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John Oliver tackles the Sacklers: the litigious, secretive billionaires whose family business engineered the opioid crisis
The Sacklers (previously) are a reclusive, super-secretive family of billionaires whose fortune comes from their pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, manufacturers of Oxycontin, the drug at the center of the opioid epidemic, which has claimed more American lives than the Vietnam war, with the death-toll still mounting. The Sacklers have gone to enormous lengths to launder their reputations, endowing galleries and museums in a bid to make their name synonymous with philanthropy rather than mass death (they also had an expensive lawyer threaten me over unflattering posts about them). But the states that are left dealing with the bodies have sued the Sacklers, and these lawsuits have resulted in mountains of court documents (which the Sacklers have sought to suppress), including a bizarre deposition of Richard Sackler that reveals his active role in maximizing the extent to which Oxytocin users became addicted to his company's products. The deposition is a stunning document, but as John Oliver points out in his latest segment, not many of us will sit still to listen to a talking head read a court record, and the Sacklers have blocked every attempt to get the video of Richard Sackler's deposition released. That's why Oliver has commissioned a quartet of A-list actors to re-enact Sackler's testimony, putting them on the deliciously named SacklerGallery.com: Bryan Cranston (reprising his role as TV's most memorable dope-lord from Breaking Bad); Michael Keaton (at his most sociopathic); Michael K Williams (giving us a long-overdue taste of The Wire) and Richard Kind (in comic relief, giving us a taste of all the times Sackler said "I don't know"). Read the rest
3 h
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Pepsi won't put a billboard in space after all
Pepsi's plan to pay a Russian company called Startrocket to loft an artificial constellation of cubesats with mylar sails to advertise a "nonalcoholic energy beverage" has been cancelled for unspecified reasons (the company says its prototype launch using high-altitude balloons was a "one-time event"). Read the rest
3 h
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The Antitrust Case Against Facebook: a turning point in the debate over Big Tech and monopoly
In 2017, a 28-year-old law student named Lina Kahn turned the antitrust world on its ear with her Yale Law Review paper, Amazon's Antitrust Paradox, which showed how Ronald Reagan's antitrust policies, inspired by ideological extremists at the University of Chicago's economics department, had created a space for abusive monopolists who could crush innovation, workers' rights, and competition without ever falling afoul of orthodox antitrust law. Now, Dina Srinivasan, a self-described technology entrepreneur and advertising executive who trained Yale Law School has done it again, with a magesterial, deftly argued paper for the Berkeley Business Law Journal called The Antitrust Case Against Facebook. It's one of the most invigorating, significant contributions to a new theory of antitrust for the digital age that I've ever read, ranking with Kahn's 2017 paper. Srinivasan's paper is especially important in light of Shoshana Zuboff's Surveillance Capitalism thesis, which dismisses the idea that monopoly is the reason that Big Tech is able to control our behavior so thoroughly -- Zuboff posits that machine learning creates devastating behavior modification tools that allow tech companies to manipulate us so thoroughly that we're in danger of losing our free will. But Srinivasan shows how Facebook came to dominate our online discourse through activities that would have been prohibited under pre-Reagan theories of antitrust, and how, prior to these monopolistic tactics, Facebook was not able to conduct surveillance on its users, having to contend with multiple, bruising PR disasters and user revolts when it tried to do so. Read the rest
3 h
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Wealthy Dems and their backers hate Bernie (and Warren) for the same reason they hated Kucinich: he wants to tax the rich
Matt Taibbi's (previously) latest Rolling Stone column traces the long history of rich Democrat donors and the officials whom they fund attacking progressive candidates, showing how the same playbook used to attack Dennis Kucinich in 2003 is now being rolled out to attack Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (I am a donor to both the Sanders and Warren campaigns). The wealthy and their captured lawmakers smear anyone who offers a progressive alternative as a "spoiler" who will "undermine" the party's chances to beat Republicans; this becomes a critique of the politicians, who are characterized as "narcissists" whose presidential bids are a matter of ego, not policy. This also conveniently switches the discussion away from the policies themselves, refocusing it on personalities, which are then smeared again. As Adam Johnson writes in FAIR, the press amplifies this tactic by calling the 1% and their enablers "mainstream Democrats" -- despite the fact that polls show 78% of Democrats holding a favorable view of Sanders, who also leads every poll on 2020 nominees, and whose polls also show that Sanders can beat Trump. The insistence that a handful of millionaires and some Congressional lifers who've enriched them are the "mainstream" of the party only makes sense if you take the voters for granted, assuming that they'll vote for whomever the Democrats put on the ballot. But voters care about substance, which is why I'm so bullish on Elizabeth Warren: as Doug Henwood writes in Jacobin, Warren has the policy details that we've been waiting for. Read the rest
5 h
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Here are 20 questions raised by the Mueller Report
Barr's redactions aside, I have questions.
