Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Another SEO Scammer Calls Me

I had been getting a number of e-mails from various tech companies wanting to help me improve my website ranking. One in particular got my attention because the language behind it was only slightly off kilter, like speaking to a European who had only been in the United States for a few weeks and hadn't quite gotten hip to the nuances of American English. 

The one line that struck me right away was "There is some lacuna in your website which needs to be improved so that your website becomes visible on top of the Search Engines and eventually help you get more traffic and more business". The author uses the word "lacuna" to indicate "gap" and it's not a word you'll hear commonly used in the United States. I'm only aware of it because it's used to indicate a period of silence within a piece of music. The author of the e-mail used it incorrectly, as lacuna is the singular form and lacunae is the plural, a fact I learned from an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the third episode of Season 7, "Interface", we see Commander Data staring at a blank screen when in fact, he what he is viewing is a lacuna within an alien poem. The ancient Doosodarians were known for their poetry that contained lacunae which sometimes measured several days in length. During this pause, the poet and audience are encouraged to acknowledge the "emptiness" of the experience. The Doosodarians believed that while the poem may be blank, the emptiness itself had a poetic meaning, so it could not be considered "nothing" as such.

After some back and forth over e-mail, I finally got a rep from the company to call. As suspected, the caller had a noticeable foreign accent. Clovis answered and passed the phone to Diksmash. After hearing the pitch, Diksmash successfully negotiated a deal with the sales rep where the rep would issue a bill for $1,000, of which Diksmash would keep $500 and kick $500 to the company. Clovis interrupted the call, said he'd been listening the entire time and was going to call the police. The conversation was turned over to a manager who attempted to do some damage control. Clovis kept talking over him, asking him for his company's address. The manager kept refusing, trying to refer Clovis to a doctored up website instead. Clovis responded by singing his ABCs which really seemed to set the manager off. Just before hanging up, the manager exclaims: "go call the police. I don't give a damn. Bye bye".


Monday, April 17, 2017

Kalahari Resort at Wisconsin Dells

Growing up in Suburban Chicago in the 70's and 80's, the Wisconsin Dells was a fairly popular vacation destination among my friends and their families.   Back then, the tourist activities in the Wisconsin Dells centered around small amusement parks, nature tours, the Wonder Spot, Tommy Bartlett's Thrill Show and its various knockoffs and, of course Noah's Ark Waterpark. My own family preferred Door County to the Wisconsin Dells despite the fairly intense advertising blitz that would go on during the warmer months of the year. I can still remember the jingle: "Mother Nature created the beauty, we created the fun! The Wisconsin Dells, a great time for everyone!"  

So, it wasn't without a bit of bemusement that I took my family up to the Kalahari Resort at Wisconsin Dells this past weekend. I had heard that the Dells had been expanding its waterpark offerings since the 90s to the point where Lake Delton is now considered "The Water Park Capital Of The World". I expected to be crush amidst a throng of tourists while being fleeced in every way possible from various theme parks with their hands in my pocket. But, to my surprise, it was actually a very pleasant and fun experience overall. We got a nice, spacious room with two queen beds, pull out sofa, fridge and a very large television. Access to the theme park at Kalahari is included in the room price. Access to the water park is extra, but I didn't feel like it was an unreasonable amount. Kalahari is even nice enough to refrain from locking down the room's television so that it can access USB media, thus allowing me to play movies from my USB drive. The prices at the restaurants and concession stands were pretty reasonable except for a few items (bottled soda being the obvious outlier). And, in general, there was something for everyone. My youngest son was an exception, but he's a rather odd demographic since he's nearly 5 and is very short for his age so he isn't tall enough to go on a lot of the rides in the theme park that interest him yet the rides he's able to go on are too "young" for his age.

I'm nearly petrified of heights, so the ropes course which consists of various climbing elements suspended 2 - 3 stories off the ground was a considerable challenge to me. My five-year-old was a real trooper for most of it and I reasoned that, if he could brave it, then I could too. Plus, they latch everyone in with a rope system so that, if you do fall, you won't get hurt. Still, I wasn't looking forward to the possibility of dangling from a rope while waiting for someone to pull me back onto the course. The rules of the course state that participants should empty their pockets and that no cell phones or cameras are allowed. Still, I brought my smartphone up and took pictures of my son crossing various obstacles. I did get caught by a Kalahari employee at one point, but he was cool about it and just asked me to put it away.

The water park at Kalahari is a lot of fun and I think that there's a decent balance between things to do for adults and things to do for kids. There's a lazy river, a number of kids areas, a swim up bar, an indoor/outdoor spa and a whirlpool spa. There are a number of different water slides to choose from that zip all over the water park. My own favorite is the Tanzanian Twister, a spiral flume ride that spins you around the flume at about 40 miles per hour before dropping you out from the bottom of the flume into the pool below. Now I know what being a flushed turd feels like.

