Jerk Tech and Vapid Business Models

IN my daily quest to read all of the internet (I fail badly, as everyone else does) I ran across an interesting opinion piece of Techcrunch. In a story called Stop The JerkTech, Josh Constine (@joshconstine) called out the creators of certain types of apps that appear to be to make money by helping jerks. The two he cites are a public parking space app, and a restaurant reservation app. In both cases, they are selling what is otherwise free for a fee.

I found the story to be quite entertaining because it’s a solid poke at some of the insane business models that seem to be getting financed these days. Some of them like the jerk tech are designed to make money by reselling things that are generally free, others by trying very hard to wedge themselves into normal transactions as a form of middleman. A third group of the truly vapid business models are the ones with no real business at all, based on the fantasy of build a really big audience and hope someone buys you out before you run out of funding.

I find it all interesting because much of it shows the lack of morals that exist in the tech world. The phrase often tossed around is “tech allows it”, so it must be okay. Jerk Tech is pretty much something that tech allows, but in social terms is not the best idea at all. The restaurant reservation app works by having their people make fake name reservations for all of the top restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area, and then selling those reservations to people for $10 or so. The problem is that they appear to monopolize the market place, making it impossible for normal people to just call the restaurant and get a table. Moreover, the eatery doesn’t get a cut, but suffers if all the expensive reservations are not sold and become no shows. It’s a somewhat automated version of being a really big jerk – and making money while doing it.

Middlemen business models are very popular as well, in part driven by a deep understanding of the Google business model. Google’s job is to get involved in as many transactions as possible. Everything they do to take over markets, such as giving away a free operating system, browsers, mail, search, and all of those other things is about gaining eyeballs and selling ad space. They also sell ad space on many, many websites (including this one) and take 50% of the income for doing it. They are very rich middlemen.

As a result of this, you have plenty of middleman business models. Some of the most common prey on people’s narcissistic desires to be famous. Those are companies who “help your band get airplay” or “publish your book”. Vanity presses for writers have almost always existed, they have generally been a pretty scummy way to make a living, getting the author to pay for printing books that will likely never sell. Online, “tech allows it” means that you have literally tens of thousands of these things in everything from help your band to getting your dog a job in movies. All of them are middlemen, trying to get between you and the real resources.

In fact, the internet is in fact one giant middleman contest, with the goal to remove as many of the end retail players from the game. is an amazing success story, and it’s business model is exactly to become the middleman in books (and a whole bunch of other things). Their goal is to make it so that instead of going to any other retailer, you go to them and they deal either directly with the manufacture or even get the other retailers to sell through their system. This gives them incredible power, and the problems that exist currently between Amazon and Hachette publications is a perfect example of the power of the all consuming middleman scenerio.

In fact, the middleman world is the fastest developing part of the internet, and in my next post, I will talk about how the middlemanware and jerk tech worlds are often one and the same.

Is Claiming Fair Use Just a Nice Way to Pirate Stuff?

I read Mike Masnick over at Techdirt on a fairly regular basis, in part because he is an endless source of laughs for me. He has completely convinced himself of a bunch of different things about the economics of the internet, piracy, and copyright, yet most of what he supports seems to flicker and fade. Trent Reznor, once one of the true heros of the “FREE!” economy and one of it’s pioneers apparently had second thoughts, signed a new record label deal and appeared at the Grammy awards. Most of the tricky “pay what you want” schemes for selling things have faded away, and still few crowd funded entertainment options have really played out in a big way. Some minor successes to be sure, but nothing that has anyone running for cover.

What really caught my eye was an article about fair use and the “innovation economy”. Now, fair use is one of the rallying cries of the anti-copyright set, and one that Masnick attempts to push as a right, and not an affirmative defense. Yet, in the seminal case on the subject, Campbell v. Acuff Rose Music, the judge in the case clearly stated that “fair use is an affirmative defense”. In fact, it’s pretty self explanatory, fair use is saying “yes is used the copyright material, but I feel I have the right because…”. The first part of claiming fair use is an admission that you used copyright material without permission. Masnick seems to have a real problem with this basic idea, and as a result, much of what he writes about copyright on Techdirt tends to suffer the juice of the poisoned apple.

What is funny is that fair use is sometimes used as an excuse for piracy. It’s a big logical jump, where people say that since the Betamax case permitted “time shifting” by recording a program now for later viewing, pirating a copy of what you didn’t record is okay because you could have done it. Some might call that bootstrapping, but I call it the misinformed leading the misinformed. The legal reality is much simpler. The best way to explain it is that while the courts have tolerated to some extent “remote” DVR machines hosted by cable companies, they are careful to assure that each end user records and plays back their own copy of the programming, and not a shared network copy. They also do not store all material and allow a user to select from programs they did not explicitly record. So they are not creating a on demand system, rather just a DVR with a very long wire. By the same logic, obtaining from a third party a copy of what you did not yourself record would not be time shifting or fair use, just a straight copyright violation.

Mike Masnick also points to a recent court ruling with a blazing headline of “Court Ruling Notes That For-Profit, Full Copy Of Audio, Without Commentary Can Also Be Fair Use, In Specific Circumstances”. It sounds like fair use is a free for all for full use of audio, right? Well, not really, First off, the case is very narrow in scope, and most importantly, it involves the news media reporting on a given topic. The recording in question is of an earnings conference call for shareholders, and was used by Fox specifically as part of a news report. It’s not surprising or even particularly revolutionary that such audio could be used to report on something. Yet, Masnick repeatedly hammers on the “full length recording” as some magical thing, like suddenly the courts are going to give everyone a pass on using audio in any way they see fit. The ruling is extremely narrow in focus, and deals with the news media, a news story, and a very specific news worthy item. It’s not a revolution, it’s how things have always been.

