#Sloppery

1. The problems with the Sochi Olympics are myriad and sundry, but most of the mockery has been centered on the general shoddiness and unpreparedness of it all. Not to mention safety concerns. What people don’t get is that Russia is not a functioning nation-state, and doesn’t have anything in its long history that comes within miles of the “customer service” concept. Indeed, Russia’s only functioning economic sectors are “corruption” and “graft”, with “gangsterism” close behind. Putin’s portrait on the front desk of one of the unready local hotels speaks volumes. 

It has forever been a feudal kingdom run first by imperial gentry, then by communist nomenklatura, and now by a hybrid kleptocracy/autocracy with a fierce nationalist streak that is joined at the hip with its secret police service. The notion that this Russia could get it together to throw together an Olympic games in its current political and economic climate was always absurd. Perhaps a future Russia will do better. 

2. A United Nations human rights panel sharply criticized the Vatican for: 

…systematically adopting policies that permitted priests to sexually abuse tens of thousands of children globally over the last several decades.

The United Nations committee faulted the church for failing to take effective measures to reveal the breadth of clergy sexual abuse in the past, and for not adopting measures to sufficiently protect Catholic children in the future.

“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse,” the report said.

The report also criticized the church’s culture of secrecy and longstanding practice of silencing abuse victims in order to protect the reputation of priests and the church’s moral authority worldwide, asserting that the church had systematically placed preservation of the reputation of the church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims.

This is quite possibly the sharpest and strongest criticism yet of what really amounts to a worldwide criminal conspiracy to protect and cover-up sexual assault perpetrated against children by people in a position of trust and authority who donned a mantle of sanctity and holiness. It is nothing short of sickening. 

3. Much of the criticism of the ECC North STEM expansion is emotional rather than factual. The downtown campus isn’t so much a campus as it is a building, and my curiosity is piqued by the interesting group of people who are most vocal about it, and I’d love to know more about who’s funding these efforts. The fact of the matter is that the health-related expansion is taking place at North campus to (a) effectively compete with NCCC and ensure that students and their money don’t end up in another county; and (b) North has the capacity to most inexpensively support the building. It would seem to me that complaints about the commute to Main & Youngs could be alleviated by an improved, more frequent shuttle bus service between downtown, the medical campus, and ECC North, with longer hours and an app to track bus location, departure, and arrival times. If, as the expansion opponents argue, the real issue is student convenience it would seem as if cheaper, more immediate solutions are at hand. A lawsuit to block the ECC North expansion is great for lawyers, bad for students. 

4. Yesterday, bigshots were in town to announce the creation of 43North, a huge business plan competition that will award $5 million in prizes to the best business plans, with the top idea getting $1 million to get started. The competition is open to anyone in the world over the age of 18.  Winning companies will be required to locate in Buffalo for one year, and will receive not only the cash prizes, but free space. Got an idea? Apply here.  

5. You know how people like Chris Collins are salivating over a CBO report that supposedly concluded that Obamacare will cost 2 million jobs? Chris Collins is one of those plutocrats who think that America only exists to comfort the comfortable and further afflict the afflicted. When Paul Ryan is busy fact-checking your clumsy ass, you’ve really gone down a weird rabbit hole. Next time you see Chris Collins in person (that’s a laugh), ask him why he doesn’t think you and your family deserve health insurance. The CBO didn’t say it would cost 2 million jobs – it said that Americans with newly acquired health insurance coverage would be more free

Obamacare would lead to a decrease in the number of hours worked by up to 2 percent in 2024. Most of that drop, the CBO said, would be the result of Americans choosing not to work, for various reasons, but not because employers would want to hire fewer workers on account of the law. Translate those lost hours into full-time employment and it equals up to 2.5 million jobs by 2024. But that’s not the same as jobs being cut.

6. Speaking of our plutocracy, if you want to see the Koch Brothers’ sausage-making recipe, you’re going to want to click here. What people like the Kochs and other billionaires are plotting is to effectively turn the United States into two distinct countries, divided by class.  Succinctly put, they want to effectively end America as we know it and replace our bourgeois revolution of the late 18th century – a product of the Enlightenment – with some restoration of feudalism. The people on the list that Mother Jones obtained would be the lords and you and I would be, at best, mere vassals. The problem is that they’ve got a compliant media, a wholly owned political party, and a poorly informed tea party army to help move the fight along. 

