Quick and Dirty GDPR Privacy Policy

For those of you weary of officialese:

While you’re using this web site, we may collect some Personally Identifiable Information about you, including your name, your *******, your ******* and optionally your ********, the ******** and ******** of all your close relations, and the height of your ******, which in some cases we might try to verify with a photograph. If you’re a citizen of the U.S., by the time you read this notice, we’ve already sold this information to Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and some guy who keeps calling from Florida and who’s really persistent. If you’re a citizen of the EU, we make all reasonable efforts to keep this information private. We usually store it in a *******, which we lock with a *******, and when we leave for the weekend, we wedge the whole ******** under a *******. You have to look really hard to even see that it’s there. New EU privacy regulations require us to tell you what we’re doing with your data, to which we say, “Not very ****** much, which is killing us, because that guy from Florida has promised to pay double for anything coming from the EU.” So we’re holding onto your data and will only turn it over to a third party if we’re presented with some pretty official language that says something like subpoena or ediscovery request or one of those really long, complicated UPS forms. By law, we’re required to respond to all requests from EU authorities, but we’re saying upfront that it’s possible for us to be duped by a fake but official-looking form from some—not naming any names here—second-tier EU Member States. As we all know, there are a lot of Member States and some of them have some pretty weird-sounding agencies. ******** has a Department of Cybersecurity, *******, and Fisheries. I mean, what the **** is that? And how can we tell if its request is genuine as long as it shows up in our P.O. box on heavy, cream-colored A4 stationery and with a stamp of some bushy-sideburned prince who probably met a bad end from machine-gun fire in 1915? You also have the right to ask for your data back. We try to teach our kids, ‘No backsies,’ but thanks to the GDPR, here we are. So if you’ve read this entire notice and you really, really, really cross-your-heart want your data back, do this. Call our main office during business hours and ask for Anton. The receptionist will know where to find him. But we’re just telling you up front: His English isn’t so good.

Silicon Valley Start-ups Seize Opportunities Created by Vatican’s Indulgence-for-Tweet Deal

VaticanWhen the Vatican announced that contrite Catholics could earn indulgences and shorten their time in purgatory by following the Pope on Twitter, I thought, “Indulgences? Now there’s one Twitter stat you can’t track in Hootsuite.”

Then I realized that, Silicon Valley being Silicon Valley, it wouldn’t take long for new start-ups to appear, seizing the opportunity created by this latest social media currency, the papal indulgence.

I made a few phone calls to my VC friends and compiled this list of start-ups jumping into the tweet-for-indulgence market before the incense has drifted away.


Founded by a couple of Stanford grads, this start-up is addressing an obvious problem with indulgences: metrics.

“We want to be your mobile dashboard for measuring indulgences,” says Rafe Lucatelli, founder and CEO. “People are following the Pope, but they’re always on the go. They’ve got their smartphones with them, so a mobile solution makes sense.”

Version 1.0, now in Beta, tracks indulgences and lets you post your purgatory status to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. “In line at Starbucks, followed 3 tweets and got 3 months closer to heaven! #Indulgences FTW!”

Version 2, scheduled for later this year, will measure sentiment in your social media feeds and estimate how many years you’re adding to purgatory through hateful, lustful, or slothful behavior.

“Let’s face it, you’re not just always drawing the balance of time in purgatory down,” says Lucatelli. “You’re also adding to it every day. We’re working with people who really understand sin—we’ve got an advisory board of local theologians along with a team of former Oracle engineers—to build a sin assessment engine that will give you a sense of just how long your wait in purgatory will be. My guess is, when you see the total, you’ll keep following the Pope’s tweets.”

Sin Qua Non

“Sin is the ultimate Big Data problem,” says Brent Hammacher, CEO of Sin Qua Non. “You’ve got billions of lives, a whole hierarchy of offenses—mortal sins, venial sins, white lies, press releases. There’s no way you’re going to track all that in a traditional SQL database. It makes what the NSA is trying to do look small. Which isn’t to say,” he adds, “that our friends in Virginia aren’t very interested in seeing what we’ve come up with.”

While start-ups like Indulgio focus on the individual consumer’s standing in the afterlife, Hammacher and his team are interested in moral corruption and redemption in aggregate. “Can you correlate expected time in purgatory with demographic data like zip codes and professions? We think you can,” says Hammacher. “There are some obvious spikes with cohorts like BMW drivers and members of Congress, but some of our other early projections have surprised us.”

