Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Letters from a false prophet

Click to read
a letter from a false prophet.

Dear Dave Over the past several months I’ve been getting letters from someone who calls me “Dave.” If you know me at all, or if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that my name’s not Dave. Now my getting letters addressed to “Dave Lauri” is at least partly my fault. You see it was a test, and someone’s failed it.

I did something a bit deceptive. I filled out a form online requesting a “miracle spring water and debt cancellation kit,” and I did so using the name “Dave Lauri.” The kit did arrive, accompanied by a letter with all sorts of fancy instructions, promising me an end to all my debts, so long as I did the right voodoo with the water and especially so long as I showed my obedience to God by sending back a small financial token, even if I had to borrow more money to do so.

An example of the hocus pocus God is supposedly calling me to do



Of course God commands me to send money

 

The deceptive part, besides my using a name I never use, is that I knew I’d be asked to send money, but I never intended to do so. Yet despite my never having sent a single cent, I keep getting letters from my new friend, who makes all sorts of promises, so long as I follow his crazy instructions, which, coincidentally, always seem to include sending him money.


Peter Popoff, a false prophet
Who is this new friend that knows me so well that he understands my needs and can promise such big changes in my life? Why it’s none other than (false) Prophet Peter Popoff.

Despite having a direct line to God, (false) Prophet Peter doesn’t know that I’m not Dave, that I don’t need debt cancellation, and that no matter how many wacko letters he sends me, I’m never going to send him any money.

I guess (false) Prophet Peter operates using the same principle that SPAMmers do, which is if you send out enough junk, there are enough suckers out there who’ll respond to make it profitable.

What a way to make a living, though. Prey upon the “hurting people around the world” and see how many you can con out of their money. No wonder Christians in general have such a bad reputation.

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

E-mail from a hurting person

I got an interesting e-mail today, and reading it I assumed it was probably from one of the “hurting people” helped scammed by Peter Popoff, the false prophet about whom I’ve recently written.

However, checking the IP address from which the e-mail originated and my web server’s log, I see the person who e-mailed me had been googling Wayne Delatte, another false prophet about whom I wrote back in 2004.

Sent: Wed 3/9/2011 1:25 PM
Subject: romamns chapter1&2
From: Jimmie D..... (not Delatte)
To: David Lauri

lovemeourleavemeGOD LOVE ALL BUT HE HATES SIN,YOU WERE NOT TALKING TO MY DAD YOU WERE TALKING TO GOD.THE FATHER OF HIS CHILDREN AND EVERY ONE IS NOT HIS CHILDREN,JUST TO LET YOU KNOW,YOU MUST REPENT,AND THAT'S FOR ME YOU AND YOUR MOMMA,ANOTHER THING JUST CAUSE YOU WON'T SEND MY DAD IN THE LORD ANY OF YOUR MONEY,THAT SAYS IN GOD WE TRUST,ONE MONKEY DON'T STOP NO SHOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!HOLLAR!!

Can you imagine making a living accepting money from folk like Jimmie? Can you imagine how many people like Jimmie it would take to make a decent living?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Jello Mold Mistress Anita

My friend and co-worker Anita aspires to be a Jello mold mistress. Perhaps, like me, you’d never heard of such a position before now, but there are indeed such people, one of whom, the Jello Mold Mistress of Brooklyn, is for Anita a role model.

Last week Anita brought a, to put it politely, interesting Jello concoction involving gelatin and 7 Up to work for us to try. We were game and tried it, but the consistency wasn’t quite right. Vintage copper mold from eBay
Vintage copper mold from eBay


Anita's fabulous second jello mold creation
Anita’s fabulous second
Jello mold creation


Anita presenting, and almost dropping, her jello mold
Anita presenting, and almost dropping, her creation
It was a good first attempt, however, and wanting to encourage, rather than discourage, Anita’s creativeness, one of us gave her a recipe for a pineapple Jello mold, also involving 7 Up, and I, without Anita’s knowledge, procured a vintage copper mold from eBay as a surprise for her.

Armed with the new recipe and the new old mold, Anita was ready for her second attempt, which turned out fabulously. Click on the image below if you want to watch the unveiling:
Anita unveiling her jello mold creation

Anita’s not quite the Jello Mistress of Dayton yet, but she’s started her journey!

