1. America is Not Broke: Michael Moore vs the Forbes 400

    Michael Moore hits on some salient points regarding whether or not we should screw the working class to eke out some money to fill budget gaps. In short, he’s against it. Watch the whole thing, though. It’s better than whatever else you could spend a half hour watching on E! or whatever.

    Moore was also kind enough to post the text of his speech on his site, if you’re in a hurry.

    What resonated with me was the statistic Moore cites about 400 Americans having more wealth than 50% of the rest of the country. Just so you don’t have to do that math, that’s .000001% versus 50%.

    If you’re into analogies, that’s one guy getting half the pizza, and 50,000,000 people splitting the rest.

    And it’s not like this is secret knowledge. These 400 people aren’t hiding underground in caverns filled with jewels and gold coins, drinking platinum smoothies. No, they are the mediocre gods we’ve made for ourselves and there are plenty of magazines all about how much we want to be them.We hear a lot about how great they are.

    Forbes, for interest. If you want to know exactly who those 400 are, how old they are, where they live, and get a hint at the source of most/some of their wealth, Forbes publishes a neat little list right here. It’s even got pictures so if you see them, you can ask them “Hey, why do you have more money than the cumulative worth of every one of my ancestors?”

    Good luck catching them on the street.

    The part we don’t talk about is this: their wealth comes from the difference between what we spend and what something is worth added to the difference between how much our labor is worth and what we get paid for it. By virtue of owning the right to take in profits and then distribute them back out to the little people, they get to keep whatever amount they want. And that amount (see the percentages above) is a very, very large amount.

    Not very hard math, just depressing. Now how about a raise, eh?


  2. Alternative 3: Lost SciFi Fake Documentary Gem

    In 1977 the Anglica Network canceled a weekly science program utilitarianly called Science Report. The series presented topical science coverage in a familiar format to those who have seen educational programs of the 1970′s (or parody Look Around You). Knowing the last episode would debut April 1, the production crew went out with a bang rather than a whimper.

    Using the same format and host, the program presented a fantastic tale of conspiracies, shadow governments, kidnapped scientists, secret space colonies, and eminent ecological apocalypse. If that sounds familiar, its because Roland Emmerich and others have ripped this off numerous times however Science Report does this masterfully. It even has a soundtrack by Brian Eno!

    If you enjoyed this you may like Get Your Secret Space Colony Fix in SciFi Video Form.


  3. Lithuania: Now Smaller

    DID YOU KNOW…?

    Lithuania used to be a lot bigger. And more important. As in, other countries used to ask to be ruled by Lithuania. True story.

    In review: Small and obscure now, previously was a great big deal, calling all the shots for a few centuries. There was also something with the Grateful Dead and their Olympic basketball team. And they built the basketball equivalent of Stonehenge.

    That’s all I’ve got. Except this.


  4. Do You Need a Tote Bag? I’d Like to Meet You

    I know there is someone out there, somewhere, who needs another tote bag. Raise your hand, I know you’re out there. The universe doesn’t make any sense without you in it, Mr. Unknown Quotient, because they are seriously making a goddamn metric hump-ton of tote bags these days and I have no freakin’ idea who needs another one.

    Seriously. I like artists and crafty people. I live in Brooklyn. I get all lathered up when I hear someone I’m talking to screen prints things.  That is awesome! Way to create, friend! But if you ask me to buy one of your screenprinted creations on a tote bag I’m going to say no because I’ve got 462 of the things stacked up like extremely ineffective cord wood in my closet and hanging from hooks in my hall where I should have jackets.

    The furthest I can stretch my concept of multiple tote bag use is two at a time. There are a limited number of things one would put in a tote bag as opposed to backpacks or messenger bags or purses or pockets or, y’know, hands. Right now I’m thinking groceries and towels, that’s about it. So maybe going to the beach with friends you might need more than one tote bag? Ah, but the hitch in that is that will likely have their own tote bags that they’ve been waiting to use in such a situation, perhaps totes acquired from a public radio donation or purchased at some sort of farmer’s market in a eco-sustainable frenzy.

    I would completely grin ear to ear if I saw a tote bag full of oranges. Make this happen. But that’s not the point.

