Monday, December 02, 2013

Um... Chanukah?

There's a potato latke festival going on tonight in Chelsea in honor of Chanukah, and some of the city's best restaurants will be participating. In order to attend, you'll have to lay out some serious gelt: the cheapest tickets are $55.

That said, hold onto your dreidels, because something is amiss...
That ain't kosher.
 Braised Pork!?!? Shrimp!?!?! This is worse than the Chanukah ham:
No, not delicious for Chanukah
Seriously, the Fifth Annual Latke Festival??? You should have gotten your act together by now. We're really going goy for a festival celebrating Jewish tradition? At least go kosher-style.

This is what happens when the Ukranians and the Mexicans attempt to create Jewish food. (although Toloache and Yerba Buena chef Julian Medina gets it right)

Somewhere, an old Jewish man is rolling in his grave, and complaining.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Down The Rabbit Hole With

A bizarre story hit the news this week, just in time for the holiday shopping season. A couple has been fined $3,500 and had their credit destroyed for leaving a bad review about the website, a marketplace claiming to sell funky gadgets. didn't deliver Palmer's online order of a desk ornament that was less than $20, so it cancelled the transaction in Dec. 2008. Jen Palmer, now 40, wrote a negative review on private business review site, saying had "horrible customer service practices."
"Once we put the review up we pretty much forgot about it." Then last summer, her husband, John, a senior network engineer, received an email from demanding $3,500 pursuant to a non-disparagement clause that it claimed was in its "Terms of Use" on its website. "We were blown away," Jen Palmer said...
Allegedly, the company contacted credit bureaus about the $3,500 debt, and that helped destroy the Palmers lives.
 The Palmers said the mark on their credit history affects their ability to obtain loans, most recently for a financing plan for a new furnace. As a result, last month the couple and their 3-year-old son were without heat for three weeks until they saved the $1,900 to buy a furnace.
"Utah in October gets very cold pretty quickly," Jen Palmer said.
The whole story makes little sense. If Kleargear is trying to prevent negative reviews from damaging their reputation... hounding a family into the poor house is not exactly helping matters. The negative PR from this debacle greatly outweighs one negative online review.

But oh man, if you think that's where the story ends, you've got another thing coming...

Internet sleuths quickly got to work unraveling the mystery behind the site's shady owners. And I mean shady. You'd think that a business claiming to make tens of millions of dollars a year wouldn't hide their CEO, their physical location, and their employees... but you'd be wrong.

Lee Gersten, the president of Kleargear? There's no trace that he actually exists. The address of the company is a mail forwarding service. Even the "parent company" is nothing more than an address offering "virtual office space" in France, to companies located elsewhere. Ken White and his friends at Popehat dug deeper:
Here are the problems with KlearGear's display of the TRUSTe certified privacy seal:
1. A source within TRUSTe informs me that genuine seals are clickable links leading to a certification page; this is just an image on KlearGear's page.
2. KlearGear is not in TRUSTe's searchable database of certified sites.
3. My source within TRUSTe confirms that has never been TRUSTe certified.
Actually, they determined that most, if not all of the dozens of certification and verification badges displayed on the site are fake:
As of November 28, 2012, the BBB discovered that some pages of the company's website display the BBB Accredited Business Logo and state "BBB Rating A+", when neither is true.
The BBB contacted the company at the Michigan mail drop address instructing the company to immediately remove the incorrect BBB logo and reference from their site.
This matter is currently pending.
In fact, some of the seals are completely bogus:
An image search [for] the 5 Star eTAILER Ratings shows that the only place using that seal is KLEARGEAR.
Even the letter to the Palmers demanding payment for the fine is bogus!
One of the collection agents of the purported Kleargear "legal department" signs himself Stephen Gutman, of Fishman group attorneys... He is listed with the Michigan bar here:
He's the only Stephen L. Gutman licensed to practice law in Michigan. The contact information on the letter is that of the "The Fishman Group" however, though it does not match his bar info.
And, there's the fact that he's probably retired and in no way involved:
 The Stephen L. Gutman practicing in Michigan was licensed in 1967, and is likely to be [a] 70 yo gentleman.
You can try contacting the PR department at Kleargear, but don't expect to reach  Margaux Banet, the listed PR agent. She simply does not exist. None of the other names associated with the site appear to be real either, although the head of the parent company is also the name listed on a website for a collections agency... an agency that doesn't seem to actually exist.

Has anyone EVER received a product from Kleargear? From what I can tell, the only evidence the company exists at all is their website and dozens of press releases sent out under that name. News and blog sites have featured products from the company... but it seems like all their copy, photos, even quotes from the people involved, all come from these press releases.

Here's the $3,500 question: What is going on? If this is, and always has been, a fake eCommerce site, with the sole purpose of grifting customers out of money, then it makes sense they would send an email to the Palmers demanding more money. But contacting the credit bureaus? That seems to go beyond the normal scam.

Is it possible that this is the scammer's M.O? They use a fake lawyer from a fake collections agency to contact the credit bureaus, and suddenly, the fake debt becomes real. The credit bureaus are enlisted in putting pressure on the scam victim, and the scammer increases his odds of getting paid.

According to Experian, part of the approval process to be able to report debts to the agency includes a "physical inspection where a 3rd party must come to your location and perform an inspection for security purposes." So before Experian could take the Palmers' debt seriously, they'd have to have a report from a 3rd party affirming actually existed. In addition, there are a lot of registration requirements which would seem to deter any scammer who didn't want to leave a paper trail. But what if the scammer behind Kleargear found some loophole? A way to trick the system into accepting false collections claims?

Anyone know if this would be a possibility? Are the credit bureaus that easy to hoodwink?

This is going to somehow lead back to Nigeria. I just know it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

D in Dallas Does Not Stand For Discipline

As a fan of the New York Football Giants, I couldn't be happier to see Dallas Cowboys lose. Especially in such a painful way.

I can't imagine how, with the ball 6 inches away from the goal line, how the Dallas defense could just stand up and not bother attacking, even with the Lions' QB Stafford feverishly giving the "spike ball" signal. The ball is 6 inches away from the game-winning touchdown! Dig in! Defend!

But that sort of sums up why the Cowboys haven't won it all these past few years. For all the focus on Dez Bryant's sideline theatrics, the whole team seems to go nuts whenever anything is on the line. Mental errors, costly penalties... apply a little pressure and the team goes haywire. That's on the players, yes, but its also a failure of leadership. I'm looking at you, Jason Garrett.

Of course, as a Giants' fan, I'm all too used to watching haywire football this season. If only there was someone to blame for an out-of-sync offense that continually feeds Peyton Hillis with carries while far more talented players are on the field... *cough Kevin Gilbride *cough.

How to Lose Friends, Influence, and People

Remember the glory days of George W. Bush, when we were all up in arms about the Patriot Act and its assault on our rights to privacy? Seems quaint now. Privacy is officially an illusion these days, a truth revealed by Edward Snowden. And it's not just Americans that the United States is spying on, it's the whole world--including our closest allies.

Those revelations have understandably made the international community incredibly upset. Bugging Andrea Merkel's phone? Eavesdropping on 60 million Spanish citizens... in a month? Reading the President of Mexico's emails? This is how we treat our friends?

Imagine if your buddies found out you were spying on them. How would they suddenly regard you? No wonder the U.S. was so determined to get Snowden into custody... it's not that he was a traitor, it's that he knew that we had betrayed the trust of those we count on most in the international community. Now that the cat's out of the bag, the question is, will our relationship with our international friends be forever damaged?

You don't undo decades of history is a single swoop, but the relations we've shared with our allies through two world wars and a bevy of international conflicts were already strained by the arrogance of George W. Bush's administration. The revelation that the Obama administration did nothing to stop these surveillance programs from overreaching is a debacle that threatens international cooperation on a host of other issues. How can we expect the world to respect the freedom of individuals when our own government has shown itself to be a bunch of hypocrites?

