25 - student - NYC That's all for now.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ranting Bankruptcy (and Softest)

I don't want to make a habit of this, but I just want to say that my experience for the last four hours was miserable.

I thought that I was well-enough prepared. I thought that I could just use the model answers as a guide to produce a semi-intelligent response. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I didn't. Perhaps I should start from the beginning...

Softest. This infernal test-taking program is the biggest pain in the ass. For those of us who are devoted Mac users, it isn't even available. So if you have a Macintosh, you can't take the exam on your computer. You've either got to hand-write (which is the equivalent basically of dropping 1/3 of a letter grade in my opinion), or you've got to find yourself an IBM-compatible laptop. Luckily for me, I knew this before buying my Mac and I kept my old computer mainly for just this very purpose. It's basically a Softest Processor for me now.

Unluckily for me, the primary reason I bought the new computer was because the keyboard stopped working and the monitor occassionally went crazy. That means that when I take an exam I have to lug along a separate keyboard. Unluckily for me, that separate keyboard recently developed a space bar problem. The problem being that the space bar didn't work. Unless my professor wantedanexamthatlookedlikethis, I would have to get a new keyboard. Luckily for me, I obtained one.

With the keyboard in tote, I headed up to the exam. I got to the room and booted up my computer. No internet. My ethernet cord was plugged in - that was my insurance. I knew that the wireless card I had left at home usually didn't work so I just brought the ethernet cord because I was sure it would work. Didn't work.

Now... the newest version of this ingenious program requires an internet connection so that you can upload your answer directly after the exam instead of saving it to a disk. This great improvement saves time and disks and creates many problems.

I got frustrated and decided to run home to get the wireless card on the off-chance it would work. I ran the 12 blocks there and back and... luckily for me, the wireless card was working.

But I wasn't the only one frustrated with Softest. Two guys in my class, through no fault of their own, had Softest crash on them and they ended up having to handwrite their exams. I'd had my own nightmare first year. My contracts exam got screwed up after I had already submitted it. They told me I would have to rewrite the entire exam. That's 4 hours of an exam that I had already written - that I would have to do again. Luckily for me, they managed to recover a backed-up version of it - but it had my last frantic entries missing. The price you pay for stupid Softest.

And stories about Softest crashing and screwing everything up abound everywhere. It is a faulty product on a faulty system (Windows).

As for the actual exam? It was a curveball. I was looking fastball and the exam dropped right under my swing. First, the professor told us it was 3 hours and not to worry about it. Then he apparently changed it at the last minute and made it four hours. And made it impossible.

Oh well, enough ranting... time to study for evidence.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

14-0! Colts Remain Undefeated! 13-1. But, hey... at least there's still the Super Bowl.

After about six weeks of unrelenting media hype, the Colts finally succumb to the pressure. At least I'm assuming they do. I started writing this entry with 1:30 left in the game. And while I can hold out some hope that they score quickly, they are still down by 9. Perhaps I'll eat crow. I doubt it.

That's the thing about records these days. There is so much attention to even the most idiotic records (most consecutive home daytime wins in a dome) that breaking the records is much harder. When DiMaggio went for 56 it was hard and the media was all over him. But that's nothing like it would be today. As a sidenote, my favorite anecdote about Joe's streak is the one about the Yankee-hating Indian pitcher who promised to break the streak by intentionally walking DiMaggio in every at-bat. In the eighth inning, after being walked each time, DiMaggio steps across the plate and hits a pitch three feet off the plate down the line for a double to keep the streak going. I don't know if that's true or not, but I still like the story.

Well, the game is over now. Put it down for the books. No undefeated team this season either. The '72 Dolphins can rest easy. But hey Colts fans, there's still the Super Bowl.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

It's Official!!!

Wikipedia is as accurate as Britannica! No more slogging around in those heavy tomes. Now we can enjoy the collective expertise of the common man - and not the slavish ponderings of "bookmen." I think this a glorious achievement of mankind. All hail Wikipedia.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Caveat Emptor

An alert reader brought this article about mortgage fraud to my attention. It's about time.

In 2004, I spent the majority of my summer doing my part to end the fraud of a particularly insidious little mortgage-lending/house-selling outfit operating out of Queens and Brooklyn. I spent a lot of time looking through the public records to see how much this real estate company had bought each house for and then how much they sold it for. They often were selling at a 100% to 150% profit after only holding the houses for less than a year. The repairs were extremely shoddy, most of these houses began falling apart less than six months after being sold.

The worst part of the whole scheme was that these houses were being sold overpriced and undersecured. The buyers were predominantly up-and-coming lower middle class minorities. They were the individuals who were the pride of their neighborhoods - the people who worked two or three jobs to support their family and buy themselves a home for that family. And they were taken in by these crooks who catered to and took advantage of the minority crowd. The company specifically employed minority salesman to appeal to their shared realities. It was sickening.

And the company colluded with a crooked mortgage lender who would lend the buyers the money for the overpriced house. And they would provide their own crooked lawyers for the buyers. Everything was internal. The buyers would end up paying way more than the house was worth and MOST IMPORTANTLY, way more than they could afford. No competent mortgage lender or real estate lawyer would sign off on this transaction. The buyers were always getting in over their heads. On the salaries they reported, they couldn't possibly afford the mortgages. But they didn't know that. They were first-time home buyers and their own lawyers were in bed with the crooks.

How could this scheme perpetuate itself though? If all of these buyers would eventually default, wouldn't that leave the mortgage bank with a bunch of expensive foreclosure actions and shitty houses that were falling apart? Well... not exactly. The problem is that the government stepped in many years ago in an effort to give everyone (meaning everyone well off) a chance at the "American dream." The government established the Fair Housing Act (FHA) which provides federal guarantees on mortgages in the event of a default. Because of this guarantee backed by the coffers of the federal treasury, the corrupt mortgage lender is able to package these mortgages and sell them to big commercial banks - essentially turning a nifty little profit on mortgages it holds for often less than two months. The banks then trade these mortgages back and forth as packaged securities. It's a beautiful way to make money off the hardships of the poor. As usual.

That's enough about that for now. Perhaps I'll go into more detail after I finish studying for my Bankruptcy exam.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Just Curb It!

Every year there comes a time when the most terrible thing happens...

... Your favorite television show goes into reruns.

For us (my girlfriend and I), that show is unequivocally HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The beauty of the show is its simplistic plot-lines and loveable main character, Larry David. For those of you who aren't familiar, he's the co-orignator of Seinfeld. He wasn't actually on the show other than a few voices (such as the Yankee's George Steinbrenner), but he came up with the idea and supposedly George is based on him.