If I have one complaint about Kalahari, it centers around the ability to capture the experience. There weren't many group photo ops available. On every trip, I like to get at least one picture of the entire family together, and it's not easy to do so. Having a photo op managed by resort staff is something I often rely on in order to make that happen. Near as I could tell, Kalahari had only one available and it was only for about an hour or so. There's also the Virtual Area, which I think is a lot of fun, but the lack of video recording availability is a bit of a let down because it would be pretty fun to see how ridiculous everyone acts while they're putzing around in a virtual reality realm. These are just minor nit-picks, though. We had a great time overall.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

RIP J. Geils

John "J" Geils, guitarist and founder of The J. Geils Band, passed away at the age of 71 last night. He was found in his home, and all indications are that he died of natural causes.

This one actually hit me pretty hard. "Freeze Frame" was the first album I ever bought.

It was at the dawn of the Mtv Era. For a kid like me, "Centerfold" was the perfect video. It featured a bunch of pretty girls, of course, but the band itself was an eclectic mix of characters, bookended by a cool lead singer and an aloof guitarist. These weren't the type of people you'd see in music videos today. The band members were in their late 30's rather than their early-to-mid 20s and they lacked a certain polish. That was fine by me, because, at the time, when compared to my peers, I lacked a certain polish. The video for "Centerfold" held a special place in my mind. My fevered adolescent fantasies featured myself as Peter Wolf among the various hot girls who went to my school who wouldn't ever talk to me much less do a dance routine in the middle of the classroom. My mix of misfit friends was cast as the band with my best friend serving as J. Geils.

"Freeze Frame" was the second video from the album. The band was having a great time throwing paint at each other and there was this weird animation thingy in the middle that I found fascinating. I was sold! "Freeze Frame" would be my first official album purchase. The moment I got my allowance, I was off to K-Mart to pick it up. I can remember the moment that I first picked up that record. I pulled it from the rack and raised it up slightly above my eye-level. It was like finding a legendary treasure that you'd only read about in books. Yet, here it was before me in all its vinyl glory! No longer would I have to listen to "Freeze Frame", "Centerfold" or "Angel in Blue" at the whim of Mtv. I was in control now.

There was a slight problem: The final song on the album is "Piss On The Wall". Should my mother happen to see such vulgarity, especially in print, the album would surely have been confiscated. Luckily, my oldest brother was old enough to have fewer restrictions on his purchases. He offered to hold onto "Freeze Frame" for me, as if it were part of his collection. I could listen to it in his room any time I wanted. With the headphones on. I wore down the needle on his record player listening to it.

"Love Stinks" started getting some play on Mtv but, to my astonishment, it wasn't on "Freeze Frame". It was from a different album, one that had come out before "Freeze Frame". What?? There was life before Freeze Frame? With my next allowance, I went out and bought it. This time, however, I did not want go to K-Mart with my mom and run the risk of there possibly being another vulgar song title which my mom might possibly see and use as a reason to veto the purchase, so my brother took me to an actual record store to buy it. When I got there, I discovered that there were SEVERAL J. Geils Band albums that had been made before "Freeze Frame".

Over the next few months, I used my allowance to buy them too. I was astonished at what I'd heard. Instead of happy, goofy pop music, I was treated to bluesy, angsty, soulful music. It was such a departure from what Mtv told me to expect, but that was a good thing. It opened up a whole new world for me because, before they were the momentary darlings of Mtv, the J. Geils Band were the masters of East Coast blues-rock. I started to investigate bands with similar sounds and buy their albums.

This was a serious addiction. I used money that was normally allocated for buying Star Wars guys or GI Joes to buy music. I not only bought albums, but I investigated the stories behind the bands. I wanted to know about them, so I bought magazines like Rolling Stone so I could read album reviews and interviews. I'd even go so far as to look up articles in the periodicals index in my school library. When I reached High School, I toyed with the idea of becoming a music journalist or a DJ so that I could interview my favorite bands. And when I do some side work as a DJ, in the back of my head, I wanted to sit both J. Geils and Peter Wolf down in a room together and have them take me through the conception of each and every song they wrote (which can never happen now). They say that at some point, ever child must put away his toys and take up the implements that make him a man. Well, the J. Geils Band and "Freeze Frame" started me on that journey. I became a man because of that album. And, years later, upon discovering that a middle school crush had become an amateur cam model? Well, my blood ran cold.....

Creative differences between J. Geils and Peter Wolf eventually led to Wolf leaving the band in 1983. They'd reunite several times over the years for one-off shows here and there, but an argument led to the band touring without Geils, who then sued everyone and quit the band for good. I had hoped that the band would get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 and patch things up again. A reunion won't ever happen again, but maybe we can still get them into the Hall of Fame.

Anyway, RIP J. Geils. Your music made me a fan not only of your band, but of music itself.

I'm going to listen to the Best of J. Geils Band, then I'm going to spin up Peter Wolf's "Sleepless", which is, in my opinion, one of the greatest albums ever made. You should too.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Debunking Jefferson's War Against Islam And The Barbary Pirates

Yet another Facebook rant is making its way across my newsfeed. This one offers a distorted account of President Jefferson and the Barbary Wars turning Jefferson's breaking of a high seas protection racket into a post Colonial-era crusade against Muslims. There are various different versions of the text, but here's the one I've seen most often:

A 232 Year History of our fight against Islam & why it is no longer taught in our public schools... 

When Thomas Jefferson saw there was no negotiating with Muslims, he formed what is now the Marines (sea going soldiers). These Marines were attached to U. S. Merchant vessels. When the Muslims attacked U.S. merchant vessels they were repulsed by armed soldiers, but there is more.

