Signs of the End Times: The Nut Locker Flush Valve Anti-Theft Device

I was using the facilities in a gas station restroom on the outskirts of Houston yesterday when I noticed an interesting piece of hardware on the urinal before me. (Yes, I was going #1 at the time.)

It was stamped with the name “Nut Locker,” and after looking at it for a few seconds, I understood what it was for—to prevent the theft of the urinal flush valve by covering the large nut that connects it to the fixture’s water supply.

All at once my mind reeled with the significance of two pieces of information I had been completely ignorant of seconds before: First, that urinal flush valve theft was a thing, and, second, that it’s such a big thing that at least one company, Punter Distributing of Houston, has designed, manufactured and marketed a product to combat it.

Once reconciled to this new information, it did not surprise me that Houston might be both the epicenter of flush valve theft and the efforts to prevent it.

God help us.

Apple can't sell me a watch, but their early adopters might.

With very few exceptions (backpack vacuum cleaner, e-cigarettes, treadmill desk, Jose Altuve), I am not an early adopter.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, my current desire for the newly launched Apple Watch is a 1. I know lots of people are ordering them, and I hope they enjoy them, but it’s not for me.

At least not yet. I’m not naive enough to proclaim that I will never buy a new class of Apple product just because I don’t “get it” when the product comes out.

I didn’t get the iPod when it came out. A couple of years later, after seeing people use them for a while helped me “get it,” I bought a second or third generation iPod from a friend who was upgrading to the latest generation. I used the hell out of that thing and came to see it as an amazing product. I later supplemented it with an iPod Shuffle.

Same with the iPhone. I didn’t really get what it was about, or how it would be more useful to me than the mobile phone I then had. Now I’m on my second iPhone, having upgraded to the last two previous versions when their replacements came out (i.e., I got the iPhone 4 when the 5 came out, and I got the iPhone 5 when the 6 came out).

In both cases, I came to understand the utility and desirability of these devices by observing how earlier adopters used them.
I find that pretty interesting. In both cases, my desire started at around 1, but I ultimately acquired the items once I saw and understood how other people used them and relied on them. And I came to rely on them a lot, too.

Apple knows this. They know that there are scads of people who will buy the next cool Apple thing as soon as it comes out, whether they need it or understand it or not. And they know there are even more people like me, who will wait and see how those early adopters take to the product and, in so doing, define the way it is used and shape the narrative about how it is described.

Sure, I’ve read quite a bit about the watch on Apple.com and other sites, and I’ve read some early reviews. But right now, Apple can’t sell me a watch. I don’t wear a watch, I don’t want a watch, and I sure don’t want to spend a few hundred bucks on a new type of watch that I don’t see the utility in.

I can read statements like (and I’m paraphrasing here) “integrates the various components of your digital life” until the cows come home, but until I see what that actually means to people, to me it’s as abstract as abstract can be.

Yet, I wouldn’t bet against me wearing one by 2018.

Do banned beer ads and empty tower blocks signify the Iran-ification of Turkey?

Leaving Kayseri; a pristine mosque occupies an otherwise barren easement between railroad tracks and a warehouse complex. Photo by T. van den Bout

About two weeks ago, I returned from a two-week vacation in Turkey. A conversation with a young Turkish man, a look at the dark side of one of Turkey’s vaunted “Anatolian tigers,” and the brief crackdown on the Turkish press following last week’s fatal hostage-taking incident in Istanbul got me thinking about the future of Turkey and it’s young people.

First, the young man.

“Do you think you’ll stay in Turkey?” one of us asked him.

“Not if it turns into Iran,” he replied with some sadness, but without hesitation.

He was in his early 20s. Like many Turks we met, he’d been born in a Western country where his family had emigrated, and had moved back with them. Some of these returnees came home before the start of Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime, and some likely because of it.

Erdoğan was Turkey’s prime minister and is now its president, traditionally a much less powerful position. Even though his party’s chairmanship term limits forced him out of the PM post, many believe the new PM is just his puppet. After 12 years of rule, Erdoğan still tightly holds the reins of power in the country, and he seems to have no intention of letting go.   

The early years of his regime heralded a new era of Turkish progress, freedom and openness. And there seems to be little debate that in many important ways, Turkey and Turks are better off since Erdoğan’s rule than before it.

Many emigrant Turkish families, familiar with the comforts of life in Western countries but tired of permanent second-class status, moved back. For them, the heady early days of Erdoğan’s reign must’ve seemed especially promising.

But Erdoğan’s push to remain in power seems tied increasingly to his government’s efforts to expand the Islamization of Turkish civil law. We were told, for instance, that signs promoting the sale of alcohol, though not its actual sale, were banned about a year ago. As with Coke in this country, the company that makes Efes, the Budweiser of Turkey, supplied custom signage to thousands of small neighborhood markets, complete with the Efes name, logo and colors. Now there are new signs, but the Efes name and logo don’t appear on them. But—branding!—the colors remain, so everyone, locals and tourists alike, know that Efes beer and other alcohol is sold within.

A beer brand (but not its slogan) covered over in an Istanbul restaurant. When I took this photo, the panel covering up the name looked much closer in color to the background. Only the camera flash revealed there was a brand name underneath.

The ban on alcohol ads and many other creeping legal impositions of Islamic mores and rules has our young friend, and no doubt many of his peers, pondering whether Turkey is where they want to spend the rest of their lives.

It’s not as if Islam is having a hard time there. Though by its constitution Turkey is a secular country, well over 90% of Turks identify as Muslim. But just as in the U.S., what belonging to a religion means in actual practice varies widely from person to person, and region to region.

Which brings us to that Anatolian tiger.

Two of Turkey’s three largest cities, Istanbul and Izmir, are considered its most liberal and progressive. Together, they are home to a little more than 20% of Turkey’s population. Though there are plenty of conservative Muslims in both, they are also the big concentrations of liberal thought and political leanings.

Kayseri is Turkey’s 11th largest city, and one of its fastest growing, with its booming industrial and construction sectors earning it its “Anatolian tiger” status. Lonely Planet also cites it as the second most devout Muslim city in Turkey. I don’t know what that’s based on, but I’ma run with it.*

We saw parts of Kayseri, and undoubtedly the worst parts, because it is the domestic air travel hub for Turkey’s Cappadocia region. We saw the parts we had to see to get the hell out of Dodge.

Granted, no one anywhere who can help it wants to live near the airport, so its easy for travelers just passing through to get an unfair picture of a place by only seeing the surrounding environs.

