Sunday, December 1, 2013

Snowdon’s secrets sold; eBay founder to invest $250M in Greenwald, Poitras media start-up

When you’re a journalist on the story of a lifetime, with the mother load of government intelligence, and someone offers to invest $250 million to hire you, your partner and your super-secret stash of intel and launch a new for-profit media venture, what do you do?

If you’re Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras – the two reporters whom Edward Snowdon had entrusted full access to his cache of NSA files – you take the deal.

According to a post on, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar invested a quarter of a billion dollars to hire the two journos for a new media venture.

In the piece, ‘Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks,’ which published on Nov. 27, author Mark Ames seems to be firing more of a disclosure warning shot, preemptively stressing the importance of fair and accurate reporting.

It’s lengthy, but is worth a read for a bit more background on the parties’ financial interests. It also raises some interesting questions as to the legality of the deal, and the choice these writers made not to make the documents public, like Wikileaks.

Greenwald posted a response this morning on his site, UT Documents. In it he addresses the points raised in the Pando piece, at length, and raises some questions of his own.

But it’s not a denial.

Greenwald writes:

“I consider the opportunity to help build this new media venture to be a once-in-a-career dream opportunity. That's because the organization is being built from the start to support, sustain and encourage truly independent, adversarial journalism.”
“The people we have hired and will continue to hire - and, ultimately, the journalism we produce - will speak volumes about exactly the reasons we're doing this and why I'm so excited about it.”

As to the legality, Greenwald writes:

“The UK government is formally equating our journalism with "terrorism" and "espionage" and has said there are criminal investigations pending. Eric Holder's recent statements about whether I'd be prosecuted if I tried to enter the US was so riddled with caveats and uncertainties that it raised more questions than it answered.
 One of the few protections you have when you're reporting on classified materials is that you're doing it as a journalist. It's therefore vital that we never act as a source or distributor of the materials, which is what the DOJ would eagerly claim if - as individuals - we just started handing out massive amounts of documents to media organizations around the world, rather than doing what we've been doing: reporting on them on a story-by-story basis with those outlets.”

According to the UT Documents post, both Greenwald and Poitras began covering the Snowdon files under freelance contracts with the Guardian, NYT, Washington Post, and der Spiegel. They’ve partnered with media outlets all over the world strategically offering information to individuals whose privacy has been invaded.

The former freelancers have now been offered a very lucrative, and exclusive contract, (in addition to a pending book deal) all built upon their full access to what are estimated as between 50,000 and 200,000 classified NSA documents.

It will be very exciting to watch what kind of work a couple of dedicated writers and an Internet mogul can produce.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

New book from Philly restaurateur, DiFillippo of Davio’s

Looking for that special something ... for the foodie in your life? 

How about a new book?! 

One that dishes the dirt on what it’s really like to be in the business.

It’s the story of a successful restaurateur – but told as if a bunch of us were having dinner, sharing experiences over a bottle of wine.

It’s an insider’s perspective, and a must-read for every would-be, up-an-coming restaurateur:

"It’s All About The Guest, Exceeding Expectations in Business and In Life, The Davio’s Way" by Steve DiFillippo

DiFillippo opened his first restaurant at 24. He’s now the CEO of Davio’s Italian Steakhouse and has taken his brand from Boston to Philly and just recently expanded into Atlanta and New York.

Doing it big in the restaurant business is tough cookies. 

Only a few names stack up when it comes to the art of expansion. Especially when they’ve spared no expense.

You’ve got Starr, Garces and Vetri – the holy trinity of Philly food.

They’ve created a brand and rarely disappoint. We love them for it, and reward them generously with packed-house patronage.

As is the case at Davio’s. They never fail to impress. And though the man behind the brand may not have a household name in the blog-o-sphere, he’s built himself quite the emerging empire.

Culling years of experience on the floor and behind the line, DiFillippo mixes anecdotes with helpful advice on controlling costs, the truth behind Open Table’s booking fees, finding a good public relations firm and the importance of sound legal advice.

He dishes the dirt on Yelp, on a narcissistic wait staff, on drugs in the kitchen and "why it's not all about the chef," chapter 8. 

