• Image Comics staff wants to unionize the comic book industry

    The comic book industry has always been a ripe place for exploitation, dating at least as far back as the earliest days of the superhero genre in the 60s. Creative workers who were brought on to write or draw seemingly-disposable pulp stories ended up accidentally setting new precedents in intellectual property rights when their creations inevitably turned into billion-dollar cash cows … with little to no financial compensation. By the 1990s, several high-profile creators decided to branch off on their own, away from the corporate meccas of Marvel and DC, and formed Image Comics as a new creator-friendly alternative for the comics industry.

    It seems only fitting then that Image Comics would become the new potential home for the founding chapter of Comic Book Workers United:

    The union put out a list of 9 demands that are entirely reasonable (though more moderate than James Connolly's demands for workers).

    The Hollywood Reporter spoke with some comic book industry veterans about the burnout that they face as workers, which they are often forced to accept because of the appearance of glamor and prestige:

    Former Marvel editorial staffer Alejandro Arbona appeared to have the perfect job. "People always got really excited when they asked what I did and I told them I worked at Marvel, but I would always counter, 'You have no idea how hard and demoralizing it is,'" Arbona recalls. "The hours are long, the work is overwhelming, and the pay is low."

    In the decade since Arbona left Marvel to work as a freelance writer and editor, workplaces in the publishing sector of the industry arguably haven't changed significantly. But on Nov. 1, staffers from Image Comics — home to SpawnThe Walking Dead and Savage Dragon franchises — formed a union called Comic Book Workers United (CBWU), with 10 of the 12 eligible staffers voting to organize and go public. The employees were assisted by organizers from the Communications Workers of America, a labor giant organizing workers across multiple industries.

    This is a painfully familiar refrain to me. I worked in the professional theatre industry right out of college, managing several websites and producing multimedia content at a company with a budget of $14 million dollars that had sent several shows to Broadway and the West End. Hell, during my time there, we even received a Tony Award! I got to go to the Tonys! As an award recipient! I can technically tell people that I've received a Tony Award and not technically be lying about it!

    …which all would have a lot cooler if I ever made more than $33,000 a year (the Managing Director and Artistic Director made about 10x as much).

    Meanwhile, the editorial staff at Wirecutter (of which I am currently a part) is also in the midst of a unionizing effort — and in fact has been on strike through Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

    Comic Book Workers United had requested a deadline of November 5 for Image Comics to voluntarily recognize their union; as of that date, the management has been mum. The union has since filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board.

    Comic Book Workers United

    Comic Book Workers United Wants A Seat At The Table [Charles Pulliam-Moore / Gizmodo]

    The Comic Book Industry's Next Page-Turner: Union Organizing [Graeme McMillan / The Hollywood Reporter]

    Image: Public Domain via PxHere

  • Department of Defense unveils new UFO research wing

    On November 23, 2021, the US Department of Defense announced the creation of a new taskforce dedicated to tracking and researching unidentified aerial phenomena: the the Office of the USD(I&S) the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group (AOIMSG).

    Okay so it's not the catchiest name ever. And the acronym doesn't help either (I guess the Sentient Worlds Observation and Response Department was taken?). But here's how they describe it:

    The AOIMSG will synchronize efforts across the Department and the broader U.S. government to detect, identify and attribute objects of interests in Special Use Airspace (SUA), and to assess and mitigate any associated threats to safety of flight and national security.  To provide oversight of the AOIMSG, the Deputy Secretary also directed the USD(I&S) to lead an Airborne Object Identification and Management Executive Council (AOIMEXEC) to be comprised of DoD and Intelligence Community membership, and to offer a venue for U.S. government interagency representation. 

    Under the direction of Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, AOIMSG will try to come up with better metrics to assess and UAPs. As she explained at a forum a few weeks before the announcement, the DoD had previously struggled with inconsistency in the way they were reporting on UAPs. As NewsWeek summed up well:

    Haines said that Congress and the government were largely concerned that the UAPs could pose threats of earthly origin to aircraft or national security, while conceding that concerns about possible extraterrestrial threats cannot be fully ruled out despite a lack of evidence.

    "The main issues that Congress and others have been concerned about are basically safety of flight concerns and counterintelligence issues," said Haines. "Of course, there's always the question of, is there something else that we simply do not understand that might come extraterrestrially?"