Curb is basically Seinfeld uncensored. It's still about "nothing," but it takes nothing to a whole new level. But caveat emptor. If you are squeamish about awkward moments... be forewarned. The show abounds with them. But I implore you to persevere, because they become highly enjoyable once you adapt. "Oh that Larry David," you'll say, "he's always getting into these awkward situations."

Take, for example, one of the episodes of this past season (the fifth). Larry befriends the new child molester who moves into the neighborhood and invites him to a family Passover seder with friends who are bringing children. Hijinks ensue. Or perhaps you might enjoy the episode where Larry hires a hooker just to sit in his passenger seat so that he can use the carpool lane - and then tries to buy marijuana from her to give to his father for his glaucoma.

Anyway - I highly recommend the show. The first four seasons are available on DVD now and the fifth season is sure to come out in the near future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My 13 Thoughts on Law School: An Exhaustive Retrospective

Before I get into that - as promised - I will reveal the answers to yesterday's penetrating questions.

The sky is blue due to Rayleigh scattering.

The world's largest Burrito was created by La Costena, a famed South Bay taqueria, and "manufactured" in Rengstorff Park, Mountain View, CA (where I used to live).

And the MLB player with the most homeruns whose last name starts with the letter "Z" is Todd Zeile. 253 HRs.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program: My 13 Thoughts on 3 Years of Law

1. Study hard for the stupid LSAT : For some reason, the powers that be have decided to base admissions almost solely on that idiotic standardized test. Let me just say that I have never once come across a question at law school that involves putting Tom, Dick and Harry in the correct order with the correct color hat with only limited clues as to those arrangements. I don't know - maybe there is some correlation between this "analytic" capability and success at law school. But my sense of it is that law school is law school is law school. The bar does not discriminate between the top of the US World and New Report Rankings and the bottom. The academic experience is the same. But the job opportunities are not. So - if you want to make it easier on yourself - study for that stupid exam.

2. Apply early : The whole application process is much more stressful than the actual schooling. So rest easy after you've gotten into your school. But the worst part of the whole process (other than the LSAT and getting your professors to send in their recommendations) is the waiting. This pain can be exaggerated further if you find yourself involved in applicant message boards. The surest way to become defeatist is to spend time on those boards listening to people complaining that they only have a 178 LSAT (out of 180) and a 3.92 GPA and are worried about getting into any law school. Don't worry about it. Apply early and you'll most likely get in somewhere before January. No need to stress and freak.

3. The experience can be as easy or as hard as you make it : The people who tell you that law school is three years of hell made it that way for themselves. You don't have to join every organization in the school or take seven courses a semester. You don't have to write onto the law review and work two jobs to support your four kids. Well, you may have to do the latter if you have four kids. But the point is that law school is only as hard as you make it. For most classes you are only responsible for one thing: taking a final exam. You can go or not go to class. You can read or not read the assignments. You can outline or not outline. You can take notes or not take notes. You can study or not study for the final. (I don't recommend the last one). If you're involved in so many things at once and still trying to ace your exams - well, law school can be a stressful environment. But if you learn to manage yourself and your time, it's really not too bad. In fact, it's a heck of a lot easier than real life.

4. The Socratic Method is not as bad as it's made out to be : Some professors don't even do it and most have some half-assed version that involves telling you when you're on call. My torts professor went down the rows from back to front, my contracts professor went alphabetically, my first amendment professor let you pick a thinker, my evidence professor let you pick a topic. The few profs who actually cold-call are not intimidating enough to be worried about - law school is hardly real. What's to be worried about? Besides, I can tell you the truth - nobody cares if you mess up. At most they are just glad it wasn't them - and then they forget about it the next day. Memories are shallow when it comes to the "method."

5. Talking about grades is bad policy : It's ugly. Don't do it. At least you shouldn't do it with anyone who isn't your closest friend. At best, it's vanity or self-serving sympathy-inducing. At worst, it's an ugly side of human pride. You're not making anyone like or respect you when you tell them about that "A+." In fact, you're probably making enemies. Tell your mom and dad or significant other. Your classmates don't need to know. It's a curve, after all.

6. Find a hobby : Now this one is on all the lists. You can't go through three years of law school completely immersed in the law. You need to come up for air. My particular choice was ultimate frisbee, but that's not for everyone. I probably spent more time in my hobby than most - I was out of town pretty much every Saturday from April until October, and then gone for full weekends almost every other Saturday. But I think it really gave me some balance. I also recommend an exercise regimen of some sort - just to clear your system.

7. Find a good friend : It could be a spouse or a girlfriend or just a pal. Law school can be a lonely journey and you'll need support from time to time. Make sure there is someone around to whom you can complain with relative frequency and ease. Plus - it doesn't hurt if that person helps to make sure you keep grounded and reminds you that forgetting to properly cite a case in a paper is not the end of the world.

8. Don't be afraid of commercial outlines : In fact, embrace their black-lettery goodness. It's not cheating. And that's not just because everyone does it. It's just smart. Look... chances are you missed a few classes and your notes for some of the other classes you attended look like you were on Mars for that hour. Moreover, certain professors "teach" in a manner more befitting philosophers than lawyers. At the end of the day, however, law exams are all pretty much the same. They give you questions and they want answers that apply the law. No matter what dribble they taught all semester, they want you to take the black letter law and apply it to the facts presented on the exam. Well, in many cases you're not going to have any idea what the law is - unless you find it in a lovely commercial outline. Take the plunge, it's warm and fuzzy.

9. Make liberal use of practice exams : Especially if the exams are from the same professor. Especially if they have model answers. I've heard of a number of examples about lazy professors who just change the names in the questions and give out the same exam. Well, if you took it already and learned the model answer... you're ahead of the game. Shame on the prof, but if you didn't look at that model - you're gonna lose out to those who did. Plus, it's a good idea to see what kind of things the professor is looking for - there's still room for BS on law exams (despite the fact that professors all claim there isn't).

10. Learn to take an exam : There is no doubt in my mind that there is a right way to write an exam. It doesn't involve any specific formula but coherence, quality and quantity are all important elements. If you have a word limit, then quantity obviously isn't as important. For each person the method may be different, but the end result should be the same. On in-class exams, I've always found that the more you write the better. The professors often grade off checklists and the more checks you get, the higher the grade. Verbal diarrhea appears to be the key. At the same time, you want to maintain a certain level of coherence. You won't get the best grades if you're all over the map. Finally, you have to look at both sides. The key thing to remember is that it wouldn't be on the exam if there were an easy answer. Address both sides - make an argument for both - and then pick a side.

