March 31, 2015

Sure, this is one of those times (one!) where the world probably does not need my two cents, as the controversy surrounding the so-called "religious freedom" law enacted in Indiana has exploded in a way that one usually hopes this sort of this thing would.  You can't turn your head without noticing if not another impassioned essay decrying the situation or another business interest pulling out of Indiana, then at least a pal who you wouldn't think paid that close attention saying, "Hey you hear about that Indiana thing?  That's fucked up."

In fact a large portion of your media diet for the next couple of hours will consist of this, unless you are one of those people who actually work during the day.  And I'm sure much of it will be good!  (And some of it will be EWW.)  What I want to focus on is one little thing that Gov. Mike Pence (who is rightfully the focus of the backlash) said while appearing on "This Week With George Stephanopolous":

"The issue here is: is tolerance a two-way street or not?" Pence said. "There's a lot of talk about tolerance in this country having to do with people on the left. Here Indiana steps forward to protect the constitutional rights and privileges of freedom of religion for people of faith in our state, and this avalanche of intolerance that's been poured on our state is outrageous."

That first sentence out of Pence's mouth — well, nothing wrong with asking a question, I guess.  But the rest of those sentences are absolute garbage.  The answer to that question is NOT.  There is no give and take, no back and forth, in tolerance.  Tolerance is: one party is intolerant of the second party's behavior.  At some point, the first party realizes that such behavior is either monstrous (or agreed to be monstrous) and then ceases such behavior.  Viola!  Tolerance!  And the second party has no obligation to do a single thing but sit there and be tolerated.  There is no equivalent response to tolerance, and not even a thank you is required.

So those sentences that follow?  How people are being intolerant of the other side?  Well duh.  Hide behind the Bible all you want, but intolerance is intolerance, and you don't get to pretend to be right because you end every sentence with "freedom" or some other dog whistle.  The context of the passing of this law, whether anyone will say it out loud or not, is to protect Evangelical bakeries from having to bake cakes for gay marriages.  That's it, that's all!   The language of the law has been altered to differ it from all the religious freedom acts passed in the 90s to weaponize it in a way as to enable discrimination against LGBT interests.

I was wondering if this was another example of that weird GOP self-justification of heinousness on the grounds of infallibility, but given Pence's inability to answer the direct question of whether this law will be used to defend prejudice against LGTB, it's pretty obvious that he is a prevaricating coward, with the guts to sneak an unconstitutional bill through to throw red meat to his base but unable to own up to it to a reporter.

But he's giving a press conference in a little more than an hour.  Let's see if he owns up, or goes with some variation of, "Oh, I meant to get my head stuck in the banister and like it very much."

Posted at 10:11 AM

March 30, 2015

I'm back from staycation!  (Ha.)  And it was everything you'd ever want from a staycation: got some stuff done but not half what I planned, good times, bad times.  Not so many bad times, but a dear friend moved away, and I'm never good with those sorts of things.  And I was trying to get this very interesting interview I did transcribed, and my little dog decided that she is okay with everything I do in the apartment, unless that thing I am doing is transcribing, in which case she climbs up on a little shelf under my desk and stares at me dolefully.  No I did not get as much transcribing done as I'd hoped.

But hey it's a new week and let's start it off on the right foot and recommend something good you may not know about.  You know how the more respectable (lazy?) or our Internet media properties take the weekends off?  Well, the foremost of these, The Awl, has started running an advice column on Saturday mornings.  I know, advice column.  But this column is written by Choire Sicha, who is a writer that our admiration for him is only exceeded by his reluctance to ramp up his output.

And he is literally one of two people in that peculiar industry that I would humbly approach for advice, so not only do we get an extra dose of Choire to read while we're watching Saturday morning cartoons, we are also getting the benefit of his wisdom in a prescriptive fashion.

So treat yourself!  (Here is this week's.)  Now let's go fight crime.

Posted at 10:09 AM

March 24, 2015

My Facebook is pretty politics-free, and by design.  There are more appropriate venues for that type of foolishness (like this one).  But there is one friend whose posts attract the biggest flamewars imaginable on a daily basis.  I think I don't mute it just so I have at least a little window into the phenomenon.  But yesterday, after the whole Ted Cruz announcement, my friend wondered out loud why it is that the swarming movements, the ones with self-identity and litmus tests and general rancor (like say, the Tea Party) emerge from the left and not from the right in the United States?

