Who Let the Aliens In?

July 30, 2014
Space Alien known on Earth as Ebola

Space Alien known on Earth as Ebola

Five months after it first emerged in Guinea, West Africa’s Ebola outbreak has grown to become the largest and deadliest of its kind — ever — and it shows no signs of stopping. Spreading to Sierra Leone and Liberia, the disease has infected 1,201 people across the region and killed at least 672, according to the World Health Organization’s most recent numbers. After a case was reported in Nigeria, some have raised fears of the potential for a global epidemic, while the infection of two American aid workers raised still more alarms: as one CDC official acknowledged, “anyone with an illness is just one plane ride away from coming to the U.S.”

But here’s the thing about Ebola: Even if it did reach the U.S., we’d be unlikely to see a sequence of events like the one currently unfolding in West Africa. That’s because the disease, while highly transmissible and highly fatal, can be relatively easy to contain — in the right conditions. Yet the current outbreak is characterized by “intense transmission” in communities and healthcare settings.


Legal Extortion Bites GI’s

July 29, 2014


Army Spc. Angel Aguirre needed a washer and dryer.

Money was tight, and neither Aguirre, 21, nor his wife had much credit history as they settled into life at Fort Carson in Colorado in 2010.

That’s when he saw an ad for USA Discounters, guaranteeing loan approval for service members. In military newspapers and magazines, on the radio, and on TV, the Virginia-based company’s ads shout, “NO CREDIT? NEED CREDIT? NO PROBLEM!” The store was only a few miles from Fort Carson.

“We ended up getting a computer, a TV, a ring, and a washer and dryer,” Aguirre said. “The only thing I really wanted was a washer and dryer.”

Aguirre later learned that USA Discounters’ easy lending has a flip side. Should customers fall behind, the company transforms into an efficient collection operation. And this part of its business takes place not where customers bought their appliances, but in two local courthouses just a short drive from the company’s Virginia Beach headquarters.

From there, USA Discounters files lawsuits against service members based anywhere in the world, no matter how much inconvenience or expense they would incur to attend a Virginia court date. Since 2006, the company has filed more than 13,470 suits and almost always wins, records show.


Can’t Find Neutral?

July 28, 2014


Want to know if someone is internet-savvy? Just ask them why anyone should care about net neutrality. If they understand the technology, stand by for a lecture on why it is vital that all data on the network should be treated equally by ISPs, and why it is essential that those who provide the pipes connecting us to the network should have no influence on the content that flows through those pipes.

On the other hand, if the person knows no more about the net than the average LOLcat enthusiast, you will be greeted by a blank stare: “Net what?”

If, dear reader, you fall into neither category but would like to know more, two options are available: a visit to the excellent Wikipedia entry on the subject or comedian John Oliver’s devastatingly sharp explication of net neutrality on YouTube.


Sunny Sunday

July 27, 2014


When I broke into my neighbor’s home earlier this week, I didn’t use any cat burglar skills. I don’t know how to pick locks. I’m not even sure how to use a crowbar. It turns out all anyone needs to invade a friend’s apartment is an off switch for their conscience and an iPhone.

This was done politely: I even warned him the day before. My neighbor lives on the second floor of a Brooklyn walk-up, so when I came to his front door he tossed me a pair of keys rather than walk down the stairs to let me in. I opened the door, climbed the stairs, and handed his keys back to him. We chatted about our weekends. I drank a glass of water. Then I let him know that I would be back soon to gain unauthorized access to his home.

Less than an hour later, I owned a key to his front door.


Saturday Reading

July 26, 2014
TeeVee Madness

TeeVee Madness

It always happens this way: My son returns from college over the break and brings with him his Netflix account, tempting me to binge-watch notable television shows. Being weak, I succumb! I also felt guilty. Here I am, a self-anointed ’60s expert, and I hadn’t watched a single episode of “Mad Men,” touted as a ’60s retrospection.

I am now fully up to date, having watched the seven seasons and anxiously awaiting the last seven episodes, to be aired in April 2015. The show conjures an advertising world in which everything stands for something else; it is copy. The show is about an historical moment when we began to lose touch with real things and real selves, as the ’50s opened into the ’60s and then into the postmodern. It is wildly popular because the characters, NYC ad agents, drink all day, have a lot of sex and self-destruct. Mad Men has become a brand, with themed clothing and weddings. Meanwhile, all the characters produce is advertising. Awash in the internet, which makes all that is solid melt into air (Marx), viewers can’t look away – me included. The opening montage, with the falling ad man who never hits ground, burns into the brain. Mad Men resonates because it tracks the emergence and triumph of the insubstantial.


FriDae FUHkneez

July 25, 2014














View from Banyons

View from Banyons

Hot Stuff Out There

July 24, 2014


This past June was the warmest ever recorded by scientists since record keeping began in the 19th century. The average surface temperature of the earth was 61.2 degrees Fahrenheit, up 1.3 degrees from the 20th century’s typical June.

May 2014 set a comparable new record. That month, too, the planet’s average surface temperature was about 1.3 degrees above the normal warmth of May.

It’s reasonable to expect that the whole year may end up with the warmest surface temperatures ever recorded—especially if El Niño, the periodic shifting of warm waters in the Pacific now thought to be incipient, develops robustly.

On the face of it, data like this, reported Monday by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, might seem powerful enough evidence that climate change has indeed arrived, as is widely accepted by mainstream scientists.


Storm damage on Doc's street.

Storm damage on Doc’s street.


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