Month: December 2015

How Did This Company Get Any Backers?

Looks Like VC Pump and Dump Bullsh%$to Me

In the continuing revelations regarding the Silicon Valley-eaque medical startup, I have come to the conclusion that it’s investors, and its market cap, are more a product of its founder is an earnest attractive blond who dropped out of Stanford.

First it was repeated reports that their technology failed to work even in highly scripted dog and pony shows for potential investors, now we discover that the company was doing of this while using regulatory loopholes to avoid FDA oversight:

This suggests one of two possibilities: either Theranos’ customers received test results generated by equipment that no federal official checked for accuracy, or Theranos wasn’t using the proprietary technology behind its $9 billion valuation to return results to patients. A recent report from The Wall Street Journal pointed toward an extreme version of option number one: that Theranos actively hid its proprietary technology from lab inspectors, which would explain why the inventions were never checked. And Theranos has publicly proclaimed it used its technology on patients, which means either that the company’s lying or patients received tests that had not been validated by any federal authorities.

“CMS did not inspect the Theranos proprietary technology.”Theranos first came under scrutiny after a report in the Journal in October, which said that Theranos’ inventions were only used on a small number of tests sold to patients. On Sunday, the paper reported that during an inspection by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services auditors, employees who worked in the “Normandy” section of the Theranos lab were told not to enter or exit the lab; the inspectors toured the section of the lab that housed traditional lab instruments Theranos bought from other companies but never saw the Edison machines — Theranos’ highly publicized blood analyzers. This account fits with lab inspection documents that The Verge obtained from CMS, which do not mention Theranos’ proprietary technology at all. There’s a reason for that: “CMS did not inspect the Theranos proprietary technology,” a spokesperson for CMS told The Verge in an email. Consequently, at no point between Theranos opening its first wellness center in 2013 and a surprise inspection by the FDA in August did any federal official examine the company’s proprietary technology — either its Edison machine, which reads samples, or its “Nanotainer” device, which stores blood from pinprick testing.

The lack of inspection was possible in part because Theranos registered its technology in categories that have minimal oversight. Theranos sold its tests under a designation that even the US Food and Drug Administration calls a regulatory loophole: the “lab-developed test.” Under this designation, no pre-market FDA approval is required for the company’s blood tests — as it typically is for most drugs and devices. The category was meant for research hospitals, which sometimes adapt commercial tests to suit patients’ needs, and Theranos is one of several companies using the loophole to sell its tests to the public. Instead of the FDA, regulation of Theranos’ labs fell to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Theranos also registered its blood containers as FDA Class I medical devices in 2013, according to the FDA. That category of medical device doesn’t require an FDA inspection. No FDA inspectors entered a Theranos facility until August of this year, during a round of surprise inspections. In the FDA’s inspection report, it referred to Theranos’ Nanotainer as an “uncleared medical device” and altered its registration to a Class II medical device, which requires greater oversight.

CMS declined to provide us with additional information about Theranos. The FDA provided some information about Theranos’ regulatory status — including the fact that Theranos registered its containers as Class I in 2013 — but declined to reveal anything further about the company.

I’m beginning to think that the whole startup culture is a code word for some sort of charity for overpriviliged white boys.

The Truth, from John Erlichman, of All People

Over at Esquire, the inimitable Charlie Pierce found this gem from Dan Baum’s book Smoke and Mirrors, in an interview of John Ehrlichman:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar Left, and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

While the Nixon administration is not generally considered to be a font of unvarnished truth, sometimes, after a career is over, the truth will slip out, and in retrospect, Ehrlichman always seemed the most self aware of that scurvy lot.

And Yet More Bullsh%$ in the Criminal Justice Arena

It appears that, notwithstanding claims of the “Ferguson Effect”, and the reality of police slowdowns in places like New York City, there is no statistically significant increase in the murder rate:

As I’ve mentioned in a number of posts over the years, I believe the Late 20th Century Crime Wave was one of the two or three most politically and culturally consequential events in the US in the second half of the twenty century. It is hard to overstate the impact of this very real rise in the rates of all violent crimes but most especially murder. And one of the greatest mysteries about it is that that for all the studies, theories and attempts to control it, we simply do not have a clear understanding of why it began in the early 1960s or why it ended over the course of the 1990s. I’ve noted that, somewhat against my better judgment, I’ve become increasingly open to the seemingly crude and monocausal theory that lead poisoning played a key role in driving the crime wave. Still, I think we still basically do not know. Yet, over the last year or so we’ve seen a rising chorus of commentary and political posturing which claims that increasing civil rights activism (i.e. Black Lives Matter or the so-called “Ferguson Effect”) and more permissive or cowed policing is at least starting to push crime rates back up toward where they were in the bad old days.


