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Sunday Morning Reading Material Fourth Sunday in February 2012- Middle class livelihood Edition

It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for loving the one you’re with. Sundays are for nerding out and watching video games on TV. Sundays are for working your Monday-Friday job. Sundays are for waiting patiently for the IRS to give you some money for a change.

This week, a judge ruled that former Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi hid his corruption long enough that he wouldn’t have to face punishment for it. This week, Playstation released a new piece of hardware. This week the IMF told the world that the global economy is really not in the best of shape right now. And this week Iran begged the world to stop attacking them.

The internet is fantastic. It has allowed more people access to more data than ever before seen in human history. A device that fits in my pocket can answer and factual question that humankind has discovered. Not everyone has access to the internet. Access requires a skill set that must be learned. And in this age of austerity, American society is removing the tools which can help people learn those skills. This is how austerity creates poverty.

Because it needs saying, saying again, and repeating: Obama (and the Democratic party) saved the US economy. Had Republicans not enacted austerity measures, the economy would probably be doing even better by now.

It has now been long enough since Loving Vs. Virginia that those first (legal) interracial couples can have great grand children. So naturally in Austin Texas, the police get called out when a white man is talking a walk with his black granddaughter. And naturally, in 2012, the police respond to every situation with overwhelming force. These two things together point out how American racism is upheld and reinforced by the society which would like very much to destroy it. It’s ugly, pernicious, and needs to change.

The other day my dad was asking me how many readers I’d need in order to make money from this blog. Some quick math tells me that if I had a readership of 100,000 people, and could get $1 a year from about a third of them, I’d be doing ok. I don’t have nearly that level of readership, though I know some people do. One way to monetize readership is to sell ads. Another way is to sell Tshirts. A third is though pledge drives. I’m not sure how future-media will pay for itself. I’m fairly sure that this blog won’t ever get big enough to worry about it.

It is certainly true that a bad attitude doesn’t help solve major problems. It is much more true that being able to buy a new pair of legs requires money. And since disabilities tend to be concentrated among the least-well off, society creates a circular problem– and then tells the disabled that it’s their own fault. Helen Keller recognized this. That’s why she spent her life working for the communist party.

How the fuck do fashion designers have enough clout to tell Hollywood women they’re too fat?! Relatedly: how can fashion designers believe that Hollywood women are too fat, yet not be institutionalized as being too crazy to function in the real world?

this is adorably terrifying.

This winter, California weather has been frighteningly perfect. I mean that literally: I have been frightened at our lack of rain, lack of cold weather, lack of everything that our ecosystem depends on to reset itself. This summer will probably not be very pleasant at all. Global Climate Change. If Earth truly is becoming more like Venus, might it be worth the collapse of civilization in order to save our species? Or maybe we ought to let Iran build nukes- if they promise to stop exporting oil. Or maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe.

Or maybe the sky will fall and save us all.

My goal for 2012 is to become self sufficient once more. I’ve said before that January 2011 saw me at the very bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, looking up at everything. It’s a terrifying place to be. I think this terror helps answer C.S. Lewis’ question about debt: Debt undermines every part of the hierarchy. A person in debt literally cannot use their own resources to take care of all their needs, and thus must begin to decide which of the fundamental things they must give up on, or which of several needs they must cut back on.

Sleep is weird. If we humans don’t get enough of it, we will literally go mad. Too much will leave us feeling sluggish and stupid. Is it possible that we modern people sleep wrong? It would make some evolutionary sense for us to have a two hour nighttime wake-period– the better to keep an eye out for predators. And perhaps that’s why hot-weather cultures are able to have siesta– they’re shifting their sleep from night to day. And perhaps it’s all BS.

At the very least, read the first few paragraphs of this review of the game Oil Rush. I’m not really sure how game designers can create a game around 4th generation warfare, but it’s useful to have a conversation around it’s existence.

I’ve never been sure why Reagan was neither tried for treason nor impeached. It would be awesome for Republicans to realize they’ve been making a huge mistake about him.

The business model of Intellectual Property rental depends on artificial scarcity. IP owners are terrified about piracy because it creates extra product outside their control. The obvious solution would seem to be allowing consumers easy and free access to IP within a framework controlled by the IP owners. instead they’re making it difficult for consumers to become a customers.