Thursday, March 24th, 2011


Great restaurant,
beautiful but user-unfriendly website
Today I went to lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, Meadowlark, and this morning, in anticipation, I went to their website to take a gander at their menu. Unfortunately, the Meadowlark’s website, a work of art by Living Pixel Design, merits an entry in my Web design (bad) category.

Why, you might ask, given how beautiful the site is.

This box is the same size as the functional area of Meadowlark’s website

Should I jam all the text of my blog entry into a box this size?

I suppose it wouldn’t hurt if the point of my blog entry were to show off some fabulous photos.

It wouldn’t hurt either if visitors coming to my blog wanted to see the pretty pictures and didn’t care about reading the text.

I will admit that Meadowlark’s page is beautiful. It’s just not very functional.

To answer that question, take a look at the site, either at the screenshot below (which you can click to zoom) or at the actual website:

The screenshot, from my admittedly big ass 1920x1200 monitor, has a helluva lot of wasted, but beautiful space. Look at the functional area of the Meadowlark website, the brown rectangle divided even further into a changing collection of pretty photos on the right and a scrolling column of text on the left. How big would you guess that functional area of the Meadowlark website to be? Actually there’s no need to guess—look at the CSS for Meadowlark’s website, at the entry that says:

#main {
  margin-left: 600px;
  margin-top: 0;
  width: 818px;
  height: 600px;
  background: transparent
  url(http://www.meadowlarkrestaurant.com/images/container.png) 0 0 no-repeat;
}

and you can see that the functional area of Meadowlark’s website has been intentionally limited to an area that is only 818x600. Look further at the CSS (for the “scroll-pane” entry) and you’ll see that the meat of Meadowlark’s website—the part that displays their menus, their specials, their news—has been intentionally limited to an area that is 480x330!

Imagine my frustration that to see what’s for lunch today at the Meadowlark I have to scroll through an area that uses about 5% of the available space on my huge ass monitor!

Now, sure, web designers today shouldn’t design websites assuming that everyone has 1920x1200 monitors, but according to w3schools.com, most people today are using computers with screens that are 1024x768 or higher. 480x330 is still less than 25% of a screen that’s 1024x768. My cell phone, a Motorola Droid, has a screen bigger than 480x330 (its screen is 854x480).

Do you go to restaurant websites to look at photos or to read menus? If the Meadowlark were an art gallery (primarily an art gallery, that is—you can find interesting art on sale there, none of which is showcased on their website), then sure, limit the text area and put the focus on the art.

Perhaps I’m the only one of Meadowlark’s customers who goes to their website to try to read the text of their menus. If that’s the case, why bother putting the menus online at all?

(Lunch, by the way, was delicious, as usual. I had a cup of potato soup and some scrumptious macaroni and cheese made with “true Swiss Gruyere, sharp Cheddar and just a smidge of aged French blue cheese.”)

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

A rabbi tells my church to listen for truth from conservatives

Rabbi Irwin Kula
Rabbi Irwin Kula
If you’re a regular reader of my blog or if you’re familiar with the church I attend, Cross Creek Community Church, you know that over the years we’ve had quite a few rabbis come to talk to us. It’s become a tradition of sorts for us to invite a rabbi to talk to us during Advent (read about rabbis who spoke to us during Advent in 2009 and 2006), but this weekend we invited a rabbi, Irwin Kula, to come to speak to us for Lent.

Rabbi Kula lives in New York City but has developed some Dayton connections through teaching a class at United Theological Seminary where he influenced Ruth Hopkins, one of many Cross Creekers who have gone to seminary there. Ruth brought Rabbi Kula’s book Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life to the attention of Cross Creek’s pastor, Mike Castle, who ended up incorporating teachings from the book in the sermons and liturgy for Lent in 2009, and many Cross Creekers read Yearnings that Lenten season. Because of those connections, Rabbi Kula is back in Dayton this weekend for Cross Creek’s latest weekend intensive; he gave a talk this evening after a chili supper and will be back to preach at both services tomorrow morning.

I have to confess that I was not one of the Cross Creekers who read Rabbi Kula’s book in 2009, and despite the many references to Rabbi Kula’s writings in Cross Creek materials from 2009, he didn’t make a big impression on me then. It’s not that I disagree with what he said; I guess I just wasn’t paying attention.

