Friday, May 18, 2012

Facebook: Going Electric

Alamo Square
I arrived in San Francisco on a Friday evening in March 1976 in a wounded (fatally as it turned out) '67 Chevy Malibu, with two phone numbers, $100 in my pocket, and a desire to learn how to write marketable prose. With the first number, I found a place to stay that night in Inner Sunset. The next day, Saturday, the second number landed me a job. Sunday I rested from all that phone-calling. On Monday, I began hauling sheetrock in an abandoned building on Fillmore, around the corner from Alamo Square*.

The building had come to the owner in lieu of legal fees for representing a certain neighborhood minor drug dealer/pimp. Judging by the state of the seventeen apartments, he must have lost the case and got a booby prize. He had been married to a City Supervisor of some note named Diane Feinstein. Later in my first week on the job, my luck held, or so I thought, and I moved in, gratis, to one of the third floor apartments to guard equipment until the real night watchman arrived on the scene.

Some local entrepreneurs came to get that equipment the first night. I surprised them and they apparently had no idea how frightened I was, because they took off before I could reach the front door and alight onto Fillmore Street.

Berlin "Friends"
I went into the little all night grocery next door to see if the proprietor would call the cops, and he took this as a punch line of sorts, nearly doubled-up in laughter. Instead, he reached under the counter to bring forth a shotgun, loaded I presumed, to offer me in place of the official authorities, who, according to him, treated attempted larcenies in my new neighborhood like fleas on a dog. Instead of the gun, I accepted the offer of a stick of sugar cane (many of the locals had begun life in Eastern Louisiana) to soothe my bruised senses.

Thereafter, I became a neighborhood curiosity of sorts, surviving to see the building remodeled, getting paid in cash each Friday, and being rewarded with one of the new apartments.

But, why am I telling you this now?

Because, little did I know that, while I was serving my writer's apprenticeship, in order to be able to bring you this missive one day, Woz & Jobs were busy down on the "peninsula," as we then referred to Silicon Valley, changing our world with something called Apple. At the time, I only knew one person of any note working down there. She was actually getting paid to write for something called Guitar Player magazine.

In case you have been away in another planetary system and have not heard, yesterday Facebook went public, selling less than 20% of itself and becoming worth, as of this moment, about $104Billion.

At the same moment, the company that really started the whole Silicon Valley thing, Hewlett Packard, was announcing that they planned to lay off 30,000 employees. That is not a typo. But, not to worry, according to the people in charge of HP, this is only a smidgeon of the 324,000 worldwide HP workforce. What good news!

I only possess one HP product, a wireless (also clueless) color inkject printer. Judging by the quality and dependability of this product, I believe that those 324,000 remaining HP workers might start to worry. This printer, you see, is a sorry excuse for getting owners dumb enough to have bought one to buy ink cartridges every few weeks. These machines are so dumb that, are you ready for this, they are dumber than your DVR and remote that the cable company gave you. Not kidding.
Going Electric

HP puts their name on these dubious products and practically gives them away. After you've bought the first two of many ink cartridges, HP has already made money. But, in the process, they have taken a page from the old AOL playbook that states: treating customers with complete disdain is its own reward.

Facebook, BTW, currently has about 3,000 employees, 10% of the number HP is laying off.

But, what of Facebook's product? What do they produce?

They That is, they purport to produce you, everything about you, Friend, to advertisers, and therein lies the $104Billion value to financial markets. What the old Soviet KGB and East German Stazi eventually went broke trying to do, gathering detailed information about every citizen, Facebook turned into a platinum business model. What's more, they get the info voluntarily. What a great country! Putin, the old KGB man, must be scratching his eternally-presidential head in awe at this and sending those dope-niks who burned all the files to what passes for Siberia these days.

My grandmother used to blame all these otherwise unexplainable things on men having landed on the moon, But, I think this i-stuff all began when Dylan went electric***, after which we all seem to have gone electric, with a vengeance.

In one of his psalms, entitled Ballad of a Thin Man**,  he sang "...something is happening, but you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?"

Amen. But, let's try to enjoy the i-ride, shall we, Comrades?

* The Times recently reported on the gentrification of this area:


*** For the record, I was there when it happened, at Forest Hills Stadium.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Baseball: Trying Mo With Less


The Season is approaching the quarter mark. After thirty-five games, the Mets and Yankees are both 20-15.

Hall of Fame Reading
You are forgiven, if you had to read that sentence twice or check the accuracy of those records against official MLB statistics. Yes, the Mets are playing .571 ball. In the National League that may be good enough, if sustained throughout the Season, to get a team into the playoffs.

