Shared posts

27 Nov 21:47

Barbie Dreamhouse Party Creeps The Crap Out Of Me

by John Walker

I think Barbie Dreamhouse Party might be the most sarcastic, darkly satirical game I’ve ever played. And I’m not even sure if I’m joking at this point. When a game with a name like that pops up on Steam, of course any red-blooded human games journalist is going to take a look, right? I was expecting a garish pink mess of dress-up minigames and saccharine terror, obviously, but Dreamhouse Party seems to take this into a whole other realm of creepy weirdness. This is a game in which a sentient closet-based AI locks four girls in a room (with giant metal barriers) because one of them smudged her make-up, and forces them to repeatedly apply lipstick and eyeliner to freakishly giant doll heads until he is satisfied. That’s not my arch interpretation of events. That’s what actually happens.

(more…)

27 Nov 20:55

'Why not now?' biopic of Alan Watts by his son

by Jason Weisberger
Last Saturday, I was lucky to see a screening of Mark Watts' biographical film of his father, Alan Watts, "Why not Now?"--and it is fantastic. Alan Watts, who died in 1973, helped explain Eastern philosophy and approaches to life and being in a way that Westerners like me can understand. His work endures today and is some of the most helpful work I've ever read ('The Book' is a great place to start.)

Speaking to the audience before the screening, Mark Watts explained that as he was working on the film he realized that every word he added to the film's narrative meant he had to drop something he father had said more clearly. Mark discovered there was enough of his father's own voice, from his father's radio shows and other sources, to allow Alan to speak for himself. The film is available for purchase at the AlanWatts.org website.

Here are some short animations that the South Park guys did to accompany some of those recordings:

Video Link

    






27 Nov 20:33

Skull armchair

by Cory Doctorow


Here's Harow's polygonal skull armchair, which does a pretty good job of hiding the skull from the front, making it just the thing for supervillains with a need for furnishings that work when on the job or taking a break. Price on demand, which probably means, if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

HAROW - Fauteuil Crâne (via Laughing Squid)

    






27 Nov 19:48

Storing Your Memories In Someone Else’s Brain

by Andrew Sullivan

Rebecca Schwarzlose considers it “a major benefit of having long-term relationships”:

There’s too much information in this world to know and remember. Why not store some of it in “the cloud” that is your partner or coworker’s brain or in “the cloud” itself, whatever and wherever that is? The idea of transactive memory came from the innovative psychologist Daniel Wegner, most recently of Harvard, who passed away in July of this year. Wegner proposed the idea in the mid-80s and framed it in terms of the “intimate dyad” – spouses or other close couples who know each other very well over a long period of time. Transactive memory between partners can be a straightforward case of cognitive outsourcing. I remember monthly expenses and you remember family birthdays. But it can also be a subtler and more interactive process. For example, one spouse remembers why you chose to honeymoon at Waikiki and the other remembers which hotel you stayed in. If the partners try to recall their honeymoon together, they can produce a far richer description of the experience than if they were to try separately. …

This fact also underscores just how much you lose when a loved one passes away. When you lose a spouse, a parent, a sibling, you are also losing part of yourself and the shared memory you have with that person. After I lost my father, I noticed this strange additional loss. I caught myself wondering when I’d stopped writing stories on his old typewriter. I realized I’d forgotten parts of the fanciful stories he used to tell me on long drives. I wished I could ask him to fill in the blanks, but of course it was too late.

27 Nov 18:05

Five Awesome Things I Made This Year!

This year was a good one for me and my Operation: Create Awesome Things, so I thought I’d list five of them here: a book, a shirt, a comic, a game, and an anthology!

If you see something you’d like someone special to get for you for Christmas, you can reblog this and it is the world’s most subtle hint! You’re just hitting a button on a website! Who KNOWS what people will do with this information?? And if you’re shopping for someone who says “get me some awesome things, I dunno”, MAY I SUGGEST IN BASICALLY RANDOM ORDER:

  1. To Be or Not To Be: That is the Adventure
    image
    • WHAT IT IS: This is my choose-your-own-path version of Hamlet! It’s nuts!
    • WHY IS IT RAD: You can play as Hamlet, Ophelia, or Hamlet’s dad King Hamlet, but if you choose him you die on the first page and get to play as a ghost. Investigating your own murder. And every ending (there’s over 100!) is illustrated by an awesome cartoonist!
    • I WANT SOMEONE ELSE’S OPINION: check out this article on Comics Alliance - it’s their first pick for holiday gifts!
    • WHERE CAN I GET IT: your local bookstore, from Amazon, and digitally from Gumroad. Check out hamletbook.com for more information!
  2. My Face Is Up Here
    image
    • WHAT IT IS: A shirt! You wear it on your body!
    • WHY IS IT RAD: It saves you a lot of time when talking to strangers, as well as points out the positioning of your internal organs to all and sundry.
    • I WANT SOMEONE ELSE’S OPINION: Too bad, nobody reviews shirts!! But it’s clearly awesome so there’s my own autoreview right there. :o
    • WHERE CAN I GET IT: TopatoCo has the goods, as well as lots of other cool merchandise!
  3. Adventure Time comics!
    image
    • WHAT IT IS: The comic-book version of the hit television show! I write it!
    • WHY IS IT RAD: It’s a super-fun all-ages comic (which doesn’t mean it’s written down for kids - it’s for everyone! EVEN ADULTS. ADULTS LIKE… YOU??). Each trade paperback (there’s three so far!) collects a complete story arc, plus alternate covers done for each issue.
    • I WANT SOMEONE ELSE’S OPINION: the Onion AV Club reviewed issue 10, and also we won an Eisner award this year! That was nuts too!
    • WHERE CAN I GET IT: your local comic book shop, from Amazon, and single issues direct from the publisher.
  4. This Is How You Die
    image
    • WHAT IT IS: A book collecting tons of great stories all around the same premise: what if there was a machine that could tell you exactly how you will die?
    • WHY IS IT RAD: It’s the sequel to Machine of Death, which became the #1 bestselling book on Amazon.com the day it launched. Tons of great short stories by a bunch of really talented authors, and every story has an illustration by an awesome cartoonist too!
    • I WANT SOMEONE ELSE’S OPINION: The Onion AV Club gave it an A!
    • WHERE CAN I GET IT: your local bookstore, from Amazon, and wherever books are sold (HOPEFULLY)
  5. Stick It To The Man
    image
    • WHAT IT IS: A side-scrolling platformer / adventure / puzzle game!
    • WHY IS IT RAD: It’s a fun game with loads of puzzles, and I wrote the dialogue for it! AND, every line is voice acted too!
    • I WANT SOMEONE ELSE’S OPINION: Destructoid loved it!
    • WHERE CAN I GET IT: it’s downloadable on both your PS3 or Vita, so sneak into someone’s house and download it for them! You can find out more about the game here!
27 Nov 18:04

And all his works and pomps

by Fred Clark

According to the National Center for Reason and Justice, Francis Keller has been released from a Texas prison.

