Wednesday, July 30, 2014


End of the App-fair: How Foursquare Cured My Addiction To...Foursquare

It's been a full two weeks now since my last check in on Foursquare.

In a sense, that shouldn't be a big deal.  After all, there are, I'm sure many people out there who have managed to go days, weeks, months or more without dropping into their favorite social media site (whatever it might be). Sometime back, I basically dropped out of Facebook. The only use I really had for it was to remind me of birthdays -- and I had found another application that automatically linked to the Facebook ecosystem and gave me the birthday updates anyway. That particular app eventually stopped updating and so I made my way back to Facebook -- and now have it back in my regular rotation.

Regardless, I must confess that there was no social media app to which I was more loyal -- nay, obsessed -- than I was with Foursquare.  It was a five-plus-year affair with constant check-ins. Bars and restaurants, yes, but, cleaners, markets, subways, too. Anywhere I went, I had to do the obligatory check-in. Indeed, when I neglected to check in, like a classic addict, I felt physically weird, that something was missing. Yes, I would start jonesing for the rush of the check-in. At the height of the mania, a good friend of mine and I would battle back and forth for the "Mayorship" of our favorite Chelsea bar. She lived in the neighborhood, while I was more than a hundred blocks uptown. Nonetheless, I would go out of my way to swing by the bar, to grab a beer, chat with the bartenders -- and yes, to check in!

The beginning of the end came upon me somewhat subtly. In a spring announcement to which I paid little attention at the time, Foursquare declared that it was splitting itself in two. There would be Foursquare and a new even-more-social app called Swarm.  I initially didn't care. Swarm didn't interest me. Yet, Foursquare kept bugging me to download Swarm, enticing me with notes like, "John C. wants  to get together with you on Swarm." So, I finally did, figuring, what the hell, I'll have Swarm, even as I continue to use Foursquare Classic.  I then noticed that when I tried to check in on Foursquare, the app would force me onto Swarm. Silly me, I initially thought that was a bug, only to realize that it was actually a feature!

I then, of course, Googled what was going on and was brought up to speed on the whole splitting-in-two thing. I learned that even Foursquare execs initially were "split" on whether this was a good idea. Some called it, "crazy." Hmmm...maybe they should have stuck with that first thought?

And so, two weeks ago, I realized that my check-in mania had passed. It sunk into me that the competitive part of the Foursquare experience is what I liked. Yes, I would occasionally open Foursquare to "find" a local establishment, but absent the possibility of becoming "mayor" of my bar, restaurant, office -- heck, subway stop? -- there wasn't much of an impulse to check in to Foursquare.

And this is where I think the operators of my once-favorite social app have made a potentially fatal mistake. Yes, I can understand they were/are trying to figure out how to monetize Foursquare into the next step. But there was a major reason why Foursquare wasn't Yelp.  The latter, a popular site, is a destination site. In other words, you're walking around someplace and you go to Yelp to find a restaurant or bar in the area. But you've inevitably been doing something else before you make the conscious decision to go to Yelp. Regardless, at most, you'd go to Yelp once or twice a day. Foursquare, for those of us who got really wrapped up in it -- was always "on": We'd be checking in a minimum of 10 times a day, from the moment we left in the morning until we returned home in the evening. It was fun comparing our daily point counts with not just friends, but others across the city. You realized that it was unlikely that you might catch up with whoever was managing to rack up 5,000 points a week, but so, what? The thrill was in the chase.  And, besides, you could still compete against your previous high score.  And then there were the badges for the different types of food places you had visited!

Anyway, it's all gone now, replaced with messages from friends like: "My confusing new Foursquare app tells me u r in my neighborhood." Uh, yeah, bro. I dunno what I'm supposed to do with that info either.
The loss is palpable and it perfectly feeds into the basic theory of what not to do in a redesign.

Anyway, two weeks into going cold turkey from Foursquare, I learn that I'm hardly alone.  "Dear John Foursquare" letters are all over the Internet.  Like here and here and here and here. And those barely scratch the surface of all the "Foursquare, WTF" tweets out there. So, add this to the pile.

Well, on the bright side, there's less chance of me missing my train because I was trying to check-in on the way to the train. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I'm Foursquare-free at last!!!

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Thursday, July 17, 2014


PODCAST: Newt Meets Improv

So, as many of you know, improv is a big part of my life. And improv can take many forms. One of those forms is when one person steps up to tell a story about themselves and a group of improvisers follows with a a series of scenes influenced/inspired/imposed by the story.

Well, this month, Sean Duffy (no, NOT the Real World/GOP Rep), -- this guy -- host of the Can't Make This Up podcast invited me to take a nice trip down memory lane. So, I share a (in retrospect) fun-filled anecdote of life in Newt World, circa 1996 -- the Republican National Convention in San Diego.

Along for the ride are my Electoral Dysfunction pals Tom Brennan, David Kimball-Stanley and Darcy Burke who, following some extended preliminary banter bring the improv!

Without further ado, herewith is an episode called "Don't Have To Be Gingrich To Be My Girl" (that's a Prince reference, in case you couldn't tell. Particularly amusing since I don't believe Sean knew about my Prince obsession of my younger years).  

