Microsoft Announced Some Stuff Yesterday

| Wed Oct. 7, 2015 3:53 PM EDT

Yesterday really highlighted the difference between Apple PR and Microsoft PR. Last month, I started hearing about Apple's big product announcement at least a week before it happened. By the time Der Tag rolled around I had read at least a dozen previews, and on the day itself practically everyone was not just reporting on it, but liveblogging it, tweeting it, Instagramming it, and just generally going bananas. And that was for an announcement that turned out to be fairly unexciting.

On Tuesday, Microsoft put on its big product announcement show. I had no idea it was on the calendar. I hadn't read a word about it beforehand. On the day itself, my Twitter feed was silent. The front pages of newspapers were busy with other things. And that's despite the fact that Microsoft was actually introducing some fairly cool stuff.

(Note: this is not meant as an Apple vs. Windows fight. If you think nothing related to Windows could ever be cool, that's fine.)

But it also highlighted how far from the mainstream my tastes seem to be. One of Microsoft's announcements, for example, was a new notebook with a detachable screen that can be used as a tablet. Ho hum. There are dozens of those around. Except for one thing: this notebook screen has 267 ppi resolution, which means you can actually use it as a tablet without your eyes going cockeyed. But that got hardly any attention at all. Why? Am I the only one who's been waiting for a genuinely high-res Windows tablet? And even if I am, why else would anyone even care about this new laptop? It's expensive and otherwise not especially noteworthy.

Ditto for the new Surface Pro 4. It's slightly bigger and a bit lighter than the old Surface Pro, and it sports faster processors. That's all fine, though nothing to shout about. But! Its screen is super high-res, just like the notebook. I've been pining away for this for years. I want one. And I have a birthday coming up.

So that's question #1: Does the rest of the world think that 200 ppi is basically fine? I mean, it is fine, in a way. I use a 200 ppi tablet all the time, and it's OK. But it's not great. Surely this deserves more attention, especially since Retina displays have been a selling point on iPads for a long time.

Question #2: Still no GPS? Come on. What would it take, a ten-dollar chip plus an antenna? On a tablet that costs a thousand bucks, you'd think Microsoft could spring for this. But maybe no one cares. Am I the only person who thinks it's sometimes useful to use a big tablet rather than a tiny phone to display maps? Unfortunately, I can rarely do that because you need GPS for it to work. (Or, alternatively, some way to tap into my phone's GPS, the same way I tap into its internet connection via WiFi.)

And now for Question #3. Let's let Slate's Will Oremus set the stage:

The Surface Pro 4 nominally starts at $899, but that’s without a keyboard, or the fast processor, or any of the other goodies that make the Surface a viable PC. Realistically, it’s going to run you well over $1,000 and will top $1,500 fully loaded. So, yes, it had better replace your PC.

What's the deal with the continuing obsession over fast processors? I've been using Windows tablets with crappy Atom processors for a couple of years, and never had any complaints. I could easily use any of them as my primary desktop machine. The lowest-end processor on the Surface 4 is quite a bit faster than an Atom SOC, so why all the angst over needing something even better?

Obviously there are exceptions. If you're doing software builds or heavy-duty video editing or high-end gaming, you'll want lots of memory and the fastest processor you can get. But you're probably not going to do any of those things on a tablet anyway, no matter how good it is. For all the ordinary stuff we white-collar worker types do—spreadsheets, word processing, email, web browsing, etc.—just about any modern processor will work fine. Why sweat it?

(More generally, Oremus is right about the price, though. You'll need a keyboard and a docking station if you plan to use a tablet as your primary machine. That will push the Surface Pro 4 up to $1,200 or so even at the low end.)

And what the hell, as long as I'm on the subject, here's Question #4: why are Macs so popular among journalists? Back in the day, Macs had real advantages in display graphics, which led to the development of lots of image editing and page makeup software for Macs. That made them very popular with graphic artists. But writers? Word processing is word processing. A cheap notebook does it as well as an expensive one. So why did journalists migrate to Macs in such numbers? Anyone have any idea?

