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June 22, 2007

surf's up - trent lott

This is an excellent way to capture the heady excitement of the first years of the so-called "netroots" - beat up on Senator Trent Lott.  If you recall, the netroots made their stripes by throwing little tiny twigs and pebbles at Sen. Lott over some racist sentiments that Sen. Lott surely didn't mean to voice in front of a live microphone.  Then he got all hounded out of the office of Senate Minority Leader.  It was all very ignominious, and the netroots are drunk on power to this day.

Senator Lott is back in the news today, again for some ill-chosen words.  Most folk are upset at an insulting analogy he makes with regard to undocumented immigrants.  Not me, though.  Here's what he said:

Now people are at least as smart as goats.  Maybe not as agile.  Build a fence.  We should have a virtual fence.  Now one of the ways I keep those goats in the fence is I electrified them.

I'm upset because, it seems like he's suggesting a little bit more than just building a fence along the Rio Grande.  (Though for the life of me I can't figure out how you would electrify a goat.)

Yeah, it's a bit tiddly-wink of me to make fun of someone for their errors in grammar, but you'd think that a sitting United States Senator could form a sentence with more than one pronoun without beating himself half to death with the syntax.

Maybe he was too preoccupied with comparing immigrant Mexicans to livestock.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:34 AM

goodbye bob evans

We can't note every passing, but I would be remiss to let this one go without paying my public respects.  Bob Evans has passed away at the comfortable age of 89.  Though Bob Evans was somewhat of a constant figure in the life of a young'un in 1970s West Virginia, I've actually never met Bob Evans.  Really, this is not so much about Bob Evans as it is about sausage gravy and biscuits.

Sausage gravy and biscuits, well, there's not that much to say about them without repeating myself - sausage biscuits and gravy don't quite rise to "staff-of-life" level, but they are a good measure of a life well lived, as far as stopping, smelling roses, etc.  (Also, most of us in Brooklyn do not have porches, which may explain the wistful overemphasis.)  To the extent that we form nearly romantic relationships with the food products we consume, sausage gravy and biscuits would be a Warren Beatty-level lothario.

Bob Evans is the man who vaulted the kind of sausage that is sold in tubes, sliced crosswise, fried and served for breakfast into the kind of prominence that makes Southerners, when visiting the north, wonder exactly where in the supermarket the sausage case is.  This is also the kind of sausage that is used to fashion a morning's portion of sausage gravy - sure, you could slice open some link sausage and scoop out the meat, but why waste casing like that?  Also, Bob Evans is the man who popularized breakfast sausage made from identifiable portions of the hog, and not what's left over after everything else has been used (which is why sausage came to be in the first place).  Basically, without Bob Evans, there would only be scrapple.  (Not necessarily a bad thing - just a thing.)

Bob went on to found his chain of eponymous restaurants, which you might recognize in your travels as that place you stop along the Interstate that is not Cracker Barrel.  Say what you will about the Bob Evans restaurants, and their commodification of homespun, cast-iron skillet cooking, but grant them this: Bob Evans sausage gravy and biscuits are the par for the range of sausage gravy and biscuits out there.  No, I've never had superlative sausage gravy and biscuits at Bob Evans, but I've also never had terrible sausage gravy and biscuits at Bob Evans, which is more than I can say for Brooklyn, NY.  They've always been just fine, just like they should taste, each time, which consistency is a superlative in itself.  Other sausage gravy and biscuits are judged against Bob Evans sausage gravy and biscuits.

Which is why I bid a fond farewell to Bob Evans, who might have made millions on the back of my parents buying his sausage, but who is at least partly responsible for the sausage gravy and biscuits.  Rest in deserved and wealthy peace.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:04 AM

June 21, 2007

dick cheney rocks

Everybody's all upset because they have finally realized that the vice president doesn't care what you think.  Thanks to Rep. Henry Waxman, news broke today that Dick Cheney has been refusing to comply with national security standards.  Not standards set by the Democrats, mind you, but the standards set by his boss, the President of the United States of America.

Thing is, if you wanna know if Dick Cheney's office is secure, all you gotta do is ask Dick Cheney.  The answer is, "Yes," by the way - satisfied?  It's almost like you're accusing Dick Cheney of being a spy.  Well, come to find out, Dick Cheney says you're a spy.  Any more questions?

It's being reported that Dick Cheney says that Dick Cheney's office is not a part of the executive branch.  Well, it isn't.  Otherwise Dick Cheney wouldn't have said that.  And that's just the start of it.  Dick Cheney's office is also not part of the space-time continuum.  Don't bother asking what time it is in Dick Cheney's office.  Because it's half past Dick Cheney.  And don't you look at that wristwatch.  Which is now Dick Cheney's wristwatch, surprise!  Dick Cheney likes wristwatches.  They are sexy.  Men that tell time (as such exists outside of Dick Cheney's office) with their cell phones are pussies.

Just so you know, the pacemaker in Dick Cheney's chest is powered by the nucular fires of a thousand exploding stars, so unless you're radiation-proof, there's a certain office of Dick Cheney that Congressional committees should steer clear of.  That's right - nucular.  Call the dictionary.

