Thursday, April 10, 2014

CBS, Let Stephen Colbert Be Stephen Colbert on The Late Show

CBS, Let Stephen Colbert Be Stephen Colbert on The Late Show

CBS, Let Stephen Colbert Be Stephen Colbert on The Late Show

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 11:00 AM PDT

RIP “Stephen Colbert,” 2005-2014. Less than a week after David Letterman announced his retirement on air, CBS today announced his replacement: Stephen Colbert, the man, not the character. Colbert will take over The Late Show some time in 2015, meaning that by the end of this year Colbert will be retiring the character he’s played on his show and off for nine years (longer if you count his time as correspondent for The Daily Show).

Colbert, the most adaptable performer and quickest mind in late night, has no doubt earned the promotion. I only hope, as I’ve written a couple of times over the past week, that it’s not a creative demotion.

What Colbert has done with The Colbert Report is, arguably, the greatest innovation in late night since Letterman launched NBC’s Late Night in 1982. The Report was a talk show, it was a satire, it was a real-time improv performance in character, week in and week out. But more than that, it was a creative work that didn’t end when the credits rolled; it was bigger than its time slot, bigger even than TV. He extended his parody to runs for office, to the White House Correspondents Dinner, to the American campaign finance system. He created a participatory performance, enlisting his Colbert Nation to vote in polls and to back charitable initiatives.

A decade, though, is a long time to expect an actor to stay in any role—much less until he retires. Colbert is an artist, and artists want to grow and be challenged. The guy’s got a lot of tools in his box, and his fake pundit isn’t the only thing he can do with them. Nor is politics, as anyone knows who’s watched him geek out on-air over Tolkien, or roller-dance with Bryan Cranston to “Get Lucky.”

Just please God, don’t let that thing be a middle-of-the-road, Hollywood-centric, let’s-roll-a-clip, something-for-everyone 11:35 p.m. talk show. Colbert is smart, quick, personable and likeable, but that likeability comes from—weird as this is to say about someone who’s hosted a show in character for nine years—authenticity. Colbert is specifically not for everyone; he’s geekily intelligent, blisteringly funny and has a distinct, often political, point of view. Take that away and you take away everything.

The onus, in other words, is now on CBS to let Colbert be Colbert—even if he’s not “Colbert.” As with Letterman, they’ve hired the major late-night talent of his time. But CBS hired Letterman expressly to do what he did at NBC; Colbert, we don’t yet know. The CBS announcement contains the usual talk you expect from such a press release. CBS says he’s “inventive” and “respected”; Colbert is thrilled (and “now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go grind a gap in my front teeth”). But as for the show he’ll do? “Specific creative elements, as well as producers and the location… will be determined and announced at a later date.”

How not-for-everyone is CBS willing to be, when Jimmy Fallon is leading at NBC with a (brilliant and authentic to him) version of enthusiastic niceness? My doubts have been wrong before! I was skeptical, for instance, about Fallon as host of Late Night and loved him in the gig.

In any case, I may have argued against Stephen Colbert taking Late Show, but I’m also excited despite myself to see what he does with it. I’m 100% sure he’s up to the job. I only hope the job is up to him.

Sheryl Sandberg Told Stephen Colbert How Husbands Can Get More Sex

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 10:56 AM PDT

In between talking about Lean In and more Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg shared a useful bit of knowledge with Stephen Colbert on his show Wednesday. Namely, how people can get more sex.

Colbert asked Sandberg what she thought of a recent study that claims equal marriages in which men did more chores lead to less sex.

“That study is based on a 1996 study and it’s very outdated,” Sandberg said, explaining that happier people have bigger libidos. “I tell men, if you want to have more sex, don’t buy flowers, do laundry. And this works.”

Sandberg had some non-sex related advice for Colbert as well. When he asked about what he should be telling his daughter to provide her with tools for success, Sandberg said, “Look at your daughter and say ‘How do you lean in?’”

“Do I have to use the name of your book?” Colbert replied. “Because that’s great marketing.”

Oh Colbert, please don’t change when you take over for David Letterman at CBS.

