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Stalin notebooks are hot sellers in Moscow

The hot new bestselling product in Moscow's stationers is a notebook emblazoned with a completely non-ironic portrait of Josef Stalin, looming large in his uniform and bristling medals.

In his generalissimo uniform with a chest full of medals, Stalin now proudly stares from notebook covers on a shelf of the Pedagogical Book House store in downtown Moscow less than a mile from the Kremlin. Customers, mostly adults, are snatching up so many copies that the store runs out of stock each day.

"This edition of notebooks comes in the series of great personalities in the history of Russia like Peter the Great, [composer Sergei] Rachmaninoff, space designer [Sergei] Korolyov and many others," said Olga Utesheva, deputy commercial director of the Moscow Book House, a chain of popular bookstores that runs the pedagogical books retailer too. "Stalin is one of the most popular figures among the people who left a trace in the history of our country and there is no propaganda here."

In Russia, Stalin enjoying a revival on school notebooks

(Image: downsized, cropped thumbnail from a photo by Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times / April 6, 2012)

Gweek 046: How to See the 4th Dimension

Gweek is Boing Boing’s podcast about comic books, science fiction and fantasy, video games, board games, tools, gadgets, apps, and other neat stuff.

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Understanding TPP, ACTA's nastier, more secret little brother

On TechDirt, Glyn Moody covers the highlights of a new report by Carrie Ellen Sager of infojustice.org that compares the provisions in ACTA, the secretly negotiated copyright treaty currently up for adoption in Europe, the USA and other countries; and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a more extreme, more secretive version of ACTA being negotiated by various Pacific Rim countries.

On "Technological Protection Measures" TPP has two nasty turns of the infringement screw:

TPP goes beyond ACTA by applying provisions on technological protection where circumvention is carried out unknowingly or without reasonable grounds to know.

and

TPP goes beyond ACTA by explicitly limiting the possible limitations and exclusions to the TPM circumvention rules, while ACTA gives a country free reign to create exceptions and limitations it finds reasonable.

The second of those is particularly troublesome, since it reduces the scope for signatories to introduce more balanced copyright laws even if they wanted to.

Where TPP Goes Beyond ACTA -- And How It Shows Us The Future Of IP Enforcement

WIPO caught secretly funneling cash to North Korea to buy patent database computers


A trusted insider source writes, "A real blockbuster of bizarre at WIPO [ed: The World Intellectual Trade Organization, the UN body responsible for copyright and patent treaties]. It seems that [WIPO director general] Francis Gurry has personally approved payment for new computer equipment to go to North Korea to modernise their patent office, and that WIPO have tried to do it by going around the UN office in South Korea designed to ensure that UN sanctions are not broken. The only thing that stopped this transaction taking place was that the Bank of America was prevented from transferring WIPO's money to China. The bizarre bit is that WIPO is trying to argue that what they were doing is inherently legal because it is development assistance. Development assistance, in this case, designed to help a rogue state violate patent protection, is what it looks like. The US and a few other countries are objecting to this, for obvious reasons, but it seems to me this is an example of WIPO doing the opposite of what is in the interest of patent holders and really everyone else as well."

In that letter, also obtained by Fox News, Kateb declared that so far as WIPO staffers could tell, WIPO’s member states “had not been consulted and have no knowledge of this project. Thus, they were not given an opportunity to review or object to it.” The project, Kateb said, “was allegedly approved directly by the director general.”

Gurry denied at the meeting with diplomats that WIPO’s technology transfer violated any international sanctions efforts. He subsequently circulated to the attending ambassadors a WIPO legal memorandum -- written by the office of WIPO legal counsel Edward Kwakwa -- which claimed that the computer exports were “part of WIPO’s technical assistance program,” which “does not violate any U.N. Security Council sanctions.”

The memo acknowledged that payment for the computers had been blocked by U.S. sanctions laws “enacted in part to implement” the binding U.N. sanctions. But it also declared that “WIPO, as an international organization, is not bound by the U.S. national law in this matter” and was still looking for ways to pay for the shipment.

EXCLUSIVE: Cash for computers: Is the U.N. busting its own sanctions in North Korea?

What's wrong with corn ethanol?

We grow a lot of corn in the United States, much of which never sees the inside of a human stomach. In fact, in 2010, something like a quarter of all the corn grown in this country went to ethanol production. That's a massive amount of corn grown for gas tanks. And it's a problem.

The process of growing corn is tremendously energy intensive, and it has some far-reaching drawbacks that threaten the future of vital farmlands in the Midwest. Corn crops provide steady, reliable income for farmers. But the risks likely outweigh those benefits, at least at the quantities in which we now grow corn.