That said, ass-ugly does not do justice to the miles and miles of Kayseri and its outskirts that we saw.

First, nearest the airport, there were row upon row of new, and apparently vacant, housing blocks. The style that came to mind was, “Post-Soviet Kleptocratist.” These were big, completely charmless and weirdly ornamented buildings, when they were ornamented at all. And I’m including being painted entirely in Mylanta orange as ornamentation.

But above all, to me these big empty buildings were cheap-looking. The men who built them may not have been paid well, but some folks somewhere had to have made piles of dough—there were dozens of these brand-new empty ugly buildings. The post-Soviet reference may not be far off either, seeing as how Erdoğan and Putin seem to have a bro thing going on. Once free housing stopped being part of the plan in Russia, there were undoubtedly a lot of job-seeking former bureaucrats with a talent for converting government revenue (or, even better, debt) into sad architecture on a massive scale, while generating fat paydays for insiders.

After the tower block section came Kayseri’s Motor Mile-and-a-Half, an endless parade of sparkling new car dealerships. Hi, Kia. Oh, hi Hyundai. Looking swell, Mercedes. And, hey, Peugot! You’re still a car?! I guess so, in Turkey!

Then we progressed into the Eraserhead industrial section. Imagine Fitzgerald’s Valley of Ashes times ten. U.S. concrete plants are models of minimal impact compared to Turkey’s. Yes, it’s a messy business, and there everyone who lives or drives by it has to deal with it.

At the heart of Eraserhead-ville, we drove past a massive processing plant or refinery. Your guess is as good as mine. To me it looked like one enormous plumbed contraption that conducted whatever it was that it conveyed through some very large and befuddlingly-shaped appurtenances. Was it almost art but for being ugly? Or because of it? I still can’t say for sure.

Kayseri is a city, but Turkey is a country with some 11,000 rural or rural-ish villages. I think of our young friend, his fears, and how it seems that Erdoğan’s escalating embrace of Islamization coincides with his efforts to hold on to power that is becoming increasingly autocratic. I think of those endless empty tower blocks in Turkey’s second-most devout city and wonder if Erdoğan means to fill them with rural Turks, who are more likely to be conservative, and might show gratitude and loyalty for getting to take part in Turkey’s economic miracle, even if it means dirty, dangerous work in Eraserhead-ville and coming home to a brand new, depressing brutalist slum in the sky. For many, it may well be a better deal than what they have.

You could fit a shit-ton of loyal political partisans in those tower blocks is all I’m saying. And add to and consolidate your power in the process, making a minor urban stronghold a more major one.

And turning Turkey more into Iran.

Make no mistake, this rural-to-urban Kayseri relocation scheme is complete and total 100% speculation on my part and quite possibly complete and total 100% bullshit. What I know is that I saw a bunch of brand new empty apartment buildings that looked like they had to be government-built. And I created an explanation based on my sketchy grasp of Turkish affairs and a brief conversation with one young man. But on my side I would just mention that not only did I read Lonely Planet: Turkey, I went to Turkey: The Actual Country. For two whole weeks.

As to the Istanbul hostage-taking and it’s bloody ending and how it relates, I somehow missed the actual event in the news last week. I only learned about it yesterday, reading about the Turkish government’s punitive response to news media outlets that ran a photo, first posted on Twitter, of the hostage, a government prosecutor, with a gun to his head. Aside from blocking Twitter and other sites that ran the photo (evidently only for a short time), the government decreed that offending Turkish media organizations were barred from covering the prosecutor’s funeral.

The bullyish press clampdown reminded me of our young acquaintance, and it got me wondering whether the looming tower blocks cast more shadows darkening his future.


(*Here’s a BBC article from 2007 that compares and contrasts secularism and devout Islam between Izmir and Kayseri.)

 

16 Explosive Statements About ClickHole, the Onion’s New Parody Site

 

  1. Clickhole exists to parody the insipid viral content that is coming to dominate the web. The site was launched earlier this summer.

  2. It’s produced by the people who publish The Onion.

  3. Sample posts include, “23 Insanely Mind-Blowing Facts About the Class of 2018.”

  4. These posts are full of a combination of the funnily mundane (“First off, they’re graduating in 2018”) and the absurdly specious (“None of them have vestigial tails.”)

  5. That “vestigial tails” line is exactly like something out of my “Did You Know” series of spurious facts on my old site Thot4ThDay site. Eerily similar. Whatever.

  6. On its article pages, Clickhole runs paid ads for the same kinds of viral content it parodies:


  7. It is such a cynically brilliant (or brilliantly cynical) business model, I’m insanely jealous I didn’t think of it myself.

  8. It has a section for parody quizzes, such as “How Many of Grandpa’s Stories Have You Heard?”

  9. At first, while acknowledging the spot-on of-the-moment cultural satire of the site, I wondered how sustainable this essentially one-note satire could be.

  10. But the more I think about it, the more I’ve decided that we, the users of the interwebs, are so collectively credulous and stupid that Clickhole may be a well that never runs dry.

  11. In fact, I wonder if the folks at The Onion didn’t create ClickHole as a frustrated reaction to satirical items from that rag getting viral social play because people actually thought they were real, or could be.

  12. You know, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

  13. And now The Onion folks are laughing all the way to the bank.

  14. The bastards.

  15. The site is an ongoing rickrolling service, ready to supply linkable content to anyone who wants to show how stupid their friends are.

  16. It may be a harbinger of doom.

 

The first dream I have remembered in several years

I almost never remember my dreams. This one from last night is an exception:

I was part of a small group of 4-5 people from the Austin ad agency that was my former employer and is a current freelance client. We were driving to Ford, the automaker, to make a presentation. Of course we weren’t going to Ford-Ford; we were going to a small offshoot operation of Ford, with the idea of getting the agency’s foot in the door.

For some reason, I brought along my dog, Lupita, though I didn’t realize that until later.

Just before the presentation was to start, the snot-nosed art director I had been working with (not a real person, but a dream composite) informed me that I was supposed to co-present with him. Immediate panic set in. I didn’t know I was supposed to co-present! I was just the freelancer! But I resolved I would make the best of it.

We thought we’d be presenting to a group similar in size to ours. Wrong! The meeting room was huge, with chairs and tables widely spread all over the place. The Ford people were moving about freely visiting with one another. It turned out that these presentations were like a school assembly for them—a break from work for a little socializing and entertainment. We were the entertainment.