You know, when the rich unionize to halt taxation and further concentrate their wealth and power, doesn’t that prove the fallacy of supply-side, trickle-down economics which has enthralled and destroyed the country since the early 1980s? 

Power 250? Thank You!

According to Buffalo Business First, I am the 196th most influential person in western New York. I broke the top 200, and – most importantly – came out ahead of the baby polar bears.  

Thanks to the editors at Business First for including me. I’m honored to have been chosen, and to be included with such accomplished people in so flattering a list. 

I don’t do this for accolades, but it’s definitely gratifying that people appreciate what I do.

Sherlock S3 Delay on WNED

WTF

WNY and Torontonian fans of Sherlock, the BBC’s contemporary take on the famous detective starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, might want to give WNED a call. 

Sherlock’s third season is supposed to begin airing on January 19th on PBS stations in the US. However, WNED doesn’t even show the program on its website, and people on Twitter advise that it will be delayed until February 14th for viewers in western New York and Southern Ontario. 

WNED has been completely silent as to why the delay. If you’re eager to see the episodes now, download the Google Chrome browser and the Hola plugin.  Use Hola to VPN through a UK server, and you should be able to play BBC’s iPlayer. But hurry – they’ll be taken offline in 3 days. 

Tweet the station here, call to complain at (416) 363-3444 and (716) 845-7000. 

 

Shorter Everything

1. Dennis Gabryszak is a creep who is accused of doing creepy things to at least 7 women, who have the courage to come forward and publicly air the ways in which this schmuck humiliated them. Gabryszak has not denied or otherwise addressed the allegations and is unfit for public service. 

2. It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up was the lesson learned during Watergate, and on Thursday New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took 2 hours to explain how he was completely in the dark about some really despicable things that his very close advisors and confidants were doing. When his appointee to the NYNJ Port Authority, David Wildstein, resigned in December – a month ago – over September’s politically manufactured bridge debacle. For Christie to suggest that this is all news to him strains credulity. For him to suggest that he was completely in the dark about these things seems unlikely. Ultimately, if you surround yourself with petty, vindictive people, and you maintain a public demeanor that is, at times, petty and vindictive, you can hardly stand there with a straight face and claim that you are, like, totally shocked that people in your employ behaved in a petty and vindictive manner. 

3. Yesterday, GOP gadfly Michael Caputo was sitting in for Tom Bauerle on WBEN, and he had legendary dirty trickster Roger Stone call in – that’s quite a get. They talked about a meeting Friday put together in an effort to convince billionaire birther Donald Trump to run for Governor of the state of New York. Stone got it exactly right – Trump doesn’t have a chance. Ultimately, New York State is as blue as it gets, and while Democrats and left independents might consider a Republican who portrays himself as a centrist who is liberal on social issues (see: Pataki), there’s no way in hell any self-respecting Democrat would support a Donald Trump for governor – not after his dramatic and absurd lurch to the very fringes of the right wing in the last few years. For all the Freudian bleating about the NY SAFE Act, the metropolitan area around the five boroughs – how did Glenn Beck phrase it? Oh yeah, “they surround you”. 

4. Declared dead several years ago, it turns out that shared border management still has a pulse. Because Canadian border agents are now armed, like their American counterparts, one of the big obstacles to pre-clearing traffic on the Canadian side and eliminating the inspection booths on the American side has been eliminated. For now, it’s a pilot program and it’s only for commercial traffic, but if it’s successful there’s no reason why it couldn’t also be used for passenger vehicles, too. If that happens, all of the alarmist talk about the adverse health effects from idling traffic at a bridge crossing that has existed for 100 years can stop. I never quite understood how adding lanes to alleviate traffic congestion would aggravate health problems on the west side of Buffalo, nor did I understand why the anti-bridge rhetoric was effectively arguing for the complete removal of the bridge altogether. But hopefully the saga of the Hundredyearbridge will make a millimeter’s worth of progress. 

