This Should Be Hillary Clinton’s Strategy

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will engage in a bitter, backbiting exchange of insults for the next three months, culminating in the ugliest, least presidential, Presidential election of all time. The insults and jabs will fly fast and furious and in the end the US will elect a candidate so horribly tarnished that he or she will likely have the lowest public approval ratings of any President elect.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The Clinton campaign could, instead, elevate the campaign substantially by simply ignoring Donald Trump. Trump will get free media attention commensurate with the amount of time, attention, and money Hillary heaps upon them. He will be constantly in the news while spending precious little, and for Trump that is critical because he has precious little money to spend. By all accounts, his fundraising is anemic, and he has nowhere near the war chest Hillary has. His only hope is to compete on her dime. So far, she is allowing him to do just that.

Instead, Hillary should a) focus a substantial amount of her fire on Johnson and Weld. She should make them her principal adversary.

The idea for Hillary is to raise awareness of the Libertarian ticket to split the GOP vote. She should spend a considerable amount of resources trying to ensure that a) the J-W ticket is included in the debates and b) that the GOP base is well aware that there is an alternative ticket comprised of two popular former governors. By driving up the name ID and exposure of the Libertarian ticket, Hillary takes the focus off of Trump, and gets him less media attention with every attack.

There is a degree of finesse to this strategy as it would require use of a lot of good data to segregate Hillary’s turnout universe from the universe of Republicans. She would need to maintain her base’s deep distaste for Trump while simultaneously pushing her opponent’s base away from Trump and into the Libertarian camp. Fortunately, her friends in the media are already helping. Johnson-Weld have enjoyed very favorable press, thus far. They have already set Hillary up to pivot to attacking them. She has the ability to credibly attack a third party ticket that would not normally receive any mention from the Democrats simply because they are already on the radar. In recent polling, the J-W ticket is drawing as much as 13% nationally. By citing this “rising threat” to her candidacy, Hillary can legitimately begin aim fire in their direction while ignoring Trump’s tantrums.

There is an argument that the candidates in the GOP primary tried this tack and it didn’t play out very well. They attacked each other, while ignoring Trump, and it failed. However, that was in a primary contest split 16 ways in which most of the candidates stood a hair width apart on most issues. In a general election matchup, the goal is not to appeal to the same voters supporting Trump, but to divide them so you can conquer. That will be impossible without identifying a viable alternative for those voters to support. Hillary helps herself by hammering Johnson and Weld.

Republicans for Johnson-Weld

This is the first of what will be two posts this morning. Given my relatively infrequent updates, that is like coming out of semi-retirement. But the two posts, as you will see, are closely related.

First, today I am joining with a number of good friends to announce the formation of Republicans for Johnson-Weld. This is an effort that has its roots in the fact that all of us involved consider ourselves to be loyal Republicans, but this year the most Republican option on the ballot is the Libertarian ticket. Donald Trump is an authoritarian, statist, megalomaniac. And those are his BEST attributes. If you can ignore his racism, his ignorance, his willful disregard for intellectual curiosity, and his knee-jerk jerkism, you’ll see that he has precious little republicanism in him. His solutions across the board are big government, reactionary, and would be a disaster.

By comparison, the Johnson-Weld ticket has more executive level experience in government than either of the two major party tickets. They are not beholden to the special interests of either the far-left or the far-right, but represent the views of the mainstream majority of Americans. They have passed lower taxes and balanced budgets while still increasing infrastructure spending and streamlining government. In New Mexico, when I worked with and for Gary at the NM GOP, Johnson reformed the Department of Motor Vehicles, and created a smooth, fast, and financially efficient method for conducting most DMV transactions. He should be elected President for no other reason than being the one person who took on the DMV and improved it, dramatically, for the better. That is leadership we need.

If you are interested in joining up in support of the REAL republican ticket, hit us up at

Free Trade Works, But It Looks Ugly Doing It

Bernie Sanders and his people have spent a lot of time talking about trade, but they seem to miss a very relevant point. As Vox explains:

“You have to have standards,” [Sanders] said. “And what fair trade means to say that it is fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States.” …
“But there’s one big problem, according to development economists I spoke to: limiting trade with low-wage countries as severely as Sanders wants to would hurt the very poorest people on Earth. A lot.
“Free trade is one of the best tools we have for fighting extreme poverty. If Sanders wins, and is serious about implementing his trade agenda as outlined in the NYDN interview and elsewhere, he will impoverish millions of already-poor people.”
The left often argues that US wages have been stagnant and our middle class is being wiped out, blah, blah blah…  They fail to understand that the US middle class no longer exists. There is, due to an evermore global economy, now a world middle class, a world upper class and a world lower class. Unfortunately for both the middle and lower class workers in the US, the effect of globalization has been to open wide the opportunities for workers in other countries to join them. Consider this:
Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 1.07.34 PM
That is a chart showing the decline in the poverty rate over time. That black line dropping precipitously is the poverty rate between 1981 and today. That is the drastic effect of capitalism and globalization reducing poverty for a staggering number of people in a VERY short time.
Sanders and his sycophants would have you believe that the US exists in some sort of bubble where nothing that happens in the rest of the world will impact our workers. In fact, as more of the world is lifted from poverty through free-trade, there will be more people vying for jobs that Americans previously performed precisely because the US workers have priced themselves out of much of the labor pool. Think of the world economy like a canal zone.
Imagine the US is the top right of that image, the richest country on Earth. Sanders would like to believe that the system of locks (call them tariffs, import taxes, whatever) is the most efficient way to get the people at the bottom up to our standard. In reality, capitalism is working by eroding the ground under the locks to lower the water to a common level. The unfortunate side effect for American workers is that they are the land underneath. They are going to be lowered so that the water levels even out. There is no way to protect our entire population from having to complete with the other 6.7 billion people on the planet. As they rise, some of our people will fall until we reach a global equilibrium. That is just the reality of the impact of global trade.
Sanders, is demanding that fledgling countries pay wages and benefits in line with US wages, and demanding they spend equal amounts protecting the environment and other commons. He is asking countries of the world to price themselves out of the labor pool they are now a part of because global companies have figured out they can manufacture goods locally in overseas markets as opposed to shipping them from the US after paying US salaries. The unskilled laborer in China who works all day stamping out sheet metal will do it for substantially less than the unskilled union member in the US. That is good for the labor market in China, but suddenly the US needs fewer metal stampers.
Sanders wants to jump directly to the equilibrium. He wants the water on both sides of the lock to suddenly be the same height without doing any digging. He wants to make the water flow uphill. He wants the Chinese (or Chileans, or whatever) to suddenly increase their labor rates to be the same as ours. If we suddenly demanded that India paid the equivalent of US minimum wage  (or worse, union wages) in order to be a trading partner, we would have a devastating effect on India’s poor.

When you consider that even the poorest Americans are still in or near the global 1%, you realize exactly how much better off our country is and has been. Trump and Sanders both want to pretend that we can have it both ways, that we can keep all of our population, regardless of how unskilled they may be, at that level. The reality is the dramatic reduction in poverty we have seen is creating a much larger middle class, and allowing more people worldwide to participate in the global market. You simply cannot lift that many people out of poverty without an averaging effect that reduces the quality of life for some Americans. That is what we are seeing in the “stagnant” economy. The economy is not stagnant for the middle class. It only seems that way because the net impact of the economy is not to lift all boats, but to bring all boats to the same level. They will all be at a level that is dramatically higher for most, but it’s going to be lower for some. That will impact US workers more simply because we have had it really good for a long time.

Grand Unified Theory of Trumpism

I am operating under this theory that about a year ago Trump was going to launch a new product or TV show, and he had the brilliant idea to show up at CPAC, then announce his Presidential campaign as a way to get attention for that launch. His original positions staked out ground in the far reaches of the GOP primary field. His fervent support for building a giant wall, and subsequent descriptions of a) how easy it would be and b) how easy it would be to make Mexico pay for it, were meant to resonate only with the most uninformed of citizens.But a funny thing happened: Trump suddenly found himself in the early lead for the GOP nomination.

Well this didn’t sit well. He couldn’t just sit by and watch his product launch go South because 15% of the GOP electorate are mouth-breathers. So he decided to go further afield. Let’s suggest that anyone entering the US from Mexico is a rapist. Let’s suggest banning Muslims entering the US. Let’s suggest banning Muslim’s outright. Let’s brag about our dick size in a Presidential debate. Let’s make people swear a loyalty oath with arms outstretched in a Nazi-esque salute. Let’s suggest assaulting reporters and protestors and the media. The latest report is that Trump supporters are taking to wearing arm bands. Yes, like this:

And the further along this goes, the crazier it seems to get. Why would that be?

I think the answer lies in the fact that Trump does not, and never did want, to be President. He is pushing the boundary of crazy not because he is crazy but simply because he is actively trying to go too far.

He could have just called for internment camps and gas chambers a year ago, but that would have been a single column and quick end to his campaign. He had to seem detached, but not actually unhinged. The problem is they miscalculated. They set the crazy bar too high and ended up limboing right under it. They keep lowering the bar incrementally now, but damn it if Trump hasn’t become this guy:

He keeps thinking he has gone far enough to be outed as a crazy person. He hopes, desperately, that he will be tossed like a bad Christmas fruit cake when someone realizes it’s the third of July and nobody is actually going to take a bite. Unfortunately for him, the GOP has been starved of actual leadership for so long that people are lined up with forks in hand to get a small slice of the stale cake.

If he does well tomorrow, I would not be surprised at all to see his campaign request that all their supporters start wearing brown shirts.

This is all an act. This is the depraved rantings of a guy who doesn’t want to be President. He wants to lose. He wants to get back to hawking cheap products that reek of desperation and bad brass electroplating, but dammit, you just won’t let him.

Twisted Sister’s Awesome Reaction to Donald Trump Using Their Song

Over the years I have read a ridiculous number of stories about musicians suing and otherwise shaming politicians for using their songs despite significant policy and partisan disconnects with the artists. It happens almost every cycle (often repeatedly). There have already been several such events this cycle. When Jackson Browne filed suit against John McCain and the RNC in 2008 for using his song Running on Empty in an ad without a proper license, the defendants claimed fair use and a court disagreed. While the suit was over licensing, it was still partially a political ploy on Browne’s part. A long-time Social Justice Warrior, Browne was unhappy that the right-of-center McCain was disparaging Obama’s comments on fuel consumption and tire pressure. The suit specifically claimed McCain had violated the Lanham Act for suggesting that Browne supports or had endorsed him. It’s not uncommon for lawyers to include a litany of arguments in a suit hoping one will stick. However, Browne’s team claimed at the time that it was not about their political differences.

Getting proper licensing for use in paid media is something campaigns have trouble with. I have seen a LOT of campaigns fail in that front because licensing costs money. But licensing issues aside, there should be a significant difference between media use and entertaining people with music while waiting for an event. Artists who get bent out of shape that their music was played for the crowd are just being a pain for the sake of doing so. I have never heard anyone at a rally (and I have been to A LOT of ralles) saying, “Oh, they played Jackson Browne, he must support my guy!”

Perennial whiner  John Cougar Melonhead has sent more cease and desist letters regarding his music than perhaps any other musician in the recorded history of music. Most recently, he sent Scott Walker a cease and desist letter demanding that he stop playing the song Small Town for crowds waiting at campaign stops. Small Town, for those who have been living under a rock between 1985 and today, is about growing up in a small town. There is NO political message to be taken from it other than “I grew up in a small town.” As evidence:  


Got nothing against a big town
Still hayseed enough to say
Look who’s in the big town
But my bed is in a small town
Oh, and that’s good enough for me

Well, I was born in a small town
And I can breathe in a small town
Gonna die in this small town
And that’s prob’ly where they’ll bury me

Yep, I can totally see how Melonhead would not want to have Walker supporters celebrating their small town, rural Wisconsin upbringing by listening to his song. If anything, Melonhead should be kissing Walker’s (and others’) hairy beanbags for introducing a generation of kids growing up in politically active homes to an artist they might someday align with. Not to mention the fact that Melonhead hasn’t a song in the Top 100 for a decade and the Top 20 for two decades. It’s possible he might actually move some units and collect a royalty check.

All of this is why I found it so refreshing to see 80s glam-rocker Dee Snyder with perhaps the most rational and adult reaction of any artist to the use of their song.

“He called and he asked, which I appreciated. I said, ‘Look, we don’t see eye to eye on everything—there are definitely issues that we’re far apart on.’ But thinking back to when I wrote the song and what the song is about, it’s about rebellion, speaking your mind and fighting the system. If anybody’s doing that, he sure is.” – Dee Snyder
Dee Snyder is the first musician I have seen that responded in a reasonable manner. There is no claim that Trump’s use of the song somehow implies the musician’s support. He clearly acknowledges that the song is about rebellion and therefore Trump’s use reflects the intent of what he wrote. Trump – for better or worse – personifies what he wanted to convey with the song. Yet, Snyder also acknowledged publicly that he disagrees with Trump’s views.  More artists should put on their manpants when a politician plays a song simply to entertain an anxious crowd and react as Dee did.

What Obama Conveniently Ignores in Arguing that Mass Shootings Only Happen in the US

In Paris today (of all places), Obama repeated his ridiculous line that mass shootings don’t happen in other places. That line has been fact checked previously and found seriously wanting for truth. However, looking at one of those fact checks made me realize something interesting.
In a study cited in this article, over a 15 year period, the US had roughly six times the number of mass shootings as other nations with 133 incidents compared to just 23 in other countries. However, the US had only 2.4 times as many fatalities and just over two times as many wounded.
The average number of dead in incidents in other nations averages out to about 8.7 versus 3.6 in the US. The average number of injuries overseas is 10, while in the US it is 3.8. (It’s worth noting that these numbers were before the latest Paris incident, so the 120+ dead in that incident are not included.)
In other words, while the US does, in fact, have far more incidents, the death and injury tolls are likely to be far lower here. There is actually a pretty logical reason for that. As gun control opponents often state, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”
In the wake of the first Paris attacks – the January Charlie Hebdo attack – a lot of people noted that the first police on scene were seriously overpowered by the firepower of the assailants. They were unable to adequately protect the population. Paris has strict gun control laws. It is estimated there are roughly 7.5MM legal guns in the country and as many as 12.5MM illegal guns. The average police officer is therefore not equipped to deal with incidents such as the Hebdo attack or the attacks last month. 
By comparison, the average police officer in the US is outfitted with a sidearm, and quite often a shotgun or heavier weapon in their cruiser. Police in the US are also usually outfitted with body armor. While these attacks are far more common here, because we have more gun ownership, our police are better equipped, and better able to respond to such attacks when they happen, thereby reducing the death toll when they do.
Any loss of life is tragic, but there is actually a pretty decent argument that America’s looser approach to gun control leads to better prepared police and lower loss of life despite the larger number of incidents. In an unarmed society, the citizens are much more likely to die because the police are less able to respond.

The GOP Field Is Unlikely to Get Smaller For A While

Earlier today Nicco Mele posted an interesting piece on the 7 Reasons Why Trump Will Win. It spurred a Facebook discussion with several operatives discussing the ways this election cycle represents a fundamental shift in American elections.  In that discussion I made this point:

Five of the dozen serious candidates [on the GOP side] actually have significant funding, and significant PAC funding behind that… So there is almost no reason for any of them to drop out before IA and NH, and possibly until Super Tuesday.

A couple of them asked me to elaborate on that in longer form, so here it is.

As of the September 30 fundraising deadline, Cruz, Carson, Rubio, and Bush collectively had $46 million cash on hand (Cruz – $13.8MM, Carson – $11.3MM, Rubio – $11MM, and Bush – $10.3MM). Donald Trump, the current GOP frontrunner, looks dismal on paper. His fundraising in Q3 shows a net loss, a debt of $.18MM, and cash on hand of only $255k. That number belies his actual funding, however, as he has claimed he will spend whatever it takes, and his campaign manager suggested he may spend $20 million on TV by the end of the year. Campaign fundraising is only a small part of the picture, however.

PACs supporting the top tier of GOP candidates have significant resources available. The PAC supporting Bush had $98 million on hand followed by $37.5MM for Cruz, $16.5MM for Rubio, $11.4MM for Chris Christie. This creates a situation that is relatively unheard of in American primary politics with a pool of six candidates that are likely to be competitive into Super Tuesday when 12 states hold their primaries.  The lower tier of candidates – including Kasich, Paul, Fiorina, and even Graham – will likely stay in through Iowa and New Hampshire. As a result, you are unlikely to see a significant thinning of the herd before mid-February.

When you further consider that state-by-state polls are actually fairly volatile – with Carson, Cruz, Rubio and Bush all in the hunt for second place – a Trump meltdown similar to the one that killed Howard Dean’s campaign could actually create a wide open fight. As a result, it is unlikely that tier of candidates will drop out. In 2008, with a much smaller pool of candidates, only one serious contender stayed in the race past January. In 2016, it is possible that as many as eight – Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Bush, Christie, Paul and Kasich  – may be in it until March. That represents a fundamental shift in the campaign calculus.

There are five dates remaining in the schedule of sanctioned GOP debates, but three of those don’t come until February. That leaves little opportunity for the lower-tier to make a name for themselves. Polling, however, has been notoriously sketchy of late, and many campaign supporters may simply refuse to believe their guy is out. Between PAC fundraising and campaign dollars, the money could continue to flow as long as campaigns can make an argument that they will be competitive in states like Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas or Virginia.

Its unclear that this election will fundamentally change the math of campaigns going forward, but at least for 2016, we may be seeing more candidates in the hunt for longer than has been the case for decades.

Some Unsolicited Advice for Kay Daly’s Sophomoric Campaign

At 11:20 last night I got an email from Kay Daly’s campaign to unseat Republican Renee Elmers. For those who may not know about Daly, she is running as a “RINO Hunter”. This is her ad announcing that she’s a RINO Hunter (and yes, sadly, it’s real).

And this is her email, from Dr. James Dobson:

Dear Fellow Conservative,

It is my pleasure to be among the many solid conservatives who are supporting Kay Daly’s effort to replace Renee Ellmers as Congressman for North Carolina’s 2nd District.

Since the 1980s Kay has been a faithful warrior in the fight for the traditional values and religious liberties we hold dear. Conservatives know Kay best as President of the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, and as winner of the prestigious Ronald Reagan Award from the American Conservative Union (ACU) at its 30th Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Some will have heard her on my own radio show, or seen her on Fox News, or CBN.

On the other hand, conservatives will know Rep. Renee Ellmers best for her opposition to the Marriage Protection Amendment, her sponsorship of the radical Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and for withdrawing her sponsorship of the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act on the very day Kay Daly and a half-million pro-life advocates were marching in Washington to mark yet another tragic anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Kay Daly’s principles are firmly rooted in a Judeo-Christian world view. She has solemnly promised to follow those principles in Congress, rather than the dictates of a failed Republican leadership. Many claim they have such courage; I believe Kay is among the precious few who will actually hold fast to her promise.

Writing as a private individual and not on behalf of the organization I represent, I am pleased to endorse Kay Daly’s candidacy for the U.S. Congress, North Carolina, 2nd Congressional District.

Please visit her web site, and consider how you can help give North Carolina’s 2nd District a Congressman more representative of their traditional conservative values.

Yours Truly,
James C. Dobson, Ph.D

So Daly’s first email to a new list of prospects focuses her fire on the only two issues she seems to care about – abortion and same sex marriage. As if those are the two greatest threats to America today.

So let me offer some unsolicited advice to Daly. Ten days after the Paris attacks, on a day that the State Department has issued a global travel advisory warning of intelligence that there are plans for more attacks, maybe, just maybe, you would be wise to actually address the worries of the day.

Tell me why Renee Elmers is a worse choice to keep me safe. Tell me why Renee Elmers is no different than Obama on issues of National Security.

But what you absolutely failed to do is make me take you seriously as someone who has ideas on anything other than two hot button religious topics.When faced with actual danger from terrorist threat, most people could give a damn less about whether Adam and Steve are marching down to the courthouse. You have demonstrated a myopic view of the world that does not, in any way, address the issues MOST people are currently concerned with.

Granted, there is a small and very vocal minority that your kind of crazy appeals to, but serious people want serious candidates discussing serious solutions. The content and timing of your email demonstrates that you have no place at that table.

No! Your Candidate Couldn’t Win Even If There Was No Primary!

Every year I hear people say “He/she could win the general, but they could never win the primaries.” The latest was someone who tried to convince me that Chris Christie could be elected President if only that pesky GOP primary system didn’t preclude it. Here’s the reality… NOBODY could win the Presidency in a two party political system without the support of one party or the other. Even if there was no primary process, it isn’t going to happen.

The two parties in America represent roughly 80% of the electorate. Let’s assume there are an even 100 million voters who will cast a ballot for President in the US (there are more, but let’s round off for easy math). Roughly 40 million of those are Republican. The latest Real Clear Politics rolling average has Christie with 3% of the vote in the GOP nominating contest. That means 1.2 million Republicans support him.

Now I should note that the Fox, and PPP polls polled registered voters while ABC News and Bloomberg polled adults. That means the poll indicates Christie’s support not among primary and caucus voters, but among ALL registered voters or all adults (even those who are not registered to vote). Among primary voters Christie’s numbers may be different, but they are likely LOWER, not HIGHER than those totals. So Chirstie’s 3% in the polls is likely closer to 1-2% in the primary. That means Christie’s base of support is actually less that a million people, but we will go with 1.2 as his floor.

Yet somehow we are to believe that a guy who is getting the support of only 1.2 million Republicans has enough appeal among Independents and Democrats that he can get to 50% +1. Let’s do that math.

Assuming no primary, you have to also assume there is no way to winnow the field, so all of the same people would be running, perhaps even more. Because we have not eliminated the two-party system, just the primaries, you would also have to assume the candidates would be affiliated with the same parties.

If Christie could get ALL of the Independents, that takes Christie to 21.2 million votes. He would still need to peel off roughly 60% of Republicans to win, but he has no support among the GOP at a time when they have a herd of candidates to choose from. Since you are competing with the same field of candidates, but NONE of them will be dropping out, the odds of getting that 60% are ZILCH.

So he would need to get a huge number of Democrats to vote for you instead – like 28.8 million of them. Now there have been roughly 20 candidates in the nominating process, including 4-5 major Democrats, and I have heard absolutely NOBODY saying, “Gee, if only Christie were running as a Democrat against Hillary, I would support him.” Yet we are supposed to believe that would happen just because there was no primary. There is no way he gets 29 million Democrats.

Even if you assume he could attract people outside the political process, only 3% of ADULTS support him currently. There is simply no math that adds up to him winning.

Christie would need to get some combination of 48.799 million people still affiliated with two diametrically opposed political parties, 48.799 million people that have currently shown ZERO interest in his candidacy. And we are to believe that would happen simply because we moved to a winner takes all election rather than a narrowing process.

That is NEVER going to happen, no matter how much you like your guy and try to convince yourself America would like him, too, if only there was a different way to express that support.


Why I Have Come To Believe Trump May Get The GOP Nomination, And Maybe The Presidency

Here is the thing about Donald Trump… His rise is, in no small part, not a reflection of the GOP, but a reflection of Obama. While Obama’s champions tout the current unemployment rate, most Americans don’t see economic prosperity when they look around. There are still a staggering number of people who are unemployed and undercounted. The U6 employment rate still stands at ~10%, which more closely resembles what people actually see than the rosy outlook of the 5% that discounts the struggle of WAY too many Americans.

Further, there are very serious and legitimate concerns that are FREAKING PEOPLE OUT, and the Administration, while thoughtfully approaching them, has done nothing to assure people that they are being handled. Everything from the threat of terrorism, domestic surveillance, immigration, the economy, police militarization, etc, is giving a LOT of people the nerve shakes.

Obama is not perceived as having a terribly solid bead on where things are going and an ability to correct them. Obama’s approval rate is currently hovering around 47-49% and the number of people who think the country is on the wrong track hovers in the 60% range. That is a lot of people not feeling good about things. A new poll on Obama’s handling of terrorism shows his numbers have tanked since the Paris attacks last week. The guy who “got bin Laden” is suddenly having trouble convincing people that he can protect them. Fewer than half of Americans feel the government is capable of keeping them safe. That is compounded by the significant majority that have been spooked by the plan to settle Syrian refugees in the US.

Then you have a guy like Trump, who talks tough, and projects confidence that he can solve the problems, and a frightening number of people are willing to give that a chance. He may have no policy other than “I’ll win”, but in times of turmoil, confidence is terribly seductive to some folks. People are willing to take a ride on the crazy train if the conductor projects confidence that they can get you there on time. There is a reason that the name for hucksters is con man. Con man is short for “confidence man”. They play on people by means of confidence, not only their own, but on giving confidence to the mark that they can win.

That is where Trump is succeeding. He is convincing a LOT of people that there are easy answers to very complex problems. Obama, by comparison, is convincing people that he is being very thoughtful about very complex problems – which he no doubt is. Unfortunately, in an age of global terror, marginalized rights, and fear, the con man starts to look really good – especially to voters who are unlikely to be educated about policy and likely to only turn out for Presidential elections.

In other words, Trump is the perfect storm of someone who projects the opposite of Obama – confidence, and forceful – to an audience that increasingly makes up its mind over questions like “Who would I rather have a beer with?

Most rational, intellectual people believe that Trump will eventually implode. More and more, I don’t think that is true. I have come to suspect that Trump may actually convince enough Republicans to give him the nomination. The prediction of a Trump implosion has been made over and over for the last six months, yet fails to show any sign of being true. Pundits keep assuring us it will happen, then completely fail to be correct.

If nominated, Trump will use that same grift to earn his way into the White House. I’d like to think I am wrong, but history has taught us that times of turmoil make people look for both a boogie man and someone to protect us from it. Just as Hitler was a reaction to the fecklessness of the Weimer Republic, Trump is a response to the “thoughtfulness” of the Democrats. If a terrorist attack takes place on American soil between now and November, I suspect we’ll be swearing in President Trump in 2017.


