Monday, April 21, 2014

This is such a good idea

Not. What could possibly go wrong?Link]
Introducing Palcohol, the world's sneakiest and most efficient way to get drunk. This week, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the powdered booze product, and its makers hopes to unleash it on an unsuspecting public this fall.
Palcohol's website, which has since been scrubbed, once advertised the powder as the solution to many of the modern drinker's most pressing problems. (A cached version of the original site is still accessible here)
Take, for instance, the overpriced drinks at stadium events.
1. What's worse than going to a concert, sporting event, etc. and having to pay $10, $15, $20 for a mixed drink with tax and tip. Are you kidding me?! Take Palcohol into the venue and enjoy a mixed drink for a fraction of the cost.
Palcohol also makes for an easy way to get hammered over breakfast without anyone noticing: just sprinkle it right onto your pancakes, and voilà.
6. We've been talking about drinks so far. But we have found adding Palcohol to food is so much fun. Sprinkle Palcohol on almost any dish and give it an extra kick. Some of our favorites are the Kamikaze in guacamole, Rum on a BBQ sandwich, Cosmo on a salad and Vodka on eggs in the morning to start your day off right. Experiment. Palcohol is great on so many foods. Remember, you have to add Palcohol AFTER a dish is cooked as the alcohol will burn off if you cook with it...and that defeats the whole purpose.
Those who'd rather mainline booze directly into their bloodstream are also in luck. Palcohol can be snorted!
7. Let's talk about the elephant in the room….snorting Palcohol. Yes, you can snort it. And you'll get drunk almost instantly because the alcohol will be absorbed so quickly in your nose. Good idea? No. It will mess you up. Use Palcohol responsibly.
It's hard to imagine how or why the federal government signed off on Palcohol, a product that, in the wrong hands, could make the darkest days of the Four Loko era look tame.

Gomez Addams : Herman Munster :: Bruce Wayne : Clark Kent

This is awesome. [Link]
Basically it's a class distinction thing, I think. Bruce and Gomez both have inherited wealth and upper class habits; they could very well have visited each other's ancestral mansions as boys. But Clark and Herman are both working blokes—and Clark started out back in the days when "reporter" still was a fairly working class occupation, before it morphed into a profession. I think it was Jules Feiffer who wrote about Superman as the ultimate assimilated immigrant, and Herman could fit that pattern as well—I always imagined his last name used to have an umlaut, as the other likely option is Irish, which really doesn't seem to fit. Gomez, on the other hand, never bothered to assimilate; he's too rich to need to.

It's a minor point that Hermann is physically strong and tough, possibly superhumanly so, whereas Gomez's most important superpower is money.

But also, it just strikes me that "I'm going to dress up like a bat and fight crime!" is absolutely the sort of scheme Gomez would come up with, without a moment's worry about whether it was eccentric. He's got a faithful butler to help him (a conversation between Alfred and Lurch would be worth spying on!); he's got an erotically charged relationship with Morticia, as Bruce has with Selina; he's got a mansion that probably has hidden rooms and cellars and secret passages. Though I think if he had a kid sidekick Wednesday would be likelier than Pugsley; she's the one who had the karate lessons.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Double Secret No-Fly List

Person put mistakenly on no-fly list removed, but still on secret list of no admittance. [Link]
However -- and here's where it gets really sketchy -- the government started putting her back into the terrorist screening database (TSDB). She was added back in 2007... and then removed three months later, for no clear reason. But then, in 2009 she was added back to the TSDB "pursuant to a secret exception to the reasonable suspicion standard." Let's repeat that. In order to be put into the TSDB, the government is required to show a "reasonable suspicion" that the person is a terrorist. However, what this court ruling has revealed is that there is an unexplained secretexception that allows people to be placed on the terrorist screening database even if there's no reasonable suspicion, and the government used that secret exception to put Ibrahim back on the list. 

Later in the ruling it notes that the terrorist screening center knows Ibrahim is not a terrorist threat. This line was revealed back in February:
The TSC has determined that Dr. Ibrahim does not currently meet the reasonable suspicion standard for inclusion in the TSDB.
However, the next two sentences were redacted until now:
She, however, remains in the TSDB pursuant to a classified and secret exception to the reasonable suspicion standard. Again, both the reasonable suspicion standard and the secret exception are self-imposed processes and procedures within the Executive Branch.
The ruling also makes it clear that Ibrahim has not been on the actual no fly list (even if she is on other lists) since 2005, and that she should be told this (and, indeed, to comply with the law, the government has now told her solely that she's not on the "no fly" list and hasn't been since 2005). It also tells the government to search for all traces of her being on all such lists and correct all of those that are connected to Agent Kelley's initial mistake. However, it's not at all clear if this applies to the later additions to the TSDB, which was done for this secret and undisclosed exception, and might not be directly because of Agent Kelley's mistake (though, potentially is indirectly because of that). In fact, a different unredacted section now says that the reasons why Ibrahim was denied a visa (which were revealed to the court in a classified manner) were valid, and thus it appears that Ibrahim will still be denied visas in the future (unredacted portions underlined) -- and, indeed, as we explain below that has already happened:
The Court has read the relevant classified information, under seal and ex parte, that led to the visa denials. That classified information, if accurate, warranted denial of the visa under Section 212(a)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3)(B). (That information was different from the 2004 mistaken nomination by Agent Kelley.) Therefore, under the state secrets privilege, any challenge to the visa denials in 2009 and 2013 must be denied
Thus, it appears that while Ibrahim has been told she's been taken off the no fly list (and has been for nearly ten years), she's still not going to be able to travel to the US, because she's still in the TSDB for an unrevealed secret reason -- even though everyone admits she's not a threat. And, indeed, Ibrahim tried to apply for a visa to the US on Monday and was denied (with the apparent reason -- if you read between the lines -- being that she is related to someone "engaged in a terrorist activity.") 