When I started looking at this I was curious to find out myself because I have heard a lot of reports of the murder rate specifically going up. That’s obviously bad news in itself. But it also confounds my assumption that the rise and fall of the murder rate over the second half of the 20th century had far less to do with policy interventions of any sort than we’d like to think. So if a mild ramping back of aggressive policing can shift the scales in the other direction, that changes the whole story significantly. If crime is on the way back up, I’d still be suspicious that it is tied to differences in policing. My assumption would be that the underlying trends, about which we understand little, have shifted. In any case, what I found was quite different from what I’ve been hearing and reading.

From the beginning of 2015 there has been what can only be called a relentless desire to find a spike in the crime and murder rates. So for instance, back on March 3rd, The New York Daily News ran “Murders up 20% in 2015 in year-to-year comparison, NYPD says“. Needless to say, when you’re only going on 2 out of 12 months the statistics can be very volatile. Then there was a less hyperbolic story that ran in The New York Times, “Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities, which noted a 9% increase in the murder rate for New York City. Then on September 21st, USA Today published ‘Bloody weekend in NYC puts rising murder rate in spotlight‘ which noted that “A bloody weekend in New York that saw eight shooting deaths could signal that out-of-control gun violence may return to the city” and then went on to say …

The number of homicides is up slightly over last year, and if the trend continues New York City may see its first uptick in the homicide rate after 25 years of decline.

Now, this last claim is worth zeroing in on. I’ve gone back and recompiled the number of homicides in New York City going back to the peak year of 1990. And whatever gloss, interpretation or prediction about the future one may make from these numbers, this point about a “first uptick” is simply false. Since 1990, even as the murder rate has gone down consistently, the number has actually gone up on a year over year basis 6 times: 1999 (6%), 2000 (.3%), 2003 (1.7%), 2006 (10.6%), 2008 (5.9%) and 2010 (13.8%).

As late as one week ago, Newsday predicted that the city murder rate would end up at just over 5%, with 350 homicides for the year. But as of Christmas Day, the number stood at 339 homicides for 2015, which would amount to an increase over 1.8% over 2014.

The Times itself touched on this point yesterday with a very different article “Anxiety Aside, New York Sees Drop in Crime,” which notes that while New Yorkers seemed to feel less safe, over all crime actually fell by 2%. 


The simple reality is that we won’t really know the story until the 2015 FBI statistics are released. And even then we will only know about a single year, which means very little. For the moment, what seems clear is that there is a public mood of panic, menace and fear. And at least in New York City, that seems to be the case even though it’s totally belied by the actual crime statistics.

What a surprise.  The reports of skyrocketing crime appear to be at best statistical noise, and more likely a juxtaposition of bias in reporting, and efforts by law enforcement to push the meme.

And Some Good News in the Justice Front

The Federal Court just cut the antichoice liars at the so called pregnancy crisis centers a new one:

Two federal judges in California delivered a one-two punch to anti-choice activists at crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) last week by declining to block the state’s new reproductive disclosure law.

The law, set to go into effect January 1, requires a public notice about access to abortion and birth control at pregnancy-related clinics statewide. CPCs have sought to block the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, arguing in a flurry of lawsuits that it violates their constitutional rights to 
freedom of speech, assembly, and free exercise of religion.

But federal judges at courts in the Northern and Eastern Districts of California rejected requests for a preliminary injunction on the law in separate decisions handed down Friday.

Judge Jeffrey S. White in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that the three CPCs behind one of the suits fell short of the “high standard” required for a temporary injunction, and “failed to demonstrate that they would face irreparable injury.”

The licensed clinics—the Livingwell Medical Clinic, the Pregnancy Care Center of the North Coast, and the Confidence Pregnancy Center—offer free pregnancy services like pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, espouse Christian beliefs, and oppose abortion rights, according to court documents. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the CPCs by the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-choice legal organization.

