Why Bitcoin Was Doomed from the Beginning

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At this point, poking holes in Bitcoin seems a bit unfair. After Mt. Gox (the largest online Bitcoin exchange) declared bankruptcy, it might be a little unsporting.

For the record, Mt. Gox went under because it allegedly lost a huge amount of Bitcoins and was going broke trying to make up the difference.

But regardless, Bitcoin was doomed from the beginning.

Before you assume I’m just “jealous” of all the money people have made from mining Bitcoins, you should know I actually installed the Bitcoin client about four years ago, and started “mining” my own.

After realizing even then that it would take my laptop’s meager processor weeks or months to mine a coin, I shut it down. At the time, coins were selling for a few dollars. It didn’t seem like a good use of bandwidth or electricity to run my laptop full tilt for days on end for a few dollars.

But it seemed like an interesting idea – and the client itself almost like one of the “idle” games like Cookie Clicker or Candy Box you might casually play today. It was just something to run in the background of my computer. Anyone who has ever waited intently while watching a file load or youtube video complete uploading knows the simple joy you get from this sort of thing.

But besides the interesting idea of Bitcoin, as a currency it was never going to work. Whatever happens with Mt. Gox, or any of the other Bitcoin exchanges – or even any of the other “crypto-currencies” out there now – NONE of them are going to end well.

Which is ironic. A recent story from Zerohedge says the average Bitcoin user is male, 32, employed, libertarian and in a relationship.

You would think the average libertarian would be at least somewhat acquainted with the pitfalls of fiat currency – (many of which are shared by Bitcoin) and if they weren’t you’d think people who are at least interested enough in money, currency, etc. to even consider an alternative currency might do a little bit of research into the history of money, what makes a currency “work” and why, and the characteristics of a successful money-like asset.

A good primer is Aristotle’s framework:

1.) It must be durable. Money must stand the test of time and the elements. It must not fade, corrode, or change through time.

2.) It must be portable. Money hold a high amount of ‘worth’ relative to its weight and size.

3.) It must be divisible. Money should be relatively easy to separate and re-combine without affecting its fundamental characteristics. An extension of this idea is that the item should be ‘fungible’. Dictionary.com describes fungible as:

“(esp. of goods) being of such nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.”

4.) It must have intrinsic value. This value of money should be independent of any other object and contained in the money itself.

But contrary to what many Bitcoiners might think or profess, Bitcoins actually satisfy NONE of these characteristics very well at all.

1) Bitcoin advocates would argue that Bitcoins are extremely durable – but as we’ve seen with Mt. Gox, it seems incredibly easy for bitcoins to completely disappear. That’s an inherent quality of anything digital: it can be EASILY erased or lost forever. For regular fiat currencies, it’s no big deal because the central bank can easily “print” more.

If Bank of America “lost” millions of dollars from a computer glitch, it’s likely that the Federal Reserve could and would easily re-deposit that amount back into their accounts.

But one of the big “features” of Bitcoin is that there’s no central authority. No one can print more Bitcoins. They must be mined, which today is so ridiculously difficult and time consuming, that you’d have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on computers and electricity to mine just one coin successfully.

So Bitcoin isn’t even as durable as the dollar.

2) Bitcoins are very portable, no doubt. But they don’t have an especially high relative worth over any other digital currency (which is all of them…)

At best, you would call this a wash.

3) Divisible, yes, in theory, but it doesn’t seem like you can mine 1/10 of a coin and use it. You have to have a fully mined coin in order divide in the first place. That makes it inferior to digital currencies as well as “real” assets like gold, silver, oil, etc.

Imagine if you had to mine $100,000 worth of gold at a time. You couldn’t mine $90,000 or $50,000. If you mined $99,999 worth of gold, it would be worth nothing. That would make gold much more expensive to mine – and it undermines (pardon the pun) the divisibility of the currency.

4) Intrinsic value: here’s where bitcoin has absolutely nothing going for it. The biggest slam against “fiat” is that it has no intrinsic value – but that’s not practically true in the case of dollars, Euros, yen, etc.

Americans have to pay taxes. That means there’s a value to every dollar. It gives you entree to working, living, doing business in the world’s single largest economy. It’s also the only unit of account you can use to buy US Treasuries: the world’s single largest financial asset. You can figure out what the value of a dollar is by looking at the benefits of owning them confers to people who wish to participate in the American economy.

If living in America is a condition of your existence for all practical purposes, then for all practical purposes, dollars have an intrinsic value for you.

Now, that obviously is a derivation of another “object” – the American economy – and there are certainly risks to that linkage… But unless you believe the American economy is somehow doomed in the near term, there’s no real issue. Because Bitcoins have no value, implicit or explicit – no practical utility – they fail abysmally even compared to the fiat currencies they seek to displace.

Of course, both of these currencies don’t measure up to gold and silver. From an intrinsic value standpoint (the part of the equation that helps bolster the “store of value” aspect of a money) dollars have no true value in and of themselves. That means that even their relative usefulness in satisfying taxes and buying bonds could disappear – and then dollars would have no real value.

I know that’s essentially a very long explanation of why this particular group of ones and zeroes is worthless – and it can be summed up in a statement:

In order go be an effective money system, a unit of currency has to be good as a medium of exchange and a store of value.

Having one but not the other makes it a very unstable money system. Having neither makes it especially useless as a money system, but probably a very good way to rip off people who don’t understand these simple rules.

When in doubt: if you can’t hold it in your hand, you don’t own it.

