Facebook, the happy place where we post our pictures and where we show off our kids and their accomplishments, where we reconnect with old friends we would never have found again otherwise, has become one of the places where our culture comes together and where we socialize.

Facebook has its own instant message feature, where you can have live chats with friends or groups of friends, several at a time in real-time. We can keep it superficial, or we can have deep and personal conversations.

Let me destroy this idyllic picture of personal warmth and security, this place where you gather with your friends.

Facebook has just written to the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) asking that their agents stop impersonating people.

Yes, DEA agents have created fake account, taking on the names of innocent people, entering their circle of friends and conversing with them. They have even posted pictures of the children of the people they are impersonating in an effort to appear authentic.

This article gives more information. The victim in this case was a woman who was indeed convicted on drug charges and served time some years ago. So the DEA thinks they might “harvest” her circle of friends for more victims, basically cyber-stalking them. This is indeed the wolf in sheep’s clothes in our midst, and they actually think this practice is right and legal.

Beware of your “friends” online, as they might not be what they appear to be.


The Conversation

One of my readers from Australia recommended that I promote The Conversation, an online journal dedicated to academic rigor and journalistic flair, that apparently started in Australia, spread to the U.K. and launched a pilot in the U.S. this month. Thanks for the heads-up, R.C.

Click on the link above to check it out.

hamill1Pete Hamill is a New Yorker, and he loves to write about New York.

I first learned about him when I read his Novel Forever about five years ago. I gave that story a four star rating at the time.

In Downtown, Hamill simply tells the history of New York. And what a way to do it! Move over, history teachers. We think of history as a dry list of dates when things happened in a stuffy world we don’t care about anymore.

Hamill loves his city and he loves to tell about it. Of course, he can draw on his own lifetime for the last 70 years or so, but he owns and has read over 500 books on New York that he can draw on.

The outcome is a very readable tale, broken down into topical chapters, about one of the most fascinating cities of the world.

I was born and raised in Regensburg, Germany, a city literally 2000 years old with building sections and walls still in place built by the Romans in the B.C. days. As a kid,  I hung out in taverns and cafes in buildings built in 1300. Yet, I am fascinated about New York and its history, when the first tents were “only” pitched there by the Dutch settlers in 1625 or thereabouts. What is it about New York that made it so much the “center of the world” that it is today? What caused it that Regensburg is a city of 100,000 people – and not growing – after 2000 years, and New York started from some 200 people in 1625 and became the largest city in the world for many decades, and is still today the hub the modern world turns around?

It is the spirit of the New Yorkers that made the difference through the centuries and you have to read Downtown to understand what I am talking about.

Rating: *** 1/2 (out of 4)

Regarding Facebook and Twitter, there is a side to those communities that people don’t know exist. Did you know that there are products that anyone can buy, including social services agencies and law enforcement, that can monitor Facebook and Twitter activity (and other sites) on an ongoing basis. Let me give you some examples:

Example 1: A low-income mother may go to her County Department of Social Services for welfare assistance because her husband left her and her income is now below a certain threshold to support herself and her two children. She must document her income, her need and that her husband is gone, and in many states she will be eligible for some type of assistance. However, the case worker may be checking her Facebook page and see if there are pictures of her and the children at little league games with the supposedly absent husband happy and engaged in the family life.

Example 2: A couple is in divorce proceedings and things are contested. The estranged husband could put a trace on the wife’s Facebook account to collect all posts in an effort to get evidence against her. The trace will do just that. Even if the wife posts something, leaves it there for half an hour and then deletes it, the trace will have picked it up for the permanent record. Even if it was there just for a short time and deleted right away, the husband has it recorded.

Example 3: Law enforcement trying to locate somebody when they enter a certain geographic area can put a trace on Facebook, Twitter and many other location-sensitive programs that trigger when a certain person posts something. They can identify a few city blocks and trigger for posts about keywords they are looking for. In the case of a restraining order, the presence of the restrained person in the vicinity can be triggered and an alert can be generated.

The three examples should be enough to scare you – and they are real. We’re not talking NSA stuff here. You and I can buy these products and go to town with them. Of course, most ordinary people like you and I have better things to do. But predators love this stuff.

So next time you tweet that you’re going to Hawaii for a week and then your Facebook account is filling up with pictures of the cocktails you’re sipping at Cheeseburger in Paradise, think about those predators.

