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She & Him & M. Ward

| Mon Dec. 8, 2014 6:00 AM EST

She & Him
Classics
Columbia

M. Ward
Transistor Radio
Merge

 

Behold the two sides of M. Ward (Matt to his friends), the gifted troubadour who makes nice pop records with actress Zooey Deschanel as She & Him and crafts darker folk-rock fare on his own. Classics finds She & Him covering 13 chestnuts in engaging fashion, with Deschanel taking most of the lead vocals, as usual.

Though she lacks the booming voice of a Dusty Springfield, whose "Stay Awhile" gets a welcome reboot here, Deschanel is a charming singer who sells a lyric with understated grace. See the downcast soul standard "Oh No, Not My Baby" or the enthralling and dreamy "Unchained Melody" for proof. If their sleepy reading of "Stars Fell on Alabama" won't make anybody forget the timeless Ella Fitzgerald-Louis Armstrong duet, it's still lovely.

Ward's stellar 2005 album Transistor Radio, just reissued on vinyl with a CD containing four bonus tracks, has aged extremely well. Without straining for effect, his whispery rasp brilliantly conveys all the simmering desperation and mordant humor of haunting songs such as "Four Hours in Washington" ("It's 4:00 in the morning and I'm turning in my bed/I wish I had a dream or a nightmare in my head") and "One Life Away," recounting a visit to a sweetheart's grave. Ward can spook a person like few others when he's in the mood.

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Watch This Dog React to Its Favorite Song Coming On

| Sun Dec. 7, 2014 4:15 PM EST

Here is a video of a dog sleeping in the back of a car while the driver plays Charli XCX's wonderful "Boom Clap." Then the driver switches to Frozen's "Let It Go" and the dog wakes up and starts singing along. Then Charlie XCX comes back on and it goes back to sleep.

This dog has terrible taste in music. Charli XCX is objectively better than Frozen. If this dog were a music critic, I'd fire it. But it's not a music critic. It's a dog. And all things considered, this is a spirited performance for a dog.

(via BuzzFeed)

The Obama Recovery Has Been Miles Better Than the Bush Recovery

| Sat Dec. 6, 2014 3:19 PM EST

Paul Krugman writes today about the dogged conservative claim that the current recovery has been weak thanks to the job-killing effects of Obamacare and Obama regulation and the generally dire effects of Obama's hostility to the business sector. But I think Krugman undersells his case. He shows that the current recovery has created more private sector jobs than the 2001-2007 recovery, and that's true. But in fairness to the Bush years, the labor force was smaller back then and Bush was working from a smaller base. So of course fewer jobs were created. What you really want to look at is jobs as a percent of the total labor force. And here's what you get:

The Obama recovery isn't just a little bit better than the Bush recovery. It's miles better. But here's the interesting thing. This chart looks only at private sector employment. If you want to make Bush look better, you can look at total employment instead. It's still not a great picture, but it's a little better:

Do you see what happened? The Bush recovery looks a bit healthier and the Obama recovery looks a bit weaker. Why? Because we added government jobs. Bush got a nice tailwind from increased hiring at the state and federal level. Obama, conversely, was sailing into heavy headwinds because he inherited a worse recession. States cut employment sharply—partly because they had to and partly because Republican governors saw the recession as an opportunity to slash the size of government—and Congress was unwilling to help them out in any kind of serious way.

This is obviously not a story that conservatives are especially likely to highlight. But there's not much question about it. Bush benefited not just from a historic housing bubble, but from big increases in government spending and government employment. But even at that his recovery was anemic. Obama had no such help. He had to fight not just a historic housing bust, but big drops in both government spending and government employment. Despite that, his recovery outperformed Bush's by a wide margin.

There are, of course, plenty of caveats to all this. First of all, the labor force participation rate has been shrinking ever since 2000, and that's obviously not the fault of either Bush or Obama. It's a secular trend. Second, the absolute size of the labor force started out smaller in 2001 than in 2010, but it grew during the Bush recovery, which makes his trend line look worse. Its growth has been pretty sluggish during the Obama recovery as people have dropped out of the labor force, which makes his trend line look better. These are the kinds of things that make simple comparisons between administrations so hard. And as Krugman points out, it's unclear just how much economic policy from either administration really affected their respective recoveries anyway:

I would argue that in some ways the depth of the preceding slump set the stage for a faster recovery. But the point is that the usual suspects have been using the alleged uniquely poor performance under Obama to claim uniquely bad policies, or bad attitude, or something. And if that’s the game they want to play, they have just scored an impressive own goal.