How can we take China to task for its lockdown on free speech and its abuses of human rights, when our own government has gathered the personal, private information of millions of innocent people? How can we stand as a beacon of hope and freedom to the world when our government has shown a blatant disregard for individual privacy?

We can't defend this. Not on the grounds that we were only targeting terrorists. Leaks have revealed that to be untrue. If you're targeting terrorists, target terrorists. Don't collect millions of phone records and THEN decide who looks like a terrorist.

After 9/11, the international community rallied behind us. For the first time in human history, the majority of the world was on the same side in battle. A battle against international terrorism. These revelations have fractured that. They smack of Cold War-era mistrust. They isolate us from the rest of the world.

Obama claims he had no idea... which doesn't absolve him, and in fact, drops him a few more levels in my esteem. The buck stops with the President, period. For him to claim ignorance over a spying program of this scope and size is either unbelievable or frightening. He's either lying-- which in this case, is a best case scenario-- or he's admitting that our military intelligence complex, given broad powers in the wake of 9/11, has become some Orwellian nightmare... beholden to zero oversight, paranoid even around its friends, and wildly inefficient. Don't defend bugging our allies' phones and scooping up the communications of millions of people-- question whether those resources wouldn't be better spent on people and places we know to be trouble.

The NSA has so far failed to reveal any real intelligence coups these programs have made. The oft-repeated figure of 54 plots thwarted isn't accurate, given statements from those who have reviewed the classified material. More importantly, none of the phone calls or emails gathered by the NSA program from our allies' governments led to the discovery of any terror plots.

In the coming months, Obama has a lot of 'splainin to do. If the United States is to regain respect as an international leader, it must earn back trust. I'm not sure how you do that unless we restore oversight to the intelligence gathering process and repeal the parts of the Patriot Act which give our government the right to spy on people who have never been accused of a crime.

If we seek out the terrorists we know, we'll find the ones we don't. If we look at every innocent person, all we do is waste time, goodwill, and the cooperation of our friends. We're a strong, great nation-- but if we don't change our behavior, we'll end up alone.

Here's hoping wisdom prevails.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Middle Ground For Gun Control: Gun Safety

A Nevada middle school is the latest tragic scene in a long line of school shootings. In Massachusetts, a 14 year-old is being sought for shooting a beloved teacher and disposing of her body behind in the woods. In Texas, a napping nanny left her gun lying around, and her 5-year-old charge accidentally killed himself with it.

In all these cases, the shooters who pulled the trigger didn't buy their weapons. They simply took them from someone who was careless enough to leave their guns easily accessible.

In the debate over gun control, 2nd-amendment advocates say we don't need more gun laws. They say that everything is working just fine. More gun laws will only punish law-abiding gun owners.

But here's the thing. With no laws mandating gun safety measures, a law-abiding citizen can easily leave their gun vulnerable to misuse by somebody else. Only after that gun is used in a tragedy can they be brought up on any charges. Perhaps if laws were in place that were proactive rather than reactive, those people would have kept their guns better secured.

There are many easy solutions. Easy to implement, that is. At least if the gun lobby actually wants to stop their favorite product from making headlines for killing kids.

1. Require gun locks. Gun advocates argue that gun locks are cumbersome in case of an emergency. Okay, maybe. But requiring gun locks on weapons doesn't stop a gun owner from keeping their weapon unlocked when it's attended to. Need the security of that gun in your nightstand when you're going to bed? Sure, leave the gun unlocked while you're right next to it with your bedroom door closed. But when you leave the house, when your kids are playing near by, when you're out running errands... you have a lock on your gun which makes sure nobody else can use it in your absence.

2. Require gun safety classes. Right now, anyone without a criminal record can purchase a weapon. Okay, great. But there are a ton of idiots out there who... well, will think nothing of leaving a gun lying out while a 5-year-old is around. Requiring a gun safety course before a weapon can be purchased won't weed out all the idiots, but it will do two things. One, it will establish a longer period of contact between a gun purchaser and another party-- possibly enough to raise red flags if it seems that gun purchaser may intend to harm someone. Two, it assures that a gun purchaser has at least been taught basic safety and use of the dangerous product they're buying. Not all of the safety issues surrounding guns are immediately obvious-- for instance, if you hold the gun incorrectly, you're likely to break your finger due to the bolt action/hammer engaging. Or you may just shoot yourself not realizing that there's a bullet in the chamber after removing the ammo clip.

3. Offer incentives to gun companies to add gun safety features. Gun manufacturers have plenty of incentive to make their weapons more accurate, lighter, more deadly. One start-up even makes a gun that doesn't require aiming! The thing is, they don't have similar incentive to add safety features to their guns-- the truth is, people who buy guns buy them FOR safety... they don't worry about anything that makes their gun "safer." Giving gun companies a financial incentive to develop smart triggers and other ways to make sure a gun is only fired by authorized users could change the marketplace in a way that doesn't draw 2nd-amendment advocates' ire.

None of these solutions is a panacea... but they are realistic proposals that don't give gun enthusiasts much to complain about. They're basic safety precautions that don't rise to the level of gun licensing or restriction. Instead, they seek to promote responsible behavior. They won't stop gun violence, not by a longshot... but these policies can reduce the cases of gun violence that use a carelessly secured weapon, which is a goal that both gun control advocates and the gun lobby should be able to agree with.

UPDATE: Some gun owners on Reddit gave me some enlightening responses, which I want to briefly address.

As several commenters pointed out, most guns do come with some kind of lock. However:
"Trigger locks can be defeated with zip ties or a set of car keys. You are angling to create legislation just to create a false sense of security."
Well... a lock that's easily pickable? That's a problem, no? We can't beef these up? Well, no, because...
"Adding "safety features" to guns makes them less safe. It makes them more complicated and difficult to use, which means you are more likely to have a broken(dangerous) gun, or not be able to use it properly(also dangerous)."
The concern here seems to be, if someone breaks into your home, and is standing over your bed, you don't want to have to fiddle with a gun lock. I get that. But what about when you leave the gun at home, unattended? Leaving it unlocked presents a big hazard. Requiring a key to start your automobile doesn't prevent you from driving, and despite how "complicated" a key ignition system is, it rarely malfunctions.
"Could I just point out that each of these cases seem to involve criminal negligence(which as the term "criminal" might indicate, is illegal), and one case is attempted/successful murder?(also illegal) So the law already discourages and punishes this behaviour."
My issue with this argument is, irresponsible gun owners don't expect their guns to be used in a crime. They don't leave their guns unattended despite the possibility of being charged for criminal negligence. The act of being irresponsible with a gun, by itself, is not illegal, so one may think nothing of the possible implications of a possible crime in a possible future. If leaving a gun unattended and unlocked were illegal, then it might get people to think twice. Of course, enforcing that law would be nearly impossible in practice-- which is why I'm not advocating for it. I'm only for putting the onus on gun manufacturers to encourage gun responsibility by making gun locks a mandatory on every gun and pushing for the development of reliable and secure smart triggers. Apple figured out how to use your thumb to turn on your phone, smart triggers shouldn't be too much of a stretch.
 We're beyond the "middle ground" already. Gun owners have been the only ones giving in and compromising since 1934.
Guns are a lot different now than in 1934. A lot, lot different than they were in 1776 also. In order to pull off a mass shooting in 1776, you'd have to have about 12 muskets on you. So its a bit naive to think that as technology develops, the law should stay exactly the same. There are legitimate concerns about how modern advances have transformed our forefathers' shotguns into the modern weapons of today, weapons that have capabilities not designed for sport hunting or self-defense, but for warfare.
"The truth is there are more gun owning parents than pool owning parents but more kids drown every year by a large margin. If this is a humanistic appeal that has nothing to do with personal motivations to control, influence, or inconvenience all members of a hobby then you will be happy to know you can drop this devisive issue and save more lives by legislating pool ownership."
No kid takes a swimming pool to school and kills dozens of kids. Everything has its dangers, yes, but not everything is designed to kill. That's what a gun is. It is designed to kill. We shouldn't pretend otherwise because it's convenient for our argument. A gun is one of the only things with the capability of inflicting mass casualties in a short period of time, much more so than a knife (which requires close proximity and some degree of physical superiority). The other things on that list? Cars, bombs, poisons... things that are all regulated to some degree. It's fair for someone to believe that gun access should be unfettered, but its pretty disingenuous to compare apples to oranges by equating guns with pool ownership.
"Yo, 2003 called, they want their web design back. "

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How To Stop College Rape

One of my favorite advice columnists, Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. Dear Prudence, waded into uncomfortable waters yesterday when she said one way college girls can avoid getting raped is by avoiding getting blackout drunk. She titles her article, simply enough, "College Women: Stop Getting Drunk."

