Saturday, January 29, 2011
Let me tell you what hell is. Hell is when you are casually surfing the news in your PJs, and click on a link and
you get hit with that smiling, smarmy hat bastard on the right telling you to log in / give them money.
Hey New York Times, I know you are in hard financial times but why throw good money after bad? Barriers to entry / paywalls will NEVER work. Ever. They just piss your readers off (whew... I almost wrote "customers" there instead of readers. I-rony!)
So get that fedora-waving moron out of my browser and either gimme the content, or keep the whole thing on a non-public server. I dunno what the solution is, but that smiling guy really ticks me off at 10:55 in the morning.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
I present to you exhibit A - White People Rapping Poorly. It's instantly hilarious and cringeworthy - no talent chumps trying to rap. It also makes me very happy that I'm not a high school teacher, because apparently it's very popular now to do your science / social studies / history homework in rap form.
Like most people, I usually consider making fun of my fellow whites to be fair game and decidedly non-racist. So I was surprised when this topic was listed on BoingBoing, a left-leaning geek website, and many people were offended. The rationale is that racism shouldn't make exceptions for the majority, and it doesn't just belong to minorities.
Yes, usually the only people who talk about the "white race" are neo-Nazis, but I decided to take a closer look at this issue just out of curiosity / boredom. Certainly in theory, racism isn't about majority / minority status, but about making hurtful or negative generalizations about a race of people. So under this definition, making fun of white people is certainly racist.
For myself personally, I never get offended by white slurs, but I do get offended by some Jewish slurs. I'm not sure how this can be, but it is. Maybe racism is more about the extent of which a person's self-esteem or social standing is affected by comments than the comments themselves. I can't conceive of a white person being hurt by being told they can't jump / rap / dance, but certainly telling a person of minority status that they are stupid / lazy / a criminal because of their race would be hurtful and highly insulting.
So, to conclude, I don't know.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Dear Dr. Rubin,
I need some dating advice. I met a hot MILF and I want to ask her out. She's a dental hygienist. Can you help?
Bleeding Gums (of love)
Dear Bleeding Gums,
Good for you! In the 21st century there is absolutely nothing wrong with dating a cute single mom. (BTW, if she's not single, you probably need to rephrase your question and send it to Ask a Ninja to take care of that problem.)
But yes, many men are attracted to dental hygienists, who promise great teeth, minty breath and above-average earning potential / 401k contributions. They also carry floss and toothpicks around whenever you go out for Korean BBQ.
There are two ways of asking her out - in the chair or out of the chair. Let's examine them both:
Out of the chair - Obviously someone looming over you shining a flashlight in your eyes will cause you to lose the power advantage, so stay the hell outta the chair to make your move. Tell her you are mounting a multimillion-dollar class action lawsuit against the plaque-causing effects of Skittles and you need some expert testimony... in bed.
Or call her from a casino, telling her you just won the jackpot and wondered if she can make a house call for $10,000. When she gets there, tell her you sacrificed your winnings to save the dental clause in Obama's health care plan, and ask if she'd care for a celebratory cocktail.
Or, find out when she's working and get your teeth cleaned by another hygienist in her office. Then hand your hygienist a folded love note and ask them to pass it to the one you want to date. When she reads your flowery prose it and looks at you in longing, flash her a great smile to the best of your ability, depending largely on how much equipment is in your mouth at that particular moment.
In the chair - This method carries MAXIMUM risk, but you can reap serious rewards if you pull it off. First off, you need to distinguish yourself from all the other guys she sees on the job - really stand out. By yourself I mean, of course, your teeth.
For example, you can schedule a dentist appointment with another dentist an hour before seeing her and then impressive her with your impossibly awesome teeth.
Or forgo all dental checkups for a few years (make sure to consult a fortune teller to make sure she'll be single by the end of your preparation) and then tell her you gave all your money to an orphanage and you had to be homeless for a bit while you saved Chinese sex slaves from inner-city brothels. Hook, line, sinker. Remember, if you are bleeding from dental work at the time of this confession, tell her she doesn't need to wear gloves because you "don't have any STDs... if she gets your drift." Then wink twice and reel in the kisses / pepper spray.
Monday, January 24, 2011
In a story I read recently about yet another phone scam targeting senior citizens, one quote by a detective made me pause. He remarked that older people are especially vulnerable to scams because, "We’re talking about a generation of people who work on trust and have grown up that way."
Now, at first that may seem like saying that old people are suckers. Or sadly unsophisticated. That's what I often think when I read these stories.