Wal-Mart Could Make Organic Food Cheap—and Eventually, Plentiful

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 10:29 AM PDT

If you still think organic food is something for hippies and vegans—and best of all, hippie vegans, though that might be redundant—it’s time to update your cultural stereotypes. This morning Wal-Mart announced that it would begin carrying products from the Wild Oats organic line—and that it would offer the goods at prices that are at least 25% cheaper than their organic competitors. Wal-Mart, the Bentonville behemoth that became the biggest retailer in the world by ruthlessly lowering prices, wants to make organic food cheap. And that could make the organic food market go supernova. “If we can make the price premium disappear, we think it will grow much, much faster,” Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of grocery at Wal-Mart U.S., told reporters.

Organic has already been growing rapidly. Though the category still accounted for just 4% of total U.S. food sales at the beginning of 2012, organic sales rose to 10.2% that year, or $29 billion. A decade earlier, organic sales were just $8 billion. And this rapid growth is occurring even as sales at traditional supermarkets have been slumping. A wide swath of customers are switching to organic food when they can, and chances are even more would make the move if they could afford it: internal research at Wal-Mart found that 91% of its customers would buy “affordable” organic products if they were available. Over at Fortune magazine—another Time Inc. title—the editors are hailing the organic star Whole Foods on the cover of their latest edition:

The Austin-based chain is one of the country’s most successful retailers — its revenue has doubled and profits have tripled since 2007 — defying dismal grocery industry trends by offering consumers a mix of organics, truly delicious prepared foods, and an expanding array of staples under its 365 house brand. Now, having conquered affluent suburbs and trendy urban areas, Whole Foods is out to win over the rest of America.

In the short term, Wal-Mart’s move—which for now will be confined to staples like olive oil and tomato paste—could actually raise prices for some organic foods. That’s because the demand for organics has been outpacing the supply —this year there’s been a shortage of organic milk in many places, and organic egg production has dropped even as demand has increased because the price of the organic feed needed for the hens that lay the eggs has skyrocketed. (The example of milk is instructive: sales of whole organic milk nationwide increased 17% from January through October 2011, compared with the same period in 2010—even as sales of conventional milk over those months fell by 2%.) Under U.S. Agricultural Department rules, it also takes at least three years for farmers to switch from conventional crops to organic ones, so there will likely be a lag.

Still Wal-Mart’s unique, um, talent for getting suppliers to do what it wants will likely ensure that organic supply will rise to meet that growing demand over time, at prices that are less than what consumers have been accustomed to paying. The cognitive dissonance is inevitable—for the hardest-core of organic shoppers, the ones who long ago turned away from conventional groceries because of health and environmental fears, Wal-Mart is up there with Monsanto as a symbol of all that is is evil in the food world. But Wal-Mart has actually been selling organic products for years with a lot of success. And just as the company’s adoption of energy efficiency and renewable energy—while not without problems—has helped push those technologies towards the mainstream, Wal-Mart’s embrace of cheap organic could have a major impact on the American diet and farming. Scale is a hell of a thing.

30-Second Tech Trick: How to Share Your Amazon Prime Membership

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 10:29 AM PDT

Man Sues Ex-Girlfriend Over Stuffed Animal Obsession 

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 10:15 AM PDT

A man in China's Hubei province is reportedly suing his ex-girlfriend for $6,450—all because she insisted on bringing her stuffed animal, Snoopy, on dates throughout their four-year relationship. According to a report from China’s Global Post, Snoopy was third-wheeling it all over the place: the boyfriend had to buy extra food and tickets to the movies just for the stuffed animal.

Eventually, the boyfriend snapped, throwing Snoopy in anger after refusing to take it (him, apparently) into the bathroom. He broke up with his girlfriend, but then decided the "mental anguish" caused by Snoopy deserved compensation.

This animal love triangle might be strange, but we're guessing that the girlfriend had a not-so-secret case of plushophilia, a fetish for stuffed animals that's well-documented on the Internet.

Plushophilia is different than being a furry—less than one percent of furries (anthropomorphized animal fetishists) are plushophiles, according to one study. The gentleman from Hubei probably would have been equally put off by either one, however.