What makes some men do this?

When does this stop being the standard for online disagreement with women? [Link]
“I think this woman is wrong about something on the Internet. Clearly my best course of action is to threaten her with rape.”
That’s crazy talk, right? So why does it happen all the time?
Honest question, dudes.
That women are harassed online is not news. That women in comics and the broader fandom cultures are harassed online is not news. That these women are routinely transmitted anonymous messages describing graphic sexual violence perpetrated upon them for transgressions as grave as not liking a thing… that is actually news to me, and it’s probably news to a lot of you guys reading this.
But it’s not news to a lot of women I know, and to women whose work you’ve read here and around the Web. I know it’s not news to them because of the way they write about it. They describe the latest rape threat as plainly as a man like you or I might complain about a late train. It’s just a another lousy thing that happens. You know, life in the big city.
“I will find you. I will hurt you. I will physically violate you… for being wrong about Spider-Man.”
Can you imagine, gentlemen, receiving that threat from a potentially dangerous man whose identity you have no hope of discovering but who knows your name, what city you live in, what you look like and where you work?
Now imagine receiving messages like that from men so frequently that you’re no longer bothered by it.
Now understand how f*cked up it is that you’re no longer bothered by it; that you’re no longer bothered by men’s anonymous threats of brutal sexual violence, because they’ve become just as common as a train not arriving on time.
If you’re like me, you’re now beginning to understand the depressingly huge scope of this problem.
The Internet is a boon to humanity. It is also terrible. That is its special nature. Every cogent thought put forth has a dark, mindless twin — sometimes these twins are legion — ready to feed on a person’s idea and process it into the toxic waste found at the bottom of virtually any website you care to visit. We call them trolls, and anyone reading this site or others like it knows that popular art and its surrounding fandom attract a particularly nasty strain of them.
I’m not just talking about the trolls. I’m not just talking about the mischief makers, the haters, the contrarians or the pedants. What I’m also talking about is something much worse and heretofore all but invisible to me and many other men like me. I’m talking about this:
Women in comics are the deviation, the invading body, the cancer. We are the cure, the norm, the natural order. All you are is a pair of halfway decent tits, a c*nt and a loud mouth. But see, it doesn’t matter how loud you get. It doesn’t matter how many of your lezbo tumblr and twitter fangirl friends agree with you and reinforce your views. You can be all “I’m not going to be silent about misogyny so f*ck you!” all you want. In the end all you are is a pathetic little girl trying to effect change and failing to make a dent. You might as well try to drain the ocean of fish. That’s the kind of battle you face with people like me. We won’t quit. We won’t stop attacking. We won’t give up. Ever.
I’ve encountered such sentiments before, but it’s only recently that I’ve learned how common they are.
Those remarks were sent to Janelle Asselin, a ComicsAlliance contributor, professional comic book editor, and academic researcher. She posted them on her Facebook page, to which she’s restricted public access for obvious reasons. I’ve republished the message here with her permission.
Ironically, the missive was transmitted anonymously via an online survey Janelle created to gather data on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the American comic book industry.
The man who wrote those words doubtlessly discovered Janelle’s survey by way of the misogynistic response to an article she wrote for another website critiquing the appeal of a superhero comic book cover. In her characteristically straightforward fashion, Janelle justified her opinion — that the cover was bad and spoke to a systemic badness with respect to marketing and audience — with reason and persuasive creative insight honed over years of professional experience. She pointed out, among other things, that the anatomy and costume of a teenage girl on the cover seemed off from both a biological and marketing perspective and suggested this might have a part to play in narrowing the book’s potential readership.
Janelle’s points deserved to be considered given her background not just as a professional editor and researcher who backs up her ideas with experience and logic, but also because she’s a woman. Agree or disagree with her conclusions; the fact remains that in 2014 it’s still relatively rare for women’s views on such topics to be represented in the comics media, and Janelle’s thoughtful and honest piece adds to the comics discourse.
Part of discourse is of course good faith disagreement, and that avenue is always open to anyone who wishes to take issue with the published opinions of anyone of any gender.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Mako Mori Test