In the spring of 2009, I experienced some of those risks first hand. At Smithsonian.com, you can read a excerpt from Before the Lights Go Out, my book about the future of energy. The excerpt is about Madelia, Minnesota, a small town where local farming advocates are trying to promote a more sustainable cropping system, and a better way to grow biofuels—one that provides incentives for farmers to grow less corn, not more.

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HOWTO make zombie chocolate bunnies and undead eggs for Easter

At the Criminal Crafts blog, a fun tutorial on "pairing zombies with a fuzzy pastel holiday," through delicious zombie bunny rabbits and haunted eggs. There's a photo gallery here.

(via Boing Boing Flickr Pool)

Having lots of well-paid staff around is good for retail profits

Why "Good Jobs" Are Good for Retailers, a Harvard Business Review study by MIT's Zeynep Ton, argues that the success of retailers like Uniqlo and Trader Joe's can be attributed, in part, to maintaining high levels of well-paid staff. This runs contrary to contemporary retail wisdom, which has relentlessly focused on cutting staff levels to the bare minimum. Ton's research shows that having lots of well-paid staff around increases how much customers spend, bringing in enough money to cover wages and turn a profit besides. I think this is likely especially true in the Internet age: no retailer will be able to match the self-serve convenience of Amazon, so to compete with Amazon, they need to provide something Amazon can't match: personal service.

James Surowiecki comments in The New Yorker:

The big challenge for any retailer is to make sure that the people coming into the store actually buy stuff, and research suggests that not scrimping on payroll is crucial. In a study published at the Wharton School, Marshall Fisher, Jayanth Krishnan, and Serguei Netessine looked at detailed sales data from a retailer with more than five hundred stores, and found that every dollar in additional payroll led to somewhere between four and twenty-eight dollars in new sales. Stores that were understaffed to begin with benefitted more, stores that were close to fully staffed benefitted less, but, in all cases, spending more on workers led to higher sales. A study last year of a big apparel chain found that increasing the number of people working in stores led to a significant increase in sales at those stores.

The reasons for this aren’t hard to divine. As Fisher, Krishnan, and Netessine show, customers’ needs are pretty simple: they want to be able to find products, and helpful salespeople, easily; and they want to avoid long checkout lines. For a well-staffed store, that’s no problem, but if you don’t have enough people on the floor, or if they aren’t well trained, customers can easily lose patience. One of the biggest problems retailers have is what is called a “phantom stock-out.” That’s when a product is in the store but can’t be found. Worker-friendly retailers with more employees have fewer phantom stock-outs, which leads to more sales. And happy workers tend to stick around, which saves the costs associated with employee turnover, like hiring and training...

If investing in employees yields such big dividends, why don’t more retailers do it? Partly, it’s a matter of incentives: store managers are typically evaluated on their payroll costs. Moreover, the benefits of keeping payroll costs low are immediate and easy to see, whereas the benefits of hiring more people are long-term and harder to track. On top of this, keeping a large staff runs counter to one of the most important trends in retail: making customers do more of the work. We’re all familiar with the phenomenon of outsourcing work to foreign companies. But there’s also been a great deal of outsourcing work to customers. Often enough, this is a good thing: the self-service layout of a modern supermarket offers more freedom than an old-fashioned grocery counter, where you have to ask for things. It seems easier to pump your own gas at a gas station than to wait for an attendant, and people are increasingly happy to use a self-service kiosk at an airport instead of standing in line for a check-in agent. But you can only outsource so much work before alienating your customers. And in retail stinting on employees doesn’t actually save you money. It just gets you less for less.

How Hiring Makes Uniqlo a Successful Retailer : The New Yorker: (via Kottke)

Excellent William Gibson video interview


Kaely says:

Alex Pasternack has a terrific interview with the legendary William Gibson in Motherboard. This isn't another re-hash of what's in his latest book, Distrust that Particular Flavor.

Bearing in mind that Gibson doesn't have to predict the future anymore (because it's already here, as he says, "it's just not very evenly distributed") Alex talks to Gibson about how that odd future -- with its corporate brands, Occupy protests and drugs -- turned out. He also talks about his dalliances with psychedelics and why they are probably not such a great idea.
Motherboard TV: William Gibson in Real Life

Randy Regier's roadtrip photos

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Artist Randy Regier and Bill North took a road trip from Kansas to Oregon, snapping photos along the way. They have a good eye for funny things.

Are we there yet? One van, two friends, and the road.

“The Warrior Class”: Blackwater videos in Harper's Magazine show brutality on display

[video link]

This month's Harper’s Magazine includes a feature by Charles Glass about the growth of private security firms since 9/11, “The Warrior Class: A golden age for the freelance soldier.”

