A Christmas Message from America’s Rich / Jesus and the Plutocrats


A couple of worthwhile reads during the Christmas downtime, and most appropriate for what’s supposed to be a season of giving.

Matt Taibbi writes in A Christmas Message from America’s Rich:

People like Dimon [as both CEO of JP Morgan Chase and Chairman of the New York Fed, he gave his own company a bailout], and Schwarzman [Blackstone CEO, who said the poor do themselves a disservice by not having skin in the game] , and John Paulson, and all of the rest of them who think the “imbeciles” on the streets are simply full of reasonless class anger, they don’t get it. Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

Most of us 99-percenters couldn’t even let our dogs leave a dump on the sidewalk without feeling ashamed before our neighbors. It’s called having a conscience: even though there are plenty of things most of us could get away with doing, we just don’t do them, because, well, we live here. Most of us wouldn’t take a million dollars to swindle the local school system, or put our next door neighbors out on the street with a robosigned foreclosure, or steal the life’s savings of some old pensioner down the block by selling him a bunch of worthless securities.

But our Too-Big-To-Fail banks unhesitatingly take billions in bailout money and then turn right around and finance the export of jobs to new locations in China and India. They defraud the pension funds of state workers into buying billions of their crap mortgage assets. They take zero-interest loans from the state and then lend that same money back to us at interest. Or, like Chase, they bribe the politicians serving countries and states and cities and even school boards to take on crippling debt deals.

Nobody with real skin in the game, who had any kind of stake in our collective future, would do any of those things. Or, if a person did do those things, you’d at least expect him to have enough shame not to whine to a Bloomberg reporter when the rest of us complained about it.

But these people don’t have shame. What they have, in the place where most of us have shame, are extra sets of balls.

And “drdlpenwell” writes in Jesus and the Plutocrats:

The argument by those who contend that the wealthy must be protected from the suggestion that they don’t already give enough, an especially nimble plutocratic dance move, goes something like this:

“The wealthy earned their wealth through hard work. Moreover, the wealthy create jobs with their wealth. Therefore, everyone who’s not wealthy has a vested interest in the wealthy accruing as much unfettered wealth as possible. So, let’s don’t make them feel bad for being so successful.”

Leaving aside the myth of the “job creators,” it’s important to articulate the assumptions that underly this sentiment. At its base, the “don’t tax the wealthy” approach to governance assumes that society will be better off in the long run if wealthy people not only get to keep all of their wealth, but are appreciated for the mere fact of being wealthy. On this account, not only is wealth a communal good in the abstract, those who possess wealth, unless proven otherwise, also find themselves on the noble end of the moral spectrum in virtue of their wealth.

Of course, this conflation of wealth and honor isn’t new. The whole idea of describing character and behavior as noble comes from its historic attachment to the nobility (L. nobilis)–that class of citizens who were “well-known or prominent”–which class, generally speaking, also implied an association with wealth.

However, the equating of virtue and wealth doesn’t just have implications for how we view wealth and wealthy people and their responsibilities to society; it also affects how we view poverty and poor people. If being wealthy is understood to be a communal good, then being poor cannot help but be understood as a communal vice–a status to be avoided. Poor people have not only themselves to blame as individuals, perhaps just as importantly, the implication is that they’re not pulling their communal weight. The idea that poor people, as Stephen Schwarzman says, don’t have “skin in the game” is worthy of comment.


The Little Accordion Boy

little accordion boy

Well, at least they asked politely…

Oh, and someone needs to tell the artist that the little accordion boy is holding the accordion upside-down. The right hand plays the keyboard, the left hand plays the chord buttons.

(Thanks to Stacy Luxton Reed for sending this my way!)


Lost Moments #7: Scenes from the Birthday Fortnight

And now, another “lost moment”: a blog entry that’s been sitting in my “Drafts” folder for far too long, set free at last. This one’s about the week before and after my birthday, Saturday, November 5th.

Welcome Back, Sprouter!

sproutup 1

A rare photo of a conscious Jon Crowley! They exist!

On the Thursday before my birthday, I dropped by Sprouter’s “relaunch party”, an event thrown to celebrate the return of the entrepreneurs-helping-entrepreneurs organization thanks to their acquisition by Postmedia Inc. They provide a service that’s been useful to many people starting their own businesses, and it’s good to see them back in action.

sproutup 2

Erin Bury, looking great as always.