    It's unclear what impact (if any) this might have on To The Stars Academy, the DoD-contracting UAP research and media firm lead by former Blink-182 frontman and current Angels & Airwaves frontman Tom Delonge, who famously wrote a song where the only words are "It would be nice to have a blowjob from your mom."

    DoD Announces the Establishment of the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group (AOIMSG) [US Department of Defense]

    The Pentagon Forms New Department to Watch and Study UFOs [Matthew Gault / Vice]

    Defense Department Forms New Group to Examine 'Threats' Posed by UFOs [Aila Slisco]

    Image: Public Domain via Pixabay

  • El Salvador is building a volcano-powered "Bitcoin City" with no taxes

    From Bloomberg:

    El Salvador intends to issue the world's first sovereign Bitcoin bonds and build Bitcoin City, which will be free of income, property and capital gains taxes, President Nayib Bukele announced in the beach town of Mizata to a crowd of cheering Bitcoin enthusiasts. 

    El Salvador plans to issue $1 billion in tokenized U.S.-dollar denominated 10-year bonds to pay 6.5% via the Liquid Network, according to Samson Mow, chief strategy officer of Blockstream. Half of the funds of the so-called "volcano bond" will be converted to Bitcoin and the other half will be used for infrastructure and Bitcoin mining powered by geothermal energy, Mow said, while sharing the stage with Bukele.

    […]

    Bitcoin City will be built near the Conchagua volcano which will provide energy for mining, Bukele said, adding that Bitcoin bond issuance will begin in 2022. The only tax in Bitcoin City will be a 10% value-added tax to fund city construction and services, he said.

    Funny, I don't seem to remember this James Bond movie?

    El Salvador takes its next steps into crypto with plans for Bitcoin bonds and volcano-powered, tax-free 'Bitcoin City' [Michael McDonald / Bloomberg]

    Image: Public Domain via PixaBay

  • Renegade fire department illegally saved baby, says private ambulance firm

    There is a certain breed of human being who gets off on insisting that privatized businesses are always better than public organizations that provide the same services. There is no objective basis for this claim, despite the fact that its adherents form a Venn diagram with the "facts don't care about your feelings!" school of bullshit rhetoric. Unfortunately, these some people tend to find figureheads with money and influence, who will god damn make sure that their privatized version of something that should be affordable and accessible to everyone is absolutely better than the public alternative — and they will do so at absolutely any cost.

    (To be clear, this doesn't mean that public services are always going to be inherently superior to privatized ones, either. Just that the "government is always bad!" types are willfully ignorant of demonstrable reality.)

    Case-in-point: the Prescott Valley area of Arizona, where a privatized for-profit ambulance company called Life Line Ambulance has a monopoly on the ambulatory services for the 150,000 people who live in the area. Life Line has locked the local government into restrictive contracts in order to ensure the sanctity of their own shitty business. But because they have no competition, they have no incentive to actually provide timely and helpful ambulance services.

    In case of emergency, this … can kind of suck. So the local fire department, the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority — egads, a public government service! — has been known to take it upon themselves to save lives when Life Life can't make it work for their bottom line.

    But see, a government service saving human lives is a violation of Life Line's legally-binding monopolistic contract with the local government. And we can't have that, no sirree.

    On August 20, 2021, an 8-month old baby fell into a bathtub in Chino Valley, Arizona and stopped breathing. Life Line said it would take them nearly 15 minutes to get there. So the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority rushed to the scene in minutes, helicoptered the girl to the nearby Phoenix Children's hospital, and saved her life. So now Life Line is suing. From the local ABC News affiliate:

    The fire department believes the private company's response times are regularly too slow and that there aren't enough ambulances in service.

    So in defiance of the state health department, CAFMA uses a fleet of its own unofficial ambulances, which it calls "Rescues," to respond to calls when firefighters feel Life Line's units are too far away.

    […]

    In recent months, Life Line has started filing written complaints with the state health department against CAFMA for the unapproved "Rescue" transports, records show. (CAFMA has also filed more than 1,000 complaints against Life Line going back years.)

    As a result, the state has issued CAFMA multiple notices of investigation for many incidents dating back into summer.

    Please file this under "Are you fucking kidding me."