Now the easiest answer is this: the right owns both herd mentality and assholery.  These are character traits of the conservative mindset, and no it's not fair at all but that's just the way it is.  (See also: why aren't conservatives funny?)  Mix the two up and you get an awful lot of stupid, plus also torches and pitchforks.  This is simple and reductive but I've never seen it disproven, only disagreed with.

But there's also the harder answer, and I don't know if the hard answer is one that I understand yet.  The right and the left are similar in that they both are pretty certain in the correctness of their ideology, but the right is different in that they also have a need to impose their will on everyone else, to validated in their correctness.  Hell, to remake the world in their own image.  And maybe it's this ambition that gets them to gel together, to become a cohesive force with discipline and fervor.  Of course I totally disagree with them in general, be they Movement Conservatives or Supply-Siders or Tea Party dingbats, but you have to give them credit: they get shit done.

Well, they don't get everything done — women can vote now, we have labor laws and civil rights laws and a social safety net — but when they set their minds to converting some daydream narrative into consensus, like say Welfare Moms In Cadillacs or Soft On Crime Technonerds, consensus doesn't really stand much of a chance.

Obviously this is a bigger topic, if not an over-arching theme, but hey, I never want to walk away from a chance to remind you that Ted Cruz looks like a shifty Joe McCarthy.

Posted at 10:34 AM

March 20, 2015

Here, let's find another example of the how-can-I-be-bad-when-I-know-I'm-good fallacy, one removed entirely from politics.

So no doubt you've heard that a Penn State frat got busted for having a private Facebook page that may have had some useful purpose but contained enough photos of naked/drunk co-eds posted without their consent.  A member of the page blew the whistle, entire world noticed, and the university rightfully booted the frat for a year.

This is probably the point where I should say out loud that we all can agree that posting pics of naked/drunk co-eds without their consent, even on a private board, is wrong wrong wrong — in fact, some would say: indefensible.

Well an enterprising reporter from Philadelphia magazine found a member of this frat that agreed to (anonymously) defend the frat.  And it goes about as well as one would expect, and the tone of the whole thing is truly Oh Sure Keep Digging!  But this is how the bro excuses the behavior of the frat:

KDR member: It was a satirical group. It wasn't malicious whatsoever. It wasn't intended to hurt anyone. It wasn't intended to demean anyone. It was an entirely satirical group and it was funny to some extent. Some of the stuff, yeah, it's raunchy stuff, as you would expect from a bunch of college-aged guys

It was satire!  Naturally.  And just as naturally, the reporter (Holly Otterbein) follows up, as the secret board meets no human's definition of satire.

Philly Mag: You said the page was funny. What was funny about it?

KDR member: It's not funny. Funny's not always the right word. It's satire. There's a certain stereotypical Greek life culture and, as you see in movies, people try to live up to that and people try to kind of incorporate those elements, but it's like, you know what Snapchat is?

Philly Mag: Yes.

KDR member: Yeah, like you get a Snapchat, and people send like raunchy Snapchats all the time. ... It's not a malicious type of thing ... Everybody's ... saying, "Oh, there's pictures of passed-out girls," and making it seem out to be such a malicious thing. It's like, yeah, girls pass out or fall asleep all the time and somebody takes a Snapchat or picture and, like, it's not that it's funny. But it's just satire. ... Nobody's sitting there like, "Oh ... how are we going to victimize these people?" ... Go on a site like totalfratmove.com [where they post things like] the girl of the day or ... like the swimsuit model of the day ... it's just, you know, fooling around.

Mild attempt to hide behind "everyone else is doing it!" notwithstanding, dudeman has absolutely no idea of anything other than how wrong the page was, and he innocent he and his brothers are in any event, and the attendant confusion causes him to babble on and on like, oh, maybe, some dumbass teen-bro after too many kegstands.

It is not even a remotely sophisticated moral question, and can be answered with the brief application of the consideration of whether you would be happy to have shots of your passed-out naked sister in such a forum, but the insistence of virtue is just too strong for this jerk to get past.

Posted at 10:43 AM

March 18, 2015

It's March 18, 2015, for the record, and I don't know if it's the world or it's just me (probably a combination of both) but today's read of the newspaper was DECIDEDLY NOT FUN.  And I've engaged in reckless cataloguing of shit that sucks in the past and I'm not convinced of its utility, but let's just say that when you're certain that there's no way for the planet to further let you down, then some murderous kleptocrat retains office on a "The darkies are voting!" plank, or some thugs kill a bunch of people in an art museum or OKAY OKAY I'll stop.