11. Don't schedule classes on Fridays : Do I need to explain this one?

12. Getting a job : This whole experience deserves its own retrospective. I could relate my own mistakes in the whole job-seeking process. I made pretty much every minor (and a few major) mistakes in the book, but I landed myself a job. So there is hope for the most idiotic of us, as I'm living proof.

13. Finally, have fun : Find a city or town you like and go to school there. No sense in wasting away for three years in a smelly pit. There's plenty of free time if you make time for it. I chose NYC - maybe not for everyone - but it's a cute little town. Get out and enjoy yourself - after all, you'll have plenty of time to slave away once you start working.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Post-Script on the Coast Trip

A very helpful individual has kindly offered to pick up my police report on her next trip to Belize. I will keep you posted on her efforts. Hopefully, she will be able to accomplish the mission with little trouble, but I have my doubts.

She is arriving on the 15th. I will keep my fingers crossed.

What's on tap: Why the sky is blue, where the world's longest burrito was made, the MLB player with the most homeruns whose last name begins with "Z" and other important questions that need answers.

How to Maximize Probability of Positive Utility When Gambling on Sports

I offer a radical theory on how to guarantee some level of happiness no matter the outcome of a given bet. However, there are certain prerequisite priorites as listed below:

1. You REALLY like winning money.
2. You REALLY like having your favorite team win.
3. You don't like losing money.
4. You don't like having your favorite team lose.

If this describes you - then you may have use for my theory.

It's actually very simple and stupid - so I'm sure it will be the next BIG thing.

Here it is in 4 four words: BET AGAINST YOUR TEAM.

An explanation: Assuming that watching your favorite team lose makes you unhappy, you would be worse off after watching a losing game. However, in my simplified example (with no point spreads) you will win money on that loss. Therefore, you'll be better than you would have been had you not followed my directions. Also, assuming that losing money makes you unhappy, at least you'll have the consolation of having your favorite team win. If your priorities coincide with the priorities I listed above, you will always have a positive utility.

And depending on point spreads, you may actually get double happiness. Congratulations you have finished my idiotic gambling tutorial.

NEXT WEEK - How to have fun losing your house in a high-stakes poker game!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Due to Popular Criticism

Many folks have complained that my picture of the police station from Belize was actually the fire station. I was well aware of that but I felt as though it might give people unfamiliar with the country an idea about what the building I was trying to describe looked like. But because it seems to be causing more complaints than compliments, I have removed it. In its place I will put this picture. One, which I'm all sure we can agree, is actually a picture of the police station.

State of the Union?

So far so good. But it's only been one day since they were married. I just got back from the wedding this afternoon. At this point I'd give it a "very good" rating. If that strange man hadn't done that karaoke rendition of Wayne Newton, I would be able to give them an "excellent" rating.

In lieu of an update - as I'm tired - I will provide a link to a far more entertaining blog than my own according to today's copy of the NY Times. It's a vlog!

Oh - and it's called Rocketboom.

Check it out. Or don't. It's up to you.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Weekly Legal News Update

I guess that as a law student I ought to at least think about law once in a while.

I guess the big stir around the school these days is over the Court's hearing of the Solomon Amendment case. For those of you unfamiliar, this controversy revolves around the question of whether the federal government can revoke federal funding if the university fails to provide equal access to military recruiters in school-sponsored job interview programs.

The universities are balking at allowing this access because they fundamentally disagree with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding homosexuality. A circuit court ruling last year barred enforcement claiming that it compelled the universities to express an unwanted message.

You can find a Yale professor who believes that we shouldn't paternalistically protect students from this worldview here.

You can find a number of briefs describing why it's unconstitutional here.

Actually the easiest way to do this is to look here. That should give you an idea about both sides of the debate.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I Have the Powerrrr!!!!

Maybe I'm showing my age here, but then again it's listed in the title bar. So no worries there. But does anyone else remember this guy?

I was obsessed with He-Man when I was a child. In fact, according to a family chestnut that my mom is fond of telling me, I made that clear at a young age. Apparently, one day I went to a car show with my parents down at the convention center in DC when I was around four or five. While there, I managed to get my hands on an ice scraper which I then proceeded to stick down the back of my shirt with the handle poking out the top. Then, in a completely perplexing move to my parents (who had never seen the show), I yanked the scraper out from behind my back and proclaimed that I, indeed, had the power. Apparently I did this many, many times for the next few hours, raising a few eyebrows and convincing my parents that I might be insane. Not until later when they had seen the show did they understand what exactly was happening.

But I was just thinking - what a marketing coup, huh? I mean, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was an action-figure line created by Mattell. The cartoon began as a few adspots and grew from there. I only learned this years later. But I think that with the growing commercialization of the world, this sort of thing is going to happen more and more. Everything is connected.

By the way, does anyone else remember the campy movie they made? "Masters of the Universe." Featuring Dolph Lundgren (of Rocky IV - Ivan Drago fame) and Courtney Cox, among others. I remember loving that movie when I first saw it. I bet it isn't as good as I remember.

Speaking Out into the Void

Back to internet speech for a moment. Cass Sunstein, U. Chicago law professor, argued in his book republic.com that the birth of new technologies and filtering processes is going to lead to the break-down of our deliberative democratic government. Basically, he claimed that the filtering technologies available through the internet were going to allow people to go through life without ever being exposed to ideas contrary to their own. He called this phenomenon the "Daily Me."

In other words, I might be able to set up my computer so that I only receive sports and news with a leftist slant. I might only read blogs that already agree with me. I might only participate in usenet discussions with people who shared the same opinions and viewpoints. And this, he claimed, would lead toward extremism. If everyone in every subgroup substantially agreed, they would naturally tend toward the most powerful argument on their side. Because there was this tendency to move toward the poles, it would further stigmatize any dissent and so the best arguments for the opposition would be left unmentioned.

Without the constitutive power of social deliberation, the democratic system would decay as it became more polarized.

The above is certainly a vast oversimplification of his argument, but it touches on several points. I think there are several problems - the first among them being his initial fear of filtering technologies. I think the capability of these filters to avoid any excess unwanted information is vastly overstated. Moreover, Sunstein seems to ignore the significant amount of filtering already present in the newspapers we read, the TV stations we watch and the music we listen to. Also, I think he ignores that people are not glued to their computers, that we are still (most of us) social animals and that we interact with each other at work, on the subway, in the streets or wherever. We can't possibly avoid all exposure to competing viewpoints.

