Competing Magics and Fiction Conditions

Leaving my mid-Manhattan hotel to write at the Starbucks across the street: almost a smart idea.

Almost because: it is blasting Christmas music on November 29th. An impossibly young-sounding baby wails from the lower level trying to make its discomfort heard over the louder wail of festive saxophones.

I hear you, kid. I hear you.

Headphones are an option for me of course. One I’ve chosen. But there’s a problem: I’m primed to attend to underlying patterns and background stimuli. With that priming background music pops out from behind whatever I have playing.

I attend to the background. It’s a defense mechanism since that’s where my comfort lies. Conversations filter through even as I try to meld into the wall. Festive saxophones switch out for playful trumpets and well-meaning crooners intruding on my playlist.

Every time Christmas comes around I end up thoughtful about the period when Christianity overtook Paganism, especially through Briton eyes. The pagans saw it as a landscape of competing magics, according to archaeologist Barry Cunliffe among others. That war all but ended as Saint Patrick defied tradition to light the signal fire on the Hill of Slane first – rather than that on the Hill of Tara, as an insult to the primacy of the pagan nobility of Tara.

Magics never stop competing. They change and morph and adapt – or they’re not magics. More than fifteen hundred years after Patrick’s king-of-the-hill game I am surrounded by the recent trappings of his faith – now manifested in a jolly piano tune about travel, snow, something about a fire. The front window of this Starbucks is pasted with holly and mistletoe decals. Someone somewhere is upset that my coffee cup is red and lacks overt deference to the upcoming holiday.

Most people don’t give a shit.

Magics never stop competing, especially in New York City, I’ve found. This is my second trip here in three months – and the twenty years before that. The personal enterprise and entrepreneurship on display still hasn’t ceased to amaze me. Every corner in Manhattan someone else trying to make it work, but even more than that, trying to make it look like it’s working. The appearance, the display, the forward-looking optimism that whatever magic they’re weaving is working. That the mere portrayal that it’s working adds to its arcane power and future momentum.

British writer Warren Ellis recently charged an audience to act like they live in the Science Fiction Condition – “like you can do magic and hold séances for the future and build a brightness control for the sky. Act like you live in a place where you could walk into space if you wanted.” Britons have excelled at that kind of projection for ages. They used to toss all manner of weapons, coinage and other riches into various lakes not just as religious tribute but as a forward-looking projection of how they wanted deceased to appear in the afterlife. Not to indicate current status – but to display their own sort of Fiction Condition even to the gods.

And as magics go, so this went – the conquering Romans later sold interests in British lakes to entrepreneurs looking to recover their riches. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords may be no basis for a system of government, but it seemed to work fine as a basis for speculative investment. It can’t be any sillier than the securitization of mortgage clearing-house fraud that exploded in 2008, anyway.

Paradigms change – entire worldviews – and we’re all still looking to show the future how great we are there, even if we’re not quite there yet.

Someone a few tables over is talking about an app they’re building. The speakers are promising good times to come through happy, sentimental jazz. I’m maintaining my own Fiction Condition for the moment.

And still wondering what lake to drain for my treasure.

Review: Coming Out Like A Porn Star

Just finished reading my nineteenth book of the year, Coming Out Like a Porn Star: Essays on Pornography, Protection, and Privacy edited by Jiz Lee. On its face the book consisted of, as the description says, “personal stories of porn performers “coming out” to family, friends, partners, lovers and community.” Beyond the immediate experiences of that were intricate, complex portrayals of identity and self that quickly serve to shatter the stereotype of shallow or uneducated porn performers and sex workers.

In part the book serves as a new call to justice – a rallying cry for an end to the stigma around such sex work. The book itself is performative – as Dr. Mireille Miller-Young notes the history of Stonewall and similar acts as “the mounting awareness and activism of a new generation of queer people who did not wish or were not able to keep their sexual and gender identities and expressions “in the closet.” They bravely defied abuse by eschewing the tactics previous generations of queer people employed to survive harassment.” Careful to explain she’s not drawing an equivalency between sex work and racism, sexism or homophobic oppression, Miller-Young emphasizes that “these oppressive forces overlap and intersect in important ways” and such work has begun “claiming visibility as a tactic for gaining freedom.” The essays therein serve a dual purpose – some make bold, unapologetic, damn strong arguments for the destigmatization of sex work.