So instead this, which was a delight to me when I read it last week — a nice quick chat between author Neal Stephenson and the editors of World Policy Journal.  Stephenson I guess can be an acquired taste, but I've acquired it, and the topic of the chat, the future, is immensely interesting and a topic in which Stephenson is sort of an expert.

Though of course since the topic is the future it's not super-cheery, and in fact when reading this, for the first time I realized that there's no more talking about stopping climate change, only mitigating it, or dealing with the changes.  Sez Stephenson:

I sat down with some people a few years ago to try to think about carbon sequestration and what it would take to extract a significant amount of carbon back out of the atmosphere, and the numbers were just insane. Effectively you're talking about taking every coal mine and every oil well and every natural gas well that has ever existed, and running it backwards full tilt for centuries to take the carbon out of the air.

See not cheery at all!  But it's good to read smart people talking about things that aren't just stoopid, like, say, arming ISIS.

Back to the coal mine!

Posted at 11:53 AM

March 13, 2015

This is my working understanding of the racism of the Republican Party (as evinced by, say, Rudy Giuliani).  And this is not to be yet another The Other Guys Suck! or at least I hope it doesn't come out like that, because we've lived through a generation of that so far.

And granted I am totally the wrong guy to talk about racism, and I get that.   I am lily white, and I was born in a place and time in which N-bombs were heard with regularity, and never directed at me.  But there is a little, I don't know, rhetorical? delusional? device in play here, and I think it is interesting.

So (and let's just say Rudy as the stand-in for the straw-man I'm carefully building here, for convenience), Rudy is an educated man, and not a dumb man, and presumably not without charity, kindness, etc.  And Rudy is not unaware of history, and would happily tell you stories of the racist past of the United States, how deplorable it was and how awesome it is that it's largely a thing of the past.  Maybe even some of his best friends are black, or Latino, or otherwise non-Caucasian.  Rudy is a man who knows that racism is bad.

And yet at the same time, Rudy is willing to espouse some opinions that are, on the face of it, racist.  Rudy thinks that the victims of police misconduct in marginal communities deserve it because of their behavior.  R Rudy thinks that his criticism of a black president is not possibly racist because the black president has a white mother.  Rudy thinks that the poor are poor because of fundamental character defects, and in fact are the recipients of all sorts of free stuff.  Rudy thinks that the black president should emulate the behavior of a famous comedian, who also happens to be black.

So, of course, to Rudy we say, "There are racist things that you say and believe in.  Accordingly, you are a racist."

And then Rudy thinks to himself.  Well, he thinks, I know that racism is bad, and a racist is nothing I want to be.  And I have a working knowledge of how racism works, etc.  Hmm.  What is up with this?

And then Rudy has a revelation!  But I am inherently not bad.  I am virtuous, I am good.  Therefore, my acts, my thoughts, my words, they are also good.  Racism is bad.  Therefore, it is impossible that I have said racist things, or am a racist.  In fact, how can I even take seriously these accusations, as I know myself to be a not-racist?

It is an impenetrable veneer of infallibility, and a pathological reluctance to look in a mirror.  It's also closely related to truthiness, or insisting that something counter-factual is true based on feelings.  Maybe they come from the same place?  But it is the frustrating aspect of trying to find common ground: not only do we not speak the same language, but I'm starting to think that our brains don't work in the same way.

Posted at 11:30 AM

March 11, 2015

My goodness but I like when Jeb Lund gets all worked up and starts saying what to some could be construed as mean things about people.   Like this bit on Bill O'Reilly.  Yeah, I know, enough about O'Reilly, but come on:
[There] is no shortage of online strategists and sages who will tell you not to bother going after O'Reilly and Fox for the same reason that people tell you, "Don't feed the trolls." Fuck that. This chickenshit attitude ultimately lets trolls like O'Reilly win by default. They win when they attack you, they win when you attack them, they win when you go silent. It's the same line of thinking that tells feminist writers threatened by online rapists that they should just delete their accounts and hope their profiles go away for long enough to no longer be provocative to scum.