An Indulgence Transformation algorithm might be able to wipe a lot of these slates clean. Again, Big Data and virtualization turn out to be key.

“If one user following one tweet on one device earns one indulgence, what could an entire server farm of virtual Twitter instances associated with a single Twitter account do for a sinful but proactive person in the twilight years of his life? Would certain high-net-worth individuals be interested in paying for this type of premier service? We know they would.”


Details on this start-up are murky. Funding has come from some of the marquee names in the Valley, and development is taking place off shore.

One unnamed investor told me this: “Look, what the Pope has done here is push the reset button on the Reformation. It’s 1300 again, but now we’ve got Facebook. How might things go differently this time?”

For example?

“3D printing. In the Middle Ages, people collected relics, but there could only be one femur of John the Baptist. With 3D printing, there’s no limit to how many penitents can have the same femur. It’s like the multiplication of loaves but with much, much bigger upside. If Leo X were still around, I’d hire him as my VP of Sales.”


Not everyone in the Valley is thrilled by the Vatican’s new foray into social media. Hunkered down in a little apartment in Milpitas, a former Breitbart intern and blogger who goes only by MLuther has been posting pointed diatribes against the Tweet offer and other Vatican practices in a Tumblr he calls “95 Problems and a Tweet Ain’t One.” On bulletin boards, he’s been flamed.

“We should have this wrapped up in thirty years,” he says.

(Photo Credit: Creative Commons License, Some Rights Reserved by dlsrtravel)

Downton Abbey Seasons 7, 8, and 9 (Excerpts)

Downton Abbey

If, like me, you were stung by the disappearance of major characters in the course of Season 3 of Downton Abbey, perhaps will find some grim enjoyment in the following.

Season 7, Episode 1.

After the dramatic cast attrition that began in Season 3, picked up speed in Seasons 4 and 5 with a swallowed champagne cork (Mosley) and bad oysters (three Crawleys, Mrs. Patmore, and a couple of unnamed kitchen staff), and reached a horrific crescendo in the final episode of season 6—the unforgettable crashing chandelier (“the body count of Granthams and Crawleys in the drawing room at that moment brought to mind the corpse-strewn stage in the final moments of ‘Hamlet'”—The Guardian), this new season begins on a quieter note. Carsons continues to be exasperated by the whirring gears (all right, the turning gears) of a new can opener. Lady Mary and Branson have now moved to separate wings of Downton, meeting only in the evening to claim their children from the nursery, where of late young Lady Sybil is playing soldier with her cousin, young Matthew “Ponsy” Crawley. While the children use building blocks and a toy pop-gun to re-enact the Easter Uprising, a different, far more sinister mischief is playing out in town: someone is clipping off all the rose blooms in local gardens. Believing that these matters should be dealt with a firm hand, Lady Grantham proposes flogging the commoners.

Season 7, Episode 4.

If you are among the viewers who have found the empty rooms and Beckett-like silences of this season a tad dispiriting, you will rejoice or at least take heart at the arrival of previously unmentioned Crawley cousins from across the pond, even if they are played by Britney Spears and Adam Sandler.

Season 7, Episode 7.

On a misty morning, the town constable catches the elusive rose thief in action. A magnificent 12-point buck makes a quick breakfast of three magnificent blooms of Variegata di Bologna before bolting over a hedge-row. Still adamant about obtaining a confession, Lady Grantham suggests flogging the local fauna as well as any itinerant Catholics.

Season 8, Episode 2.

Branson survives his drinking binge, and good news for the coffers of Downton arrives in the form of a job offer for the flush-faced heir as a local sales representative for Jameson’s. Lady Mary’s absence from the cast is hardly noticeable as her letters continue to arrive from India. Meanwhile, Carsons summons the courage to watch one of the new talking pictures that have created such a stir in town, though he ends up exasperating other audience members when he berates the onscreen kitchen staff for their slovenly service.

Daisy gets a tattoo.

Season 8, Episode 5.

The rumors bruited in Entertainment Weekly are, alas, true. The actor hired to wear front half of the deer costume in the role of the rose thief seems to have optioned out of his contract at the end of Season 7, and now we’re getting only glimpses of the back half of the animal—which explains the sometimes puzzling placements of garden walls, delivery trucks, and that restless tinker with the sandwich board. Since no gentleman would ever shoot a prize stag from behind, this four-legged marauder seems destined to live on at least until the next round of negotiations with the actors’ union.

