In Ted’s Fantasy World

Some mornings, Kish starts the day by reading news stories, and sometimes watching video clips of newsworthy events on her iPhone.  Today was one of those days.

ted_cruz_rnc_cleveland_ap_imgUnfortunately, the clip she chose to watch this morning was footage of Ted Cruz closing his speech to the Republican convention last night to a deafening chorus of boos.  Even more unfortunately, I was able to hear Cruz’s whining voice — which in my view is the human equivalent of a dentist’s drill — over the uproar.  I had hoped that, with the ending series of debates finally behind us, I would never have to endure Cruz’s irritating and overly studied vocal gyrations again.  Alas, it was not to be.

I don’t like Donald Trump, but I like the smug and smarmy Cruz even less.  If I’d been at the Republican convention — fat chance of that! — I’d have booed him, too.

Apparently Ted Cruz thinks his performance, and failure to endorse Trump, positions him to be the presumptive GOP nominee in 2020.  I think Ted Cruz is living in a fantasy world.  The only reason anyone other than Bible-thumpers backed Cruz was because he was running against Donald Trump.  Once Trump is gone — and by 2020, he’ll either be President or yesterday’s old, old news — Cruz’s base will dwindle to back to the religious righters who don’t mind his scripted speech patterns because it reminds them of the cadences they hear every Sunday morning from the pulpit.  By 2020, the world and the United States will be moving in a different direction, and everything that gave Cruz a shot this year will be totally changed.

I seriously hope I never hear Cruz’s holier than thou voice again.  It makes my teeth ache.

Lying To Your Kids

Should you ever lie to your kids?  And if you do, how will it affect them?

Parent Herald has an article that presents both sides of the issue.  Some parents contend that lying — they use the softer term “fibbing” — is an effective, crucial tool in the parental toolbox.  If your kids won’t quiet down or eat their vegetables at dinner, it’s OK to tell them a “white lie” in furtherance of achieving what the parent knows to be the greater good.  The “fibs” come out after other parental tools, like trying to make your kids feel guilty because “there are starving children in Africa” or “your father works hard all day and deserves some peace and quiet,” are found to be unsuccessful.

UnsincereThe other position argues that lying is a bad thing, period, and if kids understand that their parents are lying to them, the kids will be encouraged to lie as well.  This isn’t a good thing, because kids are natural, unapologetic liars.  In fact, they are unskilled, inveterate liars, who aren’t even bounded by concepts of remote plausibility, who lie even when visible evidence exposes their duplicity, and who wither under only the mildest cross-examination.  Parents really shouldn’t be doing anything to promote that dishonest tendency.  If your kids conclude, from your example, that lying is OK, imagine the effect it might have on them during the teenage years, when the temptation to lie, and the stakes involved, are so much greater.

I tend toward the latter position.  The only lie I remember telling the kids was about the existence of Santa Claus, which can be rationalized as an effort to promote and maintain the sense of childish wonder in how the world works.  I don’t remember using lies as a regular parental technique to get our kids to do what we wanted.  We recognized that they were naturally stubborn, as many kids are, and I’m not sure lies would have done much good — and I always thought our kids were smart enough to be able to sniff out a lie, anyway.  I also hate being lied to, because it’s insulting and demeaning, so why do something to your kids that you wouldn’t want someone to do to you?

There Goes Somebody’s First Job

Popular Science has an interesting article about the development of a robot in Germany that grills sausages and apparently does a pretty good job of it.  So what, you say?  Here’s what:  the German robot shows just how easy it is for robotics to eliminate jobs.  And, since robotics mostly focuses on performing basic, ministerial tasks, the jobs that are eliminated tend to be entry-level jobs — the kinds of jobs that many of us had as our first jobs, back when we were teenagers.  Whether it is grilling sausages, flipping burgers, washing dishes, or bagging groceries (which was my first job), we’re likely to see increasing robotic inroads, which means fewer jobs for kids trying to earn some spare money so they can take their significant other on a date or go to the prom.