The backlash, predictably, started almost immediately. And lo and behold... Ann Friedman, taking a page from my playbook, did the exact same thing I did to her vacuous article a few weeks ago-- she flipped the script. She titles her criticism piece, "College Men: Stop Getting Drunk."

She takes the format of Emily's original article and uses it to form her counter argument-- not the first time that strategy has ever been employed, admittedly, but very peculiar given what I wrote just weeks ago.

Come on, Ann, not even a shout out? An i-see-what-you-did-there?

Of course, I don't really think Ann's attempt at parody works here.

Emily's original article says:
A common denominator in these cases is alcohol, often copious amounts, enough to render the young woman incapacitated. But a misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril.
I think Emily makes a solid point-- that if a girl loses her ability to function, she becomes an easy target for a sexual predator. I think she's being willfully naive to suggest young women don't already know this. But Ann's parody dismisses Emily's point by flipping it:
"As soon as the school year begins, so do reports of male students sexually assaulting their female classmates. A common denominator in these cases is alcohol, often copious amounts. But the obsessive focus on blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn young men that when they get wasted, they are putting young women in potential peril."
Hahaha, I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, ANN! You're saying that Emily's argument is as ridiculous as saying drinking makes men more likely to rape. HOW CLEVER! HOW DID YOU EVER COME UP WITH... oh.

The thing is, nothing in Ann's "response" to Emily refutes the very real fact that alcohol can render someone near catatonic, just as chloroform or a whack with a baseball bat (if the movies are to be believed). The problem with Emily's argument isn't that assertion, it's what she offers as a realistic solution to it: a plea to warn America's youth about the dangers of overconsumption.

Yeah, uh, Em, I like your advice usually, but... that's pretty lame.

Drinking is part of college life, as sad as that may be to some. It comes with the territory when you take a bunch of young men and women, many who have never been away from home, and suddenly give them near-full independence and only sporadic structure (nearly no one has classes every day, or even full blocks of classes.) Given copious amounts of free time to explore the brave new world around them, nearly every college kid experiments with something, be it alcohol, drugs, body piercings, tattoos or late-night-coding-that-leads-to-the-creation-of-Facebook. You'd hope for only productive avenues of exploration, but hey, even Zuckerberg was a few drinks in when he hit upon his billion-dollar future. A social life is key to a happy college experience, and when people of many different stripes are awkwardly mashed together, alcohol is a handy lubricant to get conversations, and yes, hookups, flowing. For many college students, getting blackout drunk is "Achievement Unlocked," to borrow the video game term.

So if you think your daughter won't drink to oblivion just because you tell her, "hey, one shot for every year is NOT a good idea for your birthday," you're probably wrong. There will probably be a night in college when she will have a few many too many. I dare say very few people haven't had at least one night they regret, even if the end result was just a bad hangover, bad breath, and a day spent laundering the vomit out of your angry roommate's down comforter.

So we can't stop college drunkenness. How can we stop campus rape? Short of requiring students to wear chastity belts?

Our legal system creates a Catch-22 for colleges-- if they're aware of illegal activity, they can be held responsible for what happens. So if a party is on campus, in a dorm or frat, the university shuts it down. The result is that parties go underground. They go off campus. The parties don't stop, the university just becomes blind to them. That puts the full responsibility to regulate what happens at these parties to 18-22 year-old kids, none of whom are really interested in being the party pooper.

Emily briefly addresses that lowering the drinking age is sometimes suggested as a practical solution... but admits the idea has little political traction. However, its the idea that, to me, makes the most sense. By legalizing drinking for all college students, the university no longer has to push college drinking into its blind spots. Then they would be able to offer incentives to students to act as sober, responsible proctors at parties--both both on and off campus.

Until that happens, its up to students to guarantee their own safety at unsanctioned events. Several student ideas have already gained traction:

1. THE BUDDY SYSTEM. No girl leaves a party without first telling her buddy. They can wear matching bracelets. How cute! This encourages friends to account for each other... and if your buddy is MIA, then you know something's wrong. It's not 100% failsafe... but at least it's an attempt to keep a girl from being isolated in a dangerous situation.

2. SOBER SISTERS AND BOOZELESS BROTHERS. No party should be without at least a few clear-headed designated sober students. As long as college drinking remains beyond university control, this sort of policy needs to exist at the student level. Flyers around campus could encourage party hosts to gather volunteers to act as lookouts for truly dangerous activities. Vanderbilt University, among others, requires that the organizers of Greek parties off-campus send them a list of students who will remain sober throughout the entirety of their events. Student watchdogs can be less stringent than a university official, but no less protective. Someone smoking a joint? Hey, he'll live. Two guys carrying a girl off into the woods... uh, no. no. Stop that.

3. AMNESTY FOR UNDERAGE DRINKERS WHO REPORT A CRIME OR EMERGENCY. Okay, this is not something students can do alone. This takes the government. But I don't know why this isn't enshrined in law everywhere already. It's common sense. Partiers will be less afraid to call 911 in the event of an emergency, because they won't be arrested for underage drinking.

Emily is right that talking to kids about drinking is an important step. But it doesn't end with talking. Teaching students to become responsible adults is one thing that college does. That shouldn't end once the drinking starts. Encouraging student leaders to establish safe-drinking protocols at their schools won't end every sexual assault, but it puts eyes in places where the university, the government, and parents can't go. And that's what is really needed.

Not snarky "responses."

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Are The Republicans Sort Of Right About The Debt Ceiling?

No, this is not a Robbie Republican post. And I'm not saying that holding the economy hostage in order to destroy Obamacare is a sound strategy or a goal we should be striving towards. But at the very heart of things, when you get down to it, there is an aggravating factor that's led us down this path, one that nobody has done anything about since the Clinton administration: the insane growth of the national debt and our horribly unbalanced federal budget.

Now, let me be clear. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling does not reduce the national debt. In fact, if the debt ceiling isn't raised, and we default (can't pay our bondholders), then the national debt will actually increase. You don't reduce your credit card debt by refusing to pay your bills, and the government can't reduce it's debt by refusing to pay its bills. We need to borrow, because we have bills to pay, and not enough tax revenue comes in to cover them. If we didn't borrow money, bills don't get paid, our bonds are worth trash, the dollar loses value, and suddenly, the economy takes a tailspin, reducing tax revenues further, because suddenly everyone's out of a job. It's a crazy mess.

This is why we haven't defaulted. This is why we won't EVER default. This is why Boehner and co. are going to agree to raise the debt ceiling again, despite their whole stink about it. Because they realize a default won't do a thing to reduce our debt, and will leave us far, far worse off.

So why the stink every few months? Why the "hostage taking"? Well, at the very least, it's sparking a conversation. And so far, what's come out of that conversation has been positive for Republicans.

As I said back in December, forecasting our nation's future after falling over the "fiscal cliff":
Yes, taxes go up. Yes, defense spending is cut drastically. But both of these issues are temporary, and everyone knows it. It's very, very easy to cut taxes. It's very, very easy to justify defense spending with the global threats America faces. If no deal is struck by January 2nd, taxes will rise and defense budgets will be cut, sure. But by next January 2nd, it's very likely that taxes and defense spending will be restored to somewhere near their current levels.