Since 1993, Keller has been serving a 48-year sentence for a crime that she did not commit. Worse than that, she has spent the past 20 years in prison for a crime that never happened.

Fran Keller

Fran and Dan Keller ran a child-care center in Oak Hill, Texas. They were accused, and convicted, of Satanic ritual abuse. We know they were innocent of this charge because:

1. The child they were convicting of abusing, who was then 3 years old, has since said that no abuse occurred and that she was repeating the accusations she’d been coached and instructed to deliver.

2. No physical or medical evidence suggests any abuse ever took place and no physical evidence was ever found of the graves in which the Kellers allegedly buried young children alive after baptizing them in blood.

3. Satanic ritual abuse does not exist.

Yet Fran Keller was sent to prison for 20 years because of an imaginary crime committed against non-existent victims.

Why?

I can’t believe this was the result of well-meaning people who were just trying to protect children from people they sincerely believed were a threat.

“All I care about, my passion, is helping survivors of child abuse,” says Australian “advocate” Liz Mullinar. But Mullinar also claims to have helped more than 500 people who were victims of Satanic ritual abuse. That story isn’t from 1983 or from 1993. That story is from today, in 2013. And it’s all terribly familiar — the spectral evidence of “recovered memories,” the implication that the lack of evidence of the alleged massive conspiracy of Satanists is somehow proof of their power, etc.

But a “passion” for helping survivors or for protecting children won’t produce the lurid fantasies of grisly, bizarre rituals that we’ve been hearing ever since this moral panic began in the 1980s. Those fantasies in all their horrid detail had to be imagined, invented, disseminated and embellished — and that process doesn’t seem like anything that would arise from a motive of helping survivors or of protecting real children from real dangers.

This isn’t about protecting children or saving babies. It’s just fantasy role-playing — the sensation of imaginary heroism that comes from battling imaginary monsters.

Do you renounce the Satanic baby-killers and all their works and pomps?

No. Nothing good can come from renouncing that which does not exist. Defining oneself in opposition to imaginary evils only leads to real evils and real injustices.

 

27 Nov 18:02

The Birth of Obamacare McCarthyism

by Josh Marshall

We get it. Republicans don't like the Affordable Care Act, aka 'Obamacare'. But over the last few days I've noticed a new trend, or at least the frequency of it seems to be increasing. Let's call it Obamacare McCarthyism, a new intra-Republican political cudgel cued up for the 2014 political season, in which different anti-Obamacare Republicans attack each other for either being crypto-supporters of Obamacare, being Obamacare-curious or even just having earlier periods of Obamacare confusion.

Read More →
27 Nov 18:01

srafandseedpods: OH MY GOD one of our tigers did this (and it...





srafandseedpods:

OH MY GOD one of our tigers did this (and it isn’t stuck on his head; one of the keepers went in to see if he needed help and he undid this and redid it on his own a few times) but oh my god hE’S PRETENDING TO BE A LION IM GONNA DIE

27 Nov 17:59

→ Penny Arcade’s Insultingly Horrible Job

Is this real? Please let this be a joke.

This is everything wrong with tech-startup culture, unreasonable expectations, and workaholism in one job posting, by a company with a massive audience that probably contains a very high percentage of young software developers.

They would like someone with a computer science degree and at least three years of professional experience in developing web apps top-to-bottom on the full PHP/MySQL stack and Java, Python, or Ruby development1and high-traffic server and database administration and supporting their other employees’ local office IT needs.

They’re going to require you to be a workaholic, not having any work-life balance, which they flippantly celebrate and glorify.

They don’t specify a salary, but they’re very clear that it’s going to be very low — they’d rather spend a fraction of the difference making the office nice.

I did almost this exact job for Tumblr’s first four years. I required, and was given, a great salary plus stock, a nice office environment, and a healthy work-life balance. The difference is that I didn’t have much experience going in — I learned most of the scaling side as we went. An advanced web developer who also wants to be a sysadmin and already has experience managing high-traffic infrastructure is very rare and far more valuable.

Penny Arcade wants one of those so they can pay them a low salary and burn them out. The candidate is expected to be happy and honored at the privilege of this terrible deal.

Their unreasonable, immature expectations are a damaging message to send to their huge audience of young software developers. Yes, there are other employers this bad (and worse) in the industry, but you don’t have to work for them. There are a lot of better options, especially if you satisfy even half of Penny Arcade’s requirements — and a healthy work-life balance is a basic requirement, like your paycheck, that you shouldn’t tolerate losing for any employer.


  1. Bonus points for not knowing that PHP is an object-oriented language. 

∞ Permalink

27 Nov 17:59

fuckyeahtheuniverse: Dimensions in Physics

27 Nov 17:58

Origami-Inspired Cardboard Homeless Shelters, To Help People Get Off The Streets

Origami-Inspired Cardboard Homeless Shelters, To Help People Get Off The Streets:

i feel like i should create a tumblr dedicated to tracking obscene technocratic “solutions” to poverty

27 Nov 17:57

Flotspotting: 'Gaia' is an Open Office Structure We Actually Like

Gaia-FS.jpg

Nailing down a perfect workspace is a science. For a place that you spend a majority of your time in, it had better fit you and pull the most productivity from your procrastinating fingertips—even if you're a freelancer without a go-to office. David Bruér, an industrial designer from Stockholm, has designed a portable space for the workers who want to bust past flimsy cubical walls—a hampster wheel of creativity, if we may.

We caught a look at the workspace in 2012 at Stockholm Design Week. While the photos do the design justice, it deserves a revisit for a closer look at all the working parts. The design circles around (literally) the functionality of the slats inside the space—custom fitted chairs, benches and lights can be placed within the sphere in any of the available slots. The structure is easily moved and reassembled, making this kind of construction ideal for an open-office layout.

Gaia-FS-Comp.jpg

(more...)
27 Nov 17:43

acebycircle: He just sits his ass down on all those buttons...



acebycircle:

He just sits his ass down on all those buttons that could or could not be firing lasers into space

27 Nov 17:40

Organize that Sass!

One of the many beauties of working with Sass is how easy it is to get organized. In the past, importing different CSS files wasn’t good practice and in fact made for more HTTP requests. With Sass, you can have many different partials which allow you to isolate styles in a logical way.

What is a partial? The Sass Documentation explains it pretty well:

If you have a SCSS or Sass file that you want to import but don’t want to compile to a CSS file, you can add an underscore to the beginning of the filename. This will tell Sass not to compile it to a normal CSS file.

Organizing Sass files in this way, then allows you to create a sort of “table of contents” with a global.scss. I create about 13 partials; one for forms, icons, type, mixins, images, etc. Each partial has only the styles that belong, making styles easily findable.

stylesheets/
  _bits.scss
  _forms.scss
  _icons.scss
  _images.scss
  _mixins.scss
  _type.scss

Once you’ve created your files, you then import them into your master stylesheet. I like putting comments to remember what each partial is doing.