Roger that. If you want to credit Bush for his tax cuts and malign Obama for his stimulus program and his regulatory posture, then you have to accept the results as well. And by virtually any measure, including the fact that the current recovery hasn't ended in an epic global crash, Obama has done considerably better than Bush.

Film Review: "We Are the Giant"

| Sat Dec. 6, 2014 6:30 AM EST

We Are the Giant

MOTTO PICTURES

Bahraini sisters and activists Maryam and Zainab al-Khawaja are the heart of this devastating look at the lives behind three Arab Spring uprisings. The film's interviews are interspersed with grainy, often violent footage—one heart-wrenching clip of a little girl singing at a peaceful protest is cut short by a nearby explosion; another expresses the profound remorse of a Syrian protest leader whose peaceful rallies were met by fatal attacks on his people. By the end, some of the film's main characters are questioning their faith in nonviolent resistance, but their resilience in the face of injustice is this excellent film's common thread.

Watch the Bullies Who Protest Outside of Abortion Clinics Get Exactly What They Deserve

| Fri Dec. 5, 2014 4:53 PM EST

A video of a pregnant woman delivering a scathing rebuke to a group of anti-abortion protestors outside a London abortion clinic is going viral on social media.

A group of protestors from the British pro-life organization Abort67 gathered in front of the clinic to film women as they entered. In the video, the protestors can be seen denying that they're filming the women, despite the fact that, curiously enough, they were outfitted with cameras on their chests while standing in front of a bloody fetus banner. With their weak denials quickly dissolving, one of the protestors then owns up but explains that the group regularly records their demonstrations to prevent "false accusations we're harassing people." That's when the woman courageously goes off on the protestors:

"It's wrong what you're doing. You don't know why people are doing what they're doing, but you want to be out here judging and filming...You’re standing out here making people feel guilty. I think this is wrong on so many levels. Many people have been abused, you don't know what their reasons are for."

The woman, who has been identified as an employee of a charity group that assists children in need, then suggests the protestors quit trying to guilt other women and instead help out real vulnerable kids.

Bravo.

Friday Cat Blogging - 5 December 2014

| Fri Dec. 5, 2014 2:45 PM EST

In today's episode of Friday catblogging, Hilbert is trying to prove that he's a size 12. He was unconvincing, despite plenty of squirming to try to fit his entire body into the shoe box. The result was an interestingly blurred face, but not an entire cat in the box.

In other news, we've had to clear off the mantle over the fireplace because it turns out that Hopper can shinny up the bricks and start whacking away at whatever is up there. But there's more to the story. We figured that Hilbert was a bit too gravity-bound to pose any similar danger, so we were blaming Hopper whenever something got knocked over. But on Wednesday night, during the 9 pm play hour, we watched in awe as Hilbert careened across the living room floor, flung himself straight up the brick facing, and grabbed onto the mantle. He barely made it, and had to chin himself up the last few inches, but make it he did. Nothing is safe around here anymore.

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Lefties Earn 10% Less Than Righties

| Fri Dec. 5, 2014 1:02 PM EST

Well, this is weird. Danielle Kurtzleben summarizes a new study called "The Wages of Sinistrality":

In the data, around 11 to 13 percent of the population was left-handed. And when broken down by gender — that is, comparing women to women and men to men — those lefties have annual earnings around 10 to 12 percent lower than those of righties, Goodman writes, which is equal to around a year of schooling. (That gap varied by survey and by gender, however.) Most of this gap can be attributed to "observed differences in cognitive skills and emotional or behavioral problems," he writes, adding that since lefties tend to do more manual work than right-handers, the gap appears to be due to differences in cognitive abilities, not physical.

Apparently the cognitive differences were already well known (though I didn't know about them), but this paper is the first to document the earnings gap. It's surprisingly large. So if you're a lefty and you're doing well, congratulations! You've beaten the odds.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in November

| Fri Dec. 5, 2014 9:56 AM EST

Merry Christmas! The American economy added 321,000 new jobs last month, 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at 231,000 jobs, which is....pretty good, actually. And virtually all of it came from private sector job growth. We're still not in full-tilt recovery mode, but this is a genuinely positive number. The unemployment rate stayed steady at 5.8 percent.