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014


RAG on Opinion Journal: LIRR on Strike?

The Wall Street Journal editorial board's Mary Kissel and I chatted Wednesday about the impending Long Island Rail Road strike and its implications for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio (vacationing in Italy, Mr. Mayor? Serioiusly?).

Enjoy the segment!

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014


The Biggest D'Loser...

Dinesh D'Souza pled guilty today to making illegal contributions to Wendy Long's US Senate campaign two years ago. D'Souza, who's made quite a fair bit of bank in the last several years by climbing aboard the anti-Obama crazy train, claimed that he was the victim of selective prosecution because he was an opponent of the president. 

That's a little difficult to prove in this case because the prosecutor, US Attorney for New York's Southern District, Preet Bharara has made anti-corruption -- both official and political -- a huge part of his portfolio.  His list of scalps include a host of big-name Democrats and Republican politicians. He's even investigating Gov. Andrew Cuomo's own anti-corruption board -- for possibly being too close to the governor! 

Regardless, a judge last week rejected D'Souza's request to dismiss the charges.

My sympathy level for D'Souza is zero.

For conservatives who want to paint him as a martyr to anti-Obama activity, save your sympathy for far worthier individuals.  As I wrote a few years back, D'Souza is an individual of dubious intellectual and ethical integrity. The latest development just shows that you can only run a con for so long before your deeds end up coming back to bite you on the ass.  I just hope that some future conservative publisher, producer, think tank, academic outlet, etc. doesn't get taken in by D'Souza's smooth bull, only to be embarassed by his subsequent antics -- as so many others have previously.

UPDATE:  Rod Dreher dismisses the whole "selective prosecution" defense too -- including the political one conservatives have mounted for D'Souza.


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Saturday, May 03, 2014


RAG on Newsmax: Talking Race

Friday afternoon, I appeared on "The Steve Malzberg Show," part of Newsmax TV (currently Web-only, but word is that it plans on expanding to become a competitor to Fox).  Steve invited me after reading my column earlier this week analyzing the Cliven Bundy/Donald Sterling episodes.

Here's the 10-minute segment:

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014


The Week in Racism

Originally published in the New York Post, April 30, 2014.

Race in America is like everyone’s favorite Facebook relationship status: “It’s complicated.” Last week’s news, from Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, proves the point.

Blame conservatives (mostly) for helping make Bundy — locked in a conflict with the federal Bureau of Land Management — a national story in the first place, by “adopting” him as one more victim of federal overreach in the Obama era. How dare the feds send armed agents to threaten Bundy with eviction? How dare the feds hold onto nearly 90 percent of the land in Nevada?

In reality, the fact that Bundy was still on the land was a symbol of absurd federal restraint. He’s refused to pay fees, fines, etc. for more than two decades. But the “victim” coverage actually emboldened him, leading to daily press conferences — one of which provided The New York Times with the quote that “Negroes” might have been better off under slavery than being on welfare.

After first claiming he was misquoted, Bundy doubled down: “Are they happier now under this government-subsidy system than they were when they were slaves and they [were] able to [keep] their family structure together and … people [had] something to do?”

 It’s easy to conclude that Bundy is a flat-out racist (who never learned that slavery actually tore black families apart), but then there’s some of his other comments: “Now let me talk about the Spanish people. You know, I understand that they come over here against our Constitution and cross our borders. But they’re here and they’re people … Don’t tell me they don’t work, and don’t tell me they don’t pay taxes. Don’t tell me they don’t have better family structures than most of us white people … We need to have those people join us and be with us.”

That makes the “racist” formulation more, yes, complicated. Bundy’s a bigot? But his views on immigration sound like what most Democrats have been saying for some time. And his welfare comments clumsily echo not just conservatives, but Democrats like the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

So do his welfare remarks make Bundy a full-fledged racist — any more than his Hispanic comments make him a spokesman for immigration reform? Ahem, no.

Together, they make him a confused clown who shouldn’t have been given a national platform in the first place.

Some on the right tried to change the subject to Bundy’s own “neighbor” — Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader.

Bundy wasn’t the only old, crusty Nevadan who had used the other N-word — “Negro” — in discussing black people, these conservatives noted. The history of the 2008 campaign, “Game Change,” quoted Reid as saying — privately — that then-Sen. Barack Obama was a strong presidential candidate because he was “a light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Hey, isn’t that racist?

Hardly. Reid was stating in rather non-PC terms what just about anyone steeped in political history would’ve said about the prospects of a black man winning the presidency. Recognizing this nation’s awkwardness with race, it’s hardly rocket science to divine that a light-skinned African-American with oratorical skills might gain an edge with white voters.

OK, but Donald Sterling’s surreptitiously recorded comments reveal old-school racism, right?

Yes, there’s no N-word or other slurs on this tape. And he’s revealed as happy to have black players on his teams, have a black coach — but he doesn’t want his Mexican/black girlfriend (with whom he’s been in a long adulterous relationship) coming to the arena or being pictured with high-profile blacks like Magic Johnson.

