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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! People with money and power are losing their minds.
Let’s get to the latest edition of what’s gone wrong, and end with something so right.
Jussie Smollett told a jury that an attack against him by two noose-carrying MAGA men was not a hoax.
Turns out the actor isn’t a very good actor. The jury didn’t buy it.
Smollett was convicted of disorderly conduct and lying to police for staging the attack against himself in 2019.
He plans to appeal. Good luck with that.
Charlie Munger is smart. And rich. And, well, old.
He also thinks he’s an architect.
The 97-year-old billionaire and wingman for Warren Buffett has designed the world’s largest dorm for UC Santa Barbara. Munger Hall will have 11 stories and over 4,500 rooms. Price tag: $1.5 billion. He’s willing to seed it with $200 million.
The reviews are in, and they’re not good. Munger Hall has been dubbed “Dormzilla.” The rooms are all single-occupancy, measuring a reported 10x7 feet, and 94% of them have no windows.
The big, beige box resembles a federal jail, and it makes those Foxconn dorms in China look like Camelot.
Munger defends the design in a wild interview with Architectural Record. He calls his critics “idiots,” and declares “every other college will be jealous.”
He told Bloomberg that the small rooms will encourage students to congregate in the dorm’s community spaces. As for the lack of windows, rooms will have TV screens simulating light. “Everybody loves light and everybody prefers natural light. But it’s a game of tradeoffs,” Munger said. He even hopes the building’s design of fun spaces outside the cocoon-like rooms will keep students happy and “keep the suicide rate low.”
The university is under pressure to create more student housing, but with a reported price tag of $330,000 per bed, Munger Hall would be the most expensive dorm in UC history.
However, all hope is not lost. Vice reports that Munger has yet to cough up any money. The deal’s not sealed.
UCSB's general counsel replied to a request for information by saying, “Since discussions with the donor regarding financial commitment are still ongoing, the premature release of this record will jeopardize these ongoing negotiations and the final completion of the financial commitment documents.”
Good to know that a taxpayer-supported university is putting donor dollars ahead of giving students a room with a view in one of the most beautiful places in California.
Remember that scene in “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” where Steve Martin is trying to rent a car, and the rental agent couldn’t care less?
What happened to Kate Klonick is much, much worse. Fasten your seatbelts.
Klonick, a Hertz Gold Plus member (and law professor), went to pick up her reserved car at a Hertz rental location in Brooklyn last month to drive to western New York for Thanksgiving.
Klonick says she waited for two hours to pick up the car, only to see the office close three customers ahead of her, leaving Klonick, her partner, her blind/deaf dog and their luggage stranded. Customer service then sent her on various wild goose chases to other Hertz locations where she was told they would have cars.
Her calls to customer service were often disconnected, sometimes after waiting nearly a half hour on hold. When she could reach a human, she was told that renting a replacement car would cost her $1,800, instead of the original $414.93 she paid for her reservation.
This, she refused to do.
After Ubering to various Hertzes (?) where phantom cars allegedly awaited her, Klonick eventually found a filthy Kia the following day at a Hertz in Williamsburg, NY, which cost her around $900.
She was exhausted and thankful.
She also wrote a complaint to Hertz, which she posted on Twitter.
The Washington Post reports that Hertz apologized and reimbursed Klonick for the rate difference (but not for the whole thing, which, come on... ).
But here’s a warning for the rest of us. While Klonick was waiting at the third (fourth?) Hertz office for a car, one of the employees told her the situation is not unusual. “Customer service has no idea of our inventory,” Klonick claims he said. “They just overbook things.”
Amazon reportedly runs about a third of the internet on Amazon Web Services (AWS).
AWS had a big outage this week, effecting everything from Ring to Roomba, Disney+ to Amazon’s own warehouse workers.
The issue was resolved, and the cause was due to…
Oh, wait. We don’t know. Amazon isn’t saying.
Amazon sued the Pentagon two years ago for awarding a $10 billion cloud computing contract to only one vendor, Microsoft. Eventually the DOD decided to reopen the bidding with plans to spread services around to a few companies to avoid being dependent on only one.
UPDATE: Amazon put out a statement explaining what happened, though you may need an advanced degree to understand it. As best as I can tell, some sort of expected automated event related to scaling (scaling what? Dunno) triggered a surge of activity which overwhelmed part of the system and cascaded into a big snowball until it was fixed. The scaling activity has been ceased until AWS figures out what went wrong and fixes it. At least I think that’s what happened. Read the statement and feel free to correct in the comments.)
This is my favorite.
Someone from “Starbuckscares.com,“ which is supposed to be “Starbucks Cares” but looks to me like “StarbuckScares,” put out a press release claiming to represent the coffee giant. It reported that Starbucks was going to end its policy of “dietary racism” by removing up-charges for plant-based milk.
I know we have a race problem, but I didn’t realize it extended to dairy.
I got the press release in my inbox. So did five bazillion other reporters. The StarbucksCares website sure looked like it was part of the company. ”The milk we drink is tearing us apart,” it declared in a video. (The website is now gone.)
But... the whole thing seemed a bit over the top. I mean, even for Starbucks.
I thought, maybe I should call Starbucks?
I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but some of my colleagues make me look Pulitzer-worthy.
Starbucks — the real Starbucks — told me the whole thing was a hoax. “This website is not associated with Starbucks.”
I also reached out to Starbuck Scares, I mean, Starbucks Cares. The folks behind the “brandjacking” replied with an email that began with “Dear xxx,” (always a strong start). The spoof was created by Switch4Good, a non-profit that promotes dairy-free living, with help from famous corporate pranksters The Yes Men.