Fair use is a wonderful doctrine, it’s a great balancing tool to allow a narrow set of situations where one can use copyright material without obtaining the rights, and is balanced against all sorts of things. Interestingly, the Campbell v. Acuff Rose Music that is often cited in these situations is itself a bit of a red herring, firstly because the Supreme Court only ruled narrowly on what it saw as an error by the lower court and sent the case back down – they did not issue a definitive ruling! Also, the case was in the end settled by the two parties with 2 Live Crew licensing and paying to use the work in question. Their fair use claims of parody may or may not have played out in the courts, but clearly even with the Supreme Court sending the whole mess back to the lower courts, they didn’t feel the desire to press their luck. For that matter, the rights holders seemed relieved to get out with a licensing deal instead of more court time, so everyone was happy. Since that time, further rulings have pretty much shown that almost all forms of sampling to create new songs is not fair use, and that everything must be licensed. The Campbell v. Acuff Rose Music case didn’t so anything for fair use, if anything the only thing was force licensing. Their fair use claims in parody may or may not have worked out for them, and we will really never know.

It should be pointed out that one of the biggest parody music makers of modern times, Weird Al Yankovich does not rely on fair use for his work. Rather he asks permission and does not release a song unless the original artist is on board. It’s not about his pure legal standing, it’s about realizing what is right and wrong in reality. It’s that sort of thing that seems very hard for the copyright minimalist groups to understand. Sometimes you just have to be fair, even in fair use.

Another example of people not getting it is over at Torrent Freak, another bastion of piracy wrapped in free speech flag. Andy on that site is particularly humorous, only because he comes up with nuggets of self-justification that are almost beyond understanding. In defense of Kim Dotcom’s mega not removing infringing files and instead only disabling specific reported links, suggesting that perhaps an original rights holder might have used Mega for a backup, so deleting the file would violate their rights. Yeah, I know, I had to think about it a bit to realize how incredibly stupid this was. Movie makers and musical artists aren’t generally lining up to use Mega as a backup service for their finished work products. I certainly can’t imagine Warner Brothers or whatever uploading rips of their DVD products to Mega for safe keeping. Attempting to create the space for an exception by suggesting the most unlikely scenerio is laughable. It’s trying to excuse the illegal acts of thousands (if not millions) of people by suggesting something stupid. It’s pretty much on par with the guy who says that MH370 flight was taken by aliens and dropped on the moon (and seriously, someone has claimed that!).

Using fair use or completely insane possible situations to cover for rampant piracy makes those who support it look silly. Trying to drive a truck through the head of a legal pin to excuse bad behavior is the last desperate claim for those about to eat it.

Whiners and Wind Ups In the New F1

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a fan of auto racing (and to an extent motorcycles as well). I have routinely and regularly called out NASCAR for their sleep inducing, near incestuous series, and I have spoken against F1 on a few occasions as well. NASCAR pretty much failed to move forward and lost me as a fan, and F1 had certainly been hovering on that side as well. Four years in a row of Red Bull dominance and an endless parade of rules bent and broken at will made F1 a bit mindless.

However, the FIA and F1 who sort of combine to actually make the series go saw the issues and decided that F1 needed to move towards being more relevant for actual road going technology. Few of us were going to benefit by increases aero effeciency by cycling our engines at high speed to detach airflow (exhaust blown aero), nor for that matter were very many of us driving around in normally aspirated high fuel consumption V8 engines. So with an eye to the future, they redid the rules to put a bigger emphasis on hybrid power, electric recovery, and fuel effciency, not only limiting the size of the engines to 1.6 liters (with turbo) but also limiting both fuel flow and total fuel allowed per race, which has certainly changed the game.

Three races into the new era of F1, and it’s pretty easy to see that some engine companies got it, some didn’t so much, and others just having been able to integrate the whole thing into a functional package. Mercedes has certainly put together a great engine package, which is powering most of the teams near the top, and Renault has pretty much dropped the ball, and served up a complex system that doesn’t seem to be work well and is prone to failures.

There have been complains and whining from all sides on this one, even F1 head Bearnie Ecclestone complained the cars were too quiet – until he heard them in person and then said it wasn’t that bad. Clearly the cars are quieter, considering they don’t rev to 18,000 rpm anymore and have their exhausts blocked by a turbo, but they turn out much more torque and power total than the old cars. There are also complaints that the cars are harder to drive and hard to make work propertly.

Not surprisingly, the sourest of sour grapes appears to be coming from previously dominant Red Bull racing. They have been the team who has dominated for 4 years, with a slick combination of the best packaging plus some incredibly inspirated rule… what would you call it… rule skirting. Everything and anything was fair game to them, including apparently heating the underside of the car so the floor would flex more during the race to increase downforce, to flexible noses, blown exhausts, and a whole bunch of other things that will one day come to light when the players are not longer in the game, and will reveal just how much of a charade it all was. Red Bull loved the old rules because they found all the ways to get around them, winning the last 8 or 9 races last season without even marginal opposition. They were just that far ahead.

Now, they find themselves having problems, and that has resulted in some pretty sad whining from them. F1 champ Sebastian Vettle was asked about the engine sound, and he said it was “sh-t” (poop). Red Bull honcho and Team owner Dietrich Mateschitz has made some not so veiled threats about leaving the series, and now chief engineer (and rule bender) Adrian Newey had made it clear he things all of this technology is expensive, meaningless, and not relevant. Of course, it probably pisses him off no end that he can no longer find another twist in the rules to apply an aero adjustment to make his cars slide to the front anymore, and in fact his original 2014 design was at least partially scrapped because the car kept overheating and catching fire.

My opinion? Red Bull can take the door and go. They are fair weather friends to F1, and as soon as things are not going their way, they are quick as a group to start talking the series down and making off the cuff comments that are not to anyone’s benefit. The races so far in 2014 have been interesting, with plenty of different strategies and challenges, and as a result, F1 is actually fun to watch again. Red Bull want it their way, the old boring way… and that’s just not going to happen.

In the never ending world of chess that is F1, Bernie Ecclestone perhaps gets the last word on this one, the one that is likely to get Red Bull to shut up already. He announced that two new teams would be coming to F1, which would pretty much negate whatever potential loss would come from losing the two Red Bull teams. So if Mateschitz thought he had F1 by the short and curlies, it turns out that he may just be giving himself the wedgie instead.