    Firefighters who used backup ambulance to rescue a baby now under investigation [Dave Biscobing / ABC 15]

    Image: Public Domain via PxHere

  • School shuts down after cops get mad over student project about "V for Vendetta"

    Katey O'Connor, a teacher at Muncie Central High School, had her students read V for Vendetta, the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, and create some posters reflecting on how the ideological mission of the eponymous V from the book might relate to current real-life social conditions.

    In the book, V is a queer anarchist who openly admits that he's doing terrorism as performance art in the name of anti-fascist liberation. He is fighting against a racist, sexist, homophobic authoritarian government.

    Naturally, the students were able to make lots of connections to this story! The high schoolers did the assignment, and learned things! Unfortunately, the "School Resource Officers" (read: armed police who prowl the hallways under no one's jurisdiction but their own) were deeply, deeply offended by this — and tore down all the posters.

    The students — unhappy that their educational experience about the dangerous censorial powers of racist, sexist, homophobic authoritarians was being censored by authorities — staged a protest. While you would think this was a reasonable course of action — the character of V would have likely just blown something up — the administration responded by shutting down in-person schooling and forcing the students to stay home and attend virtual learning classes.

    When the teacher, Mrs. O'Connor, was called in a meeting with school Principal Chris Walker and Assistant Principal Rhonda Ward, she was explicitly told that the posters were removed because of their association with Black Lives Matter. The state Attorney General's office recently declared Black Lives Matter to be, "unequivocally a political organization," and issued a statement that, "strongly encourages public school corporations to update policies in light of this opinion to ensure classrooms remain politically neutral and applied in a consistent, uniform manner."

    Or, as the school's chief communication officer told the Muncie Star Press: "The display created a disruptive discussion between a student and school resource officers that the student and other observers found offensive."

    Vice spoke to some of the students involved:

    "So originally we made the posters as a project for the book we were reading (V for Vendetta) a lot of my peers decided to go along the lines of police brutality, and BLM," Gabrielle Butler, a 16 year old junior at Muncie Central High School who completed the project, told me in a text message. "The police officers felt offense to it. And what started as a peaceful conversation ended up as a disagreement with a lot of untrue statements. We the students noticed how the police officers were acting and heard about our posters being removed from the hallway. A few students got together and had a discussion about what was going on, and created a protest that so many students came to support for the fact they didn't agree either." 

    "This feels like a targeted attack," one student said in a video of Monday's protest. "There are plenty of gay students at this school, and plenty of Black students. We shouldn't be scared to come to school." 

    The students, angry at the posters being hidden from public view at the school, peacefully protested with signs and spoke to a group gathered in the school on Monday. On Tuesday, they were forced to stay home and attend virtual learning classes. 

    Muncie Central students stage protest after conflict over class project [Charlotte Stefanski / Muncie Star Press]

    School Removes Student Project About Fascism After Cops Complain [Samantha Cole / Vice]

  • Can time travelers go back in time and have sex with themselves? Astrophysicists investigate.

    In yet another weirdly fascinating piece from the folks at MEL Magazine, writer Brian VanHooker spoke with several astrophysicists about the question we've all been pondering: can a time traveler go back in time and literally screw themself?

    Astrophysicist Heloise Stevance replies that there are two main paradoxes you'd want to worry about. The first is the "causal loop." "This is where you go back in time and cause an event that will itself be the cause of the thing you just did," she says. "For example, say you go back in time to give yourself the blueprint for the time machine — which event happened first?" According to Stevance, this would complicate the timeline so much that it would result in a paradox.

    What does a paradox look like, though? "Since we're in the realm of broken physics, your guess is as good as mine," Stevance says. "Giant glitter explosion? Let's go with that."

    […]

    While that covers the basics, astrophysicist Joseph Lorenzo Hall offers a few biological matters that could complicate things further. For one, you could run the risk of bringing a pathogen back to a time before it first appeared. So, say you invented the time machine in lockdown last year, then celebrated back when you were still in decent shape in college and you didn't know that you had COVID. This could result in you introducing COVID decades before it originally appeared. The lesson here is, before you go back in time and fuck yourself, get a COVID test.

    Now you know. And knowing is half the atemporal sexual escapade. More horny paradox details at the link.

    What if you went back in time and fucked yourself? [Brian VanHooker / MEL Magazine]

    Image: Public Domain via PixaBay

  • No more funeral home markups — you can now buy caskets direct for your corpse!

