Fake Philanderers And Just Desserts

The saga of the “Ashley Madison” website — which used the tagline “Life is short.  Have an affair.” and purported to bring together people looking for confidential extramarital liaisons — just keeps getting better and better from a “just desserts” standpoint.

The whole concept of the website is appalling, obviously, but nevertheless a number of people looking to cheat on their spouses evidently signed up.  Apparently they didn’t have any qualms about giving their personal and financial information to a website that existed solely to facilitate adulterous sexual trysts. That’s pretty amazing, when you think about it, because marital misconduct traditionally has been one of the biggest causes of blackmail and extortion in the world — which means any rational cheater would be pretty dubious of entrusting a third party to arrange for their affair.

But a bunch of unfaithful sleazebags nevertheless did so, anyway, which logically would make the “Ashley Madison” website and its trove of data about cheating husbands a prime target for hackers.  After all, if you were a criminal looking to gather information that could be used to extort money from others, wouldn’t a database that collected the information of millions of philanderers whose very participation in the website was self-incriminating be impossible to resist?  And, that’s exactly what happened.  When the hacking incident was disclosed to the website’s users, how many of those cheating spouses who were titillated by the idea of having an affair began to dread the thought of phone calls from unknown numbers and started to scan their mail for anonymous letters?

But the “chickens coming home to roost” element gets even richer.  The hacking revealed that the website’s membership was decidedly male in makeup, by about a five-to-one ratio — and now there are allegations that a number of the “female” members never actually existed.  Data experts have been looking at the “Ashley Madison” data released by the hackers and tracing it back to root IP addresses, and say they are finding that thousands of the “female” members curiously share the very same IP address.  Others are claiming that the website sent out computer-generated messages from fake female members to the scuzzball husbands who signed up for the website — and then those husbands paid the website for the privilege of responding to tantalizing messages from potential sex partners who didn’t actually exist.

So the faithless guys who tumbled to the lure of “Ashley Madison” have been hacked, exposed, become prime candidates for extortion, and now discovered that they stupidly may have been paying for a pig in a poke (so to speak).  Karma is a bitch, isn’t it?

Dire Forecasts Of 2015

This 1975 UPI article has been making the rounds lately.  It predicts, based on then-current usage rates and the reserves of petroleum known to exist at that time, that the “last barrel of oil” will have been pumped from the “last well on earth” in 2015.

Back in the ’70s, these kinds of dire forecasts and disaster scenarios were pretty commonplace — and all of them, incidentally, made predictions of what life would be like about 40 years into the future.  Whether it was oil crises, the “population bomb,” world-wide food shortages, air and water pollution poisoning the environment beyond redemption, or the ever-present possibility of global nuclear war leaving the Earth a dead, irradiated husk, there were catastrophes galore just waiting to happen a few decades into the future.  As a result, some of the popular fiction and movie scenarios of the day were pretty grim, with bestsellers like The Late Great Planet Earth and movies featuring Charlton Heston shouting to the world that “Soylent Green is people . . . people!”

So, here we are in 2015, at about the time when some of the worst stuff — overcrowded people penned up like goats in soulless camps being fed algae as the only reliable food supply, mass starvation, “nuclear winter,” a return to the Dark Ages due to lack of energy sources — was supposed to he happening.  Instead of pumping the last barrel of oil, however, we’ve discovered so much new oil and natural gas that the price of oil is plunging.  Instead of dirty-faced people overrunning the planet, we’ve seen a steady overall decline in global growth rates and, in some countries, concern that birth rates are so low that new citizens aren’t fully replacing those that are dying.  And while there is still hunger in the world, the Earth is producing an abundance of food.

You know, when you compare the calamitous predictions to the modern-day reality, 2015 really is pretty sweet.  Now, if only there were flying cars and cheap space travel . . . .

Another Killer From Australia

Recently scientists announced that they discovered a new species of snake that is native to Australia. And here’s a shocker:  the snake is a killer.

With the warm and fuzzy name of Kimberley Death Adder, the newly discovered species is considered to be one of the most venomous snakes in the world.  It lies in wait, camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings, until an unwary victim stumbles into its area, and then it strikes and bites with its deadly fangs.  Before an antivenom was developed and made available, it killed or paralyzed about half of its human victims.

It’s no surprise, really, that the Kimberley Death Adder is one of the most dangerous snakes in the world.  In Australia, it’s par for the course.  Even though many Americans associate Australia with beer and charming accents, the world’s only country-continent is home to an extraordinary assortment of deadly creatures, ranging from man-eating Great White Sharks to killer crocodiles to venomous, paralyzing snails to huge birds with killer claws that can rip off an arm to loads of poisonous fish, jellyfish, and octopus species.  Even certain species of purportedly cuddly koalas can be deadly.  And, of course, Australia is well-represented on the top 10 deadly snake and top 10 venomous spider lists.  There’s a reason Crocodile Dundee carried around that huge knife.

Even though I’d probably be scared snotless the entire time I was there and would need to keep an eye out at all time for spiders, snakes, and dozens of other potential killers, I’d still like to visit Australia one day:  it just seems like the right thing to do.  I’ve wanted to check it out since Kish and I read In A Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson’s classic and hilarious book about his travels in Australia. Now there’s just one more creature waiting to knock me off when I finally make the long flight to the other side of the world.

When The Cab Ride From LaGuardia Sucks

I’ve been on the road a lot lately, with several in-and-out trips to New York City being part of the travel schedule.  New York City is a very cool place — once you get to the City itself.  Unfortunately, the cab ride in from LaGuardia usually bites.  It’s as if New York City planners decided that the best way to prepare someone for the rigors of Manhattan is to toughen them up and lower their expectations by giving them a painful ride into town.