Lately, I’ve been pissing people off by not “liking” seemingly like-worthy stories, like the one about the family who created a bucket list for their unborn baby with anencephaly. Many of my friends thought that story was moving and inspiring and offered their prayers. I thought it was kind of selfish and cruel. And tragic, of course. Difference of opinion. Some people think it’s best to bring a brainless, skull-less baby into the world so he can be baptized and die four hours later. Some people think what’s in the best interest of the baby is to end things before the poor thing grows larger and and is born struggling to survive.

– The Grieving Atheist

The post above reminded me of many times when I didn’t hit the Like button and then hesitated. Fortunately, I don’t think it happens too often that my friends look at their own posts, check the list of Likes against the list of their friends, find me missing in the Like category, and get pissed off at me. If I don’t like something, or don’t comment on it at all, the poster never really knows if I saw it in the first place.

In my own case, I don’t spend much time in Facebook, so I miss most activity anyway.

I have jokingly suggested that there should be a Not Like button that we could use when people post generally unfortunate stuff, somebody got ill with cancer, somebody died, somebody’s girlfriend broke up with him, that kind of stuff. When it’s a good friend, you might indicate your solidarity, but you can’t really Like it.

Now, click on the Like button on the bottom of this page for the record.

Painting: Pitchfork


Pitchfork: Chelsea and Tyler at the Homestead, Oil on Canvas, 28″ x 22″

The 1930 painting by Grant Wood, titled American Gothic, is the most parodied painting of all time. If the artist only had known. Now it was my turn. This is my daughter with her boyfriend, their portraits lifted from her profile page on Facebook, and the background – well, follow this link.

Go! No! Don’t Go!

I don’t remember this from driver’s education. Well, one thing I am sure about, it’s One Way to the left, but I wouldn’t dare turn. Left on red?

Go - No - don'

[click for picture credit]

A Rock from Mars


[image credit: NASA]

A rock formed on Mars 1.38 billion years ago. About 11 million years ago, an impact event on Mars ejected this rock from the Martian surface. It then circled the sun along with Mars and Earth for 11 million years. On June 28, 1911, it “rained” down to Earth along with a number of other meteorites near El-Nakhla in Egypt. The meteorites are now called the Nakhla meteorites.

I was born some 45 years after it crashed and was collected, and I now get to marvel about it. The simple fact that we even know this, and can establish this much detail about the history of this one rock is fascinating.

Dust in the wind, we are.


Multiple fragments of the Nakhla meteorite fell to Earth on June 28, 1911 near the village of El-Nakhla in Egypt. Its crystallization age has been determined to be 1.38 billion years.

About 11 million years ago, an impact event ejected this rock from the Martian surface, after which it traveled through space and crashed into our planet in 1911.

Let me start right out stating that I love Southwest Airlines. I respect the company and the employees, their innovative business model and their great customer service. The website works great. There is only one minor thing wrong, and I don’t think it’s an accident. It think it’s cheeky.

When you have purchased a ticket and need to cancel the trip, Southwest gives your “credit.” The money is available when you buy the next ticket. But it’s not tracked anywhere on the website. The website has a way to look up everything you might want to know about your trips, your account, your payment data, everything, except your credits.

When paying for a new ticket, you can use the credit you have from a previous ticket to pay for it, in full, or partial. But to invoke the credit, you need to type in the reservation number of the trip that was cancelled. The reservation number is the 6-digit code you get when you book a ticket, like MAQFFA. Once you type this in, it applies the credit from that ticket to the current purchase. But who remembers such a weird number? You would never think so, until it’s time to pay for the next ticket, weeks or months later, too late.

Recently I had credit from a large purchase and I needed to make a purchase of a much cheaper ticket. So I didn’t even use up all the credit. I just sort of remembered that I still had “some” money left over. As much as I fly, I don’t always remember all this from one trip to the next and I rely on the system. So I vaguely knew that I still had money left over.

When I tried to find it, and how much, it simply was not possible. I had to actually call Southwest and get an agent to help me. I still had a whopping $178 left, but no idea what the ticket code was. The agent told me that this was not anywhere on the site.

Why in the world not?

The only reason I can think of: Southwest profits when people can’t remember they have credits, and if they do, they can’t remember how to invoke them. Money in the bank.

It’s like a gift certificate that is never cashed. Pure profit.

I am disappointed. I thought Southwest Airlines was better than that.


Movie Review: Fury


War ends lives in desolate fields, overseas, in mud, in smoke, away from all that we love, alone, desperately alone. War wastes people.