    Funerals are expensive. Beyond the obvious emotional costs, the average burial costs more than $7000. Worse, that price has gone up about 6.6% over the last five years, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, so this isn't just due to recent supply chain issues that may or may not affect the dead. Some of those costs are due to markups — like many US industries, the distribution business has locked in certain business deals, ensuring that they stay in business by selling directly to funeral homes rather than consumers.

    But after a particularly deadly 18 months or so, someone's finally trying to change that. From The Boston Globe:

    [20-year funeral industry veteran Scott Ginsberg] co-founded Titan Casket — which bills itself as "the Warby Parker of caskets" after the hip online eyewear business — selling caskets directly to consumers, cutting out funeral home middlemen, and saving people hundreds of dollars to bury their loved ones.

    "Funeral homes enjoy a 200 to 400 percent markup" on casket sales, he said. "I thought to myself, 'There is got to be really a better way than this.' I mean, really, this industry really hasn't changed in over 100 years. And most people don't shop funerals."

    Titan is one of a growing number of online casket stores seeking to upend the long-established funeral industry, and are aided by a federal requirement that funeral directors must accept a casket purchased elsewhere by the family. They're also part of what some call a larger shift in Americans' perceptions about death, period, amid a pandemic that has changed both funerals and how some people think about the end of life.

    It's wild to think that it's taken this long to break the funeral supply chain — but this sounds like a potentially positive shift. Now, you can buy a nice casket for $1000 right from Amazon; an even fancier copper-plated one is available for $2000, which is still a bargain, all things considered. They're not Prime eligible, but shipping is still free. I wouldn't expect any Black Friday deals, but really, isn't every Friday a Black Friday for the casket industry?

    Death, disrupted: How the Boston-based 'Warby Parker of caskets' aims to upend the funeral business [Janelle Nanos / The Boston Globe]

  • Watch this trailer for new film made entirely in the Blackfoot language

    Sooyii is a new film that just had its world premiere at the Montana Film Festival. It was shot entirely on the tribal land of the Piegan Blackfoot nation — and is the first film made in the native language of the Pikuni people. Written and directed by Krisztian Kery, the film follows the tale of a young Pikuni man named Creature Hunter who returns home to find his community ravaged by smallpox.

    (This setup reminds me of the recent Irish language revenge thriller Black 47, which I naturally loved)

    The Missoulian has a great piece about the premiere of Sooyii, but this part in particular stood out to me:

    "I believe that 'Sooyii' is a message to Hollywood, to directors, to producers, and, even to our own people, to set the bar by including Indigenous language in film," said Jesse DesRosier, who translated the script to Blackfoot and appeared in the film.

    DesRosier, a teacher of the Blackfoot language at Cuts Wood School in Browning and Blackfeet Community College, instructed the tenets and structure of Blackfoot to the cast. "Sooyii" carries with it a deep sense of urgency, because the Blackfoot language, he said, is greatly in danger of erasure, of becoming a moribund artifact of the culture.

    "We are in a fight against time, with elders dying … ," DesRosier said. "The film is the starting pointing for all people to learn an Indigenous language in Montana."

    I'm not sure what other distribution plans there are for the movie, but you can check their Facebook page for updates.

    Film shot entirely in Blackfoot language, on tribal land to premiere [Brian D'ambrosio / The Missoulian]

  • Games Workshop kindly reminds players that the Imperium of Man is bad, actually

    In the world of Games Workshop's Warhammer 40K, the evil demonic hordes of Chaos face off against legions of openly fascist Space Marines who subjugate the galaxy through violent imperialism. There are also some hives of cockroach-esque bug aliens that want to infest the galaxy; tribes of pugnacious Orks always looking for a fight; undead robots; some sadistic space pirates; fleets of ancient imperialist space elves who think of humankind as bugs that deserve to die; and so on.

    In other words: no one in that fictional gaming universe is really good. Though apparently some players have missed that point. Specifically — and perhaps unsurprisingly — there are some players who conflate their support for the Imperium of Man in a fictional space game with their love of real-world fascism and white supremacy. While this comparison might be apt, some people don't necessarily see that as a bad thing. Not content to appropriate vaguely Nordic and Celtic iconography to serve as unwitting symbols of their hatred, these bigoted bastards have apparently started using symbolism Warhammer 40K for similarly hateful purposes.