Side note to the previous: when you buy an Mp3, the music industry likes to pretend that you’re merely licensing it from them. When they pay royalties to the people who made that music, they pretend that they sold it to you. The music industry is full of lying scumbags. This is what happens when the side the has the money also controls the information.

The author of the No Child Left in Ballsack Act is Yasmin Neal, a Democrat from Riverdale.

Setting aside special parking spaces for people who have physical difficulty walking is one of those nice things that society does. Which is exactly why we must shame, condemn, and punish people who abuse that system. The sense of entitlement people have about “perfect” parking is sort of outrageous. This is just one of many social ills that would be solved with better mass transit.

There is something awesome about watching a competition between people who have mastered their craft. Whether that’s football, cooking, or Street Fighter. Watch the one minute video, read the description, then watch it again.

Price might be the single biggest barrier to entry for entertainment. I think this sort of thing will come to define the future of games, movies, and books. There are enough entry points to- and price points within- the ecosystem they’ve set up that it becomes up to the consumer if they’re willing to spend more. Since the product is well designed, the consumer never feels like they’ve been ripped off.

If you click just one link:

Tip your server.

I love you, Hollywood style.

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Sunday Morning Reading Material Third Sunday in February 2012- Canadian Astronaut Edition


Scarves!

It’s Sunday… sometime. Sundays are for crockpots. Sundays are for road trips to Grandma’s. Sundays are for Sleeping. Sundays are for working, and visiting one’s partner’s family. And of course, Sundays are for dressing you up like a little gnome and have you, like, live in my garden.

This week: Iran moved a pair of Warships into the mediterranian, a show of force intended to push Israel into ceasing their attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists. This week the US Presidential primary showed a massive swing towards the candidate who’s name is so vile that googling it cannot be done from most work places. Also this week: scientists discovered that goats can form accents.

I’m almost positive that the Virginia State legislature didn’t intend to write a law that would demand doctors rape roughly 1/3 of Virginian women. But they did. Perhaps the most awful part of the bill is suspicion that it was written in the most-inflammatory way possible– specifically to overturn one of the most important legal decisions in American history.

Speaking of treating women very badly: the congressional panel about contraceptives and insurance that didn’t include a single woman. That’s not what Darrell Issa wanted the panel to be about, of course. He wanted a congressional inquiry about how Religion would no longer be as free to discriminate against women. So he invited a bunch of religious people to talk about it would curtail their freedom. Naturally he didn’t want to learn about how curtailing religious freedom enhanced the freedom of women. Also, for the record: when women get free contraceptives, men are much happier.

The practice of buying and selling sex is, of course, unsavory. I honestly can’t imagine what would cause someone to, say, get a lap dance. The idea of paying for penetration is utterly foreign to me. Maybe it’s just that desire is my own personal kink. Who knows. But just because I don’t like something, and just because I don’t understand why someone would buy something, doesn’t mean that it ought to be illegal. Nor does it mean that the police should incentivize unsafe workplaces. By doing so, they’re not only directly harming workers and clients, they’re also causing a danger to the public at large.

I had no idea that post birth was this uncomfortable for women. American society really ought to get on making this better.

Also this week? The world was OUTRAGED by the case of the government forcing a child to take free milk she didn’t know she had access to. I understand how parental embarrassment/fear at being unable to provide for their child can masquerade as outrage that someone else would do so. The fact that she was encouraged to feel that outrage is sickening. What sorts of moral monsters object to the richest country on Earth collectively offering to feed 4 year olds?

I do love me some West Wing. It’s got great dialog, fun characters, and a real sense of the pacing that government officials operate under. The problem is that the fictional president they portray isn’t very good. The problem is that not only did the writers on that show not know what liberalism should be, they didn’t understand why liberals believe what we do. As a result, Barlet was a sort of feckless weather vane: constantly reacting to crises, never setting the agenda. That was before the last half of the series. At that point, the writers started making a Democratic president make all the same decisions that the real Republican president was making.

Sometimes you just need a shitstorm.