The Marines followed the Muslims back to their villages and killed every man, woman, and child in the village. It didn't take long for the Muslims to leave U.S. Merchant vessels alone. English and French merchant vessels started running up our flag when entering the Mediterranean to secure safe travel.

Why the Marine Hymn contains the verse, "To the Shores of Tripoli ".

This is very interesting and a must read piece of our history. It points out where we may be heading.

Most Americans are unaware of the fact that over two hundred years ago the United States had declared war on Islam, and Thomas Jefferson led the charge!
At the height of the 18th century, Muslim pirates (the "Barbary Pirates") were the terror of the Mediterranean and a large area of the North Atlantic. They attacked every ship in sight, and held the crews for exorbitant ransoms. Those taken hostage were subjected to barbaric treatment and wrote heart-breaking letters home, begging their governments and families to pay whatever their Mohammedan captors demanded. These extortionists of the high seas represented the North African Islamic nations of Tripoli, Tunis , Morocco , and Algiers - collectively referred to as the Barbary Coast - and presented a dangerous and unprovoked threat to the new American Republic .

Before the Revolutionary War, U.S. merchant ships had been under the protection of Great Britain . When the U.S. declared its independence and entered into war, the ships of the United States were protected by France. However, once the war was won, America had to protect its own fleets. Thus, the birth of the U.S. Navy. Beginning in 1784, 17 years before he would become president, Thomas Jefferson became America's Minister to France. That same year, the U.S. Congress sought to appease its Muslim adversaries by following in the footsteps of European nations who paid bribes to the Barbary States rather than engaging them in war.

In July of 1785, Algerian pirates captured American ships, and the Dye of Algiers demanded an unheard-of ransom of $60,000. It was a plain and simple case of extortion, and Thomas Jefferson was vehemently opposed to any further payments. Instead, he proposed to Congress the formation of a coalition of allied nations who together could force the Islamic states into peace. A disinterested Congress decided to pay the ransom.

In 1786, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams met with Tripoli's ambassador to Great Britain to ask by what right his nation attacked American ships and enslaved American citizens, and why Muslims held so much hostility towards America, a nation with which they had no previous contacts. The two future presidents reported that Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja had answered that Islam "was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Quran that all nations who would not acknowledge their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Musselman (Muslim) who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise." Despite this stunning admission of premeditated violence on non-Muslim nations, as well as the objections of many notable American leaders, including George Washington, who warned that caving in was both wrong and would only further embolden the enemy, for the following fifteen years, the American government paid the Muslims millions of dollars for the safe passage of American ships or the return of American hostages.

The payments in ransom and tribute amounted to over 20 percent of the United States government annual revenues in 1800. Jefferson was disgusted. Shortly after his being sworn in as the third President of the United States in 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli sent him a note demanding the immediate payment of $225,000 plus $25,000 a year for every year forthcoming. That changed everything.

Jefferson let the Pasha know, in no uncertain terms, what he could do with his demand. The Pasha responded by cutting down the flagpole at the American consulate and declared war on the United States. Tunis, Morocco, and Algiers immediately followed suit. Jefferson, until now, had been against America raising a naval force for anything beyond coastal defense, but, having watched his nation be cowed by Islamic thuggery for long enough, decided that it was finally time to meet force with force.
He dispatched a squadron of frigates to the Mediterranean and taught the Muslim nations of the Barbary Coast a lesson he hoped they would never forget. Congress authorized Jefferson to empower U.S. ships to seize all vessels and goods of the Pasha of Tripoli and to "cause to be done all other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war would justify".

When Algiers and Tunis, who were both accustomed to American cowardice and acquiescence, saw the newly independent United States had both the will and the right to strike back, they quickly abandoned their allegiance to Tripoli. The war with Tripoli lasted for four more years, and raged up again in 1815. The bravery of the U.S. Marine Corps in these wars led to the line "to the shores of Tripoli" in the Marine Hymn, and they would forever be known as "leathernecks" for the leather collars of their uniforms, designed to prevent their heads from being cut off by the Muslim scimitars when boarding enemy ships.

Islam, and what its Barbary followers justified doing in the name of their prophet and their god, disturbed Jefferson quite deeply. America had a tradition of religious tolerance. In fact Jefferson, himself, had co-authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, but fundamentalist Islam was like no other religion the world had ever seen. A religion based on supremacy, whose holy book not only condoned but mandated violence against unbelievers, was unacceptable to him.

His greatest fear was that someday this brand of Islam would return and pose an even greater threat to the United States .

This should concern every American. That Muslims have brought about women-only classes and swimming times in America at taxpayer-funded universities and public pools; that Christians, Jews, and Hindus have been banned from serving on juries where Muslim defendants are being judged; Piggy banks and Porky Pig tissue dispensers have been banned from workplaces because they offend Islamist sensibilities; ice cream has been discontinued at certain Burger King locations because the picture on the wrapper looks similar to the Arabic script for Allah; public schools are pulling pork from their menus; on and on and on and on..