Judge Kimberly Mueller of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California also rejected a request for a temporary injunction brought by the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute, which represented three other CPCs. The 59-page decision held that “enjoining the act would interfere with the public interest regarding the health of state residents.”

A recent California undercover investigation found that CPCs, generally staffed by anti-choice activists, discourage patients from having abortions by routinely lying to women about their options. Other investigations found that CPCs convince women to remain pregnant with false promises of financial aid and housing.

The CPCs that brought the Northern District lawsuit contend they will not comply with the law, a fact that White noted in his decision: “Indeed, Plaintiffs maintain that their speech will not in fact be chilled.”

Operators of CPCs have said they’d rather close than comply with the state disclosure law.

Hopefully, we will see some arrests for fraud (they take money under false pretenses) and contempt of court in addition to their offices being terminated with extreme prejudice.

A Better Reason than Steve Miller Not to Go to Cleveland

A while back, I suggested that there was one less reason to go to Cleveland, because Steve Miller had been put in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I wished to have nothing to do with any institution that has anything to do with Steve Miller.

Well, we now have another reason not to go to Cleveland, or for that matter the whole of Cuyahoga County, specifically, it is now clear that the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor is less interested in pursuing police misconduct than Frank Rizzo, who famously promised to “Make Attila the Hun kook like a faggot.”

Simply put, black, white, or green, if you go there, you are taking your life into your own hands:

Tim McGinty never intended to prosecute the officers who killed Tamir Rice. Will that cost him his job?

Cuyahoga County, Ohio, prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty’s announcement that a grand jury, at his office’s recommendation, declined to file charges against the two officers who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice surprised almost no one.

McGinty has made no attempt to mask his belief that rookie officer Timothy Loehmann and his partner Frank Garmback committed no crimes on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 2014. That’s the day when Garmback rapidly pulled their police cruiser within inches of Rice at a Cleveland community center and Loehmann jumped out, firing.

In fact, during his press conference, McGinty made numerous mentions of the many risks police officers face, the split-second decisions they have to make to protect their and the public’s lives, and how real the toy gun Rice was holding as he played at the park looked.

In what could have been a defense closing argument, McGinty stated that the enhanced surveillance video that captured Rice’s shooting, and the aftermath in which he lay bleeding and unattended on the ground, while his 14-year-old sister was tackled to the ground by officers, handcuffed and put in the back of a patrol car as she tried to run to him, “proved” that Rice was indeed “drawing his pistol” (which was actually a pellet gun) as the officers approached.


None of it was unexpected.

McGinty insisted on taking the case to a grand jury, dragging it out for months, despite a judge ruling in June that there was probable cause to charge Loehmann and Garmback with crimes, including involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, negligent homicide dereliction of duty and, in Loehmann’s case, murder. Attorneys for Rice’s family cried foul as McGinty allowed the officers to take the oath and read prepared statements to the grand jury with no cross-examination, and he released reports justifying the killing written by outside experts, which the family’s attorneys denounced as biased.

Last month, he made disparaging remarks about the Rice family and their lawyers, appearing to accuse them of seeking to profit from the child’s death through a pending lawsuit.

And despite his professions of sympathy for the family, including saying he and his staff could see their own children and grandchildren in the face of the now-dead boy, attorneys for Rice’s family said that prior to telephoning her on Monday to inform her of the grand jury decision, the prosecutor has rarely bothered to communicate with Tamir’s mom.

We have a deeply evil bigot running criminal justice in Cuyoga county.

Simply put, until the rule of law returns to Cuyahoga county, visiting, conducting business, going to school in that place is a dangerous decision.

That Sound is the House of Saud Collapsing

While the reports of internecine conflict amongst the House of Saud might presage a crackup, at the core of everything that is the descendants of Ibn Saud is money.

There is no state craft, no vision, no understanding of the fundamental reciprocity that makes one a leader.

Well, it appears that their attempts to bury alternative fossil fuel extraction techniques by dropping oil prices through the floor is in the process of bankrupting them.

It appears that we have found a benefit to fracking:

Saudi Arabia on Monday unveiled spending cuts in its 2016 budget, subsidy reforms and a call for privatisations to rein in a yawning deficit caused by the prolonged period of low oil prices.