My snot-nosed art director creative partner started presenting. He was getting killed. Completely ignored. It didn’t help that he was talking in a normal tone of voice, which gradually petered out into defeated muttering as he went on. And we were just sitting in the middle of the room, not up on a stage or dais or anything. We didn’t even have a microphone. I resolved that when he passed it over to me, I would be ready to “perform;” I’d leap up out of my chair, use my bellowing speaking voice to be heard, move around working the room, gesture grandly, command attention, really get people to buy in to what we were selling, whatever that was.

Well, I did all that, but I barely commanded anyone’s attention. As I was presenting, working the crowd, gesturing, trying to get folks engaged, I could tell it was futile. We completely misunderstood the audience we were supposed to present to. While I was still talking I realized that the best we could salvage from this day was the opportunity to return and try again, so I was determined to make that happen. I knew that what we really needed to put this over was a big multimedia presentation and a huge sound and projection system that could not be ignored. These people wanted entertainment, so by God, we’d give it to them!

My part of the presentation ended with a whimper and the Ford people took that as their cue to get up and get refreshments and continue socializing. I immediately began working the crowd, meeting people and trying to pull the right strings for a return invitation.

The Ford people were nice and acted like the fact that our presentation had been ignored was no big deal. They seemed satisfied. I explained that we had been expecting a much smaller meeting, and weren’t prepared for an audience full of people who felt free to continue talking and socializing during the presentation. The small group of folks I was talking too nodded sympathetically and replied, in unison, “That’s Ford!” They all laughed heartily at this.

As we were leaving the building, which somehow I hadn’t realized was so enormous, I started rehearsing what I would tell the executive creative director at the agency (my former boss, the only person from my real life in the dream). He would not be happy we blew it. I was angry at the snot-nosed art director for being so poorly prepared and for failing to tell me I was responsible for presenting with him. I decided I was definitely going to throw him under the bus.

Just then we reached the lobby and I saw my dog, Lupita, being doted on by several Ford ladies. I hadn’t realized that I’d brought her there with me, nor that I had just left her loose to roam the halls of Ford during our presentation. But the Ford people were all cool with it. Apparently, lots of people brought their dogs to work and just let them wander wherever. An informal group of Ford ladies kinda looked after the dogs.

I was really relieved to be reunited with my dog, even though I hadn’t realized we’d been separated in the first place. But by then, my colleagues from the ad agency had all left in the car we’d arrived in, and I had to figure out how to get me and my dog a ride back from that far-flung suburban office park.

And the whole time my mind is churning with ideas for how to put the presentation over at our next opportunity. A huge sound system was a definite must.

Then I woke up.

 

What's going on?

Greetings, Oblogatorians. Just a few quick notes on the sporadic and inconsistent posting schedule of late.

•I’ve been very busy with work, which is really great from a paying the bills standpoint, but kinda overwhelming.

•I’ve also been very busy getting ready to launch the Kickstarter campaign for my second ManChildATX album. I’ve been getting some great constructive feedback on my Kickstarter page, which means I need to do a little more work before I launch. I also need to have some breathing space in my work schedule around the time I launch, so I can obsessively hype it, monitor it and respond to any feedback I get from it. And breathing space in the schedule has been hard to come by. Finally, I’m also really, really nervous and scared to death about the whole thing. But my birthday is at the end of the month, and I definitely want to have it launched by then, so I can use that as a hook to guilt people into helping out. Great strategy, no?

•Lastly, thank you very, very much for reading Oblogatory. It means more to me than you could ever know.

 

10 Lifehacks You Need to Adopt Right Now or You're a Dumbass

When it’s time for a new tube of toothpaste, open the tube and empty it into a pile on the side of the sink (or, for the fastidious, into a clean cereal bowl). Then, when you need toothpaste, just dip into the pile. Saves scads of time squeezin’.

Children are a drain on productivity. Don’t have them, or leave them with relatives.

Simplify your email: divide all messages into two categories, essential and hyper-essential. Transfer messages into one category or the other, then look at neither.

Skip time-consuming showers. Instead, slather your body in hand sanitizer and allow to evaporate dry. As an added bonus, you’ll never launder another towel again.

Schedule all meetings to end before they begin. At the end of the year, you’ll have an extra month to play around with.

Take your house off the grid and put your dog on a magneto-equipped treadmill.

Pray via text message.

Switch to a 100% locavore diet. (Personally, the only exception I make to this rule is when locavores are out of season.)

Confine all weeping to the last Saturday of the month.

Note: Readers may feel free to submit these tips to Lifehacker or similar sites and claim all the credit and glory for themselves. 

Insane Clown Posse sues the Federal Government over Juggalo Harassment

FROM THE YOU CANNOT MAKE THIS SHIT UP DEPARTMENT: 
Shaggy2Dope and Violent J, the rappers you know and love as Insane Clown Posse, are suing the Justice Department and the FBI. A while back, the FBI classified the group’s hardcore fans, known as Juggalos, as a “loosely organized hybrid gang.” And that’s caused some Juggalos, also listed as plaintiffs in the suit, to experience what they describe as harassment from law enforcement types.

Well, without commenting on the merits of the suit, or lack thereof, I hereby submit Exhibit A, ICP’s music video “Miracles.” And I ask you, who owes damages to whom?

 

Investigating a home break-in: we weren't doin' it right

Artist’s composite

It was 2pm yesterday afternoon and Dr. Mrs. Oblogatory had an edge to her voice. “Come check this out. Steve and Edie’s (not their real names) house got broken into. Their door is wide open.” I walked with her two doors down to Steve and Edie’s, and, just as she said, their front door was open. The good doctor had already stuck her head in and noted that the place had been pretty well ransacked. A break-in. Eff.

Steve and Edie were out of town, as they’ve been most weekends recently. One of them has a very sick parent whom they’ve been going to visit a lot. I knew we needed to call them and break the bad news, and since we figured they’d want to know the extent of the damage and what all was missing, we walked through their house, checking out what the thief had done in the night. We also wanted to close the outside doors, several of which had been left wide open. We closed and locked the front door and left out the side door, through the garage.

I told Edie all this when I called her a few minutes later. She got home that evening and called the police. While they were there with her, she called me and asked, “Didn’t you say you guys locked the front door?” “That’s right,” I said. “Huh,” she said, “well, that’s weird, because it was unlocked when I got here.”

A couple of hours later we returned home and noticed the police were still at Edie’s place. I called her to ask if the cops needed to talk to us. They didn’t, but they told her to tell us that we should’ve called 9-1-1 rather than going in the house. We did something kinda stupid.