The other programs? Programs for the poor and middle class? Programs for the arts and sciences? Programs for education? The Democratic desire to restore funding to these initiatives will be met with fierce resistance from the Republican caucus, and the public support behind them will not be strong enough to overcome it.
 Well, folks, we did fall over the fiscal cliff. The sequester did come into effect. And what happened? Exactly what I said would come to pass.  Military and security budgets have slowly been restored, but the other deep cuts, to programs on the Democratic side of the ledger, remain in place.

The debt ceiling threat is not intended to be a threat, because a threat can actually be carried out. What is it then? A protest. A demonstration. It's intended to rally their side in a battle for more cuts to government programs that Republicans hate. One of those programs is Obamacare.

The Republicans are right to protest increasing government debt. In that sense, the debt ceiling holdout, repeated, again and again, keeps the national conversation coming back to the budget. And that alone is not a bad thing. We need a balanced budget. We need to stop owing so much elsewhere. It is time to get something done on that front, after George W. Bush ignored it for 8 years.

Of course, that's where the Republican high ground ends. Because they're unwilling to tackle both sides of the issue--spending AND revenue. You can't just cut government programs suddenly and completely. It'll create a humanitarian disaster within our borders. A single parent family on food stamps won't immediately be able to pick themselves up by their bootstraps-- its not that easy. If it was, they would have done it already. Corporate taxes and the amount millionaires squirrel away are a joke. The rich enjoy enormous benefits of our free, safe, capitalistic society, and unfettered access to the halls of power-- they should pay for that. And I don't mean in the form of campaign contributions. You can't solve the national debt by cutting alone-- the math doesn't add up. It's just like how corporations can't improve their fortunes solely by firing workers or fixing inefficiencies.... eventually, they have to bring in money. The government can't invent the next iPhone... the only way to bring in more money is by raising taxes, preferably on people who will feel the "pain" the least.

So, yay to the Republicans for keeping an eye on the ball, the long term fiscal health of our nation. But unless they start getting realistic, instead of idealistic, we're not going to get anywhere.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why I’m Glad I Didn’t Quit New York At Age 24

On a Saturday night a few weeks ago, I found myself in a karaoke bar at 3:45 a.m., participating in a raucous group rendition of Creed’s “Higher.” Not my choice of song, but when you’re with your cousin from out-of-town, his friend, and a bunch of random foreigners you met that evening in another bar nearby, you can’t be picky. You want to show them a good time. After all, taking country-folk on a bar crawl to your favorite non-douche-y dives and showing them the time of their lives is part of the joy of living here. “We don’t have a place like this in Charlotte,” my cousin yells in-between songs, and Amen to that. When I was in Charlotte to interview a story subject, the hotel concierge recommended visiting the finest restaurant in town: the Capital Grille. My take, since about age 18, has been, "Why would I want to make it anywhere else when I can make it here?"

An insipid, shallow article on New York Magazine’s “The Cut” blog, “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York At Age 24”, chronicles Ann Friedman’s miserable experience in the city that never sleeps. “I spent the worst year of my life in New York,” Ann writes. The worst. What was the city’s crime against, poor, innocent Ann? “Right after college graduation, I moved from Missouri to join my college boyfriend, who had landed my dream job. I ended up here not because I had something to prove, but because I couldn’t think of where else to go. No job, dreamy or otherwise.”

Hold up. Ann moved to one of the most expensive places to live on Earth… with no job? And she did this solely to join her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, who she clearly secretly despised (“my dream job”)? At least tell me she gave living here a chance.

Nope. “When I decamped for the West Coast fifteen months later, I didn’t feel failure or regret but relief. For me, New York is that guy I went out with only briefly and then successfully transitioned into friendship. We were always meant to be platonic.” Is she talking about the college boyfriend? Or the city? Because if she’s talking about the city, I’ve got news. The city is not a lover. You can try and jam a fire hydrant up your hoo-hah, but if you’re looking for romantic intimacy, you may want to try a human being, instead of anthropomorphicizing an entire city.

Now, maybe I’m biased, because I’ve spent the last 13 years of my life here. I came here first for college—not a college boyfriend—at age 18. My first experience in the city was waiting on the sidewalk on Washington Square West for a big plastic cart so I could move my things into the Hayden dormitory at NYU, and seeing a man just leave his dog’s shit on the sidewalk without picking it up. He caught me staring and said, “Welcome to New York.” While I later learned that was not representative of most New York City dog owners, it’s always stuck with me that on an island with 8 million other people, chances are you’ll meet a new character every day. Sometimes it’s a homeless guy who tells jokes for a slice of pizza. Sometimes it’s a guy who walks around town with a real, live cat on his head. Sometimes it’s a man in the park, covered head to toe by pigeons. You just don’t get this in Missouri. More meth-heads there, I’ll grant you.

It’s always struck me as hilarious that people who claim to despise the city want the world to know how much they hate it, so they write things for New York Magazine. To use Ann’s analogy, It’s sort of like stalking the prom king and then tucking little angry notes into his locker. Everyone can see right through it. It’s not that you hate him, it’s that you want him to ditch the prom queen and take your teenage dirtbag self to the prom instead. Ann Friedman writes, “New York is increasingly a city for people who are already on top, not for those looking to establish themselves.” From a financial standpoint, I can see her point. Even after 13 years, my savings account resembles that of a teenager working minimum wage at Burger King. But I vomited a little in my mouth when I read her description of the ultraviolent Chicago (safer than 8% of the cities in the U.S.!): “the friendly guy who doesn’t know how hot he really is.” What does that even mean? Or when she called the spider’s web of roadways and prostitutes that is Los Angeles—“the surprisingly intelligent, sexy stoner.” That’s actually Boulder, Colorado, not Los Angeles, Ann.

“Part of that infatuation is a willingness to consider New York from a cinematic distance, overlooking the city’s many irritants except insofar as they add grit and drama to your story,” Ann writes. California, Ann’s current state of bliss, is apparently, all “sunshine and avocados.” Clearly, us vampiric New Yorkers have never seen the sun, and avocados remain a mysterious green thing we recognize only from Trader Joe’s pre packaged guacamole. She cites, “a not-insignificant number of the vehement New York lovers I know — especially the young twentysomethings — are actually pretty unhappy day to day,” before retreating to her high school analogy about the prom king again. Her comprehensive study of New Yorkers aside, I’ve often wondered how happy anyone can be without 24-hour access to food, entertainment and excitement. There’s a reason people who move to the ‘burbs instantly pop out kids. There’s simply nothing else to do.

“The entire media industry” is located here because this is where the action is. This is where you’ll always know what’s going on. The things people re-post on Facebook and Twitter about… New Yorkers witness these things and learn about these things on our morning commute. “Your early twenties are going to suck,” Ann writes, and that’s awful, awful to tell people of that age, because it’s not true. It’s the time in your life where you find out who you really are. My twenties most certainly did not suck… but maybe that’s because I didn’t “[break] up with a college boyfriend and a mindless entry-level job.” Instead, I worked hard to climb up from my entry level position, spent my weekends and summer nights taking advantage of what the city had to offer me. Whenever I leave the city for a weekend, I’m surprised at how slow life seems. Sometimes it’s a nice break, but I’d die of boredom if I had to live there. How is a 20-something supposed to meet anyone? Where do you take your dates to, Chili’s? When I visit my friends in Jersey, and it’s not summer, we go bowling. Fun and all, but when the alley closes at 11 there’s nothing left to do.

It’s become in vogue, apparently, to hate on New York. You can blame it on Bloomberg’s elitism, the national anger at Wall Street, the obsession with In & Out Burger that I just don’t get. But if you can hack more than 15 months here—I’d suggest getting a job with decent growth potential, first—you’ll discover a deeper city that the tourists and haters don’t see. A city where the world comes together in the cramped nooks of busy neighborhood bars, where a rabbi, an imam, a priest and a guy with an alligator face tattoo really do all ride side-by-side in a single subway car, where in the wee hours of the morning, somewhere in the East Village, the front doors of a karaoke bar open wide to the street and let loose a roar of human beings, sauced and smiling, who aren’t ready to go home, not just yet.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How A New Button Will Revolutionize Facebook Forever

Facebook doesn't know you. No matter what Mark Zuckerberg says. Sure, the Feds might have made 25,000 requests for user data, but it's unlikely they learned anything other than Facebook users' affinity for cuddly cat photos and re-posted Pinterest quotations.