How I Got on Al Jazeera TV

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lincoln flip

Late last year I appeared in a segment Al Jazeera aired about the expensive and perhaps overhyped nature of American education.

My Appearance on Al Jazeera America

I think my appearance has important ramifications for anyone who is trying to build a presence on the web, or is interested in publicity or in creating a buzz about anything, really.

That might sound strange, but let me back up for a second and give a little back-story.

You see, I’m a huge fan of Al Jazeera in general…

When most people think of Al Jazeera they immediately think of “TERRORIST NEWS.”

But if you pay attention to the work they do, you find that they’re actually a pretty good, old-fashioned news network – doing the kind of work any western journalist would hold in high esteem.

For instance, in 2013 alone, Al Jazeera English won several awards from “CINE” – an American based film and TV non-profit organization. They also won a Peabody, and a dozen or so other prestigious awards from non-Arab organizations in recognition of their quality work.

In 2012, they won another Peabody as well as something called a “Freedom of Speech and Expression Medal” from “The Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award” group.

AND they won the Grand Prize Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

Something tells me that the foundation named after the guy who was killed by Arab Sirhan Sirhan doesn’t dole out journalism awards to Arab networks willy-nilly.

So, if you’re like most people and you think of “TERRRISTSS” when you hear “Al Jazeera”  - you should know that you’re being somewhat racist and ignorant.

That’s not to say AJ doesn’t have it’s own share of cultural and religious biases – but it’s certainly not the Arab Fox News you might think.

In 2013, I was pleased to see Al Jazeera launch “Al Jazeera America” – its American cable news network. Some Americans were upset they would no longer be able to access the older Al Jazeera English network – and that we were getting a blander, “suitable for American palate” version of Al Jazeera.

But I’m not so cynical. Well, I am cynical in that I believe even a watered-down Al Jazeera will be a much stronger news outlet than the overwhelming majority of American alternatives…

But I have no reason to believe the new network will tone down or otherwise compromise its outlook.

So how did I get on Al Jazeera America?

The short answer is that I didn’t really do anything to purposely show up on their airwaves.

The long answer is that I created a piece of free, easily disseminated content espousing a view I believe wholeheartedly in a simple and clear way.

It was a video called:

Don’t Go to College

It’s an unpopular viewpoint, I’m sure. And I do actually believe that most people go to college for the wrong reasons, or shouldn’t go at all, and that it’s ultimately a waste of their resources and time.

It’s bolstered by the fact that some of the most successful, fulfilled and intelligent people I know never pursued a college degree.

The topic itself isn’t important, really.

But as marketers, bloggers, advertisers or writers, figuring out what your beliefs are shouldn’t be a guessing game. When you have a strong opinion – and especially if it’s unusual or controversial – you owe it to your audience to speak it loudly and clearly.

I say you owe it to your audience, because no matter what it is you’re saying, there is a group of people who ARE your audience. Not saying what you believe, or saying something else entirely alienates your real audience and only fools your current audience briefly.

Al Jazeera gets it. They know they’re the voice of regular people in the Middle East. They know who their audience is and they certainly don’t shy away from telling their stories.

And while they’ve garnered derision from most of the mainstream, they’re one of the fastest growing news networks in history – starting as a small outfit in Qatar in the early 1990s – now they boast dozens of bureaus throughout the world – including 12 in the United States alone.

Saying who you are and what you believe is the first real step to creating a brand or becoming an authority in your field of expertise.

To do otherwise is to hurt yourself and to deprive your potential customers or users of what you really offer.

 

Saving Seaworld

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If you’ve seen Blackfish, the documentary based on Seaworld’s (NYSE: SEAS) shocking (and in some cases, ongoing) practices then I’m sure you feel the way I do: that you won’t ever set foot in Seaworld.

Let me back up – if you EVER intend on going to Seaworld, I recommend avoiding Blackfish.

From a personal standpoint, I don’t know if I would have ever gone to Seaworld anyway. On its face, Seaworld is a kind of grotesque zoo where the keepers make the animals perform tricks. It’s more akin to a circus in that regard.

I’m reminded of stand-up comic Patton Oswalt’s take on circuses:

 

In short, the very idea of caged, performing animals doesn’t appeal to me…

Throw this horrendously bad press on top of the heap, and I’m just completely repulsed by the idea of Seaworld.

But as a marketing and business dilemma, Seaworld’s situation is interesting. How, if at all possible, could Seaworld turn the ship around?

Not to spoil one of the main premises of Blackfish, but Seaworld would need to first take some drastic steps to remediate how it procured orcas in the past.

There’s no real way to completely redeem all of their previous orca-napping, but maybe they could set up an orca foundation to help protect the species in the wild. Maybe 15 cents of every dollar of profit goes to Seaworld’s orca foundation. Print the information on the ticket, film commercials about their efforts, etc.

Another prong would be to completely makeover their “show.”

Instead of making orcas do ridiculous stunts and tricks with their trainers, Seaworld could revamp their facilities to showcase orcas in a more natural environment. In a sense, make Seaworld more like an aquarium for large mammals than a bizarre aquatic circus.

This change would also have the added benefit of completely preventing human fatalities, as “trainers” would be more like zoologists or veterinarians than companion performers who occasionally get killed by bored, miserable, and highly dangerous apex predators.

As a third, and perhaps most drastic idea, Seaworld could take a note from other publicly traded companies seeking to avoid bad press, and change its name entirely.

Valu-Jet is now Airtran. American Home Products is now Wyeth. Coupled with some of these other changes, a new name could really help Seaworld put its negative past behind it. What about Oceania or Whale-land? Orca Parks. Blackfish Aquarium!