5 h
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The sovereign nation of Iceland has finally invalidated the European trademark on "Iceland," formerly held by a British discount grocery chain
In 2014, the British discount grocers Iceland Foods (so named for their pioneering role in selling frozen food) was granted an EU-wide trademark on the word "Iceland" by the EU Intellectual Property Organisation, which apparently saw no risk in giving a British grocer a monopoly over the use of the name of a sovereign nation that was also a member of the European Economic Area. Iceland Foods was not a measured steward over its monopoly, either: the company abused its trademark by attacking Icelandic businesses that used the word "Iceland" in their names, even ones that were in no way related to groceries. Then, when the country moved to block the nation of Iceland from getting a trademark for the tourist slogan "Inspired by Iceland," the nation finally sued to have the company's trademark invalidated and prevailed. Iceland Foods can still appeal the decision. Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson said he welcomed the ruling, but was not surprised by it. “…[I]t defies common sense that a foreign company can stake a claim to the name of a sovereign nation as was done [in this case],” he remarked. “What we’re talking about here is a milestone victory in a matter of real importance for Icelandic exporters. Our country is known for its purity and its sustainability, hence the value of indicating the origin of Icelandic products.” Iceland Wins Trademark Dispute Against Supermarket Chain [Larissa Kyzer/Iceland Review] The End Of The Absurdity: Iceland, The Country, Successfully Invalidates The Trademark Of Iceland Foods, The Grocerer [Timothy Geigner/Techdirt] (Image: Adcro, CC-BY-SA) Read the rest
5 h
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Dentistry's evidentiary vacuum allows profiteering butchers to raid our mouths for millions
Dentistry has always been medicine's poor cousin, lower in prestige and funding, with much less definitive research; this means that it's harder for someone to point at a procedure and definitively say, "That was unnecessary." At the same time, better oral hygiene and fluoridation has increased our overall dental health; and as that was happening, dental school tuition was mounting alongside all other forms of student debt. You can see where this is going: dentists are graduating from university buried by punishing debt; dental patients need a lot fewer money-generating procedures, and it's easy to get away with performing unnecessary procedures. What coul possibly go wrong? Though this is something of a perfect storm of grifty, late-stage capitalism, the lack of evidence-based standards is a huge piece of the problem. While we're pretty sure that dental sealants are really useful for kids (though few dentists use them because they take a long time and don't generate a lot in billings), and that fluoridation is also good for kids, there just isn't enough evidence to say whether fluoridation benefits adults, whether flossing combats plaque (it is good for your gums though), whether you should have your wisdom teeth removed, etc. And the evidence for other common procedures is really poor or even nonexistent: everything from seeing your dentist twice a year (most people can go once every 12 or 18 months, assuming good oral hygiene); replacing metal fillings with resins, etc. Incredibly, some of the most invasive, painful and expensive procedures have not been studied in any depth, including whether root-canaled teeth should be repaired with fillings or crowns. Read the rest
5 h
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Effective July 15, British porn consumers will be required entrust their sexual tastes to private companies' badly secured databases
Back when David Cameron was Prime Minister, he took advice from Patrick Rock (later revealed to be a a trafficker in images depicting the abuse of children) on how to stop children from seeing internet pornography. The solution they arrived at was bananas: every adult service in the UK would have to verify the identity of every user they had, assuring themselves that anyone who tried to look at porn was over 18. As the unworkability of this idea became more obvious, the UK government tried several different tacks: banning porn altogether, deputising newsagents to verify the identities of would-be porn viewers and then doling out official pornography-access cards; etc. Not everyone involved with these proposals was a child pornographer; some of them were merely vicious, technologically illiterate bullies. Now, with Brexit hanging over the country, food poverty and homelessness at record highs, the pound crashing, and CO2 emissions at crisis levels, HMG has finally found the political will to crack on with their "No sex, please, we're British," plan. Starting July 15, all websites that offer pornography will have to verify their visitors' age, primarily one operated by the Canada-based pornography monopolist Mindgeek, owners of Pornhub, RedTube, YouPorn, Brazzers, Digital Playground, Men.com, Reality Kings, and Sean Cody, and much, much more. Mindgeek will use credit-cards to validate users' ages, meaning that it will be producing a database of sexual kompromat, sortable by net worth, on every pornography-consuming person in the United Kingdom. The British Board of Film Classification -- the national movie censor board -- will decide which sites will need to use "age verification" technology. Read the rest
