I Just Got a Dollar in the Mail (or, Do Not Sell Your Privacy to Scarborough Research)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014, 15:48 EDT Leave a comment

No really, I got a dollar in the mail today.  Cash money.  A 2003 $1 United States Federal Reserve Note, legal tender across this great nation and on the black markets of several lesser nations whose own currencies are next to worthless.

$1 bill

Hi, George!

Now if you were raised like I was, your mama probably told you never to send cash through the mail. That’s because in the unlikely event that the envelope is lost or stolen, there is no way to stop payment or track it the way you can with a check. So naturally, I was curious about the sender whose own mama apparently didn’t care enough to give him/her the same wise advice.

The sender is some entity called Scarborough, and along with the $1 bill they sent a letter (English on one side, Spanish on the other, because evidently every other immigrant group that ever came to America doesn’t count, but don’t get me started on that), a short survey, and a postage-paid return envelope. The letter informed me that if I simply completed said survey and sent it back to them in said envelope, they would send me $5.

I’ll take scams for $1000, Alex.

A quick internet search reveals that Scarborough Research of Coral Springs, Florida, and business addresses, has been a complaint magnet for some time because of their aggressive telephone practices and refusal to honor people’s requests to stop calling. The Better Business Bureau of West Florida has handled 166 such complaints in the last 3 years, 74 of those in the last 12 months (yet it still manages to give the company an A+ rating, apparently because all those complaints were “closed,” i.e. resolved). Others have made their feelings known via web sites like Complaints.com, ReviewsTalk, and Complaints Board. A 2011 Chicago Tribune article addresses the company’s annoying practices. And that was just on the first page of search results.

Apparently, if I were to fill out this company’s survey (which includes giving them my home address and phone number), not only would I get $5, but I would also “agree that Scarborough may contact [me] about future surveys and other research opportunities.”

In other words, for the cost of a coffee and doughnut, I would be selling my right to be free of the persistent and intrusive rudeness described in all those links above.  So it isn’t a scam.  It’s just unethical business practice, which can feel just as bad to the victims.

Obviously, plenty of people take the bait, having no idea what they’re getting themselves into.  Why else would a company send thousands of dollar bills to complete strangers (mine was addressed to “Resident”) if it didn’t get the attention of enough people to make it worth their while?  And that’s not including the additional $5 for each sucker who signs up.  You would think that wouldn’t be enough compensation for someone to give up is or her privacy, but the truth is that all of us give it up all the time for nothing.

  • Have you ever used a web site that required you to agree to receive email solicitations as a condition of proceeding?
  • Have you ever installed a smartphone app that required permission to access your contacts, calendar, or other information stored on the device?
  • Have you ever signed up for a store rewards or frequent shopper program whose terms included collecting data about your shopping habits and purchase history?

Those are just three ways you forfeit your privacy, but there are many more. We go along with it because we want the benefits that come with that web site or app or rewards program. Those of us who are more careful and agree to such terms only if we believe the company to be reputable are deluding ourselves that our information is guaranteed never to be abused by them or someone else. If you don’t believe me, refresh your memory about the antics of the ironically named National Security Agency.

Is it possible to fully participate in today’s society without giving up our privacy? Probably not, unless tens of millions of people decide to stop availing themselves of 21st century conveniences that an entire generation has never lived without. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t avoid other intrusions. I’m willing to give up something for the safety and convenience of a GPS app when I’m far from home, but not for a lousy $5.

If you want to pay off my mortgage, then we’ll talk.

Categories: culture/society

Happy September. The World Is Coming Apart.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014, 13:25 EDT Leave a comment

Geez, I leave you people alone for not even five months, and all hell breaks loose. Clearly my presence is needed. Not to mention my commentary about it all.


For those who don’t know anything about Vladimir Putin, let me clue you in: He’s an old Soviet KGB guy who masturbates to a picture of Stalin. OK, I don’t actually know about that last part, though I wouldn’t be surprised. I do know that he is philosophically much closer to most leaders of the former Soviet Union—save Gorbachev—than any Russian leader since the collapse of the old communist empire.

Thus, no one should be surprised that he has invaded what in his dreams is still called the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Sure, he insists that it isn’t really an invasion, just the action of unaffiliated rebels, because he is counting on the rest of the world not noticing that those rebels are all wearing Russian military uniforms and driving Russian military vehicles and packing Russian military-issue heat. Indeed, the only thing that should surprise anyone is that it took him this long. Make no mistake, Vlad has designs on Ukraine—and several other nations.