The Gulf kingdom has kept oil production at high levels in an attempt to force out higher-cost producers, such as shale, and retain its market share. But this year’s deficit ballooned to 367bn Saudi riyals ($97.9bn,) or 15 per cent of gross domestic product, as oil revenues fell 23 per cent to Sr444.5bn.

Seeking to ward off future fiscal crises, the ministry of finance confirmed wide-ranging economic reforms, including plans to “privatise a range of sectors and economic activities”.

Riyadh would revise energy, water and electricity prices “gradually over the next five years” to optimise efficiency while minimising “negative effects on low and mid-income citizens and the competitiveness of the business sector,” it added.

The first reforms will be effective from Tuesday, including an increase in gasoline prices, a rise in electricity tariffs for the wealthiest consumers, a modest increase in water costs for all, and changes to all energy prices for industrial users.


The kingdom’s austerity and reform programme, a reaction to the past decade of profligate spending, has raised alarm among parts of the country’s business community, who are already reeling from this year’s cuts that have triggered widespread delays in government payments.

Radical reforms to the social contract between Saudi citizens and the ruling al-Saud family also threaten discord at a time when Islamist extremist groups such as Isis have threatened the country.


“We see real GDP growth decelerating sharply in 2016, albeit remaining positive,” said Monica Malik, chief economist with Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. “Non-oil GDP is forecast to moderate with the lower government spending feeding into the wider economy.”

The government’s austerity measures have been accompanied by extra spending items, such as the Saudi-led war in Yemen and Sr88bn in bonus payments for civil servants when King Salman ascended to the throne in January.

The 2016 budget envisions spending Sr840bn in 2016, compared to the Sr975bn that is forecast to have been spent this year and Sr1.14tn in 2014. Actual spending has outstripped projections by as much as a quarter for the past decade, but the government is trying to instil greater fiscal discipline.

It’s been clear for some time that the House of Saud will fall at some point in the not too distant future.  They are an anachronism whose continued existence is an artifact of the fossil fuel rich geography of the Arabian peninsula.

The only question is whether it falls like the House of Windsor, with a few colorful figureheads remaining as a historical oddity, or if it falls like the House of Romanov, with the family shot and buried in a ditch.

The recent budgetary issues point to sooner rather than later, and the fate of the Russian Royal Family, not the British one.

Awww ……… Bernie is Picking on Donald

When Bernie Sanders speaks, Donald Trump listens:

Donald Trump, billionaire Republican presidential frontrunner, has changed his mind about wages: Americans aren’t earning enough. He’s also not keen on Wall Street. The shift has Trump on a collision course with Democrat Bernie Sanders – while oddly agreeing with many of his points.

“Wages in are [sic] country are too low, good jobs are too few, and people have lost faith in our leaders. We need smart and strong leadership now!” Trump tweeted on Monday.

The opinion appeared to reverse what the Republican frontrunner said in November during the fourth Republican debate. Asked if he was sympathetic to the protesters demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage, Trump said: “I can’t be.”

“[T]axes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave [the minimum wage] the way it is,” Trump said at the time. “People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum. But we cannot do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can’t do it.”

Sanders, a senator from Vermont and self-described socialist, used those comments to criticize Trump while appearing on CBS Face the Nation on Sunday.


In his Monday morning tweets, Trump touched on these topics – noting that wages had barely grown in the past few years.

“The middle-class has worked so hard, are not getting the kind of jobs that they have long dreamed of – and no effective raise in years. BAD,” Trump tweeted. “Many of the great jobs that the people of our country want are long gone, shipped to other countries. We now are part time, sad! I WILL FIX!”


Trump’s recent comments on wages come as he has also stepped up his disparagement of Wall Street – characterizing hedge funds as “getting away with murder”. His comments have drawn puzzlement from bankers familiar with the financing of the presidential candidate’s business empire.

Well, now we know who, and what, scares Donald Trump.

Spain is Going Pear Shaped

In response to the election result the representatives of the center-left Socialist Party met with the Mariano Rajoy of the right-wing Peoples Party, but only to tell him to piss off:

The arduous task of assembling a new government for Spain got off to a bad start on Wednesday after the leader of the Socialist party flatly ruled out any deal with the Popular party of prime minister Mariano Rajoy.

Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Socialists, held a brief meeting with Mr Rajoy in the prime ministerial compound outside Madrid — but apparently only to reiterate his opposition to any accord.

