Saturday, November 30, 2013

Cautionary Tales

First, a story about a "charity," from the NY Times:
WASHINGTON — BY all outward indications, the U.S. Navy Veterans Association was a leader in the charitable community. Founded in 2002 to provide support to Navy veterans in need, the charity recorded astonishing financial success. In its first eight years, it raised around $100 million in charitable contributions, almost all of it through a direct marketing campaign. The organization, headed by Jack L. Nimitz, boasted of 41 state chapters and some 66,000 members.  [My emphasis]
This would be a great story of charitable success, except for the fact that virtually everything about the association turned out to be false: no state chapters, no members, no leader with the name redolent of naval history. Instead, there was one guy: a man calling himself Bobby Thompson who worked from a duplex across the street from the Cuesta-Rey cigar factory in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa.
...[T]he money raised was real enough ... [b]ut little ever made it to the intended beneficiaries. In 2010, the scheme was unwound by two reporters for what is now The Tampa Bay Times, but not before Mr. Thompson had fled the state of Florida.

From June 2010, Mr. Thompson was on the run, the search for him hamstrung by the fact that no one had any real idea of who he was. Finally, on April 30, 2012, federal marshals tracked him down in Portland, Ore., finding him with a card to a storage unit containing $981,650 in cash and almost two dozen fake identity cards.
Earlier this month in Ohio, where the charity’s registration documents had been filed, the man arrested as Bobby Thompson was convicted on 23 felony counts, including fraud, theft and money laundering. Authorities have identified him as John Donald Cody, a former Army intelligence officer and Harvard Law graduate.
Read the whole story here. It's fascinating. Did you know there are about 59,000 charities in the country with the word "veteran" in its name?

If you're looking for a good charity where your bucks can make a real difference, consider Omo Child, about which I will write another time.

On another subject, via Kevin Drum I came across what I consider a pretty devastating piece about an outfit called GoldieBlox, by Felix Salmon of Reuters.
The company first came to public attention in September of last year, when it launched a highly-successful Kickstarter campaign which ultimately raised $285,881. Like all successful Kickstarter campaigns, there was a viral video; this one featured a highly-photogenic CEO called Debbie, a recent graduate of — you probably don’t need me to tell you this — Stanford University. And yes, before the Kickstarter campaign, there was “a seed round from friends, family and angel investors”. When the viral video kept on generating pre-orders even after the Kickstarter campaign ended, GoldieBlox looked like a classic Silicon Valley startup: young, exciting, fast-growing, and — of course — disruptive.

Not wanting to mess with a proven formula, GoldieBlox kept on producing those viral videos: “GoldieBlox Breaks into Toys R Us” was based on Queen’s “We Are The Champions”, and got over a million views. But that was nothing compared to their latest video, uploaded only a week ago, and already well on its way to getting ten times that figure. This one was based on an early Beastie Boys song, “Girls”, and deliciously subverted it to turn it into an empowering anthem.

Under what Paul Carr has diagnosed as the rules of the Cult of Disruption, GoldieBlox neither sought nor received permission to create these videos: it never licensed the music it used from the artists who wrote it. That wouldn’t be the Silicon Valley way. First you make your own rules — and then, if anybody tries to slap you down, you don’t apologize, you fight. For your right. To parody.
In a complete inversion of what you might expect to happen in this case, it is GoldieBlox which is suing the Beastie Boys. And they’re doing so in the most aggressive way possible. There’s no respect, here, for the merits of the song which has helped their video go massively viral and which is surely helping to sell a huge number of toys. Instead, there’s just sneering antagonism ....
I smell libertarians.

A Gleaning

Andrew Tobias relates this story, which he admits may be apocryphal:
Shortly after assuming the papacy — or perhaps as he was headed to the swearing in — the Pope was given a tour. A Vatican steward, [sic on that comma, Andy] opened the double doors of an enormous closet and gestured grandly to show his Holiness the raiments he would wear for the various holidays and occasions.  To which the Pope allegedly responded: “Close it up.  Take it away.  The circus is over.”

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Rest of the Story?

Remember the video of the Central Florida sheriff who had a press conference where he shared the names and photos of two early teen girls he charged with cyberbullying a young girl who had jumped off the town water tower?
Polk County prosecutors decided to drop felony charges against two girls in a September cyberbullying case that the police said contributed to the death of 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick, who jumped from a cement plant tower two months ago.
The decision was made by the Polk County state attorney’s office after weeks of investigation and an analysis of thousands of Facebook messages failed to turn up enough evidence to charge the girls, one 14 and the other 12.
While the messages revealed that the 14-year-old had insulted Rebecca and called her ugly names, the kind of bullying that some children could find emotionally crushing, the posts did not rise to the level of a crime, lawyers for the two girls said.
The rest of the NY Times story is here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

I'm currently reading Don't Count on It! by John C. Bogle (see sidebar), one of the inventors of the index mutual fund.

The introduction has a quote I really like from a Rudyard Kipling poem. I hope I am not insulting you by mentioning that a copybook was a notebook used to teach penmanship in the 19th century. The student might copy important passages and quotations from classical literature to demonstrate his/her handwriting skills.
As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through relevant fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place ...
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
 I'm not sure what "relevant fingers" are, but anyone with pretensions of valuing the study of history can understand where Kipling is coming from.

Monday, November 04, 2013


The real political junkies out there shouldn't miss The Hunt for Pufferfish, the story of the Romney campaign's vice presidential candidate decision-making. Pufferfish was the campaign's code name for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Based on their junk-food-saturated vetting diet, they called their undertaking Project Goldfish (after the crackers)—ultimately giving each of the VP finalists an aquatic code name. Myers’ plan was to have Project Goldfish completed by Memorial Day. In April she presented Romney with a list of two dozen names, which he whittled down to 11: Kelly Ayotte, John Cornyn, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Bill Frist, Mike Huckabee, Bob McDonnell, Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan. 

Within a month, the vetters had assembled preliminary research books on the 11, which Romney perused and then rendered his short list: Christie (Pufferfish), Pawlenty (Lakefish), Portman (Filet o Fish), Rubio (Pescado) and Ryan (Fishconsin).

In the nine months since Christie’s endorsement of Romney in October 2011, Boston had formed a mixed view of the governor who George W. Bush had once nicknamed Big Boy.
Hate to say it (no, really, I do) but, if true, the code name thing is a pretty good indication of a low level of professionalism on Romney's staff.  Surprise, surprise.

Turns out Christie has a lot of baggage.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Worth Repeating


Has anyone else noticed how much the GOP position on Obamacare resembles the classic borscht belt joke about the two ladies at a Catskills resort? Lady #1: “The food here is so terrible, it’s inedible!” Lady #2: “And the portions are so small!” Republican #1: “Obamacare is slavery!” Republican #2: “And it’s so hard to sign up!”