    So Games Workshop took to their community site to make it abundantly clear: every faction in this game is evil, and so is white supremacy.

    There are no goodies in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. 

    None.

    Especially not the Imperium of Man.

    […]

    Warhammer 40,000 isn't just grimdark. It's the grimmest, darkest. 

    The Imperium of Man stands as a cautionary tale of what could happen should the very worst of Humanity's lust for power and extreme, unyielding xenophobia set in. Like so many aspects of Warhammer 40,000, the Imperium of Man is satirical.

    For clarity: satire is the use of humour, irony, or exaggeration, displaying people's vices or a system's flaws for scorn, derision, and ridicule. The Imperium is not an aspirational state, outside of the in-universe perspectives of those who are slaves to its systems. It's a monstrous civilisation, and its monstrousness is plain for all to see.

    The message ends with the company declaring that symbols of hate are unwelcome in their stores, and anyone wearing something that supports a real-world hate group will not be allowed on the company's property. "We won't let you participate. We don't want your money. We don't want you in the Warhammer community."

    The Emperor of Mankind could not be reached for comment, on account of he's a thousands-year-old braindead fascist.

    The Imperium Is Driven by Hate. Warhammer Is Not. [Games Workshop]

    Image: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

  • Fisherman finds a rare 1-in-100-million "cotton candy"-colored lobster

    Maine fisherman Bill Coppersmith recently made a one-in-one-hundred-million catch: a cotton candy-colored lobster, whom he affectionately named Haddie after his grand daughter. Rather than consuming this incredibly rare delicacy, cracking through its armored carapace and slathering its sweet, sweet meat in a cavalcade of butter, Coppersmith has sent the crustacean off to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, New Hampshire to live out the rest of its days. I don't know which sounds worse: being boiled alive and eaten, or living out the rest of my days in New Hampshire.

    To get a better idea of Haddie's true rareness, a bright orange lobster was recently found at a grocery store in Ontario — and even that one was only a 1-in-30-million find. Even a half-orange-half-black "Halloween" lobster is supposedly still more common than a cotton candy one, at a 1-in-50-million find.

    Of course, according to Smithsonian Magazine, no actually knows how many of these speckled pinkish-blue lobsters there are in the world; that 1-in-100-million measurement is based on an estimate, since they're only reported to be found every three or four years or so (although a Scottish fisherman recently caught a similarly-rare all-blue lobster). Smithsonian also attempts to explain the cause of the coloration, which is kind of interesting:

    The reason for Haddie's special shell is likely due to an inherited genetic mutation or her diet. Lobsters usually have three or four different pigments—like red, blue and yellow—that layer together to produce the lobster's dark brown tone. Their color comes from a pigment molecule called astaxanthin, which binds to other proteins, according to Nicoletta Lanese for Live Science. Depending on those bonds, the shell reflects different wavelengths of light that we see as color. That's why lobsters only turn red after cooking denatures proteins in their shells. Some living lobsters naturally have more or less of a given pigment, which can produce an off-color critter. Haddie appears to be missing all pigments except blue, which leaves her with a cotton-candy-colored hue.

    Haddie's bizarre coloration could also be due to a reliance on a food source that causes unusually low astaxanthin levels. Like flamingos, lobsters incorporate pigments from their diet into their coloration, and missing a key food source could fade their color. If the cause of Haddie's unusual color is her diet, eating pigment-rich foods could change her color back to "normal" over time, according to National Geographic's Maya Wei-Haas.

    Rare 'Cotton Candy' Blue Lobster Is a 1-in-100 Million Catch [Corryn Wetzel / Smithsonian Magazine]

    Haddie, a cotton-candy colored lobster, is one in a 100 million, and a budding star [NPR Weekend Edition]

  • Which of these statues of a T-Rex eating garden gnomes is better?

    This 6"x10"x14" statue of a Tyrannosaurus Rex eating garden gnomes from SOWSUN is truly the perfect garden decor. Just look at these details!

    The description is pretty wonderful, too:

    The garden gnomes statue can be positioned indoors or outdoors depending on where you see fit and enhance vibrant atmosphere. Dinosaur Eating Gnomes Garden Art Outdoor is sure to be the centerpiece of your garden this year and a joy for your friends to find hiding in your Annuals and Perennials.