Others simply and heartbreakingly examine the penalties society levies for engaging in such work. Cyd Nova laid out one of the clearest and most stark visions – stalking, disownment, firing or objectification and estrangement. Nova condensed the threat of coming out perfectly: “This is the real grip of the painful coming-out narrative. It interrupts the concept that certain types of love are unconditional. In our society, it is considered acceptable for someone’s family to decide to take away their love for their child because of a choice they make.”

Emma Claire provided a related poignant moment in explaining how even less-harsh family narratives served to hurt more than help. ‘I heard, “We will love you no matter what” when I came out as a woman, which kind of sounded like I did something wrong rather than, “I have unconditional love for you and celebrate you.”’

So many other good points were made throughout the book. Tobi Hill-Meyer’s calling out of the ways porn is treated differently, as it’s criticized for rampant sexism while so much more popular media and even “educational” material got a pass. Both Tina Horn and Milcah Halili Orbacedo joining Jiz Lee in highlighting that their activities in porn were products of informed, negotiated consent and control, pleasure and performance combining with the personal agency long mythologized as absent from sex workers. AliceInBondageLand on getting into porn because she couldn’t find any that represented her identity. Zahra Stardust on how sex workers are “not a walking research project to appease the voyeurism and sexual tourism of middle-class careerist professionals who want access to our sexual communities while avoiding stigma and protecting their reputation” – something that struck me I had spent most of the book doing, to my discredit.

The other theme that struck me as both important and lovely were the ways in which contributors wrote about their own identity. Identity’s a funny thing with me as I’ve been through many of them over my thirty plus years, less sexual than existential, and multiple essays spoke to that idea in incredibly eloquent ways. Gala Vanting’s loving exploration of her “multi-whore identity” as central and normal, capped off with “What if I concerned myself more with coming in to me than on how best to come out to you?” Hayley Fingersmith’s incredible description of wearing masks. James Darling’s countless coming-outs amidst a certain amount of holding back. Lorelei Lee on truth and names.

There is no better topic to end on, I think, than the hopes and wishes of authors in Lee’s ‘Coming Out Like a Porn Star.” Amidst their past hurts and elations, alongside how they carry themselves presently, many covered how they’d like dialogue to continue. How they want to see it – or how they are consciously trying to shape it through they way they live. Which goes back to Miller-Young, destigmatization and defying a culture that requires sex workers to adhere to victimhood and shame. Lee’s own point about not subscribing to spectrums of shame, that “it doesn’t help to throw other kinds of porn or sex work under the bus,” stands out. Andre Shakti’s commonsense approach to treating “a supposedly radical issue (queerness, nonmonogamy, atheism, gender nonconformity) with the same nonchalance as you would a less controversial topic (accounting, marriage, cooking, the weather).” Drew DeVeaux on recognizing that porn stars, trans folks and others are not only recipients of care or services but also providers – that they have agency, goddammit. They not only play important, active roles in their own lives but those of many others as well.

(I spent ten minutes on that last sentence – “but those of” threw me off, which is sort of the point. How do I articulate that sex workers or other marginalized people are a massive force in the world at large without using a marginalizing term like “mainstream society?” Or by using “but those of many cisgendered folks as well” suggesting that services towards cisgendered folk are inherently different, in a separate category? I am so new to all this.)

To sum all this up bluntly – Jiz Lee’s “Coming Out Like a Porn Star” allowed me to enter a lot of personally painful areas of those involved with no threat to myself, other than to my preconceived notions. The essays were not just accessible but often brilliantly written and covered depth I hadn’t even conceived of surrounding the issues involved. I recommend it to everyone. Five stars, no bullshit.

I’ll leave off with one of my favorite quotes of the book, from Cinnamon Maxxine: “Fuck that. Fuck them. Do you.”

Errata: iPhone hack bounty, Unclaimed Dead, Fire Ant Swarms, Nanoparticles, Cancer-killing Viruses, more

Million-dollar bounty paid out for iPhone hack.

Fascinating article from the Journal of Forensic Sciences: “Who are the Unclaimed Dead?