The whole time we were looking at the damage in Steve and Edie’s, I was thinking the break-in happened in the middle of the night. But since Dr. Mrs. O. had discovered the front door open, we had asked ourselves why we didn’t notice it earlier that morning when we took the dog for a walk. Later, Edie told me that the owner of the vacant house next to hers had been there around noon and saw that Steve and Edie’s front door was closed. When we left their house after our walk-through inventory, though, we’d closed the front door and locked it. When Edie got home, the front door was closed but unlocked.

The police surmise that the burglary happened between noon, when the next-door-neighbor saw the door closed, and 2pm, when Dr. Mrs. Oblogatory saw the door wide open. And they think there’s a good chance the burglar was hiding somewhere inside as we walked through the house. He likely left through the front door once the coast was clear. That’s why the door that we had locked earlier was unlocked when Edie got home. 

All along I had automatically assumed the break-in happened in the middle of the night and that whoever was responsible was long gone. I never even considered the possibility of an early afternoon burglary on a weekend, or that some freaked out dude desperate to avoid being caught could’ve been hiding a few feet away from us.

Lesson learned.

 

For the Kellers, wrongly imprisoned for "ritual satanic abuse," freedom finally at hand

Fran Keller after 21 years in prison for imaginary crimes that speak volumes about the twisted minds that invented them

In a 2009 postscript to “The Innocent and the Damned,” Gary Cartwright’s chilling 1994 Texas Monthly story on Fran and Dan Keller, owners of an Oak Hill daycare center who were falsely convicted of child abuse amidst a wave of paranoia about ritual satanic abuse in the late 80s/early 90s, journalist Cartwright rues that, “the Kellers are now mostly forgotten, a man and a woman locked away out of sight and out of mind.”

But I had never forgotten the Kellers. After reading Cartwright’s story, I don’t know how anyone could. And now, finally, after 21 years in prison, Fran Keller has been released, with Dan Keller soon to follow. According to this story in the American-Statesman by the excellent Chuck Lindell, the Kellers are unlikely to be tried again. Thank God. 

It’s always been a fact that the vast number of child abuse cases are perpetrated by family members. Yet during the heyday of ritual satanic abuse paranoia, childcare workers in a number of high profile cases were accused of a mind-boggling array of twisted crimes, virtually all of which were invented by adults coaxing testimony from impressionable children. According to the estimable Michael Hall, in an update on the Keller case posted this morning on texasmonthly.com, the well-coached children alleged that, “the Kellers defecated and urinated in their hair, put spells on them, baptized them in blood in a backyard pool, made them sacrifice babies—one of whom they cut open so they could drink its blood and hold its beating heart in their hands. The kids claimed the Kellers flew them to Mexico and made them dig up graves in Oak Hill. Much of it was allegedly filmed, and all of it happened while they were enrolled in a busy day care center.”

And, of course, none of it happened! It has always struck me that the insane and horrific nature of these crimes—blood orgies, cannibalized babies, and on and on—reveal more about the twisted mentalities of the accusers than the accused. And a number of these cases first came to light through the “accusations” of children who just so happened to be in the middle of highly emotional, highly charged divorce custody battles. If memory serves, the Keller case was one. 

Initially, I was going to title this post, “For the Kellers, wrongly imprisoned for ‘ritual satanic abuse,’ justice finally at hand.” But thinking again, I realized that spending 21 years in prison falsely convicted of some of the most aberrant, abhorrent crimes ever conceived in the minds of men hardly seems like justice. 

For an excellent read about the paranoia and pseudoscience that fueled the ritual satanic abuse mania, check out “Remembering Satan,” from Austin’s own Lawrence Wright. 

Oh, and it’s not exactly like the problem has gone away in Texas either. As Texas Monthly’s Michael Hall reveals here and here, incredibly, people are still fighting to free themselves from scurrilous and twisted abuse accusations in cases that happened much more recently.  

Statesman on Keller: Fran Keller freed in daycare sexual abuse case

Texas Monthly on Keller: The Innocent and The Damned, Wrongfully Convicted Grandma Freed

Michael Hall’s other recent, related stories in Texas Monthly: The San Antonio 4 Are Finally Free, Across the Line

"Tomato Can Blues," a New York Times journotainment property

An Attila Futaki illustration from the New York Times’ “Tomato Can Blues”

Over the past year or so, I’ve really admired some of the future-of-big-journalism pieces published in the Sunday New York Times. Snow Fall, their interactive multimedia feature about an avalanche in Washington State that killed several members of a backcountry skiing party, for instance, was as stunning and innovative as it was gripping and informative. Not least among its groundbreaking attributes was that it was best  consumed online, either on the web or on iPad. It offered lots of interactive features and sidebars that weren’t just cool—they enhanced the information being presented. And the paper edition couldn’t come close to doing them justice. It was as if the Times was making a statement about how newspapers could stay relevant in the interactive age.

So I looked forward yesterday to reading Tomato Can Blues, a sports feature the paper spent quite a few days and column inches promoting. It went online late last week, and though I didn’t read it until I got yesterday’s dead tree edition, I did take a peek at the web version, and was impressed by the large comic art illustrations by Attila Futaki—they mimic the parallax of 3D as you scroll down the page. Neat. I thoroughly expected the accompanying story, by Mary Pilon, to live up to the compelling presentation.

No such luck. Though Tomato Can Blues ran in the sports section, it is only tangentially about sports. And even then, the field of competition in question, mixed martial arts cage fighting, is not everyone’s idea of “sport.”

But cage fighting is more or less just the sensationalist angle that elevates this story of a small-time sociopathic crook into something the Times could build a big feature around. Without the marginal mixed martial arts tie-in, this would be just another crime story about the lives damaged by a hardscrabble thug.

But this is 21st century journalism, designed to be repurposed for profit. And so Tomato Can Blues doesn’t offer much of the victims’ perspective. Instead, the protagonist of the story is the thug. He’s Charlie Rowan, a lowlife violent criminal who also happened to occasionally seek a measure of fame and glory by getting beat up in front of the crowds at cage fighting matches held in small town Michigan bars.

As I finished the story, I wondered, “What in the hell was that?” Though Rowan’s story has a unique twist to it—he tried to fake his own death to escape from drug dealers he had ripped off—there is nothing redeeming or even very interesting about his tale to warrant the thousands of Pilon’s words, Futaki’s arresting graphics and the standout packaging the New York Times devotes to him. I came away from the story thinking he was just another violent loser.