What I Know About Public Relations Tells Me the Enola Gay Did Not Drop the Bomb on Hiroshima

An interesting breakfast discussion with my son recently turned me on to a fascinating historical fact and one that will forever change my view of history. This may sound a bit conspiratorial, but stick with me as I walk you through the reason I have come to believe the US government has spent 70 years lying to the American people about the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

My son, I will refer to him as T2 going forward, mentioned that on August 6, 1945, there were actually three B-29s in the formation that bombed Hiroshima. The Enola Gay, commanded by Col. Paul Tibbetts was identified as the plane that dropped the bomb. The Great Artiste accompanied carrying scientific instruments to study the blast. The third plane was, for some time, unidentified and eventually designated as Plane #91. This becomes critically important to the theory, but keep reading.

I had never heard of a third plane and knew only the first two. I tried to recall ever being taught that a third plane was in the group and simply had no recollection. I asked T2 what the name of the plane was and he had no idea.

The actual name of the third plane was Necessary Evil.

Now, as a practitioner of public relations I understand the value of proper framing when it comes to presenting both good news and bad. I understand that when the military drops a single bomb that levels an entire city and kills 100,000-150,000 people, they will undoubtedly have to answer some questions. It is no surprise that they might choose to shield the fact that a plane called Necessary Evil took part in the destruction. But the idea that the bomb itself was a necessary evil was part of the messaging. President Truman, in announcing the mission to the world, said it.

Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British “Grand Slam” which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.

The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. … The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East. …

It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.

Truman acknowledged the whole purpose of the bombing was to send the Japanese leadership a message of what to expect.

Despite that, the plane, which carried the name Necessary Evil was not disclosed. Why?

I have come to believe that the story of the Enola Gay, a plane allegedly named after Col. Tibbetts mother, is a smokescreen. A plane named after his mom dropped a bomb with enough destructive force to “destroy [an entire city’s] usefulness to the enemy”? I simply don’t buy it. After learning of the presence of the Necessary Evil, I am convinced that plane was chosen and named specifically for the task. The plane served for 11 years before becoming a target at the Naval Ordinance Test Station.

I have no conclusive proof that Necessary Evil dropped the bomb. I have no way to test the remains for traces of radiation that may indicate it had carried the ordinance. I have the full force of the US Government claiming this theory is wrong.

Despite that, everything I know about PR tells me it was the bomber. Here is the thought process:

If you are the US military, and have just obliterated a city, the last thing you would do is announce the name of that plane. Your public information personnel would concoct a story that paints that event in a glowing patriotic light. You would tell the story of brave soldiers, flying a plane named after their commander’s mother, doing their solemn duty to protect their homeland. You would NEVER tell the story of a nation’s government delivering massive destruction in a plane called Necessary Evil.

Like I said, it would be nearly impossible for me to prove I am right, but everything I have witnessed in a life of communications tells me I am.

The Media Has Failed Us. What Happens Next Will Shock You.

I saw two headlines scroll across the TV yesterday that convinced me the media has absolutely failed America. The first read “New Poll shows majority of Americans Disapprove of Congress Inviting Netanyahu to Speak Without The President’s Approval”. The second read “Israeli P.M.” Reports that US-Israeli Relations are weaker are wrong”. In both cases, the media, as evidenced by nothing BUT the headlines have failed America.

On the first of the two, the media has truly failed to assist our failing education system in helping Americans understand how our divided government works. It is not up to Congress to get Presidential approval on it’s invite list. The President is not the owner of a club who gets to decide which VIPs get behind the velvet rope and then asks his Congressional doorman to keep out the riff-raff.  Congress is a co-equal branch of government, not a cabinet agency, and is entitled, as such, to manage its own affairs. That the American people believe there is anything at all inappropriate in the invitation is an indication of how badly the media has failed us? Where is the headline that says, “New Poll indicates majority of Americans have NO IDEA how their government works”? Where are the media stories about how shocked people are to discover the three branches are supposed to have separate but equal powers? We are a nation that has fundamentally come to believe the President is an elected King, and not merely a representative of ONE of THREE governing bodies.

The second headline points to another failure, and it is one the media demonstrates OVER and OVER again. The media asks the Israeli P.M. if relations with the US are good, and rather than being COMPLETELY unsurprised when he says yes, they report it as breaking news. Well what did they think he was going to say? Did they think the Israeli P.M., like Hugh Grant in Love Actually, was going to be upset that the American President just made a move on his girl and throw 70 years of good relations under the wheels of the diplomacy bus? Did they expect a tantrum of Hollywood-esque proportions? Does anybody honestly believe the Israeli P.M. would say, “Well, I fundamentally believe our greatest ally is giving aid and comfort to our enemies and is making the world fundamentally unsafer due to their ignorance”? Of what possible benefit would it be for the Israelis to call out the President in the media? When your friend with the terrible breath is in earshot, do you talk about how his mouth smells like a bowl full of rot? Or do you have those conversations in back channels in the hope that someone will buy him a toothbrush for his birthday? Diplomacy works the same way.

The media, however, is failing to do it’s job in reporting these stories the way they do. Whether it is because they fear losing access to the social circuits of the powerful, or because they simply don’t know better, then the Fourth Estate has failed us. And when the Fourth Estate fails to understand, appreciate and do its job, we are lost.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Title II & Net Neutrality

So President Obama has made clear his support for FCC reclassification of broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Title II is the section of law under which telephone service is regulated and has been for 80 years — since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1934. For those of you who think you have a pretty good bead on net neutrality – the theoretical concept which the President wants the FCC to enact, you are probably wrong. Part of the problem with net neutrality – like many things in government – is the very idea is a sort of Rorschach test of your beliefs in and understanding of the Internet.

Going back to the 1990s, there was a big push for what was then called “Open Access”. Open access was the belief that telecom companies, once they invested hundreds of billions of dollars in building a network, should be forced to lease that network for below market rates to their competitors. AT&T and the rest of the baby bells fought hard to prevent this, but because they were regulated under Title II at the time, they had precious little recourse. They were forced to lease lines to competing ISPs. As a result, they saw no reason to build out their network. DSL broadband languished for years because there was no financial incentive to develop plant your competition could use to take your customers.

At the same time, cable was building out its network under a different classification. The FCC had clearly delineated two concepts in law:

INFORMATION SERVICE.–The term ”information service” means the offering of a capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications, and includes electronic publishing, but does not include any use of any such capability for the management, control, or operation of a telecommunications system or the management of a telecommunications service.


TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICE.–The term ”telecommunications service” means the offering of telecommunications for a fee directly to the public, or to such classes of users as to be effectively available directly to the public, regardless of the facilities used.

Pay particular attention to that last clause. The key difference between cable and the telcos at the time was that cable was not offering phone service, just data. The telcos were carrying data over the same wire. Well a company called Brand X Internet sued cable for access to their network (which was better than the telcos) under Title II regulations. The Supreme Court found that the FCC’s regulations placed the provision of cable broadband under a different regulatory regime because it did not have voice service. The court found that cable, as an information service did not need to open its lines the way it would if it carried telephone service.

The telcos immediately petitioned the FCC to clarify that its information services were separate and distinct from its phone service. As such, it should not have to give access to its information network, even if it was carried over the same line as its phone service. The FCC agreed and reclassified telco broadband as an information service.

To further complicate things, cable was also allowed to deliver phone service, and the entire idea of which service was which started to get muddied by things like Skype.

At about this time, the professional left began agitating for a generic term called net neutrality. Originally, that concept was simple: ISPs should not be allowed to block access to the legal web or prioritize its own traffic over that of its competitors. Under the original theory, Comcast would prioritize its own video over the likes of the nascent YouTube or Netflix. It would prioritize its own  phone service over Skype. The term, however, has grown to encompass a great many things to which it was never originally applied.

For instance, ISPs and backbone providers have always engaged in what are known as peering arrangements. Under the original, pre-Netflix/YouTube web, networks typically traded roughly equal amounts of traffic and honored gentlemen’s agreements that would exchange that traffic for free. With equal traffic passing back and forth, there was little reason to take fees for the exchange as they would have been a rough wash. Only if one side greatly exceeded the traffic entering or leaving its network would commercial agreements be reached.

With the rise of Internet video, those agreements became very lopsided. Netflix, under the original model would have paid a backbone provider for a connection to the broader web. Level 3 would pass that traffic to Comcast. Comcast, in return would pass traffic back to Level 3 in roughly equal amounts. As Netflix and YouTube started to explode in usage, the imbalance in traffic became significant. Netflix began to account for the majority of traffic on the Internet. Comcast suddenly found the traffic entering its network was significantly larger than what it sent back.

ISPs began to push for paid peering agreements where companies that used more resources would pay appropriately. Netflix and Level 3 balked because they liked an arrangement where they got the greatest benefit. They cried foul and started to demand that net neutrality concepts that had formerly been intended to protect the consumer would now protect giant businesses. Suddenly decades of widely accepted peering cooperation went out the window. The definition of what net neutrality addressed suddenly changed.

So, you may be asking, what do I care if the definition is changed? I just want to make sure I get my super-ultra-mega-fast Internet connection with all my traffic delivered flawlessly for very little per month.

That’s where things go south for you.

If ISPs are allowed to charge other ISPs and content providers for their network usage, customers of those companies will foot the bill. Your Netflix bill may go up a couple of dollars.

However, net neutrality results in exactly the opposite. If ISPs can’t charge Netflix, they will charge you. Make no mistake about it, you will pay either way.

The irony, of course, is that Netflix grew in popularity partly because people wanted an alternative to cable that would allow them to watch only the shows they wanted to watch – without being forced to subsidize all the programming they didn’t want. Yet the push for net neutrality now ensures that you, as a broadband customer, will be forced to subsidize Netflix whether you want to watch it or not.

Further, net neutrality also prohibits things like prioritization of game traffic. If you have ever played Call of Duty or World of Warcraft and watched your connection glitch out you are intimately aware of the effects of lag. Latency and jitter on the network connection have a tremendous impact on games that they simply don’t have on movies, music, or email. There is no reason game companies should not be allowed to provide priority access for game traffic. It’s already done in other countries. It would be prohibited here.

The President, in his statement pushing for Title II made the problem with net neutrality clear:

 If carefully designed, these rules should not create any undue burden for ISPs, and can have clear, monitored exceptions for reasonable network management and for specialized services such as dedicated, mission-critical networks serving a hospital.

First, ask yourself this in the warm afterglow of the ObamaCare rollout, Katrina response, the medical device tax, and countless other failures (large and small) of government: “How likely is it that those “carefully designed” regulations will have no unintended consequences?” How likely is it that the government will get the rules right when they are being written by bureaucrats that fundamentally have no idea how these services actually work?

Not to pick on the dead guy, but if you doubt how serious that lack of understanding is, ask Jon Stewart his thoughts on the guy that used to be in charge of regulating the Internet in Congress.

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Yet we are supposed to create a new government regulatory regime based on a vague concept that is constantly shifting, that by the President’s own admission will need to be “monitored for exceptions” on a constant basis, and which already acknowledges that some services simply need prioritization because they are “mission critical.”

If net neutrality passes, you will receive the lowest common denominator, not the highest. All the services you consume will not be suddenly be guaranteed fantastic service, they will suddenly all become mediocre. To paraphrase Mr. Incredible, when all your services are special, none of them will be.

Oh, and don’t forget the fact that we will need a much larger FCC to monitor those exceptions, define which services are mission critical, hear disputes over net neutrality violations, process requests for exemptions (in a timely manner, of course) and generally stifle innovation.

Just imagine, circa 2004, three young guys named Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim standing before an FCC panel arguing that they need a special exemption for their new service. Imagine the incredulous looks of FCC staff and the ridiculous questions – “So let me get this straight. You want to deliver video over the Internet? But what for? We have the TV for that.”

If you don’t think that is a possible – nay, likely – outcome, then you clearly don’t spend enough time dealing with regulatory quagmires the federal government constructs.

The title of this post is A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Title II and Net Neutrality. But there is simply nothing funny about this attempt to impose massive regulation on the Internet in the pursuit of some vague notion of “open” that is not technologically sound, has not been demonstrably proven to be needed, and places approval for innovation in the hands of government.

The Argument Republicans Should Be Making About The Jobs Report

This is good economic news. The country added 248,000 jobs in August. Over the next thirty days, Obama is going to crow about the good he has done rebounding the economy and how the GOP has fought him every step of the way.

So here’s the argument Republicans should be making headed into election day: The economy is not due to Obama’s policies (which have not been passed) but by the fact that government meddling has been prevented.

Every Republican on the ballot for Congress should be making a simple assertion to constituents:

“The economy has recovered because, for the four years since you gave us the House and a larger bloc in the Senate, the GOP has held the line against the type of bloated, expensive, burdensome government that Obama has tried to ram through.”

The GOP must make the case that the economy is improving specifically BECAUSE they have been obstructionist, not in spite of that fact. While RNC Chairman Reince Preibus has rolled out 11 principles, the Republican candidates should be taking credit for every good piece of economic news by saying “if you want to see more, then you’d better hope we stay here to keep this guy and his cronies from using the government to assail the economy. You’d better bet that opposition to the big government agenda of the professional left is entirely consistent with the principles laid out by the Chairman.”

The fact is Obama has spent equal amounts of time chiding the GOP for stalling his progressive march and tooting his horn for all he’s gotten done. The GOP needs to say, quite matter-of-factly “it is despite your policies that the country is improving. You had a chance to lead, and you chose to regulate. The voters rejected big government in the 80s, the 90s, and now. It is not, and has never been, a policy of economic growth.”

That simple argument should be on the lips of every Republican. But will it?

“Dear Johnny from Citrix” (How Not to be a Douche When Cold Calling From a Frat Party)

Dear Johnny from Citrix:

I could write a book on how not to sell stuff based on the HORRIBLE vendor pitches I get. The latest example I would use in that book would be the call we just shared.

You see, yesterday I got this email from your colleague Jeff asking if I would be interested in changing our GoToMeeting setup.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 10.48.28 AM

The email, you will notice, has this nice little survey built in. Clicking “B” brings up an email response that says “No Thanks!” and I immediately clicked send.

Apparently, however, that answer wasn’t good enough for you people at Citrix, so you, Johnny, called me up this morning.

When I answered the phone, I heard cheering and clapping and it sounded a lot like you were calling from a boozed up party late on a Friday night. Apparently you folks at Citrix start early down in North Carolina.

I said hello four or five times, and finally you asked “Is this Mike?” I replied in the affirmative.

Then you said – with wild cheering still going on wildly in the background – “I’m having trouble hearing you. I think we may have a bad connection.”

To which I replied, “Maybe that or it’s the party you’re calling me from. Is someone doing kegstands?”

You chuckled, then suggested you call me back in a few minutes.” To which I replied, “Why don’t you tell me who you are and what the hell you want and let me determine whether or not it’s worth OUR time for you to call me back.”

I was then informed that this was Johnny from Citrix, and you wanted to talk to me about the same GoToMeeting account that I had just told Jeff via email I wasn’t interested in changing.

I apologize for rudely telling you to piss off and hanging up, but here’s the thing. While I may seem rude, you’ll notice in Jeff’s email he copied your Salesforce system on the email. When I replied in the negative, that went directly back into your data and you really should have known full well that I didn’t want to change. After all, I JUST TOLD YOU THAT YESTERDAY!”

Now maybe you don’t have access to Salesforce, and maybe your Salesforce account doesn’t take “No thanks!” for an answer and stop you from calling me. Maybe you need the increased fees to hire more folks to work the kinks out of your system. I really don’t know.

What I do know is a) you don’t make calls when your fellow employees are screaming and yelling their way through a game of asshole at your desk, and b) you don’t go ahead and call people who have replied to your bullshit emails telling you they don’t want to hear from you.

Since you didn’t offer a last name, I will feel free to use “Johnny” in the chapter of my book titled “How Not To Be A Douche While Cold Calling From a Frat Party.” I hope you will pick up a copy of the book and point excitedly to your friends shouting “Hey! That’s me! I’m the jerkoff from Citrix!”

Until then, keep calling, brother. Just don’t keep calling me.



One of The Dumbest Things Ever Said By a Smart Person

Robert Reich is a professor, a former cabinet secretary, and a best selling author. Creds like that would make you think he’s got it together, but this may be one of the dumbest things ever said by a smart person.

Thirty years ago on its opening day in 1984, Donald Trump stood in a dark topcoat on the casino floor at Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza, celebrating his new investment. Today, as the casino folded, and some 1,000 employees lost their jobs, Trump was on twitter clarifying he currently has “nothing to do with Atlantic City,” and praising himself for his “great timing” in getting out of the investment.

In America, people with lots of money can easily avoid the consequences of bad bets and big losses by cashing out at the first sign of trouble, because the law protects them through limited liability and bankruptcy. But workers who move to a place like Atlantic City for a job, invest in a home there, and build their skills, have no such protection. Jobs vanish, skills are suddenly irrelevant, and home values plummet. Should Donald Trump and other big investors have some legal responsibility to workers and communities for the messes they leave behind?

I honestly don’t even know where to begin, there is simply so much WRONG in 162 words that it defies mathematics. The probability of using 162 words and simultaneously getting almost every one of them is amazing given the number of seemingly neutral prepositions and adjectives at play.

So let’s start here:

 Should Donald Trump and other big investors have some legal responsibility to workers and communities for the messes they leave behind?

Let’s understand something clearly before we move on. Trump sold off his share in the Atlantic City properties FIVE YEARS AGO. He filed a suit a month ago to get his name off the properties. You can see how much the properties had declined over the years by simply looking at the picture that accompanies the story.


If an employee couldn’t figure out that an employer who can’t buy friggin’ light bulbs may soon have trouble making payroll, maybe they should just be glad anyone even gave them a job. They clearly aren’t the brightest bulb themselves.  Here’s a hint for other workers. If the joint that provides your check starts to look like this, get the eff out.

But let’s move on to where Reich undermines his own argument:

In America, people with lots of money can easily avoid the consequences of bad bets and big losses by cashing out at the first sign of trouble, because the law protects them through limited liability and bankruptcy. But workers who move to a place like Atlantic City for a job, invest in a home there, and build their skills, have no such protection.

Which is it, Rob? Did he cash out when the market was high? Or did he get bankruptcy protection? The two are mutually exclusive. Granted Trump has filed for bankruptcy before, but he got no such protection for this because he sold his stake FIVE YEARS AGO.  So the notion that he has ANYTHING to do with the current situation is simply ridiculous. He had a business. He saw that business was being forced to compete with a thousand newly-opened tribal casinos and that people no longer had to go to Jersey to gamble. So he got out.  Another guy decided that he could save the casinos and rolled the dice (literally and figuratively) on running a casino. HE FAILED.  But that has nothing to do with Trump.

Five years ago, I owned stock in a company called Pioneer Drilling. It was worth next to nothing, and I got out of it. It’s now worth quite a lot and I am pissed at myself for selling. But under Reich’s economic theories, because they now have success, I should be entitled to share in that even though I am no longer an investor.

WHAT? YOU DON”T THINK THAT IT WHAT REICH IS SAYING? Well, play that scenario backwards.

Let’s say I had just invested then, rather than bailing. Now that the the company is doing great and I sell for a HUGE payday. Five years further down the road, the company tanks and closes. Reich thinks I should have some culpability because I made money when the money was there to make. Never mind that I felt the company had peaked and bailed. Simply because I made money off the backs of the employees at some point in time, I should take care of them for perpetuity.

So why shouldn’t the investors and employees be required to take care of me in times of prosperity because I had been there during the leans years?

It’s ridiculous thinking in both scenarios. Your stake in a company begins and ends at the moment you buy and sell shares. To suggest otherwise makes Reich look less like a well-educated economist and more like a bureaucratic central planner – (which he is).

But finally, the thing he gets most wrong is the very beginning of his update.

 Thirty years ago on its opening day in 1984, Donald Trump stood in a dark topcoat on the casino floor at Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza, celebrating his new investment. Today, as the casino folded, and some 1,000 employees lost their jobs…

WHAT? The casino provided employees and their families stable jobs and union (this is Jersey, after all) wages for THREE DECADES?

So Trump, for the 25 years he was actually involved in the company bought how many houses for employees? He put how many kids through college? He bought how many new cars and trucks? He contributed how much to the real estate holdings of those employees?

But yes, he truly did nothing for anybody and took the money and ran. When he saw the writing on the wall – when he understood Atlantic City was no longer just competing with Vegas and Branson, MO – he should have doubled down, pumping more money into a declining market?

Let’s keep in mind we’re talking about casinos. Trump was gambling in just the same way his customers were. But he understood what good gamblers understand. There is a time to take your winnings and walk away from the table.

In the meantime, Reich, because he has ZERO experience in running actual business, can sit in the ivory tower of academia and pontificate on punishing people like Trump for only having 2 1/2 decades of success before the market conditions change.

Why Robin Williams’ Suicide Has So Many Of Us Reeling

News that Robin Williams committed suicide has left a huge number of people in a state of shock. Celebrity deaths tend to hit fans hard, but I simply cannot recall the loss of a public figure that has had such a profound impact on nearly everyone. One report even noted members of ISIS taking a break from their terror streak in Iraq to note his passing and comment on the movie Jumanji. The level of public sadness is near total.

But why does the death of this one person have such a significant emotional toll.

I’ve had a number of conversations with people, read a lot of public reaction, and seen countless social media posts, all grappling with the loss and it seems to me there are a number of compounding elements that make this particularly hard to take.

The way he left us

Robin Williams was a man that made us laugh. His stand up comedy, his film and TV roles (all 102 of them), and his humanitarian efforts always gave us a sense of a guy who loved the world. Even his dramatic roles had an element of humor and joy. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, discussing his deceased wife, breaks into a story about her flatulence waking the dog and in that single moment we were able to laugh and cry with the man simultaneously. He was a person that could lift the spirits of all who saw him.

Yet we understand now the depths of his depression. That he took his own life is almost unfathomable. Early in his career, Williams had significant challenges with drug and alcohol abuse. It’s clear now that even then he was battling inner demons that eventually made him take his own life.

We’re left to wonder, if a guy who is capable of making others that happy was unable to make himself feel joy, what chance do we have?

Yet He Leaves Behind a Thousand Laughs and Nearly As Many Tears

He was a guy who made us laugh. He was a guy who brought us to tears.  Yet he was far, far more than that. For many of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, he was, in many ways, our guide through life.

As an eight year old, I recall watching Mork and Mindy and the bond I felt with this strange alien. Granted, I lived a short drive from Boulder, Colorado at the time. I recall making my mom take the drive from Broomfield to Boulder so we could drive past the house where Mork lived. We went to Wheels Roller Rink to skate because that was what Mork did. As a kid, I was thrilled to have access to Mork’s world.

As a teenager, one of my first experiences with suicide was through Dead Poets Society. I remember watching that movie while filled with the same teen angst that grips Charlie, Neil, Knox and Todd. When Neil killed himself, it was William’s Professor Keating who guided me through it.

Good Morning Vietnam helped people whose parents, grandparents and siblings had seen combat in Vietnam come to terms with the fallout of that war a decade after it happened. Together with movies like Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Born on the Fourth of July, movies helped us heal as a nation and helped us come to terms with the veterans who had been shunned.

Movies like Ferngully and Toys introduced kids to the ideas of environmental damage and war. Nine months began to prepare us for parenthood. Good Will Hunting taught us it is ok to accept your past, but not to let it ruin your present.

In his movies, he was a true entertainer. In his comedies, he was the undisputed king of perfect delivery and lovable absurdity, yet he transcended the role of funnyman. In dramas, he was the master of the monologue and had the impeccable timing to take us to the brink of tears before pulling us back with a dark joke.

His Lasting Legacy

Through all his roles, all his public appearances, and all his charitable works, Williams found something that appealed to everyone. He was everyman. I suspect you would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t like him. If you asked people today, I would imagine all of them would tell you they might have liked to have a drink with him, or to sit and chat, or to simply be in his presence.

It is that quality that so endeared him to America. He became, at once, not just an actor or comic, but our friend, our confidant, our mentor, and our therapist. He helped us deal with our own depression, yet apparently could not escape his own.


No, You Ignorant Fool, Having a Dog Does Not Prepare You for Parenting! Joining a Fraternity Does.

When you are around young couples, you may occasionally hear this logic gem tossed into the conversational pool:

We decided to get a dog together. It will prepare us for when we have kids later.

I actually heard that from several couples when I was in my twenties and early thirties. I most recently heard a variation on that from a former business partner who bought a dog with his wife.

Let me dispel that notion right now for any clueless youngsters who are dating, living together, or recently married and think that a dog is good practice. It’s not. Don’t kid yourselves. Stop playing house and get a clue. Owning a dog is to having a child as owning a houseplant is to solving the global ecological crisis. They’re not related. They’re not on the same scale. They aren’t even in the same city, or state, let alone a single ballpark.

Just a few of the reasons:

Pretty much any/all of these will earn a visit from child protective services, for the record.

If you really want to see what it’s like to have a child, here is a much better idea… adopt a fraternity member.

You don’t think there is a great similarity? Take a look at this explanation of why babies are just tiny drunks, then read on.

At some point in your relationship with your fraternity brothers, you may/will be required to deal with the following:

Generally speaking, fraternity brothers and small children share a frightening number of characteristics. So my suggestion to the would-be dog owner is this:

Don’t take out your relationship issues on an innocent dog. Instead, head down to the local ATO/Sig Ep, Sigma Chi, or other chapter of choice and ask the guys if you and your girl can live there for about a month.  If you still think you might want to have kids at some point after that, get yourself fixed.

James Carville’s Desperate Attempt to Spin the Democrats’ Harsh Reality

I guess you’ve got to hang your hope on something. When your best argument is “sure, all the poll numbers suck, we’ve got weak candidates and a LOT of seats to hold”, I guess you go with the party affiliation gap. Unfortunately for James Carville, the “it’s settled science, people” nonsense doesn’t fly.

Republicans are almost always less popular than Democrats in these surveys – even when they’re in charge. Carville touts the 10 point edge on party ID, but keep in mind the Democrats had a six point edge in 2010 when they got their collective ass handed to them in a high hat.  In 2006, with the Democrat wave, they held an 11 point edge. The trouble for Carville comes in two forms. First, it’s not at all clear that his numbers are accurate. In the latest NBC News Poll, the gap in party ID is only 3 points, with 40% saying the consider themselves some degree of Democrats and 37% saying they are some degree Republican

But then comes one of those ugly numbers Carville wants to ignore.

