What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week.

1. Mandela’s Social Failure (via The New York Times): “In South Africa, the miserable life of the poor majority broadly remains the same as under apartheid, and the rise of political and civil rights is counterbalanced by the growing insecurity, violence, and crime.”

2. Silicon Chasm (via The Weekly Standard): “Master and servant. Cornucopian wealth for a few tech oligarchs plus relatively steady but relatively low-paying work for their lucky retainers. No middle class, unless the top 5 percent U.S. income bracket counts as middle class.”

3. Why Are Upworthy Headlines Suddenly Everywhere? (via TheAtlantic.com): “The short answer is: People click on them.”

4. Invisible Child: Dasani’s Homeless Life (via The New York Times): “It is no place for children. Yet Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.”

5. Whose Sarin? (via The London Review of Books): “Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August.”

What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week.

1. Tech Wealth and Ideas Are Heading Into News (via The New York Times): “Technology and journalism, former antagonists, are about to give bromance a try, with Mr. Bezos and Mr. Omidyar leading the way.”

2. Stanley Druckenmiller: How Washington Really Redistributes Income (via The Wall Street Journal): “[W]hile today’s 65-year-olds will receive on average net lifetime benefits of $327,400, children born now will suffer net lifetime losses of $420,600 as they struggle to pay the bills of aging Americans.”

3. What Is ‘Evil’ to Google? (via TheAltantic.com): “Google doesn’t make immoral choices because moral choices are just choices made by Google.”

4. 20 Minutes at Rucker Park (via SBNation.com): “A streetballer’s cross-country journey from the deepest part of hell to take his shot on New York’s most storied basketball court.”

5. Is Google building a hulking floating data center in SF Bay? (via CNET.com): “It looks like Google has been working on an oversize secret project on San Francisco’s Treasure Island.”

Martin O’Malley 2016: The City That Breeds Dissents … Disrespectfully [Q&A]

Evan Siple and Dennis McIver are two of the better-known social media personalities of Baltimore city: Siple is the founder of The City That Breeds blog, an enterprise that takes a snark-filled approach to Baltimore culture and politics, and McIver is Twitter’s DennisTheCynic, a stalwart in the relentless fight to make a delivery mechanism for 140-character messages less like an idiot’s playground.

Since March 2013 the duo has pumped out a weekly City That Breeds podcast. Think about having an erudite discussion about education reform when someone abruptly lets out a loud, long fart, and you have an idea of the general tenor of these City That Breeds podcasts.

Dennis McIver, left, and Evan Siple.

In my role as lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore, I interviewed Siple and McIver about the podcast and a host of matters specific to Baltimore. But during our nearly hour-long chat in July, we stumbled upon the subject of whether current Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley will make a run for the U.S. presidency in 2016. Below is what followed.

AZ: What do you guys think about Martin O’Malley potentially running for president in 2016?

Evan: I really hope he does because that will give us the most content in the history of the world. I will un-endingly shit all over his campaign. I can only hope that he runs, and I don’t know. It looks like maybe.

AZ: I don’t know. I think if Hillary Clinton jumps in he’d be wise to stay out.

Dennis: Yeah.

Evan: I think he would do a test run. Test the waters in the primary. If the numbers look right, he’ll run again in another four years.

Dennis: The question for O’Malley is, his term ends in 2014, and so 2016 will really be the best shot he’ll have. Because after that, how do you keep your presence when you don’t necessarily have a podium from which to say your views? I could see him running if Hillary doesn’t. On one hand, he seems to have been angling for this since the early 2000s, you know, since he became mayor of Baltimore.

AZ: So this is why he got into politics in the first place, to your mind?

Dennis: I think he’s been preparing for it. So much of it is dependent on what happens nationally. If Clinton’s not there, he will be. Whether or not he has the ability to win with his platform and his history: I don’t know. He hasn’t polled well, but it’s only 2013.

Evan: What’s so bizarre: I hate him as governor. I stopped liking him as mayor once it was obvious that he was going to be out the door mentally and physically with the gubernatorial thing. But I think as a president, I’d hate him less, because on the national scale, I think the only thing he would do is try as hard as he could to raise taxes on the rich. And whereas you can do that in Maryland and rich people will vacate the state, people can’t move out of the United States, can they? I mean they could, but they won’t.