And then it hit me. The comic art illustrations are meant to suggest film storyboards. Nine out of ten Hollywood films are already based on comic books. That must be it—Tomato Can Blues is an elaborate Hollywood movie pitch disguised as journalism. Charlie Rowan is the perfect empty vessel antihero for the smoldering blank good looks of someone like Ryan Gosling, if not Ryan Gosling himself. Sure, he does some very bad things, but maybe there’s a spark of goodness behind that dour blank facade. At any rate, he sure is pretty to look at. And should the story make it to film, or even if it’s just optioned, this investment in extensible journotainment will have paid off for the Times.

Check it out. What do you think? Who’s being cynical, me or the producers at the New York Times responsible for Tomato Can Blues?

 

Chemical weapons in Syria: What's the angle?

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a geopolitical expert. I’m just a schlub with a subscription to the New York Times.

Among all the stuff I’ve heard and read about the chemical attacks in Syria—and about the only thing I accept at face value is that there were chemical attacks in Syria—I’ve seen no discussion or attempts to explain the rationale behind their use. And when I try to figure it out myself, I come up with nothing but unsatisfactory answers.

Of course, this, to an extent, is to be expected when we are discussing something as evil and insane as the indiscriminate killing of a civilian population by such horrible means. But we can assume that someone expected to gain something from the tactic. But when I try to figure out what that is, I get stuck.

As is well known, President Obama and other Western leaders have said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Assad regime would be a trigger for a military response from the West, the so-called “red line.”

Based on the reporting in this NYT’s piece, the attack occurred in rebel held territory in suburbs around Damascus, the Assad regime’s stronghold. If we assume that is true, while ignoring the “red line” factor for a moment, the regime’s motive to use chemical weapons here would be to kill and drive out as many people as possible—rebels and civilians alike—both to impede the rebels’ ability to defend the territory and to remove the partisan population that makes the territory worth defending.

The use of chemical weapons would also communicate the absolute ruthlessness with which the regime was willing to pursue the fight. The regime can and has used conventional weapons against civilian populations, but chemical weapons have the tactical advantage of being more lethal and horrific against human targets, while leaving the battleground less damaged for the victor.

Continuing to ignore the “red line” factor, let’s assume that it wasn’t the Assad regime that launched the chemical weapons. What would the insurgency as a whole stand to gain from such an attack? Nothing that I can see.

But the insurgency is factionalized. Again, according to the Times article above, the area attacked with chemical weapons was held by more moderate, less Islamist factions. Would there be a strategic motive for the more fundamentalist factions to launch a chemical weapons attack against an area controlled by moderates?

If so, it’s really hard to figure out what that motive would be. It would be a strategically dumb move, if for no other reason than it would stoke popular opinion against the fundamentalist factions, both locally and globally. And militarily, it would seem to offer as much of an advantage to the Assad regime as any other faction contesting the territory.  

So absent the red line factor, the only side I can see having a motive to use chemical weapons is the Assad regime. And over the decades they’ve certainly exhibited the craven and calculating brutality required to undertake such a sickening attack.

Now, with the red line factor, it gets more complicated. Knowing the West’s credibility was on the line over the use of chemical weapons, the Assad regime, in its calculations, had to assume a high likelihood of a military response from the West.

After all, the West had backed itself against the wall. While weaseling out of responding to earlier suspected chemical attacks in the Syrian conflic, the West signaled that their weaseling quotient was spent and that “the next time” the regime wouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt.

So given that the fortunes in the civil war have lately tipped back in the regime’s favor, why would Assad want to provoke an almost certain military response from the West? There’s no sane reason I can think of.

With the red line factor in play, the insurgency might seem to have a motive for using chemical weapons: to draw the military might of the West on their side. But to believe the insurgency did this, you have to assume several things that seem highly unlikely.

First, you have to assume that an insurgency that has been pleading for military aid suddenly found itself with access to chemical weapons and the delivery systems to use them. Highly unlikely.

Second, you have to assume that the insurgency would welcome military intervention from the West. Highly unlikely. Money and materiel from the West, yes. Western military intervention? No. Because once the Assad regime was crushed, arguably the West’s presence would make it more difficult for any one of the factions to gain dominance over the others.

Third, you have to assume an insurgency fighting to overthrow a brutal regime would even more brutally and callously murder its own partisans to further that aim. Highly unlikely.

So what’s the answer? I don’t know. But as a poker player, I know that one can get burned by assuming that the motives of one’s opponent are rational. About the only thing I can conclude is that those responsible for this barbaric attack are not just evil, but totally insane.

 

Now that’s chutzpah! Thicke, Pharrell, T.I. rip off Marvin Gaye’s groove, then sue his babies

As my mom might’ve said, “Wow, that’s some crust!”

Messrs. Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris, Jr. (better known to you hippity hoppers as T.I.) are suing Marvin Gaye’s family.

This is ironic, because for weeks, I’ve been wondering, “Why isn’t Marvin Gaye’s family suing these guys?!”

At issue is the threesome’s huge hit “Blurred Lines,” and exactly how blatant a ripoff of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” it is. (Videos for both are embedded below.)

Turns out Gaye’s family has already hit up Thicke, Pharrell and T.I. for some dollahs, threatening to sue if they don’t come across. So they “reluctantly” filed the suit to bring the matter into the light of day so that a court could figure it out.

Or, for the more cynically inclined, they filed the suit so that the threat of a protracted and expensive legal battle forces the Gaye family to take a token payment to settle the matter.

Complicating the issue is the fact that Thicke has made no secret of the fact that Gaye’s tune was, in fact, the direct inspiration for the song.

So what do I think? Well, after comparing both tracks before writing this post, I think it’s pretty clear that Thicke et al. ripped off elements and atmosphere from Gaye’s song.

Like the beat.

And rhythmic elements of the bass line.

So the “groove” is, yes, a ripoff. And as Thicke admits, I think that was intentional.

But is the groove the song? No, not really. Or not always. (If a groove is the same as a song, it puts ZZ Top’s entire catalog at risk for copyright infringement.)

And I have to admit, after listening more carefully than I ever had previously, I find myself an unlikely defender of Thicke, Pharrell and T.I. I think the groove is not the song in this instance. 

“Got to Give It Up” stays in one chord until it goes through the fourth and fifth chords of the scale in a turnaround at the end of the riff. “Blurred Lines” has a two chord riff.

“Got to Give It Up” has an iconic two-note bass “lift” at the end of each measure. “Blurred Lines” has an eight-note bass “walkdown” instead.

“Blurred Lines” producer Pharrell Williams is no dummy. I think the differences I’ve pointed out are there—at least partially—to make the song dissimilar enough from Gaye’s track to forestall claims of copyright infringement. And I think they do. And there’s no denying that the vocal melodies are completely different. 