    The point is that I heard that Toro Y Moi is packaging his latest album as a tote bag plus download code and I want to like this idea. Really, I do. I love this period of flux in the business of music marketing where added value items are thrown hither and yon and big crazy ideas come crashing around the blogs like ancient monsters awakened to destroy by the sound of the record industry’s collapse. It looks way less desperate than when the comic book industry did a similar thing in the 90s with chromium covers and holograms and polybagged trading cards and crap like that. Much cooler.

    It’s even printed in Michigan and man, they could use the work.

    My problem is that I will never use another tote bag. Ever. There will never be a need for me to buy a tote bag. Even if rendered homeless and nude with all my earthly possessions burnt and the ashes scattered by bitchy ravens (really guys, rub it in), if I found myself in need of something to carry a towel and some oranges I could simply yell on any street in the land “Hey, TOTE BAG!” and one of my fellow humans would have a spare they could give me.Within minutes.

    In summary, can we please start releasing non-record records in some commemorative form that actually has a use? Like maybe load the album on a USB drive that’s the handle of a Bowie knife? (Sweet jams for Wild West defense!) Or maybe a pizza stone with a unique download code etched into its surface? Or a plum tree seedling with label stick that reads “I ABSOLVE YOU FOR TORRENTING IT”.

    Image from the Etsy page where you can get a tote bag with a little dog wearing glasses and a curly black toupee.


  5. Yes, You Can Just Throw Money at the National Debt


    While there’s not an app for that (not yet), there’s a convenient website where you can go and give extra money to the government to pay down the national debt. Yes, people use it.

    And you have options!

    The Bureau of the Public Debt may accept gifts donated to the United States Government to reduce debt held by the public. Acting for the Secretary of the Treasury, Public Debt may accept a gift of:

    • Money, made only on the condition that it be used to reduce debt held by the public.
    • An outstanding government obligation, made only on the condition that the obligation be retired and the redemption proceeds used to reduce debt held by the public.
    • Other intangible personal property made only on the condition that the property is sold and the proceeds from the sale used to reduce the public debt.

    And people actually use it! Last year they gathered up $2,840,466.75 in contributions from fine well-wishers of the Republic! That’s somewhat less than the $21,122,729,715.18 the government paid out in interest on the debt last month but it’s the thought that counts, right?

    Uuuh. Seeing that many commas in a number preceded by a dollar sign made me a little nauseous.

    Thanks to The Consumerist for tipping me off to this depressing as hell site.


  6. 1981 Post-Punk Boxed Set For Free Download

    We all know it and we all complain about it: the internet tends to privilege the up-to-the-second cult of newness in it’s music delivery methods. Blogs killed albums, everything’s a badly ripped leak, and kids these days are all listening to MP3s compressed to shit. Grumble grumble grumble, get off my lawn, etc.

    But it’s not all gone to hell. The same gifts of compression, free storage, and sharing have enabled the quiet obsessives, the crate diggers, the mix makers. Case in point: Musicophilia’s 1981 Boxed Set. 10 discs and over 400 bands from that year, documenting the energy and variety of what is very loosely termed ‘post-punk’.

    Why 1981?

    1981 probably wasn’t the peak year for any sort of “pure” cultural or musical strain of what defined “post-punk” as an ethos or as a sound (I’d give that title to 1979).  But I chose to focus on 1981 in such depth because it seemed to me the year that that sound and way of looking at music had spread farthest without diminishing in intensity (few would argue, no matter how much they love the music of 1982, that even in that one year later there was not a bit of a come-down, or at least a diffusion into more disparate strains).  The heroes of the first wave of post-punk were about to retire (like Wire, Buzzcocks, first-run Pere Ubu) but still hadn’t lost a step, and so many others were at their peak (and still many more greats just getting started).

    This is a true labor of love, compiled from the original records and painstakingly cleaned up to take out the pops and hisses. Better yet, each mix has a flow and purpose that makes it less a file dump than a unified listening experience and a true education in the sounds of the era. Gang of Four, John Foxx, YMO, New Order, and Talking Heads share space with lesser known groups like Weekend, Liquid Liquid, and Bush Tetras.

    Presently exploring disc 2 myself. Check it out and get educated.