Dennis: Another aspect of that is the fact that his experience has been in relatively unchallenged waters. When he was mayor he got a completely Democratic city council, so they’re going to support his agenda for the most part. When he became governor he had the House of Delegates and the Senate, both of which were run by democrats and were largely directed by him. When you get to a federal level, if you’re trying to major overhaul just based on the level of strength that they have nationally, I think he’s going to have significant challenges making that transition.

AZ: Yeah, and let’s just assume he were to win in 2016. It’s not like he has a Mike Miller figure in Congress, I don’t think, who would really work with him. Who’d be amenable to working with him?

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. Photo credit: Andrew Zaleski.

Dennis: Yeah, [Maryland Senate president] Miller  is your standard conservative-style Southern Democrat. He wanted to get the gas tax passed for years and finally he and O’Malley came together and said we’re going to make this work. He was opposed to repealing the death penalty but finally sort of flipped on it.

AZ: And then, of course, O’Malley is rather pedestrian when it comes to national-level speaking engagements.

Evan: He’s awful.

Dennis: He flopped massively in 2004.

AZ: At the DNC last year, it was uninspired.

Dennis: Yeah, exactly.

Evan: His attempts at charisma are just cringeworthy.

Dennis: There’s also been this degree of hollowing from when he was mayor to when he became governor. Evan made this point to me a long time ago — when he was mayor, he was more dynamic, he was much more engaged. If he was mad about something, he let you know he was mad.

Evan: He even said himself, when he became governor, it was much easier to be the mayor because everything was immediate and local. You can engage people, whereas if he’s sitting in Annapolis and someone out in Garrett County is talking shit about him, he can’t drive out there and talk to the guy.

AZ: Have either of you ever tweeted at him?

E: The only time I ever tweeted at him he was talking about all these Orioles in the All-Star game and he was like, go O’s. I just said, ‘Don’t ever tweet about sports ever again.’

What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week.

1. Meet Your Maker (via Slate.com): “Man is a lousy invention–why do we let the manufacturer off the hook?”

2. The future of media is bright … and it’s here already (via The Kernel): “We are seeing the world of journalism become a bit like the world of sports, with its superstars, and its market, with stars going from one team to the other. But, unlike in sports, it’s possible for players to create their own team, and to be successful in niches.”

3. The Time Gawker Put the Washington Post Out of Business (via Gawker.com): “Blogs are killing newspapers. But it’s not by mindlessly cutting and pasting from newspaper web sites. … The bigger threat is that blogs say the things that hidebound newspaper editors are too afraid to let their reporters write.”

4. The Maligned Tea Party (via National Review Online): “The first, and most cynical, is made up of perfidious progressives who, because they oppose the Tea Party’s economic agenda and fear its electoral and political clout, have set out with malice aforethought to destroy the group’s reputation.”

5. Ma’am, Your Burger Has Been Paid For (via The New York Times): “Whereas paying it forward in drive-throughs occurred maybe once or twice a year a decade ago, now fast-food operators said it might happen several times a day.”

What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week.

1. Boomtown Rats on the Lonesome Prairie (via Gawker.com): “Under pressure to provide more humane housing for these many thousands of workers, the bigger oil companies have hired logistics companies to build “man camps,” often modular housing moved here from other harsh environments. These sprawling complexes include dining rooms and game rooms and lots of tiny single-occupancy cells with a bed, TV and sink. Toilets and showers are communal. Alcohol, pets, girlfriends and children are strictly forbidden.”

2. Powers, Separate on Purpose (via National Review Online): “Separation of powers is inefficient; it is an obstacle to substantial change; and it will not only “allow” gridlock but it is explicitly designed to encourage it.”

3. Here is every previous government shutdown, why they happened and how they ended (via The Washington Post): “Before some 1980 and 1981 opinions issued by then-Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, a failure to fund some part of the government didn’t necessarily mean that that part of government would stop functioning.”

4. New Diplomatic Avenue Emerges, in 140-Character Bursts (via The New York Times): “Countries all over the world, dictatorships and democracies alike, have in the last few years sought to tame — or plug entirely — that real-time fire hose of public opinion known as Twitter.”

5. Tax collection errors cost Baltimore $30M or more a year, says Stokes [via Baltimore Brew]: “The chairman of the City Council’s taxation committee says that chronic errors and miscalculations of tax bills are costing cash-strapped Baltimore at least $30 million a year – and maybe as much as $60 million.”

What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week.