A Bechdel Test alternative. [Link]
In the film, Mako struggles to asserts her independence despite the protectiveness of her stern father figure, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). She is strong, smart, and perhaps most remarkably, her goal of fulfilling her dream of being a Jaeger pilot is a major part of Pacific Rim's storyline.
On Thursday, Tumblr user spider-xan wrote about what Mako means to her as an Asian woman, in the context of the film's failure to pass Bechdel:
It’s really easy to throw away a film because of that test (which is flawed and used incorrectly in a lot of ways) if you’re a white woman and can easily find other films with white women who look like you and represent you... But as an East Asian woman, someone like Mako — a well-written Japanese woman who is informed by her culture without being solely defined by it, without being a racial stereotype, and gets to carry the film and have character development — almost NEVER comes along in mainstream Western media. And honestly — someone like her will probably not appear again for a very long time.
In response to this post, and in the process of running down numerous arguments for why the Bechdel Test can't and shouldn't be the only measurement by which feminist films are judged, Tumblr user chaila has proposed the Mako Mori Test, "to live alongside the Bechdel Test":
The Mako Mori test is passed if the movie has: a) at least one female character; b) who gets her own narrative arc; c) that is not about supporting a man’s story. I think this is about as indicative of “feminism” (that is, minimally indicative, a pretty low bar) as the Bechdel test. It is a pretty basic test for the representation of women, as is the Bechdel test. It does not make a movie automatically feminist. 
The application of this test might enable interesting discussions of feminism surrounding films which typically seem to be steamrollered by their failure to pass Bechdel. For instance, while Avengers barely managed to have two women on screen at the same time, much less conversant with each other, it had a female character, Black Widow, whose narrative arc was a major driving force of the plot. Using the Mako Mori Test as a measurement of whetherAvengers is a feminist film or not points the focus away from the film's small quantity of women and towards the way Black Widow is demonstrably capable of commanding her own storyline.

Found! First Earth-Size Planet That Could Support Life

Neat! [Link]
Potentially habitable planet
Scientists think that Kepler-186f — the outermost of five planets found to be orbiting the star Kepler-186 — orbits at a distance of 32.5 million miles (52.4 million kilometers), theoretically within the habitable zone for a red dwarf.
Earth orbits the sun from an average distance of about 93 million miles (150 million km), but the sun is larger and brighter than the Kepler-186 star, meaning that the sun's habitable zone begins farther out from the star by comparison to Kepler-186.
"This is the first definitive Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone around another star," Elisa Quintana, of the SETI Institute and NASA's Ames Research Center and the lead author of a new study detailing the findings, said in a statement.
Other planets of various sizes have been found in thehabitable zones of their stars. However, Kepler-186f is the first alien planet this close to Earth in size found orbiting in that potentially life-supporting area of an extrasolar system, according to exoplanet scientists.
'An historic discovery'
"This is an historic discovery of the first truly Earth-size planet found in the habitable zone around its star," Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, who is unaffiliated with the research, told via email. "This is the best case for a habitable planet yet found. The results are absolutely rock-solid. The planet itself may not be, but I'd bet my house on it. In any case, it's a gem."
The newly discovered planet measures about 1.1 Earth radii, making it slightly larger than Earth, but researchers still think the alien world may be rocky like Earth. Researchers still aren't sure what Kepler-186f's atmosphere is made of, a key element that could help scientists understand if the planet is hospitable to life.  [Kepler-186f: Earth-Size World Could Support Oceans, Maybe Life (Infographic)]
"What we've learned, just over the past few years, is that there is a definite transition which occurs around about 1.5 Earth radii," Quintana said in a statement. "What happens there is that for radii between 1.5 and 2 Earth radii, the planet becomes massive enough that it starts to accumulate a very thick hydrogen and helium atmosphere, so it starts to resemble the gas giants of our solar system rather than anything else that we see as terrestrial."

Cooking the books on Obamacare

Malice or incompetence? Why can't it be both? [Link]
For several months now, whenever the topic of enrollment in the Affordable Care Act came up, I’ve been saying that it was too soon to tell its ultimate effects. We don’t know how many people have paid for their new insurance policies, or how many of those who bought policies were previously uninsured. For that, I said, we will have to wait for Census Bureau data, which offer the best assessment of the insurance status of the whole population. Other surveys are available, but the samples are smaller, so they’re not as good; the census is the gold standard. Unfortunately, as I invariably noted, these data won’t be available until 2015.
I stand corrected: These data won’t be available at all. Ever.
No, I’m not kidding. I wish I was. The New York Times reports that the Barack Obama administration has changed the survey so that we cannot directly compare the numbers on the uninsured over time.
The changes are intended to improve the accuracy of the survey, being conducted this month in interviews with tens of thousands of households around the country. But the new questions are so different that the findings will not be comparable, the officials said.

An internal Census Bureau document said that the new questionnaire included a “total revision to health insurance questions” and, in a test last year, produced lower estimates of the uninsured. Thus, officials said, it will be difficult to say how much of any change is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and how much to the use of a new survey instrument.