Take your pick on which name to use. You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. In fact, you can call it Al Qaeda or Hezbollah or Black September for all I care. It’s yet another Islamic terrorist group with an odd affinity for killing people who don’t toe their religious/political line. Remember after the September 11 attacks, when George W. Bush and assorted celebrities tied themselves in knots to assure Muslims that we weren’t at war against Islam? It turns out that Islam, or at least a segment of it that enjoys a disturbing amount of support from Muslims around the world, was at war against us, and still is. ISIS has vowed to destroy the United States and fly their flag over the White House. All I can say to that is, over my dead body, and I mean that literally.

One aspect of the news coverage that bothers me is all the attention given to the beheadings of two American journalists. Not that those weren’t awful, but ISIS has been doing this for months, and many of their victims have been Christians, particularly children. I’ve seen a fair amount of coverage in the alternative media and a few conservative news sites, but the mainstream media has been more lax—until their own were the targets.

Ferguson, Missouri

If media outlets give disproportionate coverage to journalists killed by terrorists, they also give disproportionate coverage to black men killed by police. Again, it isn’t that such cases shouldn’t be investigated; I’ve seen and heard enough about over-zealous cops on power trips to appreciate the possibility that the shooting of an unarmed civilian is indeed unwarranted. And in the interest of full disclosure, I was one of the people who jumped on the bandwagon denouncing the shooting death of Michael Brown in Missouri. But as is the case so often, it turns out that initial reports—and my initial reaction—might not have been entirely accurate.

I consider heavy-handedness by law enforcement to be a significant threat to liberty. At the same time, it isn’t heavy-handed for an officer who believes he or she is in danger to exercise self-defense, which is the right of civilians as well. Let’s just say that I am no longer convinced that the Ferguson officer didn’t have a legitimate reason to feel threatened. Besides, if the killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer is by definition a big news story, then the killing of an unarmed white man by a black police officer (yes, it happens more than you would think) should be as well. That there is disparate treatment says more about the racist attitudes of the media and many observers than about alleged racism by police.

Rape culture

It isn’t a new idea, but the neo-feminist insistence of societal misogyny so pervasive as to indicate the widespread cultural acceptance of rape is getting a lot more attention lately. It’s bullshit. Seriously, if encouraging women to take simple steps to keep themselves safe is sexist—and the reasoning (I use the term loosely) goes that men shouldn’t rape, so women shouldn’t have to protect themselves from it, and suggesting they do is akin to blaming the victim—then it isn’t just rape that our society supposedly accepts.

I have a home security system because my house was broken into a couple of years ago and I don’t want it to happen again. But really, it wasn’t my fault that I was robbed; I should be able to feel secure in my own home. So what if I refused, as a protest against “theft culture,” even to lock my doors and windows? Or what if I failed to safeguard my personal information—social security number, online passwords, credit card numbers, and the like—as a protest against identity thieves and a statement of empowerment? I would be out of my mind, that’s what. Because in the real world in which I live, there are those who break into houses, steal people’s identities, and yes, even rape women. I can stomp my feet and bitch about it, or I can be a grown-up and protect myself against it.

And having thus vented, I feel better now. I’ll be back soon with more of the insightful opinions you have come to expect from me and have, no doubt, missed terribly.

One Year

Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 12:23 EDT Leave a comment

The 2013 Boston Marathon took place a year ago today. Of course, that annual big event would be overshadowed by the explosion of two bombs at the finish line at 2:50pm, just a few hours after the winners had crossed.

Three people were killed at that moment, dozens more seriously injured. The medical personnel who volunteered at the finish line to handle cases of dehydration, heat stroke, and muscle strains became, in an instant, medics in a war zone. It was later reported that the medical tent personnel triaged 58 people—several of whom had limbs blown off—in less than a half hour.

One of the registered nurses in the medical tent that day, a friend of mine who is also an officer in a U.S. Army Reserve medical brigade, recently spent three weeks in annual training exercises simulating mass casualty situations, which for their purposes were defined as five or more casualties. She said that after Boston, five casualties was a piece of cake.

