The Apprentice, first episode

My initial verdict for Season 5: most boring season yet. Everyone seems to have watched the previous shows and know the routine. They're all well-manicured and strategic, except the people who were specifically chosen because they're not well-manicured (or maybe that's just one, awkward Brent).

Tarek, who looks like Orlando Bloom, should have just coasted on his looks but instead makes all sorts of petty moves. It should have been obvious right from the beginning, when he announced he was a Mensa member, which sounds like a symptom of insecurity.

Perky blonde Allie, the other project manager, doesn't come off that with-it either, wondering why she chose Brent for her team when we had just seen that he was picked last.

Lenny, the Russian from New Jersey, who's clearly watched the show, gives Summer very good advice before the boardroom, which is to keep her mouth shut and let other people dig their own holes, advice she takes for a short while before ignoring.

(By the way, I feel like I've seen Lenny, aka Lenny Val, somewhere before in real life, like at a party or something. Does anyone know who he is?)

(Spoiler alert) Summer is fired, but she doesn't seem apologetic about any of the "mistakes" she had made, which gives the strong impression that she wanted off the show anyway. Which recalls the old quote that, according to a web search, was made by Eugene McCarthy and is about politics and football: "You have to be smart enough to know the game and dumb enough to think it's important."

Don't get me wrong, I'll still be watching.

Another band off the playlist, or (surprise surprise) Western Europe is screwed

Mark Steyn has another one of his well-written but increasingly-depressing columns, this one about how the Jews of Europe are once again taking up their role as "canaries in the coalmine" for a coming disaster in Western Europe and, possibly, the Middle East:
In five years' time, how many Jews will be living in France? Two years ago, a 23-year-old Paris disc jockey called Sebastien Selam was heading off to work from his parents' apartment when he was jumped in the parking garage by his Muslim neighbor Adel. Selam's throat was slit twice, to the point of near-decapitation; his face was ripped off with a fork; and his eyes were gouged out. Adel climbed the stairs of the apartment house dripping blood and yelling, "I have killed my Jew. I will go to heaven."

Is that an gripping story? You'd think so. Particularly when, in the same city, on the same night, a Jewish woman was brutally murdered in the presence of her daughter by another Muslim. You've got the making of a mini-trend there, and the media love trends.

Yet no major French newspaper carried the story.


A lot of folks are, to put it at its mildest, indifferent to Jews. In 2003, a survey by the European Commission found that 59 percent of Europeans regard Israel as the "greatest menace to world peace." Only 59 percent? What the hell's wrong with the rest of 'em? Well, don't worry: In Germany, it was 65 percent; Austria, 69 percent; the Netherlands, 74 percent. Since then, Iran has sportingly offered to solve the problem of the Israeli threat to world peace by wiping the Zionist Entity off the face of the map. But what a tragedy that those peace-loving Iranians have been provoked into launching nuclear armageddon by those pushy Jews.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the Kings of Convenience. I've mentioned before that I stopped listening to Belle and Sebastian after I found out that some of the members were publicly pro-Palestinian. Well, more recently I stopped listening to Kings of Convenience too, for similar reasons (if you don't know who they are, they're a Norwegian folk duo who are somewhat indie celebrities). Well, it's not on any of their released albums, but on his solo album, Erlend Oye, one of the two "Kings", has a track called "Every Party Has a Winner and a Loser", basically describing the goings-on at a typical party: one line reads "one Jew that no one invited". I was shocked to hear it, because the line pretty much comes out of nowhere, and as far as I know they've never mentioned any other ethnic group by name on any of their songs. In the absence of any other information, and given what I know about Europeans, I'll have to assume that the two are bald-faced anti-Semites. Maybe someone will at some point do a PhD thesis on the surprising correspondence between uber-sensitivity and anti-Jewish feelings (terrorist-sympathizer Cat Stevens also comes to mind, as does, for the one American example, Michael Jackson). In any case, talk about confirming an entire stereotype with one line: the preening, poncy Euro-boy who wouldn't hurt a fly and is also a casual anti-Semite.

Which, to take up Steyn's point again, sounds too bad but not like any sort of crisis: after all, it's not like newly-pacifist and wussy white Europe is going to start up rounding up Jews again. That's true, but when his country gets overrun by Muslims who themselves like to kidnap Jews or, to take another example, like performing gang rapes, forget about an adequate response from the locals: Mr. Sensitive European doesn't even have the vocabulary to express his disapproval.


Sort of a project description

So this marks the end of my second week of working for myself. Still going well! I'm back at 'sNice now. So - I figure I should give some more info on what this betting site I've been working on is all about.