For a clear example of Facebook's failure to know who you are, look no further than the quiet end to Facebook Gifts, the social network's attempt to get you to buy real-life items for your friends' birthdays, engagements, and anniversaries.

As Forbes' contributor Mark Rogowsky points out, Facebook Gifts was a laughable failure:
"I looked at it four times in the past few days just to get a sense of what Facebook thought my friends might like. Three female friends had birthdays. Only of them has a young child, but somehow, all of them are good candidates for an $11 “mustache pacifier,” because, as Facebook puts in, “even babies need disguises.” There is so much wrong with this gift, it’s hard to know where to begin."
The issue is that, for all its claims about tracking users' behavior online, Facebook is unable to parse what "Likes" mean. Did you "Like" your friend's post about hamster balls because you want a hamster ball yourself, or did you merely think it was cute? Do you "Like" Pizza Hut because you find their pizza to be superior, or were they offering a 25% coupon if you clicked "Like" on their Facebook page? "Like" is such a general term, it can be maddeningly obscure: you may "Like" mustache pacifiers because you think they're a hilarious thing, but you'd never actually spend the money to buy one.

It's a well-known story that before Facebook decided on the "Like" button, they considered creating an "Awesome" button. Zuckerberg and Co. made the wise choice to go with "Like," which was more universal across cultures and age groups, applicable as a noun and a verb, and had a wide enough breadth to be used in many different contexts. The "Like" button helped spread Facebook far and wide because it didn't require much thought or discernment from the user-- one could "Like" something as a gesture of support for a friend, they could "Like" it because it made them smile, they could "Like" an opinion they agreed with or an article they thought was worth sharing. "Like" and "Share," the two methods of acknowledging and spreading content through Facebook's news feed, are pretty much the same. I'd argue there's no distinction between the two, other than "Share" allowing someone to pass along objectionable or shocking content without having to awkwardly "Like" it.

But while the vagueness and multiple applications of "Like" and "Share" helped grow Facebook, they're terrible descriptors. They lack the ability to communicate desire. And if you're a company that ultimately needs to make money by selling things (or advertising them), that's a problem.

However, a recent decision by a federal judge in Michigan could pave the way for a new button that will revolutionize Facebook forever.

What is this magical button? A "Want" button.

Back in 2010, Facebook was working on the idea. They even tested it out among a few retailers in 2012. However, another company, based in Detroit, had previously created an app called "Want Button" that allowed users to create wishlists of products on Facebook.The two parties were locked in a legal struggle until earlier this month, when a judge tossed the case and both companies agreed the court battle was over.

The decision paves the way for something that has been in the works for a while. TechCrunch thought it would happen two years ago. The legal hurdle cleared, its likely we'll see a "Want" button instead of "Like" appear on e-commerce sites and beneath product posts on your Facebook newsfeed sometime in the near future.

Anyone arguing that users won't "Like" the new button (and there have been many naysayers, mostly from the vocal "add a dislike button" crowd) haven't been paying much attention to sites like Pinterest, where users frequently create whole boards of aspirational items they desire. By getting users to voluntarily reveal the products and services they want, rather than just "Like", Facebook can create a better profile of its users, enabling advertisers to better target their audience and allowing the site to recommend complimentary products as gifts. Facebook Gifts 2.0 would draw from a better database of its users' desires and be able to churn out more accurately curated suggestions. None of this is a bad thing.... wouldn't you rather Facebook recommended birthday gifts you'd actually want?

The "Want" button is coming, people. And I expect it to help Facebook greatly in its efforts to enter the e-commerce field-- where the company will finally justify its billion-dollar valuation.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Alarming Second Term of Barack Bush

CNN is struggling to figure out why President Obama's approval rating has dipped among young people.

Gee, what could the youth of America possibly have a problem with? Warrant-less surveillance, drone strikes on American citizens, overzealous federal prosecutors?

That's the Bush-era stuff we thought we'd gotten rid of when we made Obama President. Now he's seemingly embraced and expanded upon these violations of the constitution and America's liberties.

The question comes down to this: Do you trust your government will always use these "tools" in a responsible way without oversight? Okay. Now, imagine the other party is in charge. Do you still trust your government will always use these "tools" in a responsible way without oversight?

Keep in mind, the government is not one, seamless entity: it's comprised of individuals, most of whom we didn't vote for and don't know. Who's to say Jimmy CIA doesn't have a crush on some chick, and taps the hell out of her electronic communications JUST BECAUSE HE CAN? Without oversight, without warrants, anyone can do anything and nobody will ever find out about it.

UPDATE: That's exactly what happened.

This may be a-okay with the older folk, but for younger people, already chafing against their parents monitoring their activities, the specter of being watched by government babysitters for the rest of their lives is not a thrilling idea.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I May Have Figured Out Bob Benson, But Probably Not

Last season on AMC's Mad Men, Meagan Draper was the breakout character, stealing our hearts with "Zou Bisou Bisou," and basically looking hot in underwear. This season, a new character has emerged..... and while he has clearly stolen our favorite buxom redhead's heart, he's creeping the rest of us the fuck out.

I'm talking of course, about smiling Bob Benson.

Internet speculation has been running wild. Who is this happy, well-adjusted man, on a show where everyone is broken in some way? HE MUST BE A PSYCHO KILLER!!!

I was reading one blog's theory when a paragraph got me thinking (emphasis mine):
He's an Army-trained registered nurse, and he's available now only because he's brought my father back to full health.
-Bob Benson to Pete Campbell in "The Better Half"

Bob Benson is up to something. He's a good guy, sure. He loves to help out, and he's good at it. But he's also a liar.

When Bob sends a "royal spread" to Roger Sterling's mother's wake, Ken Cosgrove confronts him. "I was just thinking of when my father died," Benson told Cosgrove in "The Doorway," the premiere episode of Mad Men's sixth season. Unless Benson has two fathers -- one who has died, and another who has been brought back to full health by an Army-trained registered nurse -- he's being dishonest.
 Hold the phone. This blogger didn't realize it, but I think they just stumbled onto the answer. Who is Bon Benson?

He's Don Draper's son. The ACTUAL Don Draper's son.

We know Don Draper, ad man, is actually Dick Whitman, prostitute's kid. Don Draper died in Korea, and Dick stole his identity. Draper's real wife tracked Dick down, and they developed a mother-son kind of relationship. But we know absolutely nothing else about the Don Draper that died in the war. Maybe he had a child (a love child hidden from his wife, or known about but never mentioned). This child grew up, and discovered that someone was using his father's name. "When my father died," refers to when the young Bob Benson learned his dad died in the war. "An army-trained registered nurse brought my father back to full health"-- that's a reference to someone who helped Dick Whitman recover from his war injuries, something the young Bob Benson may have learned about later.

In this context, Bob Benson isn't a liar. He technically has two fathers, one dead and one who recovered, both named Don Draper.

I don't know if the timeline works out, but it's an interesting idea. Bob Benson knows Don's/Dick's secret.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

This Revolution Should Not Be Televised

If you were a first time watcher of NBC's Revolution this week (and given the dwindling ratings, that's unlikely), you may have been confused. 

"I thought they had no power? No one seems to act like it."

Indeed, with all the helicopters, cars, automatic weapons, computer screens, glowing pendants, you'd think at least one of these characters or the people they meet who spent the last decade-plus in the dark would be fascinated and perhaps a bit hopeful by the newfound presence of electricity. But like the writers of the show, they seem to have stopped caring much about the concept of a world without power after the first few episodes. 