As we know, the public can forgive and forget. But if Seaworld intends to stubbornly follow the same course that has resulted in the deaths of some of its trainers, among other things, it’s likely that Blackfish might just be the thin end of the wedge.

True Vermont Crimes

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Ed. Note: the following crimes are the true stories published in the Waterbury Record – a local Vermont newspaper. I’ve connected some of the dots for you and local law enforcement, but I’m not yet a consulting detective, so you’re left to your own devices to put these capers to rest…

Aug. 8, at 10:13 a.m., an Apple iPod valued at $500 was reported stolen from a staff member’s desk at Thatcher Brook Primary School.

Aug. 8, at 5:12 p.m., a man drove away from Champlain Farms on North Main Street without paying for $50 in gasoline. He came back later and paid.

Aug. 8, at 6:01 p.m., a dog had been left in a car parked at the Vermont State Hospital parking lot for at least three hours. Police found that the windows were cracked and the dog had enough water, and determined that the dog was fine.

Aug. 10, at 11:01 a.m., a white dog was reported running loose in the Shaw’s Supermarket parking lot. It was gone when police arrived.

Aug. 11, at 10:47 p.m., two kids were riding their bikes down the middle of Stowe Street. They were told to stop.

Aug. 12, at 8:57 p.m., a man walking his dog across a North Main Street crosswalk claims a driver ignored his walk sign and nearly ran them over.

Aug. 13, at 10:53 a.m., vandalism was discovered in a locker room at the Waterbury swimming pool on Butler Street. A person defecated on the floor and urinated in a locker. Police said the same thing happened last summer, and are asking the public for information about the incident.

Aug. 15, at a 9:08 a.m., an Acorn Drive man said he had not seen his wife since 11 the night before. She returned home shortly after, saying her car had broken down and she had stayed a co-worker’s home in Bradford.

Aug. 15, at 11:53 a.m., a car with Colorado license plates was abandoned in the Best Western Hotel parking lot on Blush Hill Road. The car was packed to the brim with bags of garbage. Police had the car towed, but could not reach the man to which it was registered.

Aug. 16, at 11:24 a.m., a family fight was reported at a South Main Street apartment. Turns out it was just a verbal dispute.

Aug. 16, at 5:15 p.m., a mother was spotted yelling at her children for breaking an iPod valued at $500.

Aug. 16, at 7:40 p.m., a 13-year old boy was putting holes in the wall at a Whalley Park residence.

Aug. 19, at 8:34 p.m., a 13-year old boy was spotted throwing onions at passing cars from a North Main Street apartment. Police asked the boy to apologize to neighbors and to clean up the onions.

Picking a salad dressing

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You’ve got your cream based dressings. I’m talking your creamy italians, creamy caesars, creamy peppercorn sauces. Not to mention “ranch” dressing, which I’m convinced is actually just old mayonnaise mixed with aquafresh toothpaste.  So the creamy dressings, they’re out immediately.

Also, it’s a well-known fact that most cream dressings aren’t made with anything that ever came close to exiting a mammary gland. It’s alarming that so many people willingly, knowingly, purposely eat cream based dressings that they recognize as not being made from any ingredient they can name.

The overwhelming majority of cream dressings come from the same types of laboratories that invented things like olestra – the fat that makes you poop. Or nutrasweet, the sugar replacement that may or may not cause cancer. Teams of food scientists turn non-food into something that the human mouth might be fooled into believing is food.

Let’s be clear: for most people, the mouth is not a source of intelligence. Most people use their mouths to do little else but say stupid things. So it’s not altogether surprising, I suppose, that people are okay about the fact that they literally have no idea what they’re putting into their mouths.

Even “real” creamy dressing made from milk boiled into a half-coagulated paste is still disgusting. It’s just our caveman brains’ way of sneaking more calories into what should be an actual healthy, nutritive meal.

Furthermore, on the topic of creamy salad dressings: if you’re reading this blog, you might be aware of my diatribes against mayonnaise, and one of the dreaded symptoms of mayonnaise consumption: mayonnaise string mouth. That’s when the proteins of the mayo mix with saliva to create tendrils of milky-off white spit that connect the upper and lower mandibles of the mayonnaise consumer. As the person talks and smacks their lips, you can see the tendrils wavering with their exhalations, which are usually about NASCAR or “terrists.”

Creamy salad dressing eaters suffer a similar fate.

Okay, so besides the cream based dressings, you have your various vinaigrettes. It’s impossible to add the correct amount of balsamic vinegar to the mix. One drop too much and you end up taking the enamel off of your teeth, and possibly your toilet. And whose idea was it to add one of the world’s strongest food ingredients (vinegar) to one of the most subtly flavored foods (lettuce)? It’s like pouring hot sauce onto a Kobe filet. No one has ever made a balanced dressing out of balsamic vinegar. You’d need to get homeopathic with your dilutions.

Which brings me to my final point. Has any salad ever tasted better than one made with just a splash of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, a spritz of lemon juice and some freshly grated hard cheese?

What are we even arguing about?

Who is the NBWA and More Importantly, Can They Be Stopped?

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So you’ve read all my articles about Uncle Sam dropping razorwire baby-seeking missiles onto Iraqis, not to mention the salt-and-lemon-juice landmines that look like Nintendos we’re planting outside of Afghani orphanages.

You also might be familiar with my diatribes against the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury, and how these entities are, as I live and type, plotting to harvest and eat your skin in a way that won’t cause you to die for several years.

But I have been saving the coup-de-horrible for last.