Anyway, those are my two cents for the moment....

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

And Now for Something Completely Different...

Did you know that a bunch of smart folks have put together a linux kernel that you can install on your iPod? Yup, that's right. It's old news, but because my blog is not old, I guess it's just news.

Anyway, you can turn your first generation iPod into an iPod video. It'll play games, video and run other functions. You don't need to go out a buy a new one if you want to watch Lost on your two inch screen. They are currently developing linux for the fourth generations and there is existing support for the previous three.

I've used it on my iPod and can vouch for it. Also, you retain the ability to boot your iPod up in its original flashware mode. It's pretty cool. Anyway, you can find the software and information here.

The Blame Game: Who is the Real Culprit?

It's interesting. I recently advertised my little Belize adventure on two separate Belize-related forums - the belize forum and the island board. My initial intention, believe it or not, was to share an experience that I believed would appeal to people familiar with the locale.

Some were upset that I seemed to be denigrating the country. Not so. Take a look at the title I gave my first entry - I came away from the place with fond memories. What surprised me most, however, was the negative reactions I received from some members of the forum. Don't get me wrong - I dropped a few names - and I understand why someone might feel compelled to come to their defense.

I'm not interested in that. What I'm really curious about was the tendency - the very human tendency - to "blame the victim." Let me give an example - here is something I pulled off the board (you can visit the originals at the links above - I may have edited to some degree but I don't think unfairly so).

"I laughed so hard at your Cave tubing adventure, but OMG how stupid to leave anything of value out in plain sight. I felt sorry for your misfortune. But really, it was self induced. We travel extensively, and always keep valuables and/or important documents under lock and key or at least under our noses. It's too bad Erica didn't use a little more of a consoling attitude, but come on. On a first floor balcony. It was only a matter of time!"


"I can't help feeling that Dan had an exceptionally naive approach to travelling. I would not leave valuables and important documents inside a locked hotel room without taking other precautions. To leave it all in a backpack on a balcony right next to a public beach (I know Mata Rocks) AND THEN LEAVE THE PREMISES is absolutely incredible. How can you possibly ascribe any blame to Mata Rocks?"


"In the times we live in treating the security of U.S. passports with such admitted gross negligence should perhaps be an offense punishable by non-issuance of a new passport for a period of 1 year."

So the theft was my fault. Again, don't get me wrong. There was certainly an element of contributory negligence. I left the bag out on the balcony. I was "asking for it." Well, I'll grant you that it was a stupid oversight. And one I'm unlikely to make again.

But this is an interesting phenomenon, nonetheless. It was present on the forum and, more atrociously, was present in my dealings with the hotel staff. "It's too bad Erica didn't use a little more of a consoling attitude, but come on. On a first floor balcony. It was only a matter of time!" Yeah. Perhaps it was. Perhaps we should expect theft and take all precautions to avoid it. Don't walk in Morningside Park at 3am, if you're shot, it'll be your fault.

Why do we do this? Why are we so willing to blame the victim? Perhaps we don't want to hear him whining about something that he might have prevented. He's just as guilty as the criminal. What is it about us that rejects empathy and wants to lay blame on the speaker?

I can think of a couple things to account for its occurrence in this instance. First, I understand that the Mata Rocks staff felt a need to push responsibility away from themselves. The theft took place on their property, under the nose of their guard. I left the bag out, but their safety precautions failed in this instance. I never suggested they were to blame - and I don't do so now. But I think that when it occurred they felt a need to deflect any potential blame. Therefore they say - "you shouldn't have left it out." Thanks. I get it. First reason for blaming the victim - deflecting blame on yourself, avoiding responsibility.

Second, there must be a different reason for the reaction of the forum members. They obviously bear no responsibility for the theft. Why do they feel the need to play the blame game? Well, one reason might be the felt need to defend the country of Belize against an unfair attack. I thought I was quite explicit in saying that I like the country despite everything, but I see where the story might lead you. After all, I was posting this link on a de facto tourism board. Another reason might be a human need for superiority - "here's a dumb guy who left his bag out. I would never do that. I'm better than him. And I should let the world know. And I should let him know." Maybe that accounts for it. A third possible reason could be that we're comfortable blaming the victim because we understand and empathize with him. We don't understand the criminal and so we accept him as a given. The victim is an individual whose agency we can comprehend - we see his mistake and we feel the need to point it out because we understand it.

I don't know. I don't know if any of these things are true. I welcome any other ideas.

As a postscript, all I wanted to just share a funny story. Indeed, I don't feel bad about anything that happened really - aside from my desire to recoup the $800 in insurance.

And by the way, thank you for all the warm compliments, I only wish that they might be left on this blog here, as it seems so balefully devoid of comments.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Worst Vacation Ever (Day 5) : The Epilogue

I feel a few words are necessary to bring this memory to a faithful conclusion. For a majority of this recollection I have been rather causticly harping on the unfortunate events of my trip. But I think those events are the ones that make my particular experience interesting.

It is at this point that I probably should "give Belize its due." The country itself is beautiful. The ocean and its wildlife are sublime. The people are genuinely friendly - particularly our taxi driver when he wasn't lying to us and our tubing guide, who was the man.

There were, no doubt, many frustrations along the way, but we actually enjoyed our trip nonetheless. Okay... maybe sometheless. But our trip to the Mayan ruins at Altun Ha and the jungle spa was wonderful. We enjoyed our sea kayaking and exploring the beaches and town of San Pedro. And yes - we finally did go snorkeling on the morning of our last day - Day 5. It was great.

To end the suspense, though you may have guessed it, we caught that plane back to San Pedro. Maybe the only big thing that had gone right all vacation. We arrived at the airport at 5:37 and "Belize time" saved us. We left the ground at 5:40.

Would I go back to Belize? Certainly. Our trip would have been very different had I not left that backpack out on the balcony. My account merely underscores the nature of the obstacles you might come across in any developing country. But, hey, it's an interesting story and one I thought appropriate to share.

If you have any comments, feel free to leave them here on the blog.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Worst Vacation Ever (Day 4) : Out of the Embassy, Into the Jungle

If you're keeping up with the saga you'll recall that today was to be the last full day of our trip. The plan we had orchestrated for the day involved a morning snorkeling trip which we had scheduled through a private friend of one of the Mata Rocks staff members. He was to pick us up at 7am. We wanted to get in a nice long snorkel at Hol Chan Reserve, pet the sharks, kiss the rays, etc...