Republicans Vote to Hold Former IRS Official in Contempt

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 10:10 AM PDT

House Republicans voted Thursday to hold in contempt of Congress the former IRS official at the center of a scandal over the tax agency’s alleged targeting of conservative groups.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted along party lines to approve a resolution recommending Lois Lerner be held in contempt of Congress. Lerner, who oversaw the IRS division in charge of vetting applications for groups seeking tax-exempt status, came under fire when she admitted the agency had given scrutiny to requests from conservative political groups. The ensuing scandal briefly buffeted President Barack Obama in the early days of his second term, but ultimately fizzled without evidence of a connection to the White House and with revelations that liberal groups were also given scrutiny. Republicans have sought to keep the issue alive, though, and committee chairman Darrell Issa (R—Calif.) has sought to compel Lerner to testify about the matter, rejecting her claim to Fifth Amendment protections.

“We need Ms. Lerner's testimony to complete our oversight work to bring the truth to the American people,” Issa said Thursday. “Why did she do certain things and who else was involved? … The American taxpayers certainly don't get to plead the Fifth and escape all accountability when the IRS audits them.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, again decried Republicans for what he called a political witch hunt.

“Today this committee is trying to do something even Joe McCarthy did not do in the 1950s, something almost unprecedented,” Cummings said before the vote.

The outcome of Thursday's vote was all but predetermined, as Issa's GOP-controlled committee has been divided along the issue along stark partisan lines. The full House will have to vote on the contempt citation, but even if that passes it’s unclear if Attorney General Eric Holder would take any action.

The tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee sent a letter Wednesday recouting Lerner's alleged crimes and insisting the Justice Department has "a responsibility to act, and Lois Lerner must be held accountable."

It Doesn’t Matter Where You Go to College

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 10:10 AM PDT

This month, high school seniors across America are receiving college decision letters of acceptance and rejection. Many of these students, and their parents, will think that where they go to college will significantly affect their employment future.

They think wrong. Today, whether you go to college retains some importance in your employment options. But where you go to college is of almost no importance. Whether your degree, for example, is from UCLA or from less prestigious Sonoma State matters far less than your academic performance and the skills you can show employers.

Research on the impact of college selection has focused on comparing the earnings of graduates of different colleges. In 1999, economists Alan Krueger and Stacy Berg Dale published a widely-read study that compared the earnings of graduates of elite colleges with those of "moderately selective" schools. The latter group was composed of persons who had been admitted to an elite college but chose to attend another school.

The economists found that the earnings of the two groups 20 years after graduation differed little or not at all. In a larger follow up study, released in 2011 and covering 19,000 college graduates, the economists reached a similar conclusion: Whether you went to University of Penn or Penn State, Williams College or Miami University of Ohio, job outcomes were unaffected in terms of earnings.

Earnings are only a part of the employment picture. Other measures, like job satisfaction or social value, are more difficult to quantify. In a thoughtful 2004 essay, the writer Gregg Easterbrook interviewed college officials throughout the country to assess these impacts. His conclusion: on a range of measures of job satisfaction, attendance at an elite college had little impact.

Forty years ago, elite colleges offered a demonstrably higher level of education. Today, as many as 200 colleges across the U.S. offer a similar level of education and have excellent faculty and facilities.

The minor role that a job candidate’s college plays in hiring becomes even clearer when you talk to California workforce professionals. Kris Stadelman, the director of the NOVA Workforce Investment Board in Silicon Valley, is a leader in understanding how hiring criteria changed in California. "Employers are interested in what skills you bring and how these skills can be used in their business", she explains. In one study, NOVA interviewed tech employers and learned that mastery of current technologies is the most critical factor in their hiring decisions. Few employers even mentioned college degrees as a factor. "Especially in the tech industry, employers want to see skills applications rather than traditional resumes; Show, don't tell," says Stadelman.

Over the past three years, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Regional Commissioner Richard Holden and I have been researching hiring processes and criteria. We've found that this emphasis on skills extends beyond tech to other major employment sectors, including business services, financial services, health care, and hospitality. Employers seek people with skills that apply to the particular job—and who have the ability to solve problems and work in a team.

