2011 - %3, August

Businesses Bite Down Hard on Cyber Hack Losses

| Tue Aug. 16, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

In the new era of heists, cyber criminals and hacktavist groups wield malware instead of firing shots in the air, move through fiber optics and mainframes instead of donning masks and keeping the getaway car running. And unfortunately for small businesses and consumers, weak legislation and vague contract language often give banks leeway to duck responsibility for recouping cyber hack losses. These hacks can incur high costs for small to medium businesses (SMBs), who, according to Bloomberg, are losing $1B a year to cyber fraud.  Internet Security Awareness Training (ISAT) firm KnowBe4 hits at these businesses' unique vulnerability: "SMBs are notorious for lack of security procedures...and companies simply do not have legal protection...so they are forced to absorb the losses."

It certainly takes two to tango, but there are very few existing legal decisions that address what responsibility a bank has to protect its customers. A whole crop of lawsuits has risen out of this ambiguity, with banks suing their clients and clients counter suing. Results vary on who's truly responsible. In one recent case, the court ruled the bank was at fault; in another, the client was to blame.

Hillary Machinery, an equipment distribution company, is all too familiar with how much damage these malicious cyber succubi can do. Back in 2009, Hillary Machinery lost $801,495 in a matter of two days, when cyber crooks utilized an infamous Trojan Horse software, ZeuS, which swiped the company's online banking passwords. The crooks then initiated the transfers, sending the funds to money mules who then laundered the booty to Eastern Europe. Hillary Machinery alerted the fraud to its bank, PlainsCapital, who was then able to recoup $600,000 through the FedWire Funds Transfer System, leaving $200,000 outstanding. Hillary Machinery then wrote a letter to PlainsCapital, stating that their internet banking system "failed to employ commercially reasonable security measures" and that the bank was "responsible for all unrecoverable monies." PlainsCapital retaliated and sued its customer in federal court, alleging that its security procedures were "commercially reasonable" and that they accepted the wire transfers on "good faith." There's no clear definition on what constitutes a commercially reasonable transfer, and according to Richard Engel, a cyber fraud expert and lawyer at Mackenzie Hughes LLP, it's determined on "a case by case basis."

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Review: "1000 Dollar Car," by Bottle Rockets

| Mon Aug. 15, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

TRACK 7

"1000 Dollar Car"

From Bottle Rockets' Not So Loud (Bloodshot)

Liner notes: "A thousand-dollar car, it ain't worth shit/You might as well take your thousand dollars and set fire to it," groans Brian Henneman, using wheezing harmonica and lazy banjo to underscore his woe.

Behind the music: Henneman was a roadie for alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo in the early '90s before forming the Bottle Rockets. Cut at a club in a converted schoolhouse in the band's home base of St. Louis, Not So Loud trades the usual scruffy rock for acoustic settings that emphasize the quartet's witty songwriting.

Check it out if you like: Drive-By Truckers, Todd Snider, Neil Young, and other champions of the underclass.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

The Return of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

| Mon Aug. 15, 2011 6:30 AM EDT
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at Outside Lands, 2011.

Back when the guys of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah first got together, musicians and labels were struggling to figure out how to operate in the internet era. Only a few years earlier, a boom in file-sharing, popularized by Napster, had upset some of the music industry's biggest icons, like Metallica, Madonna, and Dr. Dre, who sued Napster over copyright issues.

But fledgling artists like CYHSY saw opportunity in the internet's accessiblity. The Pew Research Center, which in March 2004 released its first survey on the internet's impact on artists, and found that, while individual artists largely thought unauthorized file sharing should be illegal, the internet on the whole enhanced creativity and removed barriers to getting their music heard. "When we were in college, it was like, 'There's this thing called Kazaa, where you can download The Strokes, The Shins, or The White Stripes," drummer Sean Greenhalgh, wearing a black hoodie and Keds, recalls before the band's show at The Independent last Wednesday.