We woke up early and got our stuff together and then went out to wait at the dock. 7am. No one shows up. 715am. Still nothing. 730. I know island time is slower, but this is beginning to try our patience. 745. We go inquire with one of the staffers. She calls the guy. His wife answers. Boat broke down. He's not coming. Well, nice of him to let us know. Too late to schedule a replacement.

We make the best of it. There was a kayak rental place down the beach a spell which we took advantage of and had a nice little time.

At this point in our trip the endless parade of horribles had just become funny. Really, there was nothing left to do but laugh at the situation. It wasn't life threatening. It was just a vacation. And hey, if you can get through this with a girlfriend/boyfriend, you can get through anything.

So we hopped on the water taxi back to Belize City around 11:30. We then took the now familiar stroll down the lane past the drug dealers and snake picture guy on our way to the embassy. Once we arrived, thankfully, we only had to wait about 15 minutes before they hooked us up with our temporary passports. No problems! Too good to be true. So we were all set. All we needed to do was go back to where we had lunch, find Jimmy and go tubing.

Jimmy was nowhere to be found. There was another man, however, another tax driver he said. Jimmy was not here today but he knew Jimmy and he could help us out. I asked him if we could go tubing. He said sure, but not today if we wanted to catch the last taxi back to San Pedro. What if we left right now I asked him.

"No way. Couldn't do it."

But, I told him, Jimmy told us it could be done easily, just yesterday. You could see the mental calculations churning in his forehead. He was thinking: Hey, I haven't made any money today and here are two Americans offering me $150. Why not?

"Yeah. No problem. We can do it."

It was almost 2pm.

You may ask yourself how we could possibly be so stupid as to believe that this was going to work out. After everything we'd been through... you'd think we would have learned. You could ask yourself that. You could ask me that. And this is what I'd say:

"I don't know. I. Really. Don't. Know."

We got in the taxi and drove out of town. We made a brief stop at an ATM so that I could pick up some cash to pay him with, because I had a feeling we might feel a little rushed at the end of the trip.

The driver, I've forgotten his name, was very friendly. He told us about the history of the island as we drove into the jungle. One particularly interesting anecdote surfaced when we told him we were from New York. One of his children had moved to Brooklyn actually and been shot in the face. At the tender age of 18. He was returned to Belize where he was brought to the ocean and submerged with raw liver covering the wound in his head. And now the boy is the happy father of four children.

The trip to the tubing drop-off point took a long time. Too long. Around 45 minutes in I began to get very nervous. It was 245 and we hadn't even reached the destination yet. The driver kept smiling and telling us stories, while Jeanine and I merely exchanged knowing looks of desperation. Why did we put ourselves in this situation?

It was around that time that we turned off the highway. "This," explained our driver, "is why many taxi drivers don't make this trip." I couldn't imagine what he meant. But then I realized. We were on a gravel path. It must have done quite a job on his little van's shocks. From the feel of it, frankly, I was doubtful that there were any shocks left. We were driving excruciatingly slow. We had to. It was a very bumpy ride. And it was taking forever. We only had a few miles to go, he told us. But it took almost 20 minutes.

It was 310 when we arrived.

I did the math in my head. 310 now. Drive takes a little over an hour. Last water taxi leaves at 430. We have to leave to go back now. I mentioned this to the driver.

"You told us we'd be back for the last water taxi."
"Yeah, I guess not. But the last plane leaves at 5:30."

That was our only option left really. And even then it would be pushing it. We got out of the car and our driver went looking for a guide. He found one he knew and I tried to explain our situation.

"How long does the trip usually take?" I asked him.
"Hour and a half, give or take a little."

I did the math in my head. 3:15. Hour and a half. 4:45. Over an hour to drive back. 5:45. Last flight. 5:30. No good.

"Can we do it in under an hour?"

He pauses for a moment. Inspiration.

"Yeah. I think I can do that. I know a shortcut."

We grabbed our things, including our passports, which the driver insisted would be safe in his unlocked, windowless van. We'll take our chances with the river, thank you. Jeanine insisted on holding the water-tight bag with the passports. I had been officially deemed "irresponsible."

At this point, I should mention that I had recently torn my PCL - a ligament in my knee - only about a month before. I only say this because it becomes very relevant very quickly. Basically it meant that moving any faster than a brisk walk was quite painful.

We grabbed our tubes. Jeanine, our guide, our taxi driver and myself took off up the path. The nature of this tubing experience was that you carry large rubber tube up a steep jungle path to a point where you put the tube in a river and proceed to leisurely float down through a series of caves and small rapids, back to where you started. Unfortunately, the meaning of "leisure" had long since eluded us on this vacation.

Our guide insisted on doing his regular schtick but at an accelerated pace. We were basically jogging (in our sandals) and running along the path.

"This is a tree. This is where monkeys live. This is a bush. That's a rock. That's a hole. Look out for this. Look out for that," our guide spit out at a rapid pace as he jogged in front of me up the path. He was basically talking at an unintelligible speed between breaths as we hurried to keep pace. Our more than hefty taxi driver brought up the rear panting heavily, struggling mightily.

It would have been comical if it weren't so frenzied.

We did the 45 minute hike in 15 minutes.

We got in the water and sat in our tubes after a very frenetic tutorial on how to float properly. He had us hook our feet into the tube in front of us and face upstream. With our tubes all hooked in a line, our arms were free to paddle downstream. We paddled furiously down the river through the caves. Our arms were churning rapidly. Not leisurely.

I'm sure it was quite the image. Some sort of metaphor about people from the big city with an inability to "SLOW DOWN." But in any case, we were in a hurry. We did not want to be stuck away from our hotel and all of our things on the wrong landmass when we were leaving the next day. Plus, we had nowhere to sleep.

Whenever we got to shallow water and our butts began to drag on the bottom, our guide would jump up and literally drag us down the river. He would be half jogging as he took hold of our two tubes in either hand (the taxi driver would stand and walk as well) and pulled us heavily over the gravel bottom. It was quite painful really, but he was determined to show us the genuine experience I suppose. As if this was somehow more relaxing for us. But rest assured he was rewarded well for his effort to hurry things along.

At a certain point, I felt the charade was over and it would be best if we abandoned the whole "floating down the river" thing altogether. We grabbed our tubes and walked for the rest of the way.

As we returned to the taxi, our guide called out to his friends to inquire as to the time.