It's death by a thousand cuts, or inch-by-inch as some refer to it, and most Americans have no idea that this battle is being waged every day across America. By not fighting back, by allowing groups to obfuscate what is really happening, and not insisting that the Islamists adapt to our culture, the United States is cutting its own throat with a politically correct knife, and helping to further the Islamists' agenda.

Sadly, it appears that today America's leaders would rather be politically correct than victorious!

IF YOU DO NOT REMEMBER THE PAST, YOU ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT.

The amount of historical inaccuracies and flat-out lies contained within this missive is appalling. Right out of the gate, the author tosses out a falsehood:  The Marines were not founded by Thomas Jefferson. The Marines were founded on November 10, 1775 by Captain Samuel Nicholas under the Second Continental Congress. They were disbanded after the Revolutionary War. They were then re-formed in 1798 in response to the Quasi-War with France. The French were outraged that the United States refused to continue paying its war debts owed to the country after the Revolutionary War. The United States argued that those debts were owed to a previous French government which no longer existed after the French Revolution. The French responded by attacking American shipping. The United States could do little to oppose France, as the Navy had been disbanded after the Revolutionary War. The French could not be negotiated with, so Congress authorized the re-formation of both the Navy and the Marine Corps. This was under President John Adams.

The "Barbary Pirates" refers to corsairs and privateers from the North African countries of Tripoli, Algiers and and Tunis (which were provinces of the Ottoman Empire) along with the independent Sultanate of Morocco. The four countries controlled a large portion of the Mediterranean and had been attacking merchant vessels as a sort-of "protection racket" since the 16th Century.  Indeed, as the rant says, American shipping was protected in the pre-Revolutionary War years due to the fact that American ships were effectively British ships. During the Revolutionary War, American shipping was protected by France via the Treaty of Alliance. The protections offered in that treaty expired in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris and the recognition of the United States as its own country.

No longer under protection from any larger European power,  American vessels were ripe for the plundering from Barbary Pirates. In fact, both England and France encouraged the Barbary States to attack American shipping, as it was cutting into both British and French trade. After Moroccan pirates seized an American brigantine vessel named Betsey in 1784,  the Spanish government stepped in to help negotiate the freedom of the captured ship and crew. Spain then advised the United States to offer tribute in order to prevent further attacks against merchant ships. To that end, Thomas Jefferson, then serving as the U.S. Minister to France, sent diplomatic envoys to Morocco and Algeria to try to purchase treaties and the freedom of the captured sailors held by Algeria. Morocco signed a treaty with the U.S., on 23 June 1786 formally ending all Moroccan piracy against American shipping interests. This debunks the rant's assertion that Jefferson saw that there was "no negotiating with Muslims".

Indeed, negotiations with the three remaining Barbary states did not go as smoothly. The nations wanted more money than U.S. envoys were authorized to spend. No agreement was reached, and American ships were at risk. In 1795, an agreement was reached with Algeris to release the 115 American sailors they had held for a decade for $1 million, which was 20% of the U.S. budget at the time. And they wanted a yearly tribute to be paid to them in order to ensure "protection" within their waters. Negotiations in London between Jefferson and Adams and Tripoli's envoy in 1786 did indeed produce the quote about Islam authorizing its followers to attack non-Muslims because they were regarded as sinners. It was regarded more as a justification than an overall reasoning. Again, the reason for the Barbary attacks was to squeeze "protection" money out of countries too weak to challenge them.

Adams and Jefferson agreed that, since the United States had no navy with which to challenge the Barbary Pirates, tribute would have to be paid. This eventually led to the Treaty of Tripoli being signed in 1796 (again debunking the "no negotiations with Muslims" claim). Although Jefferson bristled at having to pay tribute, the argument between the political factions in the United States centered more on whether or not the U. S. should be operating in the Eastern Atlantic to begin with. Many argued that the country should be concentrating on westward expansion rather than international trade. It was Jefferson rather than Washington who was the one who warned that paying tribute would set a bad precedent and would only embolden the Barbary Pirates. Washington had sought a diplomatic end to the Barbary issues while President and had often advocated for keeping the United States out of the affairs of the "Old World" to begin with.

Tensions were rising again with the Barbary States in 1800 and just before Jefferson assumed the office of President, Congress passed a naval registration act, purchasing new ships and allowing for attacks against pirates in Mediterranean in the event of a declaration of war from the Barbary States. When Jefferson took office in 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli demanded a payment of $225,000. Jefferson refused and Tripoli declared war on the United States. None of the other Barbary States followed suit. While at war with Tripoli, the United States along with Sweden imposed a blockade of Tripoli. Hostilities raged on for four years, culminating in the Battle of Derna in which Lieutenant Eaton led a force of Marines along with Greek and Arab mercenaries to capture Derna. And, while American forces did march 600 miles through the desert, they did not go from village to village killing all the men, women and children. It should also be noted that the 200-300 Arab mercenaries in Eaton's force were Muslim, which would again debunk the rant's claim that the Barbary Wars were some kind of crusade against Islam. Also worth noting here is that, at no time did English or French vessels run up American colors on their ships. They didn't have to. Turkey, the seat of the Ottoman Empire, was allied with England and the Barbary States relied on free trade with France for supplies.