6 h
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1% of England owns half of England
Guy Shrubsole is the author of Who Owns England? a forthcoming book that reports out a paintstaking researched data-set laying out, for the first time, a comprehensive view of the land ownership in England, finding that half of the country is owned by 1% of its people: a mere 25,000 aristocrats, oligarchs and corporations. Shrubsole's research breaks down land ownership, singling out the likes of Brexiteer James Dyson (who lobbied in favour of Brexit, then relocated his company to Singapore when it became apparent that the UK would be plunged into chaos by it). Shrubsole is also at pains to point out that he may be underestimating the extent to which land ownership is concentrated into a few hands in England, because 17% of England and Wales is undeclared at the Land Registry, and much of the property that is in the registry is nominally owned by anonymous, secrecy-shrouded companies that are often fronts for English and global elites. Guy Shrubsole, author of the book in which the figures are revealed, Who Owns England?, argues that the findings show a picture that has not changed for centuries. “Most people remain unaware of quite how much land is owned by so few,” he writes, adding: “A few thousand dukes, baronets and country squires own far more land than all of middle England put together.” “Land ownership in England is astonishingly unequal, heavily concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite.” The book’s findings are drawn from a combination of public maps, data released through the Freedom of Information Act and other sources. Read the rest
6 h
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Turn your LEGO® characters into pilots with this DIY drone kit
Who said LEGO® had to be ground bound? With The Force Flyers DIY Building Block Fly 'n Drive Drone, you can turn LEGO® and other building-block creations into fully-functional flying machines. It's available now in the Boing Boing Store for $39.99. This kit comes with everything you need for remote-controlled long distance flight, including a 6-axis gyroscope, a 2.4 GHz wireless transmitter, and extra rotors for when you inevitably crash. Its plastic frame is covered in studs that are compatible with most brick-building toys, so you can get creative with your quadcopter’s design. Once assembled, you can precisely pilot your flyer through all kinds of tight spaces with the bundled digital proportional controller. Children of all ages will have fun learning about the physics of flight with this hands-on project. Pick up the Force Flyers DIY Building Block Fly 'n Drive Drone here for $39.99. Read the rest
6 h
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The Mueller report, thumbnailed for redaction appreciation
From FlowingData, this is the redacted Mueller report in a "thumbnailed view for a sense of the redactions." There's still plenty to read between the (black) lines. (Thanks, Ted Weinstein!) Read the rest
7 h
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Searchable, group-annotatable version of the Mueller Report
Muckrock's JPat Brown (previously) writes, "Wanted to let you know we've got a text-searchable version of the Mueller Report loaded into our crowdsourcing tool that might be of interest to Boing Boing readers." Read the rest
7 h
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We lost the fight for balance in the EU's Copyright Directive, but here's what we won
The fight over the EU's Copyright Directive was the biggest fight in European political history: more than 100,000 people marched against it in 50 cities; more than 5,000,000 people signed a petition against it, and ultimately the Directive only squeaked into law because (Jesus Fucking Christ I can't believe I'm about to type this) five Swedish MEPs got confused pressed the wrong button (seriously kill me now). No European politician was more important to the struggle than Julia Reda, the German Pirate Party MEP who is stepping down ahead of European elections next May, after five years of effective, dedicated service. On the eve of her departure, Reda has published her postmortem on the Directive and what it means. It's an uplifting and important missive, one that draws a distinction between the incredible political malpractice from European politicians who continue to treat the internet as though it were a video-on-demand service, or a jihadi recruiting tool, or a pornography distribution system; and the mass-scale, unprecedented popular perception that the internet is our planetary, species-wide electronic nervous system, whose regulation needs to take account of all that we do online, not just one industry or lobby's corner of it. We are living through an all-out, global blitz on online free speech, privacy, competition and self-determination, a realtime Chinafication of the western internet, and the past year has set us back a decade or more. But as Reda notes, the difference between the fight now and the fight a decade ago is the size of the army we're fighting with: the cause of online freedom has a self-recruiting mass movement of people, more of whom wake up every day and realize that their future is tied to the internet's future. Read the rest
9 h
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Royal Scandals: Drugs, Divorce, and Free Booze for Life, in this week’s royally dubious tabloids
When there’s nothing new to say, at least the tabloids say it loudly.