Fascinating Motherboard article on the liquid properties of fire ant swarms.

Emergent Futures relaying studies on the neurological aspects of mystical and mysterious experiences.

The runaway billion-dollar JLENS blimp was finally downed thanks to hundreds of shotgun blasts from Pennsylvania police.

Engadget: HTC has begun refusing to offer guidance on its corporate future. Also, Seattle cop who developed transparency-oriented software has left the force, apparently due to departmental politics.

Also Engadget: how medicine-covered nanoparticles could help stroke victims.

Ars Technica on cancer-killing viruses.

Errata from today

Great few days of random stuff on the internet. A gourmet sampling for you:

Great Salon piece by Mary Elizabeth Williams on the new Star Wars film showing an aged Carrie Fisher as an aged Princess Leia, and how much of a departure that is for Hollywood.

The most breathtaking moment in the new trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” trailer doesn’t involve explosions or lightsabers or ominous references to the Dark Side. It’s an eyeblink-long shot of Princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher, in the embrace of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. It’s a moment of a weary-looking woman with graying hair and lines on her face. Holy science fiction, Hollywood — somewhere, in a galaxy far, far away, a grown woman has been given permission to look like a grown woman. I want to go to that planet!

Lots more quotable passages in that piece, but go read it yourself.

That porn playing over the PA systems in Target? Was a result of both a technological and personnel weakness where pranksters called stores and requested a specific extension that gave them complete control over the PA remotely.

Insecure wifi-enabled tea kettles allow researchers to crack the password of the networks they’re connected to.

A hummus joint in Israel is offering a 50% discount to tables with Arabs and Jews sitting together.

Incredible TEDtalk by Martin Pistorius on his experience with locked-in syndrome. His early experiences are as close to hell as I can imagine. Tremendous respect for the person he is.

And via Jamie Ford’s facebook, “Ursula K. Le Guin’s reaction, when asked to blurb a short story collection with no female authors.”


I am the problem

Saturday night I figured out the problem: me.

It came up in a conversation with my good friend Jennifer Austin, a font of knowledge and my go-to on all things Hollywood and Broadway. I consider myself a progressive guy and in that context consistently bemoan the lack of diversity in content creation. Not just writers but actors and even characters. I find myself significantly worried about the people underrepresented in primary content roles. The conversation centered around Jennifer Lawrence seeking equal pay to her co-stars, something I absolutely support. I wondered if a ground-level consumer could affect that landscape, or if it was a top-down issue to be worked out between actors, writers, agents, lawyers and more. But the answer is clear: consumers matter because consumption matters.

Which means the problem is me.

The content I choose to consume is overwhelmingly by and about white men. While I try to choose stuff that reinforces a progressive narrative, I’m still unwittingly subverting that narrative in the real world by refusing to engage with media in a targeted way. I choose media that speaks to me and my experience – and don’t often consciously seek out work by women, or people of color. I don’t shun it. But reviewing the movies and shows I’ve watched lately, and especially the books I’ve read, a change is needed. Because if I want to support diversity in content creation vocally, I have to walk that walk as well. I have to move outside my bubble and seek content far outside my typical scope.

A principle reinforced this morning by another conversation with another good friend, Ola Jacunski (one of the many reasons I’m so thankful for my friends is their willingness to tolerate my questions, ponderings and philosophical fumbling toward making myself a bit of a better person). Ola’s an even more voracious reader than I and she’s made a point this year to look for books by these same underrepresented groups. We spoke about how that’s going, and it spurred me to look at my own “To Read” list – which is more or less curated via my Amazon wish list for now. And the truth spoken by that wish list was bleak: out of over a hundred books waiting to be read, less than ten percent were written by anything other than a white male.

I’m an ecclectic reader – mostly but not exclusively nonfiction, and everything from hard physics to business and economics to philosophy and technology. And it struck me as I scrolled through the list that it’s not as easy as just buying books from different authors. While there are many non white-male authors covering the stuff I read about, I realized I need to change the content I look for. I have to change what I read about.

