Sunday, March 21, 2010

Allen Dulles Likes Your Status

The Feds are on Facebook. And MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter, too.

U.S. law enforcement agents are following the rest of the Internet world into popular social-networking services, going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather private information, according to an internal Justice Department document that offers a tantalizing glimpse of issues related to privacy and crime-fighting.

Think you know who's behind that "friend" request? Think again. Your new "friend" just might be the FBI.

Despite the hype about social networking sites enabling “the people” to bypass the authorities, what is becoming clear is that the authorities are simply mining the info. conveniently bundled by social networking sites to keep from being bypassed (Those who see Orwell in all social interaction are asked to show their cards now). Social networking may have achieved nominal gains for dissent, but Twitter ain’t the Molotov cocktail many purported it would be. Rather, Twitter et al offer the greatest warehouse of intelligence data in human history. So if you’re in the intelligence business, you might conceivably have an offhand interest in browsing the greatest warehouse of intelligence data in human history. What, you thought ADD 5th graders would spot the power of social networking but the CIA would decide using it was in bad taste? Perhaps we need a game show called “Are You More Naive Than a 5th Grader?”

Folks galled by the Patriot Act have no excuse for being caught out of position by the privacy encroachment inherent to sites geared to spread info. as quickly, widely, and transparently as possible. The very sales pitch that made these bypass-boosters swoon was that “SOCIAL NETWORKING BEATS THE SYTEM BECAUSE EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE CAN SEE IT!” Right, everyone, everywhere can see it…including the system. The Patriot Act isn't cryptic: your private life is public property; so failing to foresee the perfectly foreseeable privacy losses inflicted by sites tailor-made for spooks shows how useless many V buffs truly are.

What’s more, if you are a privacy hawk, why are you spending hours a day broadcasting every personal detail to the entire wireless world (eschewing only the first digit of your SSN as a nod to Victorian modesty)? Remember, any person, including crooks looking to scam you, can easily access those details. You don’t have to wait for Big Brother. The hoodlum living across the street from you also has broadband.

My Twitter feed has no agents under the bed:

Monday, March 15, 2010


When I first started stand-up comedy, I lucked into a short lived but bountiful scene in Northern Virginia. Strange as it seems to me now, this remarkable scene came together quite by accident and briefly became a respectable draw at one particular club. Stranger still was that this scene managed to attract some hot female fans…hot females who regularly came to see us perform.

Before I continue let me clear up this misconception that comics gets lots of chicks. They don't. People see Giselle list "sense of humor" as a turn-on, and forget the list was written by a publicist eager to make her seem attainable to the stiffs buying her calendars. And regular women know claiming to love a sense of humor is a good way to sound well-rounded, which is why they pitch that snake oil to any fool who will listen. So thanks to the unending stream of propaganda about women valuing "funny guys," folks assume that when comedians aren't fighting off TV producers, we’re tasering our way through the mob of in-heat cheerleaders gathered at our doorsteps each morning.

Doesn't work that way. 98% of the time, a comic who gets lots of chicks is a guy who could get lots of chicks without wasting his life in a pointless and dying medium. Of course famous comics get lots of chicks, but so do famous midgets. Being a comic doesn’t really help your cause, because the women intrigued by it expect you to be "on" all the time. Once they realize you're not always "on," they act like you have betrayed them in some way. "Wait, you mean you're not going to spend all night balancing beach balls on your nose for my amusement? My friends were right, you weren't that funny anyway!"

I took a fancy to one of our female fans, and being just 19, I hadn't been pockmarked enough by life to realize she was out of my league. So I spent a good three or four months pursuing her. Well, "pursuing'' isn't the right word. If endlessly insulting a girl's friends and bitterly resisting the mercy hugs she throws your way qualifies as "pursuit," then the entire American English Dictionary pretty much goes out the window.

This gal disappeared for a year or so. Then she unexpectedly reappeared one Friday night when my friend Andy Kline and I were doing a weekend at the legendary club I alluded to earlier. I was in lust all over again.

She showed up with her then boyfriend and one of his pals. Her boyfriend seemed normal enough, but his friend was a tad quirky. The guy's name was Zed or Xavier or some other gobbledygook that ensures his résumé always goes straight in the shredder. He had an unfortunate Deep Guy beard, and a strange way of reacting to everything two seconds too late.

I stood by their table and chatted with the three of them until show time. When I departed to prepare my set, they were ordering their first drink. All seemed well, and I resolved to put my act in turbo to show that girl what she'd missed!!!

I was featuring, and the host only did about 10 minutes, so from the time I left the chick, her boyfriend, and Zed/Xavier until the moment I stepped onstage was probably just 12 or 13 minutes.

The crowd was hot and everything was as it should be. About 15 minutes into my set, Zed/Xavier arrested the festivities by barking out a garbled, booze-soaked sentence containing just one fully formed word; gay (always a hilarious go-to). As best I could tell, nothing about the show was particularly gay, making the interruption all the less amusing. More importantly, only about 27 minutes had elapsed from when he’d ordered his first drink. Now, less than half an hour later, Zed/Xavier sounded like he had just bested John Bonham in a drinking contest. Comedy clubs don't serve drinks that fast, so either he had taken something before the show that wasn't mixing well with the booze or he has the alcohol tolerance of an anorexic Mormon. I took some shots at him to ease the awkwardness and resumed knocking 'em dead.