“We are expecting much lower numbers just because of the questions and how they are asked,” said Brett J. O’Hara, chief of the health statistics branch at the Census Bureau.
I’m speechless. Shocked. Stunned. Horrified. Befuddled. Aghast, appalled, thunderstruck, perplexed, baffled, bewildered and dumbfounded. It’s not that I am opposed to the changes: Everyone understands that the census reports probably overstate the true number of the uninsured, because the number they report is supposed to be “people who lacked insurance for the entire previous year,” but people tend to answer with their insurance status right now.
But why, dear God, oh, why, would you change it in the one year in the entire history of the republic that it is most important for policy makers, researchers and voters to be able to compare the number of uninsured to those in prior years? The answers would seem to range from “total incompetence on the part of every level of this administration” to something worse.
Yes, that’s right, I said “every level.” Because guess who was involved in this decision, besides the wonks at Census?
The White House is always looking for evidence to show the benefits of the health law, which is an issue in many of this year’s midterm elections. The Department of Health and Human Services and the White House Council of Economic Advisers requested several of the new questions, and the White House Office of Management and Budget approved the new questionnaire. But the decision to make fundamental changes in the survey was driven by technical experts at the Census Bureau, and members of Congress have not focused on it or suggested political motives.
Sarah Kliff of Vox says we shouldn’t freak out, because these are the numbers that the census collects for 2013, so the change is actually giving us a good baseline. But I’m afraid I’m not so sanguine. AsAaron Carroll says: “It’s actually helpful to have a trend to measure, not a pre-post 2013/2014. This still sucks.”
The new numbers will suffer, to some extent, from the same bias that the old questions suffered from: People are better at remembering recent events than later ones. Quick: On what day did you last get your oil changed? What month was the wedding you attended last summer? If it was in the last few months, you probably know. If it was someone you’re not that close to … well, the summer months kind of blend into each other now that you’re a grownup, don’t they?
And what has been happening in the most recent months? A whole lot of change! Policies were canceled, benefits changed, people shifted around their coverage in anticipation of the new law. That doesn’t make for a very good baseline. It will be a very good measure of who has insurance right now, in 2014, but it’s not where I’d want to start my 2013 baseline for our new law. That’s why they should have done this for 2012 -- or waited until 2016 -- to give us actual comparable data for the transition period. So by your leave, I think I’ll continue to freak out for a bit.
I find it completely and totally impossible to believe that this problem didn’t occur to anyone at Census, or in the White House. It would be like arguing that the George W. Bush administration might have inadvertently overlooked the possibility that when the U.S. invaded Iraq, there would be shooting. This is the biggest policy debate of the last 10 years, and these data are at the heart of that debate. It is implausible that everyone involved somehow failed to notice that they were making it much harder to know the effect of this law on the population it was supposed to serve. Especially because the administration seems to have had a ready excuse as soon as people reacted to the news.
Even if the administration genuinely believes this is defensible, why would they give anyone reason to believe that it is cooking the books? Because those charges are being made, and they’re a lot harder to dismiss than the complaints about birth certificates or dark intimations that the administration has simply made up its enrollment figures out of whole cloth.
I just don’t get it.
I mean, I can certainly think of explanations, but I can’t quite bring myself to believe the worst of them. Which leaves me with the only slightly-less-utterly-appalling conclusion: At some point, very early on in the process, folks noticed that asking the new questions would make it difficult to compare Obamacare’s implementation year to prior years, and decided that assessing the effects of the transition wasn’t nearly as important as making urgent changes to … questions we’ve been asking basically the same way for a decade and a half.
No, wait, that doesn’t make any sense, either. Let’s go back to inexplicable, shall we?
If the administration is really serious about transparency and data-driven policy, as I’ve been told for a year now, then it will immediately rectify this appalling mistake and put the old questions back into circulation double-quick. But we’re more likely going to hear the most transparent and data-driven administration in history citing these data -- without an asterisk -- to tout the amazing impact of its policies.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Statistically Happy Trees

A statistical analysis of Bob Ross' The Joy of Painting. [Link]
Bob Ross was a consummate teacher. He guided fans along as he painted “happy trees,” “almighty mountains” and “fluffy clouds” over the course of his 11-year television career on his PBS show, “The Joy of Painting.” In total, Ross painted 381 works on the show, relying on a distinct set of elements, scenes and themes, and thereby providing thousands of data points. I decided to use that data to teach something myself: the important statistical concepts of conditional probability and clustering, as well as a lesson on the limitations of data.
So let’s perm out our hair and get ready to create some happy spreadsheets!
What I found — through data analysis and an interview with one of Ross’s closest collaborators — was a body of work that was defined by consistency and a fundamentally personal ideal. Ross was born in Daytona, Fla., and joined the Air Force at 17. He was stationed in Fairbanks and spent the next 20 years in Alaska. His time there seems to have had a significant impact on his preferred subjects of trees, mountains, clouds, lakes and snow.
And of course:

When it comes down to it, “The Joy of Painting” was never really about painting. Even Kowalski, who runs a company that sells Bob Ross-branded painting supplies, believes most viewers aren’t in it for the art.
“The majority of people who watch Bob Ross have no interest in painting,” she said. “Mostly it’s his calming voice.”