DiFillippo also pays homage to his “big immigrant family," and the influences that his Italian-American grandmother and Portuguese-American mother had on him at a very young age.

And, of course, there was Julia Child.

Her Pomodoro recipe is listed among others that have inspired him, progressing along with the chapters like a prix-fix menu.

Recipes for, Kobe beef meatballs, basil pesto lobster, and panna cotta are brief, and easy to interpret.

Each chapter is punctuated with “Restaurant Lessons to Live By,” just a few words to the wise, from a man who’s been there, and done that.

Some final takeaways?

1: Treat your people like family.
2: Stay fresh or die. 
3: Bad things happen. Deal with it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

South Street Halloween hair event to benefit Unicef

A fun Halloween hair event happening on South Street this Thurs., Oct. 31, 2013, from 2 - 7 p.m.

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the Chop Shop will be setting up a mock "Walking Dead" set with stylists dressed as flesh-eating zombies out on South Street. Three stations will be set up amongst the chain link fence and caution tape where clients can be part of the act and get a haircut outside.

There will be music, trick or treats for the kids, and the first 10 people dressed in Halloween costumes will receive free haircuts.

In all, minus the 10 freebies, 50 percent of the day's take will go to benefit UNICEF, which works to help children in over 190 countries.

Chop Shop | 513 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Top Chef Season 11 contestant, Jason Cichonski, hosts Alamos wine dinner at Ela

I was recently invited to attend a wine dinner at Jason Cichonski's Ela.

My dirty little secret? I'd never been.

I know, right?!

Cichonski is one of the best chefs in Philadelphia. I've interviewed him more than a few times, and he's never failed to impress. He's got a laundry list of accolades for his culinary prowess. His, ahem, other attributes aren't too bad either... Eater named Cichonski Philly's Hottest Chef in 2012, and Bravo gave the Bucks County native a whole package nod when they cast him as a Top Chef Season 11 contestant. Though he was the most recent chef sent packing, there's no telling if his Top Chef tenure is truly through... We'll just have to wait and see.

It's been a whirlwind year for Cichonski, for sure. But one thing's certain. Ela's doors are open and the food's divine.

The dinner at Ela featured five courses, each paired with an Alamos wine.

The affair was intimate, with about a dozen of us tucked into a candlelit chef's table at the rear of the restaurant. Cichonski was his usual eloquent self, entertaining the group with tales of Polish grandmas, and expletive laden dish descriptions.

We love it. Don't ever change.

Dinner was fabulous. Each course was better than the last. And as the courses kept coming, so did the wines.

The Alamos wines vineyards, are located in Mendoza, Argentina, are grown in what was described as a high altitude desert up in the Andes mountains, and are irrigated by glacial waters.

This geographical recipe for success is bottled and sold for a very approachable price; around $10 a bottle off the shelf. It's also available at Ela, to be paired with any of Cichonski's culinary creations.

Argentinian wines like Malbec are most well known, but Alamos also offers a full profile of wines. Cichonski paired the Alamos Torrontes, a crisp white wine, with spruce smoked amberjack for a first bite. The second course, a roasted beet tartar was paired with the Alamos Malbec. A very, very drinkable Red Blend, married perfectly with the flavors of his house made pasta. The way-too-good Wagyu beef dish went wonderfully with the Seleccion Malbec, and the Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon was perfectly paired with a final bite of soft, raspberry pistachio chocolate.

I was very impressed with the Alamos ambassador, the vibe at Ela and of course the food and drink. Thanks to Liz Conant of FleishmanHillard for the invitation, and to the lovely ladies who kept me company: The fabulous, Tara Nurin, Eileen Smith Dallabrida of EatShopGo, and Robin Shreeves of SouthJerseyLocavore.

The event was wonderful and more importantly, you've got an Alamos drinker for life.

Slackin' in the 215


The year of the dragon.

You know what?

I'm not a dragon.

I'm a cock, and this year's been a beast.

Self-perpetuated deadlines just didn't seem to happen.