What consequence is there for real journalistic organizations anymore when it comes to going after O'Reilly? They get called attackers? O'Reilly calls them attackers merely for reporting facts inconsistent with his epistemic bubble. His fans aren't going to watch or read those other sites or channels? They don't already. By this point, O'Reilly has trained his audience to consider digesting independent news an act of race treason on par with slaveowners letting negroes learn to read.

I agree.  And I would add that we've been shrugging egregious shit off for so long that it has become the default response.  The fact that Bill O'Reilly is a self-aggrandizing liar is in fact a reasonable appraisal of O'Reilly's career, and not the opinion of an extremist.  It's objectively true — the motive is of course unknowable, but the facts are there in the open.  There's no reason to allow O'Reilly and his network suck all of the air out of the room on this one (and everything else).

Ultimately this story will eventually wither and die (it already has?) because in the end, you can prove over and over again how many times O'Reilly has prevaricated and bloviated and committed loathsome acts of self-adoration and it will have no effect on O'Reilly or his audience.  They are en-bubbled, and they have a no more than casual relationship with reality.

Posted at 11:05 AM

March 3, 2015

I don't wanna make any more fun of NJ Gov. Chris Christie for being a bully or arrogant or less than an Olympic caliber athlete or even for having a presidential campaign whose chances plummet with each passing day.  I just want to lay these three fact out.

First of all, in 2014, when Christie was chair of the Republican Governors Association (which provides campaign cash to GOP guv candidates), ExxonMobil gave the RGA $750,000.  This may not sound like a lot of money in the long run, but it was enough to make ExxonMobil the 15th largest contributor, with only thirteen contributors giving a million dollars or more.

Second of all, over the weekend the NYT reported that a long-standing environmental suit between ExxonMobil and the State of New Jersey had reached a settlement (yet to be submitted to or approved by the judge).  The State had been seeking $8.9 billion in recompense for the contamination of 1,500 acres of wetlands, and the lawsuits had been ongoing under the last four administrations.  In fact, ExxonMobil had admitted culpability, and all that was left was to agree on the amount of damages.  Somehow and without fanfare, the Christie administration landed on a figure that was a little less than three percent of the amount originally sought.  Good deal for ExxonMobil!

And finally, come to find out, in the 2014 NJ state budget there was a provision inserted by the Christie administration that allows the executive branch to apply environmental lawsuit recoveries into the general fund, where it would be used to pay for the state budget and not the purpose for which it was originally recovered.  Accordingly, can apply everything over $50mm from a recovery to the general fund.

Odd bunch of coincidences, when you look them all together, wouldn't you say?

Posted at 1:44 PM

February 27, 2015

I know that I'm supposed to talk about the llamas and the dress, or at least talk about the phenomena of everyone talking about the llamas and the dress, but this is just so good that it takes precedence.

So maybe amid all the hoopla you heard that three men from Brooklyn were arrested for attempting to fly to Syria and join ISIS?  Well I had heard that they were Uzbeki or Kazak, and my personal neighborhood in Brooklyn is one of those everyone likes to describe as the Most Diverse Zip Code In America, so I was mildly curious if maybe any of these guys were from around the way.

So then the NYT runs its deep dive into the three would-be Islamic extremists, and I trip across this passage:

But before he could go off to wage war, he needed to get his passport back from his mother.

He worried about this, confiding in his friend Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev.

Week after week, Mr. Juraboev, 24, had worked alone in a dank basement beneath the Gyro King on Foster Avenue in Brooklyn, chopping vegetables for 10 hours a day, six days a week.

And that is the part where the little tiny invisible hat jumped straight up off my head of its own volition.

This specific Gyro King is around the corner and down the street from my apartment building.  That Gyro King is a place I go at least once a week to pick up a lamb on rice.  In fact, they know me well enough that they're heavy on the veggies that they load on top.

That Gyro King is delicious and awesome.  And employed a dude that wanted to go fly off and behead some infidels.

If that is not a perfect snapshot of Life In These Modern Times, it is at least a very good one.  Business as usual, a busy corner in a vibrant tapestry of a Kings County neighborhood, and then an Oh My God What Just Happened?

Please none of you tell my mom.  She would freak out.

Posted at 10:26 AM

February 24, 2015

Funny enough I'm working on a longer Goodbye To All That piece on how Gotcha blogging is so so 2005, and then here comes Bill O'Reilly, determined not just to autodefenestrate, but also not THAT window here let him build a very special window with his working class buddies from Long Island and then get a nice running start.