People have moved on with their altered lives. The families and friends of the three dead, along with the loved ones of the M.I.T. police officer killed three days later by the alleged terrorists (or, as I call them, dirtbags), have made it through the first year. Survivors have recovered, some continuing to learn how to use the prosthetic legs that replaced the real ones they lost. Marathon organizers have planned this year’s event taking into account the need for increased security. Boston and state police, with federal law enforcement, have developed new public safety strategies based on lessons learned. Some of the runners who were prevented from finishing last year’s race have taken advantage of the Boston Athletic Association’s offer to run this year without having to re-qualify. Likewise, some of the volunteers who dealt directly with the carnage have decided to go back to the medical tent.

Today at the finish line, which has already been painted on Boylston Street in preparation for next Monday, wreathes have been placed in memory of the victims. A commemorative service will begin in a few minutes at Boston’s Hynes Auditorium. As I watch some of the coverage on television, I am more than a little weepy, which surprises me because 1) I was 40 miles away at my office when the bombing happened, 2) I didn’t know any of the victims (although several of my friends were very nearby); and 3) I never cried back when it happened, going instead from shock at the attack to indignation by the time the suspects were identified and hunted down. Probably thousands of other people feel the same way I do and, like me, don’t really understand why.

Maybe it’s because, as I’ve said before, this may not be personal to me as an individual, but it’s personal to me as a New Englander. This corner of the country is very stoic, its inhabitants proud of our history as the cradle of the American Revolution. Boston seems like a big city, but in many ways it feels like a small town. And the Boston Marathon, the oldest annual marathon in the world, is our special party in which we are kind enough to let others join. Crashing it for the sole purpose of killing and maiming people is bad form, and we take it personally. In the immortal words of David Ortiz, “This is OUR fucking city!” The implication being, How dare you come into our home and attack us and our guests! How dare you take our wonderful event and ruin it with blood and body parts! A year ago, it made me angry. I’m still angry, but I’m also sad, and it has taken a year for that to happen.

Some things can’t be understood or explained, so I won’t try. I’ll just let it happen. And maybe, on Monday, I’ll head into Boston and watch a marathon.

Bode Miller, Christin Cooper, and NBC’s Olympic Coverage Suckitude

Monday, February 17, 2014, 18:22 EDT 1 comment

While the last part of this title could launch a whole series of articles, my target today is last night’s Christin Cooper interview of American skier Bode Miller after the Super-G event which was his final chance to get a medal. Miller’s rather interesting story includes significant competitive achievements. It also includes a recent personal loss, the death of his younger brother.

Throughout their coverage so far, NBC has presented personal information about Olympic athletes as a way to elicit greater interest among viewers (and, by extension, enhance the television ratings). After all competitors had finished yesterday’s race, Miller was left tied for third place, thus becoming the oldest alpine skier ever to win an Olympic medal.

Cooper approached Miller and initiated the following on-camera exchange:

NBC [Christin Cooper]: For a guy who says that medals don’t really matter, that they aren’t the thing, you’ve amassed quite a collection. What does this one mean to you in terms of all the others.

Miller: This was a little different. You know with my brother passing away, I really wanted to come back here and race the way he sensed it. This one is different.

NBC: Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here, what’s going through your mind?

Miller: [pause] Um, I mean, a lot. Obviously just a long struggle coming in here. And … it’s just a tough year.

NBC: I know you wanted to be here with Chilly, really experiencing these games. How much does this mean to you to come up with this great performance for him? And was it for him?

Miller: I mean, I don’t know if it’s really for him but I wanted to come here and … I don’t know, I guess make myself proud, but…

NBC: When you’re looking up in the sky at the start, we see you there and it just looks like you’re talking to somebody. What’s going on there?

Miller: [breaks down crying]

Awful, right? But it gets worse. Because of the time difference between the U.S. and western Russia, the NBC production team had 20 hours to either edit the interview before televising it or decide not to use it at all. They did neither.

The viewing audience was horrified, as indicated by comments on Twitter.

Then, to add stupidity to both insult and injury, the networked doubled down. According to the New York Times, an NBC spokesperson issued a statement in defense of the interview itself and the decision to air it later.

“Our intent was to convey the emotion that Bode Miller was feeling after winning his bronze medal,” a spokesman for the network said. “We understand how some viewers thought the line of questioning went too far, but it was our judgment that his answers were a necessary part of the story. We’re gratified that Bode has been publicly supportive of Christin Cooper and the overall interview.”