Fulfilling my need to write took a back seat, as I find it does every once in a while. When the things I want to write begin to centralize around a few apocalyptic themes, I take that as a time to be more introspective and quiet the voice outside.

Take this montage of recent youtube videos I've played out over the past year or so as my gift to all of you -- an apology playlist, if you will.

Love you -- Mean it!

I've missed you all.

Time to get back on the horse.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mos Def gets a taste of the Guantanamo treatment

Today we find ourselves at the intersection of Cuba and famous rappers. Again. 

Three months ago, JayZ and Beyonce came under fire for a "business trip" to Cuba and subsequent song lyrics criticizing the president. I posted about it here.

This morning, as I have most days in the past two weeks, I opened up my YouTube app to search and obsessively replay Robin Thicke's, "Blurred Lines."

A top suggestion quickly diverted my eye - a man in prison orange, head restrained. The title - only partially visible - said all it needed to earn a click.

While waiting for the video to load, the mind reels. Why would Mos Def have to be force fed? In prison orange. Damn. What could he have done? I didn't realize we force feed our prisoners. 

The 4:minute :38second video uploaded just a day ago by Britain's The Guardian documents Bey's attempt at enduring the "standard operating procedure" of force feeding detainees at Guantanamo Bay. 

It's currently got 819,534 views. The clean version of Blurred Lines boasts 83,849,401.

A couple of facts, in case you haven't yet used the past four minutes wisely to watch the video. Or at least as much of it as you can take to understand the severity of the situation.

A title screen in the video states that there are are currently 120 detainees on hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay and that 44 of them are being force fed against their will.

Though as of about 18 hours ago, NBC reports that "the U.S. military holds 166 foreign captives at the detention camp on the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. Of those, 106 are on hunger strike, with 45 being force-fed as of Monday, according to a Guantanamo spokesman."

I believe I can safely say this was Bey' first encounter with a feeding tube. After having his wrists and ankles cuffed he's strapped to a chair. 

The "SOP" starts. Gloved hands begins the obviously painful process of inserting a feeding tube into this man's right nostril. At one point it took at least three faceless medical professionals to restrain him - holding his head and laying across his chest to keep him in the chair as part one of the procedure was complete.

It ends there. Part two never happens.

Bey begs for it to stop, emotionally breaking down and finally getting his signal across that this was not for show - that he was done with the experiment in which he had agreed to partake.

In retrospect, a safeword may have been helpful. Just saying.

For Bey, this experience was obviously traumatizing. He may be a very talented rapper, but last I checked he didn't have any Oscars. It was painful for him. He was visibly shaken. 

It was painful to watch; At times I felt my gut wretch.
But Bey is a force feed virgin, and he's no Terri Schiavo either.

The detainees have been doing this a while. And after spending the past so many years being held in Guantanamo, I confidently believe that this is not the worst of the treatment many have received under the care of our watchful government. 

The video raises questions. Red flags, if I may.

I ask myself, why would this man volunteer to do such a thing? To raise awareness, obviously. Precisely why I decided to write this post.

But for me, it's not just about the force-feeding. I mean, technically, we're keeping these men alive by feeding them. Doing a service if you will… I'm sure someone somewhere is telling themselves that at night.

The point is, Americans are told that we are a great people. And that I'm not negating. But how are we seen to the rest of the world? 

Our ambassadors and liaisons may be saying all the right things, using all the right buzzwords and making sure the media reports the right version. But the men and women working for the government as soldiers, spies and most recently drone operators -- these are the impressions that will be lasting.

An article in the Global Post cites a May 23 speech in which President Obama addresses the force feeding practice in Cuba and asks, "Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that."

NBC reports that a US Court denied inmate's requests to end the force-feeding on Monday, and that only President Obama has the power to intervene. 

What you reap is what you sew, my friends. And my concerns are over the treatment of human beings within our own borders and beyond. We've designated our leaders to act on our behalves and they've taken liberties that we as a nation have so tamely relinquished.

It's time to demand better.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Following trip to Cuba, Jay Z gets political

Following a controversial trip to Cuba, Jay Z releases this song. Truth be told, I want to go to Cuba too! If Canadians can do it, why can't we?!