There was a great line in Pump up the Volume: “all the great themes have been used up and turned into theme parks“. I won’t actually throw a party the day the last Baby Boomer dies- my father is part of that generation. It is, however, certainly the case that the Baby Boomers cashed out the promise and equity of America, and left behind only a burned husk of what might have been. As a generation they are loathsome.

Fun fact: we had ever increasing wages until the Boomers began voting in large numbers. Labor rights were rolled back, and we find ourselves in the mess we are today.

I’m sorry if my anti-Boomer musings have brought you down alot.

I earned just over $13,000 in 2011. As a result, I owed the US government roughly $300. Facebook earned roughly $1 billion. As a result, they will owe no taxes at all. This seems fair to me. Wait. Wait. No.

I hadn’t realized that Portugal decriminalized drugs a decade ago. One never hears about drug tourists flocking to the country hoping for a high. This may say some very negative things about the rest of what Portugal has to offer. Interesting thing about drug use after that decade: It’s gone down.

I played Angry Birds once. It led me to joining Al Queada.

Despite the headline, this is first paining ever made by humans. Rather, it is the oldest one we have record of. Either way: fucking cool.

When content owners won’t let their audience get product, it increases the likelihood that people will turn to other means to get their goods. I think if IP owners understood their problem with piracy, they’d have a better handle on fighting it. Instead, they flail like children, reacting against change.

The point of copyright law is to provide a (monetary) incentive for people to produce art and science. It’s hard to see how Whitney Huston could be induced to create more music by a posthumous price hike. Instead, the profit goes to the immortal corporation. Make your own vampire joke.

If I were suddenly making $200,000 a year, I’d like to think that my basic personality wouldn’t change much. After all, the things I enjoy doing wouldn’t change. And I’d guess that my free time to engage in those things would actually diminish. I can’t say that I’m actually all that different from this group of whiners, though.

So yeah. I think I’m going to play this game about slavery. Why don’t you?

If you click just one link:

Labor is discontent..

Crowdsourcing a celebrity.

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Sunday Morning Reading Material Second Sunday in February 2012- Cold fueled haze Edition


Fuck the Spartans.

It’s Sunday morning. Sundays are for waking up in a NyQuil-hangover daze and wondering if your face is still attached. Sundays are for furiously making Valentines day plans. Sundays are for sleeping in. Sundays are for doing Tea for Two. Sundays are for kitties.

This week US Bishops got into a huff about being asked to treat their employees the way every other employer is mandated to treat theirs. This week the Republican Presidential Primary got interesting as Rick Santorum won three states. And this week a major video game producer was able to raise over a million dollars just by asking their fans.

The super power I most want is flight. I know that telekinesis, teleportation, or tele-rude-people-off would be more valuable, but I am utterly fascinating by the ability to defy gravity. It is fascinating to me that nature came up with a method for creating flight that was easy enough to have been independently evolved dozens of times– but that humanity came up with an entirely different method for our own mechanical attempts. Yet here we are, with over a century of flight experience, and decades of space travel, without a firm grasp of what birds and insects do by pure instinct.

I showed this article to my boss. He confirmed that it was his experience in reading a menu. One obvious point he mentioned: no matter how people read the menu, they’re much more likely to actually order something if it has a picture of the food item.

Planned Parenthood. The very name has been demonized by religious zealots. I remember in Catholic school (oh yes, I was a Catholic school boy), I was taught that there ought to be “consequences” for our actions. This, I was told, is why abortion was a moral wrong. The older I get, the more I realize that consequence free fucking is something that we humans really ought to strive for. Rather than a moral wrong, this would be an incredible moral victory. The focus on one medical procedure also serves to obscure all the other good work that Planned Parenthood engages in. The short version: any medical care that a woman needs can be obtained at low- or no- cost at one of their clinics. Perhaps that’s the part that actually scares the patriarchy.

Speaking of my education: Target. When I was at Davis, I used to drive all over hell and gone to get the basic home furnishings: Toilet paper, kitty litter, sponges, etc. For about a year of my stay there, the city debated allowing the opening of a new Target a short walk from my apartment. This would have saved me more gas money than I care to think about. And brought the city always-needed sales tax revenue. I’m glad to see the NIMBYs finally relented.

