Phishers of Men

phishingThe identity-phishing scams that make it through my filters these days are getting more and more plausible. I have conflicted feelings about this.

On the one hand, identity theft bad, boo, no. Wouldn’t wish it on anyone, hate to think of people falling for these, etc.

On the other hand, some of the black hats have clearly started hiring writers, and I’m always happy when my fellow freelancers get chances to put their English degrees to use. I swear a consulting company must have done a Best Practices Review for some of these scam artists, and told them that their chief corporate vulnerability was the inability to write a bogus e-mail in plausible-sounding English.

Lately the spelling and grammar has improved a lot, and (I suspect not coincidentally) lately a lot more have been making it through to my inbox/comments page, too.

The stories are still absurd, however (wealthy heirs seeking someone in the US to wire transfer their riches to, etc.), which makes a pretty compelling case for literary education to me: if you don’t read fiction, how are you going to recognize it when it lands in your inbox?

Read a book – spite a scammer! There are library posters waiting to be made.

Some Friendly Advice for Angry, Unhappy Billionaires

Is anyone else noticing a theme lately?

From Politico this morning:

“I hope it’s not working,” Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot and major GOP donor, said of populist political appeals. “Because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”

home-depot-logoThis is getting depressingly consistent.

I assume the idiocy of comparing calls for a minimum wage increase or higher taxes on the top income brackets with Nazi aggression is self-evident enough that we don’t have to unpack it in any detail here (for what it’s worth, wealthy business owners tended to do pretty well under the Nazis unless they were, you know, Jewish), but I would like to offer some advice for Mr. Langone and anyone else who owns billions of dollars and still feels angry, unhappy, and threatened:

Do something else with your life.

Seriously. If you have that much money and you spend most of your time feeling fearful or oppressed, you are doing something wrong. Whatever you’re doing is not working, and you need to change it.

It should not be possible to be that unhappy with that much money. You have to be actively seeking out misery in a way that is mindboggling to me. Get the fuck over yourself, take a trip to Majorca, and blow a couple million bucks on booze and whores. Or donate it all to God of one stripe or another and become a monk. Or do fucking anything except what you’re doing, because Jesus Christ, how can you have the freedom to do absolutely anything you want and choose to spend your time bitching about how the fascists are coming for you?

You don’t have to keep being a plutocrat. You can quit that shit any time. Stop obsessing about next year’s profits or your political capital or whatever and go waste your ill-gotten gains in total self-indulgence for the rest of your goddamn life. Maybe it will be a useful reminder that your life is fucking great, and if it isn’t, maybe the money that you’re so terrified of losing isn’t doing you any fucking good.

You idiots.

Hope it helps.

I Do Not Get #FF

Twitter, ugh.

Using it sometimes feels like playing Mao, you know? Like it’s this completely arbitrary game where in theory you figure out the rules as you go along, but really it only exists so that the people who already know the rules (who are nerds) can enjoy the dirty thrill of hazing without any of the physical strength and/or social skills necessary to actually intimidate, and therefore haze, another human being.

Mao is such bullshit. Anyway, where was I? Oh, Twitter. Right.

followfriday

I use Twitter in a bunch of different incarnations. Some are more professional than others. Some get more use than others (my personal @GeoffreyCubbage account, for example, has languished for years now).

But in every incarnation, I’ve received at least one “#FF” tweet.

What is #FF, you may ask yourself, if you’re not one of those obnoxious people who live on Twitter and already know this kind of shit?

I have no fucking clue. Or rather, I know what it means. It’s “Follow Friday,” for the untutored among you, and in theory the author of a #FF tweet is basically saying “here, look at all these other Twitter feeds; I follow them and think they are cool so maybe you would like to follow them too.” It looks like a hashtag followed by a blob of usernames:

twitter-ff-tweets

In the world of Twitter, this seems to be a nice thing. So people are occasionally doing a nice thing for me: sharing my Twitter handle and encouraging other users to follow it.

Woo.