These Mets have been entertaining so far, coming from behind to win in unlikely ways, and, lately, coming from behind to go ahead, then painfully losing anyway.We can keep the champagne, or, in the currently penurious Mets case, domestic sparkling wine, on ice for quite a while.

The Yankees, of course, are expected to do better than .571, which, in the American League East, even with the tumbling Red Sox, will not be enough to win the division or secure a playoff spot. Year after year, it takes .600, winning 60% of the time or very close to it, to win the division.

A brief note on the San Francisco Giants (formerly of Manhattan), a sentimental favorite here. They are at 18-17 or .514. This is what happens when your ace pitcher goes astray (Lincecum) and your two-coasted archival (Dodgers, of course, formerly of Brooklyn) treats you like a Panhandle Flower Child holding a long-stemmed lilly in the batter's box in place of a thirty-six once piece of varnished lumber.

The Mets may be too young to understand that their early season triumph over widely predicted failure may be short-lived. That's a good thing. The Yankees are too old and experienced to know that their current efforts approach expectations. Both teams, at this point, very nearly reflect their manager's style and owner's philosophy.

Manager Collins is patient, scrappy, optimistic, blunt, and fair. Manager Girardi is patient, hopeful, pensive, honest, and fair. Both know that they are not the star of their respective teams (unlike managers of rival-city teams in Boston and Miami). This is much harder for Collins in Queens than for his Bronx counterpart. Collins has, arguably, only two stars, Johan Santana and David Wright; and Santana is the only Met who would play regularly for the Yankees. Girardi, on the other hand, holds a deck full of sure-thing and close-call Hall of Famers.

The Mets' owners are keeping a low profile for now, an excellent idea. Most of these young players came up through the organization as formed by former GM Oscar Minaya. They can hit, sometimes. They can field properly, sometimes. They might even hit the cut-off man once in a while. But, let's face it, they are playing in the Bigs, because they have low salaries. Period. The Yankees owners need no introduction or explanation, but attendance is down and a prized winter-catch, pitcher Pineda, is out for the season. GM Cashman will be looking for young legs and a peppy bat by trading deadline. But, how could he or anyone fix a Mariano Rivera-less team?

Exit Sandman*.

Speaking of which, can we talk about "Closers?"

Let's be clear about this: there is a big difference between a real Closer and a pitcher attempting to save a game. Certain pitchers, their agents, managers, owners, fans and announcers may refer to a Closer entering a game, but, there is only one true Closer.

His name is Mo**.

The Mets' own Franky Francisco just blew two saves in Miami in three days. He did this in such an excruciating and annoying style that a young team like this might easily have fallen into a ten game swoon. Instead, they and Collins willed themselves to a win against the Brewers last night, despite Franky getting himself in a position to blow another one.

Closer? Please. Only Detective Brenda Leigh Johnson (Keira Sedgwick) and Mariano Rivera are The Closer.

"Billy Ball" was invented, because Billy Beane realized that he would never be able to afford Oakland Athletics stars who could really hit. So, he found players who could really walk, which required them to know how to hit a lot of foul balls, in order to tire and frustrate the starting pitcher. "Deep into the count" has replaced "Deep into the seats" as a baseball mantra.

Each team only has 1-3 excellent or very good starting pitchers, occasionally 4, tops. Batters go deep into the counts, fans watch foul after foul, starting pitchers hurl pitch after pitch, umpires invent strike-zone after strike-zone, until managers have to go to the bullpen. They call for something called a "relief" pitcher, so-called because he is supposed to relieve the starter.

Hah! Or, should we say, Bull! More often these guys are giving relief to the batters. By definition a "relief" pitcher is one who is a failed starter. That is worth repeating in a slightly different way. A relief pitcher, with very few exceptions,  was or is not good enough to be one of the five or six starting pitchers on the team. They are meant to be pitching in a league somewhere between minor league AAA and the Majors, a league of their own, the Bullpen League.

Re-enter Sandman. There is only one, no Mo.

* For those who have been away from baseball for a while, Enter Sandman is the times song used when Yankee Mariano Rivera, the best Closer in history, comes into the game.
**The name by which most fans know Mariano Rivera.

