Whither AirBNB?

Whither AirBNB?

So there exists a service called “AirBNB” that has become quite the darling of the investment community. Their product is your house. Not in a sales sense: they connect travelers with people who are willing to rent out their homes while they themselves are away.

You read that right. If you’re like me, you just went “WTF? Let strangers stay in my house when I’m not there? Are you fucking kidding me?” Apparently, though, you and I are just creepy paranoids, because AirBNB has done pretty well.

However, it turns out maybe we’re not so paranoid after all, as San Francisco apartment provider EJ found out:

Someone named Dj Pattrson (was it a guy? A girl? I still don’t know – but I have noticed much too late that the person misspelled their own last name) came into my home earlier this month (apparently with several others, according to witnesses) and set out on what I believe to be the carefully-planned theft and destruction of my home and my identity. With an entire week living in my apartment, Dj and friends had more than enough time to search through literally everything inside, to rifle through every document, every photo, every drawer, every storage container and every piece of clothing I own, essentially turning my world inside out, and leaving a disgusting mess behind.

They smashed a hole through a locked closet door, and found the passport, cash, credit card and grandmother’s jewelry I had hidden inside. They took my camera, my iPod, an old laptop, and my external backup drive filled with photos, journals… my entire life. They found my birth certificate and social security card, which I believe they photocopied – using the printer/copier I kindly left out for my guests’ use. They rifled through all my drawers, wore my shoes and clothes, and left my clothing crumpled up in a pile of wet, mildewing towels on the closet floor. They found my coupons for Bed Bath & Beyond and used the discount, along with my Mastercard, to shop online. Despite the heat wave, they used my fireplace and multiple Duraflame logs to reduce mounds of stuff (my stuff??) to ash – including, I believe, the missing set of guest sheets I left carefully folded for their comfort. Yet they were stupid and careless enough to leave the flue closed; dirty gray ash now covered every surface inside.

I think it’s safe to assume that this story will get all kinds of Googlejuice, which is good, because to be perfectly frank I can think of few more foolish things than letting people you don’t know stay in your house. Do people like EJ just have nothing of value? Do they not realize that people like this “DJ Pattrson” exist? To each their own, I guess, but it seemed like a disaster waiting to happen when I first heard about the idea; that my expectations have been met just cements my impression. Halfass damage control attempts by the CEO are lame and impotent when the whole idea of the service is to put strangers in your house.

Astros Suckery Update

Halfway through a 4-game stand in St. Louis, YOUR Houston Astros have notched their fifth loss in a row, which takes them to 33-70, or about .320.

Not that anyone was counting on it, but winning every remaining game now results in a lower percentage record than any 2010 playoff team.

A more likely event is that they continue to perform as they have up to now, so projecting their current .320 record out through the end of the season puts them at 52-110. Only a drastic improvement over the remaining 59 games will get them over .400.

Finally, avoiding the all-important 100 loss mark now requires winning more than half of the remaining games, which just isn’t happening; smart money says they drop 4 more games before the end of the month, and they play 2010 champions San Francisco seven times in August.

I am filled with love for the Onion

God Urges Rick Perry Not To Run For President:

AUSTIN, TX — Describing Texas Gov. Rick Perry as grossly unqualified for the position, God, the Creator and Ruler of the Universe, urged Perry not to run for president of the United States Wednesday. “I prayed last night and asked the Lord to support my candidacy, and He said no,” Perry told reporters outside the Texas Capitol, explaining that God had cited the governor’s rejection of federal stimulus funds to expand state jobless benefits, his irresponsible speculation about Texas seceding from the union, and his overall lack of concrete solutions to nation’s problems as reasons why He could not endorse a Perry presidential bid. “I believe God made some valid points about my lack of credentials, and He’s absolutely right. My extreme beliefs when it comes to social issues and states’ rights are not only disturbingly narrow-minded, but would also make me a horrible president.” When reached for comment, God said He would not be present at Perry’s much-talked-about Christian day of prayer on Aug. 6, calling the governor’s use of his public office to endorse a religion both “irresponsible” and a violation of the Constitution.

YOUR Houston Astros!

We attended an Astros game last night, where they managed to disappoint us even though we expected them to lose — instead, they managed to beat the Washington Nationals, a team we actually like.