However, this is not a show undone by the lack of devotion to its core concept. It's a show undone by shoddy internal logic and woefully insufficient character building. This is a show where characters do mind-numbingly stupid things just to advance the plot. Where a flashback seemingly designed to inform a character's backstory (ala LOST) lasts about a minute and is largely cliched and pointless (the big baddie's backstory thus far? He once slept with his former best friend Miles's girlfriend. Ooh.)

Fine actors are absolutely wasted in their parts. The biggest example--besides Juliet from LOST seeming angrier to be on this disaster with each episode--was the show's use of Mark Pellegrino (Jacob from Lost). When he first appears, it's as little more than a background character... But his acting ability instantly marks him as someone more capable than the actor he shares scenes with, the one-dimensional Monroe. When he finally does get significant lines in the script, it's to explain that he's "one of Monroe's oldest and closest friends," something not even hinted at in the previous episodes. Pellegrino is so good he actually sells it with the hurt, wounded look in his eyes. But no matter. Spoiler Alert: He's killed a few scenes later, illustrating something that we already know: Monroe's a paranoid crazy man who kills pretty much anyone he's ever had a one on one conversation with. 

That brings up another crucial failing of the show. Monroe is so one-dimensional that you question why anyone would follow his lead. In one episode, he orders the townspeople to be rounded up and locked inside a building, which he then orders to be set on fire. Mark Pellegrino briefly questions this, but no one seems to want to stop this lunacy. Are they all just as crazy as Monroe? What is it about the guy that inspires his followers? Couldn't anybody else do his job better? The guy has ELECTRICITY for goodness sakes, and instead of rebuilding his territory and giving the power to his people, instead uses it to ineffectually pilot helicopters that are no good at targeting anything but extras and redshirts with efficiency. Do you know what would happen if the Monroe republic was the only place with electric light, heat, tv, Internet, etc? The other countries would surrender to Monroe immediately. Their people would demand it, in order to access the technology. Instead, Monroe treats it like a toy. And not even an important toy. The number of pendants and generators that have been easily slipped out of his camp must number in the hundreds at this point. 

That's another thing. Juliet from Lost and the-random-scientist-we-forgot-about that was shot in this most recent episode (another good actor given little to do and dispatched this week) both are able to put together these portable electric amplifiers pretty easily. WHY AREN'T THEY DOING THIS? Why didn't they start doing it from minute one of the blackout? They could have sold these things and made billions. Or given them to the Georgia federation and Governor Ben Affleck in California (the show's best moment). Heck, why even make the trek to "The Tower" at all?? (The Tower, obstensibly, has the ability to turn the nanobots off and restore power everywhere) Just build a million of those generator thingys and it becomes a moot point.
 In this last episode, the characters all find themselves in a contrived "who-done-it?" plot at an airfield in the middle of nowhere. Despite knowing their final destination would be out of range of their gas tank, they don't bring extra fuel. At this abandoned airfield, characters WE DIDN'T EVEN KNOW WERE ON THE HELICOPTER start dying in gruesome ways. Someone is killing them. Guess who?

No, seriously, guess who? They story briefly becomes interesting, because the fact is, everybody except for Charlie and Miles could be the killer. Nora's coming down from hallucinogenic drugs after being tortured for no apparent reason (seriously, how hard is it to find Miles? Monroe bumps into him every other episode), Neville's an established villain who's tried to kill everybody multiple times, his son was offered some shady job by a Monroe spy, the scientist-we-forgot-about was just torturing Nora a few scenes back, and Hudson... well, I guess he's mad about losing his wife, but he's apparently okay enough to joke about it.

How does this crew figure out who the murderer is? Do they set a clever trap? Analyze the scene and evaluate the clues (Clue was the title of this episode)? No. The scientist-we-don't-remember sees that the knife used to kill the guys was manufactured in Maryland, and Hudson happened to be in Annapolis a few days ago. How this proves anything is beside the point, and it doesn't really matter, because Hudson shoots and kills the scientist before attempting to kill Miles. He's shot by Neville's son, and Neville seems kind of proud. It's a heartwarmer.

The AvClub recap commenters weigh in: 

"So I don't get how the knife's origin proves saying..."Hey, this was made in China...who's been in China recently."

"And why on earth are people making knives? There must be a thousands of knives lying around from before the collapse that would be of far better quality than could be made without electricity."
"The knife was clearly manufactured, i.e pre-power outage, unless they've adapted steam power to again enable mass production of uniform, interchangeable parts, which would be interesting if only the show's creators gave even a single thought to creating a believable, consistent world!"
All valid points.
"Monroe just blew up Miles' last campsite, so how would Nora [tortured in a windowless room for 21 days] even know where he'd go next?"
" instead of just shooting Miles in the head at any opportune moment in Georgia, Hudson concocts an elaborate scheme to strand everyone including himself in the middle of nowhere and pick them off one by one. Assuming he succeeds, how exactly is he going to get word to Monroe's people with enough evidence to get his wife back?"
So true.
Is there any saving this thing? Can it be more than a vehicle for hate-watching? 

Sure. Kill all the characters, refocus the show on a mysterious island, and make a plane crash happen. Rename the show Lost and hire a writing staff that knows how to make believable characters.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Boy Who Cried "False Flag"

Conspiracies are fun, aren't they? Sure, you could just repeat the official line--"Muslim extremists carried out a terror attack"-- but that's BORING. It's far more exciting to imagine we're all living in some Die Hard-Mission Impossible-Manchurian Candidate mash-up, and the true culprits aren't the guys with mountains of evidence against them, but instead, covert shadow government agents seeking to turn America into a police state in the most complicated, meticulously planned, secret operation in history.

What movie keeps you on the edge of your seat--the one where it's clear who the bad guy is.... or the one with the unpredictable plot twists? THE KILLER WAS PRETENDING TO BE THE DEAD GUY ON THE FLOOR THE WHOLE TIME!!! OMG!!!

Of course, there are people who actually take these conspiracy theories seriously. In New Hampshire, they call these people "state lawmakers", the rest of us call them idiots. But I suspect that the majority of those espousing these conspiracy theories aren't true believers. Indeed, follow someone's conspiracy story long enough, and you'll hear them contradict themselves. People who are making it up as they go along suffer this problem.

I think they do it because the world is a sometimes scary, sometimes dull place. And conspiracies give us that jolt to the heart... that idea that we're in a battle against foes only the sharpest of us have the eyes to see.

Which is fine and all... except that there actually have been "false flag" operations in the past, sometimes to devastating effect. Our whole current kerfuffle with Iran has its basis in Operation Ajax, a joint British-American plot to overthrow Iran's democratically elected leader and replace him with a dictator more friendly to Western policies. Calling every single event from the past decade into question--as sites like InfoWars have--is like the being the boy who cried wolf. When "false flag," becomes associated with the crazies and the idiots, it makes it that much easier for an actual false flag operation to succeed. Anyone who raises a stink about something will be lumped in with the nutjobs.

Maybe InfoWars is the conspiracy--to make us believe any "false flag" is just a figment of some crackpot's imagination.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Up All Night In Watertown

In a few minutes, the sun will rise over Watertown, Massachusetts, ending one of the longest nights the City of Boston has ever known. I've been up, unable to sleep, following the events. Listening to the police scanner:, watching Boston's local WHDH 7 News: , hearing the buzz of MSNBC in the background, refreshing Reddit and Twitter. Its incredible that through modern technology, I'm better informed sitting in the comfort of my living room than most of the people actually in Watertown.

It started a little after 10PM, when "White Hat Guy," Suspect #1, robbed a 7-11 at gunpoint. They moved on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where they began to set up bombs, but were stopped by a a MIT police officer, whom they promptly shot. They then carjacked a dark mercedes, and held the driver captive for half an hour, before dropping him off at a gas station and driving to Watertown. The driver called police, and officers found the vehicle. A chase ensued, with the two suspects throwing grenades or handmade explosives. There was a firefight, the suspects chucked a pressure-cooker bomb at police, and Suspect #1 was shot and killed. Suspect #2 jumped back into the stone vehicle and gunned it past officers. He was not able to drive the vehicle too far, however, and fled the car on foot. Police cordoned off a 20 block radius and are currently going door to door searching for the remaining suspect.