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In 2010, pollsters saw an enthusiasm gap of 5-7 points. That resulted in a loss in turnout from 2008 of about 7 points by Democrats and Republicans had a very good night. If you think of the enthusiasm gap as the difference between who identifies with a party versus who shows up, the enthusiasm gap almost perfectly matched the difference in people who said they wanted Democrats but failed to turn out to make that happen.

In the case of 2014, the enthusiasm gap is not only much larger (17 points, at last count) but should it have the same net effect on the election, Democrats could turn out at numbers substantially lower than 2010. If Democrats have an edge of 11 percent in ID, but a deficit of 17 points in enthusiasm, the result could be another VERY bad night for the Dems. The President’s favorability rating of 40% is an all-time low and shows signs of trouble from within his own party. A Wordle analysis of imagined protest signs supplied by poll respondents reveals a good deal of trouble for the progressive wing of the party.




Notice that red oval? That’s what DEMOCRATS want to say to their President. The size of the text is relative to the number of people responding that way. Look above the word “Congress” and you’ll see that more Democrats want to “Impeach Obama” than want to “Create Jobs” or “Legalize Marijuana”.  That’s why Carville is trying so hard to spin party ID. However, the cold, hard reality for Carville and the rest of the Dems is their policies have alienated America, they are facing a strong headwind, and even their own people are fed up with Obama.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Eight Big Lies

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been in the business of defending the crazy left for so long it must just be second nature now. Mother Jones wrote up a piece with the 8 best lines from her dissent in Burwell. Here they are with the obvious refutation that Ginsburg chose to ignore in favor of her liberal ideology.

Think Progress Concern Trolling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

The Supreme Court earlier today ruled in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and found the owners of closely held (read: private) companies are within their rights to refuse coverage of abortifacients as part of their insurance coverage. The basic facts of the case and outcome are these:

In response to the ruling, the professional left is positively apoplectic, despite the very narrowly tailored ruling that found Hobby Lobby can refuse to cover abortifacients, but must cover other forms of contraception.  In other words, because the left didn’t succeed in trampling the first amendment right to freedom of religion, they consider this a monumental blow to their cause.

Lefty outlet Think Progress takes a slightly different tack, however. Contrary to the left’s long established efforts to roll back religious protection, Think Progress wants you to know this is actually a blow against religion.

But while conservatives would have the American public believe that protecting Hobby Lobby is about protecting all religious people, the reality is that today’s ruling actually hurts people of faith.

To make that argument, TP takes the anti-corporate position.

David Gushee (link mine), an evangelical Christian professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, offered an extensive treatment of the case in the Associated Baptist Press in April. He examined the issue from the perspective of a Christian theologian, noting that any attempt to broaden the legal status of businesses to include religious exemptions — however well-intentioned — is inconsistent, dangerous, and unfair to other religious Americans.

“One way to look at it is this: The whole point of establishing a corporation is to create an entity separate from oneself to limit legal liability,” he writes. “Therefore, Hobby Lobby is asking for special protections/liability limits that only a corporation can get on the one hand, and special protections that only individuals, churches and religious organizations get, on the other. It seems awfully dangerous to allow corporations to have it both ways.”

As supporting evidence, TP offers up Richard Cizik’s article in the Huffington Post arguing this ruling hurts evangelicals.

At no point do they note that Cizik and Gushee are partners in the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a left-leaning organization that “involves fighting against social injustice and the abuse of power by those who benefit from the power arrangements of an unjust world.”

Both have a history of left-leaning activism. Cizik served on Tim Kaine’s Climate committee despite having no scientific background as a ploy to get people of faith involved.

Gushee and Cizik created the Partnership from the bones of Evangelicals for Human Rights, an organization that challenged the US policies of retention and torture of terror suspects.

In other words, their arguments are being made by a bunch of political activists with a deep history in opposing things like corporations and Republicans. Not exactly the non-partisan crowd.

Yet they claim now to support only the people of faith, despite their organization’s stated mission:

We are the kind of evangelicals who care about human well-being as a whole, and not just the good of the United States of America, or of Christians, or of evangelicals here or anywhere else.

We believe proper Christian advocacy is for the common good, not for partisan, ecclesiastical, or national interests.

So their argument is that we believe in our social good cause before we believe in the US or Christianity and evangelicals are actually listed third. So those who believe in God before country are clearly not the type who are making the argument.

So before Evangelical Christians espouse their line of argument, they may want to look at the political motivations of the people making it.

TP makes the claim they are looking out for the best interests of religion, but does so by quoting activists who fully admit to putting their political interpretation of justice ahead of God. There is a word for that: concern troll.


The GOP Doubles Down on Evangelicals in a Misguided Attempt to Strengthen the Party

So the GOP has released what seems to be their first big digital effort, and it appears to be as misguided as ever, completely misses the lessons apparently not well learned from 2012, and chooses to shrink, rather than grow the tent by doubling down on religious issues.

“Now is the time of righteous indignation,” [said Chad Connelly, director of faith engagement for the Republican National Committee], “a time to be the ‘turn-the-tables-over-Jesus’ and not the ‘meek, turn-the-other-cheek Jesus.'”

Sure, because what we need is more pandering to evangelicals.

Honestly, if you are looking to gin up base turnout in 2014, that probably makes sense as a strategy. If you are trying not to hamper the GOP’s chances in 2016, not so much.

Evangelicals made up 27% of the electorate in 2012, and Romney got 80% of them. So our best idea for winning elections is to get the other 20%? I’m guessing the 20% that voted Obama did so not because of their faith, but because their personal interpretation of that faith puts them at odds with the other 80%. So you are not very likely to eat into those numbers. The best you could do is get that 27% number up, which seems to be what this effort is all about.

The aim of the website is, as it says, “to build an army of conservative pro-faith activists” — sympathetic believers of all faiths, but in particular conservative Christians. The plan is to identify 100,000 believers who will spread the word at the grass roots, especially in churches.

in 2012, candidate Romney got as much of the evangelical vote as candidate Bush in 2004. Yet he lost the election by 4.7 million votes while Bush won by three million. To counter that, each of those 100,000 believers will need to attract/convert 47 people. But not just any 47 people. 47 evangelicals who are not already voting GOP. Given that their suggested target market is in evangelical churches, that becomes a rather daunting task.

The number of evangelicals in the US is in decline, and evangelicals under 30 are leaving churches in droves. John Dickerson, an evangelical who studies the movement, summed up the problem just after the 2012 election:

“As a contemporary of this generation (I’m 30), I embarked three years ago on a project to document the health of evangelical Christianity in the United States. I did this research not only as an insider, but also as a former investigative journalist for an alt weekly.

“I found that the structural supports of evangelicalism are quivering as a result of ground-shaking changes in American culture. Strategies that served evangelicals well just 15 years ago are now self- destructive. The more that evangelicals attempt to correct course, the more they splinter their movement. In coming years we will see the old evangelicalism whimper and wane. … [W]hile America’s population grows by roughly two million a year, attendance across evangelical churches … has gradually declined, according to surveys of more than 200,000 congregations by the American Church Research Project.

“How can evangelicalism right itself? I don’t believe it can … We evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict with the mainstream culture. We cannot change ancient doctrines to adapt to the currents of the day. But we can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility. The core evangelical belief is that love and forgiveness are freely available to all who trust in Jesus Christ. This is the “good news” from which the evangelical name originates (“euangelion” is a Greek word meaning “glad tidings” or “good news”). Instead of offering hope, many evangelicals have claimed the role of moral gatekeeper, judge and jury. If we continue in that posture, we will continue to invite opposition and obscure the “good news” we are called to proclaim.”

Yet the political expression of evangelicalism continues to be exactly that described – “moral gatekeeper, judge and jury.”  And the RNC’s suggestion for solving their problems is to become the “turn-the-tables-over-Jesus.”

Yes, let’s double down on that. It seems like a solid plan. … or maybe not.

A better plan would have been to announce, a website to appeal to people who simply believe in the freedom to do as they please (including worship) without interfering with others. Rather than focusing on specific faiths (or specific expressions of faith, like opposition to SSM and abortion), maybe we could focus on protection of religious liberty. Rather than pointing the finger of blame at others for destroying the culture, why not establish an outreach coalition based on constitutional protections like freedom of speech, association, and religion.

It seems the GOP is fixated on the idea that they can get an ever-larger share of the religious voter market without ever bothering to notice that a) the market is shrinking, and b) that appealing to the market moves the GOP ever further from the cultural mainstream of America.

1343 Words of Advice For The Porn Industry (Totally SFW, I Assure You)

If we’ve spent any time talking, at some point I have probably mentioned my fascination with the porn industry’s political problems. Some of my earliest awareness of local politics came from groups trying to stop local convenience stores from carrying Playboy and the like. Over the years, I have seen people blame the porn industry for the decline of Western Civilization and culture.

Yet in all those years, I also saw a porn industry that generated a HUGE amount of revenue. How huge? Some estimates put it close to $13 billion per year, others suggest it could be much lower, but still likely north of $4 billion.  A 2012 examination estimated their revenue at around $8 billion. That assessment was conducted by CovenantEyes, a company that provides web filtering services as well as a service that “tracks websites you visit on your computers, smart phones, and tablets, and sends them in an easy-to-read report to someone you trust [making] it easy to talk about the temptations you face online.” That latter bit, I assume, facilitates recovering pornaholics who want to work with their sponsors to get clean. Covenant Eyes looked at previous estimates from a number of both pro and anti porn sources and I’m prepared to accept their number.

That number is roughly equivalent to the bottled water industry, eBay sales, or iTunes revenue from 2012. In other words, it’s a metric crap-ton of porn. Oh, and it is in ADDITION to the staggering amount of free porn online – whether pirated, commercially available, or amateur.

Yet the porn industry is constantly under assault and receives no protection from the government. While Congress proposes legislation like SOPA/PIPA to protect primarily mainstream music, movies, books and physical goods from piracy and counterfeiting, courts routinely reject attempts by the industry to police infringement the same way the recording and movie industries do.

ISPs have been less forthcoming with the identity of illegal downloaders presumably because disclosure of individual’s porn downloads carries a societal burden that mainstream music and movie downloads do not. One illegal downloader went so far as to defend porn downloads as legal because “porn is obscenity, and obscenity is not covered by the Copyright Clause of the constitution.”

The industry has, for a few years now, conducted a campaign to push back against illegal porn. As just one example, the industry recently launched, a campaign to encourage pornoisseurs to only support legitimate porn.

The problem with their efforts is they are eerily reminiscent of a cartoon released in the height of anti-piracy Napster hysteria that mocked Metallica’s messaging.

The porn version of that message looks like this:

The industry’s efforts, well-intentioned as they are, simply regurgitate the same nonsense the music industry spouted for years, to wit:

So what is the point of all of this? Well, as a communications and political messaging professional, it pains me to watch ANYONE screwing themselves with a misguided and poorly advised campaign. So I would like to offer some admittedly unsolicited advice.

First, it is ironic that the porn industry actually DROVE innovation in the early days of the Internet, yet today is dusting off the fifteen year-old, discredited, and unsuccessful campaign playbook of the recording industry that has eaten itself. Rather than dump money into half-assed microsites and PSAs that target allies and convert nobody, why not invest, as an industry, into a legal alternative to tube sites?

Where is the Hulu, Netflix or iTunes of porn? It would seem that a single, monthly, subscription that gets you access to a catalog of higher quality, first-run content would be a decent investment. Instead, the porn industry still operates on a model where every single actor/actress has their own subscription site and there is no apparent understanding of the consumption of the product. Tubes sites appeal to a huge audience because there is something on the sites to cater to a variety of kinks, fetishes and perversions, with actresses and actors to accommodate every taste variation from slim to large, blonde to brunette/redhead/or bald, any race and nationality.

Second, the porn industry is not Hollywood. The number of people watching porn for the storyline could probably be counted on one hand – if that hand wasn’t busy doing something else. Everything they produce is feature length and has flimsy plots that are frequently spoofs of mainstream films. Such production requires SIGNIFICANTLY higher costs and makes it more difficult to compete economically with a site that offers 10 minute, single scene clips that could be produced with minimal lighting and a cheap digital camera. If they have to try that hard to convince their target audience of the product’s value, then the product’s value isn’t what they think it is.

Finally, if they want to spend money on public affairs and public relations, they’re going about it all wrong. Rather than fighting tooth and nail for a sliver of a small pie, grow the market. Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends took their status as live-in girlfriends to an octogenarian and became authors, TV stars, and content producers. Jenna Jameson understood marketing on a level the porn industry had never seen. She took her notoriety as a porn start and expanded it out into a substantial media operation. She took her reputation as an adult film star and parlayed that into mainstream success.

The porn industry needs to think more like some of its stars and ask the question “How can we move beyond?”

Piracy forces producers to compete with their own product. If porn wants to compete with itself, it will need to reinvest in the innovation they displayed 15-20 years ago, reexamine the alignment of their product and the consumer, and start behaving like an $8 billion entertainment industry. When Amazon is selling sex toys, adult film stars are routinely making the transition to mainstream TV, and A-list actors are citing tube sites as one of the greatest accomplishments of the last 50 years, the industry has fundamentally changed from the days of magazine blackouts on convenience store shelves, curtains separating their content from the rest of the video store, and a product that nobody admitted to consuming.

It’s time they started acting like it and stopped running these pathetic “woe is us” campaigns and reprehensible legal efforts targeting the consumers they hope to attract.

The NRSC/NRCC as Expressed Through Code

Following up on my earlier post about the role of the NRSC and NRCC, here is their candidate support function as explained through code.

function give_candidate_support($seat,$incumbent,$candidate) {
var $seat
var $incumbent
var $candidate

if ($seat = ‘open’) && ($candidate = ‘viable conservative’) {
elseif ($seat = ‘open’) && ($candidate = ‘viable Republican’) {
elseif ($seat != ‘open’) && ($incumbent = ‘Democrat’ {
     if  ($candidate = ‘viable conservative’) {
     elseif ($seat = ‘open’ && $candidate = ‘viable Republican’) {
     elseif ($seat = ‘open’ && $candidate = ‘less than viable conservative’) {
    else ($seat = ‘open’ && $candidate = ‘less than viable Republican’ {
else ($seat != ‘open’) && ($incumbent = ‘Republican’ }

Cochran/McDaniel and the NRSC

In GOP circles, there is a lot of chatter about the role of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and the role they did or didn’t play in last night’s Mississippi runoff. Most of the complaints are that they got involved in the primary at all. But most seem to fundamentally misunderstand what the NRSC and its House counterpart the NRCC actually do.

Unlike the RNC and state parties, the NRSC and NRCC are NOT primarily party building operations. They are, in musical terms, the A&R department of the political process. For those unfamiliar with A&R, here is a brief description from that linked definition.

The A&R division of a record label is responsible for finding new recording artists and bringing them to the record company. They are expected to understand the current tastes of the market and to be able to find artists that will be commercially successful.

Similarly, the NRSC and NRCC work to identify people within the party structure that show an aptitude for getting things done, running successful campaigns & organizations, having a solid reputation within the community and crossing a magic threshold called viability.

Sometimes that works and candidates get elected. Sometimes it doesn’t and they flame out in the campaign.

When they get elected, the NRSC and NRCC move to a new mode – to protect that initial investment and development by supporting their incumbents. Talent A&R at a music label IS a bit different. If the talent fails to sell units, A&R will cut them loose. The music industry is full of one-hit wonders that blew up on takeoff and whose label took the cash and ran.

Some wish the NRCC and NRSC behaved the same, and simply turned to a new young artist when their politicians hit a sour note. However, the incumbents raise the vast majority of NRSC and NRCC funds. You don’t ingratiate yourself with the people that provide your bread and butter by opposing them in primaries or leaving them out to dry.

Granted, that is not always the case. In the event of an Anthony Weiner or similar public implosion, the committees may cut ties and walk away. But that is rare because it is simply not consistent with their mission as an acquisition and retention committee.

There are a lot of organizations you can blame for not supporting primary challengers or for supporting incumbents, but chiding the NRSC and NRCC for doing so is blaming the leopard for having spots.

New Polling Demonstrates Hillary Clinton’s Fundamental Weakness

The NBC/WSJ poll is not great news for Hillary, and confirms a point I’ve making about her being a terrible candidate – especially in a General Election.

The full poll results indicate her favorability is roughly where it was in April of 2008 when she was doing the best she ever did against Obama. She’s considerably above where she was in September of that year, but clearly still vulnerable to a challenge from within the party.

Her net favorable is +7, but her negatives are at 37. Keep in mind, this is a poll of adults, not likely primary or general election voters. So these numbers among people that actually matter could look completely different.

Among Democrats, a huge majority give her good marks for her political ability and experience, on measures of likeability such as being compassionate enough to understand average people, having high moral standards, or being easygoing and likeable, she scores in the high 60s (easygoing) to 80 (compassionate).

In a General Election, however, the wheels start to come off her train.

Among all adults, Hillary doesn’t break 50% on any likeability measure. 47% find her compassionate. 46% think she has high moral standards, and only 40% find her easygoing and likeable.

When asked if they would consider voting for her, the number saying definitely or probably was only 1 point higher than those saying “Never”. With 23% saying there is a slight chance, Hillary has to win over  better than half of that pool. That’s a fairly tall order when 60% of the people think you’re unlikeable.

CIA Targeted Terror With bin Laden/Darth Maul Action Figure

In case you were wondering why the rest of the world no longer takes us seriously, this may be it.

CIA hatched plan to make demon toy to counter Osama bin Laden’s influence

In a bid to counter Osama bin Laden’s appeal in the Middle East, the CIA toyed with the idea of an action figure look alike of the Al Qaeda leader. The doll’s face would peel off to reveal what can only be described as Darth Maul, villain of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.


Apparently our government believes the majority of children and adults in the Muslim world are deathly afraid of the Sith and would flock to the force en masse when confronted with the appearance of the dark lord young Obi Wan sliced in half.

No word on what this cost the Republic, but given the ongoing stalemate in the Galactic Senate, it’s unlikely we will get answers to that question before the Alliance blows up the Death Star.

Post-Digital Decade? Or Just Openness to Change?

My friend and former colleague Patrick Ruffini has shared his talk from PDF as a post and it is well worth a read.

I would quibble, a bit, with Patrick’s take on 2004 versus today.

The premise was that this was the organization in miniature. Whatever you could do offline (canvass a neighbor, ask someone for a donation), you should also be able to do online. Let’s build tools that replicate existing and familiar offline patterns of behavior.

That slide comes from a post-election analysis that was put together to demonstrate the impact digital had on the campaign. The full presentation includes a bunch of charts and graphs that illustrate the role digital played.

In that deck, we talked, for instance, about the way microtargeting data was matched against Yahoo and AOL subscribers to deliver ads narrowly targeted to specific individuals in our turnout universe. While that seems relatively primitive by today’s targeting standards, it was not common practice in ’04.

And that is where I start to disagree with Ruffini’s depiction of 2004.  That slide was actually meant to make exactly the same point Ruffini is making today – that digital needs to be integrated in everything a campaign does.

That slide actually had more to do with staffing, and less to do with the tools.

The problem in 2004 was campaign org charts. There was NO tech in Political, Comms or Finance. Tech was relegated to a separate division (or even single person) and that guy was only brought into a discussion when they had something to “get on the site”, “get to the blogs” or “oh, by the way, my computer is acting funky.”

When I first began talking to the Bush campaign about their online operations in January of 2004, was buried three layers deep in Communications.

Chuck Defeo, my eCampaign Manager, at the time reported to Steve Schmidt, who in turn reported to Nicole Wallace, who in turn reported to Ken Mehlman.

When asked what I thought of their website, I explained that it was VERY good at putting out press releases and Communication materials. However, it lacked capability in online fundraising and direct activism because the organizational structure created incentives that rewarded Chuck for being responsive to his direct reports.

This is not, to be clear, an indictment of Chuck, the Communications team, or the campaign. This is an indictment of the way campaigns organized themselves at the time.  There simply was no senior role for digital in campaign organizations. Just four years earlier, while running “tech” for the Quayle campaign, my “office” was actually a storage closet that housed our servers and where they had stuffed a small desk.

A change in thinking is what I told the campaign they needed. I suggested that online operations should be lifted from Comms and made equal to the other divisions rather than being an after thought. The campaign agreed and I was brought on to serve as the division director for the eCampaign.

The diagram above introduced the concept of having tech involved in every aspect of the campaign, and more specifically, having the digital natives Patrick discusses attached to every other division so they would be involved in the discussions at the outset.

Andy Davis was our liaison to Political. Chuck and Patrick were the liaisons to Comms, and Mindy Finn sat in on Finance.

The Bush campaign was really the first time digital also had a seat at the senior staff table in the type of structure the org chart represents. That slide was meant to drive the point home that we were the digital natives that needed to be connected to broader discussions in every department.

In some cases that worked very well. The debate war room that responded instantly to every John Kerry prevarication and flip-flop is one example. Another was a flash app Patrick put together that took the video of an ad attacking Kerry over weapon system votes and turned it into an interactive tool visitors could click on to see the votes as the weapons disappeared.  It tied the tech and traditional ads together to provide a different way to look at the same messaging. It extended the ad beyond a simple TV broadcast and made it something you could explore.

Because we had only a couple of days lead time, it was relegated to our website. That same ad/interactive app today would be delivered to voters identified as sensitive to national security concerns and served up wherever they roam online.

The goal then, as now, was not to simply automate offline processes, but to use tech to enable better mechanics for campaigning.

An Extranet that Michael Palmer managed was a critical piece of our election day operations. Ruffini, on election night, was chewing through the data we were seeing from a combination of exit polls, live returns, and the Extranet reporting. He announced very early on that we had won Ohio and Florida – earlier than anyone else and hours before it was called on TV.

That integration of data was well ahead of anything that others were doing then, and far ahead of where most are even now.

I would argue that the goal has not changed in 10 years.

What has changed in the intervening decade is the the number of people in campaign organizations who have begun to understand the idea. Work to implement these goals and strategies has increased. However, we are far from a place where such understanding is ubiquitous.

Patrick’s thesis statement in his document may well be this:

The notion that you can create these drastic cultural changes from two or three levels down within the organization is nice, but it almost never happens.

That is certainly true, as it was ten years ago. It is why I had the discussion I did with Ken and Mark and why they, understanding the truth of that, made the change they did.

I would argue the campaign in 2004 was actually the first example of a campaign built on the understanding that technology plays a central role – from microtargeting advancements to organization charts to tools and strategies.

Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, and certainly the re-elect in 2012 were the same.

Those races all demonstrate that was is critical is not the background of the person with the job title, but rather that leadership is committed to open thinking and willingness to change.


Why IRS’ Claims Lois Lerner’s Email Is Lost May Be Totally True, But Also Totally Negligent And/Or Totally Illegal

Via Facebook I have shared a fair amount of coverage of the Lois Lerner email flap the IRS tried to hide in a typical, shady, Friday afternoon document dump.

My initial reaction to claims that the IRS simply lost Lerner’s outbound email was disbelief. There was simply no way the email to IRS employees could be saved and email to third party groups (especially left-leaning groups that were urging investigation of right-leaning groups) could simply vanish.

Further exploration of the subject has actually shifted my thinking. I believe it is actually possible this happened, and if it did, someone at the IRS should be prosecuted for failure to follow federal guidelines for document retention.

So How Did We Get Here?

The story basically comes down to the following four bullet point explanations:

I have worked for organizations that had similar document retention policies to that spelled out above. There are a number of reasons programs like this are implemented.

Excessively small limits on email made sense 10-15 years ago when storage on servers was expensive. At that time it was also common to limit file attachments to no larger than 5-10 megabytes. IT departments with small budgets were constrained by the cost of larger drives and would often offload excess to workstations in an effort to save space on the mail server. Mail servers also used to get persnickety as capacity shrunk and this helped prevent mail server crashes.

However, in almost every case where I have seen this, the individual workstations were part of a backup routine that would still archive the material. I have never seen an Enterprise environment where users were encouraged to store data locally AND without backup.

That emails were important enough to keep when server capacity was reached indicates that they would have been important enough to have a copy of in the event of data loss. If employees were told to keep important files and correspondence locally and that same important documentation was not protected in some way is malpractice of the first order for IT personnel. Anyone with even a moderate amount of experience would see the potential for data loss and should be guarding against it.

If this is all true, the IT staff at the IRS should be held responsible and anyone there at the time should be fired and possibly the subject of civil action. There is simply no way this should have been allowed to happen.

That said, there is one scenario in which this type of policy is intentional. Organizations who may be the subject of lawsuits and investigation, may implement draconian document retention policies specifically to avoid discovery. Short burn windows for backups, limits on the size of email folders, and workstations that are not part of a backup routine can be specifically used to evade the retention of material that could prove damaging in a lawsuit.

Laws exist for publicly traded companies to prevent this. But many companies and organizations are not subject to that kind of restriction and use that leeway to protect themselves.

The government, however, is not one of those organizations. Due to such things as the missing 18 minutes of audio in the nixon tapes and the shredding of documents in the Iran-Contra affair, the government has enacted legislation that requires official documents to be maintained.

If the IRS was truly allowing its employees leeway in what they kept, then the leadership of the IRS should be held responsible for violations of federal archiving laws. The IRS should immediately be ordered to prevent the deletion of any documents from this day forward.

This is, after all, an agency that has access to the sensitive financial information of every business and individual in the US. If they do not take seriously the sensitive nature of that material, then there is a systemic failure in the organization.

Finally, what is truly ironic about the IRS record retention policy for its own internal documents is how much they conflict with the IRS directions to taxpayers for retention of taxpayer information:

The length of time you should keep a document depends on the action, expense, or event the document records. Generally, you must keep your records that support an item of income or deductions on a tax return until the period of limitations for that return runs out.

The period of limitations is the period of time in which you can amend your tax return to claim a credit or refund, or that the IRS can assess additional tax. The below information contains the periods of limitations that apply to income tax returns. Unless otherwise stated, the years refer to the period after the return was filed. Returns filed before the due date are treated as filed on the due date.

Note: Keep copies of your filed tax returns. They help in preparing future tax returns and making computations if you file an amended return.