The game leaves Houston at 32-65, or .330. That’s the worst record in baseball, a slot the Astros have made their own for months now. I wondered last night at what point they’d become mathematically irrelevant, so I did some very basic figurin’.

There are 162 games in a baseball season. If the Astros go on an unprecedented run and win all 65 remaining games, they finish at 97-65, or .599. That’s a respectable figure — league leaders Philly and Boston are above that now, and several others are close to it (the Yankees, the Giants, the Braves, and even the hot-streaking Rangers). The only one of those that matters for this purpose (i.e., National League playoffs) is Philly; .599 is better than everyone else in the National League, so I feel safe saying this bizarre development would be good enough to clinch the NL Central title, or at least the NL Wildcard slot.

Looking a little more carefully at last year’s playoff teams, we see an average 2010 regular season record of .576. For the Astros to finish above that (.580 is the closest possible record), they have to win 94 games, or 62 of the remaining 65 — a finishing run in excess of 95%, or only marginally less absurd than the perfect run required to reach .599.

So, while it is still technically too early to count the Astros out on the strength of arithmetic alone, it does seem damned improbable. And in the next two weeks, they play the Nats again (once), the Cubbies (3 times), the Cards (4 times), and the Brewers (3 times), so odds are they’ll drop those “critical” three games between now and the end of July, rendering even pipe-dream best-possible records unworthy of the postseason.

All that’s just math, though: smart folks like us realize that the AA sad-sacks of Enron field are not going to shift from .330 ball to .950 ball. Let’s look at some other scenarios, ranging from “still absurd” to “depressingly likely.”

What if they win “only” 3/4 of their remaining 65 games? That herculean feat will buy them a reasonable finishing record of .500, which will presumably rescue the 2011 Astros from generations of ridicule. However, even a 75% run through September only gets them as close to the playoffs as, well, the AAA-league Louisville Bats. To be fair, we must admit that a .750 run to finish the season is only slightly more likely than a playoff-worthy .950.

Closer to the realm of possibility is splitting the remaining games. I said “closer,” but not really possible — but if it DID happen, a 33-32 run would let the Astros finish at .400. For most of the year the Astros have been alone in the sub-40% club, Cubbies notwithstanding, so climbing one rung of the ladder would still be nice — even though my guess is that .400 would leave them in the league basement for the year.

Now we’re out of the impossible and improbable, though. What if they continue on their .330 path? That seems positively reasonable! They’d finish at 53 and 109. Astonishingly for a team as meager and feeble as the Astros have always seemed to be, they’ve never before lost 100 games in a year — and in fact haven’t lost more than 90 in 20 years.

I think we’re safe in kissing that record and streak goodbye; to avoid 100 losses, they’ve got to bag 63 wins, or 31 of the remaining 65. A 31-34 season-ending run would be only slightly less miraculous than the .500 split, and even that moral victory still leaves them at .389 on the year.

Frankly, 109 losses might be good news, if their pre-break performance is any indication. Of their 35 games before the All Star game, the Astros lost a staggering 28. If they continue that performance, we can look forward to something like 45 and 117, or a .278 final percentage. Ouch!

To put this in more global perspective, it’s been 7 years since a team lost 109 or more games (the 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks went 51-111, or .315), and in the last 40 years it’s only happened three times (the ’03 tigers went 43-119, and who doesn’t love the ’62 Mets at 40-120?).

With those final figures in hand, I realize one final note: The Astros can’t even be exceptionally bad. 109 or 117 losses definitely sucks, but if you’re going to go that far down, have the strength of character to own it. Be the worst team you can be!

The Astros can own the modern era loser record if they manage to win no more than five additional games, finishing at .228 or 37-125. The mark was set by the Philadelphia (now Oakland) Athletics, who went .235 (36-117) back in 1916. Sadly, I suspect our hometown team will blow this opportunity as well.

HOWTO: Whip a Bugatti

Buy a Hennessey Venom GT. It sports 1,200 HP. It weighs less than 2,700 pounds with a full tank of gas. The 0 to 60 time is 2.5, but it’s interesting also to note that it goes from 0 to 200MPH in under 16 seconds. And it’s street legal, and apparently corners like it’s on rails.

Price unavailable, but my guess is that if you have to ask…

Dept. of People Who Get It, Muppet Division

There’s a new Muppet movie. I view it, as I view all post-1990 Muppet activities, as an abomination. I’m sure Jason Segal is a nice guy, and I’m sure he’s well-intentioned, but it won’t be right.