/*
VARIABLES
---------------
Setting up variables. Bringing in Colors and Spacing.
--------------- */

@import "bits";

/*
BASE STYLES
---------------
Setting up the base. Bringing in Type, Images, Forms, and Icons.
--------------- */

@import "type";
@import "images";
@import "forms";
@import "icons";

Organizing yourself like this can be difficult to adopt at first, but I can’t tell you how much time I’ve saved. On large projects, knowing where to look is half the battle. Gone are the days of 3000 line stylesheets. Instead we can work in small, specific, and more importantly, manageable files.

27 Nov 17:37

20% Of Obama’s Pardons Have Gone To Turkeys

by Andrew Sullivan

presidential-pardons

Plumer hates the turkey pardon:

Obama will have “pardoned” 10 turkeys in all (turkeys that, as best we can tell, haven’t actually committed any crimes). By contrast, he will have only pardoned or commuted the sentences of 40 actual living human beings. The latter is a record low for modern-day presidents. At the same point in his presidency, Ronald Reagan had pardoned 313 people. Harry Truman had pardoned 1,537 people

Emma Roller thinks that the “statistics of presidential pardon ratios as of last year—that is, the ratio of pardons granted to the number of human pardon applicants—speak for themselves”

Ronald Reagan: 1 in 8

George H.W. Bush: 1 in 19

Bill Clinton: 1 in 16

George W. Bush: 1 in 55

Barack Obama: 1 in 290

27 Nov 17:19

Bimbo's Initiation: Max Fleischer's darkest cartoon

by Cory Doctorow

The 1931 Max Fleischer cartoon Bimbo's Initiation is a miracle of awesome, fleischerian weirdness. It's the last Betty Boop cartoon that was personally animated by her creator, Grim Natwick. It's so delightfully bizarre (Leonard Maltin called it "the 'darkest of all" of Fleischer's work), and the perfect way to end the weekend.

creepy, disturbing, yet awesome cartoon ("Bimbo's Initiation") (via Bruce Sterling)

    






26 Nov 22:52

A Think Tank With An Agenda

by Andrew Sullivan

Julia Ioffe highlights the growing extremism of the Heritage Foundation:

DeMint was known nationally as a warrior for purity, spending more of his time seeking out like-minded candidates for the U.S. Senate rather than passing legislation. But, at Heritage, DeMint found kindred spirits in [Chairman of the Board Thomas] Saunders and [Heritage Action CEO Michael] Needham, who created a Heritage Action scorecard to grade Republican members of Congress on their ideological mettle. (The standard is so high that, at this writing, the House Republican caucus gets a paltry 66 percent rating.)

Among the consequences of Heritage’s transformation:

With DeMint’s arrival, Heritage’s government relations team, which once boasted the ability to meet with 250 GOP and as many as 40 Democratic congressmen on any given day, disappeared. “The people at government affairs would go down to the Hill, and they had Hill folks saying, ‘Listen, we don’t want to meet with you because of what the folks at Heritage Action did yesterday,’” says the former Heritage staffer. Heritage analysts now have a hard time getting meetings on the Hill, even with Republicans. The congressional staffer told me that, for many Republican members of the House, “their research staff is probably not dealing much with Heritage anymore. They’re systematically going elsewhere for their information.”

Pareene chimes in:

Truth be told, Heritage was always mostly political hacks, they just used to be effective political hacks with a realistic agenda. What was different now was the cheerful absense of any coherent and/or achievable goal — beyond fundraising and image-boosting for Heritage Action itself.

26 Nov 21:18

Dumbest cops in America video themselves laughing at and tasing mentally-ill, handcuffed man

by Rob Beschizza
Police and paramedics in Millvale, Pa., were recorded on video laughing as they repeatedly stunned a handcuffed and mentally-ill man as he pounded his head against the side of a desk. The video--predictably--ended up on YouTube, and the police officers involved became targets of an FBI investigation and a federal lawsuit.

Thomas Smith, 28, filed the $75,000 lawsuit against officer Nichole Murphy, chief Derek Miller, and the Pittsburgh-area borough. The FBI's investigation is apparently ongoing, reports WPXI, but no criminal charges have been filed since the incident late last year.

Smith was arrested on Sept. 21, 2012, and charged with public drunkenness. The video, shot on a cellphone, shows him shirtless and handcuffed on the floor at the police station, talking incoherently and butting his forehead against the side of a nearby desk. Officer Murphy uses a stun gun on him as paramedics or other officers laugh; in a police report, she claims she used the stun gun to subdue Smith when he became "violent."

According to the lawsuit, Murphy was fired before over conduct "similar" to that seen in the video, but subsequently rehired. Smith pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.

    






26 Nov 21:17

Wonkblog: Don’t blame the Founding Fathers for California having 66 times the population of Wyoming

by Ezra Klein

This morning, I noticed traffic spiking to an August Wonkblog post on Urban planner/artist Neil Freeman's effort to redraw the United States as 50 states with equal population. It's a fun, beautiful thought experiment:

I posted the map on Twitter again. No reason people who weren't reading Wonkblog on Aug. 21 should be deprived. The Washington Examiner's Byron York, however, was not amused:

Poor Constitution. It gets blamed for everything.

But it doesn't deserve all, or even most, of the blame for population patterns in the United States in 2013. When the Constitution was drafted, there were 13 states serving as home to about 4 million people. The difference between the most populous state and the least populous was 11:1. Today, there are 50 states with more than 300 million people. The difference between the most populous and the least populous is about 66:1.

That's not the Constitution's fault. Article III of the Constitution does not say "these United States shall annex Texas in 1845 and proceed to war with Mexico in 1846. That war shall not end until control of the Land known as Alta California is won. Subsequently, one out of eight Americans shall settle in part of California, because its climate is much more pleasant than that of Vermont or Wyoming. Oh, and speaking of "Wyoming," we think that's what you should name another land mass you'll annex sometime in the future."

The Framers were wise. But they weren't precognitive. They knew nothing of America's 19th century expansions or its 20th century migration patterns. They did the best with the information they had.

By the same token, we are not time-traveling telepaths. We don't know whether the founders would have struck the precise same deal if Virginia had been 66 times more populous than Rhode Island. The deal they did strike was precarious enough: It took five tries before the plan to give each state equal representation in the Senate passed, and even then, it squeaked through by only a single vote.

If the big states had been six times more disadvantaged, it seems unlikely they would've agreed to the same terms. But who knows? Certainly not anyone using Twitter.

The map above is a good way to think of the country as it exists today. It shouldn't be dismissed because it doesn't fit the population patterns of 1787.


    






26 Nov 21:17

Wonkblog: Pope Francis has a few thoughts about the global economy. We added these 13 charts.

by Neil Irwin

Pope Francis has issued an "apostolic exhortation," a lengthy and detailed exposition of how the Catholic Church should focus its energies. And there's a lot in there about the economic forces shaping the lives of people around the world. We've compiled some excerpts of his comments that are relevant to economics and public policy.