  1. You owe additional tax and situations (2), (3), and (4), below, do not apply to you; keep records for 3 years.
  2. You do not report income that you should report, and it is more than 25% of the gross income shown on your return; keep records for 6 years.
  3. You file a fraudulent return; keep records indefinitely.
  4. You do not file a return; keep records indefinitely.
  5. You file a claim for credit or refund* after you file your return; keep records for 3 years from the date you filed your original return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.
  6. You file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction; keep records for 7 years.
  7. Keep all employment tax records for at least 4 years after the date that the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later.

The following questions should be applied to each record as you decide whether to keep a document or throw it away.

Note the IRS says you need to keep documents for a period from 2 years to “indefinitely”. That is far shorter than their own internal practice of keeping backups for ‘six months or until you’re out of space.’

There is, contrary to my initial beliefs, a world in which the IRS explanation may be 100% true. If it is, however, I do not see a situation where that should not result in further investigation and prosecution of those responsible.


Democrats Should Be Glad Republicans Killed Their Student Loan Bill

So yesterday the Senate failed to pass Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to negotiate student loan debt down on the backs of a tax increase on millionaires. Democrats are chiding Republicans for voting the bill down, but it’s not clear to me why they would do that.

The proposal failed despite nearly widespread agreement among federal policymakers, financial regulators and financiers that Americans’ student debt burdens risk choking U.S. economic growth as student loan payments take ever bigger chunks of workers’ paychecks.

Unpaid student debt has doubled since 2007 to nearly $1.3 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Some 40 million Americans have student loan debt, according to the Education Department. The average borrower owes nearly $30,000.

Warren said Wednesday that outstanding student debt presents an “economic emergency that threatens the financial futures of Americans and the stability of our economy.”

Officials at the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department and executives at some of the nation’s biggest banks are among the financial experts who have publicly warned about the growing negative consequences of not taming Americans’ student debt bills, pointing to reduced home and automobile purchases, lower retirement savings, fewer new small businesses, and decreased future revenues for the U.S. banking system as households curtail their borrowing in favor of paying back the Education Department.

The emphasis on that last part is all mine, but illustrates the real motivations for this bill. Those motivations should make the Democrat rank and file very, very angry. There are several major problems with the bill, including:

Let’s tackle these in order.

Making College Affordable

First, reducing debt on students already out of college has no impact on the affordability of college because they’re already out. This is merely refinancing of existing debt. So if affordability of college is of paramount importance, you should shrink, rather than grow, the pool of money available. Colleges are raising tuition at a rate well above the rate of inflation. They are doing so because of the ready availability of federal funds. That needs to be reversed.

While doing an interview on Sirius this morning, the show host suggested the government could easily refuse to make federal funds available to schools that don’t keep rates in check. They could also place limits on the kinds of things those funds could be used for. The point is there are ways to address the dramatic increase in the cost of tuition. This bill had none of that.

It’s Pro-banking 

This is not a bill about helping students. This is a bill to help the banking industry. Look at that section in bold above. This is a bill meant to stimulate more banking revenue. How? That’s easy.

Also above, you will note, is a discussion of the things bankers would like us to do – buy cars, buy houses, start businesses, and most importantly, borrow more money. Our entire system is predicated on the assumption of debt. If students are precluded from taking out more debt until they pay off student loans, then the system is in jeopardy. Look at Warren’s statement. “Economic emergency”? “Threatens the stability of our economy”?

Quite the opposite. Requiring Americans to be financially intelligent and eliminating debt is hardly a danger to the economy. If anything, we need more ways to encourage financial responsibility. Only in Washington would someone consider living within your means to be a threat to economic stability.

It’s Anti-Student

Since the strongest argument for restructuring they could offer is “it will help us give you more debt”, let’s look at that. The suggestion is you take a loan for $30,000 (the figure they cite) at 3.5% interest for ten years, and reduce the interest rate such that you could then go get a $32,000 loan (average new car price) at 4.5% for five years, or a $250,000 loan (average home price) at 5.5% for 30 years.

Now do you recall what happened in 2008 when we created an artificial demand for housing because banks gave loans to people who couldn’t afford them? The entire system almost collapsed. People lost their homes, their cars, declared bankruptcy.

Yet the best thing we can do for students is lower the rate on one loan so we can again stack debt on top of debt and jeopardize the very security of the people we’re supposed to be helping? Keep in mind the argument is these student loans are such a huge burden that they impact your ability to live. So the way to help them is by letting them amass more debt. That is simply preposterous.

It Is Anti-environment

Ask anyone concerned with the impacts of global climate change what should be done to curb our impact on the natural world and they will almost always include some variation on “move our economy away from a pro-growth model.” Countless environmentalists have made the case that pursuit of growth at all costs is a major contributing factor in environmental degradation.

Even the Chinese, in their pursuit of communism, are pushing for huge growth in their economy to compete as a world power. Growth is fueled by consumption. If the goal of this policy is to get people to consume more – buy more houses, buy more cars – then we are actively attacking the environment.

If, instead, we urged people to conserve (financially, and by reusing goods), we would reduce the driver for much of our ecological destruction.

Elizabeth Warren Is A Fraud

Warren has made a name for herself among Democrats for her dogged opposition to big banking. During the economic collapse she dared to stand up against the angers of “too big to fail” – or so the story goes.

Yet her we see Warren pushing a proposal that is not geared toward addressing the problem at hand. It is a proposal designed to play political games with people already in debt at the expense of two of the Democratic Party’ greatest existential crises – out of control financial players and the damaging effects of consumption.

Does that sound like the actions of an anti-banking jihadist? Does that sound like a class warrior striking a blow for the 99%?

Elizabeth Warren has clearly demonstrated with this that she is on the side of big banks, on the side of crony capitalism, and in the pocket of the political elite.

So What Is To Be Done?

All of this, of course, begs the question of what should be done instead. To begin with, I would suggest Ari’s proposals warrant consideration. What avenues does the Department of Education have available to punish colleges who waste student funds and federal dollars? What restrictions can be placed on the disbursement of funds to schools that don’t control spending?

Three years ago, at the height of the Occupy hysteria, I suggested another proposal for student loan reform. My suggestion then, and I stand by it today, is to look at the potential future earnings by type of degree and set limits on the amount of student loans available based on that index.

If Philosophy degrees will earn you $29,000 per year, why would we allow or encourage someone to incur $100,000 in debt to get it?

By putting your loan dollars where the future earnings are, you encourage students to pursue math, engineering, technology and the sciences. You still allow pursuit of English, History, Philosophy and Art, but you prevent students from incurring mass debt in pursuit of them.

The point is there are options to consider beyond “hey, let’s give more money to banks”, which seems to cover the entire range of options under consideration by this Administration in it’s pursuit of political points.

Eric Cantor Did Not Spend $5 Million Running Against Brat. He Spent It Running Against Boehner

The Tea Party today is furiously trying to spin Eric Cantor’s loss as a function of their deft organizing in the face of David vs. Goliath odds. This despite the fact that reports indicate not only did the various Tea Party Groups not contribute to Brat’s campaign, but they may have even refused to take his calls. So how does a Congressional Candidate spend $5 million and lose to a guy that spent $125,000? The answer is pretty obvious when you dive into Cantor’s public disclosure of expenses. Over the past two years, Cantor spent $5 million, this is true. It’s not entirely clear what any of it had to do with his campaign, however. (more…)

The Killers: An Exploration of Lyrical Mediocrity

I have an ongoing discussion with a good friend over the terribly awful lyrical ability of the rock band The Killers. Musically, the band is actually quite talented. However, they should be required by law to hire a lyricist before they are allowed to produce another song. If that doesn’t happen, in the words of Douglas Adams, it’s possible that Flowers own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save humanity, may leap straight up through his neck and throttle his brain. Since I am all about the scientific method and the use of evidence to demonstrate facts, I decided to take five of The Killers most popular songs and highlight exactly how horrifically bad their lyrics are. When studied without the Killers admittedly talented musical ability, you quickly see these songs could have been written by an eight year old with a severe head injury. Mr. Brightside Last night I actually watched my friend attempt to serenade a young French woman with this song. As he recited the lyrics without musical accompaniment, you could actually see him realize how awful they were.

I’m coming out of my cage
And I’ve been doing just fine
Gotta gotta be down
Because I want it all

Now perhaps the Killers like to be caged, but that’s not my definition of doing fine. But apparently it’s ok because he’s gotta be down and therefore he wants it all. If that’s not a clear articulation of his situation, there’s this:

Jealousy, turning saints into the sea
Swimming through sick lullabies
Choking on your alibis

Now, I have studied a fair amount of literature in my 44 years, but have never stumbled upon any reference to turning saints into the sea. Why the saints deserve to be turned into ocean water by jealousy is an open question. So to is how you swim through a song for small children. The only line that comes close to achieving depth is “choking on your alibis”, but given her alibis would enter the ears, and not the mouth, this, too, is a metaphorical mess. Somebody Told Me Speaking of metaphorical messes, this song is just damn near unintelligible.

Breaking my back Just to know your name Seventeen tracks And I’ve had it with this game

I’m breaking my back Just to know your name But heaven ain’t close In a place like this

Anything goes But don’t blink you might miss

Cause heaven ain’t close In a place like this I said heaven ain’t close In a place like this

Do you get the sense that heaven might not be very close. I think they really want us to get that message given they repeat it SIX FRIGGIN’ TIMES in the course of a five minute song.  But that stunning piece of wisdom is mixed in with other brilliant observations such as:

Pace yourself for me I said maybe baby please But I just don’t know now When all I wanna do is try

I mean what the actual fuck?

All These Things That I’ve Done

This is, quite possibly, the dumbest song ever written. Listening to it has actually been shown to lower your IQ by 1.5 points per listen. That fact actually explains a lot about my friend and the pomeranian he is currently dating.

When there’s nowhere else to run Is there room for one more son, one more son

If you can’t hold on If you can’t hold on Hold on

I don’t even know what to do with that. Let’s move on.

Another head aches, another heart breaks I’m so much older than I can take And my affection, well, it comes and goes I need direction to perfection, no no no no

Somebody obviously owns a rhyming dictionary. But then comes the best part of this sloppy mess.

You’re gonna bring yourself down, yeah You’re gonna bring yourself down, yeah You’re gonna bring yourself down

I got soul but I’m not a soldier I got soul but I’m not a soldier I got soul but I’m not a soldier I got soul but I’m not a soldier

I got soul but I’m not a soldier I got soul but I’m not a soldier I got soul but I’m not a soldier I got soul but I’m not a soldier

I got soul but I’m not a soldier I got soul but I’m not a soldier

If you haven’t heard the song, just know, in the bottom of your soul, that I’m not making this shit up. You can hit it up on Spotify, but since I have intelligent readers, and I’ve already disclosed the IQ loss, I wouldn’t suggest it. I cannot, in good conscience, provide a link.

Read My Mind

About half a verse into Mr. Brightside last night, my friend realized he sounded like an incoherent mental patient and switched course on his serenade, and then opened the song on his phone to impress our Parisienne guest. The tactic may have made sense. If All These Things That I’ve Done is the worst Killers track, this one is probably the best. It’s lyrics still suffer from rhetorical ambiguity, only a passing familiarity with grammar, and a tendency toward self-contradiction, but it’s more coherent than anything else these guys have done.

I never really gave up on Breakin’ out of this two-star town I got the green light I got a little fight I’m gonna turn this thing around

Ok. I get it. I grew up in a small town with dreams of dumping that shithole and moving out to the big city. I can understand a guy who wants the same. I’m tuned in and ready to relate.

The good old days, the honest man; The restless heart, the Promised Land A subtle kiss that no one sees; A broken wrist and a big trapeze

Ok, what the goddamn hell? Not enough?

It’s funny how you just break down Waitin’ on some sign I pull up to the front of your driveway With magic soakin’ my spine

Seriously, guys? I think it may be LSD soaking your spine if you think that makes any sense at all.

The teenage queen, the loaded gun; The drop dead dream, the Chosen One A southern drawl, a world unseen; A city wall and a trampoline

Ok, now you’re just spinning gibberish together. You can’t possibly believe this conveys anything other than the fact that you’re a schizophrenic who is free associating. But he may actually be:

She said I don’t mind, if you don’t mind ‘Cause I don’t shine if you don’t shine

Put your back on me Put your back on me Put your back on me The stars are blazing like rebel diamonds cut out of the sun


If you’ve made it this far, and honestly why would you unless you have masochistic tendencies and a crap-ton of free time, we finish with Human. This song actually flirts with coherence, then fucks it all up in the chorus. You begin with lyrics that actually might mean something:

Pay my respects to grace and virtue Send my condolences to good Hear my regards to soul and romance They always did the best they could

And so long to devotion You taught me everything I know Wave goodbye, wish me well You’ve gotta let me go

But then you mix in crap like this:

Will your system be alright When you dream of home tonight There is no message we’re receiving Let me know, is your heart still beating?

Is he talking to an android? I mean, who asks their significant other if their system will be alright? But then we get into Phillip K. Dick’s existential question of what androids dream about? Do they dream of home? But then he specifically mentions the heart beating. So it’s not an android thing after all. It’s definitely a romantic partner and he’s apparently got the worst pillow talk known to man.

Finally, we finish with that great philosophical question we’ve all asked countless times:

Are we human or are we dancer? My sign is vital, my hands are cold And I’m on my knees looking for the answer Are we human or are we dancer?

I’ve read the Bible, the Koran, Nietzsche, Kant, Locke, Rousseau. The number of times they have brought me to ask that same questions is…. FUCKING ZERO! You wanna know why? Because those things are not mutually exclusive! That is the question born of a failing public school system and way too much cocaine at after parties. It is a question asked by songwriters who, by some standardized tests, may actually be retarded.

Fortunately for the Killers, the fact that the average American IQ is 98 means there are actually A LOT of potential fans below that mark.  And if the rest listen to All These Things That I’ve Done enough, there will be even more.

Alabama Town Ready For War

A while back I posted a piece about the acquisition of an armored personnel carrier by the Salinas California police.  Today brings news that the tiny town of Troy, Alabama (population 18,000) has also acquired a tank.

Now you may ask yourself why a town of 18,000 people needs a vehicle like this.  According to the police:

“It gives us capability, if we ever have an incidence, where we have an active shooter or officers down and in need of rescue or even citizens down for that matter,” said Lt. Bryan Weed, “that we have the capability of going in and help getting them to a safe area.”

Did you catch that? The last, almost forgotten justification, is to actually help citizens. The reality is the police departments across the US are arming heavily and DHS is not only condoning it, but actually facilitating it.

Friends in law enforcement tell me the military and defense contractors have a lot of used equipment coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and the program allows them to dump it to local police – who often pick them up for a few thousand dollars.

The US Government firmly believes that angry right wing extremists pose a greater threat than the Islamic militants that brought down the World Trade Center, attacked the US Embassy at Benghazi, and who continue to plot against the US. So it is no surprise that they would arm every branch of government.

If you’re not yet concerned about the militarization of police forces, you really aren’t paying attention.


The Real “Dark Side” in Star Wars

1891419_10154000013180204_1330126002_oSo I stumbled on this cartoon the other day and it has really been bugging me. As a guy who does communications for some reviled industries, I have always said that every side of every issue has an equal right to tell their story and let the people decide. In many cases, I have found that the industries panned for their services or products are actually staffed by people who truly believe in the quality/value of their work and hate that their industry is seen in a different light.

So when I saw the cartoon, I laughed probably a lot harder than I should have at the depiction of Ben Kenobi as the villain in Star Wars. Then it hit me. This is actually spot on, and the original trilogy of Star Wars is really a grossly inaccurate portrayal of Darth Vader.

Let’s examine the facts just as portrayed in the cartoon, then discuss the rest of the story:

But now let’s look at the real villains of Star Wars:

The only one of the “heroes” that seems to be a decent soul is R2-D2 and he selflessly gives of himself to save a bunch of people that keep putting him in harm’s way. It’s not entirely clear where Chewbacca falls. His greatest failing seems to be his willing association with a criminal element.

Now compare that rag tag group of misfits to Darth Vader.

Vader, in the first three movies, actually only kills two people in the “rebel alliance” – the captain of the ship that stole his plans (he was simply protecting his intellectual property) and Obi-Wan (who, as mentioned, LEFT HIM TO SUFFER AND DIE on a fiery river bed despite their LONG friendship. Other than that, Vader only kills Imperial soldiers and eventually the Emperor – ending the war.

Other than those two “rebel” deaths, Vader is actually just the father of two kidnapped children, widow to the love of his life, and a guy that eventually brings about galaxy wide peace when he is finally reunited with his long lost son. Even in the prequels, Vader only kills for love. He kills to avenge his mother’s torture and murder. He kills to prevent his true love’s death, and he kills to save the life of the son that has been manipulated into trying to kill his father.

But somehow Vader is the bad guy. You keep telling that story.

The Government’s Broadband and Video Competition Quagmire

I have been having discussions on several listservs about broadband and video competition over the last few days. They have led me to the inescapable conclusion there is a tremendous amount of misinformation around telecom. It is also apparent that proponents of net neutrality are doing all they can to muddy the waters.

Good, solid conservatives have repeated back to me, chapter and verse, the talking points of the left and their willful misrepresentations of the facts.  My friend Seton Motley has a good piece up about how the government creates monopolies and then proposes more government to deal with the monopolies they have created. it’s well worth a read.

Much of this recent wave of broadband hysteria started with the recent complain by Netflix that they have to pay transport costs to Comcast to connect directly to their network rather than going through backbone providers. This kind of arrangement is typically referred to as interconnection or peering. Under standard, roughly symmetrical peering, networks trade roughly the same amount of traffic, and they agree to do so without costs.

Under the Netflix agreement, Netflix passes a huge amount of traffic to Comcast, while Comcast passes very little back. In such an asymmetrical arrangement, it is normal for the network creating more traffic to pay for the inequitable consumption of bandwidth. In Netflix’ case, they are demanding that Comcast pay all the costs because their customers are requesting the Netflix content.

The net effect this will have is it amounts to a surcharge on every Comcast customer, whether they are a Netflix subscriber or not. This would work well for Netflix because they get to reap subscriber fees from their customers without having to pay transport costs because someone else is subsidizing their ride.

Netflix, to make its case, is calling this a net neutrality violation – despite the fact that net neutrality deals only with interference with traffic on the so-called “last mile” or the connection to a customers home. NN rules were established to prevent Comcast from favoring its own video traffic over Netflix.  As long as Comcast does not impede the flow of video from Netflix, and it can reach the customer as easily as Comcast’s, there is no violation.

Businesses Using Government as a Cudgel

What you have, in a nutshell, is a business attempting to use government as a cudgel to get what they want out of another business. This is the problem you have when government gets involved in picking winners and losers in policy fights.

As Seton notes in his piece, cable companies are monopolies created by local government in the last 60 years. When cable was a young, upstart industry, they went to every local government to get a franchise granting the right to serve the community. Local governments for their part, mandated that cable companies provide a certain amount of public service in exchange. In most cases that included things like providing public access channels, wiring schools for video and eventually broadband, and agreeing to wire the poorest neighborhoods in addition to the affluent. Cable companies (typically small operators at the time) negotiated with their local communities and got franchises.

The 1996 Cable Act gave telephone companies the right to provide video services in competition with cable, but it was only about 10 years ago that Verizon and AT&T finally decided to try it. In doing so, they were asked to make similar commitments to provide service for the poor. In leaked internal memos, however, it was revealed that they had no plans to do so and sought to target only the highest value cable subscribers – i.e. the rich people. Cities that demanded anti-redlining clauses were described as obstructionist and eventually the FCC agreed to streamline franchising rules under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act.

In other words, federal government had to become the solution for monopolies created by local governments.

“Only One Provider”

So now the reason for demanding net neutrality rules is “but most communities have only one broadband provider.” Government, it is argued, should do anything in its power to divest these monopolists of their ill-gotten realms. The advocates for more intervention conveniently ignore the fact that it was government meddling that created this situation in the first place.

In reality, the simple solution would be a flat solution that grants companies who wish to carry Internet, voice and video services access to rights of way under a flat fee per mile or pole. Municipalities, to prevent redlining, could lower, or eliminate, those fees in neighborhoods that are typically underserved.

By prohibiting demands for things like PEG channels, studios for public access programming, and wired schools, policy would attract, not repel, investment.

Instead, the government seems bent on creating an additional morass of net neutrality and interconnection laws in order to deal with an already complex morass of franchise, redlining, and other regulations.

Demands for net neutrality are based on flawed reasoning created by a flawed system. It is clear that our nation is due for an overhaul of our telecom laws, but that overhaul should be based on eliminating troublesome regulations rather than just creating new ones.

More Perspective on Slate’s “News” Reporting

The other day I noted Slate’s attempt to cover Mobile Future’s alleged non-disclosure of its ties to Verizon and AT&T. In it, I noted the lack of disclosure that every source Allan Holmes quoted is funded by The Ford Foundation.

A friend notes that I actually missed a detail.

This story was published by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.  Allan Holmes covers broadband and Internet governance for the Center for Public Integrity.

And why is that important? Well, there’s this:

Yup, it turns out that not only is everyone quoted a direct recipient of Ford Foundation funding, so is the Slate reporter. So here’s the full story.

That’s how the left operates. Welcome to the pinnacle of hypocrisy.

How the Professional Left Operates: Foundation Funding and Bad Reporting

If you want to understand the web of incestuous self-referential support through which the professional left operates, look no further than this article from Slate.

What Spalter didn’t reveal is that Mobile Future, which describes itself as “a coalition of cutting-edge technology and communications companies and a diverse group of non-profit organizations,” is funded in part by wireless giants AT&T and Verizon, which are also advocating for an auction free of limits. The group also didn’t detail that relationship when it submitted three research papers to the Federal Communications Commission arguing against restricting how much spectrum a company can obtain in an auction. And it didn’t disclose the fact that data from a research paper it used to create a graphic arguing against limits was commissioned by AT&T and filed with the FCC, which is writing rules for the auction. Mobile Future does list AT&T and Verizon as among its 82 members on its website.

So an article purporting to disclose undisclosed relationships acknowledges, in the first few paragraphs that the relations are, in fact, fully disclosed, but not on every single piece of paper they issue. I guess Holmes complaint is that Mobile Future doesn’t list all 82 members on the back of their business cards.

But what of Holmes? Has he fully disclosed? As a reporter, has he done an effective job of questioning the motivations of both sides?

As it turns out, not so much. In an article that could be the poster child for demonstrating the left’s funding process, it seems Mr. Holmes is unwilling to disclose the common thread running through his writing. That common thread is the Ford Foundation.

Gene Kimmelman, who Holmes quotes, was employed until two months ago by the New America Foundation. Under Kimmelman, New America received $1.2 million dollars from the Ford Foundation in 2012 alone. Harold Feld, Kimmelman’s colleague at Public Knowledge, was a guest speaker at New America events funded by Ford during Kimmelman’s tenure.  In total, New America has received nearly $5 million from Ford.

Feld, for his part, came to Public Knowledge from the Media Access Project – recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars in Ford Foundation cash and PK has received $3.3 million from Ford.

Public Knowledge recently contributed one if its own to the Federal Communications Commission When Gigi Sohn left to be an advisor to the Chairman. Sohn was deeply involved with both Ford and the Media Access Project. While at Ford, Gigi actually created the grant program that contributed significant sums of money to Public Knowledge.

The Ford Foundation also sponsors the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which in turn studied the policy implications of the spectrum auctions at issue in the article. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the CPB found that such auctions would be harmful to media access.

Given their common funding stream, it is probably no surprise Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, New America, and CPB all fall on the same side of the issue. Holmes, had he spent time reporting, rather than advocating, could easily have disclosed all of this.

Instead, Holmes chose to find confirmation of the shard position from an independent academic voice – Matthew Hindman at George Washington University’s Columbian College of Arts and Science’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While there is no indication that Hindman is a direct recipient of Ford Foundation money, the Columbian College is looking to get funding from the Ford Foundation for their teaching staff


But why would the Ford Foundation be interested enough in things like spectrum auctions to invest the resources to influence public policy on the matter?  Well, the Ford Foundation has $3.5 million dollars invested in Deutsche Telecom – the parent company of Sprint, and millions more invested in Ericsson (a partner in deals with Sprint worth more than $5 billion dollars.) They also hold investments in other mobile equipment manufacturers like

As Holmes acknowledges, “Spectrum is the lifeblood for wireless carriers as Americans ditch their desktop computers for mobile devices.”  Granted, the Ford Foundation is a huge endowment with a lot of different investments. They are, however, invested in many companies that have a vested interest in telecom policy including LG, Samsung, Phillips, NTT Docomo and others.

Given the inherent conflict of interest in organizations funded by Ford citing reports funded by Ford done by other organizations funded by Ford to advance positions favored by Ford and supported by academics working for universities looking for funding from Ford, you have to ask where the real lack of disclosure is.

In this case, even a minimal amount of due diligence would have turned up the strings by which the Ford Foundation manipulates public policy in favor of its own investments.

Thoughts on Titanfall

So Titanfall dropped on Tuesday, and the gaming universe is full of high praise for the best FPS I have seen in a long time. Not since Halo first premiered have I been this excited about a game. I couldn’t wait for it to arrive, and after playing it for a couple of days, I am still just as pumped up. Kotaku released its glowing review today, but even that doesn’t do the game justice. There is just so much awesome in this game it’s worth a lot more words than the gaming blogs have given it.

Where to Start

It’s hard to know where to even start with this game. The things it does differently, and the things it does better, than other shooters are many. Let’s just pick the physical capabilities of the players. In most FPS you have a limited range of movement that consists of running, crouching, jumping, going upstairs and downstairs. With modern FPS games you have limited ability to crawl over some small physical obstacles like short walls and boxes. Going prone is about the highlight of physical expression.

In Titanfall, the laws of game (and human) physics are out the window. With the pack assisted jump and chained wall running/climbing, there is almost no space on the map you can’t get to. Want to scale straight up the side of a six story building? no problem. I have chained wall runs/jumps right up the side of structures and onto the roof. Want to sneak up behind a sniper shooting out a second story window, simply chain jumps and wall runs to enter through a third floor window and come in from above him.

If you can visualize a path to your destination, chances are you can be there in seconds.

Unless, Of Course, You Die First

In Titanfall, there is a lot of stuff that can kill you. There are, of course, other players. They have all the normal combat weaponry of a shooter. There are also the Titans – the giant hulking mechs that drop into the game for players to command from within, or guide from without. Set your mech to “Follow” mode and it will track along beside you helping clear the enemy combatants.