I’m obviously not the only one who think so. This piece over at the Awl (pointed out by my friend Christina over on Facebook) really, really nails it. A few bits:

From 1955 to 1990, Kermit the Frog was voiced and performed by Jim Henson. After that, Steve Whitmire, known for his smart-mouthed Rizzo the Rat, took over. Whitmire’s Kermit sounded a lot like Henson’s, but his voice was a little thinner, and his singing more rhythmic and less melodic.

Let me preface my next statement by saying that I know it will seem ridiculous to the casual reader, inflammatory to a good many fans, and downright specious to the expert of rhetoric, but for me watching Steve Whitmire’s Kermit is akin to watching someone imitate a mythic and longed-for mother — my mother — wearing a my-mother costume in a my-mother dance routine. This person’s heart is in the right place, which only makes it worse. “You should be happy,” the person pleads with me, “Look, Biddy! Your mother is not gone! She is still here.” Now, no one would ever do that. No one in her right mind would think it would work. A child knows his mother’s voice like he knows whether it’s water or air he’s breathing. One chokes you and one gives you life. Strangely, I feel the same about Kermit. Whitmire is an amazing performer — especially as the lovable dog Sprocket on “Fraggle Rock” — but, when he’s on screen as Kermit, I can feel my body reject it on a cellular level.

And on the Disney-fication of the Muppets, and their ultimate choice to continue with a non-Henson Kermit:

What if, in 1990, instead of recasting Kermit — something that had been done to Mickey and Bugs Bunny before him — the Muppets had continued on Kermit-less, as “The Simpsons” did after Phil Hartman died. [...] Someone else could lead the gang of weirdoes. If a bigger part was in the cards for Whitmire, how about as Kermit’s long-lost brother? How about another nephew? Jerry Nelson’s assertive Gobo Fraggle led a Muppet cast that functioned perfectly well without major roles for Henson or Frank Oz.

It would’ve made more artistic sense than what happened. Instead of an organic personnel shift, Whitmire became Kermit, which wasn’t only a disservice to that character, but also a real disservice to Whitmire. There was no place for him to take the role. If he strays too far from Henson, embodying Kermit with the parts of his personality that weren’t in Henson, nostalgic fans will be disappointed. He can only attempt the same impression over and over. It’s not the kind of art Henson produced. It’s very un-Muppet.

What it is, though, is very, very Disney — not in the original spirit of Walt, but in the style of a corporation that runs on licensing. This is “art” defined as mass duplication, not wonderment. It is the art of selling Tigger toys to millions of people all over the country who have houses filled with Tigger toys.

It’s not all about the Kermit re-cast, but that’s definitely a key point in the whole analysis. Go read the whole thing; it’s worth it (as are, I’m finding, many pieces the Awl runs).

So very wrong

Onion: New Study Shows People With Panic Disorders Respond Poorly To Being Locked In Underwater Elevators:

NEW HAVEN, CT — A study published Monday in the Journal Of Abnormal Psychology found that individuals who suffer from panic disorder react negatively to being locked in underwater elevators for indefinite periods of time.

According to Dr. Samuel Lepore, who led the Yale University study, test subjects suffering from the disorder experienced full-on panic attacks as soon as the elevators shuddered to a halt, and they exhibited symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and numbness in the extremities when it became apparent the car was stuck and the emergency call button didn’t work.

“Given the results, we can now say conclusively that people who suffer from severe anxiety dislike being trapped in small boxes hundreds of feet under water,” said Lepore, who logged more than a thousand hours of clinical study on the subject. “In fact, our research suggests that it makes said individuals experience extreme discomfort with almost no degree of relief.”

“Furthermore, statistics showed their displeasure increased exponentially every hour we kept them locked in there,” Lepore continued.

Sadly, even this collection is hipper than my parents’ 8-tracks

Onion: “Parents’ Record Collection Deemed Hilarious:”

The teens accidentally stumbled across the record collection while searching for a long-rumored bottle of brandy in the Schnell family den. The collection proved a treasure trove of comic fodder, featuring such artists as The New Christy Minstrels, The Fifth Dimension, Helen Reddy, Tony Orlando & Dawn, Jo Ann Castle, The Carpenters, Glen Campbell, Arthur Fiedler & The Boston Pops, John Denver, Boots Randolph, and Ferrante & Teicher.