I can’t call myself a progressive and just read books about white men, whether they’re by underrepresented authors or not. I need to cast my subject net much wider, create a much more inclusive criteria. If I want to support a more diverse creatorship I need to explore a more diverse world. This truth underscores the narrow nature of my life experience and there’s a primal lizard-brain part of me that wants to react defensively to that. But I recognize that kind of reaction (thanks largely to meditation), I acknowledge it and I let it go.

The white male narrative is also popular, I’d guess, because it’s the only one that many white male consumers can imagine themselves in. But it’s time to grow up and realize that as invested as I get in stories, they don’t all have to revolve around me (or a proxy-me) anymore. And maybe if I engage with a more diverse world my own world will be so much more rich for the experience.

In weighing my content preferences against my desire for progress, the latter needs to win. So I need to change. I am the problem but the solution does not revolve around me. I need to start focusing on movies and television shows written by women or people of color, with a diverse set of actors and characters and narratives. I’ll use my consumer dollars as well as whatever voice I have to emphasize to Hollywood, to publishing houses, to new media outlets like Netflix Originals: diversity matters to me at every level. AS DOES EQUALITY OF PAY. And not only will I pay for content in line with these principles, I’ll damn well withhold my money from outfits that don’t serve them.

I hope you’ll join me.

Thoughts on the First Democratic Debate

Watched most of the first Democratic primary debate last night in spite of planning not to. I did miss an opening statement or two as I turned it on just in time to see Bernie’s. Sanders came out damn strong and I was glad to see it – and I should note before going much further that I’m incredibly partisan for Bernie Sanders and that will no doubt inform my comments in a particular way.

I found Sanders to be the only candidate on stage who expressed passion for anything other than his own record. Clinton continuously reinforced the idea that she had been chosen for this or that role and the things she accomplished in them. O’Malley painted an incredibly whitewashed, inaccurate view of his time in Baltimore. Chafee emphasized his lack of scandals.

Wait – I missed one. Jim Webb expressed passion about something other than his record as he talked about killing a man. Right.

Right now the pundits are saying that Hillary Clinton won last night. I am flummoxed. Clinton hit mostly right notes but in a disconnected, dispassionate way. She seemed for all the world like a technically proficient pianist playing a master work note for note and yet without any understanding of the work or its accompanying emotion. Her debate answers consisted of a paint-by-numbers exercise that included none of the artist’s zeal. The performance underscored for me the idea that Clinton believes she should have the nomination in hand by virtue of her presence. Her answers on Snowden (lock him up) and capitalism (hey, we can make it good! and small banks are worse than big banks) struck sour notes with me. Her revisionist portrayal of Russian cooperation with Medvedev as president entirely pretended as if Putin didn’t exist or have any power at the time and ignored multiple atrocities Russia committed during that period.

One of the most interesting questions of the night also constituted Clinton’s biggest failure to me. “Which enemy are you most proud of?” elicited a list from her, ticking off boxes one after the other, well-rehearsed: “Well, in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies…the Iranians…. probably the Republicans.” Clinton’s answer is incredibly problematic on a few levels: first of all, there are a hell of a lot of perfectly nice Iranians (nearly eighty million) that she’s lumping in together, rather than specifying the Iranian regime. That’s not the message to be sent – especially to a population with a median age of less than thirty years old that knows, as Tariq Ali once said, only the reign of the ayatollahs. The second problem with Clinton’s answer is that it betrays a worldview of enmity and aggression (largely consistent with her portrayal across news articles as well as several books I’ve read) that doesn’t seem to be serving us well in leadership positions. I don’t want a Commander-In-Chief that approaches most situations in a way eerily similar to George W. Bush’s “you’re either with us or you’re against us” crap.

I found Sanders’ answers to be consistent with views he’s held for a long time and consistent with mine as well. His answer to the enemy question: Wall Street and Big Pharma, two topics close to my heart. His answer on the biggest national security threat had me cheering: climate change. Sanders unflinchingly, unhesitatingly called for the end to bulk communications collection by the NSA. His exchange with Clinton over capitalism highlighted some of the major differences between them: Clinton’s established record of working with and getting money from Wall Street, and Bernie’s absolutely passionate defense of democratic socialism. Again, Clinton came off technical while Sanders reminded me of a career civics teacher passionately trying to get students to buy-in, learn and involve themselves in the process.

