Sunday, May 29, 2016

Rome Knows How to Treat a Woman

I've posted a few times bemoaning the lovely but sexist WPA-era artwork in St. Paul's city hall (here and here), so I couldn't help noticing these bas relief sculptures, of a similar age, on a set of doors in Rome:

Like the St. Paul works, they are meant to represent the work of the people in the city, but unlike the ones in St. Paul, the artist realized that women do half the work.

They even put the men above the women on one door and women above the men on the other. Seeing these made my night.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

An Extra Butt for the Toilet

It looks like I spoke too soon about the glories of Italian bathrooms. Since that airport experience, I haven’t found another hand dryer that dried my hands.

And I know I've seen a lot of white marble naked figures lately, but am I the only one who thinks this toilet-flushing device looks a bit like a human buttocks?

To add to the illusion, it's just about life-size, too. (Mounted on the wall well above the toilet, I didn't notice it at first and had no idea how to flush the toilet.)

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Few Statues to Laugh at

When in Rome, take photos of the funny statues among all of the great statues.

First, some headless muses...

Then this guy who has teeth. Which made me realize that statues never seem to show the teeth of their subjects.

Maybe he was laughing at the baby Hercules statue with its cherubic face atop a too-adult but chubby body:

I liked this eldery lion...

...and wish I knew what this outfit means:

I hope to look this one up. It's the main statue in the Piazza Navonna, and clearly there's a god doing godly stuff up above, while these four men act all scared or awed or whatever. But I can't get over the way this guy is trying to hid under a piece of cloth. Effective strategy when it comes to hiding from gods, I'm sure.

I wonder if any shoe designers have copied these boot-sandals yet:

And now two examples of the Roman obsession with the naked male figure. First we have a parade of naked guys (gods) showing off their symbols and pets...

...and second, the most absurd of all (to me). It's basically a bust of a young man, but the sculptor made sure to carve his genitalia, too.

Which have since mostly broken off. Ouch.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Words from May Day

May Day in Minneapolis, 2016, was a glorious day. I hadn't been to the parade and ceremony, sponsored by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, in years and it looked like the weather might be dreary, but a few hours before the day, suddenly the forecast changed and it was a beautiful sunny day in the 60s.

My photos don't represent the visual creativity of the parade, so I'm just posting a few pictures that focus on verbal messages.

If you're ever able to be in Minneapolis on the first Sunday in May, this parade and festival should be on your list of things to do. It's even worth scheduling a trip around it. Believe me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ode to an Italian Sink

Seen in an Italian airport restroom: another great way to design a public sink in an area where there are a lot of users coming and going.

This one has motion sensors for the water, soap, and hand dryer, all sensibly arranged above the back of the sink, below an overhanging shelf. I'm not usually a fan of hand dryers (really) but this one wasn't too loud, blew only cool air, and actually dried my hands fast. What a wonder!

Here's an earlier post about a well-designed sink arrangement.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

These Days, Divided Government Is Do-Nothing Government

Minnesota's part-time legislature just ended its February–May session without finishing most of the important work it had. No bonding bill, no transportation bill (in the state with bridges that fall down).

They did manage to pass a couple of items that are important and somewhat in the right direction (sentencing reform to decrease prison populations and rules for body cameras for cops), but they stranded our next light rail line without the state money needed to match the federal and local dollars already committed. They didn't raise our state's monthly MFIP payments, which haven't been increased since 1986. No guaranteed sick leave. They can't agree on raising the tax on gas or the fees for car registrations to pay for transportation, since the Republicans want to use one-time money from the surplus to fund ongoing costs. Sounds like a plan.

This is what divided government looks like; our House is Republican-led, our Senate is Democrat-led, and our governor is a Democrat.

But rest easy, they did manage to pass one bill, according to Monday's Star Tribune:

A law creating, for the first time, animal trusts, which allow people to leave money dedicated for care of their animals in their bequests. Minnesota was the only state in the nation without such a law.
I don't know why there needs to be a law allowing this specifically (it's your money, so why can't you just do what you want with it?), but when we have children in extreme poverty and bridges falling down, it doesn't seem too important to me (as regular readers can probably figure out, based on my list of things I don't care about).

And then I found out that the legislature also passed a bill revoking our state high school sports league's tax-exempt status, which will cost the league $800,000 a year and gut their budget for scholarships that allow low-income kids can play sports too.

The reason for this change in tax status? A majority of legislators, led by Republicans, were angry that the league adopted a policy allowing transgender teens to play sports on the teams that align with their gender and not their sex as determined at birth.

So the legislature had time for turning the screws on poor kids yet again in that case, while making sure the dogs and cats are taken care of. Sounds like they've got their priorities straight, if you'll pardon the pun.