Naturally, Sarah Prevette and Erin Bury (pictured above), the faces of Sprouter, were there. The usual suspects from the tech community were also there, along with a large contingent of new faces. Postmedia people? Financial types invited to the event by the National Post? I didn’t have too much time to chat with them, as I had to run off to…

Dinner at Marben

marben 1

Marben’s charcuterie board.

Katie Hrycak was in town from Ottawa to fly to Cuba for her birthday and wanted to catch up at one of her favourite restaurants in Accordion City: Marben. Marben is the sort of restaurant that does comfort food really, really well and embraces a “farm to fork” philosophy. We shared a selection of dishes, including the charcuterie board above. Katie’s friend Heather, who was flying to Cuba with her and who also works at Marben, made good food and wine recommendations.

marben 2

Katie Hrycak is always great company.

We had great conversations all through dinner. The topics ran from what’s happening with her hardware startup, Commentair Tech, to the goings-on at Shopify, the Toronto tech scene, travel, life in Toronto and a few ideas for a phone app for which I am notorious in some circles.

After dinner, Katie and Heather went northward to pack. I hopped on my bike and made my way west to…

Shameless Karaoke at the Double Deuce Saloon

shameless karaoke 1

Wil McLean: half Scot, half Korean, all party!

The Double Deuce Saloon is one of those long, narrow establishments that occupies the zone on the south side of West Queen West bounded by the Drake Hotel on the east and the Gladstone Hotel on the west.

shameless karaoke 2

Mike D sings under the big cock.

Every Thursday night, Wil McLean hosts Shameless Karaoke, an event that often packs the place solid with people. Assisting the mood are some pretty interesting drinks specials, from the $5 giant can of Steigl (I like to call it “PBR for people with better taste in beer”) to the $20 teapot full o’ liquor.

shameless karaoke 3

A very sharp-dressed customer!

Shameless Karaoke isn’t as long-running as Carson T. Foster’s Kickass Karaoke (where Wil cut his jaraoke jockey teeth) or Jason Rolland’s Loser Karaoke (or his many other karaoke nights), but what it lacks in being established, it makes up for with its energetic vibe. And hey, it’s much closer to my place than the other two.

shameless karaoke 4

I accordion karaoke’d my way through Men Without Hats’ Safety Dance and AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, backed up someone with Pulp’s Common People, had a couple of Steigls, called it a night and biked home at about 1:30.

Whiskey Live

whiskey 4

It always helps to have an actual Scotsman in a kilt peddling your scotch.

It was about 4:00 p.m. the next day when I got the phone call from my friend Keith.

“Hey, Joey, are you available this evening?”

“Yeah, no plans here. Thought I might make it a quiet night before my birthday party, but if something’s happening, I’d be up for going. What’s up?”

“There’s a whiskey event happening at the Convention Centre around six. I wanna go, but don’t want to do it alone. You in?”

“Whiskey tasting? You bet I’m in. Where do you want to meet?”

whiskey 2

Glenlivet: Reliable, but not at the top of my list.

The event was Whisky Live Toronto, the local stop for the whiskey tasting world tour. For $65, you got access to about two dozen different whiskey vendors and a handful of vouchers to redeem for shots of various kinds of whiskeys, from scotch to Irish whiskey to Japanese whiskey to bourbon to rye. A better-than-average buffet dinner was also included in the ticket price.

whiskey 3

Nadurra. The black sheep of the Glenlivet family.

I’ve found the younger Glenlivets decent, but not outstanding, but their Nadurra took me by surprise. It’s very un-Glenlivet-y, from its very attention-getting nose, to the taste: a sweet start followed by a surprisingly spicy finish. I made a mental note to pick up a bottle soon.

whiskey 1

Spicebox: It’s a dessert whiskey!

Spicebox is a new entry into the field: a flavoured Canadian whiskey. Normally, I’d dismiss this sort of thing as a gimmick to sell whiskey to the Bailey’s Irish Crème crowd, but they had a really cute server, so I decided to try it anyway.

I was surprised: it turned out to be rather nice. It still had the familiar whiskey taste, but backed up with a fair bit of toffee, vanilla and cinnamon, and quite smooth. I suddenly found myself craving a slice of chocolate cake or one of those big-ass chocolate chip cookies from Le Gourmand.

“This is…a dessert whiskey!” I exclaimed. I made a mental note to pick up a bottle of Spicebox, in addition to the Nadurra.

whiskey 5

Aberlour’s A’Bunadh. At this point in the evening, I’d stopped taking notes. Also good stuff. Will also have to pick this up.

whiskey 5a

Keith and I took a dinner break. Prime rib, chicken kebabs, taters, salad and a pretty good cover band that played 60s music at 6, 70s music at 7, 80s music at 8 and so on.

whiskey 6

I met my booze hero!