I wish Sanders had taken a stronger line on Snowden rather than agreeing with the “he broke the law” silliness and mumbling about the effect mitigating his crime a little. Snowden deserves to come home without charges.

Last night felt like O’Malley lobbied hard for a VP spot he’ll never get and doesn’t deserve. He answered several questions by talking about how good he had been for Baltimore, something I’ve seen challenged in every camp possible so far. O’Malley couldn’t even bring himself to refer to a homicide as such, instead explicitly referring to “Freddie Gray’s tragic death” in just those words. His anti-NRA stance felt underwhelming, perhaps in the midst of the credibility hit he took in my head over Gray and Baltimore.

Chafee felt like a non-entity, another smiling face behind a podium without a hell of a lot of substance or passion.

And then there was Jim. Jim Webb’s performance I can only interpret in perhaps the context that the burger I ate a few hours prior maybe had moldy cheese with psychoactive properties and caused me to hallucinate each time he appeared. Jim Webb is the kind of guy Hunter Thompson was built for: an old ghost trying to gather enough substance to be a Jungian archetype while half his mind is still back in a war decades past. At various points I found Webb repeating the sad, false Republican trope about gun control advocates all having bodyguards; advocating immediate military force against China; and complaining multiple times, bitterly, about not being in the spotlight. He struck me as the kind of guy I’d never want to sit next to at a bar, never want to have a beer with, and never want in my party. Indeed, as David Corn pointed out, I identified most of Webb’s stances with Rand Paul.

And of course there was Webb’s answer to the “which enemy are you proudest of” question: an enemy soldier from his old war that lobbed a grenade at him. Webb implied that the man’s death followed. We’ve got a “presidential candidate” in a Democratic primary debate bragging over killing a man in Asia mere minutes after advocating war with China. Whatever kind of debate prep Jim Webb engaged in should’ve involved psychotherapy.

As is clear from my comments above, I think Sanders won. Clinton had a strong technical showing that never the less reinforced why I don’t believe she’s a preferable or viable candidate. O’Malley made things up, Chafee stood there, Webb should’ve been in the other debate instead.

Feel free to share your thoughts below.


I’ve spent most of my life deep-diving through various subjects. There are few ways now to blow me away. I won’t say “I’ve seen it all before” but I’ve at least pondered it, rolled most of it around in my head, felt the intellectual consistency of most things.

I spent Saturday night being blown away.

My wonderful actor friend Jennifer Austin invited me to accompany her to Hamilton – An American Musical. I’m not by nature a “musical guy” – Hamilton marks my first-ever Broadway show. While the creativity of musicals interested me I felt no calling to or skill in music and so didn’t follow the field much. But Jen saw Hamilton previously. She linked me to a video of the writer/composer/actor Lin-Manuel Miranda performing one of the tracks at the White House and her passion for the show quickly infected me and I was thrilled when she invited me along.

So for the first time in twenty years or so I found myself in New York City – not a small thing, I should mention, since I’m significantly crowd-averse. Dealing with both depression and anxiety often lead me to prefer curling up at home and the anxiety in particular likes to flare up in crowds and off my home turf. But the various bits I’d seen about the show were enough to convince me to make the trek.

As stated above, Hamilton marks my first-ever Broadway experience. I don’t know the right terminology for various things I’m about to talk about, but even if I did I’m not sure I’d be able to find the right words to express it all. So bear with me.

Hamilton – An American Musical is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work inspired by Ron Chernow’s book. With painstaking accuracy it follows founding father Alexander Hamilton from his arrival in the Americas all the way through and after his death. And it’s an incredible, sophisticated, well-engineered, clever, heart-rending and laugh-triggering work of genius. Quickly-paced, Hamilton leaves no unused moments in the narrative flow and yet manages at several points to double-back on itself in incredibly creative ways, strengthening dramatic moments by highlighting earlier foundational ones without any sort of storyline disruption. The times when storytelling edges towards nonlinear are few but percussive – designed and carried out to multiply emotional and cognitive impact.