The capture of Derna gave the United States enough leverage to negotiate an end to the conflict. The resulting treaty still required that the United States pay Tripoli $60,000 for the release of American prisoners, though it was called a "ransom" rather than a "tribute". Jefferson's fear wasn't that Islam as a religion would pose a future threat, rather, he was concerned that rolling over and paying tribute to any country would weaken the United States as a player on the world stage. This is why the United States fought the Quasi-War against France and the First Barbary War against Tripoli.

The rant then goes off into a crazed railing against Muslim encroachment into American culture by citing a number of incidents that may or may not be true.  And even if they are, connecting them to the First Barbary war is impossible to do without an Olympic season's worth of mental gymnastics. The one thing the rant does get right is the saying that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. But, it follows that, in order to remember history, one must study it properly in the first place, something that the knuckle-dragging author of the rant clearly failed to do.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Your Fear Over The Internet Privacy Roll Backs Is Unfounded

I see a lot of people on my Facebook feed decrying Trump's recent rollback of an Obama-era law that placed restrictions on ISPs selling your aggregate browsing data. People are up in arms and are declaring that they are going to start surfing via VPN (usually without knowing what VPN is). The more bold folks on my feed are trying to pool money together in order to buy and publish the browsing histories of their Senators and Representatives. Trouble is, these people have no understanding of what the old law did or what the new law (that rolls back the old law) does.

At issue here is the ability for ISPs to use your browsing data to send you targeted ads. This is something Facebook and Google already do to you, which is why you often see ads on Facebook and in Google for things you have searched for on Amazon or other shopping sites. ISPs take this one step further by selling your browsing data (top level domains only, they don't sell the actual pages you look at on a site) in an anonymous form bundled with thousands of other users' browsing data from similar demographics. Then, a company can essentially ask an ISP to target ads for their product to people who have visited certain domains who fit certain demographic characteristics. In the waning days of the Obama administration, the FCC issued a rule (not a law) that would have required ISPs to get their customers' permission in order to do this. The FCC gained the ability to enforce this rule due to their re-classification of ISPs as common carriers under Net Neutrality.

That law that Congress passed and Trump signed effectively blocked the FCC rule. And here's the real kicker: The FCC rule hadn't even gone into effect yet. This means that nothing regarding the way you use the Internet is changing. There's no reason to be up in arms over this if you hadn't been before the FCC issued the rule. Your ISP will still be selling aggregate data, which they have already been doing for quite some time. There are still laws in place that prevent your own personal information to be tied to your aggregate browsing information. This means that nobody can go to an ISP and purchase someone's browsing history. The best you could do is purchase anonymous aggregate browsing data in bulk that fits certain criteria. So, if you wanted your Senator's browsing data, the best you could do would be to find out his zip code and purchase the aggregate data pertaining to people who live in the same area. And even if you could do that, publishing that data online would be illegal as it would probably be considered proprietary information owned by the ISP that collected and indexed it.

That's not to say that the blocking of the FCC law isn't concerning. It is. Data targeting is huge and advertisers are pumping tons of money into it. That may not seem like a bad thing on the surface. If you're going to see an ad, I'd wager that you'd rather see one that is relevant to you rather than something completely out of left field. Yet, the unexpected side-effect of this data targeting stems from the money that is generated by it. Content is monetized by it and so content providers are increasingly desperate to earn that ad revenue by getting you to visit their site  so that they can get paid for showing you targeted ads. This has led to a saturation of click-bait titles and outright fake stories generated by content providers in order to grab your attention, get you to visit their site, and get paid for showing you some targeted ads. Rather than using the Internet as a repository of information, we're using it as a repository of infotainment. The Internet has become the TV equivalent of "Fox & Friends" or "Inside Edition". Giving customers the ability to opt out of having their data sold like this could have started to push back against the constant din of websites crying out for attention in tabloid headline fashion.

The irony here is that everyone is up-in-arms over the new law, but are upset for a completely made up reason, one that they likely got wind of via a click-bait article with targeted ads embedded within it.

Monday, March 20, 2017

RIP Chuck Berry

Rock N' Roll legend, Chuck Berry is dead. Bursting onto the scene in 1955, Chuck Berry nurtured rhythm and blues into rock n' roll. John Lennon once quipped "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry". Such was Chuck Berry's influence on the sound and presence of the genre.

Chuck Berry had a number of hits over the years, such as "Maybellene", "Roll Over Beethoven", "Rock N' Roll Music", "Johnny B. Goode", "No Particular Place To Go", "You Never Can Tell",  and "Nadine" But, for me, Chuck Berry's defining song has always been "Johnny B. Goode", a song that Berry has said is somewhat autobiographical. It's a song about an illiterate country boy who plays a mean guitar and wants to see his name in lights. It's a song that was put onto the golden records on the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecrafts. Eons from now, an alien culture may find those spacecraft and play those records and Chuck Berry will be seen as a significant part of Earth culture. So, as those spacecraft sail through space, the man who wanted to see his name in lights will have done better than he could have ever hoped, for his name now flies among the stars.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Monopoly Is Changing Their Tokens Again

Looks like the makers of the board game, Monopoly, is trying to modernize the game once again by changing out more of their tokens. The boot, thimble and wheelbarrow are out, and the T-Rex, rubber ducky and penguin are in. Over 60 other potential new tokens were up for contention including an emoji and a hashtag.