1. The Shadow Commander (via The New Yorker): “Qassem Suleimani is the Iranian operative who has been reshaping the Middle East. Now he’s directing Assad’s war in Syria.”

2. Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘pathetic’ American media (via The Guardian): “Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say – here’s a debate’ our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who’s right and who’s wrong about issues. That doesn’t happen enough. It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks.”

3. Looting the Pension Funds (via Rolling Stone): “All across America, Wall Street is grabbing money meant for public workers.”

4. The Army of Islam is Winning in Syria (via Foreign Policy): “On Sept. 24, 11 of the rebels’ most powerful Islamist groups, including several FSA-affiliated brigades, pulled the rug from under the political opposition by signing a joint statement announcing that they do not recognize its National Coalition and affirming that they view Islamic law as the sole source of legislation.”

5. ‘David and Goliath’ by Malcolm Gladwell (via The Wall Street Journal): “Gladwell too often presents as proven laws what are just intriguing possibilities and musings about human behavior.”

What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week. We take a day off for Labor Day, hence no post last week; we resume below.

1. The Cowboy of the NSA (via Foreign Policy): “Inside Gen. Keith Alexander’s all-out, barely-legal drive to build the ultimate spy machine.”

2. The conflict in Syria is destroying some of the oldest relics of human civilization (via Quartz.com): “Dating back at least 7,000 years, [Aleppo] lays claim to be the oldest continuously occupied city in the world.”

3. Early look at health law’s premiums (via The Associated Press): “The average premium for a silver plan ranged from a low of $203 a month for a 21-year-old in Maryland to a high of $764 for a 60-year-old in Connecticut.”

4. Good and Black (via Ebony.com): “But the uncomfortable thread running all through these narratives is the suggestion that we have to be good to be good enough. To be respected, to be human, to be validated in the eyes of White folk.”

5. Facebook is bad for you (via TheEconomist.com): “A study just published by the Public Library of Science … has shown that the more someone uses Facebook, the less satisfied he is with life.”

What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week. For people who care. Caring people defined narrowly as my mother (and even then, it’s a maybe).

  1. Barack Obama’s logic for bombing Syria (via Slate.com): “Given the threat, the humanitarian crisis, America’s standing in the region, and the importance of preserving international norms against the use of weapons of mass destruction, the best option might be to destroy huge chunks of the Syrian military, throw Assad’s regime off balance, and let those on the ground settle the aftermath.”
  2. Warplanes spotted in Cyprus as tensions rise in Damascus (via The Guardian): “If an order to attack targets in Syria is given, Cyprus is likely to be a hub of the air campaign.”
  3. The Internet Cannot Save You (via Time.com): “The Internet is not magic. The Internet cannot nourish, and it cannot give a homeless person a home.”
  4. The Losses of Dan Gable (via ESPN The Magazine): “Wrestling’s most famous winner is taking on one final battle: To save his sport and all he’s ever been.”
  5. The News vs. The Newsroom: Can One Report Bring a Network ‘to Its Knees’? (via TheAtlantic.com): “Comparing the HBO series’ depictions of the investigative reports on ‘Operation Genoa’ and the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi to what really happened.”

Series A Crunch? Can’t We Call It The Seed-Investment Glut?

Let’s start with what the Series A crunch is.*

For that, turn to how CB Insights defines it in its Seed Investing Report from December: “[The] Series A crunch is nothing more than excessive demand for a limited supply of Series A financings.”

Precisely. Lest we’re confused from the get-go, it’s important to know that the Series A crunch does not refer to any sort of contraction in the overall number of Series A investors doling out stacks of Benjy Franklins to cash-hungry startups.

Rather, the “crunch” represents what will happen as hordes of startups—those that have received seed rounds of financing from angel investors—find themselves chasing too few Series A dollars. Again, turn to CB Insights’ Seed Investing Report: 1,000 startups will be “orphaned” as they’re unable to raise successive rounds of investment capital following their initial seed raises.

Admittedly, this point about what “Series A crunch” means was muddled in the piece I wrote for Technically Baltimore, especially where I scoffed openly at even calling this phenomenon a Series A crunch:

“Series A crunch? Meh. What appears to be happening, rather, is that startups are starting to feel the effects of an excessive amount of poorly executed seed deals undertaken by inexperienced angel investors.”

I promise you I’m not operating under a misapprehension of what the tech world means when it says Series A crunch.