Under an hour. The guide turned to me and gave me a one-hundred watt smile as he put up his hand.

"One hour! My new record!" He exclaimed, almost giddy with delight.

I gave him the high five. He deserved it.

We settled up and returned to the taxi. 4:20. We put our things together and climbed into the car. The driver didn't get in.

"I'm gonna take a quick shower."

Apparently he didn't recognize the nature of the situation. He walked toward the showers and returned about 5 minutes later. Jeanine and I were trying to ignore the obvious. That we were quite likely to be royally screwed.

The ride back was the probably the most nerve-racking taxi ride I'm likely to ever take. And that's saying something if you've ever ridden around in a nyc cab. Of course the trip back down the gravel path seemed to take longer and minutes have never gone by so quickly as when I so resolutely stared down that clock face.

Our driver was almost deathly silent the whole ride back. I think he may have finally caught a whiff of our desperation. Finally the clock began its inevitable ascent toward 530. No civilization in sight.

He insisted that the airport was nearby. I began contemplating my options. There didn't seem to be any good ones.

5:27. Still nothing and from what I understood about airports, it's generally better to be earlier than later.


Worst Vacation Ever (Supplement) : Why Mata Doesn't Rock

I want to just interpose, for a moment, a few words about my disappointment with the staff at Mata Rocks. Let me also offer the countervailing caveat that the owners were not present at any point during these events. They were on "vacation." I don't understand where you go for vacation when you live in Belize, but maybe somewhere cold. Maybe Newfoundland.

A list of complaints in short:

1. The bag was stolen on their premises, under the nose of their security guard and they were not only not helpful, and not only actually hurtful (as you will know if you read my account), but they were down-right mean about it.
2. One of the staff members actually told me something to the effect, "Well you shouldn't leave your bag out on the balcony." I felt like saying, "Well, you shouldn't be such an $#!hole about it." Of course I know that, there's no reason to say that to someone you should be helping.
3. They repeatedly gave us misinformation about how to get our passports replaced and didn't apologize when we told them about their mistakes. It would have been easy to look up the answer on their internet connection but they refused.
4. The rooms were dirty and filled with ants - and we stayed in 3 different rooms over the course of our trip.
5. When the power went out - they refused to leave the bar to light a candle in our room, yet they did it for other guests. They were mad at us because we had been complaining about the disrespectful service.
6. Several times they scheduled events for us that fell through and they didn't even apologize.
7. They refused to refund any of the over $2500 we spent there despite all of these problems.
8. They are now refusing to cooperate in getting us the police report that we need to get our insurance claim on the lost items.
9. Read the account if you want to get a better sense of what exactly happened.

Worst Vacation Ever (Day 3) : Continued...

We had already missed the 8:30 water taxi and the next one left at 9:30. The only other way back to Belize City was taking the small little propeller planes that ran every hour. However, they were much more expensive and as I mentioned, our cash flow was running dangerously low. Anyway, we headed over to the water taxi. We paid and boarded the boat and began - what would become a hated ritual - the trip to the mainland.

We arrived in Belize City 90 minutes later and found a cab driver. He took us to the embassy, driving through what he described as the "bad part of town." It was only about an 8 minute drive. We got out of the taxi expecting to wait at the back of a huge line. It was 11:30ish. Mata Rocks staff had told us to get there at 5:30am. The security guard informed us that it didn't open for US citizens until 1:30pm. After being assured that there was nothing we could fill out or do in preparation for our appointment, we extracted a promise that we would be first in line (after all the place was empty and we were the only ones there) and then went to find some lunch.

We found a little hot dog stand fairly close by and were approached by a local taxi driver named Jimmy. He told us that he did private exursions trips for $150 US dollars where he'd drive us out to the jungle and hire a guide and take us cave tubing. We told him that sounded fantastic, but we were staying in San Pedro and had to catch the last water taxi back to the island at 4:30. He said that would be no problem as long as we left before 2:30.

Well, that was exciting for us, because we thought today was going to be a total bust spent dealing with the passports. We got really hyped about the prospect of this cave tubing extravaganza. Big Mistake.

After lunch we sat in the courtyard of the embassy waiting for 1:30. But this was "Belize time." 1:30 came to mean 2:00 before they opened the doors to us.

We went in and explained the situation. The first thing the woman did was give us a ton of forms to fill out and told us to go to the back of the line (which had formed since 11:30). I complained that we had been waiting there for almost 3 hours and we had asked if we could fill out any forms in the interim and were told no. She frowned and ignored me. We filled out the forms and then cut in line. There were some evil eyes that WE ignored.

The woman looked over our forms for a few minutes and then asked for our passport photos.

What??? What passport photos? She told us that we needed to bring some passport photos. Well why didn't she tell me that the first time we were at this window? Sorry. She gave us a map to the nearest photo shop.

It wasn't close. We took off on foot and followed the map back into the "bad part of town" and were offered weed about 25 times. I think they may have been offering other things as well. Anyway, we finally arrived at the photo shop pretty much giving up on our tubing trip as this whole process had taken quite some time. We took the photos - the angriest passport photographs you'll ever see, and returned to the embassy. Another 20 minute walk. Tubing was out for sure.

We cut back in line, again, and gave the woman our photos. She took them and told us to wait outside for them to call our names. We went back outdoors and waited for another half hour before they called our names. We went to a different window with a different woman who asked us a few questions and then told us that we needed to pay $175 (or $350 Belize). I pulled out my credit card and she shook her head. Cash only.

Are you &$!%ing kidding me???? I don't have $175 in cash. For god's sake we've been walking in Drugtown, Belize. I'd have to be a total moron to carry that kinda cash on me. Shrugs her shoulders.

Where's the closest ATM that takes US bank cards? Other side of town. Back by the water taxi.


At this point we don't have enough cash to pay for a taxi. So we walk all the way back to the ATM - about 40 minutes. Back by all the same shady individuals. More weed offered. No thanks. I get the money out of the ATM and we grab a taxi. Back to the embassy. Again.

We get there and pay for the passport replacements.

"Come back tomorrow," she says, "they'll be ready around 1:30pm."


We had to really hurry back to catch the last water taxi back to San Pedro that night. Getting stuck in Belize City would have probably meant death or worse.