Imagine then, that there’s a group of lobbyists at the beck and call of three large, foreign corporations, whose sole reason for existence is to make sure that you keep drinking shitty beer.

Imagine no longer, and awaken: it wasn’t a nightmare. It’s real! You live in this world as I speak.

Forget the gruesome tales of the dollar mines where Ben Bernanke cracks his whip over you. Forget my stories of the bottomless pit where Barack Obama sends your votes and dreams to a place where light can’t go ‘cuz it’s so dark.

There are bigger fish to fry. Beer battered fish.

The National Beer Wholesalers Association is a lobbyist group with one key goal. Okay, they actually have lots of goals, and some of them might not be so terrible. But they have one goal that’s especially evil.

Their goal: to keep in place the 3-tiered beer distribution system.

This system was initially set up in the 1930s to separate brewers, distributors and vendors in an effort to stymie monopolies. But since that time it has primarily served as a tool of concentrating monopolies using the cold dead hand of the state as the enforcer.

It’s pretty simple – the big three breweries curry great favor among the distributors, which then re-curry that favor among the distributees. Without the 3-tier system, small breweries would have a subtle, curry-free advantage.

And you know, why should the government care if a brewer sells their beer directly to a vendor, or even directly to a consumer? It’s this exact type of involuntary corruption of the marketplace that has had generations of Americans drinking shitty beer.

So, the thing to do is to boycott all Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors products. These three foreign-run corporations are the major contributors to the 3-tier system that, by design, blockades interceding smaller brands from gaining a foot-hold.

I know very few of you have any perspective on boycotting the dollar to buy gold or silver, or to open a foreign bank account. And that’s okay, at least for the short-term. I can hope that you might change your mind. But this beer business…I hope that you’ll take it more seriously than the downfall of the world’s reserve currency.

Making the Most of Your SEO Through Title Tags and Hot Naked Asian Teenagers

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No one knows what the google algorithms are really up to, but what we do know is that you can’t trick them by flooding your web pages with lots of high volume search terms like Charlie Sheen tiger blood or Muammar Gaddafi is crazy.

It just won’t work.

Google is too smart. The best thing you can do to optimize your web page is to write good, original content and to tag it with relevant terms.

Like this “most read” article from The Wall Street Journal titled Why the Dollar’s Reign is Near an End for instance. It’s filled with juicy original content. Here’s a snippet:

“The greenback, in other words, is not just America’s currency. It’s the world’s.

But as astonishing as that is, what may be even more astonishing is this: The dollar’s reign is coming to an end.

I believe that over the next 10 years, we’re going to see a profound shift toward a world in which several currencies compete for dominance.”

You’ll notice that the article isn’t crammed with irrelevant terms like Miss America nude photos or Egypt revolution.

Another good technique is to have several slightly different worded phrases that have similar meanings. This helps the google algorithm rank your page among other pages on the same topic.

For instance, if you were to write an article on rising gas prices, you might also include phrases like rising oil prices, gasoline, ethanol, West Texas Intermediate Crude, Brent Crude, Prudhoe Bay, Peak Oil, OPEC, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, BP, BP oil spill, BP oil disaster, Louisiana coast spill, oil cleanup, bankrupt BP, down with British Petroleum and hot sweaty intercourse.

You don’t want to completely flood your articles with keywords, but you do want to make sure you have a healthy keyword density.

How dense is too dense? How dense is too dense is the question you’ll hear the most. No one really knows how dense is too dense, and it’s likely that how dense is too dense is something that google constantly updates and modifies. So for now, don’t worry about how dense is too dense and just use your own judgment for how dense is too dense.

When all else fails, Pamela Anderson nude, etc.

“Adele will likely beg for death dozens of times before the ordeal is over.”

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My sister Adele wants to donate boner marrow.  We should all be very proud of her for even thinking about doing something so painful.

And for such unselfish reasons!  My mom tells me that Adele wants to donate marrow, from her bones, because she likes the idea of having power over someone.  Like in the vampire books where you feed a mortal your blood, and then you have control over them to do with them as what pleases you.

Power over someone!  That’s a cause I can get behind.  I’m a big believer in the idea that democracy is the government of many small tyrants.  And these days, if you’re not working for the government, you just don’t get many opportunities to lord over anyone on a day-to-day basis.  But if you save some poor sap’s life with your bones’ marrows, you get immediate lordship over that person.  Maybe even their wife and kids too.

It’s like, “Oh hey, I left my checkbook in the bus station bathroom – maybe you guys could cover dinner at Le Bec Fin tonight?  Unless maybe you think you’ve already paid back all that bone marrow I gave you for your cancery bones…??

Or, “Rob I know I probably shouldn’t have borrowed and then totaled your car but I didn’t want to drunk drive my own car on my 21st birthday but if it bugs you that much maybe I can buy you a new car and YOU CAN JUST GIVE ME BACK MY FUCKING MARROW!”

That is true power.  And I can’t say I don’t blame Adele for coveting such awesome life-ruling influence.  The benefits really don’t end.  Imagine you’re at some cocktail party and there’s like an astronaut or some big-shot ultra-marathoner bragging about their self-indulgent exploits.  BAM – whip out your “I saved a sick stranger’s miserable life” trump card, and you’re the new most-best person in the room.  Go wait in the car Buzz/crazy runners.

Does the gift of a life saved give Adele the power to kill?  I don’t know – but it’s a sweet gig anyway.

But at what cost?