And speaking of enemy combatants, there are a bunch of them. Not only do you face human opponents, but the computer also throws a bunch of AI NPCs at you. Grunts and Specters dot the map so there is almost always an enemy nearby. Unlike the large maps of other shooters, it is unlikely that you will run too far without encountering something to shoot at.

What is largely missing from Titanfall is the sniper class. In Call of Duty, snipers have been given almost every advantage. There is plenty of cover, and most vantage points only have two points of ingress and egress. With IEDs/claymores and tacticals like a guard dog or shock charge, you can effectively secure a small space and play the role of cowardly douchebag taking pop shots from across the map.

Titanfall, and the movement mechanics mentioned above, allow an almost unlimited number of paths to get above, behind, or under a sniper. Even if they didn’t, the Titan firepower can take snipers out like ticks. Game play is too fast, and too explosive for camping.

So It’s a Game for FPS Veterans, Right?

Actually, no. Before you can ever engage a human opponent, you are taken through a pretty decent training tutorial to get the hang of wall running, combat tactics, and Titan control. You can also go back for training at any point. So there is really no good reason you can’t get a solid handle on the game mechanics without getting killed and teabagged repeatedly by a 10 year old.

Granted, any game will have advantages for those who play regularly, but the frenetic pace and ready availability of NPCs will give even the casual gamer plenty to keep them occupied.

But I’ll Never Get a Titan, Right?

Wrong. Every player, in every game, will have access to a Titan. Once you start playing, the countdown starts and in about 2 minutes of game time your first Titan will be available. If you get kills on enemy combatants, the timer speeds up getting you access faster.

What’s more, if you call in a Titan, and somehow get killed before you get to it, just press you D-Pad down on respawn to activate follow mode. It will either come to you, or start fighting for you, without loss of your prize.

The mechs, however, seem to be much better when you are in the driver seat.

While Titans aren’t as strong as I would like (ok, let’s face it, the Guard Dog in Call of Duty Ghosts takes more damage), they have a lot of defensive capability. The defensive dash and a shield that captures incoming ordinance and fires it back at the enemy are two examples. Those perform best when operated by an actual person.

My favorite part of the Titans has to be the rodeo, however. Jump on the back of an enemy Titan, open up their brain plate, and just start firing. There is nothing more exhilarating than taking down an enemy mech by killing it while riding it. Be careful, however, I have been stepped on by a few enemy mechs while trying to hop on board.

You can also ride your teams mechs into combat. Just jump on and let them carry you to the front.

Weapon Classes and Upgrades

Speaking of combat, this is, after all, a first person SHOOTER. So the object is to shoot things, right? Titanfall provides in that regard as well. The normal classes you have come to expect are all present – assault rifles, shotguns, SMGs, sniper rifles, etc. Grenades are available but typically land in two categories – those that wipe out humans, and those that screw with mechs. This is an area where tactical decisions about your loadouts becomes very important. I actually have loadouts for early in the game when human combatants are more common, and later in the game when Titans fill the battlefield.

I like to equip my initial loadout with frag grenades for the troops, and my later loadout with arc grenades to disrupt the mechs.

Every loadout comes with a primary and secondary weapon, but all also provide for an anti-Titan weapon. The one thing I would change about the weapon system would be to swap in a Ghosts style “Squad Point” system so you could prioritize the upgrades you’d like to get first.

And Then There Are The Maps

As mentioned earlier, the movement mechanics allow you to go EVERYWHERE, so the maps really needed to keep up. Every structure you see is completely accessible. You can pretty much go over, around, through and in many cases under everything you see. Unlike most shooters that provide two or maybe three levels of play, many of the maps in Titan fall are five or six levels high. It’s possible to get such air in Titanfall that you start to think you’re shooting off the Sears Tower.

Adding to the already impressive maps are gun turrets that can be hacked and/or occupied to give you additional firepower with which to battle the enemy.

And When It’s All Over…

Every Call of Duty or Battlefield player knows the scene. The end of the round comes and that final kill comes. The screen goes dark and you hear the voice of the computer tell you to fall back, you have lost as the score pops up.

Not in Titanfall. Sure, you get the message that you have been defeated, but then the face saving starts. A jump ship is inbound and you have to make it to the extraction point to be withdrawn. If you die now, there are no respawns. If you make it, you hop aboard the ship and earn an extra 200 points for “living” to fight another day. The “mop up” operation is actually one of the parts of the game I like the most. It’s one thing to lose, but making the extraction gives a personal sense of success when the rest of the round goes south.

Beating the Hype

A friend asked me to let him know if Titanfall lives up to the hype surrounding it. After all, this is a game that people have been discussing for almost a year since it was announced last summer. The trailers looked sweet, and there is a reason. It’s one sweet game. The phrase “game changer” is a bit played out, but in this case it happens to be perfect. I suspect a lot of shooters are going to copy Titanfall. They will look at the significant improvements in game mechanics and play and try to duplicate the success this game has. In that sense, Titanfall is more of a genre changer.

The Militarization Of Police Forces

Welcome to Salinas, California. It’s a community of only 150,000 people and the owner of the military assault vehicle seen here. That’s right, a city of less than a quarter million owns a rolling death machine complete with a machine gun turret on top. Now what the hell would they need that for?

“Gamers for Lag” Strike Again

Gaming blog Kotaku has a guest blog up today that argues net neutrality is great for gamers and they should all be greatly concerned the courts tossed the FCC’s attempt to enforce the rules in contradiction of its own classification. The article was penned by Michael Weinberg (a guy that gets paid to argue for net neutrality) and Andre Vrignaud (a guy that is carrying a heavy beef against Comcast because it bounced him for being a data hog).

The article is sort of the counterpoint to my post last week cheering the court’s decision.

What’s truly fascinating about their arguments are the logical gymnastics they go through to make them. And unfortunately for them, their whole post is belied by one simple sentence buried deep in their screed.

No one is going to pay to get into a fast lane if the slow lane is good enough for their needs.

By that, Weinberg and Vrignaud tried to imply that ISPs should be required to ensure that the slow lane is good enough, and prevent providers from creating a need for fast lanes.

The problem is that one sentence frames the flawed premise that is the basic tenet of net neutrality. By providing only mediocre Internet for all, you prevent better services for some. That sounds well and good until you realize, as gamers should, that they NEED better services. This isn’t a random, fleeting desire. This is an absolute necessity. You may recall from my piece that problems of latency and jitter are the gamer’s worst enemy.

The problem for gamers in particular is their susceptibility to the effects of jitter and latency. Every gamer understands the concept of lag. If you have ever played an online game you will have noticed the effects of lag as your opponents movements appear choppy or halted. They’ll move sporadically around the screen or you will freeze up momentarily (and likely die).

Net neutrality exacerbates this problem by prohibiting ISPs from prioritizing video game traffic and making it compete with spam, YouPorn, Facebook posts. or any of myriad other sources of noise on the wire. The game for which you need a high-qulity, stable connection is forced to duke it out with traffic that has no such requirement.

The Kotaku piece actually tries to argue that net neutrality regulations would somehow help latency and jitter.

For better or worse, latency is a factor that can be hugely impacted by decisions that ISPs make. Reducing latency is hard (emphasis mine), so it would be much easier for ISPs to let latency drift upwards—especially if it gave gamers a reason to pay extra for a special “low latency” connection that can be monetized.

This logic is bizarre at best and absolutely wrong at worst.

Reducing latency is actually fairly easy as long as you are allowed to prioritize any game traffic that moves across the network. Their argument amounts to “getting a package to you overnight is really hard so we want this law that prevents FedEx and UPS from providing such a service. Instead, everyone should be forced to use the US Postal Service.”

Microsoft or Sony could easily help their gamers out by working with ISPs to elevate game traffic to the benefit of their players. That’s exactly what Blizzard did with Teliosonera in order to ensure that World of Warcraft players had access to a low-latency pipe for their games.

Creating the equivalent of an overnight delivery service that works outside of the postal stream that is the open net in order to guarantee your game traffic gets there first is actually easy, and as demonstrated by Blizzard, has already been proven effective.

Unfortunately, net neutrality regulations guarantee that reducing latency WILL be hard. NN regs as favored by Weinberg and Vrignaud prohibit ISPs from treating latency-sensitive applications like online games differently than they treat the rest of the mail (or email, in this case). They prevent ISPs from shaping traffic to the benefit of the customer and instead force a “one size fits all” technology approach on data streams that are remarkably different in their need for reliability.

Most of the Kotaku piece seems to argue that ISPs would be incentivized to increase latency just so they could get money out of companies like Microsoft and Sony. The logic behind the claims is pretty flawed, however. As evidence, Weinberg and Vrignaud argue that there is simply not much competition and most folks have only one or two ISPs to choose from.

That’s currently true for a simple reason – deploying fiber is incredibly expensive and it is difficult to steal customers from the existing incumbents. That becomes less true if the options for competitors offer differentiation. Create another ice cream shop that only sells vanilla and you will have a tough time convincing folks to leave the shop they have frequented for years. Become the first guy to sell chocolate and suddenly you can move some units.

If Comcast actively sought to increase lag, and Verizon could set itself apart by guaranteeing reduced latency, then FiOS suddenly has built in market appeal. That’s how the market works. Introduce enough factors of variation into the market and suddenly you have incentive for more competitors to sprout up.

Not many companies will expend billions on infrastructure if there are few “low hanging fruit” customers to be snatched. But allow ISPS to compete on differentiated services and suddenly the options increase. As long as no differentiation is allowed, you’ll never get competitive options.

Low data caps are all but guaranteed under net neutrality

The one piece of the article that Weinberg and Vrignaud got right is their concern over low data caps. I run into caps on my mobile use almost monthly and it’s annoying. But if low caps are a problem, don’t expect them to get better under net neutrality.

Let’s look again at the FedEx analogy. If all roads were paid for solely by single car drivers, the amount of road expansion being done would be dramatically reduced. If the only tax revenue available for roads came from individuals, there would be a lot less effort to build more. Instead, we have corporate taxation on all the commercial services that run on top of those roads and invest a good deal of that tax base into creating more roads.

The fees charged by ISPs to companies like Microsoft or Sony for prioritizing XBox Live and PlayStation traffic augment the subscriber fees paid by end users. Those collective funds are put back into the network allowing more and faster expansion of both capacity and caps. By limiting income to only one side of the ledger (the consumer side), you limit the amount potentially available for growth.

Net neutrality, because it enforces exactly that type of limit, guarantees that build out is done solely on the backs of the gamers (and Netflix users, etc.). Further, it guarantees that you will be asked to make up the shortfall in the form of low data caps and overage charges. By allowing ISPs to enter ‘pay for premium’ agreements with companies that want to reach you, two things would likely happen.

First, as mentioned, you would get a better gaming experience because your game traffic gets priority access. Every gamer gets the equivalent of the Disney FastPass for their traffic.

Second, the amount of money available for network expansion would increase resulting in more available capacity and higher caps.

But net neutrality, contrary to Weinberg and Vrignaud’s assertions, will guarantee exactly the opposite – laggy, expensive, and bandwidth-limited gaming.

New Music from Manchester Orchestra

One of my favorite bands is out with a new track. Top Notch, the new single from the upcoming album Cope is out now. Take a listen at They’ll be playing dates around the US this spring. Get dates here.

Explaining DC’s Irrational Fear of Snow

For my friends not in DC, let me explain the city’s tendency to fold like a cheap suit in the face of potential snow. It has noting to do with ACTUAL snow, but rather the potential impact on traffic.

Two years ago April and I had to go into downtown DC at rush hour. The government had announced a closure at 3pm, but since it wasn’t snowing at 3pm, everyone stayed at work until rush hour. That’s when the snow arrived en masse. It took us 2 1/2 hours to go from DC to McLean (a total distance of about 8 miles). I had friends that were stuck in traffic for 8 hours or more trying to get home.

A study last year indicates DC has the worst traffic in the country – and that’s on a good day. When DC’s already terrible roads are covered with a layer of snow and ice, they become truly horrific.

So it seems completely ridiculous that we shut down at the hint of snow, but they’d rather that than strand the 5.4 million people in the Beltway area in traffic. It often results in shutting down, and no snow ends up falling, but that’s the logic.

This Is Why You’re Stupid To Vote Democrat

This video from “The Robin Hood Tax” in England is a perfect example of how an idea that sounds perfectly reasonable is actually an insidious cancer on society, and why you would be a moron to vote for it. It seems simple enough – a very small tax on every financial transaction (.05% in this case) to generate revenue for social programs. The reason to institute such a tax? To make those greedy banks pay for bringing the global economy to a screeching halt.

The idea is being pushed in Great Britain and is gaining steam among the left in the US.

But here is the problem. This isn’t a plan to tax bank profits. It’s a plan to tax bank transactions. Guess who carries out those transactions. You do. This is a plan to tax YOU, not the bank.

Do you honestly believe the banks are going to say “Oh, the government wants to take hundreds of billions of dollars charged against every transaction. I guess we’ll pay for that out of our gigantic bonuses rather than passing the cost down to the consumer.”

Hell no! The banks are going to say “Hmmm… the government wants to charge us one half of one percent on every transaction, so we’re going to implement a transaction fee of 2% on every transaction so we can cover a) the tax, b) the cost of complying with the tax and c) our bonus for figuring out a clever way to make people with far less money than we pay for the tax. After all, why would we want to lose money on a transaction when we can shift the cost.”

As a net result, anybody who supports this tax is not pushing a tax on fat cat bankers. They are pushing a tax on people who use ATMs or trade stocks or transfer money between accounts.

The problem with Democrats and these wonderfully creative tax plans they come up with is they fundamentally fail to tax who they want to tax, and they end up taxing down. Their big shot banking friends will ensure they don’t see significant tax increases and the little guy that uses the bank to cash his check every week will bear the worst of the this – yet again.

Republicans are friendly with the banks on purpose. Democrats are friendly with the banks out of pure-hearted stupidity.

This is F**kin’ Sick!

At the 2013 Tecate Score Baja 100, driver Adrian “The Wildman” Cenni pulled off a 360 degree barrel roll in a truck. The video is simply awesome.

A HUGE Win for Gamers

The Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit today struck down the FCC’s attempt to enshrine ‘net neutrality’ principles in law. Net neutrality is like much nanny state policy – it seems like a great idea on the surface, but when you dive in, it’s a giant mess. Today’s decision is a big win for online gamers.

Net neutrality, in theory, simply means that no Internet traffic may be given preference over another. ISPS were barred from, for instance, prioritizing video traffic over email creating what is referred to as “a dumb pipe”. Further, the laws prevented any content provider – say Netflix or Blizzard – from purchasing better delivery from the ISPs.

Again, this sounds perfectly fine assuming you know ABSOLUTELY nothing about the way networks manage traffic. The problem for gamers in particular is their susceptibility to the effects of jitter and latency. Every gamer understands the concept of lag. If you have ever played an online game you will have noticed the effects of lag as your opponents movements appear choppy or halted. They’ll move sporadically around the screen or you will freeze up momentarily (and likely die).

Net neutrality exacerbates this problem by prohibiting ISPs from prioritizing video game traffic and making it compete with spam, YouPorn, Facebook posts. or any of myriad other sources of noise on the wire. The game for which you need a high-qulity, stable connection is forced to duke it out with traffic that has no such requirement. Delaying that incoming email for a split second has no impact on the email. But delaying a game bit can mean the difference between a frag and death by stupid.

For gamers, this news could not possibly be better.

Now proponents of net neutrality would argue that this opens the door for ISPs to charge content providers a premium for better service. What will happen, they argue, if EA pays up to guarantee Battlefield players a decent ride, but Activision shorts Call of Duty? Or what happens if Xbox inks a deal to prioritize its traffic, but Sony doesn’t give similar love to the PlayStation fans?

That’s unlikely to happen. Even if it did, game title success depends on happy players. It would not be long before such errors were corrected to keep up with gamer satisfaction.

The Extinction Parade

My friend Anne reminded me of a great short story the other other day. She suggested that someone should write a story with both zombies and vampires. I immediately recalled this excellent piece titled “The Extinction Parade” by World War Z author Max Brooks. In it the vampires have to come to terms with the fact that the zombie apocalypse is wiping out their food source.

50 Years Ago Today, it All Began

1964 brought two things to America – my brother, and The Beatles. Only one of the two would go on to greatness. 🙂

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of Introducing the Beatles. Celebrate by spending a couple of minutes enjoying “I Saw Her Standing There”.

Mad Max as an Open World Video Game? Yes, Please.

I’m glad to see more video games embracing the Grand Theft Auto concept of an open world environment. Having spent some time last night killing my way through a zombie-infested Dead Rising 3, I really prefer that type of game to a strictly mission driven option.

Out in April, Mad Max looks to bring one of my favorite movie franchises (minus Thunderdome, which was just stupid) to the game console. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one.

Trailer here:

Pre-order here:

New Year, New Pixies EP

The Pixies are out with a new EP as their spring tour gets underway. I am looking forward to the January 26 date here in DC.  If you can’t wait to check them out, download the new EP here or watch the video for Another Toe from EP-1

Why You Should Never, Ever Talk to the Police

Free advice from a criminal defense attorney who tells you to never talk to the police. The best part is a police officer in the audience that confirms he has NEVER had someone talk him out of being arrested based on their interview.

Avoiding Blindspots. You’re Doing It Right

Great tip on how to adjust your sideview mirrors so you see OTHER cars, not your own.

Beat Box Basics

When I learn even a little bit about new things I am always amazed by how much effort goes into even the most mundane task. When I learn about things I find fascinating, that’s even more true. So it is with this tutorial on beat boxing.

Time to Get Weepy

The Olympics are only a month away, so that must mean it’s time for giant companies to use inspirational athletes to make you tear up over things like detergent and toothpaste.

A favorite quote from Walt Disney

Around here, however, we don’t look back for very long. We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

Time to Focus on the Economy Again… For Like a Week…

With news that unemployment is stalled despite job gains, Obama has decided to focus on the economy now.

With several controversies fading and a period of intense foreign travel over, President Obama is narrowing his focus this summer to two issues, immigration and the economy, that could help determine the success or failure of his second term. …

The president also plans a series of summertime events focused on steps the government can take to drive economic growth, aides said. Many in the White House see a Sept. 30 deadline to renew government funding as probably the last opportunity for Obama to scale back the deep domestic spending cuts known as sequestration before the 2014 midterm elections.


Thanks a F**k-ton, Ubisoft

ubisoft-logoSo Ubisoft requires a UPlay account for multiplayer on their games, and then this happened.

[W]e learned that data were illegally accessed from our account database, including user names, email addresses and encrypted passwords. … Unfortunately, no company or organization is completely immune to these kinds of criminal attacks.

That’s certainly true, but when you insist on inserting a layer of authentication between your games and Xbox Live (which most game companies don’t do) you best make sure you have better security in place to protect the information you force people to give up in order to play your games.

Companies like Ubisoft, that force complications on your game play experience, owe it to gamers to ensure their data is protected – especially when that data is ancillary to the user experience and gathered strictly for marketing and DRM purposes.

The Path to Legal Hell is Paved by the Left

Two days ago, Wendy Kaminer over at the Atlantic penned a piece looking at the ACLU’s lawsuit against the NSA and the idea of corporate personhood.  The ACLU, it seems, is concerned about the idea that its phone call metadata is being snarfed up by the spooks and could be used to see who is complaining about government abuses.  They have filed a suit – as the ACLU – in court.  That suit, by extension, represents all the millions of Americans who have similarly had their privacy violated by big brother. (more…)

Cable’s Defiant Note?

Cable kicks off their annual Cable Show in Washington, DC today. The opening general session was kicked off by MC Hammer performing his hit 2 Legit 2 Quit.

It’s an interesting choice given the lyrics of the song.

Competitors who think they’re makin’ up all the rules, fools. In the game lame and insane. It’s a shame I gotta do this, but I remain the same unchanged.

While the song choice may have been unintentional, it may also be cable’s way of letting young upstarts know they aren’t ready to be pronounced dead just yet.

Al Roker’s Fundamental Misunderstanding of Business and Economics

Watching a segment on the Today Show about the number of trailers you’re asked to sit though before a movie, the jovial weatherman turned dark.  In a brief rant he sad, essentially:

What really bugs me is buying a full-price ticket to a movie, and then being forced to watch commercials. If you want to give me a discount on the ticket or sell me reasonably priced snacks, that’s one thing. But I bought a full-priced ticket, so I shouldn’t be made to watch commercials.

To anyone unfamiliar with the economics of a particular industry, that might seem to be a perfectly reasonable gripe. But that’s exactly the problem – Roker is obviously unfamiliar with economics and works in an industry that gives its product away in exchange for dwindling ad dollars.


Perspective on the Growth of the Federal Government in Four Simple Charts

A friend on Facebook today noted an article by Kristen Powers that once again tries to argue that government has not grown under Obama.

It so happens that the claim that government is bigger under President Obama than any time in history — an oft-repeated trope — is actually not even true. Not counting the military, there were 3,054,000 federal employees in 1988, the last full year conservative standard bearer Ronald Reagan was in office. In 2011, there were 2,756,000 — a reduction of 10% from Reagan.

Sure enough, the linked table of government data does, in fact, indicate a reduced federal workforce. But that’s not the problem (and frankly it’s not a terribly accurate measure given that Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Booz Allen and other large contractors contribute a significant number of FTE jobs that are “off the books” so to speak in such a count. Make no mistake, these are people who work full-time for the federal government, but because their checks are written by private companies, they just don’t count.

Even if you suspend disbelief and pretend the Federal workforce has shrunk, that is only one measure of the Federal government’s size (and not a very good one, frankly). So what would be a better way to examine government?  Let’s start with the federal budget which currently stands at almost $3,800,000,000,000 ($3.8 trillion.)

But let’s put that in better context.

per capita income versus per capita government spending

In 1929, the average amount spent per US resident was $31.39. Per capita income at that time was $697. So government spending on your behalf would have worked out to about 4.5% of what you made. (NOTE: That wasn’t your tax bill. That was just what was spent on a per capita basis.)

In 2012, the average amount spent per US resident was $11,260.33. Per capita income sits around $42,693. Government spending per capita works out to about 26% of what the average person makes.

If per capita income had risen at the same rate as per capita spending, the average worker would be taking home $250,000 per year.

But that’s still not quite the perspective we’re looking for, so try this:

per capita income versus the growth of government spending

If per capita income had risen at a rate equal to the growth of total government spending since 1929, per capita income would be $647,081.

Yup, that’s right. That $697 dollars you were making in 1929 would have grown to almost three quarters of a million dollars per year.  Instead, while per capita income in the US has multiplied by a factor of 61, government spending has jumped 928 times what it was in 1929.

Still not impressed by how large government has become? Then try this on for size:


In 1929, the population of the United States hovered around 121 million people. Today we’ve grown to 314 million people. That’s not quite triple our population in 84 years.

However, if the growth rate of the US population kept up with the growth of government spending, there would currently be 112.6 billion of us here in the US – that’s roughly 15 times the size of the entire world population right now.

But now comes the really scary number:


If you add up the value of everything single thing bought, sold, and produced in the US – our entire economic output – our country generated around $103 billion dollars in 1929.

In 2012, that number has grown considerably. Our Gross Domestic Product last year was $15.5 trillion.

Had our economy kept pace with the growth of government, however, our economic output would total a little over $96 trillion.

Now someone will say comparing growth rates of these three things is comparing apples to oranges, but I’m not saying these things are equivalent.

All I wanted to do, and hope I have done, is illustrate the growth rate of other key indicators relative to the growth of government spending.

When people try to tell you that government isn’t bigger, use this to give them some perspective.

(As a couple of housekeeping notes, the data and charts are available as an Excel Spreadsheet for anyone who wants them. All data comes from either or Google’s Public Data project. Both cite Bureau of Economic Analysis and Census Department data as their source.)

Why We Split Up: The Terrible Road That Led To A Difficult Decision

After a long, complicated relationship, autocorrect and I have parted ways. It was a very difficult decision for both of us, but in the long run we’ll be happier.

I know autocorrect has been seeing a lot of other people, and has developed a rather sketchy reputation. But that’s not why we split.

We just realized that we don’t see the world the same way. When I type its, i mean its. I grew tired of constantly being told that “it’s” was a possessive. It’s not.

Perhaps the final straw was the constant bickering over autocorrect’s constant efforts to make me use “we’ll” instead of “well”.

Oh well!

We tried a number of things to make life better. For a short time, manual shortcuts worked to jumpstart our relationship. In the end it just wasn’t enough.

I wish autocorrect well, and hope it finds someone special.

Rob Portman’s (Opportunistic?) Reversal on Gay Marriage

So many people are chattering wildly about Rob Portman’s conversion to a pro-same sex marriage (SSM) position.  “Game changer” and “this changes everything” are just two of the Facebook updates I have seen on this.  While I appreciate him coming around, I just can’t get all that excited about the news.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that the sands are shifting (and that is a very, very good thing) to a place where SSM is starting to be seen as a winning issue for GOP candidates, rather than an unquestionably losing one. Portman, however, seems to be someone who is opportunistically exploiting that.

In 2004 Portman supported a Constitutional ban on SSM; not just a ban against it. He wanted it enshrined in the Constitution.  He has defended DOMA. In 2009, he opposed a law that would have allowed gay couples in DC the right to adopt.  He has actively opposed gay rights for a decade at least.  But then there is this:

“[W]hat happened to me is really personal. I mean, I hadn’t thought a lot about this issue. Again, my focus has been on other issues over my public policy career.”

Huh?  You were that active in voting on an issue you really hadn’t thought a lot about? So your default position on issues you don’t think about is to deny people rights?  Really?

Reconciling his past opposition to SSM and his current conversion is almost impossible. His explanation is that his son Will came out two years ago and that profoundly changed his mind.

But less than two years ago, at a speech to the University of Michigan law school, a full third of the school got up and walked out of his speech in protest of his positions on gay rights.  That was, if his timeframe is to be accepted, after his son came out.

Granted I am a reliable cynic, but it seems to me that Portman, who is bandied about as a potential POTUS contender in 2016, is seeing the writing on the wall.