Music and pop-culture experts agree that the Schnell record collection is one of the most hilarious in the country today.

“At turns atrocious, tasteless, tepid, and self-parodying, the Schnell discography is a perfect encapsulation of the listening tastes of the American bourgeoisie in the mid- to late 20th century, as well as a knee-slappingly hilarious compendium of misguided trends in popular music,” said Lydia Dreifort, director of the Alan Lomax Center For American Ethnomusicology in Oxford, MS. “Can you believe they actually own Neil Diamond’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull?”

“I greatly look forward to having the chance to examine it firsthand,” Dreifort said of the collection, which not only features Hooked On Classics, but Hooked On Swing and Hooked On Broadway. “The exquisite squareness of the music is truly something to behold.”

Somebody needs to clear this up pronto, Mayor Parker

The Chron is reporting that the city’s contract with the red-light camera people had an “out” they could have exercised within 4 months of the vote last November that would have saved millions.

The city of Houston might have been able to shut off its red-light cameras within four months of voters demanding it in last November’s elections, but the Parker administration opted not to use an escape clause that would have meant more than $3 million in continuing costs while the clock ran out.

Instead, the city took another path that has them “arguing” in court for a side nobody believes they actually support (i.e., the removal of the cameras). They just happened to get a ruling they like, too. I smell a rat.

The people voted on this, and rejected the cameras. That should have been the end of it, but apparently referendums repealing city ordinances must happen within 30 days of the passage of the ordinance in question (WTF, right? Almost like they don’t want such repeal efforts to be possible…). The Federal judge’s ruling, though, doesn’t free Parker’s administration from their moral obligation to honor the will of the people.

Turning the cameras back on and pretending to litigate it out — a process that I’m sure will take plenty of time, during which the cameras will remain on — fools nobody.

I supported Parker two years ago, but the apparently cavalier way she’s handled this point gives me serious pause about doing so again. I’m disinclined to reward this kind of behavior with my vote even if she does well on other issues.

Dept. of Pointless People In Pointless Jobs

I’ve joked for years about how the early-90s color names in J. Crew were almost hilariously devoid of any information about the position of the shade in question on the visible spectrum, but it appears now that house paint companies are embracing the whole idea of obscure, meaning-free names:

“For a long time we had to connect the color name with the general color reference,” said Sue Kim, the color trend and forecast specialist for the Valspar paint company. “But now,” Ms. Kim added, “we’re exploring color names that are a representation of your lifestyle.”

Someone please smack this person in the mouth.

Dept. of What We Did Last Night

Broke our longstanding boycott of the hypercorporate House of Blues to see Steve Earle. Verdict: Worth it, but it’ll take someone as good as Earle to get us back in there. Something about that venue just attracts old drunk jackasses from the suburbs. Even so, Earle and his band — which includes Mrs Earle Allison Moorer (who sounds more like her sister than I remember) as well as another entire band in The Mastersons — positively cooked for nearly 3 hours; we definitely got our money’s worth as long as you leave out the $8 beers.

We left mildly vexed that fellow New West artist Robert Ellis was having his Houston album release party over at Fitzgerald’s at exactly the same time; in truth it was probably still going on after we left HoB, but 11:30 is too late to go to a second bar on a schoolnight. Fortunately, Cactus was kind enough to reserve one of the limited edition vinyl copies of Ellis’ record for us, so bully for them.

How To Celebrate the 4th

Cory Maye is finally free.

A refresher, in case you’ve forgotten:

Shortly after midnight on December 26, 2001, Maye, then 21, was drifting off to sleep in his Prentiss duplex as the television blared in the background. Hours earlier, he had put his 18-month-old-daughter to sleep. He was soon awoken by the sounds of armed men attempting to break into his home. In the confusion, he fired three bullets from the handgun he kept in his nightstand.

As he’d later testify in court, Maye realized within seconds that he’d just shot a cop. A team of police officers from the area had received a tip from an informant — later revealed to be a racist drug addict — that there was a drug dealer living in the small yellow duplex on Mary Street. It now seems clear that the police were after Jamie Smith, who lived on the other side of the duplex, not Maye or his live-in girlfriend Chenteal Longino. Neither Maye nor Longino had a criminal record. Their names weren’t on the search warrants.