9 h
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Here is the redacted Mueller Report released by Barr
DoJ releases redacted #MuellerReport, Dems fight for full text
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Ingenious DIY Etch-A-Sketch digital camera
Martin Fitzpatrick built the Etch-A-Snap, a digital camera with an automated Pocket Etch-A-Sketch as its display on the back. Each photo takes between 15 minutes to one hour to be sketched. From Two Bit Arcade: Photos are processed down to 240x144 pixel 1-bit (black & white) line drawings using Pillow and OpenCV and then translated into plotter commands by building a network graph representation with networkx. The Etch-A-Sketch wheels are driven by two 5V stepper motors mounted into a custom 3D printed frame. The Etch-A-Snap is entirely portable and powered by 4xAA batteries & 3x18650 LiPo cells. Find links to the plans and code here: "Etch-A-Snap: The Raspberry Pi powered Etch-A-Sketch camera" (Two Bit Arcade) Read the rest
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How frequently do individual packs contain an identical number and ratio of colored skittles?
Once in 468 packs, found Eric Farmer. So, on 12 January of this year, I started buying boxes of packs of Skittles. This past week, “only” 82 days, 13 boxes, 468 packs, and 27,740 individual Skittles later, I found the following identical 2.17-ounce packs: Many excellent graphs in the report. I'm shocked and appalled by the distribution of total number of skittles per pack: there's a fair chance you'll get anywhere between 55 and 65 (thought in all fairness, about a 2/3 chance of getting 60 or one short or long of it) Read the rest
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The mysterious wild cats of Britain
Growing up in Britain, one of my favorite folk fascinations/media obsessions was the alleged presence of big cats in the countryside. Fueled by blurry photos and living at the margins on possibility, the phenomena helped tabloids move on slow days and sometimes shaded into cryptozoology, ufology and other more delicious myths. But they're out there! Aren't they? There have been 155 big cat sightings reported to UK police forces in the past three years, according to forces responding to FOI requests. There are likely many more never recorded. Local newspapers publish dozens of eyewitness reports every year, and have helped to firmly establish certain creatures – the Surrey Puma, the Beast of Exmoor – in local legend. Where might these cats have come from? One theory suggests they were released by their owners in the months leading up to the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act. Exotic animals had been sold in Harrods; cheetahs could occasionally be seen being walked in Hyde Park. Given the choice of acquiring a costly licence or relinquishing their pets to animal sanctuaries, at least some owners chose a third option: sending cats out into the wild. And yet they are never captured—but for a few escapees and abandonments granted no mythic fanfare, such as an elderly and arthritic puma so chill she could be petted. UPDATE: There's a whole wikipedia article just about British big cats The existence of a population of true big cats in Britain, especially a breeding population, is believed to be highly implausible by experts owing to lack of convincing evidence. Read the rest
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NRA reportedly looted by its famous faces and in deep financial trouble
At The New Yorker, Mike Spies writes that the NRA is not quite the vigorous pressure group under regulatory siege that it portrays itself as. It is a fundraising scheme being looted by its own leadership. Even as the association has reduced spending on its avowed core mission—gun education, safety, and training—to less than ten per cent of its total budget, it has substantially increased its spending on messaging. The N.R.A. is now mainly a media company, promoting a life style built around loving guns and hating anyone who might take them away. ... Marc Owens, who served for ten years as the head of the Internal Revenue Service division that oversees tax-exempt enterprises, recently reviewed these records. “The litany of red flags is just extraordinary,” he said. “The materials reflect one of the broadest arrays of likely transgressions that I’ve ever seen. There is a tremendous range of what appears to be the misuse of assets for the benefit of certain venders and people in control.” Owens added, “Those facts, if confirmed, could lead to the revocation of the N.R.A.’s tax-exempt status”—without which the organization could likely not survive. As privacy is to Facebook, gun rights are the NRA: never not for sale. It's the most systematic of the grifts being run on conservatives and that context defines everything it does. For example, its been rumored that Dana Loesch and Oliver North are really just PR consultants. Spies has the receipts, and additionally reveals that Loesch isn't even employed by the NRA. Read the rest