A poll out last week notes that Republicans oppose gay marriage 69-23.  There is a relatively small wing of the GOP that will support candidates who are openly in favor of SSM.  However, if properly aligned, that small minority could be enough to win a fractured primary field.  Getting a base of 23%, and being able to cobble together enough support among the remaining 77% to provide a winning coalition – especially in a field of 6-10 candidates – could be winning math.

Portman’s dramatic reversal may be real.  I sincerely hope it is. Even if it’s not, it is certainly cause for those in the GOP that think like me to be happy. The party is, slowly but surely, being dragged toward its stated position of personal freedom on this issue.

But I have seen enough in politics to be more than a tad jaded.  I suspect that Portman may be looking at electoral calculations, more than personal or moral ones, in announcing this dramatic reversal at the beginning of a Presidential cycle.

Hotel Finds Dead Girl in Water Tank Because of Low Shower Pressure

Ok, if you are easily grossed out, this may not be the post for you.  You might want to skip right past it and move on about your day.  If you’re a sick, twisted puppy like me, keep reading.

As I am skimming the news this morning, I happened upon what might otherwise just be a routine report of police finding a missing person who was unfortunately dead.  But then you get to the detail that really makes the story cringeworthy.

The corpse was found on Tuesday after hotel guests complained of low water pressure.

You read that right. The body, it seems, was found in a water tank on top of the hotel. A water tank, that by implication, seems to have been feeding the showers.

Let that sink in for a few minutes…. I’ll wait…

Now here’s the really foul part…  The girl had been missing for three weeks.

So what does that tell you?  It tells me that every guest who stayed in that hotel – for twenty-one days – had been showering in dead girl.

If that doesn’t gross you out and make you want to carry your own one gallon jugs of stream water to bathe in, I just don’t know what would.  From now on when I check in at hotels, the first question I will ask is whether their showers are certified to be dead body free.

Now my challenge will be figuring out what categories to post this under…

UPDATE: A friend on Twitter shared this additional link to the story including the best passage ever in a news article.

Guests at the Cecil Hotel, famous for having hosted serial killers Richard Ramirez – nicknamed the Night Stalker – and Jack Unterweger, are likely to have bathed, drank and brushed their teeth using water from the rooftop tank where Canadian tourist Eliza Lam’s body was found floating. …

Disgusted guests have expressed their horror at the discovery of the body, with one British tourist telling CNN: ‘The water did have a funny taste’.

Sabrina Baugh, a British tourist told journalists: ‘We never thought anything of it. We thought it was just the way it was here.’

That is so disgustingly awesome.

When Science Fiction and Science Are Indistinguishable.

I have been a big fan of Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books since I started reading his books as a teen.  Among the passages I remember the most was an offhand mention of the Great Green Arkleseizure.

Jatravartids are small blue creatures of the planet Viltvodle VI with more than fifty arms each. They are therefore unique in being the only race in history to have invented aerosoldeodorant before the wheel (though their wheels are the wrong shape; a bike with literally square wheels can be seen).

Many races believe that the Universe was created by some sort of god or in the Big Bang. The Jatravartians people, however, believe that the Universe was sneezed out of the nose of a being called the Great Green Arkleseizure. They live in perpetual fear of the time they call “The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief” (their version of the End of the Universe). The theory of the Great Green Arkleseizure is not widely accepted outside Viltvodle VI.

So I got to thinking earlier today that our theory of the Big Bang is really no different.  If you accept the fact that the universe exploded into existence and is traveling outward at great velocity, you have bought into a theory that is, on the surface, the Big Sneeze Theory – one big event and all the stuff in the universe goes flying.

But as I was thinking that, and browsing the net for randomness (as I am apt to do), I came upon a related theory. A physicist has suggested that a “bubble” moving at the speed of light could simply wipe us all away before we even knew what happened.

According to Discovery News, Lykken said if this happens, it’ll happen at light speed, which means if anyone is around to witness it — our solar system will be long gone — they’ll be gone before they realize it.

So despite our best science, we actually haven’t advanced much beyond the sneeze and hanky wipe theory that Adams attributes to the primitive, body odor-challenged inhabitants of a backwater planet.

Granted, we haven’t attributed the big sneeze and to a much larger alien (unless you count God), but it kind of makes me feel a little less confident in our scientists.

Open-Source vs. For-Profit Tech and Activism

So last wek I made a point in my Spectator piece that the GOP has a tech problem, but it’s a tech problem that can be addressed through a significant investment in money and culture.  As I argued, you can address a lot of tech shortcomings if you invest in being better, smarter, and bringing people to the table that have the skills and letting them run with those skills.

My former colleague Patrick Ruffini, on Sunday, seemed to take issue with at least part of that when he chided Stuart Stevens – Romney’s brain trust – for suggesting that money can solve our tech problems.

What really troubles me about Stevens’s comments is his dismissive statement that “technology is something to a large degree you can go out and purchase.” No, it’s not. Technology is not about the tools. It is about people. It’s about creating a culture that drives metrics over hunches and BS “message of the day” fire drills.

Stevens will be the last general strategist of his kind not because he didn’t tweet, but because he thought of technology and data as some cool toy you could buy, not as the very foundation of a strong organization.

I would actually challenge Ruffini on that to a degree.  If poor tech is the problem, you can, in fact, invest in better tools.  But part of the GOP’s problem is it has not recently invested heavily in tools.  The period when it did (roughly 1996 through 2006) was marked by a significant improvement in tools.  The RNC database that eventually led to Voter Vault and microtargeting, and scared the Democrats into stepping up their game, was a result of that investment.  The GOP Team Leader program, the Bush re-elect effort, and many, many wins at the state and federal level were all a result of that investment – better data, better tools, better ideas.

Like the hare that naps and lets the tortoise win the race, however, the GOP got complacent.  It seemed to believe the headlines after 2004 that said the Dems may never be able to catch up with our data and microtargeting supremacy.  Those same headlines are being written now about the Dems, and I find them absurd. No party has a lock on tech, ideas, or success. Tech, especially, is a fickle beast and steer erratically between the latest good idea.  The GOP began to learn that when the 2008 Obama campaign took what the right had done and built on it.

So do I agree with Stevens that we can simply spend our way to competitiveness?  The answer to that requires a bit more framing.

We need to think of our problem differently. In politics, like technology, there are two camps. One, we’ll call it the open-source approach, creates a larger more vibrant community (of either activists or technologists).  The other, for-profit model is still perfectly legitimate, but doesn’t invite as many to participate and becomes much more expensive to maintain.

Think of the left’s activism as Linux, MySQL, and Drupal and the right’s as Microsoft or Oracle.  One innovates faster and has a larger community, one is limited in functionality to what they’re willing to invest in, rather than what the crowd can come up with.

There is nothing that says the right cannot compete with a Microsoft model.  They can, quite reasonably, invest huge sums of money in closed platforms, and be competitive.  That was Stuart’s point, and I agree that it is a viable – though certainly not the best – option.

One way or another – whether we follow the Stevens model, or something much more open and inclusive – the right must undergo a major attitudinal change.

If we want to follow Stevens model and closely guard the source code and hardware for GOP 16, then the donor culture on the right still needs to stop thinking in two-year cycles of TV ads and invest heavily in organizations that will be continually innovating, continually coming up with new, but still largely proprietary products.

What you cannot do, in Stevens model, is what the GOP has done for the last six years. You cannot release Windows Vista and expect it to keep you viable for a decade.

We would need to follow something more closely resembling the Apple model – a locked down platform that meets the needs of 90% of consumer (jailbreakers excluded), but one that still guards the source.  Voter Vault, in many ways, originally took that approach.  It protected the kernel while still meeting the needs of the users.  The problem is the GOP didn’t innovate when the needs of the users began to change.  Rather than enabling Voter Vault to be integrated with state, county, local, and issue advocacy campaigns through tools that would connect to the data, and share the benefit of all that data collection – Voter Vault became the iPhone without the ability to add apps.

Would it be possible to succeed with a tool that is still a walled garden, but one that meets the needs of its users?  Just ask Facebook.  They have made a huge business from that model.

So while I respect Patrick’s view, and agree with him that a more open model would be better, I disagree that there is absolutely no other option.  The Stevens approach could be successful, but it would still require a major cultural shift, and would be less likely to produce good outcomes.

So Here’s The Thing About The Postal Service Retirement Funding…

My lefty friends and those I follow keep regurgitating this ridiculous left-wing talking point about the reason the Postal Service is scrapping Saturday delivery.  The gist of it is this:

Republicans in Congress passed a bill that requires the Postal Service to fund 75 years worth of health benefits for every employee, and even for employees that don’t yet exist.  They were given 10 years to do this. It is causing massive cash problems for the Postal Service and that’s why they have to cancel service. It’s all Republicans faults and it’s just because postal workers are unionized.

There’s a whole lot of BS in that, so let’s unpack it slowly lest the sticky goo get all over us.

First, it is true that Congress passed a law requiring full funding of the Postal Service health benefit program for every employee until they die.  It was NOT, however, Republicans in Congress that agreed to give them that benefit. The Postal Service made a concession to unions to pay for full health care benefits for employees until they died.  That was a collective bargaining concession that a lot of dumb companies have agreed to, and many of them have been brought down by it.  Case in point, General (now Government) Motors or GM.  In the mid 200os, Warren Buffett was asked by Charlie Rose if he was interested in buying GM.  Buffett’s response, in short, was no. GM, he explained, used to be a car company, but had become a pension and benefit operation with a small car unit attached.  There was no way to save GM without serious concessions from the Unions.

He clearly didn’t know about Barack Obama back then.

Flash forward to the Postal Service and you have the same issue – free health care, and pension benefits, until you die.

That is a serious problem when health care costs rise exponentially each year, and people stop sending mail.

So Congress says, “Hey, who will get stuck with the bill if the Postal Service collapses and can’t keep paying those costs out of current revenue?”  Yup, you guessed it, the taxpayer.

They pass a law that says USPS must put cash aside from current revenue to cover that expense in the event of a USPS failure.  They gave them ten years to fund the pot because they had no idea if the USPS would last for twenty.

So the USPS keeps putting cash aside and all is going fine – except for the fact that costs keep rising (yes, despite ObamaCare, costs keep going up and are expected to for the foreseeable future) and the USPS keeps losing business and has to put less in than planned because they’re broke.  Discovering that their “free health care for all forever” plan is eating them alive, they recently announced a reduction in Saturday service to cut costs.

To be clear, if Congress had made Enron or any other big company fully fund pension plans, the left would be cheering.  If a company had to keep a big pile of money on hand so every employee would be taken care of in case of a bankruptcy, the left would be jumping up and down.

In this case, however, the howls can be heard in China.  The right, they wail, is trying to kill off unions and shutter government (never mind that they’re also the first to point out that USPS isn’t actually government to begin with).

The reality is Congress (perhaps for the first time ever) was actually trying to keep the taxpayer from getting screwed if the Postal Service went belly up.  The postal employees would have been left with nothing or the US taxpaying population would be asked to cover an employee benefit liability currently estimated at about $100 billion.

For once, they did the right thing.

All of that said, let’s now address the “75 years” and “employees who aren’t born yet” nonsense.

The funding requires enough money to pay these benefits until an employee is dead.  In the case of the US, life expectancy is around 79 years. So an entry level employee at 18 or 19 years old would need to be covered for almost 60 years – not 75.  Again, that’s the deal the USPS made with them.  Don’t blame Congress for them taking that on.

As for the “employees not yet born” issue, those are not funds paid in.  Funds are only paid in on the actual employees.  However, for business planning purposes, the USPS has to estimate how much an employee will cost them to do business now and in the future.  For that reason, they have to assume that the person working for the postal service 20 years from now will need to be covered, even if they’re not yet born.

They plug that estimate into a formula that tells them what future costs might look like.  It’s really no different than weather forecasting, climate modeling or any long range estimation.  You make assumptions based on current data.  What you don’t do, and what the postal service does not have to do, is make payments on someone who isn’t a human yet.  It’s not happening, so stop repeating that.

Hope that clears some of this up.  If you really want to dive into it, here is the Congressional Research Service take on it from 2011.


Thoughts On Dubstep From An Electronic Noise Addict

Let me preface this post by saying two things.

First, I love music.  I have preferred genres and artists, sure.  Everybody does.  But I have found very little music I can’t listen to, and am not willing to explore. I have listened to everything from Air Supply to Zebrahead.  I love the melodic expression of emotion whether that’s uplifting love, stomping heartbreak, vitriolic anger, or melancholy sadness.

Second, I have been a big fan of what I call “electronic noise” for a very long time.  When we were kids, my friend Travis turned me on to a band called Negativland.  They can best be described as ‘experimental artistic noise with samples’.  That was followed by recommendation from my friends Tobi (who introduced me to Skinny Puppy) and Mandy (who brought me bands like Laibach, Borghesia, and Pigface).  I spent a good deal of time with grunge and techno, but ventured well beneath the mainstream surface of Fat Boy Slim, Moby and Darude, and really dug into stuff primarily identified by the people around me saying, “Oh my god, what is that noise you’re listening to.”  Thus my own category of electronic noise was born.

Over the lat few years, the time and money constraints of kids have dramatically reduced the amount of free cash I dump into music.  Spotify, however, has been fantastic as a tool of music discovery. Recently I have really jumped into dubstep in a big way.  Over the last couple of months, I have listened to hundreds of tracks from dozens and dozens of artists.  I jumped into dubstep after reading an article that described the genre as one older listeners don’t get. The music was characterized as sample of random noise laid over driving bas rhythms and electronic loops.

You had me at random noise.

I had to dive in.  How could I not?  That same description was used for most of my favorite music since I was about 16. If this was the latest expression of melodic electronic noise, I had to see what the fuss was all about.

It’s at this point in the post I could start sounding like the curmudgeon.  My internal grumpy old man could pop out and say “This is a hopped-up perversion of my beloved techno but with more static samples laid on top.”

I’m not going to do that.  Instead, I am going to go the opposite direction.

Dubstep, for the most part, is terribly, terribly boring.  The vast majority of my listening has been defined by lilting vocals, beats per minute that would make heart surgeons think the patient had flatlined, and less noise than simple cheesy sound effects (enough with the sirens, guys).  Most of the best dubstep I have found (and there is some REALLY good music if you can stand to dig it out) mixes old school techno with dubstep’s signature WUB-WUB-WUB to produce a MUCH faster, MUCH better dubstep experience.  When you get the BPM cranked up to a nice respectable level (my favorite stuff tends to be in the 140-160 range) you really start to get a good flow.

While a lot of dubstep flirst with 130-140 BPM, it rarely sustains that level of activity for more than a few seconds.  If a club DJ was spinning straight dub tracks, you’d quickly realize that alcohol really is a sedative, not a stimulant.  I’ve begun to think the market for Red Bull, Four Loco, and energy drinks generally is simply a result of people trying to stay awake while listening to dubstep.  If I were a sleep therapist I would prescribe dubstep to people who don’t respond to medication.

Allowing my internal grumpy old man to roll out, I can sum up my reaction to dubstep by saying “You call that artistic, aggressive noise?  Back in my day we had REALLY artistic, aggressive noise. We had bass so deep it broke the Earth in Arizona and created the Grand Canyon.  We had beats so fast they made the world spin, and it still hasn’t stopped.”

Dubstep does have some really great tracks if you put on your headlamp, grab a pickaxe, and start digging for them.  My personal favorite is this mix from Swedish House Mafia and Knife Party ( if you’re on Facebook).  It has a dull lull in the middle where the vocals drop in, but overall it sustains a good BPM throughout and carries an upbeat vibe that’s fun to listen to.  Bumpy Ride by Omnitica is also a fun track.

A Mass Murderer’s Suggestion for Curbing Violence

I am a mass murderer.  At least that’s what the media would have you believe.

I play violent video games. I watch violent movies. I have read tales of fantasy, violence and destruction most of my life.  I also listen to rock music – the harder the better – and have for most of my life.

Various media outlets and commentators have identified all of these things as contributing factors in the violent outbursts of the unhinged.  Given that I participate in not one, but ALL of them; given that I have participated in them for thirty years; and given that I am a guy who spends much of his day in front of computer and TV screens, I should be a powder keg just looking for a spark.

But despite all of that, I have not once opened fire in a shopping center, taken up arms against an employer, or gone on a school rampage.

I do own guns. I hunt with them. That’s it.

I work, a lot.  When I have time, I play video games…. with friends… and with my kids…  None of them have opened fire at a mall.

So it amazes me to see so many people blaming the games, the movies and the music for the acts that horrify us on our TV screen.  They call for video game content restrictions, or labels on moves, music and games.  And yet the senseless tragedies continue because all of our handwringing is applied to the wrong question.

Rather than ask “what outside influences caused that guy to be violent” we should be asking the question “why does one person exposed to that level of violent content show no tendency toward actual violence while another does.

That variable – for all the talk of guns, and high capacity magazines, and violent games/movies/ music – is what we must endeavor to identify and address.

Aereo makes it tempting to give someone else money for something that’s already free

This is possibly the dumbest thing I have ever read – at least today.

“Its channel selection is limited to 29 over-the-air channels and Bloomberg TV. It doesn’t include the other cable networks I frequently watch. … A day pass costs $1 and gives you 10 days to watch up to three hours of recorded shows. You can pay $8 a month for unlimited live viewing and 20 hours of storage, or $12 for 40 hours. Or you can pay $80 for a full year and 40 hours. That annual price is less than what I pay my cable company for TV each and every month. It’s a great deal for people who mostly watch broadcast television and not a lot of sports.”

You know what is 100% free and doesn’t require any payment to the cable industry? Broadcast TV. This guy is suggesting people pay money every month – albeit to a different company – to watch something that is broadcast OVER THE AIR. The reason Aereo thinks it is legal is because they are just retransmitting something you can already pick up through your TV. It’s the act of retransmission that is illegal without permission.

If you want to get rid of cable – as the title implies – this completely fails to do that. The author even says so. Now, if you would rather pay a different company for something you can already get for free, maybe he is on to something.

Perhaps they should retitle this piece “Aereo makes it tempting to give someone else money you don’t need to be spending on something that’s already free.”

The problem, you see, is that everything on your TV is not cable. Some of it is good old-fashioned, pick-it-up-with-rabbit-ears broadcast TV.  For those born after 1990, let me explain. The rest of you can jump down a paragraph.

There are some channels that ‘broadcast’ TV.  That is, they transmit it over the open airwaves, and any chucklehead with a digital TV can pick it up FOR FREE.  (Yes, it has to be digital. I don’t have time to explain why.) ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, etc are all broadcast channels. So the two programs he mentions (Downton Abbey and Revenge) are already free without a subscription service of any kind.  Don’t believe me? Disconnect your cable box, switch the input to “TV” and see what you pick up. Fun, isn’t it.

I find it hysterically amusing that “ABC News” – which is affiliated with a broadcast station – has an article suggesting that you need to pay to get an ABC show that they deliver for free (Revenge is an ABC program).

Why would ABC do something that ridiculous? Because here is the real rub in all of this.  The broadcasters, who deliver all their shows for free, over the air, are also demanding retransmission payments from cable companies that make those same shows available to you without requiring you to switch inputs on the TV.  In fact, they are demanding ever-larger payments from cable companies. In some cases, I have been told by cable company reps, those increases can be more than 400%.

Broadcasters are a big chunk of the reason your cable bills go up all the time. They are charging you for something you can already get for free.  And as more people watch it for free, the broadcasters raise the rates on those still willing to pay.

Then they have the brass stones to run an article like this one that suggests you can pay someone else to get the stuff they air for free.

There are ways to get rid of cable. They don’t work for most, but they exist.  However, if all you are watching are broadcast channels, you certainly don’t need to be paying Aereo or anyone else for it.

Ok, So When WILL The World End?

If your like me, the lack of a cataclysmic event on December 21st has left you feeling a bit let down. After all, who wasn’t anticipating the great cosmic reveal?

Well, if you just need an end of the world to look forward to, Wikipedia has you covered. They have a list of the possible dates for the end times.

(That’s for people seeing this via Facebook’s url free import.)

The next date of possible rapture is just a few months away, but, fair warning, the guy that is predicting it has already missed to projected dates.  Maybe the third time is a charm, though.

Assuming May 19 comes and goes without incident, and absent any Harold Camping updates, the next possibility doesn’t roll around for 7 years.

Stuff They Don’t Tell You About Being A Dad

I am constantly discovering all the things nobody tells you about being a parent – “life’s lessons”, as it were, about child ownership.

For instance, kid’s LOVE band-aids.  The only thing better you can put on an apendage is a temporary tattoo.  Band-aids are simply the coolest.  They are so cool, in fact, that you don’t actually need to be broken to use them.  If you bump your knee on a table, or the ground, that is good enough. You can go find your first aid kit and patch yourself right up – with not one, but at least three or four of the magic strips.  So why, you ask, does this really matter?  Why do parents need to know that kids love band-aids?

This becomes critically important when you are slicing into 9 pounds of freshly cured bacon with an incredibly sharp knife and go right through one of your fingers.  Invariably, you will rush to the bathroom (or, as was the case today, ask your wife to do so while you staunch the flow of blood).  Upon close inspection, however  you will discover only two band-aids in the house, and neither is up to the task of covering your gushing wound.

No band-aids for you!  You’re a parent!  Band-aids are for kids.  What you get is something cobbled together from gauze and first aid tape that that looks like this:


21 Songs for the End of the World

With just over two weeks left to enjoy all the music you can before we blink out of existence, here is a little playlist to help you make the most of it.

Thoughts On This Book Is Full Of Spiders

Last night, I finished reading This Book Is Full Of Spiders, Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It, the sequel/follow up to John Dies At The End.   John Dies at the End became on of my favorite books after I read it last year.  I’m still psyched to see the film version when it releases to VOD in December (assuming that actually happens.)  As a result, I was pretty amped up for the release of Spiders.

While I enjoyed Spiders, I was also disappointed in it.  What made John great were three things.  First, it was raw.  While some literary critics assailed John, the lack of focus, the gritty and loose word play, and the unpolished writing are part of what makes the story great.  You’re not listening to an English professor tell you what the seventh ring of hell is like, you are there, living it with a guy who doesn’t quite know how to describe what he is seeing.

Second, it was absurd.  The Washington Post, in it’s review of Spiders, made favorable comparison’s to the late Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Adams classic tale depicted a universe that was totally askew, and how the only slightly askew Earthman Arthur Dent reacted to being dragged through it. Similarly, John introduces us to a world that exists beside, above and under our own – with shadow men attempting to control and manipulate us – and how two unlikely slacker heroes came to save the world. John was engaging.  The mystery behind the soy sauce, Wong’s ability to see and interact with the paranormal, and the idea of shadow men who could simply make a person disappear – as if they had never been born – all gave the book a creepy, sinister, but simultaneously inviting feel.

Finally, John was hysterical.  The absurdity could make you smile, twitch, or howl with laughter.  To this day, one of my favorite passages from any book is this:

“Something coming back from the dead was almost always bad news. Movies taught me that. For every one Jesus you get a million zombies.”

With John, Wong had mixed the bizarre and familiar into a warm, tasty stew that went down smooth and left you hungry for more.

With Spiders, however, the stew is a little less tasty.

The two main characters, John and David, survived John by accidentally doing the right things, despite their inherent laziness.  Their unique ability to interact with the supernatural allowed them to be equal in power to the shadow men, despite their flaws. They are portrayed as skilled opponents to the netherworld while simultaneously bungling their way to saviorhood.  They seem, at all times, aware of their faults, but determined to succeed despite them.

The David and John of Spiders, however, are less savant and more idiot.  They bumble through with less bravado, more self-doubt, and a lack of clarity on both their cause and their ability. There is also significantly less discussion of the nature of the enemy with which they are fighting. It’s as if Wong felt the urge to write a zombie story, and only a passing urge to tie it to the world he created with John.

The book also has less grit than John. It’s almost as if Wong, desperate to please critics and move units, has transferred his own fear of failure to his characters.  They are cautious where they should be bold, which also sums up Wong’s book.

Wong is certainly still funny, and the book is almost certain to have you laughing out loud. As just one example, a favorite passage of mine describes the ragtag band of misfits trying to make an escape in an armored monster truck.

John made the engine of the monster truck rumble to life, and a hundred miles away a seismologist saw the needle on his machine twitch. Amy mumbled, “I cannot imagine the penis of the guy who designed this thing.”

The situations are just as absurd, the humor is no less funny, but there has been a seismic shift in the attitudes of our two leads – and the author.  It is as if the characters, the author, and the book are all struggling to live up to past glory. David and John still save the world, but it seems less worth saving than it was last time.

What’s the Matter With Mitt? Kansas is Fine.

So the big news this week is a Romney Gone Wild tape that surfaced out of a high-dollar fundraiser. In the tape, Mitt extols the virtues of battling through poverty to make yourself better, and explains that every American can achieve greatness.

Oh, wait… That didn’t happen at all.

Instead, one of the richest candidates ever to seek the Presidency spent most of his remarks denigrating the poor.

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Romney is shown saying in the video of a May 17 fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla. “There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

Romney said in the video that his role “is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

There is so much wrong in this instance that it actually provides a great learning moment for the GOP. For all those who imagine great throngs of unwashed masses clamoring for a free ride, pay attention.

It’s almost impossible to say that the entirety of the 47% who pay no income taxes will all vote for Obama.  Statistically speaking, half of that 47% aren’t even registered to vote.  Would they support Obama if they were?

Well, one way to attack that question is geographically.  The 47% represent people with incomes so low – and tax credits that further reduce the tax burden – that they pay no taxes.  So where do these people live?

Based on rankings of poverty by state, the ten poorest places in the union are

In other words, not the bluest of blue states.  In fact, of those ten states, only New Mexico cast its votes for Obama in 2008.  In other words, Mitt, you are castigating a large swath of your base.

The Democrats understand the fact that the poor often vote GOP.  That’s why they spend so much time bemoaning the fact that people “vote against their self interest.”  They get that people who aren’t rich often vote conservatively.

Looked at another way, nearly 25% of America’s farmers live below the poverty line.  These are not the directionless welfare moms Romney describes, they are among the people who work the hardest in America every day.

While the GOP decries the “class warfare” tactics of the left, they are, as evidenced by Romney’s clueless remarks, waging an imagined class warfare of their own. Just as the GOP is still waging cold war against a Russia that no longer exists, they are still campaigning against the welfare queens of the 1980s.