CYHSY was in the first wave of acts that found success on the web before signing to a record label. Its self-titled first album, released online in June 2005, came during "a perfect storm of a time when we made a good record and a time when the internet was young," Greenhalgh recalls. News of the band spread rapidly over blogs like Pitchfork and by word of mouth—and early endorsements from David Bowie and David Byrne.

Even before releasing that first album, CYHSY (which also includes Alec Ounsworth, Robbie Guertin, and Lee and Tyler Sargent) would upload unfinished tracks to the web, something they were later advised was a bad move. The band didn't even have a name until a few months after it formed, although it was already performing around New York. Driving through South Brooklyn, the bandmates saw their future name painted in giant letters across a brick wall, and figured it was a sign, Greenhalgh says. "I don't think we considered the long-term implications."

Greenhalgh recalls how the band was backstage getting ready for a show at the Knitting Factory a few years ago when they heard a rumor that Bowie was at the house. They walked on stage, looked up in the stands, and saw that it was true. By October 2005, they'd signed on with the UK label Wichita Recordings, which also represents The Dodos and Bloc Party. "By the time the record labels came around, we were already doing ourselves a bunch of things that labels were offering to us," he says. "It was a strange thing, but we were able to jump on it and run with it."

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's success continued with its second album, 2007's Some Loud Thunder, which debuted at No. 47 on the Billboard 200 and featured the hit "Satan Said Dance," which ranked among the Rolling Stone's top song picks for that year. The album led to high-profile gigs at Lollapalooza and on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. But fans were taken by surprise in 2009, when the band unexpectedly decided to take a break to pursue solo projects, rather than simply set out to make a third record. "Why do it just to do it, because that's what people expect?" Greenhalgh says.

After a two-year hiatus, CYHSY is back with Hysterical, due out next month. Greenhalgh says the band's time apart has enriched the new album. Their latest performance at SF's Outside Lands music festival this past weekend didn't reveal muchnew stuff, but the crowd was excited to hear singer Ounsworth's distinct, crackling voice against the band's quirky keyboards and plucked-guitar melodies. You can download a sample track from the forthcoming album here.

Here's a video teaser of Hysterical:


Klezmer Allstars' Post-Katrina Party

| Sat Aug. 13, 2011 9:01 PM EDT
Jonathan Freilich of New Orleans Klezmer Allstars at Outside Lands.

Twenty years ago, guitarist Jonathan Freilich looked around his adoptive hometown of New Orleans and noticed something missing: It wasn't a booming club scene; the Big Easy had that in spades. It wasn't a healthy crop of great musicians; no shortage there. No, the deficit he saw was a sense of humor. New Orleanians, it seemed, were thirsty for a good laugh.

Enter the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars.

"Funny was at a big premium back then," Freilich tells me backstage after the group's performance Friday at the Outside Lands music fest in San Francisco. Klezmer music, the raucous Yiddish folk style, was apparently the perfect solution. "The music," Freilich says, "is kind of funny."

No argument here: Fans of Gogol Bordello and other klezmer-inspired acts will recognize the frenzied pace and freewheeling melodies that place klezmer high in the running for world's greatest wild-eyed, maniac dance-party music. Over two decades, the Allstars have got it down pat. The music isn't funny ha-ha, but something about indeed feels patently silly. Minor keys dominate, but they're of the tongue-in-cheek variety, as if daring the listener not to crack a smile, grab a dance partner, and swing away. Indeed, it's hard to stay a staid shoegazer when a soprano saxophone is firing off litling triplets fast enough to make your head spin. It's a highly crafted sound, but never too earnest, and if the Allstars were out to lighten hearts they've certainly succeeded.

Outside Lands' Gourmet Ghetto

| Sat Aug. 13, 2011 5:25 PM EDT
Attendees line up for arepas at the 2011 Outside Lands.