My mom, a professionally licensed registered nurse with the state (commonwealth) of Pennsylvania, tells me that giving bone marrows is “fucking painful.” (her words)

She tells me that giving bone marrow would make giving birth to conjoined quadruplets feel like a stiff breeze in comparison.

Before Dick Cheney invented water-boarding, he toyed around with the idea of putting terrorists through bone marrow donation, but decided it was “too barbaric.”

Listen, I think there are at least two things that we can agree on about bone marrow:

1)  It’s the tastiest part of man or beast.

2)  It’s really painful to get it out of your bones without dying or wanting to die.

The Scoop and Occam’s Razor

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I’ve examined the contents of the manila envelope.  There’s nothing that dates any of the contents, per se.  As I noted before, as a bachelor, I had the bad habit of infrequently checking my mail.

Some peculiarities about the package:

1)  No postmark.  Obviously, a postmark would have the date – and I would know when the envelope left the post office, and from which post office.

2) The adhesive on the envelope was not used to seal the envelope.  The envelope was sealed with what appears to be Elmer’s glue or maybe some kind of paste.  Whatever it was, it made it a hell of a lot more difficult to open.  I made a mess of the envelope – ripping the tab to ribbons before enlisting the help of my Leatherman pocketknife.

3) The address is written in pencil – AND it has the wrong apartment number.  7E instead of what it should have been: 7A2.  This last quirk might be the most interesting – or not.  I lived right next to 7D, but my apartment abutted the much larger 7A.  The A and A2 apartments used to be one single suite for each floor – excepting the first floor, which following in the convention of European buildings is actually the first floor above the ground floor.

The only floor with an “E” unit was the first floor.  I’m not sure why this is, but I think has something to do with the building manager’s office on the ground floor, or maybe the higher ceilings on the ground floor entrance.

There’s another glaring problem which some of you have already pointed out: how did this army doctor figure out my address from a comment I left on a Journal article?

Even considering that I, perhaps foolishly, post comments under my real name – there’s no way I can think of that he would have been able to figure out my physical address.  Although, he did work for the Government with top secret security clearance, so it’s possible he had access to some super-internet that can look at every single web page ever associated with my name…

At this point, I’m kind of looking at what might be more likely: a friend of mine playing a prank.

On the other hand, some of the details found on the documents within the envelope hadn’t surfaced until after the doctor’s death in 2008.  So it’s information that falls into one or more of the following three categories:

1)  Stuff that only the army doctor knew that he was relaying to me.

2)  Information that someone else with top secret access knew before it came out publicly in recent months.

3)  Public knowledge that was eventually unearthed by the press and leaked by various Government authorities since the doctor’s death.  In this scenario, someone could have planted the envelope in with some of my old, unopened mail.

The third option seems the most plausible, but the time-lines really don’t add up, and the person planting the envelope would have to know about my unopened mail from that period in order for their prank to make any sense.

And, thinking back, I really don’t know of anyone who had both access to this mail AND the kind of conniving mind to pull this off. Lots of people I know read the Journal, but to have the presence of mind to pull this all together would be something beyond (below?) the capabilities of the people in my inner circle.  No offense.

So, I’m back to square one here. I might be leaving out other possibilities, but it looks like one of two things happened:

1) The Army doctor sent me the envelope.

2) Someone posing as the Army doctor sent me the envelope.

I think it’s important to properly frame the “who” before I move on to the “what” contained in the envelope.

And whenever I’m faced with a kind of multi-step puzzle of chronology, it’s usually helpful to apply the principle of Occam’s Razor.

For the uninitiated, Occam’s Razor states:

Plurality ought never be posited without necessity.

And in more detail:

When competing hypotheses are equal in other respects, the hypothesis that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities while still sufficiently answering the question is the most probable.

In other words, there’s no need to jump to crazy, complicated, and/or overly numerous conclusions when simple ones will suffice.  It’s the same principle used by scientists to weed out implausible hypotheses, and perhaps more relevantly, the one that criminal investigators rely on to help them focus on the most likely suspects.

That’s why when someone’s spouse turns up dead, they can expect a visit from the police.

Or, for instance, if a specific batch of weaponized anthrax gets mailed around the country, they’ll talk with the Army scientists who work most closely with the stuff. If you find an Army doctor with a history of mental illness – why start looking elsewhere?

In medicine, Occam’s Razor manifests itself as this rule of thumb: when you hear hoofbeats, think horse, not zebra.  It’s more likely that vomiting, fluid on the lung and difficulty breathing is caused by the common flu virus, as opposed to the exotic anthrax strain.

So, before I use Occam’s Razor as a tool to pursue a train of thought, it’s important to note that it IS NOT a conclusion unto itself, nor is it an absolute principle of concrete logic.  It’s just a tool.

Is it the doctor, or someone posing as the doctor?

I’d say that there’s probably close to an even likelihood that both the doctor AND someone wishing to impersonate the doctor to leak information would be reading the Wall Street Journal’s stories about the anthrax attacks.

The motive for sending me the information would be similarly unobstructed by unnecessary leaps of logic: both the doctor and his facsimile would conceivably send me the envelope in hopes that as a clearly outspoken mouthpiece, I would relay the information successfully and perhaps prudently.

At this point, the only additional step is in scenario two: the act of deceiving me.

In any event, it’s too close to call on the basis of just Occam’s Razor.  It wouldn’t make sense to rule either one out.

Especially considering the ramifications of ignoring one path for the other.  I think everyone will probably agree with me once I reveal exactly what the documents contain.

Okay, Calm Down…

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I’ve received an alarming amount of messages about the manuscript and its contents.  Some of you are just plain old curious, but I’ve also been accused of having a flippant attitude about a very serious topic.

