Quick hits (part I)

1) “Drain the swamp” makes a good sound-bite, but if you are going to go into a swamp, you want a guide who knows their way around it.  Lee Drutman:

But the reality of democracy in the world’s largest economy and third most-populous country is that national policymaking is complicated. It requires considerable knowledge and experience to understand the rules and resolve trade-offs. If you get rid of experienced policymakers and bureaucrats who understand these rules and trade-offs, it’s not as if the problems of modern governance go away. Decision-makers simply rely more on private lobbyists, who are only too happy to fill the void by supplying decision-makers with expertise and know-how.

This is a harder story to tell, because it lacks a three-syllable chant. But democracy is a system for making hard trade-offs among competing interests. And to make those trade-offs fairly and intelligently requires knowledge and experience. The surest way to empower special interests is to make government dumber. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Trump has proposed to do.

2) David Leonhardt on the disappearing American dream.

3) Great tweetstorm from Jay Rosen on the media under Trump.  Ominously titled, “Winter is Coming.”

4) Really interesting new research on the evolution of whales.  It seems that in addition to the question of “why did whales get so big?” is “why did smaller whales go extinct?”

5) Dahlia Lithwick and David Cohen argue it’s time for Democrats to fight like Republicans.  There’s something to be said for fighting harder, but it’s not too much of a democracy when both sides decide to ignore the norms of democracy.  That’s a quandary.

6) NC is one of only two states in the country that automatically charges 16 and 17-year olds as adults.  My representative and friend, Duane Hall, is fighting to change this.  He’s got the support of police and the Republican NC Chief Justice.  Hopefully, the Republicans in the legislature will go along in a rare burst of common sense.

7) Westworld was a really imperfect show, but I mostly enjoyed it.  Very much enjoyed this discussion with the creators about how video games influenced the intellectual design of the show.

8) NPR’s Kat Chow on all the meanings of “politically incorrect.”

9) Now that Star Wars is expanding it’s stories, like Rogue One, some additional story ideas.

10) Really interesting NYT magazine piece on the various efforts, via genetic engineering and other means, to make peanuts less allergenic:

But an unresolved question is how many of the 17 known allergenic proteins scientists can actually edit out of the peanut. Ara h 1 helps the seed store energy for growth, for example, while Ara h 13 helps fight off fungi. Researchers may discover that removing every allergy-causing protein may have the unintended consequence of destroying the viability of the plant itself.

11) Zack Beauchamp with how we would cover Russia’s election hack if it happened in another country.

12) In case you missed SNL’s Walter White to head DEA.

13a) Shocking, I know, but some on-line “bargains” really aren’t such bargains.

13b) And a related piece on how list prices lost their meaning.

If some Internet retailers have an expansive definition of list price, the Federal Trade Commission does not.

“To the extent that list or suggested retail prices do not in fact correspond to prices at which a substantial number of sales of the article in question are made, the advertisement of a reduction may mislead the consumer,” the Code of Federal Regulations states. The F.T.C. declined to comment.

“If you’re selling $15 pens for $7.50, but just about everybody else is also selling the pens for $7.50, then saying the list price is $15 is a lie,” said David C. Vladeck, the former director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “And if you’re doing this frequently, it’s a serious problem.”

Hey, that’s government regulation.  Bad!  Businesses should obviously be allowed to lie all they want.  That’s capitalism, baby!

14) We should probably think of obesity like cancer– a constellation of related diseases:

Dr. Frank Sacks, a professor of nutrition at Harvard, likes to challenge his audience when he gives lectures on obesity.

“If you want to make a great discovery,” he tells them, figure out this: Why do some people lose 50 pounds on a diet while others on the same diet gain a few pounds?

Then he shows them data from a study he did that found exactly that effect.

Dr. Sacks’s challenge is a question at the center of obesity research today. Two people can have the same amount of excess weight, they can be the same age, the same socioeconomic class, the same race, the same gender. And yet a treatment that works for one will do nothing for the other.

The problem, researchers say, is that obesity and its precursor — being overweight — are not one disease but instead, like cancer, they are many. “You can look at two people with the same amount of excess body weight and they put on the weight for very different reasons,” said Dr. Arya Sharma, medical director of the obesity program at the University of Alberta…

If obesity is many diseases, said Dr. Lee Kaplan, director of the obesity, metabolism and nutrition institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, there can be many paths to the same outcome. It makes as much sense to insist there is one way to prevent all types of obesity — get rid of sugary sodas, clear the stores of junk foods, shun carbohydrates, eat breakfast, get more sleep — as it does to say you can avoid lung cancer by staying out of the sun, a strategy specific to skin cancer.