Late Friday morning, in an expansive, fog-shrouded field at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, dozens of local food vendors scrambled into ready position. White plumes arose from barbecue smokers and brick pizza ovens. Meats sizzled on the grill and knives chopped down on onions. Chefs shouted orders through the blaring music coming from the stage a hundred yards down. The gates to the park's annual Outside Lands music festival had opened just minutes before, and hundreds of concertgoers charged through in a hungry stampede.

It would have looked like your typical outdoor food fest, except that there were no corn dogs in sight. Hot dogs, sure, but only the local kind, made from cattle grazing just a few hours north of the city. For the adventurous foodies, though, that state-fair classic paled in comparison to the kimchi-topped tacos, the wood-smoked pork shoulder, or the gruyere-topped free-range burgers.

Now in its fourth year, Outside Lands has made itself known as a one-stop mecca for music, food, and wine lovers alike. It's one of just a few festivals in the country experimenting with gourmet cuisine at an outdoor event with enough people to fill a medium-sized town. The idea was sparked by a desire to match the food caliber with the all-star music lineup, which in the past has included Beck and Radiohead, and this year features the likes of Phish, Arcade Fire, and OK Go. "It's really fun to watch how people really see food and wine as main pillars of the music festival," Kerry Black, who oversees the festival's marketing and food vendors, told me. "I don't think anyone has it to the extent that we do."

The challenge of bringing small, local food operations into a giant music festival—this year its promoters expect a total of 140,000 attendees—is the sheer scale of the endeavor. Demand can be hard to predict. If you low-ball your supply, you risk running dry and turning away customers, but too much food, and you might end up with massive waste.

Larry Bain, cofounder of an outfit called Let's Be Frank, learned this the hard way. He's been bringing his local and sustainably grown beef and pork hot dogs to the festival since its inception. The first year, Bain nearly ran out of food. "It was 8 p.m. on a Friday night, and we were hoping it would slow down, but it started picking back up," he says. "We were running all over town, with three people driving, picking up more onions, ketchups, and hot dogs."

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week: Gun Rights, Lessons to be Learned from Germany, and the Dana Carvey Show

| Fri Aug. 12, 2011 5:50 PM EDT

Mother Jones guest blogger Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads, a site devoted to uncovering the best long-form nonfiction articles available online. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over the weekend? Below, a hand-picked bouquet of five interesting stories, including word count and approximate reading time. (Readers can also subscribe to The Top 5 Longreads of the Week by clicking here.)

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Hash in the Holy Land

| Fri Aug. 12, 2011 3:24 PM EDT

In a move expected to increase medicinal marijuana use six-fold by 2016, the Israeli government on Sunday approved new guidelines for medical marijuana. The Health Ministry, in coordination with the police and national anti-drug authorities, will oversee of the distribution and use of Israel's marijuana. Until recently, these functions were carried out exclusively (for the entire country) by a single doctor.

According to the official statement: "This is in recognition that the medical use of cannabis is necessary in certain cases."

The announcement predictably triggered snarky rejoinders about a government conspiracy to reduce hundreds of thousands of demonstrators protesting the cost of living to hazy passivity. But in fact, Israel has long held a distinguished place in pro-marijuana circles. It legalized cannabis to treat extreme symptoms in 1999, becoming one of the first countries to do so. The program was slow to take off—in 2009, only about 700 Israelis had prescriptions—but that number has since grown to 6,000. Marijuana is now approved for patients for conditions including fibromyalgia, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis, as well as for Israel Defense Force veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

New Study: Wealth Makes You Selfish

| Fri Aug. 12, 2011 8:20 AM EDT

In theory, America's mega rich could pay off all of America's student debt, halve global poverty and hunger by 2015, and replace 70% of money lost in the 2008 recession. Bevy of problems solved, right? Not quite. A study released this week sheds light on why a billionaire bailout isn't very likely. Titled "Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resource and Rank in the Social Realm," the report, published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, concludes that individuals from rich backgrounds are, to put it simply, more selfish. 