So we rode the water taxi back to San Pedro that night, arriving back around 6pm. We grabbed a nice dinner, but it was tainted by the knowledge that we would have to waste another day going back to Belize City to pick up the passports. But I had come up with, what I thought, was a way to save the last full day of our trip. We were going to schedule a snorkling trip for the morning off San Pedro and then we'd grab a water taxi to Belize City, pick up our passports, find Jimmy and go on that tubing trip, coming back in time to catch the last water taxi back to San Pedro. Well.... that was the plan anyway.

That night we were exhausted. After dinner we came home to crash. We decided at dinner that we were just going to crawl in bed, turn on the A/C, and watch whatever was playing on HBO. Well... I jumped in bed and turned on the TV. Jeanine went to wash up. On her way to the bathroom, she stopped by to flip on the A/C. She turned the knob and I heard a weird noise and simultaneously the lights and TV went out.


We went outside and the entire island all along the coastline was dark. Nothing. We learned the next day that the entire country had lost power for over 8 hours. JEANINE HAD SHUT DOWN THE POWER TO THE ENTIRE COUNTRY OF BELIZE!

That night we slept in the stultifying humid air sweating ferociously. I finally got to sleep only to be awoken when the lights came back on in the wee hours of the morning. Well, at least it couldn't get any worse, right? Wrong.

P.S. We didn't end up needing the police report at all. In fact all of that time with the police, where we might have been actually enjoying our vacation, was wasted. Another time where the Mata Rocks staff's information was amazingly useless and wasteful.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Worst Vacation Ever (Day 3) : The Fire Station, The Embassy, and Jeanine Shuts Down Belize

We woke up early this morning to get breakfast before we went looking for the "other" police station. Let me just add, at this point, another creeping concern. A lot of places accepted credit cards, but there were certain things that you couldn't do unless you had cash. Unfortunately the only cash machine on the island which accepted American ATMs was broken (of course). Therefore, we were running dangerously low on our cash reserves.

Anyway, we jumped on our bikes around 7 to go look for some food and the station. Once we got into town and ate we asked around for directions. We were pointed down several sketchy allies and had to turn around a number of times. Apparently no one had any idea where this new station was located. Eventually we found ourselves in a very run-down neighborhood with mostly ripped-up buildings. One of them looked to be an abandoned fire station, missing the garage door. This was actually the police station. It was essentially a large room with 3 walls, a desk and some rooms in the back (i can only imagine).

I went up to the woman behind the desk and asked if I could get a copy of the police report I had filed yesterday. Here's an approximation of the dialogue - I kid you not.

Me: I'd like to pick up a copy of a police report I filed yesterday at the other police station. I need it to bring to the embassy so that we can replace our passports which were stolen.
Woman: That will cost $8.
Me: Are you kidding me? Fine. Whatever, here (reaching for my wallet).
Woman: Oh, I'm sorry. I can't take the money. The person who takes the money isn't here.
Me: You have to be joking. Why do you need a person who takes the money?
Woman: Because he has the key to the cashbox. We can't take the money unless we can put it in the cashbox.
Me: Well, when will this guy arrive who takes the money? We're in a hurry.
Woman: I dunno. I haven't seen him for a few days.
Me: WHAT??? (Frustration setting in)
(This argument continues for some time before I finally convince her to take the money)
Me: Okay, you'll take the money. Now can I get a copy of my report?
(She disappears into the back and returns empty-handed. About 25 minutes have elapsed since we arrived.)
Woman: The guy who makes copies is not here. I can't give you that report.
Me: WHAT? I need that report! Last night, I called the police station and they told me that he would be here at 8 this morning. Can you just go make the copy? Hell, give me the original and I WILL MAKE THE COPY! (Frustration reaching a crescendo - I am actually yelling now)
Woman: I'm sorry only he can make the copies. And he's at court all day today and won't be back until Friday. He is also the court stenographer. (It was Wednesday).
Me: We need the report today because we're going to the embassy today. I don't know how else to explain this.
Woman: I'm sorry. I don't know how else to help you.
Me: How about making a copy and giving it to me?
(This goes on for another 10 minutes before I extract a promise to fax a copy to the embassy upon request. I copied down the phone number of the "new" station and we left extremely frustrated.)

I mean, come on, what is the actual likelihood that they are going to be able to fax a copy of the report to the embassy when they can't even make a copy? I sure as hell didn't see a fax machine. I didn't see a copy machine either. Hell, I didn't see a telephone. I didn't even see another person. There was a door. I could only hope that it led to a copy room and at least one competent human being.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Worst Vacation Ever (Day 2) : The Police Shack and the Door to Nowhere

When you lose your passport in a foreign country - it's typically a bad thing. To get our temporary passports we were going to have to go back to the mainland to Belize City (the capital). There was a US embassy there. But we were informed by the Mata Rocks staff members that we needed to file an official police report and get a copy of that report before we went to the embassy. The only problem was that we had already scheduled and paid in advance for a day long excursion trip to some Mayan ruins. So the police and the embassy were going to have to wait.

A boat picked us up from the dock outside our room and took us to a bus which took us to some ruins which were nice and all, but of course we were a little stressed about the whole passport situation. We were dropped off at our hotel around 4 and promptly hopped on our bicycles and rode to the downtown police station.

Now, I can't even begin to do justice to this police station. It was a wood hut set up on stilts about 3 feet off the ground and no bigger than 10X10 ft. The stairs had all rotted completely through so you had to jump up into the doorway, which, of course, had no actual door. There was a desk and a few chairs plus one telephone. There were two police officers and probably six or seven people sitting or standing around in this tiny room.

I saw one of the policemen was the fellow I had spoken with the night before and I asked if I could file a formal report. He sat me down with the older officer who preceded to ask me all of the same questions from the night before. He then spent around 5 minutes looking for a blank piece of paper in the shelves of the desk. As I watched, I realized the police filing system apparently consisted of sticking crumpled wads of papers into the shelves and stacking everything on top of each other.

I looked around a bit. Sitting beside me was a woman handcuffed with a child on her lap. They gave her a plea statement to sign which I read over her shoulder. She was pleading to theft for the child on her lap. Further in the corner was a door that led to what I could only assume (from looking at the outside of the building) outside in the back. It was labeled "jail." Talk about prisons being revolving doors.

Anyway, after spending about an hour trying to explain my situation to the police and writing down everything in a formal record, I asked for a copy. I was told that I need to come back tomorrow and get the copy. The copy machine was in the other police station and they couldn't do it here. Frustrated, we left. The saga was just beginning.