One focus of research is to figure out how many types of obesity there are — Dr. Kaplan counts 59 so far — and how many genes can contribute.

15) If Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein say we should take trade deficits seriously, we probably should.

16) Paul Blest on how the NC legislative Democrats need to fight back.  I think he’s right:

So for Democrats, now is the time to stop being complicit in their own humiliation. Their votes don’t matter, so the best way to make their voices heard is to show solidarity with people who care deeply about changing this state’s reputation as a “testing ground for alt-right and ultra-conservative ideas” and protest alongside the

m.Legislators using protest as a tool would be nothing new this year. In March, North Carolina Senate Democrats walked out on the HB 2 vote, and in June, Democrats in the U.S. House staged a sit-in to force a vote on a (bad) gun control bill. For minority caucuses that are being bowled over by the majority, it’s a great strategy in that it garners media attention, which in turn helps North Carolinians who might not be totally aware of what’s going on. Maybe a few of them could risk arrest; after all, the sight of a few Democratic lawmakers getting hauled down to the police station would almost assuredly wake people up.

Would Moore be pissed? Sure, but who cares? The country is already watching, so let Moore ram his bills through a half-empty chamber, let Representative Paul Stam go on tangents about the seventeenth century to half-asleep Republicans, and—most important—let the entire country see how authoritarian North Carolina has become.

18) Drew Magary is back with his annual profane and hilarious hater’s guide to Williams Sonoma.

19) Excellent piece from Sarah Kliff who interviews a bunch of Trump voters in Kentucky who are oh-so-sure Trump would never actually take away their ACA health insurance.  Maybe they should have taken him seriously and literally.

20) I think I might have mentioned that I loved the movie “The Arrival.”  So good.  Read the short story upon which it is based, “Stories of your Life” with my son, David, this week.  As we all know, the book is usually better than the movie, but David and I both strongly agreed that in this case, the movie was better.  The short story was quite good, but that was really a hell of a screenplay by Eric Heisserer.

 

Map of the day

American communities decided by an algorithm using commuting data.  Cool!  Via Atlas Obscura:

American regions, based on commutes.

Quick hits (part I)

[Note: this was all written compiled before the latest Trump news]

1) Just in case you missed SNL’s debate parody.  Damn is Alec Baldwin a great Trump.

2) Vox on Trump’s money-losing casinos:

Ultimately, the story of Trump in Atlantic City looks a lot like a large-scale version of the story of Trump University.

In both cases, rather than offering actual education or hospitality management, what Trump offered was a name vaguely associated in the public eye with money and opulence. The casinos were not, in fact, well-run, and the “education” offered was entirely useless. But Trump managed to construct business models for himself where personal enrichment did not depend on the underlying soundness of the enterprise. As long as the music was playing and cash was flowing in and out the door, Trump managed to grab some.

Eventually, it came to an end. So after casinos came the university, the steaks, the water, the television show, the suits, and now a presidential campaign.

3) The four traits that put kids at risk for addiction. At least none of my kids seem to have more than two of the four: “sensation-seeking, impulsiveness, anxiety sensitivity and hopelessness.”

4) The debate on whether wild blueberries are more healthy than farm-raised.  I love the (always frozen) wild blueberries and have them with my cereal 8-9 months a year when fresh farm-raised blueberries are too expensive.

5) Your tax dollars at work in the war on drugs, headline captures it all, “Cop Spends 2 Months Working Undercover At Burger King, Nets 5 Grams Of Weed.”

5) Great news for my wife (seriously), “A Happy Spouse May Be Good for Your Health.”

But a new study, published in Health Psychology, suggests that physical health may also be linked to the happiness of one’s husband or wife.

Researchers used data from a survey of 1,981 heterosexual couples, a nationwide sample of Americans older than 50 whose happiness had been assessed periodically since 1992 using well-validated scales. They also completed regular questionnaires on physical health.

A person’s good health was independently associated with the happiness of his or her spouse. Consistently, people with an unhappy partner had more physical impairments, engaged in less exercise and rated their overall health worse than those who had a happy partner.