Unfortunately, this 84-page apostolic exhortation is woefully lacking in illustrative charts. But Wonkblog is here to help! Here are the pope's comments on economic topics, annotated and charted.

"In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications," writes Pope Francis. Sure enough, people are living longer.

(From "It's Getting Better All The Time" / Stephen Moore & Julian Simon)

Across much of the globe:

Those longer lifespans have a strong correlation with how much countries spend on health care (with the United States as an outlier in terms of spending vs. results).

"At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences," the pope continued. Also true. In India and sub-Saharan Africa alone, there are more than 700 million people living on an income of less than $1.25 a day, the World Bank's definition of extreme poverty.

"A number of diseases are spreading." Here, for example, is global prevalence of HIV.

"The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries." Yep.

"The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power." The chart below isn't exactly on point, but shows how a vast proportion of the things Americans buy are made by just five powerful corporations.

"Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"

Our research finds some support for Pope Francis's argument that the media is paying much more attention to the vicissitudes of financial markets than to more human issues. For example, in the last six months, 1,477 articles in major newspapers in the Nexis database have mentioned the Standard & Poor's 500. Only 142 have mentioned the phrase global poverty.

"This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?" Yep, it's true. Food waste is a big issue.

"This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."

Here, for example, is evidence of how Americans with low incomes feel themselves marginalized and vulnerable, from a story this week by The Washington Post's Jim Tankersley and Scott Clement.

"Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a 'disposable' culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. . .. . The excluded are not the 'exploited' but the outcast, the 'leftovers.' In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and na ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."

Here's what the data show on who is accruing the benefits of rising global wealth, in the United States. at least.

"The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption."

Next, the pope turns even more explicitly to questions of inequality and offers his theory of what has ailed national economies in this post-crisis era.

"While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation."

Sigh.

"Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power."

Well, yes and no. It is true that southern European countries such as Spain and Greece (and Italy, which surrounds the Vatican) are suffering under the burden of high debts. And the proximate cause is austerity policies that were demanded as a condition of getting aid to meet the countries' debts. But crucial to this dynamic is the fact that the nations involved are linked to the common euro currency, and thus cannot easily pursue the usual strategies of countries overburdened by debt, namely devaluing their currency.

And many of the countries that have relatively high debt levels, such as the United States, Britain and especially Japan, have continued to have low interest rates, in no small part because they maintain control of their currencies. Here is a chart of the interest rates different countries face and their debt burdens; the original data are from a paper by David Greenlaw et al., and economist Paul Krugman manipulated it to put in place different symbols for countries that use the euro and those that do not.

As shown, the high interest rate burden caused by high debts is the story for the euro zone, not for elsewhere, which suggests it has as much to do with a flawed currency regime as debt per se.

"To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions."

Yep. Here's one estimate at the scale of the tax evasion and corruption problems, via Thomson Reuters.

"The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule."

Those words may defy any easy charting, but they have a lot of important ideas buried within.


    






26 Nov 21:06

Yet More Pope

by Josh Marshall

Pope denounces "trickle down" economics. This is part of the new 'apostolic exhortation' Francis issued today Evangelii Gaudium, which confirms and expands on his calls over recent months for a more missionary church focused on the poor and suffering.

26 Nov 21:04

Mod Skyrim, Get Job At Bungie

by Jason Schreier

Want to get a job at Bungie, one of the world's most respected video game studios? Easy. Spend thousands of hours writing a Skyrim mod so detailed and intricate, it feels like an expansion pack.

Read more...


    






26 Nov 19:07

Wonkblog: The turkey pardon is America’s dumbest tradition

by Brad Plumer

It's time once again for an absurd Thanksgiving ritual.

On Wednesday, the National Turkey Foundation will carry two plump male turkeys over to the White House and lift them onto a table. President Obama will give them goofy names like Caramel and Popcorn. Then Obama will "pardon" the turkeys and, instead of lopping off their heads and tossing them in an oven, he will let them live out the rest of their lives at the estate in Mount Vernon.

To be fair, the president has to do lots of frivolous public events like this one every year. But the turkey pardon stands out as being especially dumb and worth abolishing. Here's why:

-- It's not even a real tradition! The National Turkey Federation has donated two turkeys to the White House every year since 1947. Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower did the sensible thing and simply ate the birds. No pardons there.

Some accounts credit John F. Kennedy with the first official turkey pardon, but like most JFK mythologizing, this is overblown sentimentality: Kennedy merely sent one of his turkeys back to the farm because it wasn't big enough. "We'll let this one grow," he groused of the inadequate offering. (Others credit Abraham Lincoln, who once spared a turkey destined for Christmas dinner when his son Tad pleaded for mercy, but that clearly didn't catch on for decades.)

Ronald Reagan was technically the first president to "pardon" a Thanksgiving turkey, in 1987 — but he did it as a joke to distract the press from scandal. Reporters had been hounding the president about whether he planned to grant pardons to key Iran-Contra figures like Oliver North and John Poindexter. Reagan merely quipped that he would have pardoned that year's turkey had it not been en route to a petting zoo already.

Two years later, in 1989, Reagan's successor George H.W. Bush made the turkey pardon an annual ritual. But it all started as a glib one-liner meant to deflect attention away from White House lawbreaking. Hardly a sacred convention.

-- The pardoned turkeys aren't that much better off — because the life of a turkey is misery and pain. This is going to get gruesome, and I'm sorry about that. But modern-day domestic turkeys aren't bred to have a happy life. They're raised to be as large as possible so that they can be slaughtered as soon as possible and produce the greatest volume of delicious turkey meat.

Some fun facts: A wild turkey normally grows to about 9 pounds. A turkey bred for eating, by contrast, typically grows to something like 29 pounds. (The two turkeys on their way to the White House are over 37 pounds apiece.) These domesticated turkeys are often so fat that their skeletons are unable to support that weight. They frequently develop bone deformities and degenerative joint diseases. They're incapable of breeding on their own. They often suffer heart failure or bleeding around the kidneys.

So it's no coincidence that, as US News & World Report and National Journal have discovered, most pardoned turkeys die within a year of being granted a reprieve anyway. The White House wants us to believe these turkeys are living out a life of leisure on the farm and bopping along to their favorite Lady Gaga tracks. Not so:

For the record, I'm not opposed to raising turkeys for food (and, yes, it's possible to get humanely raised turkeys). But it's not clear why we need an elaborate White House ceremony designed to obscure where that food actually comes from.

-- It's a mockery of the presidential pardon, which is an all-too neglected issue. Maybe this isn't surprising, since the turkey pardon was basically invented as a way of mocking presidential pardons. Still, it's worth mentioning.

After tomorrow, Obama will have "pardoned" 10 turkeys in all (turkeys that, as best we can tell, haven't actually committed any crimes). By contrast, he will have only pardoned or commuted the sentences of 40 actual living human beings.