But this time I felt sad for MYSELF rather than them. They lived in a time before global calls could be made for 2 cents a minute. Before cell phones, the internet. The vast majority of their communications came from people they knew. It was all their community, family and friends. So there was a degree of trust in EVERY communication they received.
That's something great they had that they've lost. And that we've lost too. Bummer.
I understand that you received education to what these signals mean, but we didn't. All we know is you are making odd gestures while riding a small, engineless device trying to cross four lanes during rush hour.
So basically, when you make a motion with your arm, any motion, here is what we get out of it:
"Shit, that guy on the bike is gonna do something."
Saturday, January 22, 2011
So as some of you know, I have a funky government job using social media.
Our term for the use of social media, along with the applied philosophy of transparency, collaboration and public participation, is "Gov 2.0." Part of my job was to create and update a cool timeline of all the significant Gov 2.0 milestones, such as the first FourSquare check-in from space, or the first government wiki. (If you click there, the timeline link right above the timeline to the left offers an easier view).
But anyway, so I love Gov 2.0 and am constantly looking for ways to help our government work better, cheaper, and faster. So when I came upon the hit show "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom," I immediately wondered if they were partnering with the great service called Text4baby, which is a collaboration between private, non-profits and gov groups.
What Text4baby does is send expectant moms text messages with tips for your pregnancy and caring for your baby, all timed to your expectant due date. All you do to sign up is text BABY (or BEBE for Spanish) to 511411 - done! So I emailed the "16 and Pregnant" producers to suggest they partner with this amazing program and help teens who get pregnant lead healthier lives. Here is their response:
Thank you for your email! MTV is actually a partner of the program. Take a look at these clips from 16 & Pregnant:
Dr. Drew also promoted text4baby during the teen mom finale special last February: http://www.facebook.com/video/
Please feel free to keep sending suggestions!
Friday, January 21, 2011
First off, I must say that there are few bigger fans than me of the Daily Show / Colbert Report. It is one of the highlights of my day. But last night's episode was a little off for me in the truth category. Now I'm not talking about the comedy bits during the first 2/3 of the show - those are basically invulnerable to criticism because it's comedy.
I'm talking about the interview segments, which is supposed to be a semi-serious no-bullshit zone. Stewart doesn't let people get away with baseless rhetoric, or avoid the real issues people are thinking about (or should) for very long. He's not hard-hitting, but he is transparent. And that's why certain omissions in last night's episode, featuring an Iranian comedy internet news show, bothered me so much. It featured Kambiz Hosseini and Saman Arbabi, who broadcast news satire into Iran's dictatorship. With all it's censored state-run media, this is dangerous stuff the two are doing, even maybe from the U.S. where they tape it.
It's very inspiring - a story about Iranians who leave their repressive country and escape to the United States, where they use the freedoms we enjoy to spread democracy in their homeland. The problem is in Stewart's throw-away introduction to the two - that the official name of the show is Voice of America's Parazit. Jon Stewart never really goes into detail about what Voice of America is, he just jumps over it and starts talking about their great show.
Most Americans don't know what Voice of America is, either. It's essentially U.S. Federal Government radio, and is listened to by U.S. troops and other peoples worldwide in 44 languages. It is far, far better than state-run media in other nations, but it is not unbiased and does promote a positive view of the United States and its actions. It serves U.S. interests, basically. So Jon failed to mention that this fantastic show broadcast into Iran is bankrolled by the U.S. government (and no, he doesn't mention in the extended interview, either). I think this is significant, because even if the two are authentic and funny and passionate, they are still being sponsored by our government to undermine another government. It has a whiff of propaganda, and that seems worthy of mention.
Maybe this fact gets in the way of the great story the two men had to tell. Maybe it wasn't funny to mention this. Or maybe I'm overthinking this. But I sort of felt hoodwinked last night.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
I always say that the best way to get out of an incredible fuck-up is to go to town on it and own it. Do more than accept it - broadcast your idiocity.
A great example is this blog, about a man with Erectile Dysfunction who injected himself in the "area" to have sex... and then couldn't get "it" to go down again.
For 12 hours.
I only wish my blog could reach these heights of hilarity...
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
I am pissed off. “Inside Job” pissed me off. It’s a great documentary about the root causes of the financial services industry. In a sense the root reasons are complicated, but in another they are very easy to understand:
1. Pro-Risk culture - Lenders were paid commissions on how many loans they gave, not whether the loans were safe or even realistic. They were encouraged to take risks with other people’s money, but were not held personally accountable if things went wrong.
