Brain Pickings

The Coca-Cola Case

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What Colombian laborers have to do with American foreign policy and the history of soda.

Labor rights are among the most pressing human rights issues in industrialized nations. But what makes the subject most devastating is how remote it feels to most of us yet how deeply infused our everyday lives are with its enablers, from the inhuman factory conditions in the Chinese factories that churn out our favorite shoes to the impossibly low wages of the Indian farmers who grow our afternoon tea. The Coca-Cola Case is an unsettling feature-length documentary by directors German Gutierrez and Carmen Garcia exploring the subject through the lens of America’s favorite soft drink, investigating the allegations that Coke orchestrated the kidnapping, torture and murder of union leaders trying to improve working conditions in Colombia, Guatemala and Turkey.


Of the 4,000 trade unionists killed in Colombia since 1986, only five have been successfully prosecuted. Five. It’s the trade union capital of the world, by far.”

The filmmakers zoom in on two labor rights lawyers and a human rights activist as they attempt to hold the beverage behemoth accountable in a vicious legal and human rights battle. Regardless of whether or not the allegations are true — though, as the film progresses, it becomes increasingly hard to believe otherwise — the film exposes the ugly underbelly of corporate politics, PR spin and the ruthless pursuit of competitive advantage.

After months of investigation into Coca-Cola, all evidence shows that the Coca-Cola system is ripe with immorality, corruption and complicity in gross human rights violations, including murder and torture.”

The film is available on YouTube in 9 parts, which we’ve conveniently collected in this playlist:

For a closer look at Coke’s alleged transgressions around the globe, take a look at Mark Thomas’ Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola. And for more on the broader subject of corporate spin and human rights abuse, we highly recommend Thinker, Faker, Spinner, Spy: Corporate PR and the Assault on Democracy.

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PICKED: Cry Baby, The Pedal That Rocks The World

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Since its invention in 1966, the wah-wah pedal has been instrumental in humanizing the sound of the guitar by altering the tone and frequency of its signal to mimic the human voice. Cry Baby: The Pedal That Rocks The World is a fascinating hour-long documentary that tells the story of the wah-wah pedal and its impact on contemporary music through the accounts of musicians, engineers and historians. From its technical evolution to its role in enabling greater creative expression in music, the film features interviews with icons like Eddie Van Halen, Slash, Buddy Guy, Art Thompson, Eddie Kramer, Dweezil Zappa, and Jim Dunlop.

It goes to the heart of what human communication is all about when it comes to transferring that communication to an instrument.”

In celebration of the film, Dunlop is giving away the crown jewel of Wahs: One of the world’s only hand-assembled Swarovski-encrusted Cry Baby, signed by the man behind Cry Baby: Jim Dunlop himself.

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Open-Sourcing Graphic Design: 3 Projects

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What ugly ampersands have to do with wayfinding and vintage pictograms.

We’re big proponents of open source as an enabler of both creative expression and innovation. And while the ethos has come of age in the technology sphere, with posterchildren like Firefox and WordPress, some of its most interesting recent incarnations have been on the creative front. Today, we spotlight three wonderful projects that bring the vision of open-source movement to the world of design.

SIRUCA PICTOGRAM PROJECT

Last week, we looked at the legacy of Isotype — the vintage pictogram-based visual language of the 1930s that sparked the golden age of infographics and infiltrated everything from bathroom signs to traffic signage. Siruca Pictogram Project by designers Stefan Dziallas and Fabrizio Schiavi is an open-source pictogram font, free to download and use, even commercially.

OPEN SOURCE AMPERSANDS

Open Source Ampersands essentially a single-character font — a font file that only contains glyphs for a single character — using the ampersand. Each of the ampersand characters is real text, not an image, and can be selected, copied, pasted and applied CSS to. The ampersands scale as you zoom the page and work in every browser, “even ancient versions of Internet Explorer.” The project serves as a statement against licensing limitations on the web and aims to celebrate open standards and open source.

And though the folks at shit ampersand may be less than thrilled with many of the designs, it’s still an admirable project.

THE NOUN PROJECT

Visual literacy is an essential necessity of modern life. But some of the most widely recognized symbols of visual language are wrapped in a surprising amount of historical and contextual obscurity. This is where The Noun Project comes in — a wonderful effort to collect, catalog and contextualize the world’s visual language.

The site offers an ever-growing range of diverse symbols available for free under a CreativeCommons license. Though many of the popular symbols — from No Parking to Trash to the familiar directional arrows — were designed by the American Institute of Graphic Arts in 1974 with the explicit intention of being in the public domain, finding free, high-quality versions of them online is still a pain. Each symbol on The Noun Project, by contrast, is downloadable as a vector file, the most flexible open-standard format available.

The project, brainchild of LA-based designer and architect Edward Boatman, was funded via Kickstarter and exceeded its $1,500 target nearly tenfold, illustrating the palpable cultural need it’s addressing.

In the long run, the project aims to aggregate and organize symbols into useful categories like transportation, web apps, wayfinding, communication and more, as well as initiate design contests around the creation of new symbols for fields, objects and themes of increasing cultural demand, from gluten-free food to Internet connectivity to food trucks.

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