    Of course, this is hardly the only statue of a T-Rex devouring garden gnomes that's available on the Internet. But the company behind this particular model insists that, "Anyone else besides Patiosolver Store may be violating our intellectual property rights and offering you a counterfeit product."

    For example, this one from Himaweek has a dinosaur facing backwards. That's how you know it's not legit:

    And while this one from M.A.K. Store is available in several different sizes, the design is, erm, clearly lacking in comparison to the original — even though it is curiously listed as "Amazon's Choice!"

    A company called OUQMVQ makes another knock-off that, while looking slightly more like a velociraptor than T-Rex, also offers more customizable setup options:

    If you prefer something a bit more cutesy, Garden Gnomes Galore sells a more child-friendly version of the garden gnome massacre:

    So yes, there are plenty of options available on the free market for those of you who are craving competition for your T-Rex-eating-lawn-gnomes decór. Even though some of them may allegedly violate someone's intellectual property rights! Though I'm not exactly sure how one trademarks the imagery of a dead bird-lizard eating a fantastical humanoid creature.

  • Phish concert spreads COVID across the entire country

    Over Halloween weekend, the Vermont jam band Phish played a series of concerts in Las Vegas. Several days later, one attendee posted to Facebook that he had tested positive for COVID-19 — and more than 500 replied, most saying that they or someone they knew had also tested positive after attending the concert.

    I've always thought that Phish a contagion, but this is not how I expected that to manifest.

    While there's no way to know exactly how many cases came from this string of shows, the Boston Globe did track some of the regional impact of the Vegas event:

    The Vermont health department said it recorded "at least" nine cases potentially linked to the concerts in Las Vegas. Rhode Island is reporting at least five. A Massachusetts health department spokeswoman said the agency had "no knowledge" of confirmed cases linked to the Phish events. But three of five Massachusetts residents interviewed by the Globe said they tested positive days after returning home from the shows. They reported having relatively minor symptoms, though two said they still hadn't recovered their sense of smell or taste. All five from Massachusetts said they were vaccinated.

    MGM said Phish fans at its Las Vegas venue were required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test not more than 72 hours before the event. But that allowed a significant gap: fans who tested negative before the first show were not required to retest if they attended the later concerts.

    Attendees as far as California reported that they had tested positive as well, according to the Facebook group.

    The Globe also spoke with several concertgoers, who noted that the indoor event was tightly packed and poorly ventilated. Some complained about "stagnant air," although, to be fair, that's a fairly common occurrence at any Phish concert. While masks were not required, some concertgoers who voluntarily wore them reported that they did not test positive. Also to be fair, it's harder to smoke copious amounts of weed with a mask on.

    'COVID positive from Vegas.' Phish concerts leave a long trail of infections, fans say [Kay Lazar / The Boston Globe]

    Image: Dan Shinneman / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

  • Shark Conservancy Discovers "very Chunky" Great White

    On November 3, 2021, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy posted the following update on Facebook:

    There are some sharks that make our data team stop and take a double-take. One of our data team members was analyzing GoPro footage, they came across this very chunky, male, white shark. Our data team can assume that the shark recently ate due to the size of its stomach.

    Some commenters insisted that the great white shark in the photograph was in fact named Bruce, and that Bruce did not appreciate the condescending judgements about his size.

    One week later, the Conservancy also shared a video of another local great white shark, this one affectionately named Snoop Dogg. Curiously, the organization refrained from body shaming Snoop Dogg in the way that it had done for The Shark Who Shall Be Known As Bruce.

    At press time, Bruce the Very Chunky Shark could not be reached for comment. But if you plan to be anywhere near the Cape Cod coast, well, you're gonna need a bigger boat.

    Researchers warn of 'very chunky' shark in the Atlantic [Gustaf Kilander / The Independent]

  • Watch the first 10 minutes of the Communist Kangaroo film

    Perhaps you've seen the meme going around of a kangaroo cooking pancakes while speaking with a human man. "I"m a communist," the kangaroo says. "What are you?"

    The man replies, "I'm an anarchist." To which the kangaroo perfectly retorts: "Cool, we can be friends until the revolution. After that it gets difficult."