2. Regulators in bed with the finance industry - The government regulators charged with regulating the finance industry were **all** former CEOs and execs in the finance industry. Should they be trusted to regulate their old company? Besides being asleep at the wheel and not investigating companies that even the FBI was worried about, they, with the help of congress, loosened regulation and made oversight even weaker.
3. Disconnect between borrowers and lenders - If I loan you money, I obviously want to keep tabs on you and make sure I get my money back. But the finance industry will resell these loans over and over again, each person making a commission when they resold the loans. So soon the person who actually held the loan was so far removed from the borrower they couldn’t even tell that the loans were terrible and bound to fail.
4. Loan ratings companies were frauds - The above scenario never should have happened, because loans are rated in terms for strength and stability. These loans comprised many subprime loans (high-interest loans given to people who couldn’t pay) and should have received a shit rating (like a D). But instead they received AA or AAA, the highest ratings only given to things as stable as the U.S. GOVERNMENT. So why did shitty loans get good ratings? Because at the time loose regulation had allowed the creation of lots of subprime loans, all of which needed to pay to get rated. And rating agencies realized when they gave good ratings to crap loans, people who patronize them again. So they paid people to give fake ratings, and duped investigators.
5. Credit default swaps - Exacerbating the problems above was the creation of complex financial instruments created by brilliant mathematicians and physicists who were trying to make some money. They created an unregulated, $50 TRILLION dollar system where people can bet against almost anything, from the performance of a stock to what the weather will be. This means that you can bet for a investment to fail, and make money when it does. This obviously isn’t good for the customer who took out that investment, but it gets worse: The big finance companies - Merryl Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, and others - sold people loans and then bet against these loans to fail. So they were making money off both sides, and the borrowers lost big time.
6. Academic frauds - Usually when things go bad, we look to the experts for advice. Obviously we couldn’t rely on the Wall Street types, so we co to trusted Academic, right? This failed (and continuous to fail) for two reasons: First many economists at Harvard, Columbia, and other places were FORMER FINANCIAL SERVICE VIPs. So they bring their own business philosophy of anti-regulation to new generations of students. Rather than advancing knowledge, they just peddle their own philosophy. But even worse is that academics who are consultants for the financial services industry AT THE SAME TIME THEY ARE TEACHING. So they are making hundreds of thousands of dollars consulting, and then publish academic papers praising these companies and their practices. Conflict of interest, anyone?
7. Not creating anything - Many of the financial instruments like credit default swaps don’t actually create wealth, or anything else for that matter. They don’t create an end product, just money. Since they don’t create anything, they are essentially ponzi schemes where the last person (a.k.a. the sucker) left in the system loses everything. An expert in the movie put it nicely: Traditional engineers get paid to make things, real things that people use. Financial engineers get paid much more to create nothing. Which profession deserves a better salary?
8. Corrupted board structure - I’ve known about this for a long time. American CEOs are the most highly paid in history, making thousands or even millions times the salary of their rank and file. Why are they so lucky? CEO payments come from the board of directors, who are the ultimate bosses. But what happens when a CEO handpicks their board of directors, and gives them $200,000 a year? Amazingly, the board members will vote to increase CEO compensation, while the CEO keeps them on the board for big money. It’s a closed system with no accountability. This allows CEOs to take unreasonable risks and face no accountability, since they get a golden parachute when they leave.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
So I returned somewhat triumphant to the living room, smiling ear to eat about my performance. Not that I thought that my performance was great by any means, just that I wasn't a disaster. I had not, as I feared, ruined Christmas.
So the family was sitting around opening presents and the kids were milling about. I started to get some good feedback. When the kids had asked how Santa had gotten into the second-story bedroom, the adults pointed to the window I had left open as proof. That wowed them. The 2-year-old was walking around talking about hearing reindeer and bells. Big payoff!
So I'm sitting taking pictures and video of the family. The ultra-sassy four-year-old girl comes over to me with a Mickey Mouse dressed up as Santa Claus. When you squeezed him, he played Jingle Bells.
"Look!" I said. "Santa Mickey!"
The girl, who was sporting a giant red bow on her head, walked over to me and, with her eyes wide, said, "Jon, were you Santa Claus?"
My blood turned to ice. If I was the one who ruined Santa Claus for a 4-year-old girl I would never forgive myself. And, most likely, neither would her family. After all, they are Italian, and they treat their kids like the Messiah. I did my best to evade, but not lie.
"I don't know about that," I responded with a nervous laugh. "I wasn't here when Santa was here, right?" That was actually the opposite of what I was trying to convey - I was trying to do a Clark Kent vs. Superman thing, but it didn't pan out.
Her face became skeptical.
"Jon, I think you ARE Santa Claus," she accused.