7 Ways Clickbait Will Destroy The Internet

TMZ Loves Clickbait

TMZ Loves Clickbait

Sarcasm is pretty much how I roll sometimes, and this is going to be one of those posts. Almost everyone surfing the internet has been a victim of click bait at one time or another, and it is only getting worse.

If the term clickbait doesn’t ring a bell, let me take a moment to explain. In order to get more people to visit websites, these sites often purchase or obtain promotional links on other sites, and use outrageous pictures, vague headlines, misleading headlines, or some combination thereof to encourage people to try to click on the link and visit their site. While it sounds sort of like good marketing, it is often done with less than honest or extremely over hyped material.

TMZ and the Huffington Post are often cited as examples of sites that use clickbait to encourage people to read more pages on their site. TMZ generally has wild ones, such as “Watch Kim Laser Her Boobs” and “Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren Together Again!”. Both of these probably pull in the clicks, but both of them are somewhat misleading. You don’t get to see Kim Kardashian’s Boobs, and Tiger and his ex-wife were together for their kids. Now, the real stories aren’t very interesting, but the headlines are certainly click worthy.

Companies such as Outbrain and a few others are really pushing this as a marketing strategy, it seems, as their little thumbnail images and headlines that appear on a number of sites are often some of the most misleading or disappointing around. As with the headline of this story, a common thread is “8 things you never knew about…” or “10 ways to increase your pay!” and things like that. These sorts of things tend to lead to vapid stories with vague content, or are just not relevant to anyone. It’s all a numbers game, these sites charge for ad exposures and are looking to drive their “readership”, even if it’s done with absolute crap as content.

Personally, I tend to tag this one onto Google and their search engine rankings. Google is very much into social media, and much of the clickbait is created to try to get people to like a page, or tweet a link, or push an image (with a URL, natch) to be viral.

So, without further ado, let me pitch in my 7 ways Clickbait Will Destroy the Internet: (and yes, I will make you click a new page to see the list!) Continue reading this story – click here!

Why Rick Falkvinge Just Doesn’t Get It

Recently, Rick Falkvinge posted up another rather laughable article over at torrent freak, which is one of the few sites that seems to let him post with fairly free reign. Anyway, the piece, called “WHY THE COPYRIGHT INDUSTRY IS DOOMED, IN ONE SINGLE SENTENCE”, is pretty much par for the course. Rick is very good at combining non-relevant facts and making what appears to be very subtle changes to things to completely distort reality. He cites a line from one of the regular posters over there:

“The very concept of a business around the copyright monopoly revolves around the ability to prevent people from telling each other interesting things.” — Scary Devil Monastery (as part of a larger comment to this article)

And that, in a nutshell, is why the copyright industry is dead as a doornail. It’s just zombieing around for a bit first.

It sounds perfectly reasonable, until you understand what he is saying. For some reason, the anti=copyright zealots seem to think that people are trying to stop them talking about things. The implication is that we cannot stand at the watercooler at work (or the foozball table if you work somewhere so hip) and talk about what we saw on TV last night, or that we somehow cannot have a discussion about a movie we saw because it’s copyright. That by itself is a total lie, you and I could have a full discussion about anything and everything and never be stopped by anyone. Quite simply, there is nothing blocking people from sharing ideas, opinions, and yes, what they know about a topic (or movie).

What they are really trying to do is suggest that talking about what they saw on TV last night should mean that they can give you a copy of what was on TV last night without permission, or that they could duplicate the movie they watched and hand it out, or even to give you a free copy of the hot new computer game they just played. What Rick is trying to push is that the sharing is “part of the discussion”. In other words, he wants to entirely usurp the rights of copyright so that he can be lazy when he talks to other people. He wants to replace the copyright holder as the person who gets to choose the distribution of a work, and of course, he doesn’t want to compensate the rights holder for doing it – all in the name of “discussion”.

If he wasn’t so serious, you would think it’s a column from the Onion.

His basis is pretty amusing too, and requires that you ignore some basic facts. It goes like this: “Any digital, private communications channel can be used for private protected correspondence, or to transfer works that are under copyright monopoly. n order to prevent copyright monopoly violations from happening in such channels, the only means possible is to wiretap all private digital communications to discover when copyrighted works are being communicated. As a side effect, you would eliminate private communications as a concept. There is no way to sort communications into legal and illegal without breaching the postal secret – the activity of sorting requires observation.”

You have to ignore the very basic facts that the same logic would make investigating almost any other crime equally impossible. It is why we have laws that allow law enforcement to get warrants to tap telephone lines and (more recently) to examine things like text messages and emails. Criminal activity, done in private or done in public is still a criminal activity. Copyright violations, while mostly a civil issue (unless there is a commercial aspect to them), is still something that could be acted on.

What Rick forgets is that the real issue isn’t Bob sharing a single copy of a song with Fred, it’s Bob running a seed box and sharing the song with the world. The real issue is the scale and scope of piracy right now, where a single person can share a file and fulfill the needs to thousands of people they don’t know. If it was limited to personal exchanges, like in the old mixtape days, few would really care. The volume would be too low, the amount of effort required to share too high, and the process too slow to be significant factors in the marketplace.

Rick tries to downplay things as if piracy is a small thing, just people having a discussion. I don’t know about you, but I don’t talk in two hour, 100 million dollar movies. Do you?

AandE Folds Under Pressure and Brings Back Phil Robertson

duck dynasty phil robertson

It’s amazing what a whole bunch of public pressure can do to correct over zealous political correctness. It seems that A&E figured out which side of the bread their butter was on, and decided to “reinstate” banished Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson to the show.

Now, for those of you following along, you will know that the suspension was sort of meaningless and knee jerk reactionism at it’s finest, considering that the show is not currently filming. Suspending Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty and then running multiple marathons on air shows how screwed up A&E is over the whole subject. When they had a racial issue with Dog the Bounty Hunter, they not only suspended production, but also took the show off the air for a time. Since Duck Dynasty has been their best rated show ever, it seems they weren’t willing to walk the walk this time, and only talked the talk.