As a volunteer job coach, I encourage every young adult who is at all interested to attend college. Unless the family has a financial need, there is no reason for a young person to rush into the workforce—especially since our work lives now last an estimated 40 years.

I also say: If you have the good fortune to choose among colleges, it is worth taking the process seriously. Obtain as much information as possible to evaluate the location, size, and educational specialties of every school. But remember: the particular college degree will be of little consequence, especially after you've been in the labor force for more than a few years."

What's most important is what you will do, at college and in life, to keep improving your skills, to develop your character, to remain persistent. You'll also need some mazel.

That's Yiddish for luck.

Michael Bernick is the former director of the California labor department, the Employment Development Department, and has been involved in job training and placement since 1979. He currently is a Milken Institute Fellow, and Zocalo Contributing Editor. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

Android Gets a Malware Scanner for Google Play Store Apps

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 10:00 AM PDT

Google is adding another layer of security to Android by periodically checking users’ Google Play Store apps for malware.

The new malware scanner in Android is an extension of Google’s “Verify Apps” tool, which in the past has only scanned apps from outside of Google Play, and only upon installation. The updated version will perform routine checks even after an app is installed, regardless of where it came from. If the scanner detects an app that’s potentially harmful, users will see a warning and an option to remove the offending app.

Google already scans apps before letting them into the Google Play Store, using a tool called “Bouncer.” But Bouncer doesn’t exist on users’ devices, and doesn’t scan apps that users have installed already. It’s also not foolproof, for a variety of reasons. With the new malware scanner, Google can keep a closer eye on apps that users are actually running on their phones and tablets.

In an interview, Android security head Adrian Ludwig said not to expect any significant impact on system resources. The scanner will be triggered by behaviors that are potentially harmful, such as premium text messages and root access, but otherwise will check in every couple days or so. “It’s very, very lightweight, and not something we’d ever expect a user to interact with,” Ludwig said.

Ludwig wouldn’t say how many users have been infected by malware through Google Play Store apps in the past, and said that any data from the malware scanner rollout is still too preliminary to share. But he did say that for apps outside of Google Play, users only installed them 0.18 percent of the time after being warned about potentially malicious behavior. Google expects that most users will never come across a warning.

It’s worth noting that many of the questionable Android apps that have made headlines recently would not fall under the malware scanner’s purview, because Google doesn’t view these apps as harmful to users.

For instance, Virus Shield, a $4 app that purported to wipe out security threats but actually did nothing, would not be detected by Google’s Verify Apps tool. Although Virus Shield was a scam, the app itself didn’t cause any further harm once users had purchased it. (Google has removed Virus Shield from the Play Store, and users can request refunds in these kinds of situations.)

Verify Apps also wouldn’t have picked up on Google Play Store apps that are secretly mining Litecoins and Dogecoins on users’ devices. Two such apps were discovered this week by security firm TrendMicro, and they’ve since been removed from the Google Play Store.

The issue in that case appeared to be that the apps weren’t disclosing their behavior, but Ludwig defended cryptocurrency mining in general as a potential business model for developers. “I think cryptocurrency is an extraordinarily good example of innovation happening that could not happen on a platform that blocks first and allows later,” Ludwig said. He added that the industry will have to think about how to disclose and implement cryptocurrency mining, and some of those practices may not be appropriate for Google Play, but he defended Android’s ability to let developers experiment.

Google’s attitude toward what constitutes malware underscores the divide between the company and third-party security firms, who sell their own apps to combat threats on Android. As another example, a popular flashlight app that secretly tracked users’ locations and sold the info to ad networks would probably not be flagged by Verify Apps, but many third-party tools will detect such behavior and send a warning to users.

While security firms do tend to overstate Android security risks — particularly by pointing out obscure apps or apps from outside of Google Play — they also offer a level of protection that Android on its own does not. (Google, for what it’s worth, sees the availability of these tools as a benefit of Android.)

Verify Apps is part of Google Play Services, which means users don’t have to do anything to add it to their devices. It’s enabled by default, but users can disable it by going to Google Settings > Verify Apps or Settings > Security > Verify Apps, depending on the Android version. The new malware scanner is rolling out gradually, and will be available on devices running Android 2.2 or higher.