I am, however, being a curmudgeonly fuck. Let me explain.

In financial terms, a crunch is a shortage of cash or credit. We’ve already established that “Series A crunch” is a phrase that does not represent any shrinking in the overall capacity of Series A dollars. It’s not as if Thurston Howell Barnaby the Deuces is dropping dead, and therefore his $50 million in what could have been Series A funding is suddenly gone (with the appropriate amount extracted by the federal government in the form of estate taxes).

So why are we calling this phenomenon the Series A crunch instead of the Seed-Investment Glut? Or, you know, the Angel-Seed Glut? (Don’t laugh.) Or: “EXPLOSION!”

Forgive me for engaging in nothing more than a game of semantics, but I majored in English literature in college. Dissecting words, their meanings, and why certain diction is used in describing specific situations is more appealing to me than a jungle juice-soaked weekend in Vegas.

What I tried doing in my piece for Technically Baltimore was reframe the conversation. If a crunch is a shortage, then I don’t want to call this a Series A crunch. (Insert refutations by reporters/tech big-wigs—with far more experience/talent than a 24-year-old—asserting that all I’m doing is whining.)

Let’s call this something that focuses on the problem, namely: the deleterious effect had on startups when too many angel investors engage in seed deals, inflating companies’ relative worth, and, perhaps, founders’ dreams and aspirations.

Over the last four years or so, we’ve seen the volume of seed deals balloon. This “crunch” is now happening thanks to “pesky angel investors flinging dollar bills harder than Rick Ross out of a Maybach’s front, driver-side window, #LIKEABOSS.”

What that has created is an issue of supply and demand. With so many startups having received smaller rounds of seed financing, that means there are now more startups shooting for a limited amount of Series A funding. A portion of those startups are crappy startups that don’t deserve money, period.

Others, however—ones perhaps worthy of, and in need of, more investment dollars—will garner no attention from Series A investors. Which means those startups will receive no more funding. Which means those startups become subject to fortune (as well as a caffeine drip and the relative worth of whatever they’re selling). Will they make enough money to keep operating, or will they be forced to close shop? (Remember when unemployment was below 7 percent?)

CB Insights’ latest report shows that the volume of Series A deals in Q4 of 2012 increased.** So why the crunch?

Let’s pick a word that shines the spotlight on the problem: far, far too many seed deals.

*Rick Ross GIF unrelated to aforementioned crunch.

**Yes, yes, I KNOW even the smallest increase in Series A deals won’t alleviate the painful money-strapped smackdown many a startup will face as 2013 continues.

Modern Neck Wear From an Unlikely Source

Barton Strawn didn’t attend college to be a clothing designer. Now the 24-year-old N.C. State graduate, along with fellow sartorialists Justin Carey and Paul Connor, owns and operates Lumina Clothing Company, maker of skinny ties and bow ties that display a savvy, Southern sensibility. (It’s like Mad Men, only with gingham. And fewer martinis.)

Photo courtesy of Lumina Clothing Co.

Barton Strawn is good at design. At least, as an architecture major at North Carolina State, he was expected to be. So it only made sense that in 2009, during his junior year, Strawn found himself sitting behind—a sewing machine.

It all started with a few job interviews. Strawn, along with engineering-major friends Justin Carey and Jordan Pung, were beginning to look for work. “We were getting to that point in our college career where we were having to go to more formal functions,” says Strawn. “Job interviews . . .[a] variety of things that required us to dress a little more formally than we had in the past.”

Armed with a sartorial sensibility that belied their years, the three trekked through downtown Raleigh, N.C., looking for ties they could pair with the suits they already owned.

“We’re all fairly fashion savvy,” says Strawn. “But when we got to the store, there really wasn’t much of a selection.”

Pung and Carey seized on Strawn’s creative instincts and his background in design and, half-joking, urged him to make ties for the three of them; Strawn responded by making several skinny ties and a couple bow ties.

“The more we wore them around, the more we got complimented on the ties we were wearing from people in stores where we were shopping. That’s when it dawned on us that we could probably take this from just a hobby, essentially, into something that was an actual business.”

Enter Lumina Clothing Company. On a shoestring budget, the trio set out to create a line of neck and bow ties. Working out of Strawn’s mother’s house in Raleigh on a single sewing machine, they gradually built up their company to carry full lines of traditional ties, dress shirts, and bow ties that display a savvy sensibility, in patterns, colors, and cuts that are undeniably—and, perhaps, stereotypically—of the South (think: bright yellow, lime green, and light blue checkered and gingham patterns).