A statement from A&E to The Hollywood Reporter read as follows:

As a global media content company, A+E Networks’ core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect. We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited into people’s homes, and we operate with a strong sense of integrity and deep commitment to these principles.

That is why we reacted so quickly and strongly to a recent interview with Phil Robertson. While Phil’s comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the “coarse language” he used and the misinterpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would “never incite or encourage hate.” We at A+E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article and reiterate that they are not views we hold.

But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man’s views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family … a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about.
So after discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming Duck Dynasty later this spring with the entire Robertson family.

We will also use this moment to launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company and the values found in Duck Dynasty. These PSAs will air across our entire portfolio.

Some bloggers and opinion sites are suggesting that A&E may have made peace with GLAAD and other groups by perhaps spreading a little holiday cheer (read cash) or perhaps offering to work on shows that are more “gay friendly” in the future. All kidding aside, it’s clearly one of those issues of economics more than anything else, A&E could not afford to lose it’s top rated show, and the rest of the cast of Duck Dynasty had made it very clear this week that without Phil, the rest of them were done.

So score one against political correctness, and perhaps GLAAD and other professionally offended groups can pick better battles, where they aren’t trying to trample someone’s first amendment rights because they don’t like the comments.

Lotus F1 Owner Thinks Most Teams In Financial Trouble

The financial troubles of Lotus F1 team got revealed late in the 2013 season, when driver Kimi Räikkönen stated without a doubt that he had not been paid at all for that season so far. While he was apparently paid at least in part, he still decided to take the two last races off, which may have cost the team third place in the constructors championship – and the extra money that comes with it.

Now Lotus F1 owner Gerard Lopez has been quote as saying that “For 80 per cent of the teams, their financial situation is no better than ours”. This seems to line up pretty well with reports that Sauber was pretty close to the brink near the end of the 2013 season, and that teams like Catherham and Marussia are working on somewhat limited budgets. Further, teams like Williams and even McLaren are dealing with losses of a major sponsorship, so much so that it is also reported that McLaren may have their first orange team color car in years, with the lack of a true major sponsor for 2014 by the time they introduce their cars in late January.

This is against a backdrop of a huge increase in expenses with new power units for 2014, and a general feel that the costs of the series have reached a point where most major sponsors don’t want to pay for the exposure that comes with the series. Many of the teams have one or both of their drivers as “pay” drivers, that is to say that they are selected not for being the best driver available, but rather because they have sponsorship backing willing to pay to get them in the seat.

F1′s shift in 2014 to a series not only based on pure speed but also based on efficiency, extended electric / hybrid power trains, and the like is perhaps it’s last gasp attempt to remain relevant. The upcoming Formula E series with all electric open wheel cars looks poised to pounce, with more relevant technology and the same general car look, which may mean that F1 teams will continue to suffer in their quest for sponsorship dollars.

If Lopez is right, the current situation in Formula 1 could in fact signal the end of the line for auto racing as we knew it. If 6 or 7 of the F1 teams fold because of a lack of financing, the series itself would almost certainly fold, grids of 12 cars would make absolutely no sense for race promoters or TV, viewers and sponsors would disappear overnight. Will the dinosaurs of the racing world finally turn to fossils?

Political Correctness Taken Too Far and Marks And Spencers

Here’s another story, just like the Duck Dynasty story, that shows that the public is no longer willing to get their rights trampled on just to be politically correct. The UK has a fairly significant Muslim population, thanks mostly to unchecked immigration policies. In many places, the Muslims are insular, living in tightly group communities and not integrating into society. Many companies make all sorts of accommodations when they hire Muslim people, from special holidays to multiple breaks per day to pray. It’s pretty unfair to everyone else who doesn’t get to slide away from work for 30 minutes every few hours, and it creates resentment and trouble. The UK is country with a huge racial issue bubbling under and soon to explode.

A recent event at Marks and Spencers shows just how fed up the public is with these unreasonable accommodations. It seems that a Muslim employee was working at the check out cash at one of their stores, and refused to serve a customer because the customer was buying alcohol, which is against their religion. Marks and Spencer has made the fatal mistake of allowing their employees to decide what their job is, using their religion to decide which tasks they can and cannot do – and the company is stupid enough to back them up.

News flashing for M&S and many other companies out there: If you have an employee that cannot do the work, don’t keep them on the payroll. Don’t give them light duties or selective jobs to avoid their issues, let them know that the job includes all of the tasks, and they can either do the job or leave. Telling a paying customer to wait because they refuse to handle a closed and sealed bottle of champagne (or any pork meat, for that matter) is horrible customer service, it’s insulting to the customer, it creates unneeded delays, and most of all, it’s political correctness gone wild. If they cannot do the job (all of the job) then don’t hire them to start with!

The backlash on this case has been huge, yet Marks and Spencers is still enough to stand by what amounts to being a very discriminatory policy. They have apologized that the employee refused to do their job, but still supported that employees right to refuse to help the customer. The press has gone wild, and in a country like the UK where racial issues are becoming more and more of an ongoing issue, it shows how political correctness and religious tolerance are starting to turn against those who refuse to integrate into society.

Not surprisingly, there is a move boycott M&S, and I support them completely. Policies that allow an employee to duck out of work or to not do all of their work because it might offend their gods is a step way too far that discriminates against everyone else.

Duck Dynasty versus Political Correctness

It’s been interesting to watch the fall out of the Duck Dynasty situation, and how the battle lines are being drawn up. If you have been hiding under a rock or watching nothing but out of date soap operas, perhaps you aren’t aware of Duck Dynasty or comments made by the patriarch of the family. Basically, he pretty much stated what he believes, what is part of his religion, which is that homosexuality is a sin, like bestiality or any other odd act, and those who commit that sin will go to hell. It’s pretty much a fairly standard view that isn’t really out of the ordinary, except that Phil Robertson added some chat about anuses and vaginas, but that is just colorful language from a colorful man.