I bet if we look hard enough, we can find someone who exactly caricatures the right-wing view of lefties, the way this quote does for the opposite.

In a very real sense, the Civil Rights struggle was a second American Revolution. It transformed the way the government and society treated citizens. I think the Occupy movement would like to be a third revolution, and in some sense fulfill the promise of the Civil Rights movement. If they are truly refusing to engage with the legal aspects of society, if they really do not wish to effect a change in the laws of America, then they have no chance at all of accomplishing anything lasting. If that’s the case, then they really are what the media has painted them as: a bunch of privileged kids whining about mom and dad.

Barack Obama rose from nothing to become the most powerful man in the world. And he is still human enough to take delight in the small things. Love it.

Sunday morning Comics.

In America, in the year 2012, it seems bizarre(!), strange(!), impossible,(!) that a human being could own(!) another human being in the same sense that a human can own a house or horse. In America, up until the year 1864, it was not only possible, but in many areas socially and economically mandatory. In some places, it wasn’t mandatory. In some places, it was social death, and a legal impossibility. A lot of that owes to one man convincing his coreligionists to give up that evil practice , at great economic harm to themselves. I know I’ve linked to that article before, but it does seem worth mentioning again that one person can make a difference. Also: remember that in 2012, in America, there are about 1 million enslaved human beings.

Despite the best efforts of the Republican Party, there is still no evidence of wide spread voter fraud. Lack of evidence will not deter voter-suppressing laws from being passed.

I don’t trust Facebook. It isn’t that I don’t trust the amount of information they collect. It isn’t even the way they advertise or roll out new features. It’s the ethos of the company. Facebook was started by a man represents the very worst parts of American capitalism. Before day 1, he had a plan to sabotage his competition. Since then, his company has consistently broken privacy promises and violated user expectations. As a result, I’m not using facebook. Also: feel free to put up a link to this post on facebook. I’m not picky about where traffic comes from.

A new book on the FBI is set to be released on Valentines Day. I don’t think it’s more than an amusing coincidence. The book itself seems like a great, but terrifying, read. Our intelligence agencies (both internal and external) really do think that they are the only people who see the ever-looming threat to the American way of life. As a result, they’re more paranoid than they ought to be. This paranoia makes them willing to lie to elected officials, and grants them an unhealthy contempt for the democratic process. So the security state stumbles ever onward, turning America into something unrecognizable fearful, mean, and small.

In the US, the years between 2001 and 2010 were not very good. They were characterized by wars, economic stagnation, and- eventually- the Lesser Depression. They were, however, some of the best years so far to be a human being. It may not be as dramatic or flashy as warfare, but it is awesome.

An interesting Slate article about the rise of Chipotle. It’s the last three sentences that I find the most interesting. Certain things just take a certain amount of time to do. If we continue to have long commutes, and continue to need 6-8hrs of sleep every day, and we continue to want to spend time with friends and family, then something will have to give. Our society had decided that we’d prefer to have someone else cook for us than to spend the time cooking for ourselves. This actually makes a lot of sense. Cooking can be a leisure activity, or a hobby, but having to do it every day quickly turns it into a chore. I wonder if there’s a commensurate rise in high-end cookware: as people cook less often, they’d want to use better tools when they do.

Valentines day is Tuesday. I’m not sure what I’m doing yet, but I do know who I’m spending the evening with. Modern romance, though, can be so confusing. Text messages, instant messages, jumbotrons, etc. What we really need is to get back to basics. We need to flirt like the Victorians. I’ll be wearing my best cravat…

I love Tiny Hippo.

This does set a pretty high bar for proposals. And makes me ache for the long-promised Android port of that card game.

This week’s theme has been revolution and love. In the comments section, leave a note about your over-the-top ultimate bad-ass Valentines day plans are.

By the by: Some weeks I post on days that aren’t Sunday. For instance: this week I did a small post on Republican chances in 2012, and what makes a good review. Last week, I posted about The limits of marketing.

My Valentine wanted me to share this with you:

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The world will end in 2248

Republicans are screaming that this ad is basically an Obama campaign commercial. If that’s true then Obama basically owns the mindshare for:

Clint Eastwood
America
Halftime
Togetherness
Being awesome in the face of adversity
Big cars that go vroom

If it’s truly the case that watching this ad made a lot of people think of Obama, then the Republican party in 2012 is fucked.