So, as much as I’m jealous of the three for having such a huge success with little more than a few cagily aped bleeps and yowls, and as cynically sexist as I think the video for “Blurred Lines” is, I can’t side with the Gaye family on this.  

That doesn’t mean I like “Blurred Lines” better than “Got to Give It Up.” I like both, but while the former is a summertime trifle; the latter is a timeless classic.

See what you think.

 

Jared Diamond: Reject misplaced paranoia, embrace "constructive paranoia"

I just finished Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? And as I watched and read reports out of Boston yesterday, I heard and read a lot of comments to the effect of “no place is safe anymore.”

Diamond offers a lesson I think is relevant. The crux of that lesson is if you’re going to be paranoid, be paranoid where it counts. And freaking out over the next possible terrorist attack is not where it counts.

Diamond is the author of the bestsellers Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse. In The World Before Yesterday, he draws on the many years he spent among New Guinea’s traditional peoples, as well as research from other scientists, to point out some interesting contrasts between traditional (hunter-gatherer, tribal) societies and societies in our WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) countries.

Diamond recounts how he was once on a field expedition accompanied by a group of New Guinean assistants. One night, the group stopped to make camp. Diamond found what he thought was a nice campsite under a large tree. To his surprise, the New Guineans with him, normally not a fearful people, were all afraid of sleeping under this tree. When he asked them why, they all recounted tales of people they knew or had heard about who had been killed by falling trees or large limbs.

At first, Diamond found this ridiculously paranoid. This tree looked perfectly fine. But as he spent more and more time in New Guinea and encountered many other traditional New Guineans who exhibited the same fear, he started to understand.

Diamond noted that on any given day hiking through the forest, one might hear, though not necessarily see, a large limb or tree crashing to the ground in the forest nearby. So while it seemed to Diamond that on this particular night under this particular tree the odds were very, very low of getting killed by a falling limb, he came to realize that for the New Guineans, avoiding hanging around big trees unnecessarily was a valid survival tactic.

These people spent a lot of time around big trees. And where they live, big trees do fall over and kill and maim people. On any given instance, the odds of that happening may be exceedingly low. But over a lifetime in the forest, the odds become significant enough to make it worthwhile to avoid taking unnecessary chances. So Diamond’s companions never slept under trees if they didn’t have to. Diamond came to see this behavior as “constructive paranoia.”

And he drew parallels to our own WEIRD lives. When something unimaginably horrible happens, like the terrorist bombing in Boston, we are inundated with news about it. It’s inescapable. And naturally, we empathize with the people who were there and imagine how frightening it would have been to be in their place.

For many of us, this turns into a fear we carry into our everyday lives. We spend time worrying about disasters like terrorist attacks, crazed gunmen on shooting sprees and airplane crashes and the possibility they may happen to us. We may even alter our behaviors and limit our activities because of them.

But the odds of any of those things happening to us are vanishingly small. I know it’s hard to see it in the wake of the tragedy in Boston, but changing our behavior to avoid these exceedingly rare events is unconstructive (not to mention that in the case of terrorist acts, it gives the sick perpetrators what they want).

On the other hand, we engage in regular behaviors that, repeated thousands of times in our lives, carry significant odds of killing or maiming us. What kinds of behaviors? Well, walking up and down stairs, driving a car and taking showers, for starters. Over our lifetimes, there’s an excellent chance that any of us could be significantly harmed by one of these behaviors.

And yet, because we do them so often, we tend to see them as routine and safe. They aren’t. They are precisely where it makes sense to invest our caution and care.

Let’s do ourselves a favor and simultaneously deny terrorists what they want. Let’s be constructively paranoid about the real dangers we face regularly, and not waste time worrying about the exceedingly rare disasters that are unlikely to ever affect us.

 

Why I didn't call 9-1-1

I took the pooch for a walk yesterday afternoon, and we weren’t far from the house when I had an interesting encounter that left me wondering if I’d done the right thing.

As I walked the dog across a nearby commercial street there was a lady crossing just in front of us. The lady and I both saw him at the same time.

There lying on the corner was a man, unconscious, crutches laying beside him. He had what looked like a brand new temporary boot cast on his left foot. His age, clothing and worn backpack led me to believe he was a homeless guy. “Diabetic,” the lady in front of me said. She was turning to ask me if I had a phone just as I was pulling it from my pocket. “Call 9-1-1,” she said.

But by now, the guy, who seconds before looked as if he might be dead, was stirring. He was extremely groggy and disoriented, but one of the first things he said, to the lady, was, “How did you know I was diabetic?”

I was wondering the same thing when the lady turned to me and again said, “Call 9-1-1.”

But with the guy conscious and able to answer questions, I wasn’t sure I should. Someone who’s passed out and possibly in a serious health crisis? That’s one thing. But with someone who’s just been passed out but now seems to be coming out if it, it seemed important to determine whether he had the judgment to assert what he wanted.

So I said, “Dude, do you want me to call 9-1-1?” And he said, wearily, “No, man, no. Please don’t call 9-1-1.”

“Please call 9-1-1,” the lady beside me quietly urged again. Turning from her, I asked the guy, “Where are you coming from?”

“Brackenridge,” he said, referring to the local city hospital. Which is where he’d go if I called 9-1-1. “They just gave me some pills and cut me loose.”

“You just came from Brackenridge?” I asked. “What’s wrong with your foot?”

“Diabetic foot,” the lady next to me said. The guy nodded. That’s why the temporary boot looked new. The hospital just gave it to him to protect his inflamed foot.

But he said, “I don’t want to go to Brackenridge. It’s just a long line and then they don’t do anything for you.”

I continued talking to him, trying to assess whether he was OK or in a serious health crisis. The lady gave up and walked off. I sensed she was put off with me for not calling 9-1-1 right away.

As I asked him questions, I wondered, People don’t just rouse from a diabetic coma this easily, do they? I was starting to think from the way he was acting that he could’ve been drunk as much as anything. And sure enough, once he saw the lady was out of eyeshot, he opened his backpack, pulled out a bottle of vodka and took a pull.

“Dude,” I said. “That’s the last thing you’re needing right now.” “I know,” he said, “but that’s why I don’t want to go to the hospital. They’ll take it from me.” He’d obviously been through it before. I felt for the guy. He seemed decent, intelligent, without a trace of belligerence. If I were in his shoes (well, shoe and boot), I’m sure being left the hell alone by the system would be number one on my hit parade.