Social Security to stop shaking down children for their parent's debts

With enough bad press, even the government can make the right decision sometimes. [Link]
The Social Security Administration announced Monday that it will immediately cease efforts to collect on taxpayers’ debts to the government that are more than 10 years old.
The action comes after The Washington Post reported that the government was seizing state and federal tax refunds that were on their way to about 400,000 Americans who had relatives who owed money to the Social Security agency. In many cases, the people whose refunds were intercepted had never heard of any debt, and the debts dated as far back as the middle of the past century.
“I have directed an immediate halt to further referrals under the Treasury Offset Program to recover debts owed to the agency that are 10 years old and older pending a thorough review of our responsibility and discretion under the current law,” the acting Social Security commissioner, Carolyn Colvin, said in a statement.
Colvin said anyone who has received Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits and “believes they have been incorrectly assessed with an overpayment” should contact the agency and “seek options to resolve the overpayment.”
The effort to collect on old debts began with a single line in the 2008 farm bill that lifted the statute of limitations on debts to the government that are more than 10 years old. The Treasury Department then set up rules that allowed the government to settle such debts by intercepting taxpayers’ refunds. The department has collected about $2 billion in intercepted tax refunds this year, $75 million of that on debts delinquent for more than 10 years.
Mary Grice, a federal worker who lives in Takoma Park, Md., never got the refunds she was expecting to see in her mailbox this year. The government seized her checks because of a $2,996 debt that was supposedly incurred under her father’s Social Security number. Her father died in 1960, when she was 4, and her mother received survivors’ benefits thereafter.
But 37 years passed between when the Social Security agency says it overpaid someone in the Grice family and when Mary Grice’s refund was taken. She was unable to find out from the agency exactly who received the overpayment — her mother or perhaps her father’s first wife, both of whom are no longer living.
The suspension of the collection effort is “the right thing to do,” said Grice’s attorney, Robert Vogel. “It’s a first step. The next thing they have to do is stop collecting debts from children under any circumstances.”
Vogel filed suit in federal court in Greenbelt, Md., last week, alleging that the government denied Grice due process by failing to give her notice of the debt and by taking the money from her, even though she was not receiving government benefits at the time the debt was incurred.
Vogel and several members of Congress argued that the government should not be holding children accountable for the financial acts of their parents. The Federal Trade Commission,on its Web site, advises Americans that “family members typically are not obligated to pay the debts of a deceased relative from their own assets.”
After The Post’s article was published late last week, many hundreds of taxpayers whose refunds had been intercepted came forward and complained to members of Congress that they had been given no notice of the debts and that the government had not explained why they were being held responsible for debts that their deceased parents may have incurred.
In a note Social Security officials sent to several members of Congress on Monday, the agency said, “We will be reexamining our responsibilities under current law for such referrals and will be notifying you of our conclusions upon completion of the thorough review.”
In a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Monday, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said that government agencies were apparently “not properly notifying individuals or allowing them to inspect records of the debt they supposedly owe, which are violations of the law.”

Detroit to raise parking meter fines

The reason: it costs more to process the fine than the money collected from it. This could be one of those things that keeps them bankrupt. [Link]
The recommendations, which would bump the current parking fines of $20, $30 and $100 per ticket to a two-tiered structure of $45 and $150, are among the revenue-generating strategies recommended by Detroit’s restructuring consultants.
The proposed reforms come as Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr awaits an analysis of the city’s parking assets and contemplates spinning off Municipal Parking, a department that generally breaks even or fails to bring in enough revenue to cover its expenses.
The city is paying $32 to issue and process a $30 parking violation, and it hasn’t adjusted rates since 2001. On top of that, about half of Detroit’s 3,404 parking meters are not operating properly at any given time, says Orr’s spokesman, Bill Nowling.
“It’s another example of the old, antiquated system and processes the city has that creates impediments for anyone trying to do their job,” Nowling said.
Detroit Chief Operating Officer Gary Brown is advocating for the changes, which he says would bring in an additional $6 million per year and $60 million over the 10-year plan of adjustment Orr is proposing for the bankrupt city.
“That’s real money,” Brown said. “If the asset is truly an asset and making money, no one is going to want to do anything with it.”
Brown said the ticket increases would not unduly burden Detroit residents, since 70 percent of the fines are written to nonresident offenders. The city also expects to offer a one-time amnesty program that’s commensurate with any increase.
Brown said it’s unclear how much is currently owed to the city in unpaid parking fines. Some fines are more than 10 years old, he said, surpassing the statute of limitations and “should be written off.”