The solution is to vote the Republicans out of office this fall, and I hope my fellow Minnesotans will do just that. Minnesota's Republicans and Democrats used to work together, even past the days of the "Reagan Revolution." But clearly, they can't do that anymore, and the needs of the state's people can't be sacrificed to an ideology that Kansas (and Wisconsin) have demonstrated does not work.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Ending Payday Loans

Payday lenders. If you don't know about them, and especially if you don't know about them from first-hand experience, you're lucky. They lend money at usurious rates to people who can't pay their bills, then lend even more to pay off the first loan, then the second, and so on, until borrowers owe an astronomical amount more than they borrowed in the first place.

It's a complex issue, which has been hard to solve legislatively (though some of that can be attributed to lobbying by the very lenders who benefit from current practices).

I just found out that one of our local institutions, Sunrise Banks, has developed a program to head off these types of loans. According to a recent Star Tribune business column about the bank, it recently started

an alternative to high-cost “payday lenders” with a lower-rate alternative product offered through a growing list of employers. That has gained national attention and could be one of the models that bank regulators make for big bankers after federal consumer regulators this summer unveil new payday loan guidelines. Those loans, considered predatory by critics, often lock desperate-to-ignorant working-poor consumers into high-rate, multiple loans where accrued interest often amounts to more than original principal.
That sounds promising, though like health insurance, I wonder why it has to be tied to employers. Seems like a half-baked idea in this age of free-lancers and part-time workers. Lots of the people who most need it won't be covered by it.

Another way to handle the effects of payday lending is a nonprofit organization like Exodus Lending, which "provides trapped payday borrowers a just pathway to financial stability." In business for just a year, Exodus buys out loans and then sets up affordable payment plans to replace the high-interest con jobs. Financial counseling is included, and the borrowers get a savings account, too.

Best of all, I hope, will be the upcoming rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is what government is for. Let's get it done.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

More Matches

A friend recently shared this photo of old match books he found while going through his father's belongings:

It reminded me of my earlier post about match books from the basement.

What a different world it was, when the people promoting brands of milk and ice cream thought match books were an appropriate medium for reaching their target audience.

And what is the obsession with spades? The slogan for Beebe (lower left) at least makes sense in a gruesome way ("You won't need a spade to BURY your ANIMALS if you use Beebe Vaccines and Drugs"), but the green match book promoting the Belmont Hotel in Madison, Wis., is unintelligible: "But you don't need a space to dig up our location."

Maybe there was something on the other side of the package that has to be read first. That is my only hope.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

And Now a Serious Word from John Hodgman

I don't think I've ever heard or read a serious word from John Hodgman's mouth or pen. But then, I guess I don't read his blog. Maybe he's serious there all the time.

He seems pretty serious in this post about Hillary Clinton, in which he makes some good points about her supposedly anomalous level of ambition, and also presents the case for incrementalism in American politics:

No one can succeed 100% of the time in our system. But I think she can foster policies that will capitalize on the initial gains made by President Obama, whom I supported and still do, and surely, if slowly, move our nation closer to the ideals that I embrace. 
Will it be fast? No. But there is a lot to do to shift the the nation’s policies back after the slow, economically rightward/socially intolerant swing that began with Ronald Reagan and peaked with the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004.

(A swing, by the way, that was patiently planned, deliberately funded, and slow by design. Major change is ALWAYS incremental. Unless you want to have a REAL revolution, with shooting and stuff. You might. I do not.) 
Helpful thoughts, John. Thanks.

Friday, May 20, 2016

It Doesn't Take Much

First, I saw this in today's Star Tribune:

But what I perceived was this:

Is this already a thing?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

(Party) On Wisconsin

If you're not from these parts, you might be surprised by details in this story, Wisconsin is home to the nation's heaviest drinkers. Even I was a bit taken aback, and I know how common bars are across the towns of Wisconsin.

The story lists the 20 cities in our country with the highest percentage of residents who self-report their binge drinking. Twelve of them are in Wisconsin, including the top four cities, and seven of the top 10.

Pretty incredible. There's not a city of any size in Wisconsin that's not on the list. (Well, okay, Kenosha has 100,000 people and it's not on the list, but it's also almost a suburb of Chicago.)

I wonder if this has always been the case or if they've been driven to drink by the Scott Walker administration.


Update: Well, bad news for Kenosha... I guess they were already counted in the Racine figures as a combined metropolitan area, so nope. Every city of any size in Wisconsin is on the list.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Alan E. Cober's Birthday

Facebook tells me that today would have been the 81st birthday of illustrator Alan E. Cober. He died 18 years ago, unfortunately.

I loved his work even when I knew nothing about illustration or design, and wrote a bit about him back in 2009.

I don't know who started and maintains his Facebook page, but I appreciate their occasional reminders of his brilliant work. Thank you.