The highlight of my evening was meeting Tom Bulleit, as in Bulleit Bourbon, my favourite bourbon and the unofficial bourbon of the South by Southwest Festival regulars. I walked right up to him and introduced myself.

“You’re my alco-hero!” I told him, and thankfully, he didn’t run away screaming or call security to haul me away. Instead, we got into a ten-minute conversation where he answered all my questions about his company and booze, told me that they also made a vodka and very kindly posed with me for the photo above.

The Birthday Party

Joey deVilla self-portrait in bathroom mirror

Rrrrrrrrrrico. Suave.

The self-portrait above – that most bloggy of photos – was taken on the evening of my 44th birthday, Saturday, November 5th. I marked that event with a party at my place, the sort of thing that hasn’t happened there in well over a year. The place has been ready for company for a good long while and a shindig was long overdue.

Here’s a shot from the start of the evening:

birthday party 1

It was a mixed crowd of people who came: friends from high school, Crazy Go Nuts University, neighbours, local bloggers, various workmates and colleagues from the tech industry, fellow members of Hacklab, pals from my old drinking club (the Thirsty People of Toronto) and various co-conspirators. I’m like “Tom Sawyer” from the Rush song of the same name: “What you say about his company is what you say about society…”

Here were are at the “standing room only” portion of the evening:

birthday party 2

It takes a lot of flabbergast Marichka.

It’s been a long-standing rule of mine since our days at Crazy Go Nuts University: it’s not a party until Marichka (pictured above at the right side of the photo) is flabbergasted.

Keith (the guy who invited me to Whisky Live the day before) showed up and brought me both a bottle of Nadurra (score!) and his own homemade vodka in a skinny icewine-like bottle. His vodka was exceptionally smooth, and I drank most of it – straight – that night.

The kitchen is always a good rocks/sucks gauge for a party. We’re definitely on the “rocks” end of the scale:

birthday party 3

Trysh smiles for the camera; James is busy contemplating his beer.

Daylight saving time ended that evening, which meant that the last guest left at 1:00 a.m.. Cleaning up was a quick affair, accompanied by some M83 on the stereo and some of the Jack Daniels Honey that Rob brought to the party, after which I went to…

Marichka’s Bingo Birthday Bash

bingo 3

Marichka’s birthday is the day after mine, and she wanted to do something a little different this year: Bingo at Delta Bingo, located on St. Clair just east of Keele. She put out a call to all her friends, who are all lightweights and didn’t show…except for yours truly.

bingo 1

Maricha and her husband Matt (as in Kantor, the chef of the Secret Pickle Supper Club and many other interesting foodie events in Accordion City) were running a little late, so they asked me to save them a table. I arrived at Delta Bingo, introduced myself as part of Marichka’s party, and they immediately set up a table for us, complete with special tablecloth, balloons and other birthday decorations. They also gave me a quick run-down of how bingo works in a proper bingo hall (I’ve only played in bars, where it’s done ironically, and for much smaller stakes). The staff were all very friendly and helpful.

bingo 2

Marichka was beside herself with “old folks have more fun than I thought!” delight. I want to be there when we introduce her to shuffleboard or canasta.

bingo 4

Bingo is a little more mentally demanding than I thought it would be. When you’re playing with a set of six cards and the numbers are being called out rather quickly, you have to be on the ball. I get the feeling that bingo is what keeps a lot of seniors’ mental faculties sharp.

bingo 5

We had one very happy birthday girl in the house.

bingo 6

I had missed lunch, so it was my opportunity to sample the cuisine. It was hospital cafeteria-grade and easy on the teeth. Good thing I was going to have a nice dinner with the family later that evening.

bingo 7

I wouldn’t normally associate the phrase “bingo hall” with “zero tolerance policy”, but apparently the two go together.

bingo 8

This was the only down moment of the fortnight: the smash-and-grab of my GPS, which I’d forgotten to put away. What kind of lowlife cruises the parking lot of a retired persons’ hangout looking for stuff to steal, and in broad daylight?

fixed car

The damaged was quickly repaired by the fine folks at Centre Honda, who also fixed an exhaust problem for me, as well as clean-air certified my car (I need the inspection certificate to get a new set of licence plate stickers). Luckily, Centre Honda is a hop skip and jump away from Shopify’s Toronto office, so it wan’t too much of detour.

