« June 3, 2007 - June 9, 2007 | Main | June 17, 2007 - June 23, 2007 »

June 15, 2007

next: deconstructing the demandments of hulkamania

I'm not normally a fan of the Angelina Jolie, but this is an aspect of the news you can use.  Earlier today, Eat The Press discussed the hoopla arising from Angelina Jolie's image control overzealotry.  Among the parties with nothing better to do than bemoan a pretty standard (if not oppressive) interview agreement, Fox News had the nose most out of joint, running a story that reads, in part:
Jolie is touting press freedom these days...Jolie is touting press freedom these days...  But Jolie turns out to be a mighty hypocrite when it comes to her own freedom of the press.

Ignoring the sudden expertise in hypocrisy of Fox News, Eat The Press remarks:

No, no, no, Fox News.  "Freedom of the press" accords you broad rights to publish and broadcast stories without interference from the state.  It does not compel the participation of the subject of the story.  Flash us your special version of the Constitution all you want, the fact of the matter is, if the would-be subject of a story wants to try to thwart your attempt to cover them, they have every right to do so.

This is a point that can't be made too many times, as this imagined form of "freedom of the press" is invoked too frequently by knuckleheads.  And the same applies to those other "freedoms" construed from the First Amendment -- speech, assembly and establishment of religion.  These also are not across-the-board freedoms, but rather a specific freedom from interference by your government.

I'm not implying that an individual state of freedom does not apply to speech, assembly and religion -- I'm just saying that this general, overriding state of freedom is not provided for in our central governing document.  In my mind, you absolutely have the right to gather on the street corner with all your Jehovah's Witness friends and call me a poopyhead.  It's just that your right to do so is not a Constitutional right -- maybe it's a natural right, or maybe an unalienable right.  Some kind of right, just not a First Amendment right, normally constructed as a "Freedom of [X]".

In practice, I've always found a tonal difference in exercising one's First Amendment right, and complaining about the exercise of one's First Amendment rights.  Complainers always got something to hide.

See, knowledge can be fun!

Posted by mrbrent at 11:46 AM

June 14, 2007

nbc wants a new sheriff in town

Finally another reason to loathe NBC.  NBC, not content with merely riding the decline of terrestrial broadcast television like Slim Pickens, has decided to piss off everyone that has ever been burgled, robbed or ripped off.  As noted by Boing Boing:
“Our law enforcement resources are seriously misaligned,” NBC/Universal general counsel Rick Cotton said.  “If you add up all the various kinds of property crimes in this country, everything from theft, to fraud, to burglary, bank-robbing, all of it, it costs the country $16 billion a year.  But intellectual property crime runs to hundreds of billions [of dollars] a year.”

By this logic, the country has also lost about $45 million dollars, as I sent a submission to "The Alan Havey Show" back in the early 90s, and not only did not get hired, but naturally the show was canceled within months.

The lost opportunity, and the loss of opportunities that would surely have followed, could easily have made me the wealthiest sucka from Ruthlawn Elementary ever.  And these lost millions cost not only me, but the economy in general, as I was planning to spend these millions on goods and services, like comic books and home psilocybin delivery.

I pray that the feds will reorient their law enforcement activities

This smiling assertion that your loss of actual, physical property is a trifling nuisance comes from a press release announcing a multi-industry lobbying group dedicated to preserving the rights of imaginary entities to commodify the ineffable.   Included in their list of goals, along with suborning the Department of Justice (sorry, dudes -- already suborned!), is the following:

The group also supports the creation of a new IP enforcement coordinator within the White House.

First of all:  yikes!  Just when you thought we'd had our fill of scary useless cabinet members!

But hey, I don't see a compelling reason why a corporate interest shouldn't get to have a hand-picked "public servant" to promote its interests to the president of the United States.  Isn't that why we freed the markets all those years ago?

Posted by mrbrent at 11:45 PM

james wolcott et al and the good one

Let's talk about "getting off a good one".  If you're not familiar with this turn of phrase, it is loosely translated as, "Making a point that is devastating in both wit and clarity."  After someone gets off a good one, everyone has a big laugh, except for the target, who should be snuffling and turning red.

I'm thinking of this as I stumbled across this post from James Wolcott, which ends with the sentence, "That'll be news to the dead."  Which, in context, is a colossal good one, an argument-ender.  Wolcott does this a lot.  So does Christopher Hitchens, even though he sometimes uses his good ones for evil.  Also, the collected work of Warren Ellis is an excellent example of use of the good one in fiction, as he can distill a paragraph of dialogue/description down into a simple declarative sentence that is more resonant than a paragraph could ever hope to be.

So I was wondering if this marked awareness of the good one is just a personal obsession of mine, or if it's actually an objective indication of the talented writer/thinker.  It may well be a quirk, much in the same way that I like buffalo wings, or that I liked "Emergency!" when I was a kid.