The terrorist attack on Americans using anthrax couldn’t be more serious.  Five people lost their lives, dozens sustained truly gruesome injuries, some of which they won’t ever recover fully – and that’s not even speaking to the psychological damage.

Like most instruments of war, weaponized anthrax is designed to kill people in a demoralizing and horrifying fashion.  The mortality rate is 95% for people exposed to the different weaponized forms of anthrax.  Death takes up to two weeks, and includes a barrage of painful symptoms before the end.

In my opinion, the people who invented weaponized anthrax should be put on trial for crimes against humanity.  Unlike a gun – or even a bomb, anthrax has no “safe” mode, nor can it be aimed with any discrimination.  You can’t use it as a targeted weapon of defense or offense.

Compare anthrax to another of the 20th century’s greatest military inventions: the Kalashnikov rifle, aka the AK-47.  It’s responsible for more deaths than any other rifle in history.

However, this rifle was designed not to kill, but like most other standard issue military rifles,  to wound the average opposing soldier.  Wounded soldiers are more of a liability to your enemy than dead ones.

It was also designed to be incredibly durable, easy to use and difficult to accidentally discharge.  When the AK-47 safety is on, it blocks the trigger while simultaneously preventing a cartridge from entering the chamber.  Even if one of the safety features fails, the other will still stop an accidental discharge.  Of course, the rifle is as harmless as a walking stick without ammunition.  Hundreds of thousands of people died after getting shot by the AK-47, but the overwhelming majority of those people were soldiers who were shot on purpose.

But anthrax has no “safe” mode.  You can get infected without realizing it, which makes it unlikely that you’ll receive medical attention in time.  You know when you’ve been shot, whereas your first warning that you’ve been infected with anthrax might be an inability to breathe.  It stays active and dangerous for decades, and has antibiotic resistance- another gift from the governments who invented it.

Perhaps most terribly – most of the thousands of people who have died from anthrax were accidental civilian deaths.  The deadliest anthrax accident happened in Russia.  On October 15, 1979, a large cloud of anthrax leaked from a military testing facility.

We don’t know how many people actually died because the Soviets performed a complete cover-up, and even denied the accident had happened as recently as 1992.  The number is believed to be in the hundreds if not thousands.

So I really can’t adequately emphasize the seriousness of this issue – and my own sincerity and reverence for the implications of how I am approaching the subject.

Needless to say, I believe that the Amerithrax attackers are still running free.

And that’s enough to give me pause about releasing the contents of the doctor’s manuscript.

The Manuscript of Dr. Anthrax

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These guys have to pee sooooo bad

These guys have to pee sooooo bad

By Kevin McElroy

Before this acclaimed blogumn, I sprinkled my thoughts thoughtlessly throughout the Internet, like a rogue, drunken Jonny Appleseed planting weeds instead of apple trees.  No website with a comments section was safe from my rantings.

It’s kind of embarrassing, but I admit: I am an Internet bully.  Whether it’s as a faceless, nameless “anonymous” on some one’s blog, or as myself on facebook or the Wall Street Journal, I used to frequently and mercilessly make dumb people feel stupid simply for posting their awful opinions on the Internet.  Okay, so I still do…

Am I force for good?  Or just wasting my time?  Yes.

But sometimes, even the most irrational labors can yield fruit.

In mid-July of 2008, I posted some comments in a Wall St. Journal story about an army doctor being investigated by the FBI in the anthrax case.

The comments section of the Journal, if you’re not familiar, is only subtly more mature and less filled with racism, misspellings and truly terrible sentiments than the comments section of any given Youtube video.

I don’t encourage anyone to ever read the comments on a Youtube video because any one of them will ruin your day.

But to make a point, here is one small sample of the comments on a Youtube video about Barack Obama:

No we can tell you about Insane Hussein’s Government that is corrupt!!!!!
Osanba Care is so Corrupt that they had to Bribe Senators & then Osamba Paid off Andy Stern & SEIU!!!!
Oh and we need the Spending & New Taxes that go with it….No Way We don’t need or want his Socialism!!!!

So, the Journal’s comments are usually just a little bit better.

In any event, the doctor in question, I felt, was being unfairly railroaded not just by dimwit commenters on the Journal, but also by the author of the Journal story, and perhaps most egregiously by the Government and the FBI.

It seemed to me, that they weren’t looking for the perpetrator, but instead were seeking out the most convenient suspect.  I’m not an investigator, but I do recognize that those two qualifications might frequently go hand in hand.

However, it didn’t seem like the doctor was guilty of anything except for being in the wrong places at the wrong times.  And given that he hadn’t been convicted of anything, or even tried, arrested or indicted – it seems to me that he was getting screwed over by the FBI and the public.  His life, even before being arrested, was already ruined.

So I defended him on some comment boards on the Journal from the developing witch-hunt that inevitably happens whenever more than two people get together with zero intelligence and heads’ full of bloodlust.  For many people, revenge is more important than justice.

(That’s part of the reason I won’t bring up his name here.  If you’re curious and you know how to use google, you can find out for yourself.  I will delete any mention of his name in the comments section below, though. )

So back to July of 2008.

I was living in a ratty old apartment building in Baltimore’s illustrious Mt. Vernon neighborhood: The Preston.  It is a prestigious neighborhood, if you have a time machine.  The area was creme-a-la-creme during the Guilded age, and until recently it was mierde-a-la-mierde.  Gentrification is slowly snaking back into the area, but The Preston is still in the militarized zone.