Season 9, Episode 4.

Granted that of all the Granthams and Crawleys, we’ve seen only Branson for the past two episodes, and the actors playing servants seem to change abruptly every few scenes. But the intrigue of the show continues as Branson struggles to meet his sales quota with Jameson’s while unraveling the mysteries posed both by Mary’s letters and some cryptic postcards from New York, which as one astute viewer has noted appeared prominently two seasons ago on Antiques Roadshow.

Season 9, Episode 7.

Despite its longeurs, the season reaches a highly satisfying conclusion when Carsons beats the Adam Sandler character to death with a poker.

A rousing finish to this epic tale.

Photo: Creative Commons, some rights reserved by JBUK_Planet

Global Recession? Blame the Poets

NOTE: I wrote this in 2010 and posted it on open.salon.com. Thought I’d post it here, too.

I was sitting in a dark Irish pub in Portsmouth the other night, the dinner rush past, the place emptying out, just a few people here and there hunched over their pints, while Celtic fusion music blasted from the high oaken beams. At the next table sat a spry little man with short gray hair and a trim goatee. He was shabbily dressed: faded dark cotton turtleneck, dungarees, running shoes. A large leather bag on his table disgorged a heap of papers, which he was steadily working his way through. He’d pull out an envelope, rip it open, read its contents, and scribble some notes in a battered spiral notebook. Rip, read, scribble. Repeat. He muttered as he worked. His face was weathered, but his eyes beamed with an impish delight. He smiled to himself between gulps of his Guinness.

“Ho ho!” he exclaimed suddenly, sitting upright with such force that the long bench we were both perched rocked and swayed. “Oh no, you sly old dog! You scoundrel! I’m not going to publish your little villanelle. Oh, it’s a nice enough piece, as usual, but you caused the global recession!”

He chuckled to himself, tossed the paper aside, and sipped his stout.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I couldn’t help overhearing. Did you just say you weren’t going to publish someone because he caused the recession?”

He turned to me, beaming and bemused. Probably a bit drunk, I decided. He nodded.

“So you’re the editor of a poetry magazine?” I asked.

“That’s right.”

“And you received—”

“Uh huh.”

“So can I ask who the author is? Robert Rubin? Phill Gramm?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“Alan Greenspan, then? Dick Fuld?! Did Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers send you a poem?”

“No, none of those guys are poets, so far as I know. They all read poetry, of course, but they don’t write it.”

“Then who?”

He named a name. I didn’t recognize it. My benchmate, who introduced himself as Jerry, explained that the poet in question was a middle-aged gentleman, decently respected in literary circles, probably best known for his work in the creative writing program at a small East Coast college. These days his work is mostly published in chapbooks put out by small regional presses; it’s been decades since he’s been published by a major New York house. Anything else? Paunchy. Gray frizzled hair. A heavy smoker. Twice divorced. Probably on the wagon again, which is a good thing. Pretty much your run-of-the-mill academic poet. Hardly a household name. For now, I’ll just call him Harold.

“And this Harold—he caused the world’s economy to melt down?”

“It was mostly his doing. Yes.”

“How in God’s name did a mere poet—”

“A mere what?” snapped Jerry. “Remember whom you’re talking about. Ever read Shelley? The Defence of Poetry? The last line: ‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.'”

“A fine sentiment, but—”

He pounded his fist. “Not a sentiment. Reality.”

“But how? So few people read poetry these days. Now if you had said rock stars and movie stars—”

“I’ll lay it out for you.”

He was already drunk, but in the course of the next few hours, we would both consume countless more pints, quaffing Guinness as though it were a balm for our fevered minds, our spinning heads, our jabbering tongues.

That big leather bag seemed bottomless, and from it Jerry produced chapbooks, bibliographies, newspaper clippings, and more scribbled notes.

He laid out his case as though he were a practiced trial attorney. Poets, he said, had always ruled the world, and they did so now, but in a quiet way. He showed me news clippings from mid-century in which headlines trumpeted, for example, the disapproval of well known poets for nuclear weapons.

Fine and good, I countered, but poets seem to have lost that influence now. The press might interview Brad Pitt about New Orleans or Madonna about Africa, but when was the last time you saw Louise Gluck or John Ashbury quoted about health care?