If you’re the owner of a sausage restaurant, why wouldn’t you use a robot instead of a teenage kid?  The robot in the Popular Science article has a natty moustache and is wearing a chef’s hat, apparently issues some German witticisms as he grills, and will never, ever complain about working conditions or fail to show up for work on time.  You wouldn’t have to pay for health care, perform withholding, or worry about unionization.  And, since we all remember the personality issues that inevitably afflict the teenager years, you wouldn’t have to deal with sullen, hormone-addled employees, either.

When robots take over those “first jobs” that many of us had, I think it will have a profound impact.  I thought getting that first job was an important step on the road to adulthood, where I jarringly realized that not everybody is going to treat me with kid gloves like my parents did.  If teenagers can’t get a first job, how are they going to get a sense of the working world, and how are they going to stay out of trouble?

Dawn Of The Twitter Bots

Lately I’ve been taking a break from the realm of politics.  I’m incredibly depressed about the choice we’ve been given, and at this point I’d prefer to just enjoy summer rather than focusing on the many flaws in the major party candidates and the lack of an alternative.  I figure I’m going to have to live with one of these guys soon enough.

Then I ran across an interesting article about the role of software bots in modern political campaigns.  It points out that, in an SEC filing two years ago, Twitter estimated that 23 million of its active accounts are generating tweets through the use of bots — defined as software agents or bits of code that are designed to automatically react to news events, always from a particular perspective.  Of course, Twitter users don’t know if the tweets they are seeing come from a real person, or a paid shill — or a bot.  You just can’t trust the avatar that accompanies the post to tell you.

sellingofthepresident1968bThe article reports that bots have been successful in steering the course of elections in South America and, apparently, the Brexit vote.  A study found that a tiny fraction of Twitter accounts generated a huge percentage of tweets about the Brexit election — sustaining levels of incessant account activity that no mortal being could sustain, tweeting their robotic brains out 24 hours a day, seven days a week — and the “leave” campaign generated more of the automated tweets.

Do tweeting bots work?  Some people involved in the bot-tweeting process think that there are many individuals out there whose views are more likely to be swayed by the “spontaneous” opinions of “real people,” rather than news reports or the reactions of paid commentators.  Since Twitter and other social media sites allow for anonymity, then, why not spoof real people, create software that generates a constant flow of tweets that advance your political views, and see if you can’t alter the course of public perception?  (And pay no attention to the sad notion that voters are swayed by opinions expressed in 140-character chunks, either.)

I suppose we should all think about this the next time we are asked to share a Facebook meme of uncertain provenance, or pay attention to tweet counts as supposedly being some kind of indicator of what real people are thinking.  We’ve gone far beyond the innocent days of The Selling of the President 1968, Joe McGinniss’ landmark book about how the Nixon campaign was using Madison Avenue advertising techniques to package and market Tricky Dick.  Now we’ve reach the point where campaigns create artificial accounts and flood the Twitterverse with phony tweets generated by automated robots, all in the hope of manipulating the views of the American public to vote one way of the other in the worst presidential choice in decades.

O Brave New World!

Woody Pines!

Last night Kish and I joined the Bahamians for another music night at the Refectory — a chance to listen to some live music in an intimate venue, with food provided by one of Columbus’ finest restaurants.  Going out on a Monday night for dinner and a show was an act of unusual spontaneity for us.  After all, Monday night you’re usually curled up on your couch, grateful that the first day of the work week is in the books but otherwise fortifying yourself for the next four days.  It’s not a night when people do much.

But sometimes it pays to break out of the mold.

IMG_2380We happened to be at the Refectory for dinner on Saturday, and the host of the music series came by to tell us that a table for Monday’s show had opened up at the last minute.  A flier advertised the artist as “Woody Pines!”, with an exclamation point.  That’s a good sign, I thought.  Then I noticed that every artist on the schedule featured an exclamation point after their names, so I kidded the host about it.  After all, I pointed out, exclamation points must be earned and cannot simply be doled out willy-nilly to every Tom, Dick and Jazz Artist on a programming list.