The fact is, Mr. Romney, many of the people you are counting on today for your election are the very people you are demeaning in front of wealthy donors.  That is simply not OK.

The Problem With No More Solyndras

So the House has now passed the exceptionally poorly named “No More Solyndras Act“.  I say poorly named because it doesn’t actually prevent more Solyndras.  As Taxpayers for Common Sense has noted, they should have called the bill the Even More Solyndras Act.

“This measure would still put taxpayers on the hook to loan out billions of dollars more to at least 50 additional shady alternative energy schemes that were submitted before January 1,” Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican, said on the House floor Thursday, adding that the bill should be renamed “The 50 More Solyndras and Then We’ll Stop Wasting Your Money — Really — We Promise Act.”

The bill grandfathers in 50 existing applications totaling nearly $90 BILLION dollars. For those keeping score, that is roughly 180 times as much money as Solyndra lost.  The bill is meant to be a political winner for the GOP, but actually exposes the party to huge liabilities.

Let’s assume that one of these fifty companies collapses (which is quite likely).  Now the GOP owns the failure, not Obama and the Democrats.  You see the Democrats actually pushed for an amendment that would have ended the program outright.  They argued that if the program is so bad that it needs to be ended, we should not gamble another dollar.

By letting these 50 applications proceed, the GOP is essentially gambling that none of them will fail.  Mark my words, when they do, the Democrats will trot out statement after statement that says, “See, this is why we wanted to end it all.”  The GOP, on the other hand, will be left flat footed trying to explain how “No More Solyndras” produced more failed companies and more lost taxpayer dollars.

Tea with a Surprise

 So I drink a lot of tea and coffee – A LOT of tea and coffee.  So much so that buying packages of tea bags is kind of pointless.  Instead I buy great big bags of loose tea, and typically buy a bunch of them at once. About two weeks ago I bought five 8 oz bags of Starbucks loose Awake tea (like the bag pictured here from their website.)

I have some old tin tea containers I keep the loose stuff in and this morning I went to pour from one of the bags into the tin.  That’s when I heard the clank and thought to myself, “Tea doesn’t normally clank.”

Tea, you have to understand, is one of your quieter beverages in its natural state.  There typically aren’t really heavy objects in tea that would make a clanking sort of a sound. That’s one thing I really like about tea. It’s pretentiousness typically lends itself more to quiet introspection rather than noisily announcing its arrival.  That’s more of a soda thing to do.

So anyway, the clank really took me by surprise. I looked into the tin to see exactly who this tea thought it was and why it was coming around bringing all this ruckus.

That’s when I saw it.

Now, of all the things you typically don’t find in tea, hardware is typically high on the list.  The ingredient list on tea is usually pretty straightforward. It’s typically, you know, just the tea. There may be some teas that are iron fortified, but I don’t really think that’s what they mean.

In my case, the fact that my tea included anything other than tea was pretty much a surprise. I’m not talking surprise on the scale of discovering you’re a lottery winner, more like finding out that girl you were flirting with at the bar is really a dude.  The extra parts were kind of unnerving.

So I thought I would post about this for two reasons.  First, I haven’t posted in a while and felt the need to justify the money I spend on maintaining this site. Second, I thought I would throw this out there in case my friends at Starbucks are planning to include anything else in my tea – like maybe a baby mouse or a human body part (both of which, for the record, would rise to the level of lottery winner surprise.)

You see, I like my tea just with the tea in it. I don’t really feel like the piece of their processing equipment that was in my order was really necessary or appreciated.

Some may disagree. Somewhere in the US there may have been a guy who would have said, “Wow!  That is exactly the size felangee I needed to complete my time machine and finally blow this place!”

I, on the other hand, just wanted some tea.

Starbucks, do you think maybe, just maybe, next time you can make that happen?

My letter to the Fine Folks at the CPSC

Earlier today I posted about the regulatory overreach by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and its war on the rare earth magnets known as Buckyballs and Nanodots.

This afternoon I penned a letter to the CPSC to register my complaint.  If you are interested in sending your own letter, I encourage you to do so. You can visit or click these links to open a new email to Nancy Nord, Anne Northup, Inez Tenenbaum, Robert Adler and their media flack Scott Wolfson

In the meantime, here is the text of the letter I sent. I thought I would share it.

I am writing to add my name to the list of those opposed to your action on novelty magnets.  As an owner of such novelties sold under the name Buckyballs and Nanodots, I purchased those magnets for my use and entertainment.  I am able to read warning labels and keep the magnets away from my kids as directed. I am also able to understand the Zen Magnets warnings as what they were, an attempt to both educate owners and simultaneously mock the government for its egregious meddling.

It is unfortunate that the government feels the need to protect people from their own impairments – stupidity being among them.  I was under the impression that Darwin had conclusively proven that isn’t really possible.  For instance, the CPSC notes that, on average, 25 children are killed per year by furniture.

How does the CPSC justify allowing the scourge of dressers and bookcases to terrorize our homes?

Perhaps the CPSC should instead require a warning label on people that says “Your IQ must be at least 100 to procreate.”  That would address both the possibility of children being given magnets to eat AND people putting a 100 pound, 60-inch TV on top of a flimsy, off-balance, particle board stand they bought at Ikea.

In the meantime, I have ordered several more sets of Buckyballs to show my ongoing to support to a company that has added jobs and more than $40 million in direct economic activity to the country in the last four years, despite the incompetent job government has done of attempting to solve the nation’s fiscal problems over the same period.  Those sales represent the first effective stimulus this government has achieved.

So congrats on that.

CPSC vs. BuckyBalls

If you have talked to or followed me in the last 24 hours, you have no doubt heard about BuckyBalls – those small, BB-sized, rare earth magnets you see for sale in novelty shops.  April gave me some for Christmas and I am constantly fiddling with them.

Well the US Government, in its infinite wisdom, has banned them.  They have ordered all companies selling rare earth magnets to stop doing so.  I discovered this yesterday when I went to order a set from nanodots. They are no longer for sale in the US.

When I found them unavailable on Amazon, I immediately became suspicious because you can buy anything on Amazon.  A quick search of Google News for Buckyballs reveals the problem:

Feds file suit against Buckyballs, retailers ban product

The Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday sued the maker of the popular magnetic desk toy Buckyballs to stop the sale of the product because of the risks posed to children.

Some major retailers, including Amazon, Brookstone and Urban Outfitters, have agreed to stop selling these and similar products at CPSC’s request. Children who swallow the tiny magnetic balls can require surgery when they become stuck in their intestines.
Dozens of children have needed surgery to remove the tiny magnets in Buckyballs as well as those sold by competitors of its maker, Maxfield & Oberton. At least 12 of the ingestions involved Buckyballs.

There have been, by the governments numbers, 33 incidents of kids being harmed by magnets.  12 involved Bucky Balls.  Bucky Balls has sold 2.2 million sets in four years each set contains between 125 and 216 balls. making a grand total of 275 to 475 million magnets in the wild.  If those 12 incidents involved just a few magnets, you are looking at a potential failure rate of one in 6 million to 1 in 13 million.

Yet the government response, despite warning labels on the product that specifically say they are dangerous if swallowed, is to ban the sale of the product.

By way of comparison, just for example, almost as many kids are killed by furniture per year (25) than have been killed by magnets.  More people (35) are killed per year by hot water than have been killed in total, by magnets.

Yet the government has not yet banned furniture or hot water.  But it may just be a matter of time given our overly-litigious society and activist government.

This overreach threatens, most directly, a company called Zen Magnets, the makers of Buckyballs.  They have, as noted, sold 2.2 million sets of magnets in the past four years (since they started).  The sets cost between $20 and $40. So despite the dysfunctional economy that government seems unable/unwilling to take seriously, this company has flourished by selling a novelty desk toy aimed at adults.

Now the government wants to shutter them because a handful of parents can’t or wouldn’t read the warning labels and be decent parents.

When people ask you to give an example of over-zealous, anti-business regulation, this is a good place to start.


Alas, Poor USPS. I Knew You Well.

A friend emailed me a moment ago with this note he received from his neighborhood association:

July 11, 2012

Our Mailman, Wayne, came by today with a plea to save the US Post Office
from HR 2309.

He spoke of:

No Saturday service. By eliminating Saturday delivery, the Post Office
would have to lay off 60,000+ workers (Wayne’s alternate for Saturday would
lose his job).

No door to door service – they would install cluster boxes which you would
have to walk to.

No one day service – (Example: mail to Alexandria would take 2 to 3 days as
opposed to next day delivery).

Postal workers would have to pay more for their health insurance.

Please call 1-888-863-6103. They will ask for your zip code, and will ask
if you Oppose or want HR2309 to be passed.

I suggested he send back the following reply:

While Saturday service, door-to-door service, and the ability to send mail to Alexandria next day seems great….

All of which is a pleasant way of saying none of that is worth the $14 billion the US Postal Service will lose this year.

Door to door service for mail is an antiquity we just don’t need.  While they have worked to improve the Postal Service fleet, it still contributes a staggering amount of carbon to the atmosphere.  Cluster boxes would reduce the amount of driving required, as would getting rid of Saturday service.  And if Saturday service is so critical, why don’t we have Sunday delivery?

If you consider the fact that the overwhelming majority of stuff you get by mail is direct marketing junk, magazines that will be thrown out, and paper bills, the sheer volume of useless mail the USPS hauls is unreal.

They acknowledge as much on the USPS website, noting that email and paperless billing by large institutions has contributed greatly to the loss of revenue.

So let’s see… The postal service is a relic, it’s main revenue source now is bringing you all the crap you don’t want anyway, and it clogs up the air with CO2.  Why do we need to keep this, again?


The Problem With A Government That Gives You All You Want…

Gerald Ford once said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”  That statements has been attributed to many conservatives over the years, but it was actually one of our less recognized President’s who made the observation.  The trouble is, he was wrong.

A better variation of the quote, for we pragmatic libertarians, would be this:

A government that gives you everything you want is a government unable to give you what you need.

The problem with government is one of prioritization. It has spent so much time and money trying to solve every minor problem that it is completely unprepared for the major problems.

The Washington Post today has a good read up on one such problem, the record setting weather and climate issues we’ve been dealing with lately.  The problem they fail to recognize, when bemoaning government inaction on the climate, is the sheer scope of things we have made competing priorities.

A report out this week from the Congressional Budget Office that suggests the US government should cede research into carbon capture to China and India – two countries that are burning huge amounts of coal, but have shown little care for clean air.  This at a time when most agree that dealing with carbon should be an urgent priority.

Now our US labs are marvels of science.  Having grown up in New Mexico with a parent who worked at the labs, I looked forward to the occasional “family day” when we got to see the stuff our nation’s scientists were working on.  This is one area where the government should be spending more, not less, money.  The space program is another area where we should be investing, not cutting back.

The problem, as voiced by my friend Jon Goldstein, is that the federal budget is comprised of tens of thousands of projects that each cost taxpayers only a fraction of a cent.  In the aggregate, it is a staggering sum of money – about $3,700,000,000,000.  Of that, roughly $31 billion is spent on general science, versus $716 billion for the military and $2.3 on health, medicare, social security, education, and income security (welfare). But separately, each program is so small as to easily be justified.

The government has fallen victim to the same thinking that has felled many companies.  We made concessions on expanding benefits, while ignoring that each additional person at the teat, and each additional teat would eventually dwarf our productive capacity.  Like the massive benefits program that felled GM, our retirement and benefits programs have left us little to invest in innovation.

Warren Buffett noted the impending collapse of General Motors due to it’s pension and benefit obligations:

At various Berkshire Hathaway meetings, chairman Warren Buffett has envisioned what GM would do if it had contracted many years ago to buy steel at a premium price and had arrived at 2005 needing to get that cost back in line. “It would simply get out of the contract,” Buffett has said. GM’s retiree health benefits, arrayed against the benefits that the Japanese companies don’t provide, are like paying extra for steel. But the odds against GM’s breaking this contract are monumental.

The government, if it invested significantly more in trying to arrest carbon, could solve the issue.  Instead, we have created a system whereby the government carries a huge percentage of the population in a stretched and frayed safety net.  The irony is that while the CBO suggests we allow China and India to figure out carbon capture, we are all less than safe.

Now that government has a humanity scale issue to solve, our system of government dependence and largesse has left the piggy bank without enough resources to meet the task.

Makin’ Bacon, Part II: The Outcome

So it’s now been a week, and the bacon is done curing.  I rinsed off all the seasonings (at least, all the seasonings that weren’t buried in the fat, and popped the belly in the oven for 90 minutes at 200 degrees.  This is the result (though it has been cut in half to make slicing easier).

To be honest, I was a little afraid of this batch.  Like much of the mid-Atlantic, we lost power about half way through the curing process.  Our power was out for about 24 hours on one of the hottest weekends in DC.  Temperatures outside were around 100 (110 if you buy the ‘heat index’ idea).

I had concerns that the loss of power would result in the loss of the pork belly (along with mist everything else in the fridge.) A quick chat with the butcher that sold me the belly reassured me, however. We both felt that since the curing process is essentially cooking the belly, the loss of power wouldn’t impact it the way it would have any other raw cut of meat.

I decided to stay the course, keep the curing bacon, and see how it all turned out.

I’m glad I did.

After I took the bacon from the oven, and sliced it in two, I cut a nice thick slice – and a few thinner slices) off one side.  Grabbing a small skillet, I fried them up.  The thicker slices I cooked a little longer, mostly because I like my bacon on the fine edge between well done and burnt – super crispy.

The thinner slices I cooked a little less.  The results were better looking that the images here might indicate.

I had skipped the maple syrup the recipe suggested so I wasn’t going to get the offsetting sweetness to go with the salt. While I figured that might make the bacon more salty, I also didn’t want the maple to get in the way of the bacon taste. It was a bet that paid off.

The bacon cooks nice. It leaves a lot more oil in the pan that store bought bacon, and that’s ok with me. The extra oil contributes to the crispiness when it cooks up – searing the fat nicely. It’s definitely more salty than store bought bacon, and that’s ok, too.

I actually bought a second belly and cured it with the maple syrup. I started that belly on Sunday – after we got power back – so it should be ready for tasting this weekend.

Based on the outstanding cook and taste qualities of the bacon I’ve tasted so far, I can safely say I may be tempted to never by from the store again.

Finally, a couple of quick notes for anyone that may be tempted to give home curing a go.

Makin’ Bacon

No, seriously.  I’m makin’ bacon.

I’ve had an odd addiction lately to Diners, Drive Ins and Dives on the Food Network.  Recently they featured a place that makes its own bacon, and it looked a) awesome and b) not too hard.

Those that know me also understand that I live under the constant assumption that the zombie apocalypse will begin any day now. If I survive the initial outbreak, I want to be able to provide for myself – that includes being able to enjoy bacon.  If I don’t survive, at least I will be a tasty salty snack for whoever gnaws on my skull.

Anyhoo, so I decided to give making bacon a whirl.

Here is the six pound pork belly I picked up at The Organic Butcher of McLean.

This shows the pork belly with the skin on.  I asked for it that way because I had two different curing recipes – one that required the skin and one that didn’t.  I figured I could easily take it off if I decided to use the other recipe.

Unfortunately, I forgot that my really good knife is packed with all of my hunting gear in New Mexico, so I had to use one of our cheap kitchen knives to skin it. That wasn’t as fun as I would have liked.  Once I got it done, though, I was on my way to the oh so sweet world of homemade bacon.

This is what the pork belly loked like sans the skin.

As I mentioned, I had found a couple of recipes online, one which required curing salt and one that didn’t. So I started reading up on curing salt. Two things I read convinced me to try the recipe that required it.

The first is that the curing salt contributes to the pink color and unique bacon taste.  The recipe noted that without it your bacon will taste like pleasantly seasoned pork ribs, but not really like bacon.

The second is that the curing salt tends to tame nasty things like botulism that can otherwise ruin the fun of a good bacon sandwich.  Since I prefer my deadly diseases on the side, I sprung for the curing salt #1 and followed Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for the curing rub.

I have completed the rub stage of the preparations, and the bacon is now curing away in my fridge.  Here’s what it looked like in the bag.

I have to flip the bag over every other day, rerub the belly in three and a half days, and in a week my bacon will be ready to cook/slice and eat.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

The Trouble With Dem Messaging Against Romney

David Roberts, who writes for leftist enviro rag Grist, has a recent post looking at the message challenges facing the Democrats.

In order to inoculate themselves against attacks on Solar Trust of America, Bright Source, Solyndra, LSP Energy, Energy Conversion Devices, Abound Solar, A123 Solar, UniSolar, Azure Dynamics, Evergreen Solar, and Ener1 (collectively, let’s call these “Obama’s green failure or OGF for short), the Dems have been using a “them too” attack that says Romney supported green tech, too.

That very act, says Roberts, is a bad move for the left.

When Konarka is called “Romney’s Solyndra,” I suspect political elites do not hear “Romney’s civic-minded attempt to support clean energy.” They hear scandal and vulnerability. They hear that funding clean-energy companies is a dark secret to be embarrassed about; that government support for clean energy is always cronyism; that solar is not a viable business, even with subsidies. [emphasis mine]

Roberts is exactly right on that point. The left has, with its rebuttal attacks, done two things.  First, it has authenticated the hits on OGF.  It has acknowledged that Obama has bet big on big losers and cost the taxpayers a staggering amount of money.  It gives full-throated support to the idea that they have tried to pick winners and failed.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, as Roberts suggests, it has made greentech investments by government the poster children for government waste.  It sets such investments up as a shining example of how both parties have pursued that idea, and both parties have failed.

If anything, Romney supporters (not the campaign, mind you) have a huge opening to make the case that Romney’s is the right message – “I tried greentech and found it wanting, so my position evolved into opposition.”  The President and his minions, however, will double down on the idea that more, not less, government dough should be dumped into the wastebin that is solar.

There is a big opening for Romney to focus on the laundry list of OGF. His supporters, in the meantime, could use the very investments Obama has attacked as a sign of a wiser, and more experienced politician – one who learns from his mistakes rather than doubling down on failure.

One of the biggest criticisms the left had of Bush was his insistance on staying the course in the face of abject failure.  Romney’s backers would be wise to make that the rallying cry against Obama’s tenure as well.  OGF are a great place to start.

Morons, Your Bus Is Leaving for EFF’s Crystal Prison

“Morons, your bus is leaving!”

That line from Groundhog Day pops into my head every so often when I hear something so truly stupid it takes only a second to fully realize how stupid it is.

On Twitter, @AdamThierer points to such a stupid idea posited in a post by the Electronic Frontier Foundation titled “Apple’s Crystal Prison and the Future of Open Platforms.” EFF claims to be “defending your rights in the digital world”, but in reality they are clueless about as often as they are right.  This post is no exception. The gist of it is this:

Apple’s recent products, especially their mobile iOS devices, are like beautiful crystal prisons, with a wide range of restrictions imposed by the OS, the hardware, and Apple’s contracts with carriers as well as contracts with developers. Only users who can hack or “jailbreak” their devices can escape these limitations.

First, the notion of a phone as a prison is a little ridiculous.  Why?  Because there are only about a million of them to choose from. Don’t like Apple’s limitations? Go Droid, or BlackBerry, or Windows, or…

Get the point?  There are so many options there is no reason to choose Apple unless you actually want it.

That brings me to the second point.  If you buy able, you are probably aware that it is a restricted platform.  Either that or you have not been paying attention to the PC/Apple skirmishes of the last three decades.  All of Apple’s devices are restricted in some way or another.  That’s part of how they maintain their reputation for “it just works.” They limit your options because most people, given the ability, will eventually f**k it up.

That brings me to my last point.  EFF notes that Apple is restricted unless you can “jailbreak” your phone.  Google it!  I’ll wait…

That’s right, there are almost as many places that will show you how to jailbreak your phone as there are options for other phones.  If you decide to jailbreak it, the courts have even said that is perfectly legal.

However, they have also said that Apple is perfectly within its rights to refuse your warranty if you f**k up your phone.  You see how that works?

Just like with my car, if I take out the factory engine and add a nitrous system, I can’t exactly be surprised if Chevy will no longer honor my warranty.  This works exactly the same way.

Nobody would say your ability to tinker with your car is impeded, but they would also not claim Chevy is responsible for fixing everything some halfwit breaks.

Yet EFF expects Apple to hold itself to a different standard.


10 Song Lyrics Featuring Outdated Technologies

I was listening to the radio on the way back from lunch, heard a song on Sirius featuring a throw away line that made me think about all the songs that reference technology and quickly become champions of the obsolete.  So hear here, without further adieu, is a list of ten such songs, and the technology that makes them so awesomely outdated.

10.Bawitdaba – Kid Rock  (1999)

The candid freaks, cars packed with speakers
The G’s with the forties an’ the chicks with beepers.

9. Listen to the Eight Track – Ian Hunter (1981)

Oh get out into the car park, sitting in my own Buick Skylark in the dark
Oh, ‘n I’ll listen to the eight track

8. I Like That – Richard Vission and Static Revenger (2009) – (a double whammy for outdated audio and camera tech)

Oh let me shake it shake it
I’ll polaroid it shake it  …

I like that 8-track
It takes me way back

7. Mix Tape – Brand New (2001)

This is the first song for your mixtape.
And it’s short just like your temper,
but somewhat golden like the afternoons we used to spend before you got too cool

6. Casette Tape – Katie Costello (2011)  – (the newest song to make the list, it uses outdated tech as a metaphor, but much of the audience it would appeal to has either never heard of casette tapes, or long forgotten them)

I wish there was a social excuse to make you a cassette tape
I’d teach you all about my life from side B to side A
Fast forward, rewind…Whenever or never mind

5. Technologic – Daft Punk (2005)– (another double whammy for including both faxing and formatting, which although not strictly obsolete is not nearly as common in usage as it once was thanks to WYSIWYG directory navigation like Finder and Explorer)

Name it, rate it, tune it, print it,
Scan it, send it, fax – rename it,
Touch it, bring it, Pay it, watch it,
Turn it, leave it, start – format it.

4. Video Killed the Radio Star – The Buggles (1979) – (this is included not just for it’s unspoken reference to a time when MTV actually played music, but for the specific mention of VTR)

In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone to far.
Pictures came and broke your heart, put the blame on VTR.

3. I’m My Own Walkman – Bobby McFerrin (1984)

When you’re walking down the street
And you got your walkman and you’re walkin’ to the beat
And you got your walkman and you’re walkin’ to the beat
Say what?

2. 45 RPM – The Alarm (2004) – (45 RPM, for younger readers, was the speed at which vinyl singles like these spun when played on a turntable. If I have to explain turntables, why are you reading this?)

a spiral scratch
gave me my life back
a vinyl solution
ended my confusion
I heard a voice in the noice pollution
45 rpm

And last, but certainly not least, my number one pick.  It is especially ironic because it was about outdated technology, but featured outdated technology.  Remember portable CD players?

1. AM Radio – Everclear (2000)

Wanna Get Down In a Cool Way?
Picture yourself on a beautiful day
Big bell-bottoms and groovy, long hair
Just a-walking in style with a portable CD player – No!
You would listen to the music on the AM radio

On Content Ownership and Business Models

A little over a month ago a friend emailed me a link to this post jumping into the ongoing discussion of the content industry’s evolving business models.  The author, David Lowery, was formerly involved with Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven.  He is an accomplished musician and takes issue with the “new boss” in the recording industry.

In the last few years it’s become apparent the music business, which was once dominated by six large and powerful music conglomerates, MTV, Clear Channel and a handful of other companies, is now dominated by a smaller set of larger even more powerful tech conglomerates.  And their hold on the business seems to be getting stronger.

On one hand it doesn’t bother me because the “new boss” doesn’t really tell me what kind of songs to write or who should mix my record. But on the other hand I’m a little disturbed at how dependent I am on these tech behemoths to pursue my craft.  In fact it is nigh impossible for me to pursue my craft without enriching Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google.   Further the new boss through it’s surrogates like Electronic Frontier Foundation  seems to be waging a cynical PR campaign that equates the unauthorized use of other people’s property (artist’s songs) with freedom.   A sort of Cyber –Bolshevik campaign of mass collectivization for the good of the state…er .. I mean Internet.   I say cynical because when it comes to their intellectual property, software patents for instance, these same companies fight tooth and nail.

Meet the new boss, he wants to collectivize your songs!

Lowery goes on to explore the disconnect between the “digerati” who recite the “information wants to be free”mantra while ignoring the latter half of that statement, which is that information wants to be expensive.  You see the original construct was that information wants to be free of shackles, not price.  The first piece has been adopted as a rallying cry for what Lowery calls the “freehadists.”

Now enter Matt Yglesias.  Matt is a political muckraker turned internet luminary who tackles Lowery’s arguments in a piece at Slate.

[T]he thing about the piece is that for such a long article on the subject of music, the internet, digitial technology, shifting business models, and so forth it didn’t say anything whatsoever about the consumer experience. The article is instead framed around a financial clash—and in some ways even more fundamentally a cultural clash—between artists and “the digerati” all framed in a heavily moralized manner. What’s missing from this is the actual point of intellectual property policy, namely to create an environment in which the audience has ample works to enjoy.

Actually, that’s not at all the point of intellectual property (IP) policy.  The very name should make that abundantly clear.  The whole thrust of IP policy is a discussion of ownership.  It is, at its core, a property law.

That said, both Lowery and Yglesias, and most people in this fight, seem to miss a fundamental piece of the puzzle.

Ownership vs. Access

I was at the annual Cable Show last wek in Boston and listened to perhaps the most salient, and overlooked point in the whole discussion of intellectual property.  Vevo CEO Rio Caraeff summed it up in a panel discussion of content business models. At about the 15 minute mark, he discusses the clash as not one over payment, but one of a somewhat generational shift in the concept of ownership.

 I think that we’re going through a generational shift between a generation that values ownership to a generation that values access. And I think that we are living in between both worlds right now.

The truth of that point simply cannot be overstated and the Yglesias-Lowery disconnect is a perfect example.

Lowery is ten years older than I. Yglesias is 10 years younger.  I can see, from that vantage point, both worlds.  I came of age in an era of music ownership.  I had huge casette, CD, VHS, and DVD collections. I explored music through genres just as Caraeff explains.  Like him, I didn’t dive into classical music because it was way down my list of musical categories that I enjoyed.