So then before I say Goodbye To All That let's talk about Bill O'Reilly.

This event is of course being compared (or in some circles framed as revenge for) Brian Williams being less than honest about his time on a helicopter in a war zone, as O'Reilly is being hounded because he made some claims about being in a "war zone" during the Falklands War, which claims have been widely mocked and derided by his colleagues at the time.  Some have made the point that Brian Williams matters because he is actually trusted.  But I'm going to flip it around and say that the O'Reilly issue is also important because he is NOT trusted and can we just all agree on that in some public manner as to dissuade O'Reilly's fans from citing any "fact" brought to bear by O'Reilly as anything other than third-rate fiction.

For some reason the right has cornered the market on ethics in journalism.  I'm actually fine with that, in the sense that I want journalists, all journalists, to be held to high standards.  However, if the perp happens to be in the employ of Fox News, generally the perp skates.  This may be because no one really thinks that the types of Fox Newsers making these flubs are actually journalists, and I can't recall any of the old TV news types, like say Brit Hume or Chris Wallace, ever getting their heads stuck in the banister in such a fashion.  So possibly the initial motivation of David Corn (who stirred this O'Reilly issue up) was an attempt for equivalency.

But heck with that I say.  O'Reilly is coming unhinged over some perceived insult to a credibility that exists only in his mind.  (Perhaps Corn's intention.)  But you don't have to read very close to see a motive for the old colleagues to come out of the woodwork: O'Reilly was a contentious, bullying, self-regarding blowhard, just a big old garden variety asshole.

So what O'Reilly is missing is that this is not about journalism, this is about O'Reilly being a dick.  And the more he goes off the reservation, the more he proves the point.

Which is why I approve of wasting ink on this: couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

This post was written in its entirety without mentioning a loofah.  You're welcome.

Posted at 11:22 AM

February 20, 2015

It staggers me that, after nearly fifteen years, conservatives still fundamentally do not get the current modish flavor of terrorism.  At the heart of this burgeoning Do You Love America litmus test is criticism of President Obama for being reluctant to characterize Al Qaida, ISIS, etc. as faith-based zealots bent on a global war of faiths.  Obama is of the opinion that these terrorist organizations are masquerading as Jihadists, and have concrete goals that have nothing to do with the Koran or any tenet of faith.  But, in order to (i) successfully recruit soldiers with sufficient motivation, and (ii) goad the West into behaving such ways as to achieve such concrete goals and goose recruitment, these terrorist organizations claim and publicize a religious motivation and purpose.

For example, bin Laden's stated goal was to rid the Arabian peninsula of Western influence.  But what if his actual, unstated goal was to destabilize the Arabian peninsula to the point that Sunni interests could grab some regional power?  And, with the invasion and long occupation of Iraq, did the U.S. not do a firecracker job of destabilizing the region?

You know, Bill O'Reilly might insist that this is some sort of Holy War, and that's exactly what ISIS wants us to think.  So there's that.

I mention this only to set up this epic burn on ISIS types contained in this article, concerning the efforts of Muslim leaders in the U.S. to combat the appeal of ISIS recruiters.  Says D.C. Imam Suhaib Webb:

He said that in more than 15 years as an imam, he had encountered only five Muslims considering whether they should join violent militant groups, and that none of them had actually left the United States to fight. "They were all males," said Imam Webb, and "they all had daddy issues." He added, "They were not really drawn to this on theological grounds."

And that is how you combat the appeal of ISIS, and this sort of terrorism in general — you deny their stated goals and you disrespect them.  After all, all they are is a bunch of sociopaths with daddy issues.

I mean, come on, it's only common sense: how do you stop a terrorist?  By refusing to be terrorized.

Posted at 10:30 AM

February 18, 2015

There's a pernicious little meme that's starting to make the rounds, and I predict by the weekend it will have hardened into an Agreed Truth.  This will be a bad thing, because this meme is a truly twisted bit of tortured logic and data-picking and false equivalencies.  I first encountered it yesterday, in this gullible little bit of writing with the headline "Inequality Has Actually Not Risen Since the Financial Crisis."  Well super news for the oligarchy, innit?

This is all premised on one think tank (widely thought of to be assiduously non-partisan) study, which shows that the wealthy took a bigger proportionate hit than everyone else, and are recovering from such hit at a slower rate.