The latter is a record low for modern-day presidents. At the same point in his presidency, Ronald Reagan had pardoned 313 people. Harry Truman had pardoned 1,537 people:

Last year, Sam Morrison, an official who spent 13 years in the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney before retiring in 2010, described the prevailing attitude toward pardons this way: "They tend to view any grant of clemency not as a good thing, as a criminal justice success story, but almost as a defeat — that you're taking away something from what some good prosecutor achieved." (The Justice Department disputed this characterization.)

Over at National Journal, Ron Fournier pointed out that, at the bare minimum, Obama could grant clemency to all the people still serving extra time in prison under the old crack-sentencing guidelines — guidelines that Obama himself opposed as excessive and which Congress reduced for all new prisoners in 2010. So far, however, there's no sign that the White House will do this.

The White House does, however, have a flashy Web site up letting you vote on your favorite soon-to-be-pardoned turkey. Yes, there are hashtags.


    






26 Nov 18:08

Quote For The Day

by Andrew Sullivan

francisshadow

“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures … In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives,” – Pope Francis, whose radical call to renewal and reform seems to be deepening still further.

It’s worth noting that the Pope has reaffirmed the church’s teaching on abortion, but left other “rules and precepts” in more ambiguous territory.

Know hope.

26 Nov 17:59

Narnia: Ebenezer Scrooge Will Free You From Slavery If He Really Must (But You'd Better Say Thank You)

by Ana Mardoll
[Narnia Content Note: Genocide, Religious Abuse, Chivalry, Racism, Slavery.]
Content Note: Slavery, Racism]

Narnia Recap: In which the crew land on an island inhabited by apparently disembodied voices. 

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 9: The Island of the Voices

When we last left our heroes [sic], Lucy had warned everyone that invisible people were planning to ambush them by the boats. The nature of the ambush is unclear; the voices have indicated that they will have weapons with them, but they haven't said what their goal is -- whether they want to kill or capture or just make sure Caspian doesn't run off with the silverware is still an open question.

   “Well,” said Caspian at last, “let’s get on with it. We must go and face them. Shake hands all round—arrow on the string, Lucy—swords out, everyone else—and now for it. Perhaps they’ll parley.”

I'm not sure there's ever been any indication of Lucy being an archer before; possibly there was and I'm just too lazy to check. Either way, I love (read: don't love) that because Lucy is a girl, she obviously therefore must be a Bow Chick and her initial semi-defiance of Father Christmas (a la, "I think I'd be brave enough, even though I lack a penis and therefore your approval", and I may be paraphrasing there) has safely passed and we're back to putting her on the back-lines of combat.

And note that the back-lines of combat, which is where Father Christmas wants her because battles are ugly when women fight in order to protect her and not because he thinks girls have battle-cooties, is the place where Lucy will now be at even more of a disadvantage than her fellows because (a) the ambush will be in close quarters, where arrows are less protective (you can parry a strike with a sword/dagger, but not with an arrow) and (b) I'd imagine it's a lot harder to hit an invisible enemy with an arrow than with a sword or dagger. Because you can't really get a good swiping motion in with an arrow.

   It was strange to see the lawns and the great trees looking so peaceful as they marched back to the beach. And when they arrived there, and saw the boat lying where they had left her, and the smooth sand with no one to be seen on it, more than one doubted whether Lucy had not merely imagined all she had told them. 

LOLWHUT. So, Lucy says the island has invisible people who don't leave footprints or proof of passing, so the fact that they can't see anyone at the boars and the sand in front of the boats is smooth causes the Doubting Thomases to come out and play? Really? Like, it was all plausible before they got to the boats and didn't see the invisible people, but once they got there and the invisible people weren't visible there, that was the point at which doubts began to seriously foster. Sure.

Question: Who is doubting Lucy? Not Edmund, surely, who was so quick to defend her when she was the only one who saw Aslan in Prince Caspian. And probably not Eustace, since Edmund had that post-dragoning chat with him about how Lucy See Things (Especially Aslan) even when others don't. Surely not Reepicheep, who strikes me as the most religiously devout of the group and cares so strongly about honor -- the suggestion that his dearest Queen lied (because in Lewis' world, there are only liars and truth-tellers and Obviously Mentally Ill people, with no option for mistakes) would probably cause Reepicheep to challenge the author to a duel outright, because how dare you besmirch Her Majesty, etc.

That leaves Caspian and Drinian, who is only here because we needed someone to magically pronounce sentence on the Can The Boat Pull Up To Shore question. And since the text says "more than one doubted", I reckon we'll have to go with those two. I can kinda believe Drinian could doubt all this; he's been vaguely characterized as not caring for all this magic malarkey, and he's never been especially devout to Lucy as anything more than a little girl with a courtesy title. Though I note that 90% of this is due to the sparseness of the text rather than actual characterization. And I guess Caspian could probably be read as assuming anyone other than himself is Wrongy McMistakenface about things because, you know, they're not him.

But I bring this up here mostly because it's kinda another example of Lewis not really treating his characters as people. They're sort of an amorphous mass of Away Team here, and some of them are just randomly wondering if Lucy dreamed all this up or is bullshitting them. But there's not really a consideration of specifically which ones are wondering this. Because if there were specific consideration of who, then there'd have to follow a why. Why would Edmund doubt his sister when he didn't before? Why would Reepicheep doubt his sovereign when to do so would be entirely out of character for him? Why would Caspian and Drinian and Eustace think invisible people so strange after all they've seen and done on this trip? (Because dragons and sea serpents and magical islands you can't remember clearly but which might have had magical ponds on them are so much more believable?)

And treating the characters like individuals would give us a sense of history for Lucy, where she could legitimately point out that she sees things before other people All The Damn Time and she's Never Been Wrong Yet so maybe people could stop treating her like Cassandra. It would mean we would have defined personalities for Caspian and Drinian and Reepicheep and Edmund and Eustace, such that we could predict which ones would disbelieve Lucy and which would not. And it might mean that events could flow naturally from characters and their choices as opposed to being literally magically herded into position and then Aslaned out of trouble over and over again.

Oh, and it might also mean that Reepicheep The Mouse might have senses he relies on more strongly than sight. I kinda feel like a mouse might be able to sense the heat of 50 bodies or hear them breathing or smell them sweating in the sun. But I guess I could be wrong. 

And I again point all this out here the next time someone says that kyriarchal privilege totally has nothing to do with why Lewis is revered as One Of The Greatest YA/Fantasy/Wev Authors Of All Times, but [insert female author here] is a garbage writer because one time she forgot to use an Oxford Comma. Throwing that out there.

Anyway, let's get to the ambush scene. 

   But before they reached the sand, a voice spoke out of the air.
   “No further, masters, no further now,” it said. “We’ve got to talk with you first. There’s fifty of us and more here with weapons in our fists.”
   “Hear him, hear him,” came the chorus. “That’s our Chief. You can depend on what he says. He’s telling you the truth, he is.”
   “I do not see these fifty warriors,” observed Reepicheep.
   “That’s right, that’s right,” said the Chief Voice. “You don’t see us. And why not? Because we’re invisible.”