A&E, the network which plays the Duck Dynasty show immediately suspended Phil Robertson from the show, which may be a bit of a weird punishment considering that the next season is apparently already in the can ready to go, and that A&E is running a number of Duck Dynasty marathons with Phil on it. Their reaction seems a little knee jerk, and they aren’t alone. GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) is a gay / lesbian group that came out and called the speech hateful, the usual spiel that seems to happen in these cases. The usual collection of bleeding hearts and political correctness finger waggers came out and wagged, gestured frantically, and made angry, offended noises.

Then something surprising happened. Usually in these cases the sponsors of the show (the ones who in the end pay for the show to be on) did what nobody expected them to do: They formed up ranks behind Phil Robertson and supported him. The Cracker Barrel chain of restaurants tried to play politically correct and split the difference, removing some products from their shelves that were specifically Phil Robertson related, but left the rest of the Duck Dynasty and Duck Commander stuff on their shelves. That seems to have gotten them both barrels from the public, as within 24 hours they reversed their decision and closed ranks. Companies such as Real Tree and others have pretty much said they may not agree with the comments, but they truly believe in his rights to have an opinion.

This is one of those cases where the political correctness nuts are pretty much left twisting in the wind. If they continue to cry foul, they are looking like they are against christians and what is in the bible, which in turn means they risk saying hateful things about a religion. The PC crew are are coming to realize that the values and opinions expressed by Phil Robertson resonate with a significant segment of the population. They may not say it in the same somewhat crude manner, but they do believe that homosexuality is a sin, against their religion, and yes, homosexuals in their view will end up in hell.

For someone like me, it’s more a case of free speech than anything. I don’t straight out agree or disagree with Phil Robertson’s views, but I do respect his right to say them. If hell exists, in my opinion there is a special place reserved for people who paint cars funny colors or put 30 inch rims on Chevy Caprices. That is my opinion, it’s not hatred, it’s just an opinion. It’s my right to have such an opinion, and Robertson is entitled to his opinion of homosexuals. Remember, religion and spirituality is something that cannot and will never be absolutely proven, it’s only an opinion.

Now, if Robertson had added “and they should all be rounded up and shot” to his comments, it would be hateful speech, because it goes beyond having an opinion and instead calling for action. He did no such thing, so perhaps the fine people over at GLAAD just need to grow a slightly thicker skin, grow up a little, and understand that not everyone agrees with their lifestyle choices. Meanwhile, A&E is left to roast on the fire, their knee jerk reaction in response to the political correctness squads makes them look weak, and at the same time continuing to run episodes with Phil Robertson in them. They profit from the controversy, which makes them look even more wishy washy.

Auto Racing On The Brink Of Extinction

auto racing doomed?

For those of you who come to this blog often, you will know that I am both a big lover of auto racing, but also a pessimist when it comes to the future of many of the professional levels of the sport. As time goes on, it gets clearer and clearer that auto racing no longer fulfills a technical need for car companies, and rather has become a sort of finite engineering puzzle most likely won by those with the most cash. That cash is one of the key issues, it’s in relatively short supply these days and that supply is getting smaller every day it seems, as companies move away from racing sponsorship which cost big and return perhaps marginal results.

NASCAR is one of those sports very much on the brink. A formula of non-stock stock cars (go figure) running almost forgotten pushrod V8 engines, around the same set of tracks with the same basic collection of drivers for years at a time. It gets even weirder when you figure out that a very few teams make all of the cars and engines for every other team on the grid, unlike the past where each made their own “best try” to win. The sport is like a petrified forest of older drivers, old technology, and tracks that encourage truly dull racing. In a super restrictive rules package, tens of millions of dollars are spent by teams looking for 1/100 of a second advantage, hiring more and more specialists and engineers to wring the last 1% for the tired technology. How old is the technology? NASCAR only just ditched carbs for fuel injection systems, only about 30 years after they became common on street cars. With a bigger demand for money, there is a sucking sound of the top performing teams signing up more and more partial season sponsors, meaning the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. There are a number of cars running in the top NASCAR series with either no sponsorship, self sponsorship, or week to week local pickup sponsors paying the bills, and these cars tend to end up as start and parkers rather than real racers. The demand for NASCAR’s product has dropped so much that they are ripping out tens of thousands of seats from their venues in an attempt to make the grandstands look less empty on race day. Their junior series are worse, the Nationwide series has plenty of clearly unsponsored cars running, even from the biggest teams, and they often race in front of small crowds. The trucks are even worse, a series truly on the brink of extinction in the very short term for lack of sponsorships to keep the trucks on track. The capper on all of this is that Jimmie Johnson won his 6th championship in 8 years, driving for the richest of the rich teams – and the one that makes the cars for so many others. Go figure.

Formula One isn’t doing all that much better. Driver Mark Webber, who is on his way out after a final race in Brazil, has noted that the driver market is in pretty sad shape. top drivers like Kimi Rikkonnen apparently went almost all year without getting paid, and many of the drivers on the grid are either driving for little more than their cost to be there, or worse have brought millions of dollars of sponsorships to get a ride. The costs of running a top F1 team right now are something about 500 million per season, well beyond the reach of most. It has lead to consolidation with only 3 or 4 engine manufactures in the series, and a have and have not mentality that splits the grid. At the head end of the grid a few teams have the funds to go fast, but most of the rest of the grid is mired in a constant struggle to make enough money just to stay on the grid. One team folded before the seasons started, and both Sauber and Lotus are reported to have serious financial issues. Other smaller teams are using ride buying drivers just to be able to afford to stay on the grid, even if the drivers are not always the best. All of this of course to the background of F1 leader Bernie Ecclestone in court for apparently having screwed around financially when F1 was sold a number of years ago. F1′s race calendar is set mostly by whoever pays Bernie the most for the races, period, with no consideration beyond that seeming to be in effect, yet much of that money doesn’t appear to trickle down to the teams. The newest agreement with the teams pretty much leaves the lowest two teams out in the cold when it comes to financial support, making the rich get richer and the poor, well, they can just go away.