So yeah, what a night. The darkness may be done, but this search may continue for a while.

UPDATE: At 6:18 AM, police scanner chatter indicated that suspect has been caught, trying to flee in a vehicle with  "another middle eastern male."

UPDATE: 6:24, It seems neither may be the suspect. Geez. Wife is calling me to bed.

Friday, April 12, 2013

An Anarchist, Imaginary Form Of Money Is A Bad Investment? You Don't Say!

The Bitcoin Crash

It didn't take long for New York magazine's Kevin Roose to change his tune on Bitcoin, the "internet currency," which made headlines this week because... well, because people were writing headlines about it. The value of a Bitcoin rose more than $200 in just a few days, which as we all know, means it will keep going up, forever, cause like, duh man.

Except, you know, then it took a swan dive the next day. Its value is going up and down like a roller coaster, and the systems in place to buy and sell the currency make it difficult to capitalize on the swings. Basically, its a penny stock that's even less regulated and less liquid.

As Roose wrote in his original piece (emphasis, mine), "Several friends warned me about buying a Bitcoin now, since prices are at an all-time high, and most smart people are predicting that the bubble will pop eventually. But many people expect the price of Bitcoins to go higher than $140. Henry Blodget half-jokingly suggested that Bitcoins could reach $400, and there's no logical reason why they can't keep rising beyond that. The more publicity Bitcoins get, the more demand there is. And since supply is limited by design, and no central authority can step in and "print" more Bitcoins, it's theoretically possible that the price could keep rising for a while before a bubble burst happens."

It's also theoretically possible that Kate Upton will sleep with me, and my wife will be cool with it.

My Bitcoins are Up Here....

How long will it take Slate's Farhad Manjoo to backtrack? After all, he also went into Bitcoin with blind enthusiasm:

"Let me begin this column with a lengthy disclosure. One morning last week, I stopped at my bank, filled out a withdrawal slip for $1,027.51, and walked away with an envelope full of cash. The odd amount was deliberate; I had been instructed by LocalTill to be exact in everything I did. What’s LocalTill? Don’t bother Googling it—its shady-looking website offers only murky details, explaining that the firm is a way for “merchants to accept secure transactions when selling goods online."

Sounds super!

"Bitcoin, of course. Bitcoin is a “digital currency” invented in 2009 by a cryptographic expert who went by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, but whose true identity remains unknown."

Well he sounds like someone I'll trust my money with!!!

"Meanwhile the price just kept going up: Early last week the value of bitcoins soared past $100 each. This week, it went past $200. If you want a bitcoin today, it will cost you about $235, and if you wait till tomorrow, it will be more."

Because the value of imaginary currency just goes up, up, UP!!!

"The world’s supply of bitcoins is essentially fixed, but because people in the media keep talking about it, demand keeps rising. This leads to higher prices—and as prices go up, people who currently hold bitcoins develop greater and greater expectations for the currency. This causes bitcoin holders to hoard their stash, which further reduces supply, which in turn boosts the price and sparks yet more media attention—and the cycle continues until the bubble pops. Thus, by writing about bitcoin, I’m serving, in some small way, to raise its price. And as of last week, that benefits me directly."

Some of the worst economic analysis I've ever read. Buy Bitcoins, then get your friends to buy Bitcoins, and then they get their friends to buy Bitcoins. Every friend you get, the more money you earn! THIS IS A PYRAMID SCHEME, PEOPLE! PYRAMID SCHEMES COLLAPSE TERRIBLY!!!!!

"When the bubble will burst, at what price and for what reason, is completely unpredictable. And until then, while prices are going up, you could make a lot of real money from this digital funny money. My own guess is that the bubble’s popping isn’t imminent, and I think that when prices do fall, they’ll land somewhere higher than the $138 I paid for my bitcoins."

This is based on nothing. Absolutely nothing. It's irresponsible financial reporting. Farhad might as well just take the money from your pocket and throw it into a paper shredder. U.S. currency is no longer backed by gold, but it is backed by the power of the U.S. Government. It has something real to peg it to-- the American economy. Bitcoin's central authority is a guy using a fake name that nobody has ever met. Bitcoin could easily be worth ZERO.

As of this writing, one of the biggest Bitcoin websites, where Manjoo bought his Bitcoins, is down due to technical difficulties. According to a MtGox spokesperson, "Upgrading computer systems means ordering more servers (2 weeks timeframe), setting up (1 day), load testing (2 weeks) and deployment (1 day). It's a process that can take up to one month in total."

Just like the stock exchange!!!!

MtGox is claiming a Denial of Service attack by hackers, but in reality, it's probably closer to a "gold rush" that's overwhelmed their substandard servers. All the media has caused people to flock to these sites, which were unprepared for such a large influx of customers.

A Bitcoin's value now, by the way, is $75 and dropping fast.

Manjoo and Roose should by publicly flogged for touting this speculative nonsense.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Mad Men Premiere: Caring For The Wrong People

Mad Men season 6 begins in an odd moment of confusion: a POV shot of a possibly dying man. We feel an instant pang of fear: what if Don is dying???

It turns out our concern is misplaced. It's just the doorman.

Misplaced concern was a major theme of this premiere episode. Almost every character was guilty of it.

Don's got a gorgeous, tv star wife that everybody ogles over: but he's more interested in sleeping with his new buddy's spouse.

Roger just lost a mother who has loved him unconditionally his entire life: he cries over the shoe shine guy. He seeks a connection with his daughter free his Mom's funeral, but there's no acknowledgement of his child with Joan.

Betty's got a daughter, Sally, to whom she's always been cold and distant: she leaves her child at home (while on winter break) to go find Sally's friend instead, and play the mother role for a bunch of east village squatters. She helps them make dinner, while her doting husband eats chicken salad alone.

A woman has Don give her away at her Hawaiian wedding instead of her own father.

Peggy has long late night phone calls with Stan while practically ignoring her boyfriend, Abe.

About the only person who seems to care about the right thing is Peggy's new boss, Ted, who ignores work to spend time with his wife and urges her to let her coworkers go home for new years.

These characters have people who need them, people who care about them, people who can fill the roles they're looking to fill. But their eyes are elsewhere. It's an interesting theme: people who have it all right there, but who are incapable of recognizing it.

"What's it like to have someones life in your hands?"

It's a privilege, and a responsibility.

It makes you wonder what will happen if those ignored constants, those people they've taken for granted, should disappear. Last season, Layne Pryce took his own life. With all the death symbolism in this episode, it may be time to speculate on who will die next.

Who should we be concerned about?

(and... Who was Roger on the phone with when he was interrupted by the news of his mother's death? Who was Sally talking to when she shut the door in her mother's face? Those moments stuck out to me. My guesses? Rogers is having liaisons with Megan's mom... And Sally is still chatting it up with Glen).

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Game of Thrones is back baaaaby!

I've let go of Lost, that brilliant, now deceased television show that every subsequent show starring former Lost actors now tries to mimic. I'm now equally enthralled with Game of Thrones, which opened its 3rd season with its main characters strewn across the globe of Westeros, all seeking to define themselves in this next stage of the Game.

Bastard Jon Snow is as far North as far gets, and that little speech he gives to Mance Rayder, King of the Wildlings, almost convinces me he's legit gone rogue. He's not playing for the Black Cloaks anymore. He's had a taste of some red headed wild child and he's seen some shady crow deals with white walkers. I know who I'd rather hang out with.

Jon's Half-brother, the King of the North, finds his bannermen slain at an abandoned Harrenhall. Suddenly, Katelyn's betrayal really becomes clear to me. She deserves to be put in a cell. Probably worse. She made an incredibly stupid and selfish decision to free Jamie. Lady Katelyn, blinded by grief and fear, traded Jamie for her two daughters. Only one of whom is actually in the Lannisters' grasp. He was a bargaining chip that could have ended the war! Winter is Coming. If everyone doesn't start looking north soon, there won't be a seven kingdoms to fight over.

