Archive for October, 2013

Why Horror?

This documentary is going to be great.

FAA relaxes electronics restrictions

About time. Now maybe we can work on restoring sanity to the security herding hoopla.

✁ Chief Wahoo

As many of you know, I run a small design firm out of Philadelphia, which means that I take an immense interest in most things related to branding and identity. As a result, even though I’m a rather polite sports fan, I’ve become quite the annoying jerk when it comes to sport brands in the US. In a society where most teams are valued over or near one billion dollars, these brands deserve major respect and attention because they’re major businesses. But more importantly, these teams and what they represent are intimately tied to the lives of millions of fans, many times connected well before they can walk. In a word, sports are culture. And culture, like tradition deserves reverence.

Once again, a debate is reignited over the Washington Redskins professional football team name. It’s a complex discussion that deserves deliberation and patience of both perspectives.1 With respect to the Redskins, I find myself rather conflicted over the issue.

But there’s another team that I’d like to discuss today, which I feel certain about. The Cleveland Indians. Word yesterday is that Cleveland may be depreciating their mascot in favor of a “C”. What do I think about this? Wahoo!

Discussing Native American heritage, or any racial heritage, is tricky. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Native American culture and although I understand the history of the Cleveland Indians logo and mascot, I am not intimately versed in the subject. But I do know one thing: I am very pleased that the Indians removed “Chief Wahoo”2 from their ball cap.

Baseball, more than any professional sport, is a celebration of hometown spirit. It’s a celebration of being outdoors in the place where you call home as the days begin to get longer. Nothing communicates “homeness” as much as wearing your hometown letter(s) on your cap. It’s the reason why the New York Yankees cap is the best selling ball cap in all of sports. The interlocking NY tell others that you’re a New Yorker, that you belong, that you’re a part of it all. If you look across baseball, cap design is fairly consistent: you wear your home on your head, not in your heart. To me, this is phenomenon is unbelievably cool. It instantly creates nostalgia, even if a design is new. Wearing your city is also awesomely modest. Particularly in the sports obsessed culture we live in3, it is fascinating to see a professional team celebrate hometown before team name. This is significant, even if I can’t quite articulate why it is so.

There are a few teams that buck this trend. In the American League, the Orioles, White Sox, Athletics, Indians and once again, Toronto all disregard this tradition. The Diamondbacks are the lone team in the National League that ignore it. I’ll make this clear: every team that does this looks like shit. I love the Orioles and Blue Jays new logo, but putting it on a cap looks horrid. The Diamondbacks are the worst dressed team in baseball, but I could forgive them if they at least respected Arizona on their cap in a serif font and got rid of the snake or the stylized A that they wear on their unis. The “Sox” and “A’s” cap feel right (most likely they are comprised of letters), but at least in Chicago’s case, their old-style “C” possesses history and disregard for this Chi-town nostalgia is probably the reason the Cubs are worth a third-more than their crosstown cousins. The Athletics are a bit trickier, due to their history of being from an Athletic club, more so than a city. They spent time in Philadelphia and Kansas City before moving to Oakland, and only during a brief stint in Kansas City were the interlocking KC used on the cap. But this piece isn’t about the A’s, it’s about the Indians.

Much like the Redskins, the Indians have the unfortunate distinction of being named after now politically incorrect term.4 Changing brand or company names can be done, but in the case of sports teams, a unique challenge exists. For Cleveland fans, the Indians are a household name and changing the name would be a major public relations issue. Of course this can be overcome and PR should never be the reason why just change doesn’t happen. But it’s easier to complain about the problem when you don’t have to address a solution. Changing the name to, say, “Natives”, or whatnot solves a problem that only creates others.5