6) Chris Cilizza on Trump’s PA meltdown:

The Trump in that video is the exact opposite of presidential. The word that kept coming to my mind when I watched it was “nasty.” He seems mean, angry, vindictive. None of those words tend to be what people use to describe presidents.

Simply put: If you had questions before Saturday night about whether Trump had the proper temperament to hold the job he is seeking, it’s hard to imagine that you don’t have serious doubts today…

True character tends to be revealed when times are tough. Anyone can be magnanimous, happy and generous after a win. It’s a hell of a lot harder to maintain that dignity and charitableness after a defeat.

Trump has shown throughout this campaign that he runs well while ahead. His chiding of his opponents, his dismissiveness of the political press — it all plays great when he is on top of the political world.

But, last night in Manheim, he showed what we got glimpses of almost a year ago in Iowa: When he’s down, Trump is like a cornered animal. He lashes out — at everyone. That is when he’s at his most dangerous — to his own prospects and those of the party he is leading.

7) Fear leads to more support for Voter ID laws.

8) And nice piece from the Upshot on the social science reality of implicit bias.

9) Alex Wagner on the racism of Bill O’Reilly’s show.  (The Chinatown segment must be seen to be believed).  And the wonderfully profane Daily Show take.

10) So this is about how Washington bureaucrats are disdainful of typical Americans.  A key piece of evidence is this chart:

Ummm, but who would deny that “some” is generous for most of these policy areas.  That said, interesting reading.

11) Trump doing worse than Romney among white voters.  That spells doom.  Also, Harry Enten on how the declining level of undecided and third-party voters in recent polling is making Clinton’s lead safer.

12) How Donald Trump is creating conflict in NFL locker rooms.

13) Vox on the amazing rise of the Honeycrisp apple.  Yes, it is a good apple, but no way good enough to justify it’s super-premium price.  I prefer a good Braeburn, a good Cameo, (or the wondrous Suncrisps that I can only find at one vendor at the NC Farmer’s market).

14) No matter what the issue is, you know Trump will be “strong!”

15) 538 on the myth that Perot cost George HW Bush re-election in 1992 (I still have to semi-regularly swat down this myth).

16) I’m pretty sure I’ve written that I don’t actually object to “everybody gets a trophy” because the meaning of trophy has changed (liked the meaning of “marriage.”).  But, I still enjoyed this NYT debate on the matter.  Here’s the case against my take:

Trophies for all convey an inaccurate and potentially dangerous life message to children: We are all winners. This message is repeated at the end of each sports season, year after year, and is only reinforced by the collection of trophies that continues to pile up. We begin to expect awards and praise for just showing up — to class, practice, after-school jobs — leaving us woefully unprepared for reality. Outside the protected bubble of childhood, not everyone is a winner. Showing up to work, attending class, completing homework and trying my best at sports practice are expected of me, not worthy of an award. These are the foundations of a long path to potential success, a success that is not guaranteed no matter how much effort I put in.

I believe that we should change how we reward children. Trophies should be given out for first, second and third; participation should be recognized, but celebrated with words and a pat on the back rather than a trophy. As in sports as well as life, it is fact that there’s room for only a select few on the winners’ podium.

17) The economic challenges in widespread LED light bulb adoption.

18) Seth Masket on the stupidity of letting undecided voters decide debate questions:

We have a notion in our political discourse that the ideal citizen is one who is well informed about the issues of the day, approaches the candidates without any real preconceptions, and then makes a rational, informed decision about which candidate would best advance her interests and the nation’s. We also know from a great deal of public opinion and election research that this notion describes almost zero people.

Most voters are partisans, to one extent or another. They grow up with loyalty to one of the major parties, even if they never formally register as party members, and they perceive new information in ways that are generally favorable to their chosen party. Their knowledge of the political world may not be perfect, but it’s far better than that of independent voters.

 Actual independents just don’t follow politics very closely at all, for the most part. If they’re undecided between the presidential candidates, it’s in large part because they’ve tuned out and stopped receiving new information about them. And that’s fine. Undecided voters lead busy lives, like the rest of us, and unless they have reason to believe that their own individual vote will be pivotal (which is pretty unlikely), there’s little reason for them to be following the campaign that closely until right before the election. But there’s no reason for this indecision to give them an outsize voice in picking presidents.