Things chugged along for a few more dynamite minutes before Zed/Xavier felt the need to volunteer another slurred and incoherent comment featuring the word gay. This time I bashed him hard, much to the hetero delight of all in attendance. He tried answering back, but was way too out of it to form complete sentences. What comebacks he did attempt also focused exclusively on things being gay. His pal gave him a shake and Zed/Xavier shut his cumbersome trap. He remained silent the rest of the show.

After the show I hid in the back to avoid the backhanded compliments you always get from exiting patrons ("You had that one joke that was pretty good. Keep working at it!"). My solitude was pleasantly violated by the hot chick I had long dreamed of seducing. She was sans boyfriend, had clearly imbibed some naughty beverages, and for the first time in the three years I'd known her, was behaving… shall we say…amorously toward me. She kept grabbing me and inquiring about my hotel room. The comedy club was in a hotel, so it couldn't have been more convenient. She then handed me her cell number and told me to call her later.

This presented me with a conundrum worthy of the best minds of ancient Greece. Like I said, this woman had been on my wish list for many years, but she had a boyfriend, meaning that in order to close the deal I would have to play the role of backdoor man; hardly the virtuous path a generation of admirers had come to expect from me.

Before I could make up my mind, our forbidden bliss was halted by the approach of Zed/Xavier, who was barely able to stand. Picture Yosemite Sam walking in a strong wind and you have a sense of the guy's movements. However, when Zed/Xavier opened his mouth, he sounded more sober than he had during the show.

"You were funny, but you made fun of me."

He said this about ten times, then walked away.

The chick coyly intimated that I could call her after she was done with her crew. I took this to mean she was going to shoot off with them, ditch them at the corner of Third Wheel and Who Invited The Fun Killer?, and make her way back to my room for some late night hell raising. Seemed like a no-lose proposition.

Still, I was troubled about the chick’s having a boyfriend. So I did what anyone does when faced with an ethical dilemma. I sought counsel from someone completely devoid of ethics. This friend of mine, who was also in attendance, happened to be a drug addict/dealer and a backdoor man. Some people consult Dr. Phil. I went to Dr. Feelgood.

The scoundrel advised me to “live a little.” Who could argue with such bulletproof advice?

Eventually everyone--the chick, her boyfriend, my druggie pal, Andy Kline, and I--found ourselves chatting by the exit. I was doing a lot of nodding to keep the exchanges short in hopes the femme fatale and her boyfriend wouldn't dawdle long. The sooner they left, the sooner she'd be back with me. That is, if I could bring myself to pull the trigger…

The girl's boyfriend asked where Zed/Xavier was, then started to apologize profusely for him. Right at that moment, Zed/Xavier entered stage left. Had this been a bad 80's sitcom, we would have thrown our heads back in laughter, the screen would have frozen, and "Executive Producer Shlomo Goldenfink" would have appeared in block letters.

A teetering Zed/Xavier foamed his way through another rendition of: "You were funny, but you made fun of me."

The four of us stared back at Zed/Xavier, who now seemed convinced he was the Frankenstein monster. His arms were sticking out, his face was scrunched up, and his legs were moving forward in a half marching band, half speedskating motion. A bystander remarked, "Your friend's about to fall on his face."

We all shared a life affirming batch of ha-has and turned our attention away from Zed/Xavier.

"You made fun of me…"

Fearing I'd miss Zed/Xavier's glorious collapse, I started to turn my head. My head never made it. It was stopped by two big hands clutching my neck.


Zed/Xavier was choking me. Not horseplay choking. Attempted murder choking. In a matter of seconds, the situation had gone from hilarious to hellacious. It is hard to explain, but the turnaround was so surreal I felt like a spectator. I could feel myself being choked, but it seemed to be happening to someone else.

Just as I was starting to process the danger, the chick's boyfriend seized Zed/Xavier and slammed him against the wall. This is when the dude really lost it.


Though beet-faced and bellowing like an Iron Maiden tribute band, Zed/Xavier was too inebriated to sync his legs with his torso. The chick's boyfriend rather easily hauled him off to the men's room for a much needed heart-to-heart.

We all stood around giving nervous half-laughs. I'm used to getting two thumbs up after shows, but not two thumbs up around my Adam's apple.

A few minutes came and went before we heard the ominous approach of Zed/Xavier. The girl's boyfriend had him safely headlocked and was dragging him to the exit. All the while, Zed/Xavier was roaring and reminding everyone I'd made fun of him. The chick's boyfriend shoved him through the door and motioned for his lady to follow.

As though nothing had happened, she told me to call her. I apparently looked so scrumptious that even with hand marks around my neck I was irresistible. This lady was known to use ecstasy, which may have had a little something to do with her persistence.