IMG_7035I’m not the sort of person to get car sick, but Sunday night’s ride into Manhattan got me to the verge of spewing all of the old, crappy, duct-taped seats of my cab.  My driver was an angry guy (of course!) who had only two driving modes — maximum acceleration and jamming on the brakes, and he did both, alternatively, while cursing the traffic (which was heavy, of course) and gesturing angrily at the other drivers (who paid him no attention).

As a result, my fellow passenger and I were like those old Weeble toys, constantly rocked back and forth with the speeding and braking, lurching forward and careening backward and slamming into the seat behind.  Occasionally the driver modified his technique by changing lanes abruptly, so that we got that delightful unexpected lateral motion sensation, too.  Add to it all that the weather was hot, the cab had no air-conditioning, and the windows were cracked to lessen the heat factor — which only means that the back seat was filled foul-smelling, exhaust-laden air — and you will believe me when I tell you that, to put it mildly, the ride in to downtown really sucked.

It doesn’t have to be that way, of course.  Our ride from Manhattan to LaGuardia this afternoon was reasonably pleasant, with a smooth, non-jarring ride and no death-defying lane changes or unhinged gestures.  It makes me wonder — once you get a cab license, in NYC, is there ever any random, anonymous testing to see whether you should still be ferrying passengers back and forth through some of the worst traffic conditions in the United States?  And is it any wonder that so many people prefer Uber, where you know something about your driver and how they have been rated by prior passengers?

Oysters, I Say!

Recently, I was at a restaurant with a colleague when I noticed oysters were on the menu.  “Do you eat oysters?” I inquired, politely.

“No,” she responded, somewhat stiffly.  “Frankly, they kind of disgust me.”

“Why?” I asked, innocently.

“Because they are gray and blobby and wiggly and squishy,” she explained.

I considered her apparent revulsion to oysters, and my duties as a fellow diner — and then I decided.  “Well, do you mind if I order some?”

“No,” she said with a slight shudder.

“Don’t mind if I do,” I said, and placed my order.  And with some fresh lemon juice and cocktail sauce — boy, those oysters were succulent!

Never let trivial social niceties stand in the way of good oysters, I say!

Mysteries Of The Van Dyke

When I was a kid the back cover of every comic book — whether it be Richie Rich, Scrooge McDuck, or Superman — had the same set of yellow-colored ads.  They offered the most tantalizing products imaginable, all designed to stir the fertile imaginations of 10-year-old boys.  “X-ray specs” that would allow you to see through anything!  A Sherlock Holmes kit so you could become a real detective!  A treasure chest box with unknown contents that could contain just about anything!  A gizmo that would allow you to throw your voice, so your Mom would think you were trapped in a chest!  (Ha ha!)

But one of the most evocative ads touted the mysterious “Van Dyke” beard.  It was not a cheap, full beard that hooked around your ears and would clearly look totally fake.  No, the Van Dyke ad promised a more nuanced, sophisticated look that vaguely resembled Robin Hood:  chin whiskers that came to a point and sweeping sideburns.  You could enjoy an “exciting, romantic” look at was “impressive anytime.”  And, hey . . . the smiling guy in the ad did look pretty impressive.  You didn’t see many Van Dykes — or for that matter any facial hair of any kind — sported in suburban Akron, Ohio.  No doubt the Van Dyke look was more popular in the major metropolitan areas like New York City, or perhaps somewhere in France.

The ad said you could put the beard on in seconds to “suit your mood,” and to make the look even more natural and believable you could check which hair color you wanted, to better match your actual hair color.  Hmmm . . . I guess I’m “medium brown.”  But two of the hair color options were “grey” and “silver,” which obviously meant that distinguished older men were ordering the Van Dyke look.  A downy-cheeked, hairless youth, wanting desperately to cross that bridge to adulthood and being taken more seriously, could spin some pretty good fantasies about donning a perfectly matching Van Dyke and sideburns, thereby transforming himself into a mysterious, continental figure, and venturing out into the world of grown-ups.  Alas, the $7 price tag was just too steep.

I thought about the mysteries of the Van Dyke last weekend, when we were at a family wedding and I realized with a start that almost every male over the age of 16 other than the groom had a beard.  And what an exotic collection of chin whiskers, too — from the little patch beard directly under the mouth to full flowing foliage to carefully cultivated, bristling stubble.  Short beards, long beards, pointy beards . . . it was a colossal beard fest.  And yes!  There were several gents with a Van Dyke/sideburns combo, and you know what?  It looked pretty darned impressive.

The chuckling guy in the comic book ad would have been proud.

Hand Crank

On a recent trip, I asked to get the cheapest, most no-frills car that the rental agency offered — and they delivered.  And how!

IMG_6977Believe it or not, I got a car that did not have power windows.  Instead, it had the old hand crank, which I dutifully used to raise the window and lower it.  I found myself wondering how many people under the age of, say, 40 would even know what the hand crank was and how it worked.  They might still be searching for the automatic window button.

The car also did not have an automatic trunk de-latching lever — you had to manually use the key to unlock the trunk.  I know that this was mystifying to the younger generation, because the 20-something guy who brought my car from the valet parking area tried to pop the trunk , but couldn’t find a latch to do so.  When I explained that you needed to get out of the driver’s seat, go to the back, and unlock the trunk manually, he seemed astonished — like he expected pigeons to fly out of the trunk or some other magical feat to be performed.

I know the older set among us will be thinking about other signs of older cars versus newer cars.  I can advise you that (1) the car had seat belts, (2) the car had bucket seats, and (3) the car did not have only an AM radio.

Still, the hand crank for the windows was a trip down memory lane, back to the first few cars I ever owned.  It was bizarre to find it on a recently manufactured rig.