And there are no hidden gotchas in these results. The unemployment rate didn't stay steady just because folks were dropping out of the labor force. All the employment-related numbers changed by similar amounts last month, and the labor force participation rate remained unchanged at 62.8 percent. If you insist on finding a downside to this month's jobs report, perhaps it's the fact that the unemployment rate spiked up a bit for workers with no high school diploma. But that's as likely to be a statistical blip as anything else.

Hourly earnings for all workers rose at an annualized rate of about 4.3 percent, which isn't bad, but earnings for nonsupervisory workers were up only 2.3 percent, which is roughly flat when you adjust for inflation. I generally pay more attention to the latter number, which means that wages still aren't showing much energy. This is, as usual, unsettling. It suggests that even with the economy adding jobs, there's still a fair amount of slack in the labor market.

Still, that's a lagging indicator. If we can manage to keep up this level of job growth over the next year, wages will probably start to show some life. Needless to say, though, that's a big if. The world economy is sailing into headwinds at the moment, and there's no telling if the United States can buck the trend. Perhaps falling oil prices will give us the added push we need. Perhaps.

President Obama to Appear on "The Colbert Report"

| Fri Dec. 5, 2014 9:29 AM EST

President Obama will have the distinct honor of appearing on one of the handful of episodes that remain before the nation must bid a sorrowful adieu to the institution that is "The Colbert Report."

Host Stephen Colbert, who is replacing David Letterman over at the "Late Show," announced the booking last night, summing it up as a great privilege to "be sitting down with the man who sat down with Bill O'Reilly."

The interview will take place Monday, December 8th and be broadcasted from George Washington University for a special D.C. edition. So pumped, we are.

 

Unlike Diamonds, E-Books Are Not Forever

| Thu Dec. 4, 2014 9:21 PM EST

Microsoft is getting a divorce from Barnes & Noble:

On Thursday, the two companies parted ways, with Barnes & Noble buying out Microsoft for about $125 million. In other words, in just over two years, the value of the Nook business has lost more than half its value.

....And yet despite these grim numbers, Barnes & Noble has reason to look favorably on its relationship with Microsoft. The initial $300 million investment gave the bookseller an infusion of cash when it needed it most....Microsoft, meanwhile, was hoping that the Nook software would bolster its own tablet business, making it a more viable competitor to Apple’s iPad. That didn’t pan out, and Microsoft was left committed to a declining Nook business that was adding little to its own ambitions in the tablet market.

This highlights one of the big problems with e-books: what happens when there's no software left to read them? I'm a big user of the Nook app on my Windows tablet, but its demise was announced months ago. Microsoft doesn't care about Nook because it's not a killer app for Windows 8, and B&N doesn't care about Windows 8 because Windows tablets have a minuscule market share. So the app died. For now everything is still fine, but it's inevitable that when upgrades stop, eventually an app stops working for one reason or another. Will I then be able to read my Nook books in some new Microsoft reader? Or will I just be up a creek and forced to switch to an iPad or Android tablet? There's no telling.

It's weird. I think I now know how Mac partisans used to feel when Microsoft was eating their lunch. They all believed that Macs were obviously, wildly superior to anything from Redmond, and were only on the edge of extinction thanks to massive infusions of marketing by an industry behemoth. Now I'm in that position. After considerable time spent on both iPad and Android tablets, I find my Windows tablet obviously, wildly superior to either one. It's not even a close call. But the market disagrees with me. The few drawbacks of Windows 8, which I find entirely trivial, are deal breakers for most users, and as a result app makers have stayed away. This causes yet more users to avoid the Windows platform and more app makers to stay away, rinse and repeat.

What a shame. I guess I can only hope that by the time Windows tablets are consigned to the dustbin of history there will finally be an Android tablet that's actually usable by adults who want to do more than update their Facebook pages. We'll see.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, this wouldn't be a problem—or not such a big problem, anyway—if Amazon and other e-book vendors allowed third-party apps to display their books. But they don't, which means Amazon's monopoly position in e-books also gives them a monopoly position in e-book readers. This is really not a situation that any of us should find acceptable.