“We will vote against the Popular party and against Mariano Rajoy as prime minister. Voters have asked for change,” he told a news conference after the meeting.

The meeting was the first encounter between two party leaders since the inconclusive general election last Sunday. Spanish voters delivered a deeply fragmented parliament in which the two mainstream parties — the centre-right PP and the centre-left Socialists (PSOE) — will have a much-reduced presence.

The PP will be the strongest bloc in parliament once again, but it remains 53 seats shy of an absolute majority in the 350-seat chamber. The Socialists will be a distant second, followed by the upstart anti-austerity Podemos movement.

A second new entrant is the centrist Ciudadanos party, whose 40 deputies will make a useful addition to any alliance but are not enough to hand a majority to the PP on their own.

Much like in Greece, and Portugal, the two mainstream parties have been following a consensus that is opposed what appears to be a majority of the electorate, which has the electorate moving far right and far left.

Unfortunately, the response of Brussels to this trend is to become even more opaque and undemocratic.

It is a recipe for disaster.

Why Cops Need to be Policed, Part Gazillion

Police Sergeant Melissa Ruch, an officer in the West Penn Township police force, fabricated an ambush against herself, the 9th such case this year:

Another police officer is accused of fabricating a story about being attacked in the line of duty, making it a total of seven cops who fabricated such stories this year.

And that does not include the two dimwit cops from Connecticut who were off-duty when they shot up one of their personal cars, later claiming somebody else shot it up.

This time, it’s West Penn Township Police Sergeant Melissa Ruch out of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, who claimed in September that she pulled up to an abandoned car on the side of the road, only to get attacked by huge Hispanic man who threw her over a guardrail, causing her to tumble more than 35 feet down an embankment.

As in the other fabricated stories, the incident prompted a multi-agency manhunt, putting a scare into locals that a dangerous man was on the loose driving a Nissan Maxima with the license plate that read FUK 1011 or FUK 0011, which should have been our first clue she was lying because Pennsylvania does not allow license plates that  might be interpreted as profane.


The incident took place on September 2, one day after the most famous fabricated police ambush this year, the suicide of Fox Lake Police Lieutenant Joe Gliniewicz of Illinois, who turned out to be a lying, thieving cop stealing money from the department’s Explorer program.

 Needless to say, the mouth breather brigade took this to be more evidence of a “War on Cops.”

About F%$#ing Time

After years of studies pointing to its carcinogenic properties, California has labeled glyphosate (Roundup®) a cancer causing agent:

California has just dealt a blow to Monsanto as the state’s Environmental Protection Agency has decided to list glyphosate, the highly toxic main ingredient used in Roundup, as a known carcinogenic.

Under Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, the state is required to list and publish chemicals that cause birth defects, cancer, or other reproductive harm. If a chemical is found to be carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), they are required to be listed as well.

The IARC released a report, in March, that states glyphosate to be a ‘probably carcinogen.’ The report shows that the herbicide has been found to cause cancer in lab animals as well.

There have been concerns about the cancer causing effects of Roundup® since its commercial release.

There have been studies that have reinforced these concerns for over a decade.

Unfortunately, the standard, in the US at least, is to require proof of harm, rather than, as is the case with medications, a proof of safety.

DoJ Shuts down One Method of Law Enforcement Extortion

One of the most widely used asset forfeiture program in the United States has been shut down by the Department of Justice.

Unfortunately, the reason for closing it down is not widespread evidence of abuse and corruption in the program, but rather budget issues:

The Department of Justice announced this week that it’s suspending a controversial program that allows local police departments to keep a large portion of assets seized from citizens under federal law and funnel it into their own coffers.

The “equitable-sharing” program gives police the option of prosecuting asset forfeiture cases under federal instead of state law. Federal forfeiture policies are more permissive than many state policies, allowing police to keep up to 80 percent of assets they seize — even if the people they took from are never charged with a crime.

The DOJ is suspending payments under this program due to budget cuts included in the recent spending bill.

“While we had hoped to minimize any adverse impact on state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners, the Department is deferring for the time being any equitable sharing payments from the Program,” M. Kendall Day, chief of the asset forfeiture and money laundering section, wrote in a letter to state and local law enforcement agencies.