Let's assume that this is true; I am not an economist nor have I been invited to a think tank ever.  Let's look at the numbers quoted:

The average pretax incomes for the top 1/10,000th of earners peaked at $39.4 million in 2007, according to Mr. Saez's data, which is adjusted for inflation. It then plummeted to $21 million in 2009 - partly because the stock market crash reduced gains from stock sales - before rising back to an average of $29.2 million in 2012 and 2013.

(Why am I using an average for 2012 and 2013? It's more meaningful than the data for only 2013, because changes in the tax law accelerated some stock sales into 2012. So looking at the data for 2013 alone makes the decline in inequality look even larger than it truly is.)

Needless to say, $29.2 million is a whole lot of money, but it represents a major decline - 26 percent - from the 2007 level. No other income group has experienced such a large decline.

Couple thoughts on that.  First of all, "Why am I using an average for 2012 and 2013?" is the wrong question.  The better question is, why are you using the top .0001% of earners?  That is not a percentage usually cited (the "one percent" is quite popular, as I've sure you've heard), and its randomness gives the impression of data-picking to some extent, as if in order to best demonstrate the point being made, such a tiny tranche was required.  A quibble.

More importantly, if you want to claim some sort of systemic solution to inequality because really rich people made a couple million dollars less than they did last year or the year before, then you are making quite a leap, a leap that could be mistaken for something monstrous like stupidity.  "No other income group has experienced such a large decline."  OK, swell.  But some of these other income groups experience things like living paycheck to paycheck and food insecurity that make that large decline like a ploy of someone desperate to victimize the wealthy.  The narrative of the inequality issue is that since the Reagan administration the robust growth of the lower and middle classes stopped, while the top percentiles of the scale have experienced unprecedented and, until 2007, unabated growth.  It may be factually correct to assert that inequality has stopped or something, but the fact of the matter is that it's the answer to the wrong question.  A blip in the one percent's march to world domination does not restore us to an equitable place in society. 

Also, the article is speaking of income, not wealth (or, better yet, income and wealth combined.  To deliberately obfuscate the role of wealth in inequality is the act of someone trying to have a dishonest conversation.  Hamilton Nolan addresses this issue quite nicely.

And then you get a real beaut of a paragraph, like this one:

If anything, these pretax data exaggerate the level of inequality, as Mr. Rose notes in his paper, published by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a Washington research group. The rich pay a higher average federal tax rate than the middle class and the poor. (The stories you hear about wealthy investors paying little in taxes are real but not the norm.) And unemployment-insurance payments and other federal benefits help the middle class and poor more than the rich.

Emphasis mine, naturally.  Because I'm not sure how you can say something like, "The Social Safety Net benefits those who need it more than those who don't," and then not perish of terminal assholery.  But that casual dick-move aside, to slip a little the-inequality-wasn't-that-bad-anyway into you the-inequality-is-over article goes a long way to revealing the motive of the author.

So I guess take a second and feel bad for the riches, I guess, since they so desperately want to be pitied (as long as it does not interfere with the virtue bestowed upon them by their wealth, of course), but when you encounter this pushback against inequality out in the wild, be armed with the knowledge that such pushback is a pile of hooey.

Posted at 10:48 AM

February 13, 2015

I've lately been mired in a little existential quandary, relating to the putting of words to paper.  (Or ones and zeroes, if you will.)  No biggie!  Everyone does at some point, right?

So just as it seemed that I was arriving at some conclusion to this process, Balk dropped this, and it gave me pause.

Yeah, about that: Nobody needs to be a writer. Nobody. I can certainly understand the appeal of not doing physical labor or toiling in a field in which your brain is not fully engaged but there is no human need to be a writer. I get it, you have thoughts, you feel the world should share them, you like attention, you don't want to do something else that is probably harder and less affirming of how special your sensitivities are, but you know what? The world will somehow get along without your deep and knowing interpretations of what we mean when we say something or what is conveyed when we stare into the middle distance or how our titanic struggles with existence are often played out in the smallest and most quotidian of ways. Someone else will eventually say it, and probably better.