So the $64,000 question is, did I end up closing the deal? I did not. I didn't even talk to her again that night.

Talk about tragic. To recap: I had shown up with no expectations, and was given a sliver of hope by the unannounced appearance of an old flame-that-never-was. But of course, she has a boyfriend. Oh well, not like I had a shot anyway. Then--what's this?--she comes on to me for the first time ever. A stunning turn of events! But can I seize the moment? Probably not. After all, she has a boyfriend. What kind of creep do you think I am? But wait, says my shady amigo…you only live once! You know something, he's right! I'll never have this opportunity again. By golly, I'm going to slay this senorita! Because I'm worth it. I'll just see her and her boyfriend off, perform the necessary pleasantries, and wait in my hotel room for the prize I so richly deserve. But instead of a carefree round of pleasantries, I end up under attack from a bitter heckler! Maybe I can fight him off and look even more heroic. Nope. Instead, the boyfriend I was considering stabbing in the back risks his own neck to save mine, throwing cold water on my plans for defiling his girl.

I shouldn't have been surprised by the way things turned out. I have always felt there was an invisible bouncer keeping me from participating in life's rare moments of joy. The difference here was that the bouncer wasn't invisible.

I have only seen this girl once since, and she was back to her standoffish self. She likely has no memory of what happened.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Leveraged Bailout

Despite all the huffing and puffing about German fiscal austerity, I still say Greece is poised for a bailout. I don’t see why so many doubt this outcome. For this is the age of bailouts, and unlike the Asian Crisis, Greece’s fissures are transpiring at a time when the entire globe is sweating its checkbook. And while there is never a good time for a rupture in the world’s largest economy, now would be an especially perilous moment for a full EU crisis. Let’s just say it would be more than a local snafu.

The Greeks are also lucky they’re the first ones to the trough. The PIIGS are about to play musical bailouts, and I cannot help but think one is going to wind up being the EU’s Lehman.

Wasn’t the EU supposed to strengthen all participants and provide a bulwark against U.S. unilateralism? One might now retort that it has actually weakened the stronger nations like Germany (especially) and France by shackling them to the mawing moneypits of the Mediterranean. If we believe a team is only as strong as its weakest member, what did Germany (until recently the world’s largest exporter) gain by adopting a litter of subprime dependents? Deutschland didn't need Greece any more than the U.S. needed its ungainly timeshare in Iraq.

The birth of the EU appropriately coincided with the “bigger is better” zeitgeist that ruled our financial system for the last decade. Tell me some of this doesn’t sound familiar: Don’t worry about the balance sheets of the parties involved. Don’t read all the fine print about handling those who break the rules. Packaging everyone together disperses everyone’s risk. Just e-x-p-a-n-d. If any problems arise, we’ll just grow our way out of this. The EU aimed to enhance European security. Funny how much that sounds like securitization.

Thanks to its captivity in this unholy union, Germany is now partly beholden to Greece for its own stability, as Greece’s fortunes greatly impact the euro. And so it shall be with Portugal and the rest of Cellblock EU. Lest anyone fancy America exempt from similarly hazardous pacts, take a look at how our borrowing has increased our dependence on states like Japan and China. For years, neocon doctrine insisted “deficits don’t matter,” and that we needed “energy independence.” The neocons also declared that it mattered not what the rest of the world thought of America’s Middle East adventures. After all, we had to preserve our “national security” at all costs. Well, the deficits incurred under those termites have left America with treasonous debts, which of course have made us far less secure and much less able to act without considering our creditors. Instead of chasing fever dreams like “energy independence,” perhaps we should have focused on things found in the waking world…such as CREDIT INDEPENDENCE.

Monday, March 8, 2010

You'll Get My Gun When You Pry it from My Warm, Jittery Hands

In 'open carry' states, guns and Starbucks mix uneasily

Starbucks has become something of an unwilling pawn in a growing dispute over gun rights.

Advocates of so-called “open carry” laws, which give citizens the right to wear unconcealed weapons without a permit, are hailing it for not kicking gun-toting customers out of their stores

When it comes to the gun issue, Starbucks said it will abide by state laws. If a locale in which one of its shops is located allows open carry, it’s not about to tell anyone wearing a revolver to get their latte elsewhere.

Starbucks’ clientele? Typically not gun friendly, so by adopting a passive, "just following orders" tone, the company risks offending their main constituency. Regardless of your take on open carry, this illustrates the rampant myopia epidemiologists so often uncover in studies of corporate executive populations. Company boards constantly make these kinds of short-sighted moves for fear of maybe, possibly losing a handful of occasional customers (what is seen)...all the while ignoring the teeming hordes of steady patrons their short-sighted moves are guaranteed to alienate (what is unseen). The guy who won't leave his Glock in the coup to make a coffee stop probably isn't one who daydreams of frappucinos. Likewise, the effete 3-a-day frap-addict probably isn’t jonesing to share the cinnamon with Charles Bronson. I guess it’s appropriate then that Starbucks is casting its lot with the star of Death Wish.

Perhaps in honor their new gun friendly environment, Starbucks should change the name of its drink size to the Walking Tall.