I know this is supposed to be proof that the Dufflepuds are stupid, but I really am hard-pressed to come up with a better answer to Reepicheep. I mean, he practically set the Chief up for that response like they were at a comedy club. And beyond that, Reepicheep just heard a chorus of voices, which has to be at least a dozen, right?

It's interesting, though, that the Chief simply says they have weapons, but Reepicheep demands that they be "warriors". Maybe this is some kind of smack-talk on his part, a la 300, (though it just as easily might not be), but I gotta say that invisibility seems like a pretty good draw-card for an ambush party to have, regardless of whether they're potters or blacksmiths or whatever at their day-jobs.


   “Be quiet, Reep,” said Caspian, and then added in a louder voice, “You invisible people, what do you want with us? And what have we done to earn your enmity?”

"I mean, we landed on your island and made pretty much no attempt to make it immediately visually obvious that we come in peace and mean you no harm, and which as a sovereign ruler of my own land I should know is in itself a very threatening thing to do, and a huge social faux pas. I mean, can you even imagine if you'd landed on Narnian soil like we have here? You'd be met by a battalion of heavily armed centaurs, I'm sure. So it's kind of disingenuous of me to act like your response is an act of enmity rather than basic prudence. Especially given that I've already taken over one island via political coup already, and indicated a willingness to take it over by force if that failed. So you probably shouldn't trust me, is what I'm saying." 

   “We want something that little girl can do for us,” said the Chief Voice. (The others explained that this was just what they would have said themselves.)
   “Little girl!” said Reepicheep. “The lady is a queen.”
   “We don’t know about queens,” said the Chief Voice. (“No more we do, no more we do,” chimed in the others.) “But we want something she can do.”

I really do not know what this outburst was intended to accomplish, since Reepicheep just signaled that the ambushing party now has a member of royalty in their clutches as opposed to Just Some Girl. That seems kinda like the thing knights and bodyguards and whatnot should learn on the first day of Chivalry School, especially given that they've already had the "don't tell the slavers we're royal" conversation earlier in the book. Which makes me think that Lewis did this on purpose to chalk up more points into the characterization bucket that Reepicheep is dangerously impulsive and shouldn't be allowed on these kind of trips, with a side-suggestion that he's a problem specifically because he's an Animal and Animals aren't too bright.

Because, seriously, I would not be letting Reepicheep on away-missions anymore. 

   “What is it?” said Lucy.
   “And if it is anything against her Majesty’s honor or safety,” added Reepicheep, “you will wonder to see how many we can kill before we die.”

Sure, that seems totally like the best response in this situation. (I also love that Caspian's "be quiet, Reep" order is just being merrily ignored because there is hot water to be gotten into.) I mean, seriously, I'm not a big fan of ambushes and wanton slaughter and destruction, but I'm also aware that they are things which exist and I'm kinda thinking that Reep maybe needs to back off the Bluff stat that he doesn't actually seem to have.

Because, really, it's just the fact that the Chief is a nice person that he hasn't pointed out that (a) they outnumber the Dream Team approximately 10 to 1 and that (b) it shouldn't be too hard to, say, kill 3/5s of them, capture Lucy and her younger cousin, and then see if she won't be amenable to their wishes when her cousin's safety is on the line. I'm not saying he should do this, but I am saying he could do this, and yet here Reep (and by extension the rest of the Royals who could be stopping him but aren't) are dripping with disdain because their lion-given privilege is JUST. THAT. THICK.

   “Well,” said the Chief Voice. “It’s a long story. Suppose we all sit down?”
   The proposal was warmly approved by the other voices but the Narnians remained standing.

SEE WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT THESE PEOPLE.

Placate their captors with a gesture of trust that can't hurt them any worse (because it's not like they'll be at more of a disadvantage on the ground, what with the people being invisible) or demonstrate their total disdain by standing and presumably staring haughtily down their noses at the empty air? What Would Aslan Do, indeed.

Then we get a lot of backstory that you already know and long-story-short, the Dufflepuds ask Lucy to save them by reading a magic spell to make them visible again because it's very dull being invisible all the time. And it has to be Lucy because only a little girl can read the spells or something. ("Stop asking me questions, dammit, this is the chapter about how vain and gossipy women are so just go with it." ~ C.S. Lewis, I think.)

   And we thought we’d rather be invisible than go on being as ugly as all that. And why? Because we’d like it better. So my little girl, who’s just about your little girl’s age, and a sweet child she was before she was uglified, though now—but least said soonest mended—I say, my little girl she says the spell, for it’s got to be a little girl or else the magician himself, if you see my meaning, for otherwise it won’t work. And why not? Because nothing happens. So my Clipsie says the spell, for I ought to have told you she reads beautifully, and there we all were as invisible as you could wish to see.

Also: *blub-blub-blub* Because this is probably the first expression of parental love in these books (that I can think of, anyway) (and sandwiched in a book about Aunt Alberta The Evil Feminist and how she doesn't like Eustace ever again once he becomes a Proper Patriarch, as opposed to having it break her heart to see her still-beloved boy buy in to the Terrible Bargain) and it's coming from a father whose daughter has been mutilated by magic and Lucy -- the stand-in for this little girl now that the spell has to be reversed -- won't insist that Coriakin restore her body. Because Lucy doesn't identify with other little girls, because (a) educated men in literal ivory towers are who we should all identify with, natch and (b) women are catty and hate each other which is why Lucy hates Susan and is jealous of her despite this never coming up before. Because Women.

   “Well, then, to put it in a nutshell,” said the Chief Voice, “we’ve been waiting for ever so long for a nice little girl from foreign parts, like it might be you, Missie—that would go upstairs and go to the magic book and find the spell that takes off the invisibleness, and say it. And we all swore that the first strangers as landed on this island (having a nice little girl with them, I mean, for if they hadn’t it’d be another matter) we wouldn’t let them go away alive unless they’d done the needful for us. And that’s why, gentlemen, if your little girl doesn’t come up to scratch, it will be our painful duty to cut all your throats. Merely in the way of business, as you might say, and no offense, I hope.”

Again: Almost assuredly written to make the Dufflepuds seem churlish and stupid, but which I obstinately persist in finding endearing. Because fuck you, Lewis. And because I like people who get right to the heart of the matter. But, wait, I have more to say on this. Hang on a second.

   “I don’t see all your weapons,” said Reepicheep. “Are they invisible too?” The words were scarcely out of his mouth before they heard a whizzing sound and next moment a spear had stuck, quivering, in one of the trees behind them.
   “That’s a spear, that is,” said the Chief Voice.
   “That it is, Chief, that it is,” said the others. “You couldn’t have put it better.”
   “And it came from my hand,” the Chief Voice continued. “They get visible when they leave us.”

And if they'd been Bond Villains, they would have thrown the spear through Reepicheep rather than at a tree. I'm just sayin' that Reepicheep is seriously not allowed on the away-missions again. Never. 