5. If your town government decides to hold a “public hearing” about a local controversy at 4:30 pm on a weekday, and doesn’t bother to invite representatives of the locality’s regional governmental entity, then it’s safe to say that the town government isn’t interested in dealing with conflict or problems. The one-party system in the town of Clarence is not showing itself to be particularly responsive or concerned about legitimate gripes from people in the northern flood plain.

Unbelievable. 

6. Chris Collins (NY-27) is playing to type

7. Subset cars: 

– did you know that it is perfectly legal for any American to import any car from anywhere in the world, provided it is 25+ years old? Not only legal to import, but legal to put on the road. Here’s a cool story about a dream come true

– I told you a few weeks ago to get yourself a set of snow tires. That’s not all. When it’s snowing and sloppery out, you should also (a) keep your washer fluid topped off; (b) keep an extra gallon of fluid in your trunk; (c) physically wipe the slop off your wipers every once in a while to keep them clean and clear; (d) take a squeegee to your front headlights at every fill-up to get the road sludge off of them and enable you to actually see at night. To that end, if your local Noco or whatever doesn’t keep a proper squeegee bucket around with some form of unfrozen cleaning solution, stop going there or complain. It is inexcusable in a cold climate. 

Have a good weekend!

 

 

 

Target and Chip-and-PIN

On Friday, my wife and I canceled two debit cards and two credit cards, all four linked to two accounts which may have been compromised thanks to a point-of-sale hack that took place at all Target stores since Black Friday. Chances were that at least two – possibly three – of the cards had been swiped during the relevant time period, and especially with respect to the debit cards, I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my checking account to some thief, regardless of so-called “consumer protections” and anti-fraud measures that may exist. The hassle of reversing fraudulent charges – especially from a debit card – is exponentially higher than the hassle of canceling the cards and waiting for new ones. 

But it’s all a hassle, nonetheless. 

One debit card will be mailed in 1 – 2 weeks. The other one was issued on-the-spot at a branch in Clarence, but has yet to be activated because it takes at least 1 – 2 business days to hit the system.  The credit cards will be here in a week or so. 

Small #firstworldproblem aside, it was a fun adventure trying to pay for some last-minute Christmas gifts with a personal check. At Swarovski, it was a half-hour long process, and although we had explained why we had no debit card, the flummoxed clerks insisted on pleading with us to maybe use a credit card, or perhaps a debit card for our transaction. Or would we like to perhaps use our non-existent debit card to withdraw cash from the ATM just there? Our check was rejected at Ann Taylor. I called the bank, and they said it wasn’t they who declared the check suspect, and confirmed an ample available balance to cover $140. Old Navy simply doesn’t take checks. But they’d be happy to open up a charge account for us! JC Penney was surprisingly swift. Premier Liquor on Maple takes no checks without going through a pre-approval process. We paid cash at other places.

It was, all in all, an eye-opening experience. Until I didn’t have one handy, I hadn’t realized how reliant I had become on my Master Card branded debit card. 

In the United States, merchant points-of-sale and ATMs rely almost exclusively on the magnetic strips that we’ve been using since the 1970s. Not so in other countries, including our neighbor, Canada. Many countries now rely on what’s called a chip-and-pin system, which uses an added level of encyption and is safer than a magnetic strip (although nothing is foolproof).  It’s known in the industry as “EMV“. 

It is exceedingly easy for a resourceful and motivated thief to buy and install a cloning system, whereby a swipe of your card records every single detail contained on that card – including the security code – and produce clones of the card using any piece of plastic with a magnetic strip, including a hotel room key. The chips on chip-and-pin cards is much more expensive and difficult to duplicate. 

The Wall Street Journal reports EMV is expected to become the standard in the US in 2015, but what’s the holdup? This is not a new technology, and most of the stores that you and I frequent already have chip-and-pin capabilities (it’s the slot in the front of the reader at Wegmans). 

When we traveled to the UK in 2005, chip-and-pin was already in almost exclusive use, and when we dined in some restaurants, they would bring the credit card terminal to you at your table for payment – your card never left your possession and could not be swiped through a cloning device. This system is now commonplace in Canada. I haven’t had it happen even once in the United States. Ever

In the US, implementation will take place between 2015 and 2017 through a “liability shift” – if a merchant has not yet switched his POS system to accept EMV by a given date, he will be liable for fraudulent charges on the legacy swipe system. 