I was sweating. I tried to b.s. her as best I could, but then she pulled out the big guns.
"That wasn't the real Santa Claus. Santa Claus doesn't have a string around his beard."
I was finished. I let her lay into me, interrogating me, until she lost interest. She confidently declared "You ARE Santa Claus, Jon. You ARE!" and went back to her toys.
Fortunately for me, there was much whiskey at hand.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Yes, this really happened.
Whilst at Dianna's family's house for Christmas, a problem presented itself: Dianna's teenage cousin had chickened out of playing Santa Claus for their younger relatives, a 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy. So who would play Santa and save Christmas?
That's right, baby. Me. Dianna and her grandmother asked me if I would do it and I was overjoyed to accept. I was actually surprised how happy I was to do it. I'm not sure what appealed to me more - getting to help out or the chance to do some LARPing (Live Action Role Playing, and yes, that's a joke).
Her family was grateful, but also took the occasion to make a few cracks. "Remember, Jon, it's 'Ho Ho Ho' not 'Oy Oy Oy.' " Har har har.
They had a red suit set out for me in the upstairs room, and I was going to come out, hand out a few presents and excuse myself to "head back to my sled." The suit was just a tad large on me, so I stuffed a pillow in it and cinched the belt super tight. I had to puff out my gut to keep the pillow in place, and even then it would only stay put for a minute before it slipped out my coat.
I put the suit on over my dress slacks, and was happy that my black shoes seemed to match the traditional Santa ensemble. There was a white fake beard on a string, which I put on and then immediately felt my body temperature raise by 15 degrees. I opened the window and took a drink of the gin and tonic a family member had brought me.
I was concerned about my glasses. I needed them to see, and thought stumbling Santa falling down the stairs might just ruin the magic of the occasion. I was assured that Santa too wore glasses, so I was fine.
When the family had assembled in the next room and gave me the signal - "I think I hear reindeer on the roof!" I came out ringing a holly berry with a bell inside and gave my best "Ho Ho Ho!" The family erupted into laughter and joy. "Look kids! It's Santa!"
The kids were seriously freaked out. They had met m on a few occasions, but they didn't recognize me, which was a success. The failure, however, was that seeing Santa on the second floor of their grandparents house was scaring the hell out of them. The 4-year-old girl shied away from me when her family tried to get a picture of us together (although she took my gift). The toddler seemed charmed and confused, but he liked his toy cars. At least they didn't cry.
I bid everyone farewell and started to leave when my pants started falling off and my pillow gut started showing. Dianna did her best to fix my suit while I hurried out of there. I changed in the laundry room, waited a few minutes and then returned.
TO BE CONTINUED
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Unless, of course, the person wasn't killed.
Observe screenshots from our beloved Fox News. They continued, despite universal evidence to the contrary on every other network, that Gabrielle Giffords was dead.
This isn't nitpicking. Nor can it be excused by the racing seconds-by-second news cycle during a breaking event. YOU DON'T REPORT FACTS THAT AREN'T VERIFIED.
Like someone being "fatally shot," for instance.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
The government owns a lot of rooms.
It also has a lot of photographers.
Put them together and get themed photo rooms, like these photos of Obama fist bumps at a conference room at Housing and Urban Development / White House conference center.
I suppose if you've got 'em, you might as well use 'em.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
News is blowin up about the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. It seems the shooter was apparently, believe it or not, crazy. Above is a screenshot attributed to the shooter, taken from this video. The talk about "brainwashing" seems very akin to things I've heard paranoid schizophrenics say.
Scary. Also scary that he can use iMovie.
Friday, January 7, 2011
Wikipedia, which I think we can all agree has become a vital cultural and democratic resource, just finished their 2010 global fundraising campaign (if you didn't donate, here's where you can).
Guess how much they got from our grateful planet?
$16 million. From ALL of humanity.
To put this in perspective for those unfamiliar with fundraising, the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, where I used to work, had an annual campaign of $4.3 million from approximately 18,000 potential donors. So Wikipedia, which has billions of potential donors, only got four times more money? Actor Ed Norton plans to raise more than that in a NYC Marathon fundraiser.
I'm not bringing this up to diss Wikipedia's fundraisers, but to show that a vitally important, and growing, cultural resource is pretty much scraping by. They have server farms all over the planet and these require a LOT of money - at least $10 million a year.
So even though they doubled their fundraising from $7.5 million in 2009 to $16 million in 2010, which is impressive, they running a pretty lean show. What if another recession comes and wipes out their revenue? The people they rent space and bandwidth from don't care who their tenants are, they want $$$$.