Only, what do you do with that? Reply and say “thanks”? Retweet it yourself? Go look at the other names in the #FF tweet?

I don’t know, and so I let them quietly wash by me, because I am too afraid of committing some grievous social sin to act. It’s nice to know some social anxieties lurk beneath this aggressively competent facade I’ve constructed online. Still a nerd at heart!

But never a nerd who made people play Mao. God.

Groupon’s Chicagoland May Not Look Quite Like Your Chicagoland

Ah, “Chicagoland.” That blessedly vague friend to advertisers everywhere.

It manages to combine the allure of the big city with the friendly, folksy suggestion of “the Heartland,” all in one phrase that’s as juicy and delicious as an all-beef hotdog (no ketchup!).

It also apparently describes a swath of land encompassing most of northern Illinois and a bit of Wisconsin, all of which is “near shopping” in Chicago. Land.

Everyone does it, but Groupon is far and away the worst offender I’ve found to date. This should be particularly embarrassing since Groupon launched in Chicago, but that hasn’t stopped their copy writers from assigning any hotel with a Midwestern zip code to the Chicago destinations section. Search for hotels or “getaways” in Chicago and you’ll end up as far afield as Elmhurst (half an hour from downtown in good traffic), Buffalo Grove (closer to Wisconsin than it is to Chicago), and, my personal favorite, this gem:

groupon-hotel-chicago-algonquin

…in Algonquin, IL.

Algonquin? Yes. Algonquin. It’s a place. I didn’t know either. Let me put it this way: when your promotional copy is urging people to visit Schaumburg’s Woodfield Mall (“where you’ll find Lord & Taylor, Armani Exchange, The Cheesecake Factory, and Rainforest Cafe”) as a driving-distance attraction worth driving for, you’re not in Chicagoland anymore.

You might not even be in “land” anymore. Here there be dragons, or at least creepy storefront evangelical churches and weird, low-rent, specialty businesses like VHS tape repair.

Not Chicagoland. Come on, Groupon. Show some local pride as you slide inexorably into obsolescence.

You can get offices in Algonquin after the bankruptcy.

That Forest Moon: Admiral Ackbar’s Ambiguity

star-wars-forest-moon-of-endorIt’s no secret that I love Star Wars, and therefore no surprise that Star Wars has given me my favorite example of what ambiguous prose can do to a story.

You may recall, if you’re a total fucking nerd, that in Return of the Jedi Admiral Ackbar describes the Death Star as “orbiting the forest moon of Endor.” (Grainy bootleg clip here if you’re interested.)

That’s an ambiguous description. It could mean “the forest moon belonging to Endor,” in which case Endor is presumably the planet that the moon orbits (although it could also be a government, a corporation, or even a person). It could also mean that “Endor” is the name of the moon itself, as in “the land of Oz” or “the kingdom of France.”

If Ackbar had said “the planet Endor’s forest moon,” or “the forest moon known as Endor,” we’d know for sure. But all we get is “the forest moon of Endor,” and since that’s the only time anyone mentions the moon by name, that’s what we’re stuck with.

No big deal —  until Star Wars became a massive media enterprise with literally hundreds of contributing authors, and thousands of obsessive fans. The subsequent attempts to fix Return of the Jedi‘s ambiguity, as laid out on Wookiepedia, are frankly hilarious:

The planet Endor was never visible in any scenes in Return of the Jedi set on the forest moon, a fact which the novelization explains by asserting that it was destroyed some time earlier, and that the moon now orbits its star in a planetary orbit of its own. It should also be noted that in two of the space battle scenes, a pinkish planet can be seen in the background, in the vicinity of the forest moon. Another shot showing TIE fighters flying towards the Death Star (and camera) with several Star Destroyers in the background shows the pinkish planet. This, coupled with the fact that a moon without a planet should itself be defined as a planet in its own right, has caused some fans to speculate that this pinkish planet is in fact Endor, and the novel is wrong. In addition, a large body, probably the planet Endor, can be seen in the sky during some scenes in the two Ewok telefilms (Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor), though this does not closely resemble the planet seen in Return of the Jedi. Star Wars: Battlefront IIshows the planet Endor as a large blue planet, possibly a gas giant, when in Galactic Conquest mode.