19) The “Central Park 5” have been irrefutably vindicated.  Donald Trump is still sure they are guilty.  Because Donald Trump is never wrong.

20) In an interesting– but not the least bit surprising– finding, people who end up living in/near their hometown are much more likely to be Trump supporters:

So Trump has found a following among people who stayed home. One theory would suggest his supporters are sheltered: They haven’t encountered the world beyond what they knew growing up, and their support for Trump is potentially rooted in prejudice. You could also say these people are more in touch with their communities and are willing to dismiss Trump’s more incendiary remarks because he speaks to their news and those of their neighbors. Or both could be true. Either way, it’s a telling correlation. Hillary Clinton may have the hearts of the people who moved away. But way back home, they’re voting for Trump.

21) Among the Republicans endorsing Clinton, Homeland Security Secretary under GWB and former prosecutor of Hillary Clinton, Michael Chertoff.

22) Love Kevin Drum’s take on having learned nothing from having cancer.  Sometimes you just have a horrible disease, and it sucks, and that’s that.

23) Excellent Jack Shafer take on Mike Pence and “the year of disinformation”

Pence’s personal disinformation campaign is part of something much bigger this year. Political campaigns have always peddled bogus rumors and told lies in hopes that their mendacity will take root and hobble their opponents. These efforts don’t usually go very far because most reporters—even those of the pliant, gullible sort—resist being used by sources who traffic in lies.

But in campaign 2016 these disinformation efforts have become rampant, and they are gaining currency as never before thanks to the pick-up they’re getting from traditional media. Traditional media once shied from repeating stories they hadn’t confirmed, or that hadn’t been confirmed by their peers. But as so much of cable television has devolved from news to discussion about what people read in the news, that’s changed. It’s not that the old news gatekeepers aren’t doing their jobs. Most are. It’s just that the fences have been breached.

24) Why don’t we hear more from the Christian left?  Because it’s smaller and far more diverse than the Christian right.

 

25) Watched the “Wiener” documentary this week.  Riveting.  Couldn’t take my eyes off of it– like a car wreck happening right in front of you.

How the food gets made/Photo of the day

OMG, this NYT Magazine feature on the scale of modern industrial agriculture featuring photos and videos is just amazing!  The animal photos generally made me sad (and thinking I really need to eat less meat and dairy), so here’s a great shot of carrots:

Product: Carrots
Facility: Grimmway Farms’ Malaga facility
Location: Kern County, Calif.
Output: 25 million pounds of carrots per week

Grimmway is one of the largest carrot growers in the world. In this part of the Malaga facility, whole carrots are washed, sized and cut into two-inch “baby” pieces before passing through color sorters — where 360-degree high-speed cameras and sensors spot defective carrots and air jets push them off the line for use in juices or cattle feed.

Quick hits (part I)

1) We’ve got some gasoline shortages here in NC.  There’d be an easy solution– higher prices.  But instead of higher prices, anti-gouging laws prevent the marketplace from working and we end up not with costlier gasoline, but no gas at all.  Great old post from Mike Munger about the problem with anti-gouging laws that he re-posted this week due to the present circumstances.  Rob Schofield, whom I generally agree with, points out that we can expect conservatives to come out and defend price “gouging,” but does not actually provide any argument for why these laws do more good than harm.

2) Not at all surprised to find out that pit bulls have better temperaments than chihuahuas.  Small dogs are the worst!  Why would anybody own a terrier?  Yap, yap, yap.

3) A nice look at all of Trump’s business failures.  He’s a brilliant self-promoter.  He’s far from a brilliant businessman.

4) When interviewed, people in the restaurant and bar industry think we should all be tipping a lot.  When tipping is a major part of the employees wages, of course I tip decently.  But tipping is so stupid and needs to go!

5) Really interesting case heading the Supreme Court’s way on racial bias among jurors pitting the secrecy of deliberations versus the problem of racism.

6) Back when I was young and unwise and attended a top-ranked college, I thought college rankings were great.  Now I know better.  So does Frank Bruni.

One of the main factors in a school’s rank is how highly officials at peer institutions and secondary-school guidance counselors esteem it. But they may not know it well. They’re going by its reputation, established in no small part by previous U.S. News evaluations. A lofty rank perpetuates itself.