Also, looking forward to Made in America!! Philly 2013!!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Dinner and the Iron Throne tonight at Old Eagle Tavern

Chances are you’ve already seen the Game of Thrones season three premier at least once. And for most, once may suffice. But for those with an insatiable thirst for fantasy the place to be tonight is Old Eagle Tavern in Manayunk.

A replay of Sunday’s new episode may draw a few fans, but it’s specialty brew and the medieval menu that’s really the news.

Old Eagle Tavern has obtained a stash of the Ommengang Iron Throne, a collabo beer between the brewery and HBO. Ommengang Iron Throne is a 750 ml bottle of blonde ale brewed with pils, honey malt and red wheat. It’s the first of four limited release beers created for the third season and is already sold out in most area shops [American Sardine Bar announced that they tapped a keg just yesterday, but there's not telling how long it will last].

Old Eagle Tavern’s chef Morgan Malachi has a menu full of medieval fantasy with dishes including roasted turkey legs with a fiery dragon sauce, a dragon egg appetizer (spicy deviled eggs) and dragon chili sauced corn on the cob.

So pull up a stool and enjoy a horn of ale that’s made from the stuff of legends. And while you’re eating your turkey leg, don’t forget to thank the old gods and the new - for the long summer to come. Cause here in Philly, winter is over!

Old Eagle Tavern 177 Markle Street in Manayunk

Monday, March 11, 2013

Government Responsiveness & Twitter

I’ve always been critical of Philly311.

Like Big Belly trashcans, it works better in theory. 

Calling 311 has never led me anywhere near the department or answer to my question that I’d been looking for. Only to a seemingly confused receptionist that I imagine is referencing an outdated one-sheet of city departments and nonexistent extensions.

To be fair, that was a couple of years ago.

More recently the city’s foray into technological responsiveness and transparency may actually be working to the advantage of residents.

Here in Philly we don’t have four seasons. We only have two: winter and road construction.

It’s been a mild winter.

In terms of street damage the lack of snow means less water freezing and thawing in the cracks of the streets and less salt and brine to exacerbate the issue. So unless Floridian sinkholes begin turning up, this spring should be smoother than in years past.

But inevitably, potholes happen. It’s the city and sometimes the road more traveled can be a bumpy one.

I’m a writer. Which means I sit online all day and read the Internet. All of it. Every day. In bits and pieces, headlines and tweets. Sometimes I’m impressed. Generally I’m not. Like I said – I’m a writer. And a Philadelphian. Which means I’m a skeptic.

But today, I was genuinely impressed.

A person tweets a pothole picture/location to a neighborhood association twitter handle. Neighborhood association tweets the issue to Philly311.

Not only does the attentive employee manning Philly311’s twitter account pass the issue onto the Streets Department, accomplishing what years of messages left on unmanned phone lines have seemingly never been able to do. But they also had a moment to respond to my undeniably snide inquisition as to how long the process of fixing said pothole would actually take.

Long story short:

If you see a pothole, and tweet its location to @Philly311, they will respond with a Streets Department tracking number of the complaint and a link where you can follow along with the progress, online.

Who knew?! 

Initial complaints will be investigated within 24 hours” and the hole will be “made safe.”

Though permanent repairs don’t begin until the threat of snow is long gone – usually in April, this immediate attention is a thing of beauty… in theory, at least.

Like I said, I’m a skeptic.

But hey, if a tweet can get a pothole filled in within 24 hours, just imagine the possibilities.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Military Aid & Thoughts on Spending

Since the newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry returned from his first official Middle East trip, it’s been one announcement after another. Meets here, greets there; nine days and nearly as many countries. Kerry’s itinerary had him making stops in England, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, with most of the European leg focusing on Africa’s violent conflicts. 

The nation's top diplomat has returned bill in-hand having made aid commitments to regimes spanning millions of square miles.  

For Egypt, Kerry promises a needed infusion. With one caveat: No guns. Humanitarian only. But it’s just an installment; some good faith, walking-around money. There was the billion in support promised to the victors during Egypt’s rebellion in 2011, but for now, of the $450 million on the table, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy will receive $190 million. 