How nice that Miller, who apparently has been friends with Cooper for years, is willing to forgive. That doesn’t mean that it was the right thing for NBC to do.

How and why did this sordid episode suck? Let me count the ways.

  1. Even if Miller’s grief over his brother’s death was “a necessary part of the story,” it was addressed very clearly by Miller in his response to Cooper’s first question. Hammering him about it afterward was redundant, unnecessary, and ultimately mean.
  2. NBC is supposed to be presenting Olympic coverage, not a gossip rag. Giving some background on the athletes adds a human interest aspect to the coverage, but it shouldn’t be the focus over the results of the competition. NBC chose to make it the focus.
  3. Cooper had obviously decided in advance that she would go for the most gut-wrenching display she could evoke. That she didn’t stop until he was sobbing is proof of her intent.
  4. Once she got the tears she wanted and in full view of the camera, Cooper attempted to comfort Miller by laying her hand on his shoulder. If she were really concerned for his comfort, she wouldn’t have badgered him.
  5. The decision, hours after the fact, to air the entire exchange shows how far American media have descended into the “reality TV” pit. Someone, or more likely several people, deliberately decided that the ratings were worth exposing someone in a vulnerable moment to a voyeuristic public that, thankfully, was horrified by it.
  6. “How much does this mean to you?” (like its close cousin, “How special is this to you?”) isn’t an interview question. It’s a crutch used by reporters who are too incompetent to ask relevant questions about the event at issue and/or too lazy to come up with a real question. Just once, I want the interviewee to reply, “It’s not special to me at all, dumbass,” and then walk away. Extra points if it’s done on live television.

Over at today’s Wall Street Journal, Kwame Dawes has an “Ode to Bode Miller’s Tearful Interview with Christin Cooper” which I won’t excerpt only because you really should read the whole thing. All I’ll add is that it made me think of rocker Don Henley’s 1982 single “Dirty Laundry,” which is as accurate an indictment of major media today as it was then.

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde
Comes on at five
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash
With a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when people die
Give us dirty laundry

Can we film the operation?
Is the head dead yet?
You know, the boys in the newsroom
Got a running bet
Get the widow on the set
We need dirty laundry

Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em when they’re down
Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em all around

Categories: family, media, olympics, sports

The Christmas Story

Wednesday, December 25, 2013, 00:28 EDT Leave a comment

The following is a post I have published here and elsewhere many times in the past. It is timeless. Merry Christmas to all.

StarIn those days, Caesar Augustus published a decree ordering a census of the whole Roman world. This first census took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All the people were instructed to go back to the towns of their birth to register. And so Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to “the city of David” — Bethlehem, in Judea, because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David; he went to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her delivery. She gave birth to her firstborn, a son; she put him in a simple cloth wrapped like a receiving blanket, and laid him in a feeding trough for cattle, because there was no room for them at the inn.

There were shepherds in the area living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flock. The angel of God appeared to them, and the glory of God shone around them; they were very much afraid.

The angel said to them, “You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good news to you—news of a great joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in David’s city, a savior—the Messiah—has been born to you. Let this be a sign to you; you’ll find an infant wrapped in a simple cloth, lying in a manger.

Suddenly, there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in high heaven!
And on earth, peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see this event that God has made known to us.” They hurried and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger; once they saw this, they reported what they had been told concerning the child. All who heard about it were astonished at the report given by the shepherds.

Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart. The shepherds went away glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.

— Luke 2: 1-20
(Excerpted from The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, Priests for Equality)

Categories: christmas, faith/religion

Fun with Numbers, Again

Wednesday, December 11, 2013, 14:15 EDT Leave a comment

Hey, look! It’s

11/12/13 14:15*

(*If you use the DD/MM/YY date format and 24-hour time format.)

Categories: this and that

Fun with Numbers

Wednesday, December 11, 2013, 09:11 EDT Leave a comment

Hey, look! It’s

9:10 11/12/13*

(*If you use the DD/MM/YY date format.)

Categories: this and that

Free Christmas Music Alert

Thursday, December 5, 2013, 16:11 EDT Leave a comment

Amazon.com 25 Days of Free

If it’s December, it must be time for Amazon.com’s 25 Days of Free. The web store releases a free Christmas song in digital (.mp3) format every day until and including Christmas Day. As with digital music available online, each track can be previewed so you know if it’s your cup of tea before you download it. But even if you get it and don’t like it, so what? It’s free.