Apparently there’s also stuff in other Expanded Universe novels about how the planet Endor (not the moon Endor) was destroyed, leaving the moon to orbit its star on its own, but later that turned out to be an elaborate hoax? Something like that, anyway. The point is, a lot of people have tried very hard to turn “the forest moon of Endor” into something that makes sense and stays consistent throughout a massive and badly-organized canon.

It’s almost like Admiral Ackbar was laying a massive…linguistic…wait a minute…

Sex Ed Website Scarleteen Goes On Strike – and We’re the Management

When the self-employed aren’t making enough to sustain their business (or their family), what do they do?

“Get a real job” has always been the traditional answer. On Monday, the popular sex-ed website Scarleteen.com announced a rather different approach:

Come May Day - May 1st – unless something radically changes, Scarleteen will begin a strike.

Striking is something we can try to stay afloat and get what we need in order keep doing all we do, not a skeleton of what we do. Striking is what we do, as teachers, as workers, when all other attempts at getting a living wage and reasonable working conditions fail. We’ve tried many approaches in seeking support over the years, and have worked hard doing so, but despite our best efforts, we’ve never had the level of response we needed.

This is, as far as I’m aware, a novel approach for a donor-supported business, though it echoes the Kickstarter mentality of “if there aren’t enough donations to do the project in full, none of the project happens.” The difference there is that Kickstarter projects are proposals, whereas Scarleteen.com is an existing business that provides several popular services.

scarleteen

There are also echoes of the SOPA/PIPA protest blackouts from 2012, when many websites self-censored their pages as a way of drawing attention to the potential effects of the bills. Scarleteen has proposed a similar awareness-highlighting “strike blog,” combined with a drastic reduction in their usual content and services, that would continue until their funding needs were met:

With only $3,000 each month to work with, that means shutting down all our direct services…and halting the creation and release of any new content…Our social media, save that pertaining to the strike, will also go dark.

We don’t have a picket line to stand on, so if we strike, we will publish a strike blog to keep these issues and our need visible each day to try and end the strike as quickly as possible. That will be the only new content we create while we strike.

It’s a fascinating approach. Most strikes are targeting owners or managers with a threat to their profits; here we instead have a direct action against the end-users of the product. I’d feel better about it if a lot of those end-users weren’t teenagers who may have no way to make donations — but it’ll still be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Of course, if Scarleteen can generate enough interest and donations with their announcement, they won’t have to experiment with striking at all, which would be the best-case scenario for everyone.

So please, even if it’s only $10, think about giving Scarleteen something today to help sustain the web’s best free sex-ed resource before they make labor history!

Want an AA to Go With That MA?

MaunualLet’s play with acronyms!

I went to a SLAC school, which depending on who you ask is either a Selective Liberal Arts College (an official organization), a Small Liberal Arts College (a general description), or a prophetic homonym.

That was six years ago; in a stunning display of the math/science skills you get with that kind of education, I will be attending my five-year reunion this year. (It’s a “cluster” thing. Don’t ask.)

The schedule is about what you would expect of such things: 5ks and bike rides and something called a “golf scramble,” which sounds a lot like what we did when Security came after us for streaking past the president’s donor golf brunch thing back in my sophomore year.

One recurring event every morning of the reunion caught my eye, however:

college-reunion-alcoholics-anonymous-schedule

There’s one of those every day. Much respect to my AA peeps — it is an important thing for some people — but I can’t help but wonder what it says about the Grinnell College experience that, when planning reunions, the committee sits down and thinks “Have we provided enough support for our alcoholic alumni this weekend? Let’s make sure we’ve got a meeting for them every morning.”

Okay, I take that back. I don’t have to wonder what it says about the Grinnell College experience at all.

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