But the issue of their mascot and logo, Chief Wahoo is another story, however. I’m certain that the mascot is racial, but I’m not quite sure if it is racist. Perhaps it is. Maybe it isn’t. I don’t know. But this distinction is one that is rarely discussed anywhere, let alone in cases of depictions of race in brands. I understand the positions from both sides, and it is clear that Chief Wahoo is a caricature. But arguing that point when it’s clear that nearly every logo is a caricature that emphasizes certain aspects (in the case of sports logos, the aggressive or nimble qualities of a particular team name) doesn’t demonstrate why the Cleveland logo is particularly bad. In my daily routine, I always strive to be politically correct, but it seems our society needs to engage in some further discussion on what it means to be racial vs. what it means to be racist. Now there could be more to the story here than I’m understanding6, but simply incorporating a particular race’s features into a caricature doesn’t appear to be a desire to oppress that particular group. That, at least to me, seems to be the distinguishing feature in whether a particular identity needs to be changed. In the case of the Indians the team wasn’t named to celebrate the history of suffering and abuses endured by many Native American tribes throughout the United States, but to celebrate qualities that are associated with the spirit of winning, perseverance, and determination. How do I know this? Because nobody names a team after the opposite.7

So I’m not sure how Cleveland goes about handling this situation. I understand the difficulty in balancing the desires of both sides. I understand that Chief Wahoo may be considered racist to many. But rather than pointing and saying “racist”, is it too much to ask for to actually have a thoughtful discussion on what it means to be racist? I doubt the media has the nuance to navigate such a discussion or the incentive to do so, since the money is in the controversy, not the explanation of it. But let’s engage in further exploration of this idea as a responsible society.

Regardless of the larger issue of the racial tension present in the Cleveland ballteam, there is absolutely no excuse for wearing Chief Wahoo on your hat. Get rid of the Wahoo hat. The organization is bigger than its mascot. The team is bigger than the “Indians”. They are Cleveland. They should be proud of that fact and represent it. That is something everyone should be able to get behind. Keep the damned “C” on your hat. Dress to the nines.

  1. I do not believe that any patience should be afforded to unabashed politically incorrect individuals. For me, the individuals arguing that our society is becoming too politically correct fall into two categories: The former being people who are concerned that our sensitivities and tolerance are creating a nation that paints over our warts and endangers the lessons we learn from history. The latter being people who like to be crass, inappropriate, and disenfranchise others to empower themselves. I have no patience for the latter group and believe they have no place at the discussion table. []
  2. The mascot, actually depicts a Brave, not a chief, but then again, the Indians organization didn’t name him. They did embrace the name afterwards, however. []
  3. It never ceases to amaze me that we will pay thousands of dollars for season tickets to a college football game, yet operas and symphonies are dying a slow, painful fiscal death. []
  4. Redskins poses additional problems, of course, because Redskin has debatably always been a pejorative. []
  5. From my understanding, a lot of the criticism from Native American groups directed towards brands who use Native American imagery is that the public perception of Native Americans is built upon stereotypes and stigmatizations that just don’t present the truth about Native Americans anymore. They aren’t people wearing headdresses in loin clothes that run around with tomahawks. Does the term “Natives” change this? In my view, probably not. If my gut is right, I would think such a change would only seek to introduce aboriginal or nomadic stereotypes. These are tough issues to wade through and I’m sure I’m oversimplifying things here, but it doesn’t change the struggle that Cleveland faces. Ultimately, changing the name to something other than something having to do with Native American heritage is mostly sweeping the issue under a rug and does little to improve the existence of these stereotypes either. It doesn’t solve the problem as much as it makes the problem less visible. []
  6. In particular, the concept of Racial Micro-agression, which, of course is out of my intellectual league, but I don’t seem to fully buy into the concept that a celebrated team that is cheered on would be a complex scheme to subtly insult a minority group. []
  7. When was the last time you heard a team named “The Prey” or “The Losers”? This further confuses the micro-agression point argued by some. []

More on connecting Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal

As an immediate (and recurring) problem, Midtown has hellish crosstown traffic. Because trains do not connect both stations, too many commuters surface and add unnecessary street congestion. While surface congestion was reduced by making subway trains interconnect six decades ago, that vital lesson still has not been applied to interconnect suburban service.

Sadly, the half-billion dollar plan to redevelop Penn Station doesn’t solve this problem. Hopefully, this project will eventually consider function over form.

U.S. Senate introduces bill to curb patent trolls

The bill would require patent holders to lay out details about their infringement case early in a lawsuit, and would require the loser of a patent suit to pay legal fees unless they could show that the case was “substantially justified.” It would expand a program to allow for the review of “business method” patents at the US Patent and Trademark Office, a key request by CCIA that has not been without controversy. And the bill would also allow customers or end users of a technology to stay a lawsuit while the patent holder and the manufacturer battle it out. That would prevent patent trolls from pulling moves like one last month, where a judge let Lodsys dodge Apple’s lawyers— while it continues to threaten iOS developers.