Important institutions - libraries, police, museums, schools - either have built-in taxpayer support or advertising campaigns and tie-ins to bring in money, or both. Widipedia has neither, and it's just as important.
Coming from a fundraising background I know how fickle donors can be, and how difficult it is to run a non-profit of any size. Given our reliance on Wikipedia, maybe the "no ads" model is just too risky...
Thursday, January 6, 2011
What to do with Detroit? The once great city now has been so depopulated that there are abandoned townships inside it.
Some people have proposed shrinking the city limits, or demolishing huge swathes of land.
But I have a better idea: Why not use the whole city as a set for dystopian movies, which are certainly the rage right now.
Zombie hometown? Check
Post-nuclear wasteland? Check
Post-virus decimation of all life? Check.
Speaking of which - Hollywood, where's my check?
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Note: I had a great relationship with The Good 5 Cent Cigar, the daily newspaper at the University of Rhode Island, where I went for undergrad. It went like this: I submitted some hair brained thing I wrote, and 90% of the time they printed it verbatim. Maybe they had low standards, maybe I was an undiscovered man-of-letters - I guess we'll never know. Anyway, I recently found a cache of articles I wrote that were probably published. This was back in 1996 (!), so none of them exist online. One thing about these articles may surprise you - what an incredible dick I used to be. Or maybe just an iconoclast (one professor called me this, actually).
Alcohol mastery is directly parallel to the mastery of any sport or skill - it requires practice, patience and the willing acceptance of failure, usually in the medium of repeated vomiting. Drinking at first is comparable to taking a big swig of Ultra 94, or any other price upper-class regular alternative [gas] for that matter.
Now, I do not endorse drinking as being “the secret of happiness,” but it can be a window for some into a world where conversation is free and unrestricted, where apprehension and over-analyzing takes backseat to truthfulness and straightforwardness.
If you are not the kind of person who is comfortable with occasional chaos, with environments that are often overrun with emotion and tensional release, where laid-back peace temporarily replaces rigidity, than pass that Honey Brown, cuz I sure am.
What am I trying to say? But it is with your article, miss Jennifer Rojas, that I am most dismayed. I had grown quite a fan of your writing style and assertiveness and I was dumbfounded by the shortsightedness of your “drinking is conformity” accusation. Sure nuff’, this is the case with many of us dismal fools who equate drinking with happiness, who make remarks like “I had to get unbelievably blasted to have a good time in that place...” those are rightly confined in your stereotype.
Yes, even partying can become monotonous and often people find that they need to get more and more bombed to have the fun they used to have with just a six pack. But not drinking is affiliated with this baseness; many people flock to frat parties not out of thoughtless compliance, but because the beer there is FREE! When Dunkin Donuts was giving away a complimentary bagel + coffee as a result of Fred “Successful Advertisement” the Donut Man’s retirement, did you call the thousands who flocked there conformists? Of course not - they just like free stuff. (I have a feeling this paragraph was better left in a recycling bin....)
In my unenlightened opinion, the greatest contributor to ignorance and groundless assumptions is socioeconomic and cultural difference, so when you are about to slap some label on someone different from you, take five and consider your biases and prejudices before using the words “trailer-trash”, “jap”, “homie”, “wigger”, etc. etc. No one is capable of understanding the drive and motivation of every human being, so don’t even try.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
And no, I'm not talking about myself here. I'm talking about my favorite short story writer, Raymond Carver, considered by some to be among the greatest of this craft in the later half of the 20th century.
What, you've never heard of him?
That's because no one cares about short stories. Think about it - how many writers you know have best-selling short story books? How many have you seen on Oprah, or heard are "must-read" books by friends or media reviews?
Probably none. That's because the real money is in novels - one story, one narrative, one group of characters that you get to know over time. Which is kind of odd if you think about it, given how ADD most people are nowadays.
Raymond Carver wrote stories that were so amazing that, when I first encountered him in college, I couldn't even describe what I was reading. Now that I'm older, and reading a exhaustive 600 page biography of him, I can understand why.
Carver moved America back towards straight fiction (as opposed to experimental fiction) and wrote blunt, minimalist stories about gritty American life and relationships. They are awe-inspiring and heartbreaking, seemingly simple but incredibly moving. His writing was so concise, he's able to reveal an incredible amount of information in a just a few words. This story of his is a good example - it's powerful stuff.
But you probably never heard of him because he sold all his short stories to magazines, which don't create much buzz. Even when he put his stories into book form, they still didn't bring in in the big bucks or fame, outside of tight-knit literary circles, anyway.
My advice to new writers is to go where the big money is: poetry.