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Quote of the Day: You'd Have to Be Nuts to Want a Leadership Role in the Republican Party

| Wed Oct. 7, 2015 2:36 PM EDT

We all know that John Boehner quit the speakership because he was finally fed up trying to deal with the lunatics in his own party. But how about some of the tea party darlings, like Trey Gowdy or Paul Ryan? Apparently they feel about the same:

[Gowdy] insists he’s not interested in joining leadership, not in any capacity. He is funny, and biting, about the chaos of the present House.

“I don’t have a background in mental health, so I wouldn’t have the right qualifications to lead right now,” he says. Who wants you to be in leadership? “No friend does,” he says.

....“To me, just speaking as one member, the smartest kid in the class is Paul Ryan,” Gowdy said. “If I had one draft choice and I was starting a new country, I would draft Paul to run it. Not because I agree with him on everything, but because he’s super, super smart. And when someone is super, super smart and is not interested, that tells you something. It tells me a lot.

By coincidence, this is sort of related to the conservative fantasy I talked about in the previous post. Folks like Gowdy and Ryan are smart enough to see it too, even though they're both stone conservatives themselves. A leadership role wouldn't give them the power to actually implement the conservative agenda, but too many conservatives these days don't care. They're living the fantasy that if only their leaders fought hard enough, they could win. So when they don't win, it must mean that they didn't fight very hard. Right now, there's just no way to puncture that fantasy.

And why the squirrel illustration? Nothing to do with Gowdy or Ryan or the tea party or conservatives being squirrely or nuts. Honest! This is just our household squirrel, who was outside feeding his face a few minutes ago. So I went out and took his picture. And speaking of squirrels, here's an interesting squirrel factlet: if you Google "squirrel saying," 7 of the top 20 hits are about the difficulties that German speakers have saying "squirrel."

How Our Constitution Indulges the Great Conservative Fantasy

| Wed Oct. 7, 2015 1:52 PM EDT

A few days ago Matt Yglesisas wrote a #Slatepitch piece arguing that Hillary Clinton "is clearly more comfortable than the average person with violating norms and operating in legal gray areas"—and that's a good thing. In a nutshell, Democrats can't get anything done through Congress, so they need someone willing to do whatever it takes to get things done some other way. And that's Hillary. "More than almost anyone else around, she knows where the levers of power lie, and she is comfortable pulling them, procedural niceties be damned."

Unsurprisingly, conservatives were shocked. Shocked! Liberals are fine with tyranny! Today Matt responded in one of his periodic newsletters:

A system of government based on the idea of compromises between two independently elected bodies will only work if the leaders of both bodies want to compromise. Congressional Republicans have rejected any form of compromise, so an effective Democratic president is going to try to govern through executive unilateralism. I don't think this is a positive development, but it's the only possible development.

I don't think I'm as pessimistic as Yglesias, but put that aside for a moment. Look at this from a conservative point of view. They want things to move in a conservative direction. But compromise doesn't do that. In practice, it always seems to move things in a more liberal direction, with a few conservative sops thrown in that eventually wither away and die. This leaves them with little choice except increasingly hard-nosed obstructionism: government shutdowns, debt ceiling fights, filibusters for everything, voter ID laws, etc. etc.

And there's a lot of truth to this to this view. The entire Western world has been moving inexorably in a liberal direction for a couple of centuries. It's a tide that can't be turned back with half measures. Conservative parties in the rest of the world have mostly made their peace with this, and settle for simply slowing things down. American conservatives actually want to reverse the tide.

That's all but impossible in the long term. It's just not the way the arc of history is moving right now. But American conservatives are bound and determined to do it anyway.