I suppose I'm a bit miffed at losing the boot, which was my go-to token whenever I played Monopoly. I was always thrilled to boot other tokens as I passed them by on the board. What am I supposed to do now, pretend to eat them with the T-Rex? Really, though, the tokens are secondary to the gameplay. Back when the game was originally produced, it didn't come with tokens. Players provided their own, often using charms from bracelets or toys from Cracker Jack boxes. An honestly, making the player use whatever was handy is more in-line with the game's Depression Era roots. I can recall using bottle caps and pull-tabs to replace lost Monopoly tokens back when I was a kid. Perhaps a return to this "make do with what you've got" spirit of the game is just what is required in order to make Monopoly relevant again.

Games featuring the new tokens will be available starting in August. Anyone want to bet on when a version of the game called "Monopoly Classic", priced slightly higher than the "mainstream" version will come out?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

I Spend All My Money On Your Mom!

Yet another "lower your interest rate" credit card scammer called me. When he asked me if I had over $3,500 in credit card debt, I told him that I did, and that had spent all of my money on his mom. He tried to roll with it, but he quickly gave up and hung up on me.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Donald Trump and Cinnamon Toast Crunch

President Donald Trump achieved his electoral college victory by a wider margin than any President since Ronald Reagan (aside from Obama in 2012, Obama in 2008, Clinton in 1996, Clinton in 1992, and George H.W. Bush in 1988). But, can he see why his constituents love the taste of Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Check out the commercial below: 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Telemarketer Inquires About Home Owner Phobia

Clovis got a call from a scammer calling himself Phabian from U.S. Safe Savings Center looking to try and sell him on some kind of insurance scam. When "Phabian" asked Clovis if he was a home owner, Clovis reacted as if the rep was calling him a "homo". Despite Clovis' admonishment to the contrary, the rep continued on his script as if Clovis had been objecting to the idea of being sold something. Soon, the language barrier became too much to overcome, and the rep ended the call, seemingly indicating that he'd be calling again.


Friday, February 17, 2017

The Bowling Green Memorial Fund

Apparently, mad props are due to Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President. Had it not been for her, we would never have remembered the tragic events that transpired in Bowling Green at some unknown point in the past. Thanks to her citing the media cover-up of the Bowling Green Massacre, more Americans than ever are now aware that a Bowling Green Massacre did indeed take place. They don't know when it happened, who was involved or how many victims there were, but at least awareness was raised.

The efforts of Kellyanne Conway to bring the events of the Bowling Green Massacre to light have resulted in grass roots movements to memorialize those events. To that end, the Bowling Green Memorial Fund aims to help people remember that they somehow forgot all about it.




DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a real commercial. No such fund exists. This is SATIRE.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Would You Rather Be Inside Dave Van Ronk or Inside Llewyn Davis?

In celebration of Valentine's Day, here's a clip of Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren putting aside their differences so that they can play a song with Justin Timberlake.



Seriously, though, the clip is from a movie called "Inside Llewyn Davis" which is loosely based on the career of Dave Von Ronk, one of the folk gurus of Greenwich Village. Van Ronk may not have gotten much fame in his own time, but his influence among other musicians at the time cannot be denied. Joni Mitchell often said that Van Ronk's rendition of "Both Sides Now" was the finest she'd ever heard. And Bob Dylan heaped praise on Van Ronk, saying "I'd heard Van Ronk back in the Midwest on records and thought he was pretty great, copied some of his recordings phrase for phrase. Van Ronk could howl and whisper, turn blues into ballads and ballads into blues. I loved his style. He was what the city was all about. In Greenwich Village, Van Ronk was king of the street, he reigned supreme."

The movie, Inside Llewyn Davis works very well as a Cohen Brothers concept, and as a primer for the kind of music that Dave Van Ronk played. However, if you're looking to get some insight into what kind of person Van Ronk was, Inside Llewyn Davis will disappoint. The movie, while incorporating some anecdotes from Van Ronk's life, portrays Llewyn Davis as an intelligent, arrogant asshole caught in a sisyphean cycle. Dave Van Ronk himself was a much different person. To truly get a feel for what he was like, check out his memoirs, "The Mayor Of MacDougal Street". It's worth a read.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

R.I.P. Richard Hatch

I grew up watching Battlestar Galactica. It was one of the many gems put together by Glen A. Larson whose resume included Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Fall Guy, Knight Rider, Quincy M.E. and B.J. and the Bear. There was something about Battlestar Galactica, though, that distinguished itself from Larson's other series. Battlestar Galactica, while still being your basic action-based sci-fi show, actually asked a number of deep questions. Where did humanity come from? Where are they going? What does it mean to be human?

One of the key components of Battlestar Galactica was the acting of Richard Hatch (not to be confused with that guy who won the first season of Survivor). When sharing a scene with the legendary Lorne Greene, Hatch evoked a humble optimism that paired so well with Greene's intimidating presence. Once Battlestar Galactica was cancelled, Hatch went on to try to revive the series in the 1990s, going so far as to mortgage his house in order to finance a trailer outlining his vision.