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Australian man trades two cases of beer for real live unicorn
A southern Australia livestock sales agent saved a magical unicorn sheep from the slaughterhouse by trading its owner two cases of beer in exchange for the fantastic creature. (The unicorn, named Joey, apparently does have a stunted second horn but whatever.) “We’ll break him in, take him to shows and pageants, and who knows where we can go, maybe Hollywood,” (Joey's new human companion Michael) Foster told 7News Adelaide. “I’m sure the kids will get a big kick out of patting a real-life unicorn, we might even do unicorn rides.” Read the rest
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"Strarcrossed," the hot disco track from the Price is Right (1976)
Come on down and, more to the point, get on down to this full version of "Starcrossed," one of the many disco jams from Score Productions used as a musical cue on The Price is Right starting in 1976. Also, I hadn't realized before that Crystal Waters' 2001 cover of Score Productions' "Come on Down," aka the main Price is Right theme, hit number one on Billboard's Dance Club Songs Chart! I much prefer the original lyric-less version. Both are below. Read the rest
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NBC News: Access to Facebook user data given to Zuckerberg's "friends"
Leaked internal Facebook documents show that Facebook not only planned to sell user data, but that it ultimately "doled it out to app developers who were considered personal “friends” of Zuckerberg", reports NBC News. Olivia Solon and Cyrus Farivar: The thousands of newly shared documents were anonymously leaked to the British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, who shared them with a handful of media organizations: NBC News, Computer Weekly and Süddeutsche Zeitung. Campbell, a founding member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, is a computer forensics expert who has worked on international investigations including on offshore banking and big tobacco. The documents appear to be the same ones obtained by Parliament in late 2018 as part of an investigation into Facebook. Facebook did not question the authenticity of the documents NBC News obtained. Read the rest
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Facebook admits harvesting contacts of the 1.5m email passwords it asked for
A few weeks ago, we learned that Facebook asked for the personal email passwords of some users logging in. Today, it admits that it used the passwords to harvest 1.5m users' email contacts without consent. Facebook claims that doing this was "unintentional," despite contact harvesting being the plainly obvious purpose of demanding people's email passwords and notifications in Facebook informing users that their contacts were being imported. Facebook harvested the email contacts of 1.5 million users without their knowledge or consent when they opened their accounts. Since May 2016, the social-networking company has collected the contact lists of 1.5 million users new to the social network, Business Insider can reveal. The Silicon Valley company said the contact data was "unintentionally uploaded to Facebook," and it is now deleting them. The revelation comes after pseudononymous security researcher e-sushi noticed that Facebook was asking some users to enter their email passwords when they signed up for new accounts to verify their identities, a move widely condemned by security experts. Business Insider then discovered that if you entered your email password, a message popped up saying it was "importing" your contacts without asking for permission first. Facebook's cycle of promises and lies depends upon journalistic objectivity being warped into a perverse assumption of Facebook's good faith. When we fail to report each privacy abuse in the context of all the other ones, we simply fail. Read the rest
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Get your e-degree in DevOps with this training bundle
When businesses need big cloud projects done right, they need experts in DevOps. For the uninitiated, that's shorthand for the framework that allows development and operations teams to work together toward the same goal - not as independent departments with their own agendas. There's an arsenal of software that has cropped up to help in the workflow, and the Complete DevOps E-Degree Bundle is the easiest way to learn them all. The six-course package includes a big-picture primer on the concepts that make DevOps work, then dives right in to show you how to install and manage a Linux framework. From there, you'll learn how to monitor it with Nagios and link up remote servers like RedHat, CentOS, and Ubuntu. Two entire courses are dedicated to the essential pieces of the development pipeline, including Jenkins, Ansible and Chef. All in all, it's more than 80 hours of reference materials and lessons, leading to a career-building e-degree in DevOps. Lifetime access to the Complete DevOps E-Degree Bundle is currently $25, more than 85% off the MSRP. Read the rest
