For Sale: The Ritual Experience of Handling and Interacting With Something Physical

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 10:42 AM EDT

Hipsters rule the world:

Underneath the staggering 32.5% decline in revenues for CD sales according to RIAA’s 2015 mid-year stats, there is one stunning figure: vinyl’s revenues have grown 52.1% over the last year.

Kept alive by hip audiophiles, vinyl’s resurgence—partially thanks to Urban Outfitters—has been nothing but impressive of late, raking in $226 million in the first half of 2015. That’s more than ad-supported streaming services like Spotify, which took in $162.7 million in the first half of 2015. Paid streaming services like Spotify Premium still monetize better than both, taking in $477.9 million in revenue.

I guess it's time to haul in my old turntable from the garage. I think I paid about $150 for it 1978, which in today's dollars is, oh, about $73,000 or so. Right? I mean, it's a real record player from the days when we played records because that's what music came on, and an antique like that gives your vinyl an authentic sound. Let's see. How does Ethan Wolff-Mann put it? Oh yes: "Vinyl offers consumers a ritual experience they value, handling and interacting with something physical." And that, my friends, is why my garage is worth a fortune. I shall start accepting bids shortly.

Advertise on

John Oliver Couldn't "Give Less of a Shit" About Donald Trump

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 10:42 AM EDT

On Wednesday, John Oliver stopped by the Late Show with Stephen Colbert to refrain from talking about the one guy America just can't seem to stop talking about—Donald Trump.

"Do you care about him at all?" Colbert asked.

"I couldn't give less of a shit," Oliver responded to a raucous applause from the audience. "It's physically impossible."

He goes on to remind Colbert that it's only 2015, and while the media remains laser-focused on reporting the antics of Trump and the rest of the 2016 candidates, he plans to wait until 2016 to actually weigh in.

"I don't care until we're in the same year as the thing I'm supposed to care about," Oliver explained.

And as the comedian goes on to say, there are far greater issues outside of election-related items that warrant our discussion. Cue the next episode of Last Week Tonight.

Bestselling Historian Explains US Foreign Policy: "Obama Is Prone to Submitting to Males Who Act Dominantly in His Presence"

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 12:53 AM EDT

Here is Arthur Herman writing in National Review about geopolitical realities in the age of Obama:

If Vladimir Putin is the dominant alpha male in the new international pecking order, Barack Obama has emerged as his highly submissive partner.

There are various reasons why we are being subjected to the humiliating spectacle of an American president, so-called leader of the free world, rolling over on the mat at Putin’s feet.

Of course, there have been signs for years that Obama is prone to submitting to males who act dominantly in his presence. Who can forget his frozen performance with Mitt Romney in the first presidential debate in 2012....We’ve seen it in his interactions with China’s president Xi Jinping; his strange bowing and scraping with the Saudi king; and his various meetings with Putin, including the last at the United Nations on Monday where a tight-lipped Obama could barely bring himself to look at the Russian president while Putin looked cool and confident—as well as he should.

For every aggressive move Putin has made on the international stage, first in Crimea and Ukraine in Europe, and now in Syria, our president’s response has been largely verbal protestations followed by resolute inaction. Why should Putin not assume that when he orders the U.S. to stop its own air strikes against ISIS in Syria, and to leave the skies to the Russians, he won’t be obeyed?

But there’s more to Obama’s passivity than just pack behavior....

Seriously, what kind of adult talks like this? Or thinks like this? How can a historian, of all people, explain a moment in history as a serial dominance display between chimpanzees? I'm not even sure what the right word for this is. It's not just childish or puerile, though it's those things too. Disturbed? Compulsive? Unbalanced? I'm not sure. This is a job for William F. Buckley.

The Shiny New "Sharing Economy" Is Sure Starting to Seem Awfully Old-Fashioned

| Wed Sep. 30, 2015 7:35 PM EDT

Brian Fung writes today about Amazon's new package delivery scheme:

Flex, Amazon's new on-demand delivery service, promises to get your packages to you even sooner by hiring independent drivers to bring them to your house. As a lot of reports have pointed out, Flex is basically Uber for Amazon packages.