  7. The Road Between Heaven and Hell: The Story of the Leatherman

    The Leatherman was a 19th century itinerant who walked a circuit through New York and Connecticut at a precise pace and timing, appearing in the same towns (and at the same porches for supper) on his route every 34 days, year round. Named for his apparently self-made suit of patched leather clothes, the Leatherman was a mysterious figure who rarely spoke and resisted close contact or medical treatment throughout his life of wandering.  The caves where he once bedded down have since become popular for geocaching and a book–The Old Leatherman by Dan DeLuca–written about the various accounts of his travels have made the Leatherman something of a local legend.

    His grave, though, is a public hazard:

    The cemetery, owned by the Ossining Historical Society, is within 16 feet of a highway, Route 9. That proximity is already a safety issue, Historical Society President Norm MacDonald said, and potential expansion would take the road to within a foot of the grave.

    “Since DeLuca wrote the book, we have had increased visitations to the grave,” MacDonald said. “We have had school buses of children, Boy Scouts, the elderly all visit. It’s somewhat of a dangerous location so close to the road.” One man has already been hit by a car, he added.

    (via The Record-Journal)

    Future highway expansion threatens to roll right over the Leatherman’s grave. To protect the visiting public and the repose of the deceased, an exhumation of his remains is scheduled for some point this Spring. While some historians and archaeologists view the Leatherman’s disinterment as a chance to answer questions about his origins and mental health, some area residents have taken umbrage at what they see as a violation of a local legend’s privacy.

    If you’ve got 20 minutes, the dramatically-titled Connecticut public television-produced documentary above will bring you up to speed on all things Leatherman. (Unless your Google search for “leather men” has brought you here entirely by mistake. Sorry, buddy.)


  8. Hitting That Tablet Sweet Spot: The Atavist

    The idea is a such a simple one that it’s no wonder that everyone who has tried it before has made a hash of it: create a ideal format for mid-length storytelling that recalls the better long form magazine journalism while making use of the possibilities of the multimedia age. Much like it took over a decade for people who actually TALK on their cellphones in public to be treated like the social lepers that they are, with the tablet and mid-length writing (more than an article, less than a book) the technology has preceded its appropriate patterns of usage.

    Enter The Atavist. 15,000 words, give or take. $2 a pop. The writer gets paid a flat fee plus a percentage (likely less than Apple’s 30% cut… ouch!) Stories launch simultaneously for the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, Nook, and soon, Android tablets (“We are working very hard on it, we promise…” says Atavist’s tech page.)

    The writers of the Atavist’s debut offerings–Wired regulars Brendan Koerner and Evan Ratliff–were kind enough to give me a demo on their iPads. “This one’s a loaner,” Koerner admits, dropping a non sequitur about the difference between his and Will Smith’s lifestyle.

    The debut stories are a joy to read. The format definitely encourages linear reading but doesn’t prohibit the sort of skimming and jumping around that internet-trained brains are prone to do. A button offers intuitive chapter selection, another shows or hides footnotes with audio, text, maps and timelines. The timeline features the clever option of hiding any spoilers by shrouding later events when accessed from early pages.

    So what’s the biggest change for the writers in crafting a story for this format? “The notes,” Koerner asserts. “In a book, you assume no one will read them. When they’re in-line, everybody will.” Because of the size, as compared to a full-length book, “I tried to keep things zooming along,” sometimes giving short-shrift to details of the setting–World War II-era India–that the average reader might not have the best acquaintance with. While an in-depth exploration of the Bengal famine or the nitty gritty of U.S. and British troop deployment policies wouldn’t work in something designed as a mid-size read, having inline notes available for background keeps readers on the same page while keeping the main narrative moving along.

    To best exploit this new form, Koerner’s plotting approach also changed. Koerner compares it to his recent experience adapting Now the Hell Will Start, his book about the jungle manhunt for soldier Herman Perry, to a script. Having archival photographs and scans of original sources not only integrated as inline elements but given pages of their own required a more visual approach to plan out the piece’s flow. “Kind of like a storyboard with text.” Because of the format, “I tried to keep it as visual as possible‚ us[ing] photos to create the atmosphere of that era.”

    Having such an expanded set of channels with which to tell a story gives the authors expanded options but also another hazard: reader overload. “You don’t want to overload the reader with links,” Ratliff says. With such intricate stories as a helicopter assisted multimillion-dollar heist in Sweden and the life and times of Asia’s preeminent WWII-era jazzman, there could be novels worth of footnotes luring the reader off into the weeds. It’s a process of managing the reader’s trust in the author, keeping them assured that what makes it into the main text and what makes it into the notes and media sections are specifically selected to create a cohesive story.