This evening, however, I appreciated what Rabbi Kula had to say, and I think I can pass the test Rabbi Kula’s son might put to me—Rabbi Kula shared several anecdotes about his family, one of which is that his son often travels with him as he lectures around the country, but people don’t realize who his son is, and if his son hears someone saying to Rabbi Kula, “I enjoyed your talk,” his son will ask that person, somewhat mischievously, “Oh, really? What did Rabbi Kula say?”

A great deal of the first part of Rabbi Kula’s talk, which had been billed as being on “Tradition and Change: Reimagining Religion in the 21st Century,” was helping us to understand the state of religion in the United States in 2011, and much of what he told us wasn’t surprising. The fastest growing religious segment in America is “None,” and that’s not atheists but spiritual people who don’t identify with any religious group. People don’t feel obligated to follow the religious practices of their parents. Rabbi Kula used the metaphors of cathedrals and bazaars for how people used to get information on religion and how people get that information now—people used to have beliefs handed to them in cathedrals, buildings whose price of admission was buying the beliefs being sold in them, but now people search for wisdom from the many booths in a bazaar (one that, unlike markets on the streets of old European towns, doesn’t have an anchor store in the form of a church at its center), and if the wisdom being sold at your booth doesn’t make sense—real practical sense, the effects of which people can witness—people will move on to other booths.

Rabbi Kula then tried to explain why people search for wisdom, and, given his Jewish background, I didn’t find his mentioning the Jewish concept of tikkun olam unexpected, but instead of translating it in the way I’d heard before, repairing the world, Rabbi Kula described it differently, as “repairing the soul.” That’s not so altruistic. “Do[ing] less damage,” another reason Rabbi Kula gave towards the end of his talk for seeking wisdom, is important too, but we seek wisdom to make our own lives better.

 

What Rabbi Kula said next about this 21st century search for wisdom was something I really hadn’t expected and indeed heard very skeptically at first. Locate
the partial truths
our opponents have
What he said was that an important way to find wisdom is to locate the partial truths that our opponents have.

Now Rabbi Kula made it very clear that he’s pretty progressive; beyond being willing to come talk at a Christian church pastored by an openly gay man, he was also explicit about advocating for the acceptance of LGBT people in his Jewish circles. So, although Rabbi Kula wasn’t just talking about the gay issue but any issue with multiple sides, my mind went immediately to how unlikely it would be that those who say I’m going to hell for being gay or that God hates me for being gay or that I can change my being gay could have any truth on their side. And I did something somewhat rude and blurted out a question about just how little these partial truths we were supposed to find could be. Rabbi Kula had confessed during one of his initial anecdotes that he himself finds it difficult to control his impulse to blurt out exactly what he’s thinking sometimes, so I hope he understood my lack of impulse control. At any rate, he took my question seriously and diverted temporarily from the planned path of his talk to give an answer I found very helpful.

The partial truths that conservatives or fundamentalists have in our society’s culture war turn out not be so small after all: the truths they have are related not to the remedies they prescribe for our society but have to do with the diagnoses they’re making about our society.

For example, sexuality is messed up in our society. The specific example of this, pointed out by Rabbi Kula and discussed some afterwards by the assembled group in the appointed question and answer time, is the hypersexualization in our society of young women from their teens to early twenties. Conservatives aren’t wrong when they say this is a problem. What they think should be done about it—oppressing women back into traditional roles, stopping acceptance of alternative sexualities, etc.—is wrong, but the problem is real, and liberals can find wisdom by acknowledging it and talking about it. Rabbi Kula modeled this talking about this particular problem by sharing an anecdote about a situation his daughter, working amongst liberal artsy folk in a NYC gallery, found herself in.

Other areas in which conservatives have some partial truths are in the ideas that sacrifice and discipline and aggression can be necessary, although, again, not necessarily in the ways conservatives might advocate.

This seeking wisdom by locating the partial truths our opponents have pertains not only to large groups of strangers but also to individuals whom we know and love, love being the operative word. Rabbi Kula, sharing some anecdotes about his relationship with his wife, said that we should not seek to understand our opponents so that we can then love them but rather that we should love our opponents in order to understand them.