Watch Stevie Nicks And Jimmy Fallon (as Tom Petty) Expertly Recreate a Classic 1981 Tune

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 09:40 AM PDT

Stevie Nicks — objectively one of the coolest people alive and if anyone would like to dispute that just DO NOT– stopped by the Tonight Show Wednesday night and teamed up with host Jimmy Fallon to recreate her 1981 hit “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Fallon played the part of Tom Petty, who sings along with Nicks in the chorus and the bridge.

Fallon does a pretty convincing Petty, but the highlight here is clearly Stevie Nicks, because she’s Stevie Nicks.

The duo stays pretty faithful to the original video:


REVIEW: John Frusciante Stretches His Songwriting on New Album Enclosure

Posted: 10 Apr 2014 09:37 AM PDT

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Enter the bizarre saga that is John Frusciante's solo career…

Story goes, he left the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1992 and lost his mind. The years of excess, copious touring, and constant hissy fits with Anthony Kiedis had finally taken their toll on the guitarist, who isolated himself in the recesses of Los Angeles with a stockpile of heroin and a cheap Portastudio. Two years later, he released these psychotic episodes as his solo debut, Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt – the first in an ongoing series of solo albums that are very un-Chili Peppers.

He's a songwriter who welcomes chaos, as if in artistic defiance of the rigid, commercialized song structures of his former band. There's always that initial shock when you listen to him for the first time: "This is the dude who helped write 'Can't Stop'?" Consider it a testament to how talented he is, able to follow the rules of the Top 40 and then release an album of lo-fi folk. There was always the sense that he was creatively stifled with RHCP, so it's only natural that he carve out an outlet to explore.

However, Frusciante's taken that exploration to a polarizing extreme lately, dabbling in hardcore electronic music. 2012's PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone and last year's Outsides EP saw him inserting drum and bass and trip-hop into his songs, much to the chagrin of those expecting fancy guitar work or the dense calmness of the acclaimed 2005 LP Curtains. The detractors did have a point: While Frusciante is a gifted guitar player, his electronic production was jarringly amateurish by comparison. Hearing him trigger drum spasms over otherwise typical songs was both indulgent and unnecessary, as if he was consciously sabotaging his recordings (under the guise of polyrhythmic atonality).

This experiment continues on Enclosure, and Frusciante doesn't yield, throwing in even more breakbeats and rattling electro percussion. The template is established with opener "Shining Desert", Frusciante's falsetto and fuzzy guitar drenched in reverb as a cacophony of drum and bass flows on and offbeat. He sings in 4/4 time while all the snares go wild, and this recurs on the following track, "Sleep".

So, the patented Frusciante chaos is firmly intact, but at what cost? Just like PBX, the songs are disengaging because the engaging elements — the vocals and the guitars — play second and third fiddle to Frusciante's electronics, which are far and away the weakest parts of the songs. The drum onslaughts obscure words and melodies. Even worse are the guitar solos themselves, which, like the vocals, are out of time and seemingly recorded independently of the percussion. Tracks like "Cinch" and the coda of "Strange" wander lost in the schismatic void between random noodling and Ratatat-esque dance rock. Unless you're really into atonality or rudimentary drum and bass, it's difficult to absorb.

The understated moments on Enclosure stand out among the convolution. It's when Frusciante holds back on the buttons and knobs and just sings to a simple rhythm that he gets through. "Fanfare" is the emotional highpoint of the record, and it's a simple synthpop tune with a Bowie croon up front in the mix. The first half of "Stage" — a sinister post-punk crawl — also hints at how a more subdued approach would have benefited a lot of these songs, which begin to blur in a muddle of repetitive beats and occasional guitar.

Even for an amorphous songwriter like Frusciante, Enclosure is a stretch. The overly complicated percussion is an impractical fit for his songwriting style and offers little for the listener to cling to. He's said this record is his "last word on the musical statement that began with PBX." So be it. His talents are best applied elsewhere, far away from the breakbeats.

Essential Track: "Fanfare"

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