But, speaking of Uber, how will Amazon's leap into on-demand logistics affect the rest of the sharing economy?

....Amazon Flex says it will pay its delivery drivers $18 to $25 per hour. They can elect to drive for two-, four-, or eight-hour shifts. In exchange, they need to supply your own car, a driver's license and an Android phone so that they can install Amazon's driver app....Compare that to ridesharing services whose drivers get to maximize their flexibility but whose income is more variable. For some, this trade-off may be worth it.

....Amazon Flex is betting that as the economy improves, there will still be people who are willing to work in the sharing economy rather than returning to full-time jobs....Research from PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts the sharing economy will become a $335 billion business by 2025 — up from $15 billion a year today.

Let's slow down here. What exactly is the "sharing economy"? Originally it was sort of like renting. Time rhapsodized about it in 2011: "The true innovative spirit of collaborative consumption can be found in start-ups like Brooklyn-based SnapGoods, which helps people rent goods via the Internet. Or Airbnb, which allows people to rent their homes to travelers."

Then it morphed into "Uber for ____" companies. Uber, of course, doesn't really allow you to share your car with other people. It's your car and you're the only one who drives it. Rather, Uber provides infrastructure and scale that allows you to become an on-demand taxicab whenever your schedule allows it.

Now it's apparently morphed even further. In some sense, Uber allows you to "share" your car with your passengers. That's a stretch, but Flex doesn't even provide that. The only thing you're doing is "sharing" your car with the packages you're delivering. By that standard, all of us are part of the sharing economy, since we "share" our bodies and brains with employers in order to accomplish tasks that our employer gives us.

In this case, Amazon is doing nothing more than hiring drivers as independent contractors so that it doesn't have to pay benefits and doesn't have to pay them if there aren't any packages to deliver. (You can pick your own shift, but only if a shift is available.) The only real innovation here is that Flex might1 allow you to work odd hours here and there, which is convenient if you have other commitments that prevent you from working a normal schedule. Mostly, though, it's just Amazon taking the 21st century mania for scheduling workers on a day-to-day basis and instead scheduling them hour-to-hour.

In any case, it now seems as though the "sharing economy" is any job that's somehow related to a scheduling app and provides workers only with odd bits and pieces of work at the employer's whim. In other words, sort of like manual laborers in the Victorian era, but with smartphones and better pay. No wonder PricewaterhouseCoopers thinks it will grow to $335 billion over the next decade. By that standard, I'd be surprised if it didn't break $1 trillion.

1I say "might" because it all depends. Maybe jobs really are first-come-first-serve. Or maybe Amazon will start to favor workers who regularly take as long a shift as Amazon wants them to take. Or perhaps Amazon will start to push offers out to workers, and downrate those who don't accept them frequently enough. Who knows?

Putin Is Wasting Blood and Treasure in Syria. Let Him.

| Wed Sep. 30, 2015 3:51 PM EDT

Tom Friedman gets it right on Syria:

Today’s reigning cliché is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart.

Yep. Charles Krauthammer, for example, is nonplussed. "What’s also unprecedented is the utter passivity of the United States," he said yesterday. "The real story this week is what happened at the U.N., where Putin essentially stepped in and took over Syria. He’s now the leader." And here's another Republican on the same theme:

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) says Russian President Vladimir Putin is escalating his support for the Assad regime in Syria because he thinks the Obama administration won't stop him. "He sees no pushback, no price to pay," said Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday. "What he's doing is raising popularity in his country."

....The Foreign Relations chairman also criticized the Obama administration for missing opportunities in Syria, citing the decision to pull back from its redline after the regime used chemical weapons.

"We have missed opportunities," he said...."That could have really changed the momentum at a time when we really did have a moderate opposition. "By us not taking that action, it took the wind out of their sails," he said. "That was the biggest moment of opportunity ... and that was mishandled."