I’m entirely new to musicals but storytelling is an old, old love of mine. And I spent the first half of Hamilton three rows back, jaw dropped in awe and wonder. Second half repeatedly holding back tears. Hamilton utilized a great mechanism by which each emotional part was followed up not necessarily by tension-breaking humor but often by an expression of inner strength that fortified the character involved – and me. The show intended, then, not to break you but pull you deeper into each moment. No cheap temporary thrills or sads but organic and personal, each a load-bearing narrative thread helping hold together the entire woven story.

The end arrives on a note of extreme emotion and strength, the rising up of a female character and her conscious and consensual contribution, indeed what ended up being the genesis of the story that we have now, as she sublimates powerfully deep and compounded grief into action. Very natural but very purposeful efforts were taken to ensure the many female roles were at least as complex and developed as the male ones, something still rare in storytelling and so all the more appreciated.

Nothing was simple about Hamilton and yet it stood on so many moments of simplicity. Particular smiles and gestures, familiar drives and weaknesses, the nearness and distance of characters, even just the presence of a box to stand on. A stage that rotated in two directions sending characters in their own revolutions (or counter-revolutions). The ubiquity of pen and paper, the impact of each piece of paper, each list and note and correspondence, driven home. Not repetitious or overdone but simply owned. The strength of the endnote depends on this voluminous scribery in fact, highlights it and humanizes the players as it also contributes to the individuation of Eliza.

I was amazed by the immensity of the production as well. The ability to provide such thorough atmosphere without overbearing spectacle. And the sheer amount of coordination between and concentration of each actor to maintain that – the temporal, spatial and communal cohesion to keep the surface tension of reality from bursting the bubble of theater.

After the show my friend Jen treated me to another joy – “stage dooring.” After shows many cast members will appear at a certain door outside the theater to sign autographs, take pictures and engage with fans. I had no idea this was even a thing and the experience of it added to the impact of the entire night for me. We stood outside the door of a Broadway theater and waited through intermittent downpours talking excitedly about the show. Steam rose from a wet crowded street and our bodies and we tried not to drip on people on either side of us from the umbrella. And then suddenly were shaking hands and exchanging a few words with many of the principal parties of the show – including Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs, Jon Rua, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Leslie Odom Jr. and the man himself – Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Incredible on stage, this cast was also so wonderful person-to-person. Down-to-earth in the best of ways and so genuine, I am exceedingly grateful that they were my first “stage door” experience. Each of them took time to just sort of be with and honor the presence of the fans lined up to meet them. I didn’t see anyone hurrying nor anyone trying to tug themselves away even in the pouring rain.

I’m not sure what other medium this kind of thing happens in and wonder if the unique nature of live theater contributes to the phenomenon. In any case, the Hamilton cast members we interacted with took time not just to interact but to acknowledge us and it was a totally thrilling experience.

For a history geek like me, Hamilton – An American Musical was already a likely winner. Great writing upped the ante further. Add the skill and cohesion of a fantastic cast and their wonderful nature in a few personal moments and I am sold for all time.

Uber as Enron Archetype

Something’s been bugging me about Uber for a while. The more I watch it, the more it feels like Enron.

That’s a hell of an inflammatory statement, I know. And it’s coming from a (theoretically) pro-regulation liberal. No surprise there. But I’m not inherently anti-Uber. It’s made some amazing moves so far and I don’t particularly like traditional taxi services (or the way they treat Uber – or people involved in the debate). My one experience with Uber was passable – good trip to my destination, shady trip back. So I’m not an extremist about the issue.

But – and I recognize the extreme and silly-sounding nature of this next statement – I keep envisioning Uber dissolving suddenly in a wave of accounting improprieties. I’m not accusing Uber of Enronesque fraud here, I’ve no evidence for that. But some of their actions immediately and starkly invoke for me a path so similar to the failed energy giant.

The first thing that struck me in this way is Uber’s strong anti-regulation evangelism embodied in a vocal CEO. In Enron’s case it began with Ken Lay taking as many steps as possible to deregulate the energy market in general and the California energy market in particular. With Uber we see similar passionate advocacy from Travis Kalanick. Kalanick’s views about the free market aren’t a standalone indicator of Enronism but fit into a larger context.