Another main factor is the percentage of a school’s students who graduate within six years. But this says as much about a school’s selectiveness — the proven achievement and discipline of the students it admits — as about its stewardship of them.

7) Apparently missing emails are a lot more important for Hillary Clinton than George W. Bush.

8) Drum makes the progressive case for Hillary Clinton.  I strongly concur.

9) A dental practice that totally passes the evidence test?  Sealants.

10) Very much enjoyed this take on “all/blue lives matter”

Dear fellow white people, let’s have an honest talk about why we say “All Lives Matter.” First of all, notice that no one was saying “All Lives Matter” before people started saying “Black Lives Matter.” So “All Lives Matter” is a response to “Black Lives Matter.” Apparently, something about the statement “Black Lives Matter” makes us uncomfortable. Why is that?

Now some white people might say that singling out Black people’s lives as mattering somehow means that white lives don’t matter. Of course, that’s silly. If you went to a Breast Cancer Awareness event, you wouldn’t think that they were saying that other types of cancer don’t matter. And you’d be shocked if someone showed up with a sign saying “Colon Cancer Matters” or chanting “All Cancer Patients Matter.” So clearly, something else is prompting people to say “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter.”

Many of the people saying “All Lives Matter” also are fond of saying “Blue Lives Matter.” If you find that the statement “Black Lives Matter” bothers you, but not “Blue Lives Matter,” then the operative word is “Black”. That should tell us something.

 11) The authors of this study suggest that this election could be bad for daughters no matter who gets elected:

Even if Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election in November, the 2016 campaign still could have profoundly negative consequences for a generation of girls exploring their own leadership potential. To be sure, electing the first female president would show American girls that women truly can overcome gender bias and win elections at the highest levels. But they will also have witnessed another truth: They will pay a price for trying.

It’s not just the price of hard work, or confronting the reality that many voters simply aren’t interested in voting for female candidates. It’s also discovering a presidential candidate chose one man charged with domestic violence to run his campaign and another accused of sexual misconduct to help shape its message. It’s a chipping away at women and their leadership potential throughout the campaign from all sides

That said, I think they are flat-out wrong and for young girls having a female president far outweighs the potential downsides.  Here’s results from their survey:

A 2014 survey conducted by Making Caring Common, the project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where we are, respectively, director and faculty co-director, found that girls in middle and high school already face biases against their potential leadership from boys and girls alike. In our survey, fully 40 percent of boys and 23 percent of girls stated an explicitpreference for male over female political leaders (only 4 percent of boys and 8 percent of girls expressed an explicit preference in favor of female political leaders, with 56 percent of boys and 69 percent of girls stating no preference). Our survey also picked up male and female bias against girls as business leaders, and we found certain types of implicit bias against girls’ leadership from students and from parents.

Those are concerning.  But I’m confident Hillary Clinton would do far more to shrink those gaps than enlarge them.

11) Hillary Clinton doesn’t have a Millennial problem so much as young Millennial problem.  The ones old enough to have voted for Obama in 2008 are alright.  Damn kids today!

12) Larry Bartels (pretty much always worth reading) on the media’s mis-placed obsession on white males in 2016.

13) Yet more evidence that student evaluations of college teaching really don’t tell us all that much.  Frustrating, personally, as I so much want to believe they do.  The present system does not seem to work well, but there’s got to be something better.  It’s sure not peer evaluations where all faculty are better than average.

14) Republicans are outraged (rightly) by the behavior of Wells Fargo.  Alas, they want to eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that uncovered the wrong-doing.

15) Excellent Dahlia Lithwick piece on a horrible 4th Circuit ruling on public prayer:

The reason legislator-led prayer is permissible, they argued, is because “the principal audience for these invocations is not, indeed, the public but lawmakers themselves, who may find that a moment of prayer or quiet reflection sets the mind to a higher purpose and thereby eases the task of governing.”