This has become almost pathological. Every time Putin does something, Republicans start wailing about how he's taking charge, showing what a real leader does while Obama meekly sits back and does nothing. They assume that military action always shows strength, while avoiding military action always shows weakness. That's just crazy. Let's take a quick survey of the real situation here:

Syria is the last ally Russia has left in the Middle East. Putin didn't suddenly increase his military support of Assad as a show of brilliant grand strategy. He did it because he was in danger of losing his very last client state in the Middle East. This is a desperate gamble to hold on to at least a few shreds of influence there.

Fred Kaplan: "In the past decade, Russia has lost erstwhile footholds in Libya and Iraq, failed in its attempt to regain Egypt as an ally....and would have lost Syria as well except for its supply of arms and advisers to Assad....Syria is just one of two countries outside the former Soviet Union where Russia has a military base....His annexation of Crimea has proved a financial drain. His incursion into eastern Ukraine (where many ethnic Russians would welcome re-absorption into the Motherland) has stalled after a thin slice was taken at the cost of 3,000 soldiers. His plan for a Eurasian Economic Union, to counter the influence of the west’s European Union, has failed to materialize. His energy deal with China, designed to counter the west’s sanctions against Russian companies, has collapsed.

Intervention is unpopular with Russians. Corker is dead wrong about Putin doing this to curry favor with the public. On the contrary, they don't care about Syria and are reluctant to lose any lives helping Assad. Putin is assisting Assad despite the domestic difficulties it will create for him, not because he expects the Russian masses to rally to the flag.

Amanda Taub: "A recent poll by Moscow's Levada Center shows that only a small minority of Russians support giving Bashar al-Assad direct military support. Only 39 percent of respondents said they supported Russia's policy toward the Assad regime. When asked what Russia should do for Assad, 69 percent opposed direct military intervention. A tiny 14 percent of respondents said that Russia should send troops or other direct military support to Syria."

Putin is targeting anti-Assad rebels, not ISIS. For public consumption, Putin claims that he's helping the US in its counterterrorism operations against ISIS. This is obvious baloney, since Russian jets aren't operating in areas where ISIS is strong. They're operating in areas where anti-Assad rebels are strong.

Andrew Rettman: "Philip Breedlove, Nato's top military commander, believes the Latakia build-up has nothing to do with counter-terrorism....'As we see the very capable air defence [systems] beginning to show up in Syria, we're a little worried about another A2/AD bubble being created in the eastern Mediterranean,' he said.

'These very sophisticated air defence capabilities are not about [IS], they're about something else ... high on Mr. Putin's list in Syria is preserving the regime against those that are putting pressure on the regime.'"

The benefits of getting further entangled in Syria are....what? Russia may be concerned about Syria becoming a breeding ground for terrorists who then make their way up to Russia. But that's about it. Putin isn't going to win Syria's civil war, and Assad will become a bottomless pit of demands for more military support. Aside from winning the admiration of American conservatives, it's hard to see Putin getting anything of real worth out of this.

The same is true of the United States. There has never been a cohesive "moderate opposition" that would have ousted Assad if only we had supported them earlier. Republicans keep repeating this myth, but when they had a chance to support strikes on Syria in 2013, they didn't do it. That shows about how much they really believe this. Nor has there ever been a chance that the United States could topple Assad short of committing tens of thousands of ground troops, something that nobody support. "Arming the opposition" is the last refuge of hawkish dead-enders: something that sounds tough but rarely has much effect. You mostly hear it from people who don't have the courage to recommend ground troops but are desperate to sound like they're backing serious action.

The United States doesn't have the power to fix the Middle East. We can nudge here and there, but that's about all. As Friedman says, Obama may have caused some of his own problems by talking a bigger game than he's willing to play, but he's still right not to play. If Vladimir Putin is so afraid of losing his last foothold in the Middle East that he's willing to make a reckless and expensive gamble in the Syrian quagmire, let him. It's an act of peevishness and fear, not of brilliant geopolitical gamesmanship. For ourselves, the better part of wisdom is to stay out. Modest action would be useless, and our national interest simply isn't strong enough to justify a major intervention. Like it or not, war is not always the answer.