Uber also evokes an image of Enron in their unflinching willingness to operate on the far border or outside the bounds of law and regulation. An early warning in Enron’s history was the Valhalla scandal, in which traders placed huge bets and engaged in crooked accounting as well as skimming profits. Once the bets were discovered and, in a panic, successfully hedged, Enron made its institutional reaction clear in a message to the traders: Please keep making us money. An SEC suit was required for any kind of consequences.

A second example becomes more relevant: unsatisfied with the level of deregulation in California’s market Enron traders and financial engineers conspired to violate both CA law and good corporate citizenship. They increased profits through schemes like exporting energy to another state and imposing an artificial scarcity so the energy could be re-imported at a much higher rate.

That’s not to mention the outright fraud committed by Enron in cleaning debt off its balance sheets through the use of Special Purpose Entities – something they self-justified as legal and defended as a phenomenon of a more optimized, less regulated market. A market that only existed in their heads and on their legal opinions.

Compare such disdain for regulation and legality with Uber’s operations in emerging markets such as India and France. Places where they’re explicitly told they’re operating in violation and continue to do so. In some cases they depend on loophole methodology and in France seem to have simply shrugged and told employees and drivers they would pay the legal fees and fines as a cost of operation, in utter disdain of law and rule.

As a second manifestation of Enron’s tendencies consider Uber’s considerations in going after critics. The latter has an established record of considering dirty tricks to hit back at those who don’t hold it in high esteem, including an executive publically ruminating about using a journalist’s Uber history against them. Enron made it a habit to force reassignment of auditor personnel who weren’t “with the program” as well as threaten to pull or withhold business from critical ratings firms.

For a third parallel consider transparency. Enron was purposely opaque, admitting and revelling in the idea that they employed a “black box” system generating profits in secret. While not as openly dismissive Uber has established a record of defiant opacity. They’ve racked up fines and judgments for refusing to turn over required data in accord with transparency regulations. Enron hid all that largely to keep the momentum of their massive fraud going forward – what’s Uber’s reason?

There are a substantial number of places where Enron and Uber diverge, of course. But Uber’s anti-regulation, market disruption and dominance rhetoric so neatly echoes that of Enron that I end up fearing the former will collapse in just as catastrophic a wave of accounting scandals.

At the time of its downfall, Enron held approximately $60 billion in assets.

Last week Uber received a valuation of $50+ billion.

A Chrysler Rolling Botnet In Three Steps

Chrysler’s mailing out USB sticks to customers who want to fix a vulnerability in their car by themselves. It took about four seconds for me to realize how bad this idea is.

1. Scrape DMV info for owners of relevant Chrysler models – you can use public RMV portals and just automate the attack. Or if you want something a little less obvious you can fall further down the rabbit hole and hack a police department – most local PDs have terrible information security, and there exist a few specific, mandatory weaknesses that’d be easy to exploit by something as simple as dropping a malware-laden USB drive in the parking lot. Trust me, they’ll plug it in. From there you just use their dedicated connection to CJIS.

2. Find a Print-On-Demand merchandise company and order hundreds of official-looking Chrysler USB drives. Easy to portray yourself as a local Chrysler dealership to allay suspicions of the POD firm – pop-up domain, letterhead, IP voicemails, etc.

3. Drop malware onto your official-looking Chrysler USBs, mock up some letterhead and mail them out to the car owners.

Suddenly you’ve got a rolling botnet – dozens, hundreds, even thousands of cars not only vulnerable to attack but thanks to the fact that most cars are internet-connected and IP-enabled, cars that can take part in other attacks, such as a distributed denial of service attack.

The biggest question is whether Chrysler cryptographically signs the update and phones home to verify it before opening and installing – and my guess is no. In the unlikely event I’m wrong, pivot this attack from the cars to the computers of vehicle owners and you’ve got a convincing way into the computers of thousands of Chrysler customers.

Security & Tech Briefs: Chrome, Trump, Smartwatches, Mac Exploit

Detectify Labs shared a clever way to deactivate security (or any) chrome plugins with a simple ping.

Donald Trump’s website was hacked, likely due to a CMS that hadn’t been patched in five years.

The insurance industry is concerned about smartwatches, the Internet of Things, big data and information security.

Ars Technica on a major 0day Mac exploit that’s already being seen in the wild.