That should ring a bell for Christians, shouldn’t it? Rabbi Kula’s not the first Jewish teacher to tell us the importance of loving our neighbors. He’s just the first one, at least that I’ve heard, who frames it not as a belief—“Thou shalt love thy neighbor”—but who offers it as a method for finding wisdom—by trying to love your opponents, by cooling down the rhetoric, by listening, you might understand them and gain something for yourself in the process.

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

A reply to The New York Times

I received an email from The New York Times this morning—presumably because three days after the launch of their new paywall I’ve already read twenty articles—offering me what The New York Times logo
No, New York Times, I won’t pay
more than it costs for physical delivery of a printed newspaper to have digital access
they must think is a great deal on unlimited access to NYTimes.com. Yes, the world doesn’t need any more blog entries on the Times’s paywall, but I did feel it was worth sharing the old-fashioned snail-mail letter (with their new pricing structure they seem to be in favor of home delivery) I mailed to The New York Times declining their kind offer. Also, scroll down to the bottom of this blog entry for a fine trick for stealing access to NYTimes.com.

March 30, 2011

Customer Care
The New York Times
PO Box 217
Northvale NJ 07647-0217

Dear Sir or Madam:

I received your email telling of an introductory offer of just $0.99 per week for the first four weeks for unlimited access to NYTimes.com, and I have to say that I’m not impressed. After the first four weeks, you would want me to pay $3.75 per week or $195 per year. I appreciate The New York Times, but I will not pay that much, for two reasons.

The first reason is that you include unlimited access to NYTimes.com with your subscriptions for home delivery of your printed newspaper. For 45405 you charge $3.70 per week for Monday–Friday delivery of the paper, which works out to $192.40 per year. Why would I pay $2.60 more per year in order to get something of lesser value?

The second reason stems from the first reason, which is that a digital-only subscription, without home delivery of a printed newspaper, would save The New York Times money?you would not have to pay to print newspapers to deliver to me, nor would you have to pay to have those printed newspapers delivered to me?yet you do not seem to want to share any of those cost savings with me.

I do not know what it costs to print a copy of The New York Times and to deliver it to a subscriber, but I do know what I’m willing to pay to subscribe to The New York Times, and that is $1 per week. Perhaps you’ll never offer an unlimited access digital-only subscription to your newspaper at that rate because so many people will be jumping to pay the rates you’re asking, but if you ever do decide to offer such a subscription at $1 per week, let me know. I’ll sign up.

Sincerely,
David C. Lauri Jr.

So have I given up on reading The New York Times while I wait to hear back from them about my counter offer? No, of course not.

I have uninstalled my New York Times Android app from my Droid because there’s no working around it, yet, but I and countless others are stealing access beyond the twenty free articles a month The New York Times is offering.

How? By using a bookmarklet called NYTClean. After installing it, whenever I go to NYTimes.com and click on an article after I’ve read my twenty free ones, they pop up a DIV on top of the article begging me to subscribe, and I hit <alt>B N (b for Bookmarks and N for NYTClean) and the NYTClean bookmarklet obliterates the nag DIV.

Should I feel bad for stealing from The New York Times? Perhaps. Their publisher compares it to “pass[ing] a newstand, grab[bing] a newspaper, and [...] running” without paying for it.

A publisher who doesn’t want his newspapers stolen shouldn’t leave them out on the counter of a newsstand with no attendant However, given the way The New York Times has chosen to implement their paywall, a more accurate analogy would be comparing their paywall to a newstand that has no attendant at all but just a jar by the papers on the counter for payments on the honor system and thus no need for thieves to run.

When someone who’s exceeded the allotment of twenty free articles requests another article, The New York Times could have set up their website to show only the article’s headline and a link to subscribe. Since they’ve instead decided to send the full text of the articles, covering them with an easily circumventable DIV, it’s practically an invitation to steal.

I doubt the paywall will stay as it is for long. Perhaps I and others are wrong and there are enough people willing to pay what The New York Times is asking. It seems more likely instead that either The New York Times will batten down their hatches and deny access to those who won’t pay what they ask or that they will adjust their prices. I hope they do the latter. I’ll pay something reasonable, I really will.

 
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david@davidlauri.com