Oh God I totally freaking agree, and not because any doubt in my own ability or motives.  But the world is just filled with so many words, words everywhere, waiting to be quickly read and (usually) nearly as quickly forgotten.  Just in my own personal reading life, and I am nowhere near as voracious a reader as some of my friends, I am backlogged by weeks if not months, and the deficit is only growing.  At a certain point you HAVE to run up against the wall of Why Are You Doing This?  This feeling goes all the way back to college, at which time I was under the impression that I was going to be an actor/comedian.  Colleagues would testify to the importance of their craft, how they were chosen and compelled to pretend for a living, and I would respond with the hypothetical: Would the world be worse off if all the actors suddenly disappeared, or all the plumbers suddenly disappeared?

Not that I was flirting with quitting, but I was getting twisted into this recursive loop of self-questioning.

And then David Carr died suddenly last night.

You are all in varying degrees familiar with Carr — part of his job was making sure of that, in subtle ways.  But he was a great one.  In fact, as far as the tradition of old-school reporting goes, shoe leather, impertinent questions, icepick-prose on deadline, he was pretty much the last of them.  (There is one left, who I will not embarrass with mentioning.)  There's a lot of ink spilled last night and today, and I haven't read one yet that didn't make my heart swell with admiration and bring (another) tear to my eye.

But for the purposes of my train of thought right here, what Carr was was relentless.  You will never read all of what he wrote, because he wrote for so long and so frequently.  And he was not myopic and he was not meta.  He had his profession boiled down: he found stories, he researched and reported them, and then he told them to other people.  Oh, his opinion was sometimes implicit (see his famous takedown of Shane Smith), but he figured out what his purpose was and went from there.

I'm not saying that I want to be another David Carr, or even another reporter.  Just pointing out some things that happened this week.  I still got some thinkin' to do.

Thank you Balk; rest in peace Carr.  And the rest of you, let's try to stay warm.

Posted at 10:31 AM

February 12, 2015

This is how far behind I am.  So I see that RadioShack has asked for permission from its bankruptcy court to set aside $3,000,000 for "retention bonuses" for its executives.  My gosh that's an outrage!  (It's not an outrage.  See below.)

And then, oh yeah!  I scan the tabs, half of which I keep open until I remember what I'm supposed to do, and then I find the one I'm looking for.  It's a story about how companies are permitted under tax code to write off certain portions of punitive damages that they are forced to pay in adverse outcome of lawsuits and settlements with government authorities and the like.  To wit:

But even if Hyundai is eventually forced to pay the full amount of the damages, the punishment could be substantially reduced through a tax loophole that permits the company to save millions of dollars by deducting any court-ordered punitive damages as an ordinary business expense. The result, critics say, is that taxpayers are in effect subsidizing corporate misconduct.

Also an outrage!  (Actually an outrage.)  But the think of it is, the story is from exactly a week ago.  It doesn't make it any less outrageous, but it does make me a shambling geezer bumping around trying to find his reading glasses.

Enough about me.  The retention bonuses?  Not such an outrage, as business require employees to see them through the bankruptcy process, while when we mere mortals go through the process, we're on our damn own.  Not an outrage, just another unseemly characteristic of late market capitalism.

The tax loophole?  That's a fucking outrage, and just another reminder that the deck is increasingly stacked against us.  And remediable!  But ask yourself how many times you heard/read about this in the past week, and that's the answer to the likelihood of it happening.

Posted at 10:38 AM

February 5, 2015

You are all literary folk, and as such have no doubt treated yourself to an opinion one way or the other concerning the sudden publishing of Harper Lee's second novel.  I myself have an opinion: I would like to see evidence of the clear consent of Harper Lee before her publisher and her lawyer make one red penny off this book.  (Oh hey look it's Bookslut in the NYT!)

But if there's any upside to this, it is that we have all come together and reaffirmed our fondness for "To Kill a Mockingbird," which may well be the most beloved novel of the Twentieth Century.  And it is in that spirit that I share with you perhaps the most moving "To Kill a Mockingbird" anecdote ever.

I have a friend, who is perhaps the most righteous person I know.  She is a longtime legal aid attorney, specializing in protecting tenants who cannot afford legal services in Brooklyn.  She is a bad-ass, and this is not her job but rather her life.  Whenever we run into each other, we chat local and state politics, she fills me in on her latest cases, etc.  I ran into her last night.  Harper Lee came up, and she was much more animated than I'd expect on the topic.  Big Harper Lee fan, I asked.

"It is the only book I read once a year, every year."

Boom.

Posted at 10:29 AM