That night, Erica from the Mata Rocks staff, told us that we needed to get to the embassy as early as possible - 5am if we could handle it. But the guy who makes copies at the police station (I know it's mind-boggling that they only have one person allowed to operate the copy machine), didn't arrive at the station until 8am. Therefore, the earliest we could get a water-taxi back to Belize City was 8:30. And then that boat ride was about an hour and a half. So we already knew that we'd have to wait in a long line at the embassy. But we were resigned to it. At least we could get it over with and go back to enjoying the rest of our vacation. At least that was the idea.

The Worst Vacation Ever or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Belize (Day 1)

In a series of parts I will now attempt to do justice to a vacation I spent, last spring, in a little country called Belize. Bear in mind that everything I will relate is absolutely true, give or take some minor embellishments for narrative emphasis. Anyone who suffers through the entire story will realize that this epic tale of travel failure is one for the ages - but enough preface.


My girlfriend Jeanine and I arrived in Belize City sans my favorite ballcap - I left it at JFK Airport. No matter, I could buy something here - but it's really a harbinger of things to come. A sign that things had started out amiss and could only get amisser.

We made it through customs only to have the travel agency person, who was supposed to meet us, go completely AWOL. We eventually found someone who directed us to another part of the airport where we had to schedule a short puddle jumper flight from the mainland out to the island of Ambergris Caye where we were staying.

We arrived in the town of San Pedro and got to our hotel the Mata Rocks, with little incident. Our room was a first floor condo with a balcony overlooking the ocean. We decided to relax before dinner, so Jeanine took a nap and I went out on to the balcony to read. I got tired after a bit and joined Jeanine for a nap. When we woke up, we went to town for a dinner.

After dinner we returned and I wanted to take out my contacts to settle in after our long travel day and watch a movie. I went to look for my backpack but it was nowhere to be found. Strangely, two security guards were beside my balcony earnestly watching my increasingly frantic search. Finally they asked me what I was looking for and I told them. One guard responded by telling me that two shady guys were hanging around the balcony and probably stole my backpack.

This was the first time (and there would be many more times to come) where it occurred to me that my trip was doomed. Why they didn't do anything while observing the two "shady characters" lurking around the balcony is beyond me.

But what was really distressing was that my backpack held not only my glasses but also my iPod and our PASSPORTS.

Of course the guards could do nothing so we called the police. Two officers arrived about 3 hours later to take the statement. I don't think that either of them were a day over 17. And they sure did not inspire any confidence in me as we had to explain to them that they should probably write down what was in the backpack and what it looked like. Let's just say that despite their assurances to the contrary, I was not very hopeful that the passports would turn up.

We went to bed that night anxious - our first day in Belize and I'd already lost our passports. Little did we know that this was going to be the LEAST stressful day of our five day "vacation."

NEXT: Mata Rocks Incompetence Begins; Police Shack and the Thieving Infant; and How Jeanine Shut off the Power in the Entire Country of Belize

Friday, December 02, 2005

Tele-Phony: Why We Pay Too Much

Verizon just stuck us with a $300 monthly bill. Why? Because we went over our monthly allowance of 500 minutes. How were we so negligent as to run over by that much? Because Verizon charged us for our calls to each other. On our family plan! Not only did they charge us for those minutes, but they charged them TWICE. For both of our phones. We got it worked out but it was a real hassle - completely their mistake.

But that introduces the question of the day, to wit, why are phones so expensive? Let's look at landlines. What are you paying for when you buy a landline service from Verizon? In theory you are paying for that copper wire that runs up into your house and the cost of your call is the cost of renting a dedicated switch. But you don't need that copper wire anymore - we're in a digital world now - a world of the packet-switch network. Voice can travel over fiberglass cables, the same that carry your internet to your computer.

If you are using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) the cost of that switch should be around $.000029 per minute for a call to JAPAN. Businesses are beginning to move over to services such as Vonage. It's saving millions of dollars. The telecoms are going to have to adapt or die.

The Most Popular Book Ever

I won't go into a diatribe against popular culture, mostly because - hell I'm a part of it. But that doesn't mean I can't make fun of it. About a year ago my friend Dave Hollander (author of the visceral and entertaining L.I.E.) suggested this idea. We were trying to come up with a book title guaranteed to sell millions of copies. Obviously the commercialization of the writing business is robbing us of the opportunity to judge writing for ourselves.

Anyway - the book we came up with at the time was: "Harry Da Vinci and the Atkins Potter Code." Or something to that effect. You get the idea.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Politics in the Internet


Dick Morris foresaw the movement from TV to the internet in the realm of politics. Trippi took this to a new level with the Dean campaign. The Democrats equalled the fundraising capacity of the Republicans in one fell swoop - the swoop of the Internet Revolution.

But fundraising is really only one of the many capabilities that the internet can harness. Another, more frightening I would think, possibility is using the data mining capacity to manipulate the actual voting. And I'm not talking negative campaign ads. Something far more insidious. Data mining is a wonderous technology. Already with the information you give your local grocery store in exchange for 5 cents off yogurt - remember when you signed your soul away for that Whole Foods discount credit card - the data miners know more about your preferences than you do. In conjunction with the information they buy from Whole Foods and the stuff they get from Amazon.com and Dominos Pizza. They know what brand of oatmeal you like and what time you eat pizza on Thursday night. They know what music you prefer and what time you go to bed at night. They know that you drive a Volvo and get your hair cut twice a month. You don't think they can't use this to know how you'll vote and what might entice you not to?


The question is whether in a finite period of time leading to an absolutely firm deadline, it is possible to move a couple of percent in the choice preference of consumers (voters). That's all it would take to swing the Presidential election.

The data mining, at this point, defines 2 variables -

1. The less important variable, who do you choose to vote for?
2. Then the second, more important variable - do you choose to vote at all?

The 2004 campaigns were already trying to do this - but negatively. They wanted to know what radio stations to buy time for, but not to convince you to vote for their side. No. They are paying for the opportunity to depress by one fraction of a percent the chance that a given person will vote. The sad reality is that it is much easier to convince people not to vote. That doesn't require any elaborate calisthenics. Getting people out of the system is easy. Their feet are halfway across the threshold from the get-go.

And it is even easier to determine what internet sites people will visit. Maybe send a person you don't want to a vote some sort of enticement on voting day to distract them from voting. Changing 1 or 2% is all you would need in national votes.

It's a lot cheaper to campaign this way - rather than Bloomberg's way or the Forrester/Corzine race.

As an example - take a look at Jesse "the body" Ventura's gubernatorial election in Minnesota. He had a terrible organization yet somehow had a groundswell of volunteer support in every town he went. He achieved this through the net.