    The back end of the Atavist is a content management system built by Creative Director Jefferson Rabb. Ratliff showed off the control panel, emphasizing its versatility and basic writer-friendliness. “[Rabb] built the CMS to make it as easy as writing a blog post,” Ratliff says, adding that the interface would be manageable for anyone who had ever used something like WordPress, but with presets and options fit specifically to a certain Atavist style.

    That’s what’s striking about this debut: a feeling that a lot of thought went into what works and what doesn’t work in mid-length storytelling on a tablet. Where will people be reading these stories? What size chapters best meet a tablet reader’s attention span? What sort of options will build and support the narrative without distracting? From there, the Atavist team crafted a very compelling user experience.

    Case in point: both stories not only come with an audio version, but the reader can switch between audio and reading seamlessly, picking up with either right at the point in the story where they left off. Think of reading on a subway or bus as it fills up or taking your reading from the breakfast table to the car. It’s little details like this that signal that the minds behind this app understand where their user experience fits into the real world.

    The Atavist app and three chapter previews of Koerner and Ratliff’s stories, complete with extras, are available for free on the iTunes App store. Note that getting the full-length of each requires an in-app purchase, a tricky proposition for those of us who jailbreak their iOS devices. The stories are also available, in somewhat more limited form, as Kindle or Nook singles.


  9. LIVE! NUDE! RED DWARF!

    In another sign of the total destruction of the nerd closet, the word’s out that there’s a new series of Red Dwarf in the pipeline for 2012.  I have nearly fond memories of how my local PBS affiliate would end the night’s programming with an episode or two, long after the totebag-buyers had gone to bed.  I was typically stumbling in from some kind of chemical simulation of putting one’s brain in a rock tumbler (extreme Northeast winter temperatures + the finest high gravity malt liquors + early Rammstein) and trying to piece together what was happening with the cat-man in the smoking jacket and the chubby dreaded British guy from the last five minutes of the show as a good way of bringing my brainwaves back to safe levels of bafflement.

    While I always assumed it was a laugh track, apparently these were shot before a live studio audience. Like the Cosby Show! Trying to keep that tradition alive in the 2012 version, however, it hitting some snags.  Martin Anderson at Shadowlocked reports:

    Llewellyn notes, not necessarily without an air of trepidation, that the 2012 Red Dwarf is seriously considering shooting in front of a live studio audience, which hasn’t happened for the show since 1998. And, as the actor points out, does anyone remember 1998? The pre-Twitter years…?

    The fear among the producers now is that it’s impossible to imagine an audience of around 400 people at the recording of a TV show like Red Dwarf, where nobody does a bit of a hint on Twitter, or sneaks a picture on Facebook or posts a bit of badly shot video on YouTube.

    Perhaps the only solution is to do the show live, as the BBC did with David Tennant and The Quatermass Experiment 4 years back…? Otherwise the only reasonable solution is to confiscate the audience members’ phones and execute them straight after the performance, which may put a dent in the show’s comedy stylings.

    While executions might rile the fanbase, confiscating the camera-bearing devices sounds prudent enough. Might I suggest things be taken a step further? Why not strip the audience down to producer-provided Red Dwarf briefs and pasties? Any uncomfortability can be overcome with free liquor and the skimpy undergarments can later be sold on eBay to those fanboys who couldn’t get tickets and terrible perverts alike. Actors reap an added bonus of a reduction of stage fright through that time-tested method of picturing the audience in their underwear, no imagination required.

    Here’s hoping being the one who came up with this spoiler crushing innovation secures me VIP passes to all tapings and a nice tight pair of Red Dwarf briefs.  Make mine with gold trim.


  10. Our Oceans, Ourselves

    While I’m sure Africa is a little tired of being everyone else’s metaphor for the Grim Meathook Future, it’s a big place so there’s plenty of little vignettes like this to go around.  Just multiply by a few million or so, transpose to the oceans, and you’ve got your future where your grandchildren ask you what a tuna looked like and all you can think of is a little flat can.

    For all my brethren bailing water on the Titanic, here’s some lists of scaly beasts that it’s more OK to make into sushi: Seafood Watch.

    video via Pie Heaven and the BBC