In addition to budget cuts last year, the program has lost $1.2 billion, according to Day’s letter. “The Department does not take this step lightly,” he wrote. “We explored every conceivable option that would have enabled us to preserve some form of meaningful equitable sharing. … Unfortunately, the combined effect of the two reductions totaling $1.2 billion made that impossible.”

Asset forfeiture has become an increasingly contentious practice in recent years. It lets police seize and keep cash and property from people who are never convicted — and in many cases, never charged — with wrongdoing. Recent reports have found that the use of the practice has exploded in recent years, prompting concern that, in some cases, police are motivated more by profits and less by justiceAsset forfeiture has become an increasingly contentious practice in recent years. It lets police seize and keep cash and property from people who are never convicted — and in many cases, never charged — with wrongdoing. Recent reports have found that the use of the practice has exploded in recent years, prompting concern that, in some cases, police are motivated more by profits and less by justice.

Of course, the usual suspects’ heads are exploding with people like the National Sheriff’s Association invoking the specter of narco gangs and terrorists.

The truth here is that these people could still seize property in much the same way that they do now.  The only difference is that they can no longer keep quite as much as they used to.

What this means is that cops will have to find other money sources to buy their: (Buzzfeed listicle ahead)

  • Gatorade
  • Zambonies
  • Segway scooters
  • “Disney Training” (Not The Onion)
  • First class flights and car rentals
  • Parties
  • Tequila, Kegs, and a Margarita Machines (Again, not The Onion)
  • Tanning Salons (OK, this one resulted in corruption charges)
  • Casino Junkets
  • Hawaii Vacations 
  • Bribing other cops (Convicted, but reversed on appeal)
  • A Dodge Viper supercar (Because they want to play Grand Theft Auto for real, I guess)
  • A “Party House”
  • Marijuana and Prostitutes (Again, charges pending)

A Christmas Gift for Those of You Who Celebrate Christmas

I give you the real Old Economy Steve:

In the past several weeks, a photo meme has exploded on Reddit, Facebook, and in several other corners of the social web. The meme, called “Old Economy Steve,” is designed as wry commentary on the way today’s young people struggle with student debt, unemployment, and other recession-era economic concerns, only to be described as lazy and entitled by members of an earlier, luckier generation. The photo associated with the meme, of a seventies teen with a Partridge Family haircut, has sparked nearly a thousand Quickmeme posts and has become, as The Atlantic put it, “the official meme for embittered Millenials.”

Until now, nobody has identified the smirking teen in the photo. But with some Internet sleuthing, we tracked down the genuine Old Economy Steve and asked him what it feels like to become the face of an out-of-touch generation.

The real Old Economy Steve is Kenneth W. Kiser, a 48-year-old graphic designer and hobbyist photographer from Coshocton, Ohio. Contacted by e-mail, Kiser said he had no idea his old school photo (taken “in the late seventies,” when he was about 14 years old, he said) was being circulated as a meme until a relative brought it to his attention less than a week ago.

Good to know, huh?

According to the Customs of My People, Chinese and a Movie on Christmas

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Harrison Ford … Han Solo
Mark Hamill … Luke Skywalker
Carrie Fisher … Princess Leia
Adam Driver … Kylo Ren
Daisy Ridley … Rey
John Boyega … Finn
Oscar Isaac … Poe Dameron 

J.J Abrams

This is a spoiler free review, so I will not go into the minutae of the plot.

I think that J.J Abrams did a thoroughly competent job in this movie.

As my son said, no one is going to call J.J. Abrams “Jar Jar Abrams” after this.

It was worth watching in a movie theater.

That being said, I was not as impressed as my wife and kids were.

The original Star Wars was very consciously following anthropologist’s Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

George Lucas has been very explicit about this.

The nickel tour of the Hero’s Journey is:
1. Ordinary World
2. Call To Adventure
3. Refusal Of The Call
4. Meeting The Mentor
5. Crossing The Threshold
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
7. Approach To The Inmost Cave
8. Ordeal
9. Reward (Seizing The Sword)
10. The Road Back
11. Resurrection
12. Return With The Elixir

Campbell posits that this is at the core of most, if not all, hero stories and myths.

I don’t think that J.J. Abrams did this. I think that he was looking at doing Star Wars.

I got the sense in a number of scenes that Abrams was marking the checklist. I found it a bit distracting and I found the film derivative.