Sansa wants to play pretend. Indeed, that's what she's been doing ever since coming to Kings Landing. She's playing a part, acting courtly while she fears for her life. She may not be the sharpest tool in the shed (unlike her clever sister Arya, off-screen this week), but she is preparing to sail away from all this with Peter Baelish (who has his own designs, as always, and a redhead that looks just a little bit like Sansa.)

Our dear Khaleesi wants to take back the seven kingdoms of Westeros, but she can't do it without an army. Her seasick horsemen are looking like its Sunday morning after the kegger. But she's no fan of buying Ken-doll slaves forced to kill babies. By the way, why did vaguely Arabic Ben Kingsley feel the need to slice off a nipple? That's just rawwwng, man.

But our dear Khaleesi is not the only woman in Westeros with eyes on the crown. Our dearest Marjorie Tyrell, giver of gifts to the impoverished orphans, (and terrific breasts to Jofferey and me). Her blood runs warm, but unless she knows how to bludgeon a prostitute to death, I doubt King Joffery will really get that into her. One thing's for sure, Incest Mama Cersei is NOT a fan.

Cersei's not a fan of Our Pal Tyrion either. Cersei visits his cell... I mean, room, and basically tells him she still carries a grudge for some incident involving a servant girl when she was 9. Tyrion's dad, Tywin the well groomed, tells Tyrion that his grudge against his vertically-different son goes back to the day of the boy's questionable birth. No Casterly Rock for him. Ouch.

Sir Davos the Onion Knight is not dead, but his son sadly is. He's loyal to Stannis till the end, which of course means the Red Woman has him immediately locked away. No more demon babies as of yet.

Finally, our Dear Khaleesi nearly falls for the old poisonous-Fukajima-neon-green-scorpion-in-the-wooden-ball trick. Sir Barristan, old guy, sworn defender of two murdered kings, shows up to save her life and to pledge his services. The dragon queen's wannabe-Loverboy looks a bit threatened.

There were a lot of characters we didn't see this week... And that leads me back to Lost. Lost had tons of characters too. All with rich back stories. Ditto for Game of Thrones. Both shows have handled the development of a large cast of characters with ease. Revolution, featuring Juliette from Lost, should take some notes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Is Post-Jobs Apple Out Of Ideas??

About a year ago, I opined that Apple was flirting with old ideas and possibly stunting their culture of innovation. Now we hear more troubling news that Apple is going ahead with products of questionable utility: a bigger iPhone and an iWatch.

The argument for a bigger iPhone boils down to this-- competitors have offered bigger smartphones, so Apple should follow suit to take back lost market share. This makes a very big assumption-- that people buy larger smartphones because of their size. It's an assumption based primarily on the sales of one phone-- Samsung's Galaxy Note II, which runs the Android operating system. But I have yet to see conclusive evidence that a larger screen is the difference that influences most smartphone buyers. I have no doubt that Apple will be able to sell a version of their most popular device with a differently sized screen-- they've done it with the iPad mini. The problem is, the iPad mini cannibalized sales of the full-size iPad, a more profitable product. Whatever market share it grabbed from Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook, it's been a dubious boost to Apple's fortunes, and a likely reason for that stock slide.

As for the iWatch... I don't believe there is an argument that can be made for it. Even the slickest-looking iWatch will fail because of a watch's inherent limitations. You've got to develop wireless headphones because no one wants a wire running down their arm. You're got to convince people that your design will compliment whatever style they're wearing (something you have to consider whenever something is worn, rather than pocketed). Even overcoming those hurdles, you've still got to deal with the fact that you've just prevented a usable hand from operating the device, and you've got to develop an interface that's useful within such tiny confines. If they're just making the iPod nano with a wrist strap, how is that different from what's already available for a lot cheaper?

Neither of these ideas creates an entirely new revenue stream. What they do is segment an existing revenue stream into smaller, less profitable chunks. I'm not sure how that's a recipe for success. Simply putting a product out there as an alternative to your competitors is not a growth strategy, it's a holding pattern. It's as if Apple is at the gates of El Dorado, and instead of just going inside and grabbing the gold, they're going after the guys selling cheap souvenirs by the side of the road.

Google, on the other hand, seems to have their gaze fixed firmly on the future. Take out the Android operating system, and the online advertising, and you don't have much currently in terms of money-makers. But they've created the most comprehensive map, directory, and database of the world--necessary framework for their future products, such as real-time augmented reality (Google Glasses) and self-driving cars. They've also begun introducing Google Fiber--free, fast internet--to cities around the country, part of an infrastructure that can increase the usefulness and reliability of Google Glasses and Android phones, as well as make in-development ideas like "Smart" homes (and even "Smart" neighborhoods) a real possibility. Apple users found out how far ahead Google's data is after the Apple Maps debacle. While Apple's been sitting on cash it doesn't know what to do with, Google has spent millions on R&D building a support network for the interconnected world we all know we're headed towards.

Maybe Apple can wake up and recognize their (shrinking) lead in online content distribution, and turn Apple TV from a niche set-top accessory into a more comprehensive experience (i.e. an Apple flat-screen TV). But we haven't heard about that good idea for a while. Only the uninspired ones.

Imagine the future, and it's not a bunch of people staring down at their wristwatches. Changing a screen size doesn't change anything else. Google understands this--so they're building the foundations of the future, and they're offering a glimpse of the products that will take advantage of it.

If Tim Cook wants to keep Apple on top, he should take note of that.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Guns Out of Control

Bear with me.

There are many different types of hammers. There's the square, spiked one used for tenderizing meat. There's the flat-head one used for hammering nails. There's the ball-peen hammer used for metalwork. The sledgehammer for breaking down walls.

You can use the wrong hammer for a job and still get it done, but you'll have a harder time, maybe cause some damage you didn't intend.

No one would ban hammers just because someone uses a hammer to kill. This is because, obviously, the hammer is not well-designed for such a thing, and the vast majority of people use hammers safely.

Now, there are many different types of guns. There are guns designed for personal protection. There are guns designed for hunting. Then there are guns designed to kill a maximum number of targets in a minimum amount of time.

Guns of this last type, assault weapons, were originally designed for the U.S. military to fit certain battle specifications. Even though the models sold to the public have been modified to conform to gun laws (mainly, they've been made semi-automatic), the fact remains--they are designed for bloodbaths. That is their designed purpose. Sure, you can use an assault rifle to hunt, or for home protection, or to shoot up targets at the range. But that's not what it was designed for. You're using a hammer that's been specifically forged to kill many people.

So we should not be surprised when a gun designed for massacres is used to carry out its intended purpose. You can argue that "guns don't kill people, people do," but that argument falls apart when the weapon was built with killing lots of people in mind. What you've done is provide the perfect tool for the job.

Like hammer owners, the vast majority of gun owners don't use their guns to kill. They argue that their guns are designed for defense or sport, and that's what they use them for. But assault weapons? They're called "assault" for a reason.

You don't want to ban all guns? Fine. Other weapons may have their place (that's another argument for another day). But saying a weapon that is designed to produce mass casualties won't produce mass casualties when owned by civilians is an argument that doesn't make a lick of sense. We're talking about something with the capacity to end many lives in seconds. Who cares if some people use it to shoot for fun at trees? They're the ones using it WRONG--like using a sledgehammer to build a birdhouse. The school shooters and movie theater shooters? They are the ones using these assault weapons correctly--though they're targeting American civilians, not Taliban.

What I'm saying is, why not ban these things, knowing that they're effectively designed tools for mass murder? It won't stop deaths from gun violence, or even school shootings. But what it will do is save lives. Just like it's harder to drive a nail with a ball-peen hammer, and it's harder to inflict mass casualties without the tool designed for it.Take away the tool, and they'll be forced to find something less deadly to use.

Don't we all win?

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