Monthly Archives: April 2009

Schadenfreude Alert

Every bear market has its silver lining. According to Bloomberg, Russian billionaires are being forced to cut back on their glamourous lifestyles.
The best paragraph from the article provides an insight both into behavior at the top of the cycle and the Russian system of justice:

“Mikhail Prokhorov, then CEO of OAO GMK Norilsk Nickel, embarrassed the Kremlin two years ago by flying in a planeload of women for a private party and getting arrested on suspicion of pimping. He was cleared of any wrongdoing because the judge ruled there wasn’t enough evidence.”
Planeload of women? What planeload of women? Case dismissed.
It turns out, with its dependence on $100 a barrel oil, Russia is sort of the new Houston where, back in the mid-1980s after product prices collapsed, one saw bumper stickers around town that said, “Lord, please send another oil boom. I promise not to piss the next one away.”

Rise (and kneeling) of the machines

Via Tyler Cowen, this looks like a good way to scam people who subscribe to a very odd theology:

Information Age Prayer is a site that charges you a monthly fee to say prayers for you. A typical charge is $4.95 per month to say three prayers specified by you each day.
“We use state of the art text to speech synthesizers to voice each prayer at a volume and speed equivalent to typical person praying,” the company states. “Each prayer is voiced individually, with the name of the subscriber displayed on screen.”
Prices, however, are dictated by the length of the prayer. As noted in the Information Age Prayer FAQ, “A discounted prayer will cost less than other prayers of similar length.”

The scam is not that they don’t provide any value: presumably they supply some kind of peace of mind to the sort of person who goes for this, although I’m not sure it’s $4.95/mo worth of peace of mind. The actual potential for scamming here is there’s no way of verifying that they’ve performed the promised service at all, short of visiting their physical location (if it even exists). Then again, verifiability is unlikely to be a dealbreaker for someone credulous enough to find this idea attractive. It seems to hinge on some unusual assumptions about prayer, specifically that it’s a kind of magic spell that needs to be vocalized, but having a machine vocalize it is a valid alternative to doing it yourself. (On the other hand, to hear Fred Clark tell it, the notion of prayer-as-magic-spell is a prevalent feature in the bestselling Left Behind series, so maybe this isn’t such an unusual assumption after all.)
Entertainingly, the Yahoo News article goes from reporting on this service to cataloging occurrences of praying robots in science fiction, naturally including the Cylon religion in the recent Battlestar Galactica. However, Information Age Prayer seems to be less akin to the frakkin’ toasters than it is to, well, ordinary toasters.