Now if you had taken a poll of me, the lady and this guy, and the question was, “Would this man be better off if he quit drinking and started paying more attention to his health?” I think the results would be unanimous. Yes, he would. The problem is, of the three of us, only one of us had a say in whether that happened, and that was the man himself. And regardless of what was best for him, that’s not where he was at.

And I thought if I called 9-1-1 the cops might show up too, and this guy might end up going to jail. The EMTs might tell the cops, “He was just treated and released from Brack,” leading the cops to think there’s nothing wrong with this guy, he’s just publicly intoxicated. So maybe he’d get arrested. And I’m sure he’s been through that probably as many times as he’s been to Brack. Homeless people, cops and emergency medical personnel engage in this cycle of futility every day.

Meanwhile, the guy was pulling his shit together more and more. After talking to him for a few minutes longer, I urged him to be careful, wished him luck, took the dog and walked on.

But the lady who’d left in a huff, she had me questioning whether I did the right thing.

Walking along, phone still in my hand, I called my sister. She’s an RN, a charge nurse on a floor at Brack where guys like that guy end up, if they get admitted. I told her the story. And I asked her, “People don’t just rouse out of a diabetic coma, do they?” No, she assured me, they do not. Low blood sugar combined with the booze probably made him black out.

She also validated my choice. After discussing it for some time she concluded, “Brack doesn’t want him,” she said. “I know everyone at the hospital will think you did the right thing.” It’s not that they don’t care. It’s just that there’s only so much you can do for someone who doesn’t want to get better. And they’d already done as much as they could do for one day.

So even though I was very concerned for what would ultimately happen to the guy, I felt like I did right by him in the moment. But the lady. I felt the urge to justify myself to the lady. She’s someone I see on the hike and bike trail fairly regularly, and I wondered if I should try to explain it to her the next time I saw her, whether that was a few days or a few weeks from now. But as it turned out, I didn’t have to wait that long.

Just as I was hanging up with my sister, I saw the lady walking towards me on the trail. “Excuse me,” I said, “I’m the guy who was just with you when we saw the homeless guy.” She nodded. I told her why I’d done what I’d done. Wondering how she’d guessed this guy was a diabetic and had a diabetic foot, I asked, “Are you a nurse?”

“I’m a physician,” she said. I said that I felt compelled to explain myself to her because she seemed frustrated that I wouldn’t call 9-1-1 when she asked me to.

“I was, a little,” she admitted. But then she said as she walked off, she engaged in much the same thought process I had. “I have to treat people all the time who don’t want to get well,” she said. “There’s only so much you can do.” We ended the conversation in kind of a mutual shrug. What’re you gonna do?

When the dog and I finished our loop along the hike and bike trail and returned to the corner, the guy was gone. From our conversation, it seemed like his goal would be to get to the nearby homeless hangout by the railroad tracks. I didn’t see any ambulances down there.

Dude’s set his course. He probably knows it’s not the right one. It’s a hard, hard course. But in this case, it seemed like respecting his sense of agency was the best way to do right by him.

What do you think? 

"Going Clear," "Under the Banner of Heaven," and the BIG QUESTION

I just finished reading Lawrence Wright’s “Going Clear,” an epic look at the formation, history and current inner workings of the Church of Scientology told through the prism of an apostate’s story. I was struck by how much my reaction upon finishing this book was so similar to my reaction on finishing Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven,” which is a similar examination of the Mormon church.

My most salient reaction wasn’t, “Wow, what a bunch of freaks.” Before reading either of these books, I thought there was plenty of freakiness in the origin stories and practices (or what I’d heard of them) of both of these religions. And it’s true that both books offer plenty of riveting detail about the religions’ improbable origins, unsavory history and questionable practices.

But the question in my mind when I began reading both of these books was not, “Is this stuff as freaky as I think?” Because I don’t read books to tell me things I think I already know.

I read these books because the question I had about these two religions was: “Why do reasonable people continue to believe?”

It’s a question I feel both books do a great job answering. I finished both books thinking, “OK, in spite of everything, at least I understand why reasonable people might ascribe to these religions.”*

Because guess what? There ARE reasonable people who ascribe to both of these faiths.

On the Internet, where it’s so easy to commune only with people whose belief systems virtually overlap our own, people tend to think in absolutes, like, “This is a stupid religion founded by a crackpot and evil things have been done in its name. Anyone who has anything to do with it is stupid, evil, or both.”

But in the real world, we have real encounters with real people, and they usually aren’t wearing labels. The asshole who cuts you off in traffic, what religion is he? The customer who always goes out of her way to be nice to you, what about her? You don’t know. The asshole may ascribe to a belief system exactly like yours. The nice lady could be a Mormon, or a Scientologist, or a Catholic, or a Satanist. Or anything.

Because by and large, when it comes down to the individual, faith is pretty private. It’s something people rely on to get them through their days. It’s easy to look at a belief system we find flawed and think, that’s stupid; no one should believe that. It’s much harder to look into the eyes of a real person struggling to get through life just like you are and think, “She shouldn’t believe what she believes, even though she finds comfort in it.”

Why, in spite of everything, do these religions have sincere, well-meaning adherents among the people I might encounter in my daily life? For me, that is the big question that Krakauer and Wright’s books help to answer.

*Regarding the question of whether Scientology is an actual religion, Wright asserts that for all practical purposes, it is, because the IRS has designated it as such. In other words, if you say your faith is a religion and the IRS agrees, it’s a religion. 

The Dell pickle: 10 reasons for the company's decline

Disclaimer: I am no one’s fanboy. I neither love nor hate Dell. My dad taught me not to love anything that can’t love me back, and I have no reason to hate. I live in Austin, TX, just down the road from the company. Dell is a big part of the local economy, and both the company and the Dell family are generous contributors to the local community. Plus, I know a lot of really good people who work there, or whose livelihoods are dependent on the business, as mine was for the better part of a decade.

As you probably already heard, Michael Dell and an investment group are trying to take Dell Computer private. This means the company would no longer sell stock on the Nasdaq stock market.

They are doing this because the company’s fortunes have fallen, and the value of their stock has fallen right along with it. To right the ship, they have to make long-term corrections. But the stock market hates long-term corrections, and they’ve been pummeling Dell’s stock as the company tries to turn things around. It’s hard for a company to right itself amidst a combination of slowing sales and declining market capitalization. The main rationale for going private is to free the company from the demands of the market, which, as we’ll see, is pretty ironic.