The report's authors—social scientists Dacher Keltner, Michael Kraus, and Paul Piffhave done 12 different studies to measure empathy, Keltner told MSNBC, and they keep coming back to the same idea: "Lower class people just show more empathy, more prosocial behavior, more compassion, no matter how you look at it," Keltner says.

Right-Wing Rock Fans Get Owned…by T-Shirts?

| Thu Aug. 11, 2011 6:52 AM EDT
Members of Germany's far-right National Democratic Party (NPD).

This one goes out to all those who say combating right-wing hate can't be done with a dose of prankster humor:

At this summer's "Rock for Germany" music festival in Gera, Germany on Aug. 6 (an event sponsored by the country's neo-Nazi National Democratic Party), nearly 300 attendees were handed free souvenir t-shirts emblazoned with the nationalistic message, "Hardcore Rebels—National and Free" and a skull-and-crossbones-and-flag logo.

But what the fans didn't know was that after running their new concert souvenirs through the wash, the original message fades dramatically, and a hidden one is designed to appear. The Guardian reports:

...The tagline turned into a message from a group offering to help far-right extremists break away from the neo-Nazi scene.

"If your T-shirt can do it, you can do it too – we'll help you get away from right-wing extremism," reads the slogan on the shirts after their first washing.

The shirts were handed [out]…by organisers after they had been donated anonymously. They were provided by Exit [Deutschland], a group which helps people disassociate themselves from the far-right.

The "Trojan t-shirts" also revealed the contact information for Exit Deutschland, an outreach group that tries to help teens "break with...right-wing extremism and build a new life" by stressing the "values of personal freedom and dignity."

Though no one is expecting any of this to suddenly erase the xenophobic tendencies or extreme-right views of some of the festival-goers, Exit's leaders still think the operation went off better than expected, according to Spiegel Online:

"Our name will be stored in their minds. And when they consider leaving the scene at some point, they will remember us," [said Exit co-founder Bernd Wagner]. The group's main goal was to reach young right-wing extremists "in a situation where they would hopefully be alone at home."

A marketing expert in Hamburg, who wished to remain anonymous, came up with the idea together with his colleagues, [according to the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung]. His firm paid for the T-shirts to be printed.

Compared to other creative political stunts, this one stands as one of the most honorable and well-intentioned in recent memory. Click here for a before-and-after image of the crypto-anti-fascist t-shirt.

Whole Foods Afraid of Ramadan?

| Tue Aug. 9, 2011 4:29 AM EDT

For the last two weeks, Whole Foods promoted frozen products made by Saffron Road, maker of all-natural halal foods, in celebration of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Emphasis on these products, which include famous Indian and Thai dishes, drew the ire of right-wing bloggers like Debbie Schlussel, who in late July blasted the Whole Foods promotion on her blog with a story titled "Anti-Israel Whole Foods Wishes You a Happy Ramadan." According to various media outlets, the backlash forced Whole Foods to cancel the promotion. This morning, the Houston Press said it obtained an email from Whole Foods that reads: "It is probably best that we don't specifically call out or 'promote' Ramadan...We should not highlight Ramadan in signage in our stores as that could be considered 'Celebrating or promoting' Ramadan." Not surprisingly, commenters on Twitter spending the better part of the morning blasting the company for the leaked message. Reza Aslan, an expert on Islam, tweeted: "Under pressure from Right Wing Nuts, Whole Foods cancels promotion. Right. BC my local Whole Foods is full of Republicans. Morons."

But not so fast: the grocery store says the promotion is still on. Whole Foods spokeswoman Libba Letton assured me that "Whole Foods Market is NOT cancelling our current halal promotion," and that the confusion stemmed from one branch getting ahead of itself (though she wouldn't tell me which one). "We have 12 different operating regions and one region reacted by sending out directions to promote halal and not specifically Ramadan after some online negative comments." She insists the email was not company-wide: "We’re excited to be offering high quality halal products for our shoppers and we stand behind them and our promotion of them, just like we do with other seasonal and holiday products." As for any discipline for the branch that sent the email, Letton says "the situation was addressed."