The conclusion to the piece describes a series of videos shown to Glass by a source who had worked for the private-security company Blackwater (now Academi, formerly also Xe Services) in Iraq.

Above, one of the five Blackwater clips published online by Harper's. This one is dated April 1, 2006, and was shot from the front seat of the fourth car in an armored convoy. Glass describes its contents:

Driving along a wide boulevard in Baghdad, the lead vehicle swerved close to the curb of a traffic island. A woman in a black full-length burka began to cross the street. The vehicle struck the woman and knocked her unconscious body into the gutter. The cars slowed for a moment, but did not stop, nor did they even determine whether the victim was dead or alive. A voice in the car taking the video said, “Oh, my God!” Yet no one was heard on the radio requesting help for her. Most sickeningly, the sequence had been set to an AC/DC song, whose pounding, metallic chorus declared: “You’ve been… thunderstruck!”

As Glass notes, the tape ends with a still frame which reads: "IN SUPPORT OF SECURITY, PEACE, FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY EVERYWHERE."

(via Jeremy Scahill)

Blogger scoops news of Malawi President's death, is detained and harassed by police

Marilyn Terrell of National Geographic tells Boing Boing,

My pal Andrew Evans who blogs for National Geographic Traveler just happened to be in the capital of Malawi yesterday when the president was rushed to the hospital. The local media insisted he was in stable condition but people were saying he had died, so Andrew stopped by the hospital to see what he could find out. The hospital was oddly quiet, although it had been buzzing with police earlier. Andrew figured something was fishy and starting taking photos of the unprotected hospital until some plainclothes police noticed. They made him delete his photos and demanded that he hand over his iPhone but he refused and kept tweeting, and tweeted the first report of Bingu wa Mutharika's death, which wasn't officially admitted until 24 hours later.

Read Andrew's account, and view his photos, here.

(PHOTO: Andrew Evans. "At Lilongwe airport, Malawians listen to news of their president's death.")

Old cartoons depicting women as cuts of meat

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Mitch O'Connell digs into his old-timey ephemera cornucopia to assemble a gallery of women depicted as slabs of beef ready to be butchered.

The Most Sexist Images EVER!

$130 check that bought rights to Superman on auction (current high bid: $45k)

In 1938 Detective Comics purchased the rights to Superman from his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster for $130. (See large check image). This check is now on the auction block and the current high bid is $45,500.

(Via Illustration Art)

For Passover fun in Israel, a safari of animals crafted from Coca-Cola trash

A monkey sculpture is pictured on a pick-up truck before it is placed in an exhibition at Hiriya recycling park, built on the site of a former garbage dump near Tel Aviv. The Coca-Cola Recycled Safari featuring animals made of recycled Coca Cola packages will be open to the public during the Passover holiday.

More images of other critter creations from the recycling project, below. (REUTERS/Nir Elia)

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London's Overthrow: China Miéville's love poem and lament for London

London's Overthrow is an expanded, illustrated version of ‘Oh, London, You Drama Queen’, China Miéville's editorial in the New York Times. Part warning, part love-poem, a must-read.

30 November. Above the invisible bridge at Blackfriars, red Victorian pilings jutting from the Thames, helicopters dangle like ugly Christmas baubles. They surveil thronging streets. Two million public-sector workers strike today, and tens of thousands of them and their supporters are whooping through central London.

Mary Ezekiel, lifelong Londoner, Highgate by way of Hackney, staff nurse at University College London Hospital, itemizes the effects pension cuts, the action’s cause, will have. She flattens down her red t-shirt. Much British tat is emblazoned with the cloying World War II propaganda slogan ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. ‘Get Angry’, Ezekiel’s shirt demands instead, ‘and Fight Back’. ‘All the speakers have been amazing’, she says. ‘That’s what I feel positive about. I just hope it reaches Mr Cameron’ — she says the Prime Minister’s name disdainfully — ‘in his mansion.’

Cameron first denounced, then dismissed the day’s action. For the Right, strikes are both devilish and pathetic, have both terrible and absolutely no effects.

‘The perils of marching!’ a young woman laughs, pushing banners out of her face. ‘Lashed by flags!’ A thousands-strong sprawl of bobbing cloth and cardboard. The logo of the Society of Radiographers wobbles near placards of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran. Holding up a huge pink triangle, a young Ugandan man Abbey says, ‘We are helping gay asylum seekers from over the world, especially Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal.’ He’s there to support the workers. It’s all linked, he explains. Cuts to social spending, soaring tuition fees, scapegoating.

London's Overthrow - China Miéville (via 3 Quarks Daily)