   “But why do you want me to do this?” asked Lucy. “Why can’t one of your own people? Haven’t you got any girls?”
   “We dursen’t, we dursen’t,” said all the Voices. “We’re not going upstairs again.”
   “In other words,” said Caspian, “you are asking this lady to face some danger which you daren’t ask your own sisters and daughters to face!”

Okay. Now I'm going to say the thing I'm going to say. Settle in.

Here is the thing. I shouldn't need to say this, but just so we're all on the same page here: What the Dufflepuds are doing is wrong. By my moral compass, at least, it's not okay to detain people on your property (trespassing though they were) and threaten to kill them if they don't cross a dangerous magician for you. The Dufflepuds have no reason to believe that Coriakin won't transmogrify or otherwise seriously harm Lucy and the others. (Indeed, I always kinda wondered if something happened to Clipsie and if that was why she and the others wouldn't go back upstairs. I realize we're just supposed to read them as cowardly, but I think it's a valid question to demand, in light of Coriakin basically being a male (and therefore valid) White Witch.)

But what the Dufflepuds are doing is also understandable. It's morally wrong, but I would argue that it sits at a much more ambiguous level of morality than Caspian and Reepicheep chatting over whether or not to bring an army to invade the Lone Islands because mine, dammit. If Coriakin hurts Lucy and the others, it is because he is an evil overlord (a la the White Witch) who must be stopped. And if Lucy and the others care, even a little bit, about their whole We Are Godly Representatives Of Aslan Who Right Wrongs schtick, they'll want to do something to help the Dufflepuds, even if it's a prudent "let's go home and bring backup" something.

If Coriakin is the White Witch -- and I argue that he could be seen as analogous to her, though I'm doubtful that Lewis intended that (though she WAS the Emperor's hang-woman, so...) -- then the Dufflepuds are the Beavers. Only instead of saying "whoooooooooops, I totally knew your brother was drugged but just didn't notice him walking out in the snow", we get a much more straightforward proposition that the Dufflepuds' existence is unbearable and only the Pevensies can help them, so they aren't going to be given a choice, sorry!

It's wrong, morally wrong. But it's also true, in this particular case, that the Pevensies wouldn't do it if they were given an alternative. Lucy outright says:

   “All right, then, I’ll do it,” said Lucy. “No,” she said, turning to the others, “don’t try to stop me. Can’t you see it’s no use? There are dozens of them there. We can’t fight them. And the other way there is a chance.”
   “But a magician!” said Caspian.
   “I know,” said Lucy. “But he mayn’t be as bad as they make out. Don’t you get the idea that these people are not very brave?”

This is the same girl who insisted that they go to war against the White Witch if it might save her friend Mr. Tumnus, but she'll only go up into a magician's tower during daylight (they specifically hash out whether she could do it during the day since the night is so much scarier, I'm not making this up) and only when there's literally no alternative but immediate death.

So, just to be clear, Lucy the Valiant is both afraid of the dark and not in the least interested in saving an entire race of people from tyranny. Just like Edmund the Just earlier moved to skewer the stranger on the beach rather than find out who he was peaceably. These things are understandable -- we've probably all known fear and an impulse for violence out of self-defense -- but they're never remarked upon, never corrected in text.

And the patterns start to become a problem. The Animals (devout Protestant Aslan-worshipping English people) are worth saving, but not the Dufflepuds. The White Witch who turns people to stone must be killed, but not the Magician who magically mutilates their bodies. The Lone Islanders (white English people) should not be slaves to the Calormen, but the Dufflepuds should be slaves to the white man who lives in his ivory tower. And the heroes who didn't balk from a fight when it was against Miraz or Jadis now stubbornly toe the sand and quibble about the scary darkness and bemoan that they have no other choice than to help a race of magically enslaved people, but that they're only doing this because they have to.

And that's what I mean when I say that the racism in these books isn't just a matter of how, for example, the Calormen are portrayed. That's a part of it, sure. But there's other forms of racism, just as insidious, and this is one here: How saving the Animals was seen as the obvious right thing to leap up and do because Goodness and Bravery and Rightness, but saving the Dufflepuds is clearly presented as something that is only happening because the heroes were stupid enough to be trapped and ambushed. Something to be done with a heavy heart, not a glad one. And something that will be done half-assed rather than fully, since the Dufflepuds will remain mutilated and will remain slaves.

And something which does not occur in a context-free void. It matters how the Animals and Dufflepuds respectively talk and act and what they look like and what their customs are and how they are presented to the reader in terms of familiar cultural markers (in the case of the former) and othered stereotypes (in the case of the latter). 
26 Nov 17:44

Wonkblog: Holiday sales are a dirty lie

by Lydia DePillis

Hitting the doorbusters this Black Friday? You're falling for an elaborate con.

Retailers are competing more fiercely than ever for consumer dollars this holiday season, with deep discounts on popular items to get people in the door. Many of those "sales," though, are utterly meaningless: When the sticker price is arbitrary, the actual price can be whatever a store wants.

Over the years, retailers have floated prices upwards before Thanksgiving to create the perception of steep markdowns — while avoiding a big hit to their profits. Consumers, by now unwilling to pay full price for anything, have played right into their hands. When J.C. Penney tried to introduce "honesty" in pricing, shoppers abandoned the store in droves.

Thus far, the deception has gone mostly unnoticed. Today, with the aid of the Internet, it's much easier to track prices, as the Wall Street Journal did for a great story out this morning. Here are the numbers:

The number of deals offered by 31 major department store and apparel retailers increased 63% between 2009 to 2012, and the average discount jumped to 36% from 25%, according to Savings.com, a website that tracks online coupons.

Over the same period, the gross margins of the same retailers — the difference between what they paid for goods and the price at which they sold them — were flat at 27.9%, according to FactSet. The holidays barely made a dent, with margins dipping to 27.8% in the fourth quarter of 2012 from 28% in the third quarter of that year.

...

A supplier sells the sweater to a retailer for roughly $14.50. The suggested retail price is $50, which gives the retailer a roughly 70% markup. A few sweaters sell at that price, but more sell at the first markdown of $44.99, and the bulk sell at the final discount price of $21.99. That produces an average unit retail price of $28 and gives the store about a 45% gross margin on the product.

---

In a 2012 presentation, Mr. Johnson, then still Penney's CEO, said the company was selling fewer than one out of every 500 items at full price. Customers were receiving an average discount of 60%, up from 38% a decade earlier. The twist is they weren't saving more. In fact, the average price paid by customers stayed about the same over that period. What changed was the initial price, which increased by 33%.

---

In an analysis for The Wall Street Journal, price-tracking firm Market Track LLC looked at the online price fluctuations of 1,743 products in November 2012. Prices climbed an average of 8% in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving for 366, or about a fifth, of the products; the items were then discounted on Black Friday. Toys and tools had the biggest pre-Black Friday price increases—about 23%.

There are limits to this strategy: The Federal Trade Commission has rules about deceptive pricing, which say that a product has to actually be marketed for a certain price before being offered at a "discount." One lady is even suing J.C. Penney over misleading sale signs, and a defeat for the beleaguered retailer might lead to a pullback.