Predictably, the majority takes Justice Anthony Kennedy up on his claim from Town of Greece that only prayers which “denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion,” might cross the constitutional line, but anything short of prayer intended to “proselytize or disparage” must be OK. Even though, the “Christian concepts typically consisted of the closing line, such as ‘In Jesus’ name. Amen,’ ” the court finds that “these are not really Christian prayers.” The majority simply rejects that notion that multiple references to such Christian concepts might “convey the appearance of an official preference for Christianity.” Sigh…

To summarize, the mild sectarian prayer is not sectarian, and the aggressive sectarian prayer shows that non-adherents are too sensitive…

Perhaps we are past the moment in U.S. history where majorities can be persuaded that minority views are anything more than hypersensitivity, or that scoffing at these grievances will neither calm the waters, nor restore America’s former “greatness.” When we belittle others in Donald Trump’s America, it’s not just their alleged thin skin we’re dismissing. We are also signing off on using the machinery of government to marginalize disfavored groups from full participation in this country.

16) Sasha Issenberg in a nice interview says he thinks Trump’s lack of a ground game is going to hurt him.  I agree.  I think it quite likely Trump will under-perform his polls in a number of battleground states.

17) Interesting essay on Trump, Brexit, and cycles in human history from an Archaeologist’s perspective.

18) John Cassidy on reasons to believe Trump may not be paying any income taxes at all.

19) Arizona with the worst child molestation law ever.  As written, you are molesting a child when changing it’s diaper (unless you can pull off the trick without touching the child’s genitals).

20) Nice LA Times editorial for Clinton:

Perhaps her greatest strength is her pragmatism — her ability to build consensus and solve problems. As president, she would be flexible enough and experienced enough to cut across party lines and work productively with her political opponents. As first lady, she worked with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides healthcare coverage to more than 8 million children. As a senator, she was instrumental in persuading a Republican president to deliver billions of dollars in aid to New York after September 11. As secretary of State, she led the charge to persuade nations around the world to impose the tough sanctions on Iran that led to the landmark nuclear agreement, and she negotiated a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas…

Trump’s ignorance of the issues is manifest. He has called climate change “a hoax” and vowed to renegotiate the Paris climate accord. Obamacare would be repealed and replaced with “something great.” His signature proposal is to construct a wall along the southern border of the United States — and have Mexico pay the billions of dollars involved. Mexico, unsurprisingly, insists it will not. As for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally, they will either be rounded up and deported (though experts say that will cost billions of dollars, disrupt the economy, divide families and require massive violations of civil liberties) or perhaps some will be allowed to remain, living in the shadows.

Trump doesn’t take America’s global alliances seriously, he has cozied up to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and he has promised to bring back waterboarding “and worse.” His pronouncements, though vague and sometimes contradictory, raise the specter of an iron-fisted leader taking action based on gut impulses — rather than a president seeking common ground among citizens in a politically polarized country.

21) Chait annotates the NYT story on Trump’s debate preparation.  Good stuff:

If Trump is legitimately as stupid, lazy, and childlike as his advisers portray him to be, they should stop helping him get through the debate and instead warn America not to let him become president.

22) Catherine Rampell makes the case (with numbers) that Millennials will eventually come around for Clinton.  I think she’s right.

23) Eugene Robinson, “In America, gun rights are for whites only.”  Sadly, hard to argue with that.

24) Millennials really care about climate change.  Millennials disproportionately support Gary Johnson.  Here’s Johnson on climate change, taking the loooooooong view.

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, takes what he calls the “long-term view” of climate change. “In billions of years,” he said in 2011, “the sun is going to actually grow and encompass the Earth, right? So global warming is in our future.”

25) Your weekend long read– Andrew Sullivan on being an information addict and how it almost killed him (I resemble that information addict part, not the almost killed part).

Complain more!

Now, there’s no reason to be a whiner, but when your complaint can make a positive difference in how a company does business in the future, you should absolutely let them know.  Any decent business does not want unhappy customers and will take cost-effective steps when it can to avoid unhappy customers in the future.  Point this out to them in a polite way, and good businesses will respond.  Given my recent experiences, I can only conclude that far too few people complain, because when I do complain, businesses respond.

Remember how I was a victim of a scam due to carelessness on the part of TWC customer service?  Well, now TWC has a list of the official phone numbers for all the hardware providers their customers would want to contact.  Why, because I explained the situation to them.

Recently, I spent a wasted trip to my VW dealer to address my “check engine” light but it turns out my on-line scheduled appointment was for “express service” only, i.e., oil changes, etc.  There was nothing in the on-line sign-up to prevent this mistake from happening and I let VW know.  I got an email this morning that the service manager had spent hours talking to their on-line scheduling vendor to prevent this type of problem happening in the future.