This Target fiasco, involving 40 million possible cards, has inconvenienced me to a certain degree, and in at least one instance made a potential sale not happen. It doesn’t mean I won’t go to Target anymore, or that EMV is a 100% secure alternative, but if there is a marginally more secure alternative available, we should implement it as soon as possible. 

Here is a list of American credit card issuers that offer (as of May 2013) chip-and-pin or chip-and-signature cards. Merry Christmas.

The AV Daily Christmas Special

It’s the Thursday before Christmas. Let’s watch TV. 

Here’s Mitt Romney the moment he lost the 2012 election. To quote Peggy Noonan, “savor“. 

I Ken Lee if living is without you. 

This trailer is simply incredible. 

In some countries, they applaud when the plane lands because it landed. We in the first world are far too jaded for that, but once in a while it’s completely justified. 

In Russia, the roads are often lawless hellholes populated by aggressive and reckless drivers. In order to help them prove their lack of fault in the event of an accident, most drivers have mounted an automatic digital dashcam to record every second of their drive. If there’s an accident, you’ll have video proof of how it happened, assuming it happened up ahead. Usually, Russian dashcam videos show horrible crashes or dreadfully violent exchanges. So, here is a compilation of dashcam videos showing the brighter side of motoring in Mother Russia. 

The Nurburgring Nordschliefe is a wondrous place where you can pay a toll and take your car on one of the most famous racing roads in the world. Some people fare better than others. 

Oh, and here are some of the bad Russian dashcam videos: 

Merry Christmas, everybody!

This Post Matters

1. George Zimmerman seems to have a thing for using a firearm to menace innocent, unarmed people. That’s a fetish that’s going to prove to be expensive. At a bare minimum, he seems to have a bizarre fetish whereby he tries to solve everyday interpersonal conflicts with a gun. A bit excessive, and, you know, someone could get hurt. He’s now charged with a felony and, ironically, this could finally enable the government to take this lunatic’s guns away. Even in Florida. This gun matters. 

2. There’s a fine line, I suppose, between a police department enforcing nuisance laws and blatant racism. The owner of Ying’s Wings and Things is accusing the Tonawanda police of targeting his restaurant’s DJ nights because they attract black kids. The police say the crowds are too noisy and rowdy. Like – oh, just about everything – attitudes about race in western New York are rooted firmly in the 50s, to everyone’s detriment. In the meantime, Ying should hire some security to keep his patrons safe, to keep parking lot nonsense and shootings to a minimum, and to document it all. This 18+ DJ night matters. 

3. Kaleida has a plan to redevelop the site of the former Millard Fillmore Gates hospital into a ~$60 million complex of housing, offices, and retail space including a large complex for seniors. It would attract hundreds into a city neighborhood now occupied by a nondescript, empty white box. There’s no damn way this goes smoothly. This lot matters. 

4. Looking for a Christmas gift for your kid? Depending on age-appropriateness, how about a construction kit of the Anne Frank House, showing how the secret Annex was connected to the house and kept hidden from the Nazis for most of the war. With shipping, it costs a little more than $50, but it’s cheaper than airfare to Amsterdam. This house matters. 

5. This idiotic incident will result in a lawsuit being brought against the rail-slider and the Bills and everyone else. Was a Bills Mafia dummy’s reckless tumbling from the 300s into the 200s – and onto another person – foreseeable? When a football spectator buys a ticket and takes his seat, does he assume the risk that someone might fall on top of him – is spectator precipitation a risk inherent in football? This is why we have lawyers and lawsuits. This jurisprudence matters. 

6. Rob Ford is now, effectively, the figurehead mayor of Toronto. Yesterday, the city council voted 37-5 to strip him of practically all his powers. As the drama unfolded, Ford was defiant and managed to, among other things, knock over a council colleague while charging towards a heckler. Of course, the conservative Toronto Sun gave Ford and his brother, Doug, their own TV show. This crack matters. 