In the meantime, though, you might just want to take a morning on Black Friday to sleep in.


    






25 Nov 23:55

jennipoos: itscolossal: Faces of Models Transformed Into 2D...

25 Nov 21:26

Wonkblog: ‘If you don’t like negotiating with Iran what you’re really saying is you want to go to war’

by Ezra Klein

Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, and a member of Secretary of State John Kerry's International Security Advisory Board and the Council on Foreign Relations. He's also the author of "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons." We spoke this afternoon.

Ezra Klein: You spend your days trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons. So is today a good day for you? A bad one?

Joe Cirincione: I opened up a bottle of champagne when I heard the news. This is huge. I was at an international security conference in Halifax when the news broke and there were dozens of us celebrating. Rightly or wrongly, Iran is seen as the most serious nuclear threat in the world. Anything you can do to reduce that threat is a major step forward.

EK: Does this actually reduce the threat they pose? Certainly Israel doesn’t seem to think so.

JC: This addresses the major threat that Prime Minister Netanyahu warned the world about in September 2012. He went to the dais of the U.N. General Assembly and he held up a cartoon drawing of a bomb and drew a red line across the top. He warned the world that Iran would soon have enough uranium enriched to 20 percent and that they could quickly, in weeks or months, make a bomb.

His concerns were well-founded. Iran now has about 190 kilograms of this enriched uranium. If they got to 240 kilograms, they'd be very close to a bomb. This deal drains the uranium from Mr. Netanyahu’s bomb. It drains the amount of 20 percent enriched uranium [Iran has]. It makes it much less likely Iran could break out and make a bomb. And it goes further: It stops the manufacturing of new centrifuges. It changes the inspection regime from weekly to daily. If Iran wanted to do anything suspicious, there’s a high probability we'd know about it and could act instantly to stop them.

EK: What’s the counterfactual here? Imagine this deal wasn’t struck and things simply kept on trend. Where would this issue be going?

JC: If Iran hadn’t paused, in a matter of months they would cross Israel’s red line. In perhaps a year they could’ve constructed a crude nuclear device. In another year, they could construct a warhead to put on a missile. While we might think we had two years or so to act, Israel doesn’t look at it that way. They wanted to kill the nuclear baby in the crib. So the alternative to this deal was war.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves. There’s no sanction regime known to man that’s been able to coerce a country into compliance. So if you don't like negotiating with Iran, what you're really saying is you want to go to war. We should be clear-eyed about this. We shouldn’t think there’s some better deal out there.

EK: Israel and some other skeptics argue that diluting the uranium doesn’t mean much because Iran can quickly enrich it again.

JC: Not clear. There’s a lot of doubt that Iran has the capability to convert uranium oxide back to uranium gas. In any event, if they did it we would see it. That’s the benefit of the daily inspections.

EK: Are you confident those inspections have full visibility into the program?

JC: The core part of the inspections is measuring what goes in and what goes out. All the information we have around Iran’s stockpile comes from these IAEA inspections. This is what they do. It’s a lot like accounting. And you can have a pretty high confidence that we know what’s going on at the facilities. The uncertainty is around the question of secret facilities. This arrangement doesn’t help with that. But this is the first phase. In a final agreement, Iran is open to a much tougher inspections regime that allows inspectors to go anywhere at anytime and see anything.

EK: Are you optimistic that we'll get to a final deal after this pause?

JC: This deal doubles Iran’s breakout time to a nuclear weapon and makes it much more likely that we would see them doing it. It also freezes the program in place. And while we're watching them they can't substantially enhance their capabilities. So we don't lose anything in this deal. And all we’ve given up is a small amount of Iran’s money that we had frozen. The estimates are that they'll receive $7-$10 billion in relief. But they have more than $100 billion still frozen abroad. And all the sanctions on their oil trade and their financial system and their banking still apply. If Iran wants to get back to selling two million barrels of oil a day, they need to finish the final deal and satisfy us that they're giving up their weapon options here.

EK: One argument that Jeffrey Goldberg makes is that another objective of this deal was stopping Israel from making any sudden moves. Now that there’s a deal in place, Israel can’t simply blow up the international community’s negotiations and launch an attack. Do you agree?

JC: I think it’s almost impossible for Israel to launch a military strike on Iran right now. They're isolated. The prime minister is issuing some very tough statements but as far as I can see, he’s the only world leader issuing them. Even Saudi Arabia, which has serious qualms about the deal, is issuing positive statements at the start.

EK: To zoom out, a few months ago a deal was struck to begin breaking down Syria’s chemical weapon capabilities. Now there’s the beginning of a process to potentially end Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. It seems like an unusually good time for anti-proliferation efforts.

JC: It pays to be a pessimist in national security. You get rewarded for painting worst-case scenarios. But every once in awhile you have to evaluate the facts on the ground. And the facts right now are breaking in America’s favor. In the last few months Secretary of State John Kerry has crafted agreements to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Now there’s an agreement that might eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapon. This looked impossible several months ago.

The significance of all this goes beyond just weapons. One level, of course, is we're reducing major threats that could have killed hundreds of thousands of people. Second, it is being crafted in partnership with countries like Russia, which is creating a better dialogue and working relationship with them. Third, if there’s a rapprochement with Iran, it could pay much bigger dividends in the Middle East, including stabilizing Afghanistan and ending the civil war in Syria. It won't make us BFFs with Iran, but perhaps, as President Rouhani says, we could manage our differences in much the same way that Nixon managed our differences with China.


    






25 Nov 21:11

My Tumblr mail apparently ate a bunch of private messages, so I can’t respond directly.  So I...

My Tumblr mail apparently ate a bunch of private messages, so I can’t respond directly.  So I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who said nice and supportive things. <3

…And who shared my bafflement on how saying “kill yourself” is valid self-expression but saying “this person’s telling people to kill themselves” is CYBER-BULLYING.  

…Or how saying “I’m not an abuser” is proof positive that I’m an abuser.  They have like twelve posts up now about this. Oh my God, seriously, I’m not perfect, obviously at some times in my life I’ve, like, yelled at people unfairly or been kind of a jerk to my partners. I did not realize that failing to report these as “I am an abuser” was going to be spun out into that much material.

(I know I said I wouldn’t write about this any more, but the response of “you better not because I’LL BE WATCHING” was so spectacularly creepy that fuck it.)

25 Nov 20:48

Seapods, by Robert Steven Connett

by Xeni Jardin

Robert Steven Connett shares this painting, "SEAPODS," in the Boing Boing Flickr pool, and says, "It will be exhibited and available for sale, at the "Espionage Miami 2013" group art exhibition in Miami Beach Florida, during the Art Basil USA exhibitions, (December 6, 2013 – January 31, 2014), Harold Golen Gallery, 2294 N.W 2nd Avenue, Miami, Florida 33127, Wynwood Arts District."

Check out more of his fantastic psychedelic, inspired-by-nature art in his Flickr feed or his website, grotesque.com.