Now, I cannot believe I’m the first TWC customer to get a bad phone number or the first Leith VW customer to unwittingly schedule an inappropriate express service appointment.  Yet both companies responded timely and appropriately, leading me to believe that I’m the first one to actually register a polite complaint to the appropriate management.

So, my clear conclusion: more people should complain more often.

How I got totally on-line scammed, but was saved by the dumbest password ever

So, I’ve been foolishly paying $8/month to lease my cable modem from Time Warner Cable.  I knew this was dumb, but ahhhh, only $8.  This week a friend told me his internet speeds went way up after replacing his modem.  Now that got me moving.  This Netgear cable modem got excellent reviews so I went with it.

I called TWC to authorize the new modem.  Didn’t work.  TWC provided me a number to call Netgear to help get it working.  Netgear guy just had me bypass the router, hook the modem directly to my desktop, and call TWC back on a conference call.  This TWC rep was smarter and did something different and got me connected.  Netgear guy stayed on the line to make sure my internet worked when I reconnected the router.  It didn’t.

He asked me to open a program (a legitimate citrix program) that would give him access to my machine for diagnostics.  I was not suspicious because 1) I thought I was talking to Netgear, and 2) I’ve done this before successfully with Dell technical support.  He ran through a bunch of stuff in Dos command windows that appeared to show my IP address was actually in Korea and that I had been hacked by a Zeus trojan.  It seemed weird that Netgear would care about all this and I started getting suspicious, mentioning I wanted to talk it over with NCSU tech support, etc.  He told me only a “level 7 anti-hacking expert” could fix this and nobody local would be able to help me.   Again, really suspicious.  Before I could get him off the phone, he told me he could fix everything for $300.  As I was asking questions I saw him quickly bring up a password box and enter a password.  Ruh-oh.  I asked him about this and he said it would protect from further hacking.  He told me my whole system was compromised– every device I use on the network and that basically only he could fix it.  He had me write a text file with info, including a number for him, but insisted I write his number down with paper and pencil, too.

I got off the call, rehooked my router again, and this time it was working (honestly, I think it just needed five minutes).  Quick FB message to a friend (thanks, MDG!) and it was pretty obvious this was a scam.  But what?  When I went to the command window, I saw that the last command used was “syskey.”  I realized that was it.  I was a victim of the syskey scam.  Once I restarted, the computer would ask for a password and I wouldn’t be able to do anything without it.  Except, of course, presumably call the malefactor and pay him $300.   Fortunately, the scammer did not ask me to reboot, so I was able to use my computer in the meantime.  I came across this and thought I had the solution.  Alas, it still needed the password!  I imagined that my entire Sunday would be restoring my computer (I at least found my backup DVD’s way easier than I expected).  Enough googling of “syskey scam” and it turns out that passwords of 123, abc, 1234, 111, etc., were really common.  I tried the first 3 of those with no luck and a falling heart.  But, then, 111, and success!  All the trouble this scammer had gone to and he locks my computer with 111??!!

So, it works, I’m good. I think.  How in the hell did this happen?  #1, my guard was way down because I was quite certain I was talking to Netgear technical support, since TWC had given me the number to call.  Alas, pretty sure I was screwed by TWC.  Google netgear tech support contact number and google pops up a box with 844-330-2330.  Yep, so that’s how TWC gave me the number.  And if you google the number, you can see all the different companies they are trying to use for this scam.

Anyway, that was kind of horrible.  One of the very rare occasions I benefited from a benzodiazepine before bed.  Like I said, I think I’m okay.  From what I can tell, this is the scam.  Just lock the computer.  I didn’t see anything on-line suggesting further iterations beyond this.  The bad guy has my MAC address for my modem and my actual IP (not the one in Korea), but I get the sense that there’s not all that much he can do with that as long as I’ve got a functioning firewall.  Of course, I ran a full Anti-malware and Kaspersky scan, too.

Anyway, tomorrow I will be calling TWC and stressing they need to be a lot more careful about the phone numbers they give to customers!  Oh, and my internet is exactly the same speed with the new modem.  At least it pays for itself in 7 months.

It was also a fascinating lesson for me in how easily I could be duped when I believed I was talking to a legitimate person.  In retrospect there were red flags all over the place, but when you think you are talking to Netgear, a red flag is more just a “that’s weird.”  I hope I learned a lesson from this, but I’m not sure.

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