To partake, go to 25 Days of Free and enjoy the music.

Categories: christmas, music


Tuesday, November 26, 2013, 17:46 EDT Leave a comment

Caught your attention, did I? Well, good, because I really need to talk about vaginas. Not the body part, but the word.

Today I saw this article on The Frisky about pubic hair and what women do with it. I, for one, am not particularly interested in how many women are styling or not. But evidently, this is a serious fashion issue. It seems that personal grooming “down there” was quite trendy for a while, and now it is less so. The article begins by acknowledging the angst of women everywhere when they ask themselves, coiffed or au naturel?

Pubic hair trends change so quickly, our vaginas can barely keep up. It’s like you’ve finally working up the nerve to stop shaving and start waxing her bald and the next thing you know there’s a celeb who goes public about how she prefers feathers and rhinestones down there. All these mixed messages about your pubic hair might leave you naked, in the shower, razor in hand, shouting WHICH ONE IS IT, WORLD? HOW DO YOU WANT MY VAGINA [TO] LOOK?

My question isn’t whether or not to groom.  My question is: Why do so few people know what a vagina is? When did Americans become so dumbed-down that they stopped knowing the correct names of body parts?

Merriam-Webster defines a vagina as:

  • the passage in a woman’s or female animal’s body that leads from the uterus to the outside of the body
  • a canal in a female mammal that leads from the uterus to the external orifice of the genital canal
  • a canal that is similar in function or location to the vagina and occurs in various animals other than mammals
  • MedTerms chimes in which a more clinical definition:

    The muscular canal that extends from the cervix to the outside of the body. It is usually 6 to 7 inches in length, and its walls are lined with mucous membrane. It includes two vaultlike structures: the anterior (front) vaginal fornix and the posterior (rear) vaginal fornix. The cervix protrudes slightly into the vagina, and through a tiny hole in the cervix (the os), sperm make their way toward the internal reproductive organs. The vagina also includes numerous tiny glands that make vaginal secretions.

    What’s missing in those definitions? If you said “pubic hair,” give yourself a gold star, because VAGINAS DON’T HAVE HAIR. The vagina is an internal organ. There is a little opening that leads to the outside, and all the outside stuff in the general vicinity of the opening is called the vulva. Encyclopædia Brittanica has a nice diagram of the vulva, with the various parts very clearly noted by name.

    Anatomy of the human vulva

    Do you see anything there labeled “vagina”? Neither do I. I see “vaginal opening,” which means it’s an opening into something that YOU DON’T SEE.

    So if a woman wants a hairless vagina, all she has to do is…nothing. If, on the other hand, she want a hairless vulva, then get out that razor.

    Categories: for women, stupidity

    Oratorical Greatness: The Gettysburg Address

    Tuesday, November 19, 2013, 10:59 EDT Leave a comment
    Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address

    One of only two known photographs showing President Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address

    Today marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. Widely regarded as one of the finest speeches in our nation’s history, it was delivered by Lincoln at the ceremony dedicating the Gettysburg National Cemetery, one of about 180 military cemeteries now run by the United States government in 41 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

    With the exception of Arlington National Cemetery, Gettysburg is arguably the country’s best known military cemetery. Like Arlington, the Gettysburg cemetery was established during the American Civil War to bury the enormous number of Union dead. Unlike Arlington, Gettysburg is located in the small southern Pennsylvania town where those there interred died in the bloodiest battle of the 4-year war. Between both sides, nearly 8,000 were killed and more than 27,000 wounded over just three days of fighting.

    The Battle of Gettysburg was waged from July 1-3, 1863. Notwithstanding the casualties, it was a Union victory and the turning point in the war. The national cemetery was dedicated 4½ months later, on November 19, 1863. The President’s speech was not the centerpiece of the dedication program. That distinction went to Edward Everett, a former Massachusetts congressman, senator, and governor who had also served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom and, briefly, Secretary of State. Everett’s speech weighed in at more than 13,500 words and took two hours to recite. Lincoln’s remarks were a mere 270 words and were read in just a few minutes.

    Contrary to the President’s prediction, the world does remember what he said at that ceremony. His words are remarkable in their simplicity and perfect in their recognition that the dedication of the graveyard was a mere formality.

    Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

    Categories: history, military

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 32 other followers