As to the performances, I thought that Harrison Ford was more playing Harrison Ford than Han Solo, Carrie Fisher was a clenching her jaws throughout her performance a bit too much .

As to the newcomers, both Ridley and Boyega did well.  Neither of them were overawed by the shoes that they had to fill.

They were both fun to watch, particularly Boyega, who has a flair for playing a flawed character finding himself.

Oscar Isaac’s performance was good, but basically he was just playing the eye candy hotshot pilot.  It was kind of a throw away role.

That being said, of the 5 Star Wars movies that I’ve seen, I’ve not seen the Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones, it is firmly in 3rd, behind the original and The Empire Strikes Back, and well ahead of Return of the Jedi (I hate Ewoks) and Revenge of the Sith (I hate Hayden Christenson even more than I hate Ewoks)

I would give it 3½ out of 5 stars, but as I noted, my wife and kids all thought that it was the best thing since light saber sliced bread.

A Feature, Not a Bug

Is anyone surprised that 80% of Chicago PD dash cams don’t work properly:

On the night Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a Chicago Police officer, at least three dashboard video cameras in squad cars at the scene didn’t work. And the ones that did capture video did not record audio.

The massive failure was no statistical quirk.

In fact, 80 percent of the Chicago Police Department’s 850 dashcam video systems don’t record audio due to “to operator error or in some cases intentional destruction” by officers, according to a review by the Police Department.

Additionally, about 12 percent of dashcams experience “video issues” on any given day due to “equipment or operator error,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

The Laquan shooting, which led to murder charges, has now been seen by the world — but not heard. And not every potential camera angle exists.

A sergeant on the scene reported he was unable to collect video footage from three squad cars at the scene due to system malfunctions including “disc error,” “power issue” and an “application error,” police reports show.

I gotta assume that, “operator error or in some cases intentional destruction.”

It fits with the whole “Thin Blue Line” siege mentality that permeates police forces throughout the United States.

I’m beginning to think that all these cams should be run exclusively by civilian review boards.

Bernie Sanders Nails It

Writing in the New York Times, Bernie Sanders talks about the elephant in the room, that the Federal Reserve has been completely captured by the financial industry:

Wall Street is still out of control. Seven years ago, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department bailed out the largest financial institutions in this country because they were considered too big to fail. But almost every one is bigger today than it was before the bailout. If any were to fail again, taxpayers could be on the hook for another bailout, perhaps a larger one this time.

To rein in Wall Street, we should begin by reforming the Federal Reserve, which oversees financial institutions and which uses monetary policy to maintain price stability and full employment. Unfortunately, an institution that was created to serve all Americans has been hijacked by the very bankers it regulates.

The recent decision by the Fed to raise interest rates is the latest example of the rigged economic system. Big bankers and their supporters in Congress have been telling us for years that runaway inflation is just around the corner. They have been dead wrong each time. Raising interest rates now is a disaster for small business owners who need loans to hire more workers and Americans who need more jobs and higher wages. As a rule, the Fed should not raise interest rates until unemployment is lower than 4 percent. Raising rates must be done only as a last resort — not to fight phantom inflation.

What went wrong at the Fed? The chief executives of some of the largest banks in America are allowed to serve on its boards. During the Wall Street crisis of 2007, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive and chairman of JPMorgan Chase, served on the New York Fed’s board of directors while his bank received more than $390 billion in financial assistance from the Fed. Next year, four of the 12 presidents at the regional Federal Reserve Banks will be former executives from one firm: Goldman Sachs.

Just read it.

I Haz a Sad

I just discovered the fate of the Westgate theater in Beaverton Oregon. It was demolished in 2006.

It was an early multiplex, just three screens, and its largest theater seated over 1,000.

It was also where I first saw Star Wars, and where I first saw The Empire Strikes Back.

It has an interesting role in the lore of Star Wars.

By dint of the demographics of Portland, which obligated both the theater and the studio to continue to show the film until attendance dropped below a certain level, the film was shown, in 70mm on a huge screen, for over 2½ years.

For a much of this time, which was before the time of video rentals and the rise of the VCR, it was the only theater to have carried the film since initial release, and for some of this time, it was probably the only screen in the US showing the form.

When the theatrical re-release happened, the chain owning the theater (IIRC Luxury Theaters) put the film on just about every screen in the area, and it finally stopped running the film.