Oh, and you still have to pay extra for nut and oat milk. #DietaryLivesMatter
Despite not falling for the Starbucks hoax, I’m still an idiot. Maybe that’s why I have a keen eye for idiocy in others.
I’m not allowed to own individual stocks or bonds as part of my employment agreement with CNBC. I can only own ETFs and mutual funds. This avoids conflicts when reporting on companies.
However, I can own individual currencies.
So… um… over the last two weeks I finally decided to buy a little crypto. Just to, ya know, see what happens.
I’m down over 20%. Oof.
Not exactly to the moon! The experience has further burnished my reputation as someone who finally takes action only at the peak.
Selecting politicians for Dumb and Dumber is like shooting fish in a barrel, and guns are actually on both sides of my quick whip-around.
On the right:
1) Congresspeople competing with each other over who has the best gun-toting family Christmas card, only days after a school massacre, is not what Jesus would do.
2) Quitting your powerful position in Congress to join Donald Trump’s new media organization on the day the SEC announces an investigation into the SPAC related to the venture is (inhale) dumb.
But that’s exactly what California Republican Devin Nunes did.
However, the really dumb thing he’s done is to believe that Donald Trump will ever pay him. Trump doesn’t pay you. You pay him. (Here’s an email the former President sent me this week saying he’ll send me a Christmas card if I pay him $15.)
On the left:
1) Wait, the mayor of New York continued pressuring people for money even though they had business before the city, and even after he’d been warned to stop? How can that be??
“The city’s ethics board repeatedly told the mayor and his attorneys that he was not allowed to raise money from anyone with matters ‘pending or about to be pending’ before his administration,” reports POLITICO about Bill de Blasio, “but he ignored the guidance he and his team sought in the first place.”
2) The Los Angeles Times reports that Kamala Harris, the Vice President of the United States of America, is appearing at a human rights event emceed by Alec Baldwin, though the Veep says she technically won’t be sharing the stage with Baldwin.
Still, seriously. Can anyone tell me what’s up with the VP, the second most powerful person in America? Anyone talk to her? Is she okay? I mean, she’s a heartbeat away.
Meantime, Baldwin can’t shut up about how it wasn’t his fault that someone died on his movie set, because he didn’t pull the trigger, and the set of “Rust” was actually a wonderful place to work, even though there was a crew walkoff, and now someone’s dead, and... and...
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has fired most of his economic advisors and decided that lower interest rates will slow Turkey’s runaway inflation, when the history of the world has proven otherwise. Case in point: the United States right now. Low rates. High inflation. Transitory my a**.
Turkey’s idea has turned out to be a turkey. The Lira has lost about 40% of its value, leading to, you guessed it!, higher inflation.
Who’s gonna tell Erdogan he’s wrong? Anyone? Anyone?
You were waiting for this one, amirite?
Chris Cuomo’s ego, thinking he could gather intel for his brother while parading as a primetime journalist, isn’t the worst part of this fiasco.
No, the Dumbererererererer party is CNN’s Jeff Zucker, who let ratings prevail over values for far too long before firing his star anchor this week. I mean, we haven’t even talked about how Cuomo broke Covid quarantine last year and then emerged from his basement like Lazarus when his ”isolation” ended.
But breaking several journalistic standards to help his brother neutralize accusers was not the final straw for CNN.
Instead, Cuomo was fired after a former employee claimed sexual harassment, something the anchor denies.
If that accusation hadn’t come along, Chris Cuomo would still be suspended, but probably still have a job. Just last week, before the harassment allegation surfaced, CNN’s Brian Stelter predicted Cuomo could be back on the air in January.
Which tells me that at CNN, it matters how you treat your female co-workers, but it doesn’t matter how you treat viewers.
Thanks for hanging in here. We’re almost done.
There is no good way to lay off 9% of your company.
Vishal Garg, CEO of mortgage lender Better.com, reached out to employees this week on Zoom to announce, “I come to you with not great news.”
He explains that the market has changed, and so Better has to change as well, “in order to survive.”
Then, after warning everyone that this was really hard for him to do, that the other time he did it, “I cried,” (the other time?), he proceeded to lay off 900 employees.
“If you’re on this call, you’re part of the unlucky group that is being laid off. Your employment here is terminated. Effective immediately.” (The person videotaping the call has a pretty potent reaction.)
Not sure how a mortgage lender can suffer in this market, but Bloomberg reports that the Zoom call happened a day after the company delayed its plans to go public via a SPAC.
Meantime, Fortune reports someone anonymously complained on a professional message board that some of the laid-off workers were only working two hours a day, and they were so unproductive they were “stealing” from other employees and customers.
Fortune says Garg admitted that he was the author of those posts.
I don’t think Vishal Garg will be teaching classes at Wharton anytime soon, but perhaps the next time he announces a massive layoff, he’ll be a Better manager.
Wanna feel better? Let’s finish by turning that frown upside down!
Ebony Johnson has worked the drive-thru at a Dunkin’ Donuts outside Cincinnati for three years. But she and her kids have been couch surfing for much of that time after being evicted from their apartment.
Because they were already homeless, Johnson couldn’t use the rent forgiveness programs under Covid. She didn’t qualify for other aid because she and her kids weren’t physically living on the streets.
A loyal customer at Dunkin’ named Suzanne Burke found out about the situation and started working with various agencies to help Ebony Johnson and her children find a home. It took nine months, but the Johnsons just moved into their new apartment, and they will have rental assistance (btw, it looks much nicer than a windowless, $330,000 dorm room).
One could argue that Dunkin’ should pay a living wage, but how much more are you willing to pay for donuts and coffee to support that? Okay, okay, back to the heartwarming part…
This is what happens when people care.
Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments, or 📧 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover art: Chesnot/Getty Images