School Lunches May Come With a Side of Gnarly Plastic Chemicals

| Wed Sep. 30, 2015 2:43 PM EDT

When kids dig into their cafeteria lunches, they may be getting an unwanted side dish. A new study from Stanford University's Prevention Research Center has found that meals served at schools may contain unsafe amounts of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical compound that has been linked to a laundry list of health problems, including hormone disruption, ADHD, and cancer.

"The only items not packaged in plastic were oranges, apples and bananas."

BPA is widely used in plastic food packaging and can liners, but this is the first study on the compound to focus on school lunches, which often come prepackaged.

Researcher Jennifer Hartle observed that almost all the food that her team saw in schools came in plastic or cans. "Meat came frozen, pre-packaged, pre-cooked and pre-seasoned. Salads were pre-cut and pre-bagged," she said in a statement. "Corn, peaches and green beans came in cans. The only items not packaged in plastic were oranges, apples and bananas."

Teaming up with researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Hartle interviewed food service workers and observed cafeterias in schools around California's San Francisco Bay Area. The group compared the school food to previous studies showing how much BPA ends up in various kinds of food. They found that in school lunches, BPA concentrations depended on the meal served, but that some lunches—especially the ones made with canned fruits and vegetables rather than fresh—contained more than half the amount considered toxic in animal studies.

The authors point out that there's already a large body of research that BPA is dangerous even at low levels, and that while the European Food Safety Authority only allows for 4 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight per day, the United States allows 50 micrograms.

BPA-free plastic packaging, say the authors, won't solve the problem—scientists have linked BPA alternatives to a wide-range of health risks. "The bottom line is more fresh fruits and vegetables," Hartle said in a statement. "There is a movement for more fresh veggies to be included in school meals, and I think this paper supports that."

Advertise on

"Black-ish" Took On the N-Word in Its Season Premiere. Next Up: Gun Control.

| Wed Sep. 30, 2015 2:40 PM EDT

Since his latest show, Black-ish, debuted last year, showrunner Kenya Barris hasn't been afraid of sparking debate.  

His weekly portrait of the Johnsons, a well-off black family in Los Angeles, already has taken on issues like the Republican Party's relationship with African Americans and homophobia in the black community. And in a memorable season premiere last Wednesday, the Johnsons embraced the intergenerational debate over the N-word.

This week, the show will face another contentious issue: gun control. In an interview with BuzzFeed on Tuesday, Barris gave a preview of what will happen: When a neighborhood break-in occurs, Dre (Anthony Anderson) contemplates buying a gun, with wife Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) arguing against it. (Nearly half of people who own a gun say they do so for protection.)

Barris said the idea behind the episode originated in the writers' room, when the creator told his team that he was trying to buy a gun, shocking his colleagues. As he told BuzzFeed

They were blown away…[I was like,] This isn't crazy. I'm not buying a gun to kill someone. But it split the room down the middle. For me, that's always a good sign that there's a story in there.

The notions and ideology of gun ownership has a lot socio-economic and cultural reasons behind it. We're not a political group. And we don't want to…start taking real hard stands on things that people have the right to have different opinions on. We want to have the filter of the family reflect different opinions and do it in a fun and funny way. That's what we try to do with each episode.

You can catch the episode, "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Guns," tonight at 9:30 p.m. EDT/PDT on ABC. 

College Athletes Just Lost Another Battle in the Fight to Get Paid

| Wed Sep. 30, 2015 2:28 PM EDT
Former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon in 2010.

A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that even though the NCAA violated antitrust law by restricting payments to athletes, the organization can keep colleges from compensating athletes beyond the cost of attending school.

The 78-page opinion struck down a lower court injunction in O'Bannon v. NCAA that proposed that schools pay athletes an additional $5,000 per year in deferred compensation for using their likenesses in video games. It did, however, uphold another decision that granted schools the authority to pay for an athlete's full cost of attendance, which includes covering expenses like home visits and cellphone bills.

The panel found that the NCAA was "not exempt from antitrust scrutiny," and that the association's rules "have been more restrictive than necessary to maintain its tradition of amateurism in support of the college sports market."