Toronto Techie Dim Sum

dim sum 1

Once a month, I hold a Toronto Techie Dim Sum, where I invite people in Toronto’s tech scene, whether developers, IT pros, designers, businesspeople or students to come and chat over some tasty Chinese food at Sky Dragon. Kristan “Krispy” Uccelo started this event, and since he’s gone off to Mountain View to work for Google, I’ve taken it over.

“So why are you going to Chicago next week, Joey?” asked one of the guys.

“It’s a booty call!” replied Sandy, well before I’d even started to open my mouth.

“D’you have to make it sound so…sordid?” I asked Sandy.

dim sum 2

It’s always good to see Greg Wilson, who I like to think of as the adult supervision of Toronto’s young tech scene and startup community. He brought along Heather Payne, founder of Ladies Learning Code, and we got to talking about how I can help her organization out in the coming year.

It’s always great to see my fellow geeks at dim sum – I think I’ll declare one for next week!

Chicago Bound

landing at midway

On the final Saturday of the birthday fortnight, I boarded a Porter flight bound for Chicago’s Midway airport to do yet another week’s worth of birthday celebrating. That’s another story for a later time.


Lawyers for Creepy Workplaces

Harassment lawyer ad

I saw the ad above for the Bird Richard law firm at the Ottawa airport on Sunday and had to snap a picture. What you can’t see at this resolution is some text at the lower right-hand corner that says the photo comes from iStockPhoto. They’ve got a picture for everything!

I showed the photo to a friend who then dubbed the guy in the ad “Douchey McFrostips”.


Happy Hanukkah! / The Hebrew Hammer

keep the han in hanukkah

To all my Jewish friends – and their Filipino help, who are probably doing an extra-long shift tonight – Happy Hanukkah!

workin for the mensch

The Hebrew Hammer

If you’re looking for a good Hanukkah comedy and really can’t take any more Adam Sandler, I recommend The Hebrew Hammer. It’s about an orthodox Jewish blaxploitation hero (Adam Goldberg as Moderchai Jefferson Carver)  who saves Hanukkah from Santa Claus’ evil antisemitic son, Damian Claus (played by Andy Dick). It also stars the gorgeous Judy Greer as Esther Bloomenbergensteinenthal of the Jewish Justice League and Mario Van Peebles as Mohammed Ali Paula Abdul Rahim of the Kwanzaa Liberation Front. If you liked Shaft and wished it featured “a complicated man, but no one understands him but his mother”, you’ll want to watch this movie.

Someone kindly uploaded The Hebrew Hammer in six parts to YouTube; I’m sharing it below. Enjoy!

The Hebrew Hammer, Part 1

The Hebrew Hammer, Part 2

The Hebrew Hammer, Part 3

The Hebrew Hammer, Part 4

The Hebrew Hammer, Part 5

The Hebrew Hammer, Part 6


The Best FAILs of 2011: Painful, Funny Viewing

ow my ballsHere’s twelve and a half minutes of hilarious-yet-painful lunchtime viewing for you: The Best FAILs of 2011. It’s a compilation video of mishaps caused by poor judgement, dumb luck, bad driving, shoddy construction and all those other things that lead to FAIL.

Be warned: if you’re the particularly sensitive type, some of these videos have rather painful-looking, “Ow, My Balls!” moments, particularly at the 6:11 mark. You should have already inferred that there will be cuss words aplenty, and in many languages too!


Up There with the Big Shots

Watch this video, which features some of the brightest lights in programming (a couple of whom I’ve been privileged to meet), to the very end. You’ll see someone familiar:

That’s right, after some serious programming luminaries — Matz, Guido, Linus, DHH, Bill Joy, James Gosling, Sir Tim, Marc, Woz, Rasmus, The Gu, Sergey, Dries and finally Zuck — whose face and accordion do they close with at the 1:04 mark? This guy’s:

joey devilla accordion laptop scotch

I laughed when I saw Mark Zuckerberg’s photo fade out and mine fade in. “Zuck’s my opening act!” I exclaimed.

My photographer friend Adam P. W. Smith (my old business partner; together, we were datapanik software systems and we worked on some pretty interesting projects back in the late ‘90s) took the picture back in August when I was visiting him in Vancouver. I’d arrived a day early for the HackVAN hackathon and was sitting in his kitchen getting some work done when he decided to get a couple of shots. He poured me a glass of scotch, set it on my accordion, which I’d set down on the chair beside me, and staring taking pictures.

I’d like to thank New Relic, a software performance monitoring service based in San Francisco, for picking my face to represent the developers out there. I’m honoured!

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.