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Muppets and Generation X

We were molded by Jim Henson and that's a good thing. [Link]
Disney’s “Muppets Most Wanted” was released late last month, and despite reviews presaging disappointment, America took to their theaters to see how the latest installment of karate chops and sight gags would fare. Whether you’re a purist who can’t stand “wrong Muppet voices” or an overjoyed muppet-man, either way you care about Kermit. While most journalists are covering the Muppets from the angle of “did they live up to Jim Henson’s standard?” this isn’t that kind of article. What I want to know is – why do we care so goddamn much. We’re grown-ups. Why is this still so important to us?
In the lead-up to the Bobin-Stoller-helmed Muppet film, we’ve been seeing a good deal of googley-eyes, fleece and flocked foam. (Contrary to popular opinion, Muppets are not made of felt.) In February, the Electric Mayhem – the Muppet Show’s raucous house band – spiced up the categorically “sensible” Toyota brand playing “No Room for Boring” in a well-received Super Bowl ad. Soon after, they played a soulful rendition of “The Weight” with Jimmy Fallon to mark the end of “Late Night,” a resonant moment, for what was effectively an NBC studio swap. Lipton and Subway ads followed, incurring Twitter backlash. Last fall, Lady Gaga and the Muppets performed a well-intentioned Thanksgiving special on ABC that no one liked. The reason for this upswing in Muppets is obvious: Disney has launched a concerted publicity campaign for its new film property. But that’s not the half of it.
Lately, spontaneous references to Jim Henson and his creations have also cropped up. On “The Mindy Project”: “I will Jim Henson you into apologizing.” On “Community”“Welcome to the Labyrinth, kid, only there ain’t no puppets or bisexual rock stars.” Comedian Mike Birbiglia has been riffing on “The Muppet Show” in his live act: telling the story of the time Statler and Waldorf heckled him on-stage. Unless this is the next phase of insidious product placement, it seems that the Muppets don’t exactly need Disney’s push. Thirty- and 40-somethings, once reminded, seem to be generating their own buzz, and this buzz was brought to us by the letter N. N, of course, is the first letter in the word “nostalgia.”
We – adults – love the Muppets. Boomers remember “The Muppet Show” as one of the rare shows they could watch with their children that didn’t make them sick. Some millennials remember “Muppet Babies” while most are coming to the franchise with fresh curiosity. But the generation that is most attached to the Muppets is surely Generation X; for adults of a certain age, the Muppets make us nostalgic for our youth in the ’70s and ’80s. Though it was a time of economic trouble, nuclear threat and increasing divorce rates, it was also a time of arcades, station wagons and playing in the streets without parental supervision.
It would be wrong to say, “Everyone in Generation X loves the Muppets,” yet it’s so right-esque that when people do not like Muppets, they feel compelled to justify it in Op-Ed pieces. But if you search “don’t like the Muppets” on Twitter, you’ll find tweets making it very clear that someone who doesn’t get the Muppets just can’t be trusted.
The Muppets are a touchstone for a generation of middle-aged Americans, and I agree I’m probably more nostalgic than a grown adult should be. (I published a book about Henson this month, after researching his business for the last three years.) But it’s not just me. It’s crazy what a lasting legacy one puppeteer – Jim Henson – has had. And how many people feel genuinely emotional about his characters, nearly 25 years after his death.
So what’s the reason for our collective nostalgia? Is it simply his ubiquity in our childhoods? Is it simply the case that whatever you put in front of a child will become meaningful to him or her? Television has become a kind of de facto baby sitter, a virtual mentor and best friend to the developing child. A college freshman might feel just as emotional about Barney, Power Rangers and the Teletubbies. While I don’t have a high opinion of the lobotomized purple dinosaur, he was certainly a “touchstone” to 20-year-olds.
We all have our nostalgia. But, at least for me, my love of Henson’s work goes beyond that. I don’t think we love the Muppets simply because they came from our childhood. We love the Muppets because they gave us a worldview – a profoundly idealistic, yet profoundly realistic worldview – that many of us carry into our adulthoods. It is only rarely that we take the time to consider where we picked up such ideas.
Not all Generation Xers are intent on “making the world a better place,” but a good deal are. And even with the Howard Roarks of Xers, the Donald Trumps of our cohort, there is one abiding similarity: Big Bird. For those born from the mid-’60s to the mid-’80s, the first show you probably watched was “Sesame Street.” I would guess you don’t remember watching it as a 2-year-old, but at that age, you were constantly learning about the world, and like a sponge, you took it all in.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Well, well, well