Today the company is still headed by Strawn and Carey; a third partner, Paul Connor, was brought in after Pung departed. And tomorrow at the inaugural Confirmed Stock event at 2640 Space, the team will be selling their signature lines of bow and neck ties, men’s shirts, and samples of their forthcoming line of men’s trousers. Fairly soon, says Carey, Lumina Clothing will release its first blazer as well was a line of women’s dresses.

Photo courtesy of Lumina Clothing Co.

Lumina Clothing borrows its namesake from the old entertainment and dance pavilion that opened in 1905 at Wrightsville Beach, N.C. Early ties’ names befitted the overarching theme: the “Dapper Dodger”; the “Chapel Thrill”; the “Sunshine State” and “Limeade.”

“It’s definitely a very purposeful decision to have a Southern appeal come through,” says Strawn. “But it’s one that can be appreciated by southerners and people who are from other parts of the country.”

While the Lumina gents now source all their fabric from wholesaling companies and use large-scale manufacturers for production—ties made in New York, shirts made in South Carolina—the process of making ties, in the beginning, was a little more hands-on. Strawn thought up the patterns for the neckties and bow ties, and all three purchased material at local fabric stores. Then Strawn, along with his mother, Karen, would work out of her house sewing each tie by hand (with the help of a sewing machine, of course).

“When your clientele base isn’t all that large, you can afford to make one bow tie at a time and you can afford to make one necktie at a time,” says Strawn.

In addition, the scale of Lumina’s initial, capital funding minimized what the company was able to pull off at the outset. Strawn, Carey, and Pung poured their own savings into the project, not wanting to take out loans or seek the monetary assistance of a third-party investor.

“One of our goals was to try to build it up from a very small capital base into something that was larger,” says Strawn. “And that in itself has been tough. … You know, you don’t have to be 45 to start a company. You can be 20, and part of that is working on that shoestring budget.”

But while being young menswear entrepreneurs can be difficult—minimal funding in a capital-intensive industry; being one person yet performing multiple duties (in Strawn’s case, not only does he plan out the ties for each season, but he designs and codes Lumina’s website, without which the guys wouldn’t have a national selling platform); and, as Strawn puts it, “never really not thinking about the company . . . even when I’m out with friends”—working as newcomers in a fairly traditional industry affords the Raleigh gents opportunities not readily available to their older counterparts.

“There certainly have been moments when we all kind of take a step back, where we have that moment and that shock factor where we think we might be in over our head,” says Strawn. “But one of the benefits of being young is we didn’t know how it’s [men’s clothing] always been done. And so that allowed us to look at the men’s fashion world in a slightly different light. We have a chance to do things differently than how it’s always been done.”

For the Lumina crew, that means bringing together seemingly disparate elements—Southern patterns and colors with classic, preppy styling—into a uniform package they can call their own.

Photo courtesy of Lumina Clothing Co.

“When we first started doing the neck wear, we noticed a trend with menswear in general that was shying a little more toward sort of the brighter, what are traditionally considered southern patterns and colors,” says Strawn. “It was also shying more toward a sort of classic, preppy look . . . so we wanted to pick up on that and add our own little touch to it.”

That Lumina touch is the width of the neckwear. All of their ties and bow ties are a far cry from the Gordon Gecko-like eighties ties that were fatter than the StayPuft Marshmallow Man. But, says Strawn, people they speak with in North Carolina identify Lumina’s patterns as too edgy, or modern, whereas people in cities like New York and even Nashville flock to Lumina’s ties’ patterns and widths.

“It’s an odd merger,” says Strawn. “We really picked up on people from D.C. and Nashville and larger cities that tend to be a little more fashion forward than those here in the south, but are still rooted in some of that southern tradition.”

In addition, the guys recognize the value in pairing traditional items—like the bow tie, which is Lumina’s best-seller—with more modern looks. And that, ultimately, is what drives their styling spirit.

“The bow tie is an interesting piece of men’s accessory because there’s a certain following of older gentlemen who wear bow ties, love bow ties, and continue to wear them,” says Strawn. “We’re seeing kind of a resurgence of the bow tie. … They don’t have to look old. They don’t have to look traditional. They can be done in a way that’s fun and modern.”

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