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Quis Reviewiet Ipsos Reviewes

Most of the time games reviews and previews strike me as being of the same level of honesty as the average politician. Both groups are happy to tell bland truths about their subject matters, and shade their unpopular opinions just enough that their core audiences won’t be too unhappy. Some, like Newt Gingrich and Yahtzee enjoy trolling the world with a pseudo-intellectual grinding that sounds clever for a moment, and then dissipates. Sadly, they’re both better in their fields than I’ll ever be.

That’s not to say that all games journalist (or politicians!) are bland, bad, or on the take. I can think of a couple of sites, and a few freelancers who do a very good job at telling me what I need to know about a game before I buy it.

And then there’s Tom Chick. He’s the best there is. I read his review of review of Final Fantasy 13-2 and knew what the game was. I understood it’s philosophy, knew what traditions it held to, and what made it tick. When I read his review, I realized that the things that made him hate the game were the very things that will make my girlfriend love it.

Now the question is: do I want to show her the review, and run the risk of not seeing her again for 1200 hours?

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Obama is kind of badass, isn’t he?

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Sunday Morning Reading Material First Sunday in February 2012- Super Bowl is a Registered Trademark Edition


Samuel L. Jackson should be in every movie.

It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for brushing the cats from your head and facing the day. Sundays are for making chili and preparing. Sundays are for feeding fans and watching commercials. Sundays are for StarCraft.

This week: a group of idiots decided to politicize anti cancer efforts. This week China and Russia used their UN Security Council Veto power to stop a resolution condemning the Syrian government for massacring Syrians. This week: US jobless rates continued to drop, thus alleviating some small parts of the recession. This week: Comcast isn’t playing nicely with my house (for some reason) and my internet has been spotty.

I use Google for everything. My phone number is provided by them. I’ve got a pair of phones that use their operating system. They created the browser that I use. I use them to pay my bills, and to let my friends know what I’m up to. I’ve been interested to see what they’ve done as they’ve “unified” their products and services- including their privacy policies- into a consistent experience. When Google rolled out it’s social network, they said that plus was more than just the social side of things, and I think users are just beginning to clue into what they have in mind.

When Komen decided to stop giving money to a certain primary health provider for low income women, it made women angry. Very angry. The way that anger was expressed was not, however, a loud rage. Instead, women (and many men) quietly, firmly, publicly, stopped contributing to Komen. The quiet seething made a lot more impact, I think, than screaming would have.

It’s not just women who aren’t allowed to be angry. African Americans are also socially forbidden. For example: Spike Lee is angry at Hollywood. Is he right to be angry? Is he wrong to be? This article doesn’t give the first hint about truth. Instead, it reports the fact of “an expletive-laced” “Tirade”. And that he’s upset about Hollywood’s ignorance of black people.

I am a writer. I am along way from being a “good” writer.

I sort of understand anti-abortion hysteria. After all, if I believed that the 50% of all pregnancies which end in miscarriage were the exact same thing as a case of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, I’d have strongly negative feelings about the deliberate termination of a pregnancy also. But I don’t believe those things. I cannot believe that a gestating proto-human ought to have the same moral rights as myself. I certainly don’t think that a proto-human has a greater claim to it’s potential life than a doctor performing life saving surgery has to their actual life. Yet here we are. With certain pro-doctor-murder organizations helping cause the death of caregivers.

Everyone knows that the stimulus needed to be bigger. Had the government gotten more money into more hands earlier in the financial crisis, people would have been able to pay more of their bills on time, and thus wouldn’t have had to cut back on spending, and therefore even more businesses wouldn’t have shut down. Duh. Frighteningly, it may be that the stimulus wasn’t bigger because there wasn’t enough to spend the money on. There seems to be an easy fix for next time. Every municipality in the country should draw up a list of things it wants- capital improvements that would help it in the long term. And then they should draw up detailed plans for those wants. When the next time the government goes casting about for “shovel ready” projects, ever part of the country will be prepared with a list.

We’re number 1, baby!