As much as I'm a fan of the trope, I don't see a unilateral argument behind it.  It can be argued that "getting off the good one" is nothing but a contest of wit, a verbal game of oneupsmanship whose score is kept in pullquotes and "didjahearthat" whoops and hollers.  Nothing but a juvenile exercise in swamping the other guy's boat with ridicule.  Further to that, the good one could actually obscure the discourse, as less time is spent in cogently articulated argument and more on the good one, the evisceration of the opposing view through the humorous and repeatable turn of phrase.  (I'm opting for the passive voice in lieu of constructing a feasible strawman, or invoking my old friend, Strawman.)  It could be that the good one is another symptom of our coursening discourse, of our cancerous decline in civility.

Of course, I absolutely disagree.  Especially with regard to the civil discourse argument.  The proper response to inappropriate incivility is winning the argument in a gentlemanly manner, not whining about being called names.

The "good one" is a weaponized piece of content designed to disarm and then obliterate.  But it is not ad hominem -- the "good one" is couched in some specific illogic or inconsistency of the antithetical argument.  In fact it depends on it like a tree depends on soil.  "You're Mom's fat" might well get the crowd roaring, but unless the previous statement was a windy and specious assertion on how not-fat one's mother is, then the rejoinder does not come close to "good one".

Also, "fuck you" is never a "good one".  Which doesn't take away from its usefulness.  Another story.  I still wonder if I'm violating the Terms of Service of my host when I drop the f-bomb.

I'm sure there's more to be said for and against the good one.  Thankfully, time is a commodity not so scarce.  "That'll be news to the dead."  I'm happy I'm not on the business end of that one.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:16 PM

bruce schneier on getting a life

There is an excellent piece in Wired today.  Security expert Bruce Schneier, whose blog on arcane/mundane security issues can be found here, has written a piece whose title succinctly explains the central topic: "Portrait of the Modern Terrorist as an Idiot".  Needless to say, Schneier is another who feels that the more recent terror arrests were a little lacking in the evil genius department:
But read what Russell Defreitas, the lead [JFK bomb plot] terrorist, had to say:  "Anytime you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States.  To hit John F. Kennedy, wow....  They love JFK -- he's like the man.  If you hit that, the whole country will be in mourning.  It's like you can kill the man twice."

If these are the terrorists we're fighting, we've got a pretty incompetent enemy.

All of the normal provisos apply -- terrible terrorism events have happened in the past, and they might happen in the future -- but is it worthwhile to have a perpetual panic attack on a national level over the threat of the Hekawi?  And, to extend this line of thinking, does this not make the purveyors of this hysteria -- Rudolph Giuliani being an good example -- either cynical manipulators of human nature on a national level or brazen cowards?

And remember that to argue that the "terrorists" are much more likely to get their heads stuck in a banister somewhere than they are to blow up a building is not to say that the "terrorists" should be walking the streets.  That is, of course, predicated on the assumption that the "terrorists" are actually guilty of something other than felony stupid:

The JFK Airport plotters seem to have been egged on by an informant, a twice-convicted drug dealer.  An FBI informant almost certainly pushed the Fort Dix plotters to do things they wouldn't have ordinarily done.  The Miami gang's Sears Tower plot was suggested by an FBI undercover agent who infiltrated the group.  And in 2003, it took an elaborate sting operation involving three countries to arrest an arms dealer for selling a surface-to-air missile to an ostensible Muslim extremist.  Entrapment is a very real possibility in all of these cases.

Which would give credence to the "cynical manipulator" option cited above.  Though, obviously, the "brazen coward" option is a whole lot more fun.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:42 PM

June 13, 2007

beware the sopranos spin-off

I know what you've been talking about for the last few days.  Yeah, me too.  In fact, I've noticed people who don't have TVs talking about it, at least from the perspective of what everyone else is talking about.  But hopefully, this will serve as the last word on the series finale of "The Sopranos":
So if you’re still pissed at David Chase for the way he really ended the series just think of the alternative.

Seriously, go read the alternative, and then hug/kiss your cable box.

[Via Rogers.]

Posted by mrbrent at 12:13 PM

mr wizard

Another bit of your childhood has moved on.  Mr Wizard has died peacefully at the age of 89.

It's one of those obits that trigger a flood of memory flabby with misuse.  Like finding a box of grade-school ephemera at your parents' house.  I haven't thought of Mr Wizard probably even once in my adult life, but he was one of the great ones, as far as the grown adults who related well with the children in the television audience (Capt. Kangaroo, Mr Rogers) go.  Also, he dealt primarily with science, which dovetailed nicely with my childhood intention to become a chemist.