Universal Studios, who held the rights to Battlestar Galactica, were not interested in a continuation, opting instead to reboot the series with Ronald D. Moore at the helm. Hatch was bitterly disappointed and became overly critical of the new series (which, IMO, was actually a great show for the first two seasons). Despite this, Hatch invited Moore to appear at Galacticon, a Battlestar Galactica 25th anniversary convention hosted by Hatch. Moore endured tough questioning from hostile fans of the original series, but his grace under pressure earned Hatch's respect. Moore then offered Hatch a recurring role on the new series as Tom Zarek, a terrorist turned politician. So, instead of remaining indignant over his own vision not being made, Hatch decided to contribute his talent's so someone else's vision, which made the show better than it would have been without him.

Most recently, Hatch had starred as Klingon Supreme Commander Kharn the Undying in the Star Trek fan-film Prelude To Anaxar.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Hatch. You may be Tom Zarek to a generation of millenials, but you'll always be Captain Apollo, leader of Blue Squadron to me. So say we all.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Queen Elizabeth's Anniversary

Queen Elizabeth II, Britain's longest reigning monarch, has spent 65 years on the throne. Poor lady. Sounds like she could use a prune or maybe some Metamucil.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trump Wants To Build Walls

During his first week in the Oval Office, President Trump got to work right away on fulfilling his biggest campaign promise: The Border Wall. He signed an executive order last week calling for the building of a wall along the Mexican border as well as the expansion of border patrol and deportation agents. He then indicated that Mexico would somehow be made to foot the bill of building the wall, a claim that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto flat out denied. This led to the cancellation of a summit meeting between our two countries and a declaration from Trump that a 20% tariff on imports from Mexico would be explored in order to pay for the wall.

Later in the week, Trump signed an executive order keeping all refugees from entering the country for 120 days and keeping immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia) out for three months. The order also blocked nationals from those nations who had valid green cards and visas from entering the country. Many nationals who were in transit when the order was signed found that they were denied entry when they landed and were either detained or sent back to where they had flown in from. Protests erupted at major airports around the country and foreign leaders were quick to denounce the ban. Trump supporters, however, see the ban a necessary step to safeguard our country against people from nations known as hotspots of terrorism while the vetting process for allowing people in from those countries is tweaked. The concept of a border wall and a temporary travel ban sound like good ideas, right? After all, you can't be too careful. The safety of our country is at risk, isn't it? Democrats should be on board since it was Obama who identified those seven nations as hotspots of terror.

First off, if you support the travel ban, you should do so because you believe in the plan itself. Pointing to past administrations that have done vaguely similar things and crying "Whatabout..." is a cowardly deflection of the issue and makes you look like you don't have any faith in your own beliefs. It's like when you catch one of your kids misbehaving and he points to his older brother saying "Well, he did it first, you just didn't catch him!". Pointing to someone else's bad behavior doesn't excuse your own.

Second, I understand that a lot of people view politics like they view team sports. They throw their support behind their party in such a way that they've become little more than game day fans. Yet, I cannot stress enough the need for people to look beyond their party lines and to think critically about the best ways to handle our national security. We also have to consider the human costs of these programs and whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs. Don't take the Republicans at their word and don't take Democrats at their word about it either. Go out there and educate yourself. Read articles by people are are experts on the subjects you're interested in.

That being said, my own opinion on this whole thing is that Trump is acting on fear. We, as a nation, are starting to fear people who are different from us simply because they are different. Trump himself declared via his campaign site in 2015 that he supported "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States", so you'll have to excuse me if I am skeptical when Trump says that his latest move isn't "a Muslim ban". I hear people saying all the time that if immigrants are going to come here, then they need to integrate into our culture and learn the language. Sentiments like this make me think of my great-great grandfather. He came to this country from Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) after the failure of the tripartite agreement Austria-Hungry brought Bohemia under Austrian rule and made ethnic Czechs into second-class citizens. He settled briefly in Minnesota and then moved on to Chicago. By today's standards, he wasn't the type of immigrant most people would want living in this country. He never learned English beyond a few words and phrases. He didn't need to. He lived in a neighborhood where everyone spoke Czech. He attended a church that held services in Czech. He even subscribed to a Czech newspaper. What's worse, he was of a different religion than most of the rest of the country. He was a Catholic during an era when a number of groups were trying to limit Catholic immigration into the United States. He had at least 14 children (10 of whom survived to adulthood) all tucked into a tiny apartment and provided for them by doing odd jobs as a carpenter and sending his kids out to do the same. They were a poor family. So dirt poor that, when one of the children died due to a tragic, horrible accident, they couldn't afford to buy a burial plot for him. They had to rent it and live with the fact that someone would eventually be buried over him and that there would be no marker for his final resting place. My great-great grandfather may not have been what the mainstream saw as the ideal immigrant, but he planted himself firmly in the country and fought for his meager share of the American dream. From the roots he put down, generations of law-abiding, job holding American citizens sprung forth. Yet, had today's prejudicial attitudes towards refugees been applied to my great-great grandfather, I wouldn't be here writing this blog.