Looks like the CEO of OkCupid donated to an anti-gay cause. This is amusing because OkCupid was directly behind the purge of Brendan Eich at Mozilla for a similar 'crime'. He has to go, right? If not, why not? [Link]
Last week, the online dating site OkCupid switched up its homepage for Mozilla Firefox users.Upon opening the site, a message appeared encouraging members to curb their use of Firefox because the company's new CEO, Brendan Eich, allegedly opposes equality for gay couples—specifically, he donated $1000 to the campaign for the anti-gay Proposition 8 in 2008. "We've devoted the last ten years to bringing people—all people—together," the message read. "If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8% of the relationships we've worked so hard to bring about would be illegal." The company's action went viral, and within a few days, Eich had resigned as CEO of Mozilla only weeks after taking up the post. On Thursday, OkCupid released a statement saying "We are pleased that OkCupid's boycott has brought tremendous awareness to the critical matter of equal rights for all individuals and partnerships."
But there's a hitch: OkCupid's co-founder and CEO Sam Yagan once donated to an anti-gay candidate. (Yagan is also CEO of Specifically, Yagan donated $500 to Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) in 2004, reports Uncrunched. During his time as congressman from 1997 to 2009, Cannon voted for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, against a ban on sexual-orientation based job discrimination, and for prohibition of gay adoptions.
He's also voted for numerous anti-choice measures, earning a 0 percent rating from NARAL Pro Choice America. Among other measures, Cannon voted for laws prohibiting government from denying funds to medical facilities that withhold abortion information, stopping minors from crossing state lines to obtain an abortion, and banning family planning funding in US aid abroad. Cannon also earned a 7 percent rating from the ACLU for his poor civil rights voting record: He voted to amend FISA to allow warrant-less electronic surveillance, to allow NSA intelligence gathering without civil oversight, and to reauthorize the PATRIOT act.

The Death of Archie

Coming soon to "Life with Archie". The Alex Ross variant cover is creepy. [Link]
What is assuredly the weirdest sentence I’ll have written in all my years at this website: Archie Andrews will heroically sacrifice his life to save that of a deae friend in the penultimate issue of Life With Archie in July
Written by Paul Kupperberg with art by Pat & Tim Kennedy and Fernando Ruiz, Life With Archie #36 will depict the title character’s death and come with a plethora of variant covers by some of our favorite artists like Francesco FrancavillaFiona StaplesRamón PérezWalt SimonsonJill ThompsonMike AllredCliff ChiangAdam HughesTommy Lee Edwards and Alex Ross.
The series has explored the lives of the Riverdale characters as they extend into a possible future, with notable storylines including Archie marrying Veronica Lodge, an alternate timeline in which Archie marries Betty Cooper, the marriage of U.S. soldier Kevin Keller to a male partner, and Cheryl Blossom suffering from breast cancer.
“We’ve been building up to this moment since we launched Life With Archie five years ago, and knew that any book that was telling the story of Archie’s life as an adult had to also show his final moment,” said Archie Comics Publisher/Co-CEO Jon Goldwater in a press release. “Archie has and always will represent the best in all of us—he’s a hero, good-hearted, humble and inherently honorable. This story is going to inspire a wide range of reactions because we all feel so close to Archie. Fans will laugh, cry, jump off the edge of their seats and hopefully understand why this comic will go down as one of the most important moments in Archie’s entire history. It’s the biggest story we’ve ever done, and we’re supremely proud of it.”
Issue #37 will take place a year hence, with the surviving Riverdale gang dealing with the loss of their friend and honoring his legacy.

Monday, April 07, 2014


Will it sink the Democrats in November? [Link]
Impressions are lasting. Americans in general have a fairly good sense of what is right or wrong. Despite the blurred lines of news intersecting with opinion — and sometimes buffering a casual viewer from facts — Americans also have a pretty good sense of when some official is getting things right or wrong.
Attending two fundraisers on the night of a military base shooting can irritate many people. Celebratory champagne toasts, exotic hors d'oeuvres, well-heeled guests and hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing to elected officials. These are not the images you should wish to convey to Americans on such a night.
Since the beginning of his administration, President Obama has struggled with image at times of tragedy and triumph.
When a tragedy strikes, his reaction always comes across as detached; when he feels he has triumphed, he oozes hubris that is incredibly off-putting, even to his supporters.
It is a problem both parties have faced through the years. But Democrats stand out now because they are in power, according to former Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy. The Bucks County Democrat lost his swing district in the 2010 midterm election.
The road to Murphy's loss began the day that Democrats overplayed their victory of signing the Affordable Care Act — ObamaCare — into law in 2009. Their leaders gloated, walking toward the U.S. Capitol wielding an oversized gavel; Vice President Joe Biden bragged that the law's enactment was a “big (bleeping) deal,” and Obama's entire demeanor seemed smug.
All of them forgot that most Americans opposed the bill. They forgot that nearly half of House and Senate Democrats initially opposed the bill and had to be offered the sun, the moon and the stars to vote for it — and, even then, some of them knew they were political dead men walking when they cast that vote.
The one thing this administration did not forget to do was to take a victory lap and the image of that never left Americans' minds. Down-ballot Democrats like Murphy paid the price for their party's hubris one year later in the midterm elections.
It is a problem found among members of both parties who spend too much time wrapped in the bubble of Washington, Murphy said: “They often develop hubris and tend to forget who they're representing back home.”
Hubris ruled the day again last week as Obama wasted no time proclaiming that 7.1 million people signed up for ObamaCare. Instead of being thankful that his fumbling rollout allegedly worked, he decided to stick it to every single person who wondered if that would ever happen.
“He is charging down the same path that he went in 2009, when they passed ObamaCare,” said Bruce Haynes, a Republican strategist and managing partner of Purple Strategies, a bipartisan consulting firm in Washington.
That's a dangerous path to take when the law still remains highly unpopular and no other elected member of his party — not one — stood with him as he took his victory lap.
Americans are not complete fools. Democrats are not in trouble this fall because folks have found Republicans to be more competent. Democrats are in trouble because people know that the biggest negative impact of this law is its uncertainty, which impacts the economy and their lives.
And leading the Democrats is a president who just spiked the football in front of the entire country, more than half of which opposes his signature law.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Calling for purges