It is a very sick thing, this Confederate version of the Civil War. It tells us that Lincoln was pro slavery, and that the South was against slavery, but that the “War between the States” wasn’t over slavery at all! So let us be clear: The war was about slavery. The “right” that States were fighting for? That was the right of a white person to own a black person. What whitewashing this history does to us is rob us of the reminder that we need to be better people. Lincoln himself says that he would probably have embraced slavery were he to have grown up in the South. You would have too. What evils are we perpetuating as a society which individual action alone cannot solve? Which actions can take to end those evils together?

War may suck, but some warriors are just awesome.

I honestly don’t care that congress is split between a pair of parties which want to move in different directions as a nation. Debate about what is good, just, and moral are a part of what it means to be a sentient being. What frightens me is not that we have a political process which polarizes desired outcomes, but rather that we have one which polarizes factual inputs to the decision making process. If global warming is real, we ought to fix it. If it’s not, then no action is required. Is it real? Is it not real? That isn’t a political question. Except that it’s been turned into one. If congress truly has no staff to help it understand the objective implications of the technology policy they’re writing, America is fucked.

“But with the dawn of the feast of Christmas did a beacon of hope manifest itself upon the inky horizon. Riding in upon a teal Ford Focus came a great warrior, a suitor of the gentlefolks’ granddaughter. Word had spread through the kingdom that this warrior worked with computers and perhaps even knew the true nature of the Router.”

So the phrase “the greatest thing since sliced bread”? Turns out it’s an ironic reaction to overzealous marketing. Also revealed: what the greatest thing was before sliced bread. And now you know.

I have terrible handwriting. This has occasionally caused me embarrassment as I’ve had to re-ask someone for information which they had previous given me. For doctorsit can- and does- cost lives. I’m not sure how much it would cost for medication ordering to be as computerized as food ordering. I’m betting that it would cost less than the unnecessary deaths we’re getting from lack of it.

If you click just one link:

This may be the most beautiful thing you’ll ever read.

Today’s theme: Sorry about a lack of last week’s post. The week sort of… got away from me.

Um, what?

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Can’t Buy Me Love

I am almost comforted when I read this article about why THQ is floundering. I actually rather like the company. They’ve been the publisher of some of my favorite games, and hold the rights to at least one series I wish they’d continue. But their recent troubles point to the limits of marketing, and that’s a positive lesson for every industry.

To start with the very obvious: in order to sell anything from art work to zoology degrees, people have to have heard about the product. There are several ways to do this. A company might put up billboards around a town- though this works best if those displays are mistaken for bombs and cause a police panic. Alternately, one could release a video which packs a major emotional punch, and uses some advanced storytelling techniques to good effect. Those are examples of “viral” marketing strategies. They’re (generally) low cost, and low success rate. They rely on creating infectious memes that other people will cheerfully spread.

At the other end, there’s the Superbowl ad buy. At least one company spent $4 million for 30 seconds of air. This sort of high-visibility, non-targeted broadcast ad can be very successful in letting potential customers know about your products– assuming they didn’t use the bathroom, get a call, change the channel, or (as often happens at my place) have a cat jump in front of their face.

Most companies target their ads towards the sorts of people they think are most likely to be potential customers. This is why General Dynamics Land Systems advertises Stryker craft at the Pentagon metro stop. Seriously guys, the Pentagon has some of the best billboards ever.

Time, money, an interesting creative approach, correct targeting, and proper use of an Oxford Comma can all serve to pique consumer interest in peaking at your product. Once it’s released, it’s the product’s job to sell itself. Ross Perot’s money got him into the 1992 presidential debates, which allowed Ross Perot’s craziness unsuitability for office to shine.

When a company or industry has AAA marketing for mediocre products, we should expect an explosion of initial sales, followed by sharply diminishing follow on sales. Those sharply diminished sales are the market’s way of making prepubescent retching noises. Those noises may not always be deserved, but customers have plenty of things to spend money on. If a game, book, movie, or kitty toy is merely average, people will stop talking about it once something newer and shinier catches their eye. If it’s actively bad… well. There is too such a thing as bad press.

Even the best spin, as told by a master, only gets you so far. Just ask Baghdad Bob.

Kotaku link via Brandon Cackowski-Schnell at No High Scores.

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