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eBoy's new design-your-own Swatch watch
Check out the new "Swatch x You" artist edition from longtime Boing Boing pals eBoy, the pixelmasters whose dingbat font FF Peecol birthed our own Jackhammer Jill mascot! With the new Swatch, you get to choose from a variety of eBoy characters in a pre-determined pattern to "design" your own watch. From Swatch: Three designers, never-ending 8-bit paradises. The always-surprising pixel creations by the Berlin-based trio have been on the cover of numerous magazines, ad campaigns and many art galleries. Since 1977, eBoy keeps building, pixel by pixel, the most original digital environments and characters that invite people on a journey of discovery and wonder. Read the rest
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Carl's Jr. to test a CBD-infused burger
On April 20 (4/20, duh), Carl's Jr. will sell a cannabidiol (CBD)-infused burger at one of their Denver, Colorado locations. It's called the Rocky Mountain High: CheeseBurger Delight. Of course, CBD actually doesn't get you high but can provide other benefits as an analgesic, to reduce inflammation, alleviate anxiety, etc. Anyway, the fast food chain insists this isn't a publicity stunt but the beginning of an actual market test. From CNN: "It is something that feels right for the brand," (Carl's Jr. senior vice president of brand marketing Patty Trevino) told CNN Business. "We are all about innovation..." The chain first decided to explore CBD in January, after introducing a product based on another trend. Earlier this year, the chain announced a plant-based alternative to its signature burger in partnership with Beyond Meat. "I was sitting down with our head chef Owen Klein, and we were talking about trends," Trevino said. After the Beyond Meat launch, they came up with a wish list that included a CBD product. "We looked at ourselves and said, you know what, let's try." Starting small, in a market where cannabis regulation is "really strong," will allow Carl's Jr. to figure out how to move forward. Testing CBD could give the company an edge over competitors, because most of its locations are in Western states, where recreational cannabis is legal. Read the rest
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Oblivion Factory: new sculptures from Jud Turner
Sculptor Jud Turner (previously) sends us two new pieces: Deindustry ("a meditation on the industrial divinity of late-stage capitalism, and combines my fear of heights with my fear of over-industrialization") and Scale of Themis ("an imagined tool for the Greek goddess Themis to weigh possible civilizations against each other. The tiny differences in these two -- vertical stackers vs. horizontal placers -- seem to balance out"). Deindustry: 40" x 30" x 10" Scale of Themis: 32" x 40" x 8" Read the rest
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Republican lawmaker who dared AOC to come visit coal miners in his constituency gets scared, withdraws offer
Late last month, Rep. Andy Barr [R-KY] "invited" Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to visit the coal miners in his Appalachian district, by way of rebuttal to her brilliant response to the charge that the Green New Deal was a rich, city-person's luxury, taking no account of working, poor and rural people. AOC took him up on the invitation, saying "It’s a complete injustice the cancer levels that a lot of these communities are confronting. We have to plan a future for all of our communities, no matter what. Failure to plan is planning to fail and I feel like we’ve been failing Appalachian communities for a very long time and it’s time to turn that ship around." Now, Barr has rescinded the invitation, blaming it on her defense of Rep Ilhan Omar, who has been smeared by Republicans and establishment Democrats with the racist slur that she supports Islamic terror. Barr said he was dismayed by her "lack of civility." In response, AOC tweeted: "GOP’s getting scared that up close, their constituents will realize I’m fighting harder for their healthcare than their own Reps
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Video ad for temperature control mug would be a great parody, but it isn't
The video ad for this smart mug, for sale on Amazon, is either brilliant or an SNL parody. I can not embed the video, you have to click to the Amazon product page to load it. (Thanks, Jolie!) Read the rest
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My two favorite times someone says "evil" in the movies
I get a lot of mileage out of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai's "Evil! Pure and simple from the Eighth Dimension!" but Time Bandits "It's evil! Don't touch it!" certainly gets put to frequent use. Read the rest
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