It’s increasingly likely that Formula One will have fewer cars on it’s starting grid soon, it’s unlikely that 12 teams can find a combined 6 billion a year of sponsorship to run a level playing field, and at some point the costs of doing business will drive some of them off the grid entirely. The fact that nobody has stepped up to take the 13th team spot that was dropped by HRT this year is a sign that things are not all that well.

Even in the world of GT racing, road racing, and endurance racing, there continues to be a shortage of top teams to fill the grids. The Lemans endurance series only ever seems to have a small handful of teams running in the top tier, with few of them having the cash or technology to win unless those in front of them fail. The deck chairs on this Titanic get reshuffled from time to time, mostly in the lower GT classes, but in the end, any growth seems to come with equal amounts of loss each time.

There are a few bright spots, to be fair. GT racing in general seems to be on the upswing, with plenty of nice cars and some good coverage worldwide. However, many of the events seem to run to empty or near empty grandstands, which means they depend on TV exposure to make it work out. The brightest star right now is the Australian Supercar series, which recently added more brands into the mix, plays to big crowds, and gets rock star coverage all over Australia and Asia.

The real challenge for auto racing is to be interesting and relevant in a time where the technology on a street car is often superior to that on a the racing cars, and where hybrid and full electric seems to be the longer term future. F1 is trying with their move to a more hybrid engine package for 2014, but NASCAR and it’s stone age push rod V8 engines look to be about as out of touch as you can imagine. The costs related to doing this are sky high, pinching the top series even more and making it less and less possible for teams to really compete. The loss of competition and the repeat champions in various series show that perhaps they have played out, and the loss of fan interest in inevitable… and that leads to extinction, just ask CART.

The First 48: True American Reflection?

the first 48

I can be honest in saying that I have been a fan of The First 48 since it started on A&E in the US a number of years ago. I can admit to being a bit of a true reality lover, someone who is interested in how real life works for others. I don’t like a glossed over, polished up story as much as I love the true grit. The very first episode of The First 48 with the crew from Miami Homicide had me hooked, sure there was editing but damn straight it was real.

What struck me recently after having missed the show for a couple of years (I not longer get A&E where I live… it’s harder to get to see things) is how much the show has become a reflection of much of the vaunted American way of life. In many ways, I can see the show not just as a true life cinema verite, but rather as a clear indication of what has broken down in the US, on the very small and very low levels.

There are three things that become very clear when you watch the shows. Those three things come together to create a sort of perfect storm of systematic failure for the US model. Moreover, the fundamental rights that Americans hold dear are in fact the very things that are driving them into conflict and into a cycle that looks like it will end in failure.

First off, low level criminality is a constant in much of America. We aren’t talking the murders here, but more the drug dealing, the stealing, abusive behaviors, and so on. It’s an indication both of the tolerance level of society as a whole, as well as a systematic failure in the legal system.

Second, too many Americans lead desperate, failing lives. They are making ends meet often by stealing someone else’s ends or spending every penny they have on the drugs and booze to insulate them from reality they live in. If they have work they go to dead end jobs, temp work, and the like, they hate it, they have no connection to it, and are just as likely to leave it.

Third, much of America lives in constant fear of the first two groups, who appear more than willing to violate they space, their rights, and their property to “get better”.

The world economy has dealt Americans a truly crippling series of blows in the last couple of decades. Much of the manufacturing and warehousing jobs that kept Americans employed have been whittled away, it’s cheaper to pay people in China, India, Thailand, Mexico, Indonesia and a host of other places to make the goods and ship them to America. Computer efficiency has both raised employee productivity and at the same time shrunk the needed size of warehouses to hold inventory. Big box retailers like Wal-Mart and big online retailers like Amazon have taken that even further, making it harder for small businesses in retail to succeed and also forcing many from the supply chain businesses out of work. Now talented and experienced people are cleaning tables at McDonalds and working as minimum wage greeters at WalMart, and the people who would have been in those jobs in a robust economy find themselves unable to compete for the jobs anymore, grinding more of them into the cycle of failure I mentioned above.

When the economy tanked, another group got forced into the muck, tossed out of houses they could no longer afford, losing cars they could no longer pay for, and losing jobs that could no longer afford them.

The only saving grace is that some manufacturing jobs are coming back to the US because of a combination of higher fuel costs to transport goods as well as that Americans are finally willing to work for wages that makes companies competitive to offshoring.

The First 48 reflects often what is happening to the people at the bottom of the pile. Homeless, poor, drug addicted, predatory gang members, and just plain desperate folks are ending up committing the ultimate offence of murder, force by situation or their own bad choices. When you look around them, you see the real problems, from boarded up and abandoned buildings to posses of equally desperate and failing family and friends. They can no longer afford to be polite or be respectful, their route to a better life or just plain survival isn’t pretty or safe.

Chris Brown Has Anger Issues

chris brown anger management

I have to admit, the headline sort of writes itself, in part because it’s as obvious as can be. Chris Brown has made a name for himself alternately with some fairly well received rap albums and his penchant for finding or creating trouble. He shot to national fame not for his music, but rather of beating then girlfriend Rihanna in his car. For that offence, he received community service and probation in lieu of prison time. The probation isn’t up, and Chris Brown has been back in trouble multiple times.

I could go on and on about his offenses, or his offensiveness if you prefer, but that really isn’t my point. He is essentially a young angry black man with the money to try to skate for everything bad he has done. He is not just a musician / rapper, he is also a poster boy for what is wrong in the US legal system.

Probably and community service for domestic abuse is in itself a crime, a punishment that effectively lacks punishment. Chris Brown figured he was even above that, and according to the prosecutors in his case, he faked the community service with help from family members, and that backfired. His community service was a sham from start to finish, so much so that the courts ordered him to do another 1000 hours of community service. It’s suggested by some that he may not be anywhere near that number, and is due back in court November 20th to deal with it.

More recently, he got caught up in a fight and possibly homophobic remarks, which lead to him spending an overnight in jail, and may contribute to him getting his probation revoked, if there is any justice. The reality? There is little justice, which is why Chris Brown is a poster boy for much of what is wrong.