Best news I’ve heard all day.

NSA spies on foreign leaders

Domestic and Foreign spying, ironically, has to be the greatest threat to our national security today.

Is the new Penn Station project money well spent?

Eric Jaffe, arguing that although Penn Station may be ugly, and some renovation may be valuable, a complete overhaul, like the NYC Council desires, may not actually provide as much benefit as more essential transit projects. I found this passage to be particularly notable.

Then there’s the 7 train extension. This plan was actually announced before the Gateway project, back in late 2010, but the preliminary feasibility report (the one released this week) took far longer than expected for the city to deliver. The report shows the great promise of this plan, too. Unlike the ARC or Gateway plans, the 7 extension gives New Jersey commuters one-seat access to all of midtown Manhattan. Travelers can expect an 8-minute trip from Secaucus into Hudson Yards on the west side, a 12-minute trip into Times Square, and a 16-minute trip to Grand Central on the east side. And of course the 7 train continues across the East River into Queens.

As importantly, the 7 train extension would divert some 18,000 trips from Penn Station, and 41,000 trips from Lincoln Tunnel buses, and 24,400 car trips from roads into the city. The plan would require improvements to already crowded passenger facilities at Times Square, Bryant Park, and Grand Central, but it would enhance the strides being made in the Hudson Yards area with a completely new station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street. The new feasibility report oddly fails to give even a broad cost estimate, but the project leverage several billions in investments already committed to a new 7 train station at 11th Avenue and 34th Street and the Frank J. Lautenberg Station in Secaucus.

Check out the maps included. Expansion of the Five Borough’s development seems somewhat dependent upon transit improvements. Penn Station’s mostly aesthetic renovation doesn’t address this need.

Christie drops same-sex marriage appeal

Marc Santora, for the NYT:

Mr. Christie’s decision to withdraw his appeal before the state’s Supreme Court, a reversal from his long-held position that the question of gay marriage should be decided by voters, effectively removes the last hurdle from making same-sex marriage legal in New Jersey.

Unusual move for Governor Christie, who, when making a decision, usually fights to the bitter end. We see this with his decision to remove Supreme Court justices and pursue new ideological replacement; his unwavering decisions to fight teachers unions in his educational reforms, his attempts to cut all funding from the affordable housing agency (COAH), reproductive medical funding denial, and his fund-stripping for environmental protection. He rarely backs down.

So why the change here?

I’d like to think that Christie has truly had a change of heart, but his history of going all in with his decisions make me think otherwise. Could this be about keeping open the possibility for striking down gay marriage in the future?

Remember, this decision is from a lower court, meaning a new appeal that is taken to a higher court could overrule or reverse this decision. Also, consider that there are currently two vacancies at the New Jersey Supreme Court (after Christie, controversially, refused to reappoint Democratically appointed Justice Wallace in 2010, and Republican-appointed Justice Long retired in 2012).

Call me a cynic, but giving up on this before it ended, just doesn’t fit the Governor’s personality. Either way, today is a momentous day for thousands of couples in New Jersey.

(Full Disclosure: I work for a group that has been pushing for marriage equality in New Jersey.)

Preliminary study finds benefits of teacher evaluation

Although the study has yet to undergo peer review (questioning the journalistic integrity of why the study was even reported yet), new findings show somewhat positive results of teacher evalution program.

But where do the teachers who supposedly quit after poor evaluations obtain jobs afterward? Especially in this economy.

Worth a read. But let’s not forget about the students. According to this study,

The progress [“highly effective”] students made on test also rose somewhat, he said.

So for 16% of teachers, scores for students rose “somewhat”. I don’t mean to diminish the success of any improvement, but let’s remember that the 16% teachers ranked highly already existed prior to evaluations. What happened with the students of lowly ranked teachers? I don’t know the answer to this, but the important thing to look at is comparison; has there actually been an increase in improvement with this new evaluation process, or has the trend stayed flat from before this new methodology was implemented?



McRaney spends several thousand words explaining the “backfire effect,” which he nicely summarized in one sentence: “When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”