This is the fundamental problem. British conservatives, in theory, could turn back the clock if they wanted to, but they don't. Their parliamentary system allows them to do it, but public opinion doesn't—which means that if they want to retain power, there's a limit to how far they can fight the tide. If American conservatives were in the same situation, they'd probably end up in the same place. Once they actually got the power to change things, they'd very quickly moderate their agenda.

It's in this sense that our system of governance really is at fault for our current gridlock. Not directly because of veto points or our presidential system or any of that, but because these features of our political system allow conservatives to live in a fantasy world. They dream of what they could do if only they had the political power to do it, and they really believe they'd do it all if they got the chance. Thanks to all those veto points, however, they never get the chance. Full control of the government would disabuse everyone very quickly of just how far they're really willing to go, but it never happens.

We are living through an era in which conservatives are living a fantasy that can never be. But our system of governance denies them the chance to test that fantasy. So it continues forever. It will stop eventually, either because conservatives somehow do gain total political power and are forced to face up to its limits, or because it burns itself out through continual head banging that gets them nowhere combined with demographic changes that decimate their base. Probably the latter. It's only a question of how long it takes.

Let's Experiment With the Minimum Wage and EITC

| Wed Oct. 7, 2015 12:16 PM EDT

When you add up the minimum wage and the Earned Income Tax Credit, Brad DeLong thinks it should add up to a living wage:

Of course, minimum-wage advocates are fearful of the following: We say raise the minimum wage, they say increase the earned income tax credit instead. We say increase the earned income tax credit, they say it is more important to reduce the deficit. We say fund the earned income tax credit by raising taxes, they say lower taxes promote entrepreneurship. We say cut defense spending, they say ISIS and Iran. The shift of attention to the earned income tax credit is then seen as—which it often is—part of the game of political Three Card Monte to avoid doing anything while not admitting you are opposed to doing anything.

That is all very true.

So raise the minimum wage, and then bargain back to a lower minimum wage and a higher income tax credit if it turns out that there are significant disemployment affects.

Well, yes, that would be fine except that the same people who refuse to increase the EITC are the same ones who refuse to raise the minimum wage. We're no more likely to get a $15 (or $12 or $13 or $14) minimum wage than we are to get a more generous EITC. Ditto for wage subsidies, which are popular in some conservative circles. The excuses may vary depending on the circumstances, but they will always add up to No.

Perhaps a better bet is to focus on the state level. Plenty of states have an EITC that piggybacks on the federal EITC, and that means there are plenty of laboratories of democracy where we could try different combinations of EITC and minimum wage to see what works best. Who knows? Maybe a few states could even be talked into trying out wage subsidies.

Folks in West Virginia Aren't Getting Enough Sleep

| Wed Oct. 7, 2015 11:32 AM EDT

Over at Wonkblog, Christopher Ingraham passes along the results of a new study about where people sleep the best and the worst. It turns out I'm in pretty good shape: Orange County reports generally excellent sleep. But if you live in the Insomnia Belt, stretching down the Appalachians from West Virginia into eastern Texas, you may be in trouble. Why? Apparently no one knows. But it might explain why they're so cranky these days.

Bill Clinton Explains the Appeal of Donald Trump with the Perfect Backhanded Compliment

| Wed Oct. 7, 2015 11:21 AM EDT

Former President Bill Clinton appeared on the Late Show on Tuesday night, where he was asked by host Stephen Colbert to explain the meteoric rises of both Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

While he was quick to tout Sanders' appeal as resonating with voter frustration that the system is "rigged against them," Clinton actually had far more to say about his former friend Trump than he did about his wife's increasingly formidable challenger from Vermont.

"He's a master brander and he's the most interesting character out there," Clinton said of Trump. "And because he said something that overrides the ideological differences."

"There is a macho appeal to saying, 'I'm just sick of nothing happening. I'm going to make things happen. Vote for me,'" he added.

This is the second time Clinton has called out Trump for running a political campaign based on branding. Just last week, he hit back at Trump's insults describing his wife's tenure as secretary of state as the very "worst in history."