Beating his girlfriend to being bloody should have landed him in jail without exception. No community service, just a nice jail term to be served out. Quite simply, violent felonies, no matter circumstance, should be met with the full power of the law. Yet, so often this type of violence is treated like a parking offence, pay a small fine, agree to park nice for a year, and go on your way. That type of “it’s not important” treatment of these cases just leads to more. If there is no real risk in the behavior, then it becomes acceptable.

Moreover, the case points to a US justice system that is fundamentally broken. Chris Brown should have already been toss in the pokey after this community service was blown, there shouldn’t have been a negotiation for another break. But a system that keeps granting breaks, exceptions, ways out, apologies, and half hearted rehab attempts only adds to the issues at hand. Chris Brown likely will not learn until Chris Brown actually has to pay for his misdeeds, and that is done sitting in a 4×8 cell and thinking about it for a few years. The US justice system allows people to ignore the court, to ignore rulings, and allows them to get away with it repeatedly. It’s a huge failure.

Until the legal system stop playing softball with angry, agressive people like Chris Brown, society as a whole will suffer. I can live without his music, especially if it means we get to live without his violent ways.

End Of An Era In Formula One?

end of an era in formula one

As the Formula One season for 2013 runs to it’s end, many are speaking of this as the end of an Era. The V8 engines that have screamed and wailed for the last decade or so are going out, replaced by new small displacement V6 turbo engines – and a whole bunch of electric power, which is pretty innovative but a little weird.

As for next year, as an example, cars will have to run on the battery only in the pit lane. That’s right, silent get aways as the cars pull away from their pit stalls. That and a host of other changes are on tap, all of which shows a major shift in the “formula” that is formula one.

Yet, I don’t really think of this as the end of an era, rather, it’s the middle of perhaps one of the poorest times for Formula one in ages. It’s not so much the era of outright domination by the Red Bull team, with near unlimited budgets and some of the best rule benders in the business, nor has it been the era of the V8 engines. Rather for me it has been and will continue to be the era or mind numbingly boring tracks, trick rules like DRS, and a general removal of almost all risk from Formula one.

Hermann Tilke is often cited as the creator of this situation, he and his company design and help to build the tracks. They have either created or “freshened” 75% or more of the tracks on the current calendar, many of which are technical challenges that are as boring as they come to watch. One truly classic example of this is the Circuit of the Americas, which should have been an amazing track, but instead outside of a neat turn one as turned into a dull track for auto racing. The motorcycles seem to do very well on it and have interesting racing, but the visit by the V8 Supercars from Australia showed just how dull racing can be on these tracks.

The real key over the last few years has been the paving of run off areas. So many tracks now have large, significant paved run off areas, so much so that a failure to make a corner costs a driver a few tenths as they turn wide on the “run off”. In the past, it might have been a spin and a crash, or at least a spin and a fair amount of time lost. In some cases, the paved areas are being turned more and more into the actual track, with cars just barely keeping a half a wheel inside the lines to stay legal.

When you remove the risk of a race ending spin or even accident, you remove the risk of overdoing it slightly, especially in practice and qualifying. In removing the risk, you make it much easier for the best drivers in the world to drive their cars at 10/10ths without concern for the risk if they go slightly past that point. This season it’s been pretty much par for the course to see almost every car in the race at some point go off the track and come right back on without risk.

On a number of tracks, they have paved all of the area between curves in chicanes or left rigth complexes, making the punishment for over cooking the turn almost negligible. On other tracks, for fear of dirt being kicked up tracks have paved the outsides of the exits of corners to make the tracks wider, effectively lessening the challenge of the corners and defeating the purpose of the limited road surface.

Tilke is famous for this, the Circuit of the Americas complex through turns 2 through 5 or 6 is pretty much a paved parking lot with colored lines to define the track, with essentially no risk if you fail. India is the same, with huge paved run off areas. Even the previously scary and forbidden 130R in Japan as been neutered by a massive paving on the run off area.

You can often see the effects of these dull and safe tracks by looking at the lap times for team mates. More often than not, the grid is two by two by two, with little given for the skill of the individual driver and much more given for only the car and it’s setup. It takes much of the thrill out of racing to know it’s more about what the engineers did (or what tricky designers like Adrian Newey got away with) than the drivers actual skill. The only time that tends to change is when it rains, as much of the design of the car is for nothing compared to the drivers’ judgement in how to drive the conditions. That suddenly adds the element of risk and danger that is sorely lacking the rest of the time.

While the end of the V8s is an end of the era for some, we are still stuck in the era of horrible, boring, overly safe tracks that take away much of the challenge of the sport. Until those things change, it’s unlikely that Formula One will be truly spectacular again.

Factoids Truthiness and Factiness In Action

pump and dump schemes

If you ever want to see factoids, factiness and truthiness all at work together, then you have to look no further than your inbox spam folder for pump and dump schemes. While they may seem to be far removed from people pushing piracy or trying to win political debates, they are in fact based on the same set of tools and pyramid of logic.

First off, what is a pump and dump? Well, according to wikipedia,

“Pump and dump” is a form of microcap stock fraud that involves artificially inflating the price of an owned stock through false and misleading positive statements, in order to sell the cheaply purchased stock at a higher price. Once the operators of the scheme “dump” their overvalued shares, the price falls and investors lose their money. Stocks that are the subject of pump and dump schemes are sometimes called “chop stocks”. While fraudsters in the past relied on cold calls, the Internet now offers a cheaper and easier way of reaching large numbers of potential investors.

The key words in there is false or misleading positive statements. In modern internet terms, this is where factoids and factiness come into play. Factoids are little pieces of facts, like the one good line in a report, such as “the good ship Titanic was very fast”, leaving out the side note that the boat sank very quickly too. It is however entirely factual to point out the speed of the vessel, and you are under no obligation to discuss it’s failure to float in all conditions. The factiness of the speed statement cannot be argued, which is what master debaters or stock pumpers work from.

