Saturday, August 18, 2012

David Beckham & Skynet Hiding in Plain Sight?

Getty Images
No wonder David Beckham is such a good soccer player -- he isn't human.  He is a T-1000.

That is my conclusion based on the statue of him created for an H&M underwear promotion.  Perhaps the clothing store chain is a front for Skynet?

And no wonder he took a pay cut to stay with the Los Angeles Galaxy.  It wasn't to be with his wife, Victoria, whose profession keeps her there.  It was to continue his search for Sarah Connor, since we know from the Terminator movies that she lives there.

Monday, August 13, 2012

James Madison and Millionaires in Congress

I saw this image about rich people in Congress on the Internet recently, and it brought to mind a passage from The Federalist Papers that I recently re-read -- with underlining from my undergraduate days at the University of Oklahoma in 1983 or 1984.

See!  It pays to keep all of your college textbooks!

In #10, James Madison writes about the sources of conflict in society.  He writes that "factions" are inevitable, and so government must be designed to limit the potential damage from these conflicts.  Some of this should be accomplished, he says, by limiting the amount of governmental power obtained by any particular faction.

He cites several sources of conflict, but he says "the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distributions of property."

This unequal distribution for Madison does not seem to mean only the difference between those who have property and those who do not.  He seems to also mean the competition that exists among factions that derive their property from different sources or activities.  However, I think we would agree that the difference between those who have and those don't is a major source of conflict in the political arena today.

Regulating these competing interests "forms the principal task of modern legislation."

To assure the fair and effective regulation of these competing interests, Madison states something is essential:

James Madison
No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. 

He immediately backtracks, though.  He knows that the people elected to government are citizens too.  They are not monks, removed from society.  It is inevitable that they will be involved with legislation about issues impacting them personally.  Sometimes those elected officials can be trusted to set aside their personal interests for the public good.  But not always.

This can be managed so long as those personally interested in the legislation are not in the majority.  The power of the majority keeps the influence of the self-interested "judge" in check.  The problems come, Madison says, when a majority of the officials have their judgment biased by self-interest. 

When that happens, that majority can "sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens."

As the cartoon's caption states: "There's Your Problem."  It is hard to argue that the personal wealth of those in Congress does not influence their actions on legislation; it also is hard to argue that their actions on legislation do not influence their personal wealth ("How Members of Congress Get Rich Through 'Honest Graft' ").  They have a vested interest in many of the bills on which they act as judge, and their vested interest is many times different from the interests of their constituents.

As the cartoon graph indicates, the wealthy constitute a sliver of the population but a large portion of  Congress.  How often are the interests of the minority (regardless of party affiliation) ruling the majority?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Swoosh! There It Is. What's Up with Car Designs?

I wish I had patented the car swoosh.  It is everywhere these days.

"Swoosh" is the name of Nike's logo, perhaps the most successful logo in advertising history.  The sign became so closely associated with the company, its products, and the ideals it wanted to associate with its products that in some Nike advertising campaigns there was no need to include the company's name.

The swoosh said it all.

Nike Culture: The Sign of the Swoosh is a book by Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson that discusses the evolution of Nike's global marketing strategies.  According to that book, the swoosh's creator was a Portland State University art student who was paid $35 for her design, which the company's founder was not enthusiastic about.  He wanted something more closely resembling the stripes on the sides of shoes from Puma and Adidas.

Goldman and Papson state the swoosh was initially "an empty vessel -- a visual marker that lacked any intrinsic meaning" (17).  The swoosh's meanings came only through its repeated use in Nike messages, where it became associated with the ideals of "athletic excellence, a spirit of determination, hip authenticity, and playful self-awareness (1).

I do not know that they are right about the swoosh not having an intrinsic meaning.  First, can any sign have intrinsic meaning?  The meanings for all signs seem created by consensus, convention, and relationship to other signs.  Second, I think the swoosh conveyed some meaning before it was deployed in Nike ad campaigns -- otherwise, why would Carolyn Davidson have created it?  Nike founder Phil Knight told her that he wanted something to suggest "movement" and "speed,"  so she had some meanings in her mind when she created the swoosh.

Hyundai Elantra
One possible way the swoosh suggests movement and speed could be this: It echoes the wings on the shoes and/or hat of Mercury, the speedy messenger of the Olympian gods.

Also, the swoosh looks like a check mark, which is a sign of approval, fulfillment, accomplishment, or success.  And Nike is the Greek goddess of victory.

I think we can see echoes (conscious or not) of the swoosh in the recent designs of many cars -- cars from different classes and from different manufacturers.  Somehow the inverted swoosh found its way into the automotive world's zeitgeist.
Mercedes Benz CLC

Look at new cars and you can see an inverted swoosh in the panels, starting at the front wheel and extending toward the rear wheel.  When I drive on the freeways of Los Angeles, I see them everywhere on all kinds of cars -- Toyota Pruis, Mercedes Benz CLC, Ford Escape, Hyundai Elantra.  The list is long, and I don't have room to show all of the design variations here.

Ford Escape
Since the swoosh is inverted, it no longer resembles a check mark, so I think those associations are not at work when one views (or reads) the automotive designs.  But I think the auto swoosh does suggest movement and speed.  It resembles the side view of an airplane wing, suggesting flight and successful movement.  Also, think of images from cars in wind tunnels and how the smoke makes visible the movement of air over the car body.

Toyota Prius
The auto swoosh seems to be making visible the otherwise invisible movement of air over the car.  The auto designer would also want to suggest that air movement is smooth and free of turbulence, aiding the speed of the car.

But when you are driving the car you cannot see the auto swoosh.  So how does it work to please the driver?  First, the driver was a buyer.  So the auto swoosh was seen on the road or in ads, and it gave the potential buyer positive associations about the car.  Second, the auto swoosh suggests the smooth movement of air even when the car is parked.  The driver can be reassured of the quality of the car when it rests outside of his/her home or work.

Air foil
Just as the Nike swoosh would have created positive associations of speed, movement, and success for its wearer (even though the swoosh is not very visible when you are wearing the shoe), so too the auto swoosh creates positive associations for the car's owner.

I think the auto swoosh can be decoded in this manner, and I have no larger point to make.  I do not think there are hidden contradictions within this sign -- in semiotics we frequently look for such contradictions.  But I do think it is interesting that so many different auto designers came up with this same decorative element.

I call it decorative because I do not see much aerodynamic benefit from this element on the panels (but then I am not an engineer).  In theory, all cars should look exactly alike, in that there should be one ideal aerodynamic design.  And there was a time when cars were all starting to look alike.  Compare images of a Ford Taurus, a Toyota Camry, and a Honda Civic from 1995, for example.  They all resembled each other, I believe, because their designers were all in pursuit of the same thing: aerodynamic design to improve gas mileage.

Since then, advances in engine and transmission technologies have given much larger fuel efficiencies than were being achieved with body shapes.  So the designers became free to give autos more stylish flare.  Interesting that so many have chosen the same flourish.