“We’re just working underground,” he said. In the early seventies, there was a joint effort to write an epic piece, a sort of William Blake-meets-the-Rand Corporation type of screed, but the authors intentionally stifled it . “Once Watergate came out, we decided not become a distraction. It just wasn’t the right time for a major new epic that would sweep readers off their feet and paint an entirely new destiny for humankind. Besides, some of the rhymes schemes were really hard.”

So the poets fell back, hunkered down, and they’ve been working in the shadows ever since. And Harold, our frizzy-haired, absent-minded poet, a man seen puttering on college greens and losing his way among library stacks, a fussy man known for his fondness for Herrick and diet cola, has been quietly and diligently poetizing to become nothing less than the Alexander of Our Age.

Imagine my skepticism. But Jerry drew a line down a paper and asked me to name the major events of the past 30 years. I rattled some off: the end of Communism, the growth of the Internet, the First Gulf War. You can imagine the list. Then Jerry dug in his bag and produced a stack of chapbooks, all written by our friend Harold, and all purporting to address these major events six months in advance. The correspondence was uncanny.

Even the real estate bubble of the past decade had been sung of by our paunchy, doddering swan. I read sonnets about interest rates and couplets about closings. And I even skimmed a minor epic titled Prometheus under Contract.

Jerry shifted uncomfortably. “Like a lot of people, Harold got swept up in the real estate thing,” he said. “I can’t say this is all his finest work.”

I can sate all man’s desires
With these re-fi’s in Fort Myers.

No, probably not. But apparently Greenspan lapped it up.

“All right, then” I said, my addled mind struggling to muster counter-arguments. “You’ve shown me that Harold wrote about all this. But if he’s so powerful, why haven’t I heard of him?”

“Because if you had heard of him, he would be acknowledged. Remember what Shelley said: poets are the unacknowledged legislators. Unacknowledged. Nobody knows.”

“Fine, but then how do they legislate?”

“With these,” he said, holding up a chapbook. “Look. You’ll see.”

He reached again into his bag and began pulling out photographs, big and small, color and black-and-white. You’ve seen these photographs, because they’ve run in newspapers and magazines and on television. They show presidents and prime ministers, statesman, senators, congressman, U.N. officials, surgeons generals—the whole worldly, powerful lot. And in every picture, unnoticed by me until Jerry’s crooked, leathery finger pointed it out, was a chapbook, or a copy of American Poetry Review, or Poetry magazine, lying on a desk, or peeking out of a valise, or being held, right there in Angela Merkel’s sweaty hand, while she shielded her eyes from the sun.

“How do I know these haven’t been Photoshoped?” I asked.

Jerry spluttered. “Because these are poets we’re talking about! Have you ever seen what poets do with Photoshop? Just look at some of these chapbook covers!”

Point taken. Professional grade forgery was out of the question. Except for one photo: an old snapshot of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Jesse Helms reading from the selected poems of Adrienne Rich.

“Yeah, that one was probably tampered with,” Jerry conceded, “but the rest are real.”

All right. So this doddering poet named Harold is ruling the world, and there are bunch of other poets also making their own contributions. But Harold is at the top. He probably made some good old-fashioned filthy lucre from all this unacknowledged legislating. What did he do with it?

Jerry looked sheepish. “Well, keep in mind, these are poets we’re talking about.” He shuffled his feet, drank from his pint glass. “Harold . . . Harold bought a sweater.”

“A really nice sweater,” he added. “Not one of those sweaters that you can buy from L.L. Bean or Macy’s. An extraordinary sweater. You know the kind where it looks like it’s made from six or seven different sweaters torn up and sewn together? They used to be quite fashionable with wealthy people in places like New York and San Francisco about fifteen years ago. Harold bought one of those. No one on campus had seen anything like it. He looked dazzling. Completely transformed!”

“That’s all he bought?!”

“It’s enough. More than enough, really, because the other poets thought he was showing off, parading like a peacock in his multi-colored sweater at readings and faculty meetings. People said things. Cruel things. They whispered in front of him. Harold became self-conscious, as poets are wont to do. He embarrasses easily, you know. So he took to wearing a trenchcoat over his sweater. Which makes him very warm. But at least he gets to wear his sweater.”