Still, Woody Pines looked very promising.  He calls his music “down home swing,” and the photo showed a guy with a steel guitar wearing a harmonica holder and a beat up hat,  which is even more encouraging than the exclamation point.  So, we took a chance, and we’re glad we did.

Woody Pines fronts a three-piece combo that also includes a stand up bass, well-played in the foot-stomping slap style, and a clean-cut virtuoso working a ’50s-vintage Gibson electric guitar who added terrific fills to every song.  These three guys played roots music, some blues, and some songs of uncertain provenance, but whatever they touched had an irresistible move-your-feet beat to it that somehow combined elements of rockabilly, roadhouse blues, early ’50s rock ‘n roll, and the sweep of the American musical soul, all rolled into one.  They absolutely rocked the joint and had me tapping my feet and tapping the table, and if the Refectory performance space had a dance floor, every person in the room would have been on it.  Add in Woody’s strumming and picking and exuberant stage presence, and you’ve got a musical evening that I’ll remember for a while — and I’ll try to recreate, too, because I bought two Woody Pines CDs on the way out.  It was some of the best live music I’ve heard since my last visit to Frenchmen Street in New Orleans.

On the way out of the performance room after Woody had knocked my socks off, I saw the host of the music series, shook his hand, and told him that Woody Pines definitely deserved the exclamation point.  Woody Pines!

Boom And Bust

The New York Times is reporting that the market for high-end real estate in Manhattan may have finally hit the wall.  Developers who are targeting buyers willing to pay more than $10 million for condominiums and apartments — and in some cases more than $100 million — are having to cut prices and repackage their products.

promo-01Even with the changes to meet falling demand in the market, the prices being asked for high-end New York City real estate are beyond the comprehension of everyday people.  For example, a skyscraper at 432 Park Avenue was asking $78 million to $85 million for full-floor apartments; now the units have been divided and are being priced for around $40 million.  Some poor schmucks who are trying to sell properties they bought during the boom are even listing their units for less than the purchase price they paid.  One seller has listed a three-bedroom apartment they bought for $31.67 million in 2014 for the bargain-basement price of $29.95 million.  (Incidentally, isn’t it heart-warming to see that, even at these astronomical numbers, the notion still holds that pricing just a bit less than the next whole number might cause some potential buyers to bite?  Whether it’s $299,500 or $29.95 million, the rules apparently don’t change.)

Why has the market for ultra high-end properties topped out?  Some developers blame uncertainties created by Brexit, some cite Chinese restrictions on cash leaving the country, some point to lower oil prices curbing spending by the sheiks and sultans, and some note that the U.S. government has started to pay attention to people paying cash — cash! — for these pleasure domes.  Note that most of these reasons implicitly acknowledge that a lot of the buyers for Manhattan glitter palaces come from overseas.  Others involved in the business identify more conventional reasons:  real-estate developers have saturated what was always a small market to begin with, there’s little to differentiate the properties, and pricing just hit a ceiling.  In short, the laws of supply and demand still hold, and there are only so many jet-setters in the world who can comfortably drop between $50 and $100 million on living space they probably only use once in a while.

Fortunately for those of us worried about the financial health of Manhattan, the Times reports that the real estate market in lower price ranges remains robust, with lots of competition for homes selling for less than $3 million.  Less than $3 million?  In Manhattan?  What does that get you — a one-bedroom efficiency on the lower East side?

Debumpifying Beck’s Bricks

IMG_2374For as long as we have lived here, the section of Beck Street between Mohawk and Lazelle has been the bumpiest roadway in German Village, by far.  I’m guessing that’s because it’s one of the most used streets — being the standard route many people take when leaving the Lindey’s restaurant — but it got to the point that the stretch was so jarring and unpleasant that Kish and I simply wouldn’t use it.  Why break an axle or risk suffering minor internal damage when smoother alternatives are available?

So I was glad to see the “road closed” signs go up, and the work begin on debumpifying Beck’s bricks.  At least, I sure hope that’s what they’re doing.