Before this, any number of Portlanders, myself included, saw Star Wars many many times.

If I were within 200 miles of Portland, I would have driven there to see The Force Awakens.


Today, the biggest movies are released on thousands of screens across the country. In large cities, you have at least a dozen theaters to pick from, and most of those are multiplexes showing it on multiple screens. Not only that, you can go just about any time you want, since cinema chains open around noon every day of the week. A few summers ago, The Dark Knight Rises was easily the most anticipated movie of the year, yet the day after its premiere, my daughter and I were able to waltz into the theater ten minutes before it started and had our choice of the best seats.


Now let’s climb into my time machine and transport back to 1977. If you weren’t around back then, you might be surprised to learn the biggest movies opened in only one or two theaters in town – ‘exclusive engagements’ – giving the impression you were privileged they were playing near you at all. And back then, theaters showed matinees only on weekends. Monday through Friday, the box office never opened ’till around 7:00 PM. Not only that, there was no such thing as home video, meaning if you didn’t catch a movie on the big screen, it might be years before you saw it on TV. So to see a blockbuster movie usually meant waiting in line.

But Star Wars wasn’t simply a blockbuster. It was the mother of all blockbusters, arriving with huge fanfare at only one theater in the Portland area, the Westgate Tri-Cinema, located in the suburb of Beaverton. Since literally everyone wanted to see it (except my dad, who never liked sci-fi in any way, shape or form), this meant there was one 1000-seat auditorium to placate over a million people in the metropolitan area.

I can’t speak for how other cities’ theaters handled the demand for Star Wars in ’77, but at the Westgate, even three months after it premiered (mainly because it took that long to talk Dad into going), we were still required to wait in a massive line to buy tickets, then wait in an entirely different line in get into the theater itself, a total of about two hours (during which time Dad was getting increasingly pissed). It was worth the wait, of course, not only because Star Wars more-than lived up to the hype, but because the Westgate itself was a wonderful place, with huge auditoriums, gigantic screens and plush, luxurious, rocking seats.


Regarding the aforementioned connection between Star Wars and my hometown of Portland…as I said before, it premiered as an exclusive engagement at the Westgate, which enjoyed long lines of eager fans. After roughly eight months, it expanded into multiple theaters in town. Then after all the Star Wars hype began to dissipate, the film continued to play at the Westgate, over a year-and-a-half after its initial release. In fact, the Westgate was the only theater in all of North America still showing the film. And there were Star Wars zealots flying to Portland from all over the world, just so they could check-out the movie on the big screen one more time.

I feel the same way.

It Took Long Enough

SpaceX has finally managed to safely land a first stage on their booster:

SpaceX engineers and on-board software maneuvered the first stage of a Falcon 9 launch vehicle back to a steady, tail-down landing at Cape Canaveral Monday, 10 min. after returning the kerosene-fueled rocket to flight following an ascent explosion on a mission to the International Space Station in June.

Success in recovering the stage, after two unsuccessful attempts to land on a barge in the Atlantic, marks a major step toward the long-sought dream of reusable commercial space launchers. While Blue Origin brought its liquid-hydrogen/liquid oxygen New Shepard vehicle back from a suborbital launch to space on Nov. 23, Monday’s SpaceX recovery was the first known landing for an unmanned orbital launcher.

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, an early SpaceX backer, tweeted “Congrats @SpaceX for landing the rocket back on land!!!! Incredible!!! One giant leap!”

The landing at a surplus launch pad on Cape Canaveral AFS, Florida, came in the middle of three significant milestones for commercial spaceflight. For SpaceX, it marked a return to flight for the Falcon 9 launch vehicle that is the linchpin of the company’s business in the near term. For its customer, Orbcomm, it completed launching of a 17-spacecraft low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation of second-generation Machine-to-Machine “OG2” satellites.

Although only a secondary test objective on the Orbcomm-2 mission, landing the Falcon 9 stage at Launch Complex 13 on Cape Canaveral — a surplus Atlas launch site designed “Landing Complex 1” by SpaceX — was a major achievement for the Hawthorne, California-based company.

I am dubious as to the ultimate significance of the reusable stage.

At least some of the potential savings is eaten up by the additional fuel that needs to be carried to fly home, as are any arrangements for a landing site, with its associated blockhouse and firefighting equipment.

We’ll see.