"Well the thing about branding is, you don't have to be—you can be fact-free," Clinton told CNN's Erin Burnett.

On Tuesday, Clinton also shut down a previous report citing his influence on Trump making a run for the White House. Watch above.

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The Feds Are Officially Investigating Hollywood's Glaring Gender Gap

| Wed Oct. 7, 2015 9:09 AM EDT

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has officially launched an investigation looking into the lack of female directors working in Hollywood.

The LA Times reports government officials have already requested interviews from some 50 women working in the industry and will start interviews as soon as next week to ultimately determine if Hollywood is violating federal law.

"I hope they force people to change the way they do business because Hollywood is not exempt from the law," Lori Precious said in response to Monday's news. Precious is one of the women the EEOC requested to talk to as a part of the formal probe.

The inquiry comes as an increasing number of women in Hollywood, both directors and actresses, come forward with personal stories alleging a disturbing pattern of discrimination, including high profile women such as Ava DuVernay and Meryl Streep. In May, the American Civil Liberties Union urged the government to formally investigate the persistant claims.

"Blatant and extreme gender inequality in this large and important industry is shameful and unacceptable,” director of the the ACLU Southern California Project Melissa Goodman wrote in a press release back in May. "The time has come for new solutions to this serious civil rights problem."

Earlier this year, a staggering gender bias study found only 30.2 of all speaking characters in 2014 were played by women.

"For every 2.3 male characters who say 'Dude,' there is just woman saying, 'Hello?!" the Times Manhola Dargis wrote.

These Photos of Wet Dogs Are Shameless Clickbait, and You Will Click on Them

| Wed Oct. 7, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

After moving to New York City in 2010, the French photographer Sophie Gamand has made her living taking pictures of dogs—not a bad strategy in the internet era. Strays, purse-sized pups draped in jewels, Hairless Mexican dogs, flower-bedecked pit bulls, shelter dogs, and, yes, wet ones. It's been two years since Gamand found a viral audience for her portraits of canines pulled straight from the bath, eyes full of reproach, water streaming from whiskers.

The wet dog series won her a Sony World Photography Award in 2014 and a book deal from Grand Central Publishing. Wet Dog, out October 13, is gloriously uncomplicated: It consists of 144 pages of scruffy, soaked canines and sentimental commentary on the bond between the dogs and their owners. "Elevating dog photography to the status of art," Gamand's website boasts, "these expressive portraits of our canine friends mirror our very own human emotions." You know, like the frustration of getting shampoo in your eye. Or the indignity of shower caps.

Sophie Gamand
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The Meat Industry Is Licking Its Chops Over Obama's Massive Trade Deal

| Wed Oct. 7, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

The US meat industry scored a big victory this week when world leaders hammered out an agreement that would reduce trade barriers across the Pacific: from the United Sates, Canada, Mexico, Peru, and Chile on this side to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Singapore on the other.

President Barack Obama has made passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the TPP, the signature goal of his second term. Now it goes to Capitol Hill for approval—which it will likely get, given that back in June, Congress granted the president "fast track" authority to negotiate trade deals, meaning that it will be considered in up-down, simple-majority votes in both chambers, with no chance of amendment or filibuster.

So how would the TPP affect Big Meat in the United States? The industry is currently facing stagnant domestic demand for its product as Americans eat less meat. The TPP would open markets in countries that currently protect domestic farmers with tariffs. Japan, for example, agreed to slash its tariff on imported beef from 38 percent to 9 percent over the next 15 years—likely making it much easier for American importers to gain a foothold. Because the pact has been negotiated in secret and few details about it have been released, it's impossible to estimate how big of a boost the TPP will provide to US meat purveyors. But it already has industry groups doing the money dance.  

TPP already has meat industry groups doing the money dance.  