Horowitz in Moscow

Back in the long long ago, when I was diligently studying the history and politics of an Eastern Europe that was on the brink of political upheaval, then-Soviet General Secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev introduced “Glasnost” and “Perestroika”, or “openness” and “restructuring”, respectively. The Soviet planned economies were failing, and the people were getting wordy about it, so Gorbachev gave them some window dressing political and economic reforms. It was these policies, brought forth by a more youthful and pragmatic Soviet leader – following up two corpses and the calcified bureaucracy of Brezhnev – that ultimately led to the breakup of the Soviet Union and its generational transition to the neofascist kleptocracy it is today. 

Dissent became more tolerated. Exiles were starting tentatively to return for visits – something previously unthinkable. 

And then there was Vladimir Horowitz

Born in 1903, Horowitz was considered to be one of the greatest pianists in the world, possibly ever. Horowitz ultimately fled the Soviet Union in 1925, ultimately settling in the U.S. Under Stalinism, once you left, you didn’t get to come back. 

And he didn’t, until 1986. President Reagan and Gorbachev got along rather well, and the late 80s saw a rapid thawing in US-Soviet relations. Horowitz returned to give recitals in Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).

When this occurred, it was broadcast on TV here in the States. It was quite clear that these performances were something special. On the one hand, you had this compelling personal story of a prodigal son returning triumphantly to his homeland one last time, honoring a life well lived, and sharing his incredible gift with his people again. He was no longer an outlaw. 

On the other hand, it was clear that the return of an exile to the Soviet Union had huge geopolitical significance, and that it was proof that the Soviet awakening was real and good. 

But what I remember most was the way he played Schumann’s Träumerei at that Moscow recital. The piece is part of Schumann’s “Kinderszenen”, or “scenes from childhood”. It’s difficult to describe the emotion – it’s a melancholy song, being played by an old man who had seen and lived through so much, to an audience that had seen and lived through so much more. It was as if Horowitz had managed to capture all of the sadness, despair, lost lives, and lost time that 20th Century Europe had endured, and now – as the century was coming to a close – we hear it. We hear the dreams of every refugee, every member of every diaspora, every victim of totalitarian despotism and hatred, every displaced soul. Everyone. It was all there, laid bare. Haunting. Beautiful. 

For those two minutes, there was peace, there was beauty, and all was right with the world. 

Kristen Becker: Dykotomy Kickstarter

 

Local comedian Kristen Becker has worked tirelessly help improve, enhance, and grow Buffalo’s comedy scene. She is almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the Helium Comedy Club to town, which features big-name comics on a weekly basis. 

Now, she’s taking time out to do a more personal project, and she’s set up a Kickstarter to help fund it. Here is the thumbnail explanation of “Dykotomy”

Dykotomy is a film 12 years in the making. What started as an idea to document a tour with the Dykes of Hazard Comedy tour and the relationship history of comedian Kristen Becker has evolved into a full-fledged discussion of sexuality. You see, while Becker is an out gay woman, all of her exes are now involved or married to men. ALL. OF. THEM. This got her to thinking that there might be a story there. Many exes have agreed to be interviewed on film. There are some perks to this.

1.Onscreen chemistry? Check! These are all former girlfriends that Becker is still friends with!

2. Traveling from one geographic location to another (Massachusetts to Louisiana) allows us to get a wide range of perspectives from a very diverse group of lesbians. Do couples in states where marriage equality is legal act differently? Why do people choose to live in states where there isn’t marriage equality? Things of that nature.

3. COMEDY! Let’s not forget that the core of this is a stand-up tour. Expect fun clips from shows and post hangouts in “Uncle Jessie” (the 1986 conversion van that is a character in itself).

Follow the link below and please consider helping to fund this project. 

Learn Guitar with David Brent

The British version of the Office only went on for two seasons, plus a special. The American version just ended after nine seasons, long enough to jump the shark. (Tim and Dawn didn’t get together until the very end of the Christmas special – Jim and Pam got married in season 6. David Brent had left Wernham Hogg by time of the special, but he was a part of the show – Michael Scott disappeared after season 7).

But now that both are done, Ricky Gervais, who played Brent and co-created the series, has revived the Brent character through a series of YouTube videos called “Learn Guitar with David Brent“. You don’t really learn how to play guitar, but Brent’s awkward and clueless arrogance comes out loud and clear. 

Here’s an appropriate one for today – language NSFW. I find ’em. I find ’em. 

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