The opinion marks a victory for the NCAA at a time when the organization faces repeated challenges regarding the rights of athletes. In a statement, NCAA president Mark Emmert said: "We agree with the court that the injunction 'allowing students to be paid cash compensation of up to $5,000 per year was erroneous.' Since Aug. 1, the NCAA has allowed member schools to provide up to full cost of attendance; however, we disagree that it should be mandated by the courts." 

As Vice Sports' Kevin Trahan notes, Wednesday's decision raises another question at the heart of the debate, at least for gamers: Does it allow EA Sports, and more importantly the NCAA, to cash in on a college sports video game in the future? The answer, Trahan points out, may be yes.

Jeb Bush Defends Racist Name of Football Team Whose Owner Backed Him With Big Bucks

| Wed Sep. 30, 2015 2:14 PM EDT

Jeb Bush weighed in on the continuing controversy over the Washington, DC, pro football team's name this week, saying he supported owner Dan Snyder's refusal to abandon it, despite years of repeated calls to do so from Native Americans activists.

Mother Jones, like some other publications, does not refer to the team by that name.

"I don't think it should change," the GOP presidential candidate said during an episode of Sirius XM's The Arena this week. "But again, I don't think politicians ought to be having any say about that, to be honest with you. I don't find it offensive. Native American tribes generally don’t find it offensive."

Adding that he witnessed a similar "flap" with Florida State University's team name, the Seminoles, the former Florida governor conceded that he may not understand all aspects of the debate.

"It's a sport, for crying out loud," Bush said. "It's a football team. Washington has a huge fan base—I'm missing something here, I guess."

It's worth mentioning Snyder donated $100,000 to the Bush-supporting super-PAC Right to Rise back in June.

Bush's remarks this week align the presidential hopeful's views with a long list of Republicans who are also unable to grasp why the moniker may be an offensive term for many Native Americans. For many activists, Snyder is the unofficial face for keeping the name intact.

"We will never change the name of the team," Snyder told USA Today in 2013. "As a lifelong [redacted] fan, and I think that the [redacted] fans understand the great tradition and what it's all about and what it means."

Bush's stance on the Washington football team comes fresh off his eyebrow-raising comments about black voters receiving "free stuff," resurrecting a damaging trope that depicts African Americans exploiting welfare laws.

Watch and Be Amazed as the Internet Becomes a Parody of Itself

| Wed Sep. 30, 2015 1:25 PM EDT

It's about time we had a rigorous, quantitative way of telling our friends what we really think of them. Meet Peeple, coming soon to a smartphone near you:

When the app does launch, probably in late November, you will be able to assign reviews and one- to five-star ratings to everyone you know: your exes, your co-workers, the old guy who lives next door. You can’t opt out — once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it’s there unless you violate the site’s terms of service. And you can’t delete bad, inaccurate or biased reviews — that would defeat the whole purpose.

Sounds like a libel suit waiting to happen, doesn't it? Exciting! In any case, here's the deal: When Peeple launches, I want every one of you to download the app and rate me with one star. Zero stars if possible. For a brief moment, I want to be the worst person in the world. This will be my 15 minutes of fame.

Unfortunately, I know my readers. You probably think this sounds like a hoot, but you're too lazy to actually do it, aren't you? I guess I don't blame you. I am too.

Oh well. But one more thing before I end this post. According to Caitlin Dewey, "You can already rate restaurants, hotels, movies, college classes, government agencies and bowel movements online." Bowel movements? Well fine. I would give today's four stars. No, wait. Five stars. It was pretty excellent.

POSTSCRIPT: There's already an app-enabled camera for your front door called Peeple, a poorly-reviewed Tyler Perry movie called Peeples, a kids' toy called Creeple Peeple, and a "urine-induced art" package called Peeple (you put the peeple in urinals, and they slowly lose their clothes as you pee on them). These guys couldn't think of a more unique name for their ridiculous app?

ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: I sure hope we're allowed to change our ratings in this app. When some little rat bastard of a "friend" refuses to let me borrow his lawnmower, I want an easy way to punish him.