However, I was also an early adopter of technology owning a cell phone in 93 and an Internet connection largely before there was an Internet.  I grew up, like most kids Yglesias age, with the Internet in ways most of my peers did not.  When Napster came along I dove right in and explored music in ways that Caraeff explains, but which were not, strictly speaking, legal under our IP laws.

Lowery is, in many ways, not arguing for business models, he is arguing for ownership. He sees issues with IP law because it does not place enough emphasis on ownership (either his or the consumers’).  Yglesias sees the existing IP policy as nearly perfect because it places value on access.

Viewed in that context, much of the current debate over content industries (news, music, movies, books, etc) makes perfect sense.

Much of the discussion of “viewing windows” in the movie industry is based on the same idea.  The rise of Netflix stems from people wanting to have access to a library of long-tail content, rather than ownership of a favorite movie.  The industry, however, is still focused on getting people to buy DVDs.  They are focused on ownership as a model.

Lowery is correct in that we have traded a small number of companies that provided physical distribution of content for a small number of companies that provide digital access to content.  The “new boss” is a fact of life.  That said, short of sending casette tapes to people by mail, you are limited in your ability to reach the masses unless you have a platform that has been adopted by the masses.  That used to be radio and record stores, now it’s the Internet media companies.

Nothing is stopping musicians from making music, and many will continue to make a living from touring.  But just as not everyone who plays basketball will get a shot at the NBA, becoming a rock star will still require a huge audience.  The upside, in an access environment, is the number of people who find who, and who may become fans, is greater.

If You Think CISPA Will Be Like SOPA, Think Again

I’m hearing a lot of people make the comparison of cybersecurity legislation’s coming fate and the beat down that was taken recently by SOPA/PIPA (two pieces of legislation meant to strengthen protections for intellectual property – and mainly championed by the movie industry).

Now that Congress is considering legislation to address the perceived threat to our infrastructure posed by cybercrime, a lot of people are suggesting that the grassroots opposition to SOPA/PIPA will rise up against CISPA. (Note: when I refer to CISPA, I am speaking broadly about cybersecurity legislation, and not specifically about the House version carrying that acronym.)

If you expect online activism to save us from bad legislation in this case, you need to rethink your world view.  The difference between the two is quite simple, but makes the likelihood of passage almost certain, even in the face of opposition.

Cybersecurity legislation is likely to pass regardless because all the power and authority that stems from the bill will accrue to government.  SOPA/PIPA largely benefited private industry.  The content creators would get a great deal more from the legislation, but it would create a hedache for ISPs, content aggregators, and others.  Not even the inclusion of anticounterfeiting provisions could address the fact that this was largely MPAA’s bill. Even most of those urging passage were generally fairly tacit in their support.

CISPA is nothing like that.  Most of the ISPs don’t like it. Most of the web’s big players don’t like it. The people that are really excited about it are those that want more power to watch you – the Justice Department.

If you look at the provisions in the bill that concern people the most, they are the provisions most vague.  They also are the provisions that deal with your rights.

If you think that the same people who brought you the Patriot Act are going to cower in the face of opposition to usurping more of your rights, or turn to run from the challenge, you are mistaken.

Make no mistake, cybersecurity legislation will pass.  It will pass in a form that makes most sensible people nervous, and it will be misused by our guardians.  That’s the nature of this type of legislation, and no Internet blackout will stop it.

Juice Fast – Day Three

It’s now been almost 72 hours since solid food passed my lips.  That’s something I never thought I’d say outside of surgery or old age.

The many and assorted ways you can blend juices are fascinating to me.  Some result in concoctions that are actually quite good – even for vegetables.  Others make me want to vomit, but I can’t because there’s nothing left in my stomach. I suppose there is always dry heaves.

I was really expecting hunger pangs and moodiness, but that hasn’t happened.  Many of the personal accounts of fasting I have read indicate that the first few days are miserable.  It actually hasn’t been bad at all.

Of course, that may be because I had largely detoxed my diet before starting this.  While we were on vacation two weeks ago I went cold turkey on caffeine, I gave up sugar a year ago, and my biggest weakness was steak and pizza – which actually aren’t terribly bad – from a health perspective – if done in moderation.

I don’t drink, don’t smoke, and drugs are a young man’s game.  So there really wasn’t a lot to withdraw from.

In all, the three days have actually not been bad at all.  I could probably keep this going indefinitely – were it not for the vile and repulsive flavors of some of these juices.  That’s really the only thing that would nudge me off.  One more glass of something as horrid as “Gazpacho Juice” and I might throw in the towel.


Juice Fasting Day One

Several years ago I read an article about a guy who had volunteered to do a 7 day juice fast. For those not aware of juice fasting, it’s a popular trend for people looking to “detox” or purge the body of all the crap we consume on a daily basis.

I was interested in it simply because of the exceptionally graphic detail the author went into regarding the intestine cleansing effects.  In other words, you have a tendency, when you stop consuming solids, for your body to release the inner goop from your digestive tract.  In the author’s case, he dropped a marble in a bathroom visit that he specifically recalled swallowing as a chid.

After watching a documentary called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, I was particularly impressed by the health benefits portrayed, but still skeptical.  If juice fasting could help get the body recentered, great. At worst, I figured, it might help me develop a taste for the vegetables I have managed to avoid for most of my life.

So I have kicked off what is planned as a 10 day fast. April and I are doing it together (it was actually her idea, but I have always been keen to try it, so I went along easily.)

So far it hasn’t been bad, with the exception of a juice called “gazpacho juice”.  It’s a combination of plum tomatoes, cucumber, celery, red bell pepper. red onion, parsley and lime. While it sounds harmless enough, it’s actually some of the worst stuff I have ever put in my mouth.

I’ll keep posting over the next ten days with my thoughts and progress.

Dear Apple: What The Hell Were You Thinking?

Due to a recent incident, I decided to secure my personal electronics against loss/theft/compromise by strengthening/creating locks and passwords. The iPhone, I discovered, actually does allow you to use a better password for locking the device than the simple four-digit PIN.

However, once you enable a longer (more secure) password, the method of entering it changes in an interesting way:

The problem, if you don’t se it immediately, is kind of subtle.  For purposes of making it clearer, let me give you an example of just about any other entry screen on the device:

Do you see it now?

That little blue button on the lower right is typically the button you hit to complete your entry.

Sometimes it says “Go”, sometimes it says “Search”, but it’s always the button you hit to make the magic happen.

When you hit that button on your passcode entry, however, you get a pop up that says “Are you sure you want to call the police you jackass?”

Ok, actually it pops up a dial pad so you can hit up 911, but the effect is the same.

Your first reaction is to say “WTF?  Where did that come from?”

Your second reaction is to hit the back button, re-enter your code, hit the blue button again, and only then realize that this is the one place that blue button doesn’t perform consistently.

It’s not clear, exactly, why Apple would choose to muck with its interface only in this one instance, but there it is.

Apple should really consider making that the “OK” button to complete your passcode and put the Emergency call button somewhere else.

That Depends on What the Definition of ‘Lobbying’ Is…

When Bill Clinton famously justified his perjury by arguing the meaning of the word “is”, it took semantic nonsense to a whole new level. His whole statement, however, was more than the one sentence, and really captures the bizarre parlor games politicians and lawyers will try to play with words to avoid responsibility.

“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the–if he–if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement….Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”

The lengths to which DC politicos will go to hide from the public is truly astounding, and today has seen a whole new level reached.  Consider the ridiculous semantic gymnastics on display here.

Business Forward and a similar group, the Common Purpose Project, say the meetings don’t violate any rules and aren’t even lobbying in the traditional sense. But the companies funding Business Forward and the wealthy donors that subsidize CPP ’s operation are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year in large part because of what they offer: special access. …

“Common Purpose Project was founded to support the progressive movement, and our outreach efforts to the White House are designed to promote the progressive agenda,” said Smith, who also sits on Business Forward’s board. “When a legislative issue develops some urgency, we’re positioned to convene key progressive players to focus on that issue and invite the White House to participate in a dialogue.”

I’ve been in DC for 12 years now, and involved in politics for 20.  I’ve been watching politics, thanks to my folks, for about 40.  In all that time, I have never seen a line of semantic nonsense this deep.

The definition of lobbying is pretty clear:

a group of persons who work or conduct a campaign to influence members of a legislature to vote according to the group’s special interest; to try to influence the actions of (public officials, especially legislators); to urge or procure the passage of (a bill), by lobbying.

Now it seems pretty clear that a legislative issue typically develops urgency when its passage or failure is about to be determined through either a vote or by being scuttled.  Should you convene a dialogue to discuss the passage or failure of that legislative issue, and invite both public officials and special interests to participate, you are lobbying, dammit.

Lobbying, whether you approve of the practice or not, has been a part of our government since the beginning, and as long as we have underpaid and overworked staffers working for underinformed and overzealous legislators, we’re going to have people that want, and frankly need, to explain complex issues.  They are going to hear from people whose livelihood will be impacted by bad decisions in DC.

That’s a fact that all the denunciations of lobbying and all the effort to call it something else will never prevent.

Lobbyists are typically honest about their craft.  They understand their place in the world and the skills they have.  Think of Nick Naylor in Thank You For Smoking.

BF and CPP are right. We shouldn’t call them lobbyists.  To do so demeans the hard-working lobbyist. BF and CPP are a breed of animal that resides six levels deeper in the strata of prehistoric frog feces that is DC.

If lobbying is a game of whores and thieves, BF and CPP are little better than pimps who simply schedule the hotel rooms where the action takes place.  They willingly arrange “dates” between their upscale clientele and the low-dollar working girls (and boys) in Congress and the White House.

Shame on them for trying to hide what they are, and shame on the American people for continually letting people and groups like this foist blatant lies and verbal contortions upon them.

The Real Numbers Behind AT&T’s Price “Increase”

It has been interesting to watch the reaction to AT&T’s price “increases” today – interesting in that most of the chatter on AT&T’s rate increase focuses solely on prices going up.  There really is a bigger story there:

 First, the increases:

AT&T Data Plus 300MB: $20 for 300MB
AT&T Data Pro 3GB: $30 for 3GB (up from $25)
AT&T Data Pro 5GB: $50 for 5GB, with mobile hotspot / tethering

The lowest tier is $5 higher (33%) but comes with 300MB instead of 200MB (50% more).  The net effect is a reduction in the cost per 100MB from $7.5 to $6.66. If my math is right, that’s about an 11% decline.

The middle tier also rises $5 (20%) but comes with 3GB instead of 2GB (50% more).  So the cost per gigabyte actually dropped $2.50. A net reduction of 20% per GB.At the high end, the rate has actually dropped by $5 from $55 to $50 (see this price chart from PCMag just a few months ago). That’s a 9% decline.

Most of the coverage I have seen mentions the rate increase only in the lower and middle tier. I suspect the reason nobody is commenting on the higher tier in most of the coverage is because it contradicts the “rates are rising” storyline.  Why let facts get in the way of a good article, right?

The price drop for heavier users, and the fact that you are paying less for the equivalent amount of bandwidth, is largely unreported. I guess it just doesn’t fit with the established narrative that telecom companies are out to take more money but not improve service.

Why Skylanders is the Future of Gaming, and Why that Terrifies Me

For Christmas, Santa brought my son a video game called Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure.  The game, aimed at 8-12 year olds, is amusing to play and T2 and I have spent a fair amount of time blasting our way through the Skylander universe.  What’s fascinating about the game, however, is the mechanics behind it.  The way the game operates is, I believe, the future of gaming.  Let me tell you why…

The Portal

Skylanders is based on series of character tokens that enter and exit the world via a power portal. Game characters are sold as action figure tokens – the dragon in the image below.  To select a character in game, you simply drop a new token on the portal.  The switch is instant, negating the need to change classes or restart chapters.  Simply swap out your token and a different character appears on screen.

Skylanders Power Portal

The characters come in eight different series – air, earth, fire, water, life, undead, tech, and magic.  Each series has, at present, four different character tokens, for a total of 32 different playable characters.

As your characters progress in the game, their stats, powers, and equipment are stored locally on the token.  Take your favorite token to a friend’s house, drop it on his portal, and play with all the same characteristics you had on your own.

More importantly, however, you can drop your token onto his portal regardless of whether you have the same game system.  You play Xbox but your friend plays PlayStation?  Doesn’t matter.  You can play head to head or cooperatively with your tokens on the other platform.

Why this Game is Important

There are several factors at play that mark this game as a critical marker in video game evolution.  For some time now, the concept of downloadable content has been seen as the great future of gaming.  The console would simply be a storage platform for games and future releases and expansion packs would be delivered via the Internet.  That model is flipped on its head by Skylanders, but it is also complemented by it.

The downloadable content model simply continues two inherent flaws in the console model.  The restrictive nature of consoles is such that you can only play with friends on the same console. I can’t play Call of Duty with my nephew because he has a PS3 while I prefer Xbox.

If we play split screen on his system, none of my achievements carry over to my own console.  Making my character portable, as Skylanders has done, divorces my game play from the console.

In addition, Skylanders has created expansion packs as tokens as well.  For instance, the Pirate Seas expansion (below) includes a pirate ship token that unlocks additional playable content.  Like the character tokens, those expansion worlds exist separately from the console.

Skylanders Pirate Seas Expansion

If I take my token to a friends machine, we can play the expansion even if he hasn’t purchased it.  When I take it home, the expansion goes with me.

The folks at Activision have made great efforts toward solving the digital rights management issue by making your content token based.

The Big Problems With Gaming

The main flaws in the gaming experience today are the lack of console interoperability, the lack of character portability, and the means by which content creators can protect their product.  With Skylanders, Activision has addressed all three.

The ability to keep chatracters separate from the game, to unlock expansions with a token rather than the console, and to move both freely between platforms will be a model more game manufacturers adopt.

While making great strides in addressig these flaws, Activision has also created fairly attractive game collectibles.  As long as they maintain support for previous generations of character, as the develop additional Skylander games, these collectibles can become a lasting investment in the games you own.  I just wish my character from the the first Fable could have been carried forward into future Fable frachise games.

In addition, the tokens are relatively attractive figures in their own right, making your collection equally interesting as a long term collectible.

It’s not often that I am truly impressed by game innovation.  I find most experiments of this nature to be fairly uninspired.  In this case, however, I think Activision may have scored a big win.  I expect to see other games employing the same mechanics – likely in the very near future.

Why that Scares the Hell Out of Me

While I am very impressed with the game and the token system, I am also a bit nervous about it.

As I mentioned, there are 32 playable characters across the Skylanders universe, a handful of “special” character exclusives only available at some retailers, and two expansion packs.  Each character token costs about seven bucks.  Buy the game starter kit (with the portal, disk and three characters) and you’re out $60.  Many in-game items require accessing locked areas that can only be opened by characters from a particular series.  The minimum investment to have enough characters to open all areas is another 5 tokens or $35-40.  To collect all the characters, you would be north of $200.

That’s probably not a big deal when you consider the typical cycle of a game, the expansion packs, and other DLC.

A token scenario for a game like Call of Duty could look significantly less complex.  For instance, having a token that could carry a single custom loadout would allow you to port your best class to a friend’s console.  That could also allow you to carry the experience and weapons you gain back from that console to your own.  It would still allow Activision to sell additional classes as tokens, however.

If token based characters and content catch on, and I think they likely will, it could make gaming a more expensive proposition for the hardcore gamer or collector.

The Case for Student Loan Reform, But Not How You Think…

So President Obama is in Denver today talking about how to ease student loan debt.  In yet another example of the politics of big government, he’s expected to reduce the amount students would have to pay per year (implementing a cap at 10% of salary) and push for forgiveness of debt at 20 years rather than the current 25.

The amount of student debt in the US is massive; over a trillion dollars currently.  Americans currently owe more in student loan debt than they do on credit cards.  The Stafford Loan, for instance, allows students to borrow up to $57,500 as an independent (with no parental support).  Students often compound commercial and federal loans into enormous sums of money – often under the assumption that they’ll be able to find work upon graduation.

Now before you suggest that’s the problem, look again.  The Labor Department for September of 2011 shows an unemployment rate of only 4.5% for those with a college degree.  So an inability to find jobs doesn’t seem to be the norm for graduates.

So we have people investing in their education, and rightly finding work after graduation.  Should be no problem, right?

No.  The problem is two-fold.  The average student debt for 2011 graduates is $22,900.  Since many graduates will have less or even no debt, the numbers among those who took loans is likely significantly higher.

The average salary of 2011 graduates entering the workforce is only $36,866. provides a handy list of the average annual salary by degree.  It shows the salary for history, sociology, anthropology and others typically starting in the mid-30s and topping out ‘mid-career’ around $60,000.  Based on regional differences, in reality, you have students graduating who may have more debt that they can possibly make – even at Payscale’s “mid-career” salary level.

If we’re going to make changes to how that debt is repaid, we should also make changes to how it is accumulated.  The entire practice of student loans should be reformed in two significant ways.

Capping Student Loans

First, student loans should be subject to the same earnings litmus test that applies to other credit, but more strictly.

Credit cards, home loans, and other consumer debt limits are typically predicated on your ability to repay that debt.  Amex doesn’t hand out black cards to college kids with no income for good reason – they have little ability to repay.  Home loans, at least in theory if not in practice, require you to prove income before you can qualify for more home than you can afford.

Student loans have none of that. Student loans rarely take into account the potential future earnings of the student.  As mentioned, students frequently compound loans.  The problem is it becomes very easy to accumulate more debt than your future earnings will accommodate.

Student loans should be capped at no more than the average annual salary for a student with that degree.  If a student is likely to make no more than $32,000 with a degree in social work, they shouldn’t be allowed to accumulate loans of $57,500 or more.  By capping total student loans for that degree at $32,000 (combining both direct federal and commercial) and applying the administration’s 10% annual limit for repayment, most student loans should be paid off in significantly less than the twenty years proposed for forgiveness (low-interest rates being assumed).

It is inexcusable that students are allowed to graduate carrying debt nearly as high as, or higher than, their ‘mid-career’ earnings.

Restrictions on Student Loan Usage

Often students take out more loan than they need for tuition and books in order to cover living expenses and other incidentals.  Any credit expert will tell you that putting meals and perishables on a credit card is a terrible idea as the interest increases the cost of those items many times over by the time it is paid off.  Student loans have no such restrictions, and unless things have changed dramatically, there are no caveats against using loans this way.

Stafford Loans, as just one example, carry restrictions that the money is too be used for tuition, books, room, board, or “other education related expenses.”  So what qualifies, exactly?  It’s hard to say.  A search for “Stafford Loan Eligible Expenses” turns up absolutely nothing from the Department of Education on the subject, and the FAQs many schools host have that vague “other” language.  Apparently a used car is an education related expense, as are sneakers, iPods, or anything else.

Since the schools typically hand you a check or direct deposit the funds, there is really no telling what those expenses might be.

If we want to help students who are looking at debt based on future earnings, the least we should do is bring these restrictions in line with sound financial advice.  Allowing students to rack up debt on things Big Macs and tennis shoes is ridiculous.  The education system should limit the way these funds are expended so they cover actual school expenses.  The school should not be in the business of doling out excess funds to 18 year-olds for discretionary spending.

Just recalling my own college experience, I can tell you the day loan excess was disbursed was like a Roman orgy.  The only thing “school related” about the spending were the excuses for why you couldn’t make it to that 8 a.m. class the next morning.

By making these two simple changes, student loan debt might actually be used in accordance with the goal of getting an education.  It would, at the very least, ensure that degree in social work doesn’t come with a debt you’ll never be able to repay.

Overriding Autocorrect Dictionary on iOS 5

I had heard that iOS 5 would allow you to override the autocorrect dictionary.  That feature alone would make the upgrade worthwhile to me.  After downloading the latest OS, I went looking for the edit function.

I found a number of references to adding international keyboards, but those weren’t doing the trick for my outdated 3GS.

I did, however, discover the trick.  Here’s the easy way to override your dictionary on even the oldest phones.

First, choose Settings -> General -> Keyboard:

Below “International Keyboards,” you will see “Shortcutss”:

Hit “Add New Shortcut”:

Now enter the word you find iPhone continually correcting as both the phrase and the shortcut:

(iPhone changes “hell” to “he’ll”, which I find highly annoying.)

Hit save, and iOS will never correct that word again.


That’s it.  No international keyboards. No hoops.

A La Carte for Video Games

Last night I tweeted something mostly to mock the “free culture” movement that doesn’t want to pay for anything.  Since I mostly play the multiplayer versions of video games, and rarely spend any time at all with the storyline, I made the following comment:

A la carte for video games! Why should I have to buy the storyline just to get the multiplayer?

Since then, it occurred to me that there is a larger point to be made from that idea.  Everyone agrees that a disk based video game industry is on the way out.  As next generation consoles include more drive capacity, broadband speeds continue to rise; and optical drives fall aside in favor of downloadable content, the idea of a straight download model makes sense.

As delivery changes, the options for sales grow.  Services like OnLive, Steam and the Xbox Live Arcade clearly illustrates that streaming or direct to drive game delivery are models that work.  Given the removal of physical constraints that accompany disks, there is little reason game companies couldn’t provide three versions of a game – multiplayer, storyline, and a combo pack.

If they did, people like me would never buy the storyline again.  I simply don’t find the storyline game all that interesting.  Linear games are boring affairs and open-world can get just as tedious.  Multiplayer is infinitely variable depending on the opposition.  Campers (those cowardly rat bastards) aside, human players make a more interesting game.

If I could buy just the multiplayer for half the cost of the combo pack, I’d buy a lot more games.  My total contribution to the industry wouldn’t drop, but it would be spread out across a wider array of companies.  I suspect a lot of people would do the same.

The possibility of owning a larger library of games I would play (multiplayer) and keeping my drive from being all crudded  up with storyline crap, appeals to me.  I hope the game developers will realize the options available to them and consider breaking up the product.

That said, I’m not about to demand FCC acton to regulate game companies to make that happen.

Why Apps Might Just Save Content

(Cross posted at Digital Society)

In the early days of the Internet, the newspaper industry made a terrible miscalculation.  Under the belief that the first newspaper available on the Internet would own the space, publishers worked furiously to make content available – largely for free.

The trouble with giving something away for free is it becomes terribly hard to start charging for it later.

Even free evangelists like Mike Masnick understand that you are forced to make money off of things around the free, as opposed to the free product itself.  Masnick often cites musicians as the case study – just accept the fact that you’ll never make money off the music and instead sell concert tickets and t-shirts.

So the newspapers pooched the deal when they went online for free, undercut their own business, and now cannot move to a pay model.

The video content industry would be wise to learn from this, but often seems doomed to repeat the mistakes of both music and newspapers.  More and more programmers are handing their content out for free; and not just the broadcasters who have always been free.  They seem to be operating under the same ridiculous construct that killed news – “this is the future, so we better get on board or be left behind.”

But television isn’t music, nor is it newspaper.  There is an absolute glut of news and music in the world.  Anyone can create either with minimal effort.

Compelling, stimulating, on the edge of your seat video is something altogether different.  Any monkey can pick up a camera and shoot video.  YouTube has proven that. But very few people watch YouTube 160 hours per month. News doesn’t approach that figure and neither does music. Only TV generates that kind of consumption.


Anti-Green: The Modern Parking Meter

As I was driving home this evening I couldn’t help but notice the staggering number of little slips of paper on my dash.  Our office is in a part of town with a lot of parking meters.  Most of the old school meters have been replaced with the single kiosk that accepts credit cards.

As I was pondering the paper, it occurred to me that while most things are moving toward a leaner, greener footprint, the parking meters are actually going the other way.

Old school parking meters require no electricity.  They generate no waste paper. They don’t involve dial up or broadband networks to process the transactions.

Moving to a system that is more “efficient” has actually moved us to a system that generates paper waste and consumes electricity (albeit relatively small amounts) for the computing power to handle the credit card transactions and keep the kiosk running.

At a time when we say we want things to be more green, we’ve replaced almost the perfect green model with one that is arguably the anti-green solution.  It just demonstrates that our commitment to environmental friendliness ends when we can come up with a solution that makes our lives a little easier.

Wasteful, Inefficient Government Ideas That Refuse To Die

A new piece in Fast Company today highlights the Administration’s renewed push for high speed rail.

For those keeping score of wasteful, inefficient government ideas that refuse to die, back in April of 2009, Team Obama announced an $8 billion push for high speed rail.  I noted at the time the almost complete inability to go north by train.  I also noted the old adage that trains offer all the discomfort and cost of air travel, but in six times the time.

All of that still holds true.  The new plan still foresees a US population only concerned with lateral movement, and one that wants to pay top dollar for low value.

The one thing that changed is the price tag.  Now the government wants to spend $53 billion taxpayer dollars (a 6.5 fold increase in the cost) to subsidize a mode of travel that has never been profitable in the US.

That’s change we can believe in, and what counts as a commitment to responsible spending by the administration these days.

Taco Bell Now Transphobic AND Bashing Immigrants

I’m not sure who is doing Taco Bell’s advertising, but speaking as someone who does communications for a living, I think they should be fired immediately.

Apparently it wasn’t enough to bash the transgendered.  That ad was pulled and they issued a formal apology.  Now the fast food giant’s advertising brain trust has set their sights on a new scourge facing America – Hispanics who sell food door-to-door in offices.

For a couple of years out of college I worked in a warehouse – arriving every day at 5:30 am to get the morning shipments out the door.  Around 6:45 every morning, a guy would arrive carrying a cooler chest full of breakfast burritos.  They were, and to this day, remain some of my favorite burritos.

The point to that little anecdote is this: I would pay $5.50 for one of those burritos right now, before I would consider spending ninety-nine cents at Taco Bell.  The quality was far superior.  The larger reason, though, is that the Hispanic guy selling them got up earlier than I did every morning, made dozens of breakfast burritos, and then spent his morning selling them door-to-door.  He had drive, a good recipe, and found a way to support himself peddling those burritos. That deserves my support far more than Taco Bell does.

Taco Bell, part of a giant conglomerate of sketchy food brands, is now bashing exactly that sort of hard working individual – suggesting that it’s proud to be undercutting them and pushing them out.

That’s a lovely campaign.  Taco Bell should really be proud of themselves and their ad firm.