    I assumed this was a joke. And while it might be, it also a very real dialogue exchange from a very real film, titled Die Känguru Chroniken, or The Kangaroo Chronicles. You can watch the first 10 minutes above, if you speak German or don't mind YouTube's auto-translated subtitles, which erm, haven't quite yet mastered the art of idiom. Here's the films official synopsis:

    When a talking, Communist kangaroo rings his neighbor's doorbell asking for eggs to make pancakes, a struggling musician has no clue that this is just the beginning of his life turning upside down.

    Marc-Uwe is a struggling musician living in a run-down flat in Berlin-Kreuzberg. One day, the doorbell rings and he stands face to face with a talking Kangaroo. Being a staunch communist, the Kangaroo doesn't believe in private ownership and without further ado decides to move in with Marc-Uwe. From now on, the Kangaroo begins to reign over Marc-Uwe's life, challenging him with philosophical questions and getting them both into all sorts of trouble. Despite their differences, Marc-Uwe and the Kangaroo ultimately unite in a struggle against their common enemy: an insufferable right-wing politician and investor, who wants to build the headquarters for his far-right populist party right next to Marc-Uwe's apartment building. So together with their neighbors, Marc-Uwe and the Kangaroo choose to resist and fight.

    The film is apparently based on a very real book series by Marc-Uwe Kling, who also posts his ongoing kangaroo comics on Twitter:

    There are apparently 4 books in the Kangaroo Chronicles series, though only the first one has been translated into English, as far as I can tell.

  • Queen of England "has entered a new phase," will re-emerge next year, MSN reports

    Queen Elizabeth recently missed the General Synod, the Church of England's national assembly, for the first time in her reign. This is understandable; the 95-year-old has been dealing with some health problems, as well as the recent passing of her husband.

    MSN had a slightly more cryptic take on the subject, however:

    Which, as you can imagine, people had a field day with:

    The article has since been taken down, though you can still find via the Internet Archive. This was probably a wise move on MSN's part, seeing as there are no reliable sources for the quoted comments about the Queen "entering a new phase" and re-emerging in February. I suppose it is, however, not entirely impossible that the Queen has crawled into some sort of cocoon where she will gestate and evolve into her final form like the Moonchild from The Invisibles (even though technically in that comic, the Queen crowns

  • TV manufacturer Vizio makes more money selling data than TVs

    Early this year, electronics company Vizio filed an IPO, and their newly-released third quarter earnings reveal an interesting business success: they made more than twice as much profit from their "Platform Plus" service, which includes advertising and data farming, than they did from actual TVs.

    As The Verge explains:

    When Vizio filed to go public, it described the difference between the two divisions. While Devices is easy to understand — 4K TVs, soundbars, etc. — Platform Plus is a little more complicated. It counts money made from selling ad placements on its TV homescreens, deals for the buttons on remotes, ads that run on streaming channels, its cut from subscriptions, and viewer data that it tracks and sells as part of the InScape program.

    […]

    Where the numbers keep growing is in its number of active SmartCast accounts, which are now over 14 million, and how much money it makes from each user on average. That number has nearly doubled from last year, going from $10.44 to $19.89. On the call with investors and analysts, Vizio execs said 77 percent of that money comes directly from advertising, like the kind that runs on its WatchFree Plus package of streaming channels, a group that recently expanded with content targeting. The next biggest contributor is the money it makes selling Inscape data about what people are watching.

    To be fair, television manufacturing also has a much higher overhead — as the company's earning reports note, they netted $502.5M from devices, compared to $85.9M from Platform Plus. In terms of profit, however, this translated to $25.6M from devices … and $57.3M from Platform Plus.

    Vizio's profit on ads, subscriptions, and data is double the money it makes selling TVs [Richard Lawler / The Verge]

    Image: Mike Mozart / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

  • The surprising link between sushi and an AR-15-obsessed Christian sect

    I've written here before the Rod of Iron Ministries Church, an off-shoot of the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, which went viral back in 2018 for hosting a group wedding vow renewal ceremony where people also married their guns. Earlier this year, Rod of Iron Ministries founder Pastor Hyung Jin "Sean" Moon bought a new compound for the church in Texas which further amplifies its creepy cult vibes; the family also owns a firearms manufacturing company, under the leadership of his elder brother, Justin.