Here’s a picture, to give you an idea:

tenancy requires prison tattoo

tenancy requires prison tattoo

Of course, I was not “living” there.  Most of the time I spent with my then-yet-fiancee.  I pretty much only went back to the Preston a few times a month to do laundry, collect mail and fill the sink back up with soapy water.  When you’re a bachelor, dishes have to soak for upwards of 2 months before you can wash them.

And you might be wondering how I could have stayed on top of my bills if I was only getting my mail a few times a month.  You might not be familiar with the billing option most companies offer now, called the “Cicada option.”  You only pay your bills in irregular, prime-number days every few months.  It’s another bachelor thing.

Not a perfect system, but when I did get mail, it was like Christmas!  I’d always have a few really interesting packages from relatives,  or a forgotten book from Amazon I ordered weeks prior.  Strange and exotic magazines?  Single dosages of OTC medications?  Samples of products I’ll never use?

You can kill an exciting afternoon opening your mail if you drink enough and have your credit card number memorized.

Besides the usual junk mail, I also received lots of junk mail “seeded” to a fake name.  I started doing this when I began my new job as a copywriter in Baltimore.  The idea is to see what your competitors are putting out there.  So you subscribe to one of the bigger “lists” of names that get passed around in the newsletter business, and then you have access to a never-ending flood of your competitors’ ideas.

So I still have lots of unopened mail from those days.  When I moved out of that apartment and into Elliott’s place north of the city, I pretty much threw everything into big wire-framed boxes I borrowed from my employer at the time.

24"x20"x11"

24″x20″x11″

These boxes are big.  I STILL have unopened mail in this one.  (And don’t worry, I’ll bring it back to the UPS some day.)

The other day, Elliott implored me to either carry this box up to the scary attic that’s filled with pink insulation and dead mice, or to go through it and keep or dispose of its contents.

In it, I found a lot of regular junk mail, and literally hundreds of pieces of junk mail from my seed name.  To look important, these guys send out legal sized manila envelopes filled with their copy.  Tucked in among the dozens of “important” looking manila envelopes, I found one with a handwritten address to my REAL name.

So, that leads me to a manila envelope with no return address I have in front of me now.

I’ve already opened it, and read the contents.

I believe that it’s from the now-deceased army Doctor.  But I can’t be sure.

I’ll post some more information tomorrow.  In the meantime, I’ll see if I can find some more details about the doctor, why he was being investigated in the first place, and what he might have been trying to tell me.

The Leno v. O’Brien Supertext

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This is awkward...

This is awkward…

With Jimmy Fallon about to take the reins at the Tonight Show, I’m sure I’m not the only person thinking about the Conan/Jay saga. And while I am a Conan fan, the issue itself is much bigger than a late-night TV scrum.

This little dispute speaks volumes about the tenor of American politics, society, even democracy – and the ramifications of NBC’s decision to go with Jay over Conan will be echoed in the major issues we’ll slog through for the next decade and beyond.

I’m talking about something that looms large in just about every aspect of our lives, which is, the huge dichotomy in the United States between the baby-boomer and older generations in one camp, and the post-boomer and younger generations in the other.

Obviously, there’s some bleed-over going both ways, but I’m satisfied with my dividing line.

Probably, it’s best summed up as Jay v. Conan.

It’s also summed up in large part, as the pro-life v. pro-choice movement.  Or Democrat v. Republican, to some extent.

My point is, Jay has clearly geared his act towards a more geriatric audience, and Conan (and Fallon) towards a younger audience.

This dichotomy will continue to play out until a bunch of old people die and/or young people take a more serious stand on issues.

Anyway, Leno is terrible.  I guess that’s my other point.  He’s not funny, he’s corny, he’s clearly disinterested in his guests, and he never has anything interesting to say.  Giving him the Tonight Show is like giving a Ferrarri to your grandma.  She’s not going to drive it fast, or really drive it at all.

Stop Leaving Money On the Side of the Road – for ANYONE to come and take!

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Like most people, you probably realize that you *could* be a little more thrifty.  Whether it’s scraping the peanut butter jar for the last dollop, or saving the sunday circular to clip coupons – there’s always room for improvement.

But even if you’re Prudence Q. Stingethrift III, it’s likely that you’re making the same mistake that millions of other Americans are – and you’re literally leaving money on the side of the road!

Because what ol’ Prudence and you aren’t aware of is a home-tested secret of some of the world’s most successful people.

What am I talking about?

Hold your horses – I’ll tell you in a minute.

But first, let me ask you to imagine that you could be enjoying dozens of free meals every year.

No exaggeration – the secret I’m referring to allows you to eat dozens of GRATIS meals – literally on the house! LITERALLY.

I urge you to continue reading, because if you’re like the 100 million Americans who literally leave money on the side of the road for any ol’ bumpkin to come and take – YOU COULD BE PLANNING TO DO IT AGAIN IN THE NEXT FEW DAYS.

That’s why I’m writing to you today.  If I can help just one person avoid this costly, wasteful mistake, I’ll literally have lived a fulfilled life.

And you might be asking yourself, “This joker doesn’t know who he’s talking to.  I’m the thriftiest person I know – I haven’t paid for toilet paper since 1985 and I serve my guests my leftover food off my plate.”

Well hold on buster, because let me ask you this: when was the last time you got a haircut?

Answer this question carefully, friend, because the answer could surprise you…

 STOP MAKING THIS COSTLY WASTEFUL BONER

Do you like soup?

Of course you do – everyone likes soup.  And if there’s any kind of soup that you might like better than other soup, it’s free soup.