Meanwhile, one of my Irish ancestors who brought his family to this country embodied the sort of immigrant that we'd see as ideal in today's society. He was a Protestant, the predominant sect of Christianity in the U.S. at the time. He spoke English and even became a naturalized citizen. He was successful businessman who pitched in around his community in order to help out those less fortunate than him. On the surface, he was the ideal immigrant, yet he was involved in organized crime, grand larceny, jury tampering, bail jumping and murder. My point in telling these stories is to highlight the fact that, ultimately, we don't know what's in the heart of anyone who chooses to come to this country. We're quick to trust what's familiar, but we're even quicker to condemn what's different. Supposedly, Muslim nations want to attack us because they hate our freedom. If we keep making restrictions like this, then aren't we making our country less free and, thus, playing into the hands of the very people who want to tear us down?

Friday, January 20, 2017

McCartney Sues Sony To Get Back His Publishing Rights

According to multiple news sources, Paul McCartney is attempting to get back his publishing rights to the Beatles catalog via certain termination provisions U.S. copyright law. An update to the law in 1976 increased the period that works are under copyright protection, and, in recognition of authors who had signed over their rights to publishers and studios without much bargaining power, allowed such authors 35 years hence to reclaim rights in the latter stages of a copyright term. McCartney has been serving Sony/ATV, the current owner of the catalog, termination notices for the last decade. Sony/ATV have been ignoring them. Now, McCartney seeks a declaration that his termination notices are valid under the provisions provided in the 1976 Copyright Act.

In my own opinion, Paul is going to lose this case big time. Paul is citing Section 304(c) of the 1976 Copyright Act which gives authors who transferred their copyright interests to third parties before January 1, 1978 the right to terminate those transfers and reclaim their copyright interests. Problem is, John Lennon and Paul McCartney didn't transfer their rights to a third party. They created a company called Northern Songs and transferred their copyright interests to it. In hindsight, the deal that created Northern Songs looks like a bad one. After all, John and Paul only owned 40% of the company collectively. Brian Epstein, the manager of The Beatles, got 10 percent. The remaining 50 percent went to Dick James and Charles Silver, experienced music publishers. Considering that James and Silver were taking the bulk of the risk, they got the bulk of the company.

In 1965, it was decided to make Northern Songs a public company in order to save on the capital gains tax. To that end, 1,250,000 shares were traded on the London Stock Exchange, and, after the offering was closed, Lennon and McCartney owned 15% each, NEMS (Brian Epstein's company) held 7.5%, Harrison and Starr shared 1.6%, and James and Silver (Northern Songs' chairmen), held a controlling 37.5% interest. The remaining shares were owned by various financial institutions. After Epstein's death in 1967, Lennon and McCartney summoned Dick James to a meeting in order to renegotiate their deal. They treated James rather poorly, which made him wonder why he was bothering to deal with them in the wake of Epstein's death. Early in 1969, James and Silver their shares of Northern Songs to ATV Music. Upon hearing the news, John and Paul attempted to gain control of Northern Songs, but couldn't match the financial power of ATV. The Beatles' new manager, Allen Klein then made a bid for their company, Apple, to purchase ATV. That deal was quickly squashed by McCartney's lawyer who wrote a letter to ATV informing them that Allen Klein, while manager of the Beatles, had no authority to act on Paul's behalf because Paul had not signed the management agreement. Thus, ATV pulled out of the deal. In a last ditch effort to gain control, Lennon and McCartney called a meeting with a block of investors who owned a significant percentage of ownership in Northern Songs in the hopes that they'd sell their shares to them or help them take control of Northern Songs. Lennon sabotaged the meeting by insulting the investors, declaring, "I'm sick to death of being fucked about by men in suits sitting on their fat arses in the City!", which pushed any offended investors to ATV's side. Having lost the battle, Lennon and McCartney were offered shares of ATV in exchange for their shares of Northern Songs, but they chose instead to sell their shares outright.

In 1981, Paul McCartney and Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, had an opportunity to buy the ATV catalog for 20 million pounds. McCartney and Ono couldn't come to an agreement as, according to McCartney, Ono insisted that the catalog was over valued. A change to acquire the catalog surfaced again in 1984 when ATV itself went up for sale. McCartney was given the opportunity to buy it, but refused. Michael Jackson ended up buying ATV in 1985. In 1995, Jackson merged the catalog with Sony music publishing as part of a financial deal where Jackson have Sony 50% ownership in exchange for a sizable loan. Subsequent re-negotiations of the deal left Jackson with 25% interest in the catalog.

The point I'm making here is that McCartney wasn't the victim of a greedy record company who snatched his publishing rights away under his nose. He knowingly transferred his rights to a company that he was an owner of and then lost those rights when the company got taken over. He then washed his hands of the catalog by selling his stock and turned down several subsequent opportunities to re-acquire his rights. This isn't the type of situation that the cited provision in the 1976 Copyright Act was written to accommodate. This case is a loser, and Paul is most likely aware of it. He's almost certainly using the threat of termination to leverage his position against Sony in order to get an increase in his songwriting royalty rate, which would be the fist time he's gotten an increase in decades. And, even without that,  I can see why Paul is making the attempt. Paul had once said that he wrote the songs for free, so he doesn't see why he should pay to get them back. So, this lawsuit is his last chance to get his rights back for relatively little cost.