    The two Moons are the children of Sun Myung Moon, a Korean immigrant and self-proclaimed Messiah figure who also owned several successful business ventures and invested in many others. One of those investments — as I just learned from this delightful New York Times article about the secret history of sushi — was a company called True World Foods, founded by a member of the Unification Church named Takeshi Yashiro. Though sushi certainly existed before the founding of the Unification Church, Moon's business ventures helped to popularize the food in the United States:

    By the time Yashiro and the other "fish pioneers" listened in the ballroom, Unification Church International had already poured more than $10 million into shipyards and seafood operations on every coast of the continental United States, including a processing plant in Alaska. It would go on to spend tens of millions more. But someone needed to sell the catch. Moon's idea, the pioneers say, was for them to peddle it door to door from refrigerated vans, and to proselytize at the same time.

    […]

    It is tempting to perceive True World Foods as a profit-minded conglomerate with a colorful yet ultimately peripheral religious back story — the sushi equivalent of Marriott, which has been guided for decades by public shareholders and has sometimes made business decisions at odds with the Mormon beliefs of its founding family (by serving alcohol, for example). Instead, it's more accurate to imagine a fish company guided for most of its history by the equivalent of Joseph Smith and his immediate disciples. Throughout True World's existence, foundational aspects of its identity — who will lead, where and how and when to expand, messaging at annual meetings, what purpose the business should serve, what sacrifices employees should accept and why — have defied the business world's usual gravity and been shaped, directly or indirectly, by the pull of Moon.

    It's a long, fascinating article, with lots to unpack about both the evolution of sushi, and about international trade, Korean and Japanese diaspora, and the questionable legal power of religious business entanglements. I recommend reading the whole thing. But mostly, it's pretty wild to think that a Christian Nationalist gun cult could be so intimately tied to the sushi industry.

    The Untold Story of Sushi in America [Daniel Fromson / New York Times]

    Image: Public Domain via PxHere

    Full disclosure: I also write for Wirecutter, which is owned by The New York Times Company, which publishes the New York Times.

  • Native American educators created a new Thanksgiving curriculum guide

    A group of educators from the Oklahoma City Public Schools Native American Student Services have put together a new free Thanksgiving curriculum guide for students in Pre-K through 4th grade. A Story of Survival: The Wampanoag and the English offers a more two-sided perspective on colonial American history, as well as some alternative activities that don't dig into unfortunate Native American stereotypes. Or, as they explain in the intro:

    This Thanksgiving Lesson plan booklet has emerged as a need expressed by our teachers to have something meaningful, tangible and easy to follow in their classrooms. The booklet also emerged because our parents were frustrated with their Native child coming home with make-shift feathers and inaccurate stories of Thanksgiving.

    This booklet provides a number of useful tools:

    1. It provides a quick facts for teachers to read to learn about the English and the Indigenous people of this land.
    2. It provides a list of "what not to do" in order to not offend or provide harmful and inaccurate images to ALL children.
    3. This booklet gives lessons that are grade appropriate with photos to follow.

    While I'm sure there are some people who will recoil at the mere thought of re-envisioning history, the guide doesn't a pretty nice job of presenting a fair perspective — in fact, there are even some activities that encourage students to think about stories from both singular, and plural perspectives:

    Teacher will start a Know-Wonder-Learn chart about the story of Thanksgiving. After the chart, the teacher will discuss the quick facts. This can be done one day, or one topic each day. Students can research on fact and present what they learned to the class. After the lesson has been taught, the teacher can fill in the L on the chart.

    • Wampanoag Only
    • English Only
    • Wampanoag & English

    I know that Oklahoma has one of the largest Native American populations in the country, so even though this particular guide is not put together by Wampanoag people, I feel like it does its due diligence — at least, more than my own education had done, despite the fact that I grew not far from Wampanoag land.

    A Story of Survival: The Wampanoag and the English — A Thanksgiving Lesson Plan Booklet from a Native American Perspective [Oklahoma City Public Schools Native American Student Services]

  • Petty traffic cop pesters man over a shopping cart

    The setup is simple: this guy used a shopping cart, and didn't bring it back. So a bored traffic cop tries to get his attention, and encourage the man to do his basic civil duty at the grocery store.

    What follows is six minutes of delightfully hilarious pettiness. I can't believe I watched it all, but it was worth every second of it.

    Here's part one:

    And part two (TRUST ME, it builds wonderfully):

    Image: Stilfehler / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0)