Ed Note: Five Seasons, by New Yorker writer/editor (and fellow NY/SF Giants fan) Roger Angell is one of the best, if not the best baseball book. You can read it even if you do not know much about baseball or even like it, just as you can read The Sun Also Rises without liking bullfighting or fly-fishing. Should there ever be a place in the Hall of Fame for Books, this one is a first ballot winner. We also recommend  a more recent title, the novel The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Please Blotter

  • May 7, New York City: JP Morgan not so chaste. Uncharacteristically contrite bank-CEO caller reported loss of over $2Billion, when his perp-trader "Whale" inadvertently turned pretty bad European financial hedge mess into major non-larcenogenic, but embarrassing fiasco. Officer Volcker had warned perp of possible trouble far in advance of loss. Drowsy regulators, helium-filled pundits, holier-than-thou Senators ambulance-chased bank investment team. Rare female investment exec found to blame, cuffed, fired, severanced, will start new hedge fund with offending bank's funding and blessing. Please.
  • May 8, North Carolina: Please Don't Pleas Me, Oh Yeah! Judge directed stunned election-fraud jury to ignore defense attorney's attempts to use both defense and prosecution witness testimony as proof that former serious Presidential candidate defendant's greed, promiscuity, recklessness, and unfathomable stupidity were grounds for changing "not guilty" plea to one of "Guilt by Invanity," a type of insanity brought on by uncontrollable and incalculable vanity. Judge admonished jury that,"just because the defendant is apparently the stupidest, vainest person in a trial full of stupid, vain, greedy witnesses, does't mean he is actually insane, I mean, invain."
  • May 10, New York City: Welcome to our neighbor-hoodie. Officers detained young man attempting to wear a hoodie during series of otherwise serious Wall Street "road shows" regarding IPO of Silicon Valley online "friending" scheme. Pin-striped, Hermes-tied bankers reported young man as possible "Occupy Wall Street" intruder. Released on own recognizance when found to be CEO-Founder of IPO company. Reporting bankers get no shares, will remain friends of billionaire offender. No photo of alleged offender available.
  • April 16, New York City: Dewey defeats true men? Hundreds of callers, claiming to be law firm's smaller clients and pensioners reported fraudulent activity on a massive scale at midtown NYC law firm, Dewey & LeBoeuf. Certain partners reportedly arranged to pay themselves guaranteed fees far in excess of all previously known reprehensible partner fees. Upon further investigation, officers found partners were fleeing the crime scene faster the John Edwards can find a mirror. Administrative staff, retirees left with little or nothing (all perfectly legal); former partners signed new lucrative deals with new firms, denied all legal or financial responsibility for losses. Biggest clients followed partners to new firms. Officers on scene found nothing left, partners stole all supplies, Keurig machines, blank billing statements. 
  • Mug/JPMorgan
  • May 1, Cradle of Democracy: Officers called to scene, corner of Athens and Acropolis. Found hysterical crowd claiming "Merkel" had swindled, beaten and left them naked and penniless in the road. Citizens loudly calling for additional government employment, tax holidays, increased vacation time with pay, moussaka in every pot, boycott of German goods, since "Merkel" reportedly German who stiffed most if not all citizens, described as "looking always like she just swallowed a lemon." Pass the ouzo, please.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


  • Your eighteen year old son or daughter tells you that they would like to go off and find themselves for an extended period, just to read and play and travel, and to experience the world and its wonders. After which, they'll settle down and get a job. They have figured that this will only cost $5,000 a month for, say, four years, just to pick a round number. $240,000. What would you say to that? Well, we can't print that here, but we get your point. And yet, we encourage the same young ones to scratch and claw and fight and score goals and ace tests just so they can find a place near a gritty old industrial town, high on a freezing cold hill to pretty much do the same thing for the same money. Strange.
  • Who are the loudest people in the world? Librarians. They think nothing of speaking in loud voices from their perches at the Reference Desk on the phone and in person, while expecting others around them to shhhhuussshhh! If you ask them to lower their voices, they become highly insulted and might get security to escort you outside as a trouble-maker. Weird.
  • We like mottos. In God We Trust. The one for our age might be: Maximize pleasure and avoid pain! True.
  • We are quick to advise friends and family when we think they are developing unhealthy relationships with other people. But, how do we look at their unhealthy relationships with machines? Especially ones that talk back! Siri-ously.
  • The more complex the world becomes, the more we try to simplify it. We have been doing this since someone came up with the term "sunrise,"which is a huge oversimplification if not a downright lie. Planets, stars, billions and billions of things are careening around faster that Lady GA-Ga can make a wardrobe change. Sunrise. We want to wrap up the complex and put it in one small package, a single device. Like a phone, which is really a computer, camera, encyclopedia, library, movie theatre, TV, bank, mall, cooking school, college. Sunset.

Having a sense of humor helps