My head was spinning. I took a deep drink, and my eyes just happened to light just then on Jerry’s leather bag, which bore an embroidered patch representing the flag of a major European country.

“Er, yeah,” said Jerry. “I was hoping you wouldn’t notice that. This is an official diplomatic pouch. We must have gotten them mixed up the other night. It’s about the same size as my bike messenger bag, and the contents of the two are more or less the same.”

Contents more or less the same?! Foreign diplomats carrying poetry chapbooks?! The room seemed to lurch.

Jerry seized my shoulders. He pressed his florid, grizzled face close to mine. “Dan Brown’s got it all wrong,” he hissed. “The secret societies that rule the world are not Masons or Knights Templar. They’re poets! Poets, do you hear me?!”

“For thousands of years,” he said, “poets have been singers of the human song. In any society, they’re its most articulate writers. Every society on earth has music and poetry. Language is just as important as it ever was. The human heart remains troubled and longing. Of course poets are this world’s leaders! How could it not be so?”

He turned away and whimpered. “How could it not be so! How could it not be so . . . ”

The room shifted. Lamps extinguished. Closing time. I felt my feet carrying me.

We were on the street, assailed by a bitter wind. Market Square in Portsmouth was nearly deserted. A couple of harsh spotlights shone on the white steeple that soared into the night.

I had something in my hand. It was Harold’s latest chapbook, Aubade to Thrace, which has precipitated the financial and political crisis in Greece. I curled the chapbook tightly. I held it close to my pants and tried to slip it in my pocket. I wanted to study it. I wanted to learn what else was about to happen in the world. What did the future hold for economies, disasters, and wars? Which countries would topple? Which would rise? I shifted on my feet, shielding the little book with my leg.

Jerry was staggering over to the little white ticket kiosk. He gave me a half-hearted wave, then lifted up an old black bicycle that had been lying on its side. It was a battered, old thing, just the sort of dilapidated contraption you would expect to be ridden by an aging, solitary poet who spends evenings stapling together a local poetry magazine in his apartment. Jerry raised his leg halfway over the seat and stopped. He lowered his leg. He stood.

“You still don’t believe me,” he said, glaring at me with a drunk’s belligerence. “I can tell. You don’t. Well, watch this.”

He laid down the bicycle. He walked to curb. He stood there, just stood there, gazing stupidly up the street. He closed his eyes, opened them again . The cold wind whipped around us.

“I want to go home,” he said. He spoke loudly. “I want to go home now.”

I glanced about. The square was still deserted. It was late, probably midnight. Who was he talking to?

Headlights appeared. A car turned the corner. It came gliding along Pleasant Street, a long, black limousine with tinted windows, and halted a few feet from Jerry. The driver, a burly, close-shaven man in a suit, sprang out and came scurrying around the front of the car. He opened the passenger’s door and stood at attention.

“Good night,” said Jerry, disappearing into the car. A moment later, they drove off and turned onto Congress Street.

Somebody bumped me, I nearly toppled to the ground. A big guy in a black wool coat, slacks, shiny shoes, was barreling along the sidewalk. I recognized the type. In Washington, D.C., you see such people standing around the cars of senators and judges, and walking warily through public squares, eyeing the crowds. This guy, a real hulk, stormed up the street and vanished at the corner.

But why did he have to bump me? There was plenty of room for both of us on this broad swath of sidewalk.

My hand twitched. I wasn’t holding Aubade to Thrace any more. I looked around me. I spun around, looking and looking. The chapbook was gone.


I woke next morning with an awful headache. I had the sensation of having inhabited one of Shelley’s visionary poems like Queen Mab or The Triumph of Life. What visions had unrolled through my mind! Was the night with Jerry simply a mad dream?

My wife found me in the living room, huddled in a blanket by the TV, switching channels from C-SPAN to CNN to PBS. I saw politicians, generals, bankers, doctors, and other experts talking about the great matters of the day.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m looking any sign of poetry. I’m looking for any sign that today we are being somehow guided by the wisdom of the ages, that we have learned something, remembered something true and beautiful and everlasting that has been set down before. I’m looking for a sign that we understand human desires and the horrors of war, which have been faithfully recorded for millennia. I’m looking for some indication, any indication at all, that we remember anything other than our own impulses and cravings, and that in some way, we hold this world and everything in it in reverence.”

“Well, good luck with that,” she said.