if they are not requiring infected trees to be removed.”
So it's not only the people of Ham Lake that could be affected by their narrow-mindedness; it's also neighboring communities and their trees. Oak wilt is contagious, just like science-denialism seems to be these days.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Real Targets of 9/11

For September 11, on the day after Obama's speech about sending troops back to Iraq, here is a series of tweets from Jay the Nerd Kid, who identifies herself as a "muslim cis queer neuroatypical intersectional geek femme genius | writer for hire":

All I'm gonna say to white folks about 9/11 is that I guarantee al-Qaeda fucked up my life more than it fucked up yours.

Moderate religion and religious harmony were the real targets of 9/11, so...yeah.

"They said some Muslim terrorists exploded a building." "Aaminah, aren't you Muslim?" I was forced to grow up at eleven years old.

I know some of my followers will get this. I wasn't allowed to be a kid after that. I became both ambassador and target.

When full-grown adult strangers are interrogating you about something you had nothing to do with, you grow up. Fast.

One girl bullied me for a whole term. I was so used to being abused by then that it took me that long to tell someone about it.

I was lucky. I went to a good school. They suspended the girl. Didn't stop the people screaming from their cars, of course.

I used to catch the bus home from school. Daily gauntlet of hate and threats.

Walking through the mall? Whispers. Suspicious looks. "Raghead" muttered just loud enough for me to hear.

My hijabi sisters still get followed around stores, btw. Don't get the idea that things have gotten better.

The rest you can imagine. Being spat at, people egging our house. "Random" searches.

"Jokes" about me being a terrorist. I started laughing along after a while because it was less embarrassing than crying or yelling.

This all happened in Australia, in case you thought anywhere in the west was safe or is safe for people like me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I Don't Know Elena Ferrante

The most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly asked this question:

Reading the article, I learned there is a pseudonymous writer named Elena Ferrante who has published three novels in Italian. They've been translated into English (and other languages) and are increasingly popular with us women folk. Obviously, or she wouldn't be the subject of this article.

But the thing that caught my eye about the story -- aside from the lovely Italianate serif display type -- was how terrible the book covers are:

They look like old BBC dramas as sold on VHS tape by WGBH in 1987. And what's with the photos of models with their backs turned to the camera? Leaving the faces up to the viewer's imagination isn't a bad idea, but when you run that idea out to three covers it starts to seem like the designer has a complex.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Photo Potpourri

A few views of my world recently.

Using a Port-a-Potty / Rent-a-John the other day, I saw this helpful face posted inside the door:

I'm not sure how they know that, and my photo is so blurry I can't read the web address to check into it further. But it's an interesting, falsifiable claim.

Here's a nonfalsifiable claim:

But I like it nonetheless. (Seen on the side of Intermedia Arts in South Minneapolis.)

Then there are these folks who appear to be overly self-aware:

Okay, if you say so!

And a face on the sidewalk:

Kind of sad and lonely looking, but I'm sure it means something to the utility workers who spray-painted it.

I was amused by this real estate sign, advertising a small, locally owned company:

Both the name of the business and the logo seem a bit misbegotten. The first meaning for the word belay that comes to my mind is stop  -- as in, "Belay that order Commander Riker." Though it does also have a meaning that has something to do with climbing ropes and fixing them to surfaces. Okay.  And the obvious assumption is that it's the owner's last name.

But am I the only one who sees those two figures as breaking into the house?

Finally, a logo that I like:

Whether it makes sense as an apartment building name is another question, but as a design I really like the way LIME integrates with the fun, twisty M.