That’s reminiscent of slave-era and Jim Crow plantation managers who saw blacks as inferior, yet had no problem cavorting with black women sexually (see: Strom Thurmond).

But then there’s this: Sterling was about to be honored by the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP for a second time.

This, despite a history of racial animus that included referring to his players as n - - - - - s during an interview with a prospective head coach and being sued twice in federal court for discriminatory housing practices. In fact, both the NAACP’s national office and many of its local chapters have a recent history of choosing monetary support over the obvious best interests of their African-American constituency (in New York, see charter schools). Monday, the LA chapter declined to reveal how much “sterling” it’s received over the years from the Clippers owner.

 America has taken great strides in dealing with its “original sin” — slavery — and its legacy. But just about anything touching on race is still more “complicated” than our pundits or our press care to admit.

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RAG on WSJ: De Blasio & Charters

Talked to the Wall Street Journal's Mary Kissel on Opinion Journal today concerning New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's seeming surrender on the charter school issue; he announced a few days ago that Success Academy Schools that the city had blocked from co-locating in other public school buildings would now be allowed to move into closed Catholic school buildings. I argue that he was largely forced into this position by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature. However, the pressure on charters isn't over yet: Several other city pols want to undermine them in any way they can -- including City Council so-called "oversight" hearings.

Here's the clip:

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Thursday, March 06, 2014


The Next Movement

Originally published in the New York Post, March 6,2014

Last month, the city’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, urged support for her husband’s signature universal pre-K program by declaring, “Education is clearly the civil-rights issue for today.”
She may well be right — but her husband may be on the wrong side of the real civil-rights issue in education. If Tuesday’s huge rally at the state Capitol, and the words of the parents who rallied, tell us anything, it’s that the charter cause is increasingly looking and sounding like movements of old.
One thing the original civil-rights movement taught America is that people who are passionately energized will sacrifice anything for what they believe in. And these parents are passionate.
Ishema Chadwick Meyers works at a state job where she cares for the mentally challenged; she took the day off to trek up to frigid Albany. And she’ll do it again: “I’ll take a sick day if I have to. That makes sense, because the thought of my kids losing schools that [are] teaching them makes me sick to my stomach.” Ishema’s oldest, Leroy, is a fifth-grader at Harlem Central Success Academy. Mayor de Blasio just took away what would be Leroy’s sixth-grade space.
Samantha Thompson’s daughter Madison is in kindergarten at Success Academy Cobble Hill: “I understand there’s a personal rift between the mayor and [Success Academy CEO] Eva [Moskowitz]. Fine. But don’t take it out on the kids. Doesn’t he realize that we can’t have a better New York without a better education system? I wanted Madison in charters because generally they are all on the same level of quality.”
I asked Whitfield Nicholas (whose son Devante is excelling at Success) what about charters most impresses him? “The diligence of the teachers,” the Antigua-born engineer responds. “In the traditional public schools, if you ask a teacher how to reach them, they say ‘come to see me [in the school]’. In charters, they say call me any time — and mean it.” He sees that as a reason why Success Academy in The Bronx had some of the highest math scores in the state last year.
Not that Nicholas wants conflict between traditional and charter schools. “Both are public schools. It’s Malcolm X and Martin Luther King: Both are headed in the same direction; they’re just taking different paths.”
But which sort of school is which leader?
Nicholas pauses for a moment: “The charters are more Malcolm X — by any means necessary. That’s why we’re here today, right?”
This writer copped a ride with parents and scholars (as Success Academy students are called) back to the city after a long, chilly day. It wasn’t long after the bus hit the road (and sandwiches were eaten) that a young girl’s voice rose up asking, “Can we do some math exercises?”
An exhausted teacher at first said, “Let’s take some quiet time right now.” But not too long afterward, the students were all listening intently as she led them through a fun exercise of drilling exponents, gleefully laughing over who got the question right first.
I told parent Kokayee “Koko” Session-Lansiquot that I hadn’t seen anything quite like that. Fifth-graders asking for math work? Seriously?
Koko, a pre-K teacher herself, responded. “That’s the difference I see with charters. My kids want to go to school. If I’m running late, they tell me: ‘Mommy, you’re going to make me late. I’m missing my morning meeting.’ Monroe [age 11] has gone from being told in a traditional-school kindergarten that he couldn’t learn to having high scores in math and science, consumed with robotics and his telescope.”
Koko’s aunt, Gwen Hedrington, who raised (and home-schooled) her, now cares for a younger nephew and niece. She is no-nonsense and blunt when faced with the threat to charter expansion: “You want to take something away from these kids after they’ve tasted excellence? It’s child abuse, educational neglect, child endangerment.
“If they try that, we must take them to court. Even if we don’t win, we’ll bring enough attention to what they are trying to do. We have a right to a good education. Isn’t that what our ancestors died for?”
These are the voices of parents who see their children’s future in mortal danger, testifying to the impact of charters on their kids, marching to Albany, vowing to do it again — “by any means necessary,” including lawsuits.
Sure sounds like the start of a new civil-rights movement.
Are Bill and Chirlane paying attention?

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