The initial inspiration for the site came from reading James Surowiecki's 2004 book "The Wisdom of Crowds". Just hearing about the book, I knew it tapped into something that had been bouncing around in my head for a while, having thought about the Iowa Electronic Markets and my own inherent anti-elitism, my bias that the idea of getting the "smartest guys" together to figure everything out is usually just a recipe for failure, whether it's in business or politics. To me it's an extension of my libertarianism. So, anyway - I found out Surowiecki was doing a book signing at a Barnes & Noble's in Manhattan, and I went to see him talk and got my signed copy. The talk was great, and so was the book (I recommend it to anyone), and it got me thinking about the ways that people can currently tap into collective intelligence, and the obstacles that still exist; that's when I got the idea for this site. That was about a year and a half ago; I've been working on it in one form or another ever since.

One other inspiration was Thomas Malone's "The Future of Work", also from 2004; I found that book doing a bit of research into other people's views on collective wisdom. It's about how organizations are restructuring themselves based on the falling costs of communication. The ideas in it inspired some tweaks to the basic site concept.

So there you have it - betting for knowledge aggregation. I'm lucky to have found a project that satisfies both my technical and socio-political interests; who knows if that'll happen again. I'm not revealing the actual structure of the site yet, but to my mind it's just a few pretty obvious logical steps from the premise.


Quick hits

I'm back, a little bit - somehow I thought that quitting my job would result in more free time. Turns out that now I have less free time than before! I'm a little surprised by this.


Next stop on the wi-fi tour

I'm at "Postmark" now, the newest wi-fi-enabled cafe spot in Park Slope. They have a bunch of postcards on the walls. Some By the way, yes, I have an internet connection at home, but I like getting out of the house.

Yesterday was a little hectic because of Valentine's Day preparation and, uh, implementation - my valentine and I went to Smoke, on the Upper West Side (or what some people call "SoHa"), to see a Hammond-B3-organ-based jazz quartet. It was pretty awesome. What a nice neighborhood, too.

Other than that, I've been pretty much just working on my project. It's a little strange - even though I obviously have a great deal more free time than I did before, I feel like I have less, because what I'm working on is engrossing in a way that what I was doing at work rarely was to me. Too bad about that income reduction, though.


Day one

I'm spending the day at a cafe in the West Village, "'sNice". All vegetarian, with wi-fi access. There are a lot of other people with laptops here. I'm getting a bunch of stuff done. It feels a little like early 2001, although I get the sense people are doing real work this time, instead of just surfing on Monster.com or whatever. Prognosis for my first day "on the job": so far, so good.


Phases and stages

[later than I thought it would be... Blogger's been down most of the day]

Lots of excitement today... today was my last day on the job here at, uh, Mega Finance Corp. (as I've sometimes referred to it). I submitted my resignation two weeks ago, so I've sort of been sitting on the news since then, maybe for no good reason, but anyway, now you all know. I'm going into business on my own now, working on completing the web site that I've been at work on for a while and have mentioned once or twice here (more info on that later). I've been at this one banking job since I started blogging, a little over two years ago, so I'd imagine it could lead to some changes in my online presence too.

I'll still be in New York, probably working at home in Brooklyn, along with hanging out at wi-fi cafes around the city. I don't expect my general schedule to change all that much, really, but we'll see. I may have worn my last tie in a while. Although I've sort of gotten attached to wearing them, so maybe not.

Anyway, goodbye cruel corporate world, and all of that. On to the next episode.


It's always something

I find this Mohammed-cartoon controversy bizarre yet predictable. Predictably bizzare, I should say. Israelis are used to this kind of gross disparity between cause and effect, like the idea that Ariel Sharon visiting the Temple Mount caused three years of Palestinians blowing themselves up. Something doesn't quite add up. Or, more generally, that Israel is somehow a heavy obstacle to hundreds of millions of Arabs who have never met an Israeli or a Palestinian in their lives. So these new riots, with their widespread destruction colorful signs are out of the same playbook. What's that you say? You're setting buildings on fire because some drawings of the prophet were published in a newspaper you've never heard of? Oh, of course. What, they were published not last week but five months ago? Well, no wonder, makes perfect sense. As always, the real issue is frustration with the squalor, tyranny and welfare-state-dependency (pick the ratio depending on the country) they're living in. Which is not an excuse, just an explanation. Burning the flags of the Great Satan, the Little Satan or the Satan-Who-Makes-Havarti is the only sanctioned outlet for that intense frustration, so they grab at that with gusto. The fact that some of the riots were planned and orchestrated in advance is fully to be expected.


Overheard in New York - highlights

I guess a lot of people read this site already, but I was just reading through it, and I thought these were hilarious:

Two ways of looking at things

I can understand this one thanks to Petitedov

I think Chainik Hocker would appreciate this one

Karol would appreciate this one

I think Paul would appreciate this one

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