It is April 1945. The Americans have pushed deep into Germany from the west. The Russians are advancing on Berlin from the east. Germany is all but defeated. Hitler, however, has ordered an all-out battle, recruiting children, elderly, anyone that can hold a gun to fight to the end. The SS hangs Germans who resist in this effort from telephone poles with signs around their necks reading slogans like: “I didn’t allow my children to fight for my country.” Hitler’s scorched earth initiative is underway.

Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) is an army sergeant and tank commander of a Sherman tank. He is with a platoon of a handful of tanks deep in Germany behind enemy lines. When his second in command dies, he is assigned a rookie soldier, Norman, who has been in the service only eight weeks and has never seen combat. To make matters worse, their platoon commander gets killed by an ambush, placing Wardaddy in charge as the next in line.

Hopelessly outgunned, they are assigned near-suicide missions inside Germany, running into ambush after ambush as they roll through the villages.

War is absurd. What it does to people is absurd. The objective of war is absurd. In Fury we see deep into the souls of five men who are in an impossible situation, each dealing with the insanity of what is going on around him in his own way. The men are trapped inside 30 ton graves. They desperately do the only thing they can do to get a chance of ever making it back, which is killing everyone that crosses their path. War never ends quietly.

This movie took a lot out of me. It is timely, especially now as we talk so much about war.

Rating: *** 1/2 (out of 4)

Would you believe that Reno, Nevada

is west of Los Angeles, California?








Don’t believe it? Scroll down to the map!













Map Reno

Now that I have your attention, I have a few other facts similar to that. I’ll let you check the map yourselves.

1. Spokane, Washington is further west than San Diego, if only by a third of a degree (117.4250 West  vs. 117.1625 West)

2. Mountain City, Tennessee is closer to Canada than it is to Memphis, Tennessee. Check it out here.

3. The western-most state of the United States is Alaska.

4. All of South America is east of Ohio, or Atlanta, Georgia, for that matter.

Here is an email from an Iraq veteran that puts an entirely new light on the war in Iraq. He says he cringes when people thank him for “serving his country.”

I now have to pay some of the highest taxes in the world, in an environment of growing regulations, militarized and corrupt police, marginal and expensive education system, crazy healthcare regulations, I can’t even legally buy the light bulbs I want!!!!

Article by Ryan McMaken

The Birth of a Logo

In 1822, Rowland Hussey Macy was born on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. At the age of 15 he hired on at the whaling ship Emily Morgan. As sailors often got tattoos, and still do today, Rowland had a red star tattooed on his hand. After he left whaling at age 21, between 1843 and 1855, he opened four retail dry goods stores to serve the mill industry employees of the Haverhill, Massachusetts area. All those stores failed, but he learned from his mistakes.

In 1858 he moved to New York City and established a new store named R.H Macy Dry Goods at Sixth Avenue on the corner of 14th Street in Manhattan. On the first day of business, his sales totaled $11.08.

The tattoo on his hand became the logo of his company.



It’s 8:30pm in California, and I just checked www.flightradar24.com for global airline traffic.

flock of planes

[click to enlarge]

Check out how many planes are leaving the United States headed for Europe right now. It’s early morning in Europe, and all these flights will be arriving there in the next three to four hours.

See how empty of flights Africa is:

planes Africa

As compared to the United States:

planes US

All in all, there are 6818 planes in the air around the world right now.

This site is fascinating to check into at different times of the day. You can zoom in on any part of the world, and you can literally see the individual flights moving. You can click on a plane and see the airline, flight number, departure and arrival ports and times, and the type of airplane it is.

For instance, late at night, after midnight, you will find that FedEx and UPS planes are hustling around the country, and commercial traffic is pretty slow, except the long overseas routes, which are often timed to the destination ports.




The Defense Department bought 20 Italian G222 transport aircraft for $486 million for the Afghan Air Force. The manufacturer was a North American affiliate of Alenia Aermacchi, an Italian aerospace company.

The planes were plagued with technical problems that kept them grounded. Eventually the military gave up. Instead of holding the manufacturer accountable, they decided to scrap 16 of the planes for $32,000 in scrap metal. Four of the planes remain in Ramstein, Germany.

This is just one example of a half billion dollars down the drain. It didn’t help the warfighters in Afghanistan. It didn’t help the Afghan people. It didn’t help U.S. veterans returning from the war. It didn’t pave roads in Los Angeles. It didn’t build mass transportation systems in the United States. It didn’t feed the poor in New York City. It didn’t repair our bridges in the U.S. It didn’t build any new schools.

It put money into the pockets of the shareholders of Alenia Aermacchi and the military industrial complex that feeds off it.

This is an example of the use of our defense budget. This $486 million had NOTHING to do with defense.



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