There’s a cool $60 million headed to the Syrian rebels fighting against dictator Bashar Assad. That’s if it makes it; of the $385 million promised little is reported as being seen on the ground. Aid comes two years into the brutal conflict, a debilitating pace pointed out long-ago by critics. And there’s the same deal on this agreement. No guns.

We’ve also promised $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel. It's a little different on this one. Lots of money, all for guns. This continues what will be a decade-long $30 billion military aid agreement from the Bush era. 

Within our own borders rebellion's a quality society actively works to suppress. Yet we support it internationally. Are we rebels? Or are we newly appointed diplomats with a passive charm? Considering our nation's dialogue on gun rights and safety, it would make sense that our policies at home reflect our behaviors abroad. 

Back here in America, the ink’s barely dry on the government’s forced spending cuts. There’s turmoil amidst and the affects of our self-imposed sanctions have yet to be felt.

With all the time spent funding the rise of this leader or that, America's lost control of its most important foothold.

It’s time we got our house in order. 

The neighbors can wait.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Philly Council to hear testimony on student safety following January’s elementary school abduction

The safety of students within the walls of Philadelphia’s schools has now come under fire. And when Philadelphia’s parents take the mic in defense of their own, the Lord himself can’t stop the blow back.

On Tuesday, March 12, Council’s committees on public safety and education will convene a specially scheduled public hearing on the Philadelphia School District’s policy for the dismissal or release of students to parents and guardians.

Hearings will begin at 1 p.m. at City Hall in room 400, in the Council chambers. Following the hearing, the joint committees will consider what action should be taken to better verify the identity of persons who remove a student from a Philadelphia public school.

There’s an unspoken societal agreement, even here in Philadelphia that once a kid enters the walls of their school, he or she is safe. Sure there’s still bullying and the occasional weapon, but by and large, schools are a safe place.

It was a Monday morning in January that started just as any other. Children across Philadelphia made their way to school, some walking, some by bus and public transportation and others taken door to door by their parents.

But on this January morning a woman disguised in a traditional Muslim head scarf entered a West Philadelphia elementary school, scribbled her name on a sign-in sheet and asked to take her daughter out for breakfast. She proceeded to the child's classroom where she asked for the girl by name. She then escorted her from the premises.

The woman did not show identification. And her decision to masquerade in an Islamic veil has enraged the Muslim community, members whom gathered at a February meeting of Philadelphia’s City Council to voice their disdain.

The unspoken societal contract has been broken. In the process, a child was abducted and brutally abused, and the Muslim community has been victimized. With hearings scheduled for Tuesday, the conversation about the security of Philadelphia’s schools is just beginning.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Know it All at Large: Jack Lew

Jack Lew.

This is the guy who will be in charge of the economy for the next few years.
You know all those stories that you hear where ‘Timothy Geitner’ was mentioned?
Now, those stories will reference Jack Lew or Treasury Secretary Lew. It’ll gloss over soon enough. The name may sound fresh for a minute, but after that, he and his responsibilities will slunk back into the netherworlds of economic discourse – that of which you or I may never completely understand.

Before that happens, let us be civically minded enough to at least question; who is this guy and what’s he going to do for us?

Because that’s the key of it all, isn’t it?

Jack Lew.

White House Chief of Staff for the past year or so, served under Clinton, and a registered democrat. Born in New York. Studied in D.C., and worked out of Boston.

Nice pedigree, to be sure.

Out of the possible 100 votes in senate, Lew was confirmed with a 71-26 vote, a few of which were actually republicans.

Interestingly enough, Lew’s employment at Citigroup during that pesky financial meltdown/crisis, of which the repercussions we are living with now… you know, the housing mess. Fanny, Freddy, all that jazz. Yeah that one. Lew was employed at Citigroup then. And though he's cited as saying he wasn’t one of the people who made investment decisions, the pick-fork wielding homesteader in me says a bank guy’s a bank guy.

And why are we trusting him?

Be it republican hate ads or democratic propaganda, the result is apparent. Wall Street’s bailout and Main-Street’s sellout wasn’t exactly election year rhetoric.