The children's television stars of today should take a moment and reflect on the good perpetrated by Mr Wizard, and the mountains of merchandising he did not sell.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:42 AM

June 12, 2007

ag gonzalez will continue out of spite

Yes, the no-confidence vote on the Attorney General was of particular interest to us.  Unfortunately, it was happening at about the same time as I make the commute back to idyllic Brooklyn, so I was not following it with the same attention that I would follow, say,

Of course, the results were not unexpected, and not very rousing.

While it is important to keep in mind that this unprecedented move against a cabinet member by the Senate was symbolic and toothless (and therefore "political", as opponents charge), the AG Alberto Gonzales uselessness as a public official rivals that of FEMA's Mike Brown, and if in fact the Department of Justice did have jurisdiction over the public safety of Gulf Coast residents during Hurricane Katrina, the death toll would have increased exponentially.  (Though at least the voter rolls would have been revised in an expeditious manner.)  It is an affront to the high purposes of the Constitution that AG Gonzalez sits one more hour in the Attorney General's office.  In fact, it's hard to pick just one reason why the AG is unfit for this office -- it could be the number of times he has lied during Congressional testimony with a smirk on his face, it could be his politicization of DoJ career staff positions, it could be the bare fact the he is the instrument through which Bush Administration Rigs Elections.  It could even be the fact -- if you're feeling mischievous -- that his defense, when questioned by the Senate over the various blunderings and illegalities of the Department of Justice, is that he is not competent enough to have had direct knowledge of any of the blunderings and illegalities.

When someone confesses to incompetency, I think it's only appropriate to take them at their word.

I post this only because the news of the blocking (or, "fillibuster", if you will) of the no-confidence vote seemed to have a whiff of futility to it.  This should not be the case.  So long as the Attorney General does not become more competent, and does not take responsibility for his actions, people with far more eyeballs than me will continue to worry this like my Little Dog worries a soup bone (which would be "relentlessly" and/or "quite happily").  There is not the rug big enough that this may be swept under, as each any every indictment obtained by a US Attorney will now be tainted with the association of partisan abuse of office.

In the meantime, it could turn out that AG Gonzalez is much more valuable out in the open, where he be a constant reminder of how little the Administration respects the rule of law  Or at least where he can be kept track of.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:24 PM

June 11, 2007

where else will you read about both hitler and sanjaya?

I wish they wouldn't say it like that.  Please join me in examining a journalistic device that I'd like to seen done with, or, failing that, stared and pointed at.

The story, only marginally relevant, is as follows -- today the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that, no, you will not indefinitely detain an alleged "enemy combatant" without providing him or her certain rights, like a "trial".  Apparently, the Court did some digging and discovered this thing called the Constitution -- everyone was a little surprised, but it's another story for another time.

However, in the reporting of this story, the A.P. describes the detainee as follows:

The Qatar native [and legal resident, BTW] has been detained since his December 2001 arrest at his home in Peoria, Ill., where he moved with his wife and five children a day before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to study for a master's degree.

It is the description of the timing of his relocation that I take exception with.  No doubt, it is factually accurate, but I would say that to associate events with other events that are not directly linked to the prior event could maybe color the reader's perception.  Based on a close reading of the news item, you'd have to say that the detainee's move date and the date of the 9-11 attacks are not directly related.  Yet there they are, in black and white (or ones and zeros, if you will), and the implication is stunningly obvious but hardly proven.

For example, try this version:

...where he moved with his wife and five children more than forty-five years after Hitler's final solution murdered millions of European to study for a master's degree.

Or this:

...where he moved with his wife and five children on the twelfth birthday of future "American Idol" contestant Sanjaya Malakar to study for a master's degree.

Again, both are factually accurate.

Hopefully, our journalisms will take more care, lest they appear to be working for Roger Ailes.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:39 PM

obligatory sopranos post

There is good news and bad news with regard to last night's series finale of "The Sopranos".  On the one hand, I've noticed that a measurable portion of the viewers of the episode are spending the idle moments of the morning discussing the implications of "story" with each other -- some deep questions, too.  Like, how does one separate plot from narrative? and, what are the responsibilities of the author to the reader/audience?  Normal folk are devoting time to hermeneutic issues; English majors are brushing off jargon long ago forgotten.

That's be the good news, just from the perspective of championing literacy, general smarts, etc.

On the other hand, the remainder of last night's viewers are arguing about what happened after the cut to the credits.  And by arguing, I mean the petty, "No, this is totally what happened, you fuck.  Some think the strangers in the diner were assassins.  Some think they were Feds.  I think that it was a TV show, and nothing actually happened once the cameras stopped rolling.  And disagreeing with each other's envisioned continuation of the scene is about as useful as arguing over whether OJ really did it or not -- no one's opinion made him any more or less guilty than he was, so please save breath.

If you guys can't play nice with your imaginations, then we're going to have to take them away from you.  (Unless that's already the problem.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:25 AM