As an armchair business analyst, this makes me frustrated. I’m frustrated because smart people did dumb things when they should’ve known better. Here’s what I think they did wrong:

1. They commodified their product. Yes, this was Michael Dell’s original (and perhaps only) masterstroke. He realized, and convinced customers, that a PC was a PC was a PC. It’s a commodity(link is a PDF), just an assembly of standard parts. One is pretty much is good as the next. Consequently…

2. They trained customers to only care about price. Dell became a market disruptor by creating a way to build and sell cheaper PCs that were equivalent to the competition’s. They made it all about price. Period. The famous “Dell model” devalued value. If you convince your market that everyone’s product is equivalent and all that matters is price, they will believe you. You lower the perceived value of your product. Your value proposition is low cost. Cost is the only thing your customers care about. Meaning they’ll ditch you the second a better deal comes along.

3. They emphasized growth over sustainable profitability. For a long time, Dell’s low price model was fantastically successful. Once they went public, their stock price soared along with the company’s phenomenal growth, making lots of early Dell employees and investors very wealthy. The stock market values things like year-over-year growth and increasing market share more than sound long-term strategy and steady profits. Dell was happy to play along, because practically everyone in the company owned as much Dell stock as they possibly could. Executive compensation became more and more dependent on increasing the stock price. So naturally, executives focussed on that more than anything.

4. They catered to Wall Street’s whims. The old-fashioned way of stock investing was to buy stocks that would steadily increase in value AND steadily yield dividends (a portion of the company’ profits). Ever heard of Warren Buffett? That’s what he does. Works pretty well for him. Value investors like Buffett don’t care so much about short term stock prices. But the stock market, which generates money by constantly buying and selling, cares about little else. So Dell focussed their business more and more on doing whatever it took to keep the stock climbing. People don’t buy Dell stock to own it forever and pass it along it to their kids when they die. They buy it to sell it and make a profit. As we’ll see, this makes the stock price more volatile.

5. They bought their own bullshit. The thing is, all of this worked for a long time. Dell’s sales, market share and stock price kept rising. So they focussed on getting better at doing all the things that would keep that going. They hired Harvard MBAs by the score. So not only did they keep getting more successful, they kept getting smarter. Eventually, they believed their smartness created their success and guaranteed it would continue. Thus…

6. They wallowed in hubris, complacency and risk aversion. When you buy your own bullshit, you start getting cocky. After all, years of fantastic success prove that you’re smarter than everyone else, right? And if it ain’t broke, don’t innovate. For most of their history, Dell has spent far less on R&D than is typical for a technology company. Why innovate? Innovation costs money and incurs risk. That doesn’t boost your quarterly stock price.

7. Double down and ride the rocket into the ground. Why did the Dell model pay off so handsomely for so long? Because Dell caught the industry flat-footed. For a long time, no one could touch them. But then their competitors started catching on. This almost always happens to market disruptors. Their initial competitive advantage erodes as competitors adapt. Some market disruptors, like Amazon, use the size and strength they gain while their competition is catching up to find new ways to create value. Amazon started as a low cost online bookseller. But they didn’t sit around and wait for competitors to catch up to them. They innovated all over the place. Now, Amazon is not very profitable, but Wall Street loves them, because they’ve built their growth on more than endless price cutting. Instead of waiting for competitors to catch up, they found more areas to compete in, more markets to disrupt. Contrast that with Dell, the one-trick-pony: once competitors started to imitate Dell’s business model, Dell didn’t innovate. They used size and scale to keep doing more of what they were doing: sell more boxes for less. This is called a “race to the bottom.” It seems to have worked.

8. They lied to their most important customers. Dell got itself into a place where margins were so thin and market expectations were so high, they were left with very little room for error. Around the middle of last decade, an Asian electronics supplier sold millions of faulty capacitors that had a high probability of overheating. Every major PC manufacturer was affected, but Dell sold more PCs with faulty capacitors than anyone, by far. The Dell PCs most affected were in their corporate line. Business sales are Dell’s bread and butter, their core constituency. Facing a hit to their bottom line, Dell conspired to lie to these customers, to deny the problem and resist customer demands to make things right. That didn’t work so well.

9. They also lied to Wall Street. Because the company had focussed on the things that boosted their stock price to the exclusion of almost everything else, any business results the company announced had an outsized influence on its stock price. When they announced good news, the stock went up like crazy. But when they announced bad (or even less than great) news, the stock would get pummeled out of all proportion. So when they had less than great news to report, they lied about it. Both of these attempts to mislead not only wound up costing more money in the long run, they hammered Dell’s credibility. Their aura of invincibility disappeared.

10. They waited for the chickens to come home to roost. This happens in business time and time again. The people at Dell aren’t dummies. They saw the writing on the wall years ago. They have a huge pile of cash that they could’ve spent to fix things that were broken. And they’ve been trying in fits and starts. But they were locked into feeding Wall Street’s short-term cravings. They kept trying to squeeze more from their business model. After all, they had nothing left to fall back on. But you can only squeeze so long. And meanwhile, billions in market capitalization vaporized. The company is now worth less than half of what it was worth at its high in August, 2008. That’s the bad news.

The good news is, they can now be purchased for the low, low price of only $24 billion. 

X Games competitor Caleb Moore dies

Last week a New York Times article profiled extreme athletes and native Texans Caleb and Colten Moore on the day both brothers crashed out of an X Games snowmobiling competition in Aspen, CO. This morning the Moore family announced that Caleb succumbed to his injuries from his crash. Dude was only 25.

It’s a shocking turn, considering Moore was able to walk from the crash site after regaining consciousness. In the original article, Moore was quoted, before the accident, saying, “You try not to get hurt, but in this sport it’s kind of the price you pay for not having to work 9 to 5.” 

Ridiculously high price, in my opinion. The accident happens at 00:56 in this video. 

Codgers ignoring each other the modern way

So, don’t ask why, but I was having breakfast at McDonald’s in Temple, TX this morning. It was a huge ego boost, because I was the youngest customer in there by at least two decades. Also, I had my first and very probably my last Egg McMuffin ever. 

Anyway, I noticed these two codgers sitting at a table near me. But they weren’t talking to one another. And it seemed weird to me. I thought, maybe they’ve been friends so long that they’re like an old married couple and have developed the ability to communicate without words. Hell, maybe they are an old married couple (but I seriously doubt it). 

Then I looked again, and I realized what was up and I took this photo, all sneaky like:

Yup, that’s right—they were practicing the modern phenomenon of smartphone mediated non-togetherness togetherness.

Who says you can’t teach old dogs new ways of experiencing modern-day misanthropy?