In a press release celebrating the TPP, the National Pork Producers Council declared that the trade pact "could increase US pork exports over time exponentially." The National Chicken Council, meanwhile, crowed that the TPP "represents a significant opportunity to expand US chicken exports and bring increased economic benefits to chicken farmers and companies across the country." The United States Cattleman's Association, facing severely declining US beef demand, hailed it in an emailed statement as "welcome news to a domestic industry in need of expanding international market access and reduction of tariffs in the countries included." 

Of course, when asked why they're eating less meat, Americans commonly cite a desire to reduce the environmental and social impacts of industrial-scale meat production: everything from animal cruelty to fouled water and air to labor abuses at slaughterhouses and pillaged local economies. An export boom will only intensify those trends.

"We are already seeing the industry posturing in anticipation for the TPP to pass," Kendra Kimbirauskas, an Oregon farmer and CEO of the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project. In Oregon, she adds, "representatives for the industry have spoken about wanting to triple dairy production in the Pacific Northwest to meet Asian demand for powdered milk."

She points to another concern with the deal: the infamous Investor-State Dispute Settlement clause, which would allow corporations within the TPP zone to challenge regulations imposed by member governments in a binding international court. For instance, a company could protest against health and safety regulations if it felt they restricted its business. (Here's a blistering critique of the ISDS clause from Sen. Elizabeth Warren.) Two foreign companies—Brazil's JBS and China's Shuanghui—now control nearly half of US pork production. Neither Brazil nor China is in the TPP, but nothing's stopping either from opening a subsidiary in, say, Australia or Japan, and then filing an Investor-State Dispute Settlement suit to stifle some state regulation on factory-scale livestock farming, says Karen Hansen-Kuhn, director of international strategies for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

"The few tools that impacted communities have remaining to protect themselves from CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operations] pollution could be in jeopardy if those regulations are seen as a barrier to trade with the potential to impact corporate profits," Kimbirauskas adds.

Hansen-Kuhn also notes that the US trade representative's summary of the TPP contains this line: The "TPP Parties have also agreed to increased transparency and cooperation on certain activities related to agricultural biotechnology"—another way of saying genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. That's vague language, and the TPP's full criteria for GMOs has not been spelled out. But it certainly appears to place pressure on TPP countries that have opted not to use them, like Japan and Peru.

Bobby Jindal Lashes Out at Father of Oregon Shooter: "He's the Problem Here"

| Tue Oct. 6, 2015 5:58 PM EDT

If, after last week's shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, you held the gunman responsible, Bobby Jindal thinks you've missed the mark.

On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Jindal published a self-described "sermon" on his campaign website, addressing what he believes are the root causes of mass shootings. These causes include, but are not limited to, "cultural decay," violent video games, absent fathers, and the general devaluing of human life.

"It's the old computer axiom—garbage in, garbage out," Jindal wrote. "We fill our culture with garbage, and we reap the result."

Jindal also lashed out at the shooter's father, who has called for gun control in the wake of his son's rampage. "He's a complete failure as a father, he should be embarrassed to even show his face in public," Jindal wrote. "He's the problem here.

Jindal's response to this instance of gun violence is similar to his reaction to a shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, in which three people (including the gunman) were killed. Shortly after that happened, Jindal offered condolences to the families, resisted discussing gun control reform in lieu of praying for the victims' families, and even criticized President Barack Obama for "trying to score cheap political points." However, after the shooting at an army recruiting station in Chattanooga, Tennessee, just days later, the Louisiana governor reacted quite differently. Jindal was quick to politicize the issue by pinning the shooting on radical Islamic terrorism, a problem that he alleges the White House has largely ignored.

"This shooting underscores the grave reality of the threat posed to us by Radical Islamic terrorism every single day," Jindal said in an official statement after the Chattanooga shooting. "It's time for the White House to wake up and tell the truth...and that truth is that Radical Islam is at war with us, and we must start by being honest about that."

In the spirit of honesty, it should also be noted that Jindal's own state has the second-highest rate of deaths by firearm per 100,000 people, second only to Alaska.