Most pump and dump schemes these days are based on “news” from the company or some sort of promised positive news that will suddenly boost the company’s fortunes. Since the companies in play are penny stocks, they don’t tend to have the same level of press releases or completely information about the company that can easily be found online. The pump and dumpers will often salt chat boards and such with positive comments and create rumors of potential good news. Since most people will use a search engines like Google to research a possible stock, stacking the deck with plenty of rumors and discussions about a company is a good way to create a smoke screen or false information. The object of the pump and dump is to get you to buy on the sizzle of rumor, and to sell their inflated holdings for a profit before you realize that there is no steak, just a mp3 loop of sizzle sounds.

Political commentators work in the same manner. I have already shown how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) got turned into “Obamacare” by repeating the same thing over and over again in congressional speeches. I have also shown how Ann Coulter uses selected facts to try to discredit said Obamacare, claiming huge rate increases in North Carolina, but then not mentioning that the Republicans running the state have tried to derail the plan at every turn, including turning down huge amounts of Federal money to support lower rates. It’s the sorts of things that have turned the debate over the ACA program into a farce of misinformation and partisan politics.

The worst part I think at this point is that in politics, it’s almost impossible to entirely peel the onion. When you remove one layer of truthiness or factiness, you are left with another set of factoids that you have to wade through, and another barrage of artificial “public opinion” and “we speak for the people” crap that adds up to not very much. If you wouldn’t buy the stock, why would you buy i from a politician or a one note zealot.

How Activists Try To Use Factoids and Misreadings To Win The Publics Mind

factoids and misinformation

Before I start, let me just say that I am being more than a little big liberal in the use to the word factoid. While it may in some circles mean a made up fact (didn’t exist before it was printed in a newspaper, example) or a small tidbit of information, I use it here to represent small slivers of facts, slices of facts removed from their context and presented as the whole truth. It’s sort of a distant relative to Stephen Colbert’s truthiness, “We’re not talking about truth, we’re talking about something that seems like truth – the truth we want to exist” was his explaination of the term.

Truthiness and factoids are like bastard cousins of each others, because while truthiness uses few if any real facts, factoids use SOME, which is often worse. In the age of internet searches and people becoming instant experts on a subject by looking at Wikipedia (which I do too… shameful!), these have become the tools of master debaters and slant merchants.

The Greg Bear book “Slant” has the tag line “tell the truth, but tell it slant”, and that is pretty much what I have seen. I have talked recently about Ann Coulter, who seems to work truthiness until it’s threadbare, and then uses a few factoids to try to make it appear more reasonable. She’s not very good at it, however, as her basic premise to many of her stories (can’t call them columns, they really are conservative bed time stories) is a little too obvious. She’s not even trying to reveal the truth, she is just trying to build up the truth as she sees it.

Another classic player in this game is a man born Dick Greger Augustsson, who so much wants to create a certain impression that he changed his name to Rick Falkvinge as a way to boost his image. The last name meaning falcon wing certainly sells more than being called a Dick, I guess. It’s an old show business tradition, and one that this guy has used to try to debate and argue that copyright is somehow horrible, immoral, or unjust. He’s quite good and carefully selecting a few facts and repeatedly hitting people over the head with them. His discussions of the dreaded “copyright monopoly” are classic examples of a few thinly sliced factoids stretched to cover a lot of territory. His favorite argument seems to be that the term copyright was first used in relation to printing in the 16th century or so, where a single printer had the right to make copies of certain things, thus a “copy right” as per the Statute of Anne. it was used in various ways, including to censor or limit what information that opposed the monarch of the day would get out. From this historical factoid, Dick has pretty much built up the concept that copyright is about censorship and keeping the people ignorant and uninformed – thus piracy is perfectly okay to avoid censorship. Yeah, I know, written out in plain terms it seems like a pretty large logical jump, but Dick knows how to spin the words and attach other factoids to the game to create his own version of truthiness about copyright.

The real point here is that the US conservatives, like guys like Rick Falkvinge, are using this technique to create converts and to advance their cause. Most often, the factoids that they pull up are verifiable on the internet. Typing in Statute of Anne in Google will lead you to a wonderful history of this law, and will leave you to beleive that all of copyright has to do with the Statute of Anne. In reality, American copyright laws have absolutely nothing to do with Statute of Anne, and all modern copyright laws have no relation at all to the Statute of Anne (which was about controlling printing, and not about ownership of works). Yet, that nice little factoid is used to hang the “copyright monopoly” claim.

Ann Coulter’s recent piece about the government shut down is pretty much the same. It’s a long list of factoids, including that the rates in North Carolina will be specifically very high. However, she leaves out the information in this interesting story, which points out that the obstructionist Republicans running North Carolina right now have blocked, declined, and barred any of the billions of federal aid that would come in to help people to get insurance at a lower price.

Another example is “Obamacare will allow insurers to charge 50 percent higher premiums for smokers, but prohibits insurers from increasing premiums for those with HIV/AIDS.”. It’s true, but it’s not an exact reading. The law does not allow for insurance companies to refuse coverage or raise rates for people with existing conditions. She could have replaced HIV/AIDS with “heart condition” or “cancer in remission” or “high blood pressure” and it would be the same thing. But using the “factoid” and tagging it with HIV/AIDS is a way to inflame the conservatives who think that AIDS is a disease from God himself to strike down gays and drug users, those horrible immoral people! She uses the most egregious example to try to paint the whole thing bad.

For that matter, calling it “Obamacare” is in itself a way an attempt to play against the law. It’s really the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or the Affordable Care Act, but tagging it as Obamacare gives the Republican pundits a starting point that is already massively negative for their readers and listeners, and gives everyone from the racists to the birthers a way to latch on and hate the law. Obamacare wasn’t just a random thing, according to this article from CNN, it was created and then repeated 270+ times in a single month in congressional speeches, giving plenty of quotes and content for the conservative media to work from. It’s a sort of factoid, something created of whole cloth and repeated often enough, until it became the word of choice.

The skill here is that truth was created, the basis of the debate created and moved by those who oppose the law, by creating false impressions and repeating the same “factoids” over and over again. It doesn’t make them true, but in our fast check Google search read it on the interweb world, it’s these factoids that often sway people’s opinions. It creates the truthiness that misleads us all.