And say what you want about “bought” soup, but trust me when I say that there’s nothing like tucking into a nice big bowl of homemade soup, that you paid absolutely nothing for.

Now, after you read this letter, I promise you that you’ll be thinking of nothing but soup the next time that you get a haircut…

That’s because, for no additional cost to you, I’m about to reveal how you can simply and easily turn haircuts into soup.

The idea might be unappealing to you, but the fact remains: hair can be simmered with salt and seasoning to make a soupy broth that will literally knock your socks clean off!

You’re probably making a sour-puss face at the idea of eating your own hair- but what do you think happened to the first caveman-chef who suggested throwing a bone into the cauldron?

So what’s the catch?

No catch – I’m not going to pressure anyone to eat their own hair, because let’s face it: it’s not for everyone.

There are plenty of people out there who are content to live wasted, unfulfilled lives – people who don’t know porter from pilsner, people who would rather poo their pants than get up and risk missing who shot JR.

But some people enjoy the finer things in life, and are actually willing to go out into the world to go and get them.  I’m literally referring to the type of people who won’t turn up their nose at a bowl of homemade delicious soup, stewed in a stock pot, with delicious sea salt, aromatic vegetables, fresh herbs and some of their hair.

If you’re one of those people who don’t use their pants as a toilet – if you’re one of those people who like the *finer* things in life-  then I just want you to consider the prospect of cooking and eating some of your hair in a soup.

Elliott Pregnant? An infographic

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just stop asking, and consult the chart

just stop asking, and consult the chart

To finally put the rumors to rest, I’ve prepared a simple chart.  As Elliott’s job satisfaction approaches zero, the likelihood of pregnancy approaches 100%.  Also, her job satisfaction is always falling so the likelihood that she’ll get pregnant increases everyday.  If one of you math nerds wants to put this into an equation and leave it as a comment that would be fine.

In any event, I simply don’t know if she’s pregnant, or when she will become pregnant if she’s not already pregnant.  These are not questions for me to ask, and I’d advise everyone else to never ask a woman if she’s pregnant even if she appears to have a baby exiting her birth canal at that precise moment.

You might be saying to yourself, “but how am I supposed to know how unhappy/pregnant Elliott is at any given moment?”

Again – I don’t know.  Maybe try picking up a phone or dropping her an email.  Stop bothering me!

How the Internet Will Continue to Change Business

In my last post, I discussed a simple offer that can increase sales. It’s based on asking your customers to call you. And it seems really basic. Maybe it seems like a dumb gimmick. I’ve used it many times in the past for the publishers I’ve worked with, and it definitely works. Like any offer, if you over-use it, the results tail off…

And maybe it is a gimmick – but at the heart of it, it’s about giving your customers exclusive, personal access to you. I’ll get to why that’s increasingly valuable in a minute.

But first, you need to understand why digital content is doomed to be utterly worthless as a sale-able commodity.

If not immediately, then eventually. If not absolutely, then practically.

In the digital, online world, ANYTHING that is available can and usually will become free, public domain. I don’t advocate theft of goods services, and as a copywriter primarily in the online publishing field, I certainly hope that people continue to pay for content online.

But if you’re an online business, especially if you’re in the business of selling digital content, you have to realize that at best, your paywall is a minor barrier. An inconvenience to people who want your content but maybe don’t want to pay for it just yet, or at all.

More and more we see big movies leaked before they even hit the theaters. If a major film studio can’t keep a $50 million production under wraps, do you think you can keep your simple online subscription business sheltered from prying eyes?

Don’t get me wrong, I used to fervently defend the idea of intellectual property and copyright and original content ownership…

But then I read a quote by Thomas Jefferson that made me reconsider:

“If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

So TJ is basically saying that when you give someone an idea you come up with (in this case, substitute “digital content” for “idea”), you are not poorer for it. They don’t take the idea from you – unless of course they try to bill it as their own.

But letting them access your idea does not diminish your work in coming up with it.

And in the digital world where information is about as free-moving as it gets, I’ll make the bold statement that you MUST make your best ideas free. You must own them, but you have to disseminate them freely.

This idea is not mine – I’m cribbing heavily from a 2007 article from Tech Dirt.

The article goes into great detail, but to sum it up, content originators need to realize that their ideas may be 100% wonderful, revolutionary and valuable to many people for many reasons. But as a commodity, online, 1s and 0s have no intrinsic value.

In other words, because ideas are no longer physical objects printed in books or even inside of a spinning disc, they have no real scarcity.

They may have artificial scarcity thanks to pay walls and digital rights management (DRM) software blockades – but the ideas themselves are not a scarce good that needs that kind of protection.

Now, no matter how purely digital your content is, there ARE associated parts of your product that are not the pure idea. These other parts can be scarce. And they do have great value. And you MUST not just put them behind a pay wall, but you have to figure out what they are, and how you can deliver them to your ideal customers.

To go back to my original example, giving your customers personal access to you, even for 10 minutes is a scarce service.

That’s why it’s an effective offer: you’re not just shuttling your prospects into a digital sales funnel with landing pages and order forms, of which they’ve likely seen thousands, for which they assign a value of absolutely nothing to.

Instead, you’re giving them a very personal and human experience. It’s exclusive. It’s fleeting. It can’t be reproduced by them or you or anyone.

So how do you do it? How do you maximize the reach and impact of your “doomed to be free” digital content, work and ideas – and how do you monetize the scarce pieces and parts that make up the rest of your output?

I discuss exactly how in my next post…