Well, that didn't take long. [Link]
Some of my colleagues are celebrating. They call Eich a bigot who got what he deserved. I agree. But let’s not stop here. If we’re serious about enforcing the new standard, thousands of other employees who donated to the same anti-gay ballot measure must be punished.
More than 35,000 people gave money to the campaign for Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that declared, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” You can download the entire list, via the Los Angeles Times, as a compressed spreadsheet. (Click the link that says, “Download CSV.”) Each row lists the donor’s employer. If you organize the data by company, you can add up the total number of donors and dollars that came from people associated with that company.
The first thing you’ll notice, if you search for Eich, is that he’s the only Mozilla employee who gave to the campaign for Prop 8. His $1,000 was more than canceled out by three Mozilla employees who donated to the other side.
The next thing you’ll notice is that other companies, including other tech firms, substantially outscored Mozilla in pro-Prop 8 contributions attributed to their employees. That includes Adobe, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Yahoo, as well as Disney, DreamWorks, Gap, and Warner Bros.
Thirty-seven companies in the database are linked to more than 1,300 employees who gave nearly $1 million in combined contributions to the campaign for Prop 8. Twenty-five tech companies are linked to 435 employees who gave more than $300,000. Many of these employees gave $1,000 apiece, if not more. Some, like Eich, are probably senior executives.
Why do these bigots still have jobs? Let’s go get them.
I am pro gay marriage, but we seem to have moved past tolerance of behaviors or lifestyles or natures that may offend some to forced approval. If you do not approve of X you are a bigot and a hater.
Do we really expect to change minds with this? All you will do is get people to shut up and dig in their heels. You may get the appearance of acceptance, but you won't convince anyone you're right.

Monday, March 31, 2014

China makes Reader's Digest censor book

The price of liberty is $30,000. [Link]
The notion that the formerly mighty American publisher Reader's Digestwould allow the Chinese Communist party to censor its novels would once have appeared so outrageous as to be unimaginable. In the globalised world, what was once unimaginable is becoming commonplace, however. The Australian novelist LA (Louisa) Larkin has learned the hard way that old certainties no longer apply as the globalisation of trade leads to the globalisation of authoritarian power.
The fate of her book is more than a lesson in modern cynicism. It is the most resonant example of collaboration between the old enemies of communism and capitalism I have encountered.
Larkin published Thirst in 2012. She set her thriller in an Antarctic research station, where mercenaries besiege a team of scientists.
Larkin was delighted when Reader's Digest said it would take her work for one of its anthologies of condensed novels. Thirst would reach a global audience and – who knows? – take off. Reader's Digest promised "to ensure that neither the purpose nor the opinion of the author is distorted or misrepresented", and all seemed well.
One of Larkin's characters trapped in the station is Wendy Woo, a Chinese-Australian. Woo fled to Australia because the Chinese authorities arrested her mother for being a member of the banned religious group Falun Gong. Larkin has her saying that she had not "learned until much later of the horrific torture her mother had endured because she refused to recant".
State oppression in China is not a major theme of a novel set in Antarctica. But Larkin needed to provide a back story for Woo and a link between her and the villains of her drama. In any case, she was a free author living in a free country and was free to express her abhorrence of torture and the denial of freedom of conscience. Or so she thought, until she discovered last week that she was not as free as she thought.
The cost of printing makes up the largest part of the price of book production. Publishers have outsourced manufacturing to China, like so many other industries have done. The printing firm noticed the heretical passages in Larkin's novel. All references to Falun Gong had to go, it said, as did all references to agents of the Chinese state engaging in torture.
They demanded censorship, even though the book was a Reader's Digest "worldwide English edition" for the Indian subcontinent, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore – not, you will note, for China.
Phil Patterson from Larkin's London agents, Marjacq Scripts, tried to explain the basics for a free society to Reader's Digest. To allow China to engage in "extraterritorial censorship" of an Australian novelist writing for an American publisher would set a "very dangerous precedent", he told its editors. Larkin told me she would have found it unconscionable to change her book to please a dictatorship.
When she made the same point to Reader's Digest, it replied that if it insisted on defending freedom of publication, it would have to move the printing from China to Hong Kong at a cost of US$30,000.
People ask: "What price liberty?" Reader's Digest has an answer that is precise to the last cent: the price of liberty is US$30,000. The publisher, from the home of Jefferson, Madison and the first amendment, decided last week to accept the ban and scrap the book.