Now stop, because Dick Cheney is touching his desk chair.  Dick Cheney's desk chair is base, so Dick Cheney is safe.  And now you are all "it".  Therefore Dick Cheney wins, extending Dick Cheney's undefeated streak to an incalculable eleventy thousand and six.  Rock!

Dick Cheney is done for now, so please cease existing.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:40 PM

australia says hi

Just when you thought that the United States had cornered the market on "You're gonna do what?" a headline from the Yahoo! headline box rides to the rescue:
• Australia plans to ban alcohol, pornography for Aborigines

The idea behind PM John Howard's plan is to try to fight child abuse.  An admirable goal, but I have to say that none of my drunk, porny friends have ever laid a hand on a kid all their lives.  Why doesn't PM Howard just ban life-giving oxygen so all the child abusers asphyxiate?

Meanwhile, can I have a little understatement, please, Aboriginal leaders?

Some Aboriginal leaders rejected the plan as paternalistic and said the measures were discriminatory and would violate the civil rights of the country's original inhabitants.

They forgot, "racist, in a very palpable textbook sense".

My suspicion is that maybe a certain Australian prime minister is looking to increase his personal booze/porn stash by a factor of a jillion.

[Just realized: my chances of hits with the search string "life-giving booze and porn" are now very good indeed.]

Posted by mrbrent at 1:32 PM

June 20, 2007

a long way to go from obama to hot tomatoes

Questions concerning rights and privileges have been catching my eye lately.  Today's model comes to us courtesy of the Barack Obama campaign, who, you might have heard last week, was caught with its britches half-mast with regard to a bit of negative campaigning against Hilary Clinton.  An email from the Obama team was circulated to news types with a header of "Not For Attribution", after which it was promptly attributed.

This may seem like dirty pool on the part of the journalist attributing a not-for-attribution email, but in fact it is not.  It is very clean pool indeed.  As explained by Ana Marie Cox (who I think, contrary to previous assertions, is settling very nicely into her job of "mainstream blogger"):

As Karen [Tumulty] wrote last week, “off the record” and “not for attribution” are agreements journalists make with their sources, not declarations the sources make whenever they feel like it.  If you say, “I want this off the record,” and then the reporter says, “I want it on the record,” and then you keep talking, well, by most standards, you’ve no one but yourself to blame.  Sending out an email with that declaration attached is the same mistake, made virtually.

Basically, the source was going forward in the belief that "off-the-record" is a right that needs only be asserted.  In fact, in the eyes of the news industries, it is a transaction, and the initial assertion is actually a request that may be accepted or denied.

I'm reminded of a certain imported furniture retailer (think ornate Central Asian goods) that has decorated the front of its shop with a number of signs warning, "No Photos!  Protected under copyright!"  Maybe you have seen signs like this elsewhere in the world - on the surface, it is a rational though maybe unfriendly request.  But, much like "Not For Attribution", it is fallacious.  As far as the copyright laws of this nation go, there is nothing that would prevent you from taking a photo.  Now, if you decide to sell a photo of a work protected under copyright, that would be a different question.  But the simple act of taking a photograph is definitely not a violation of criminal law, and (with my limited experience - I'm not a lawyer, ha!) I can't see how it would be actionable under civil law, unless harassment/assault/trespassing issues arise.  (Usual disclaimer: measurable chance of me being wrong.)

Basically, it seems that there is a general trend of individuals unilaterally asserting rights that they do not have, statutorily or in practice - which would be an interesting shadow definition of "over-privileged".  We are walking around with the belief that there is a whole menu of rights that we are entitled to, and yet, a goodly number of these are imaginary.

Of course, as Americans there are a great number of rights that we do have - they have just been stretched to include some real doozies like Bill O'Reilly's "right not to be quoted in context", and the president's "right to be unobstructed by meaningful oversight", and the little daily assertions of your basic man-on-the-street that make you scratch your head, like the "right to impede pedestrian traffic", and the "right to harass hot tomatoes".

Sometimes (all the time?), merely wishing does not make it so.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:45 PM

don't stub your toe on the punchline

Sometimes, the news story rolls in that seems to have been written by some TV sitcom staff writers.  For example, this story, about certain states of the union pondering, in a public way, the qualifications a citizen should have in order to have the privilege of voting.  This is a pretty pertinent question, especially when we have a nation whose governing authority is supposed to be derived from its people - where do you draw the line?  Should a legal definition of mental infirmity apply?  And if it does, where on the slippery slope do you stop?  And how can it be implemented - is there a national idiocy registry somewhere?

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the story, it can be reduced/dismissed into two separate elements.  First, the headline - "INSANE VOTING RIGHTS" or some variation thereof - and second, the obligatory joke, in the form of a wry reference to the mental capacity of current officeholders.  Har!

It's moments like these for which the phrase, "Everyone's a comedian," was coined.

Having written that, let me wryly refer to the fact that this might be the first instance in which the restriction of voting rights would actually hurt the GOP instead of help them.

Personally, I say if you sign a registration card and manage to make it to the voting booth or get the absentee ballot in on time, then you can vote.  My understanding of the law is that nothing a citizen from voting well.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:02 AM

June 19, 2007

ask not for free liberties

I thought I'd share with you the dumbest fucking thing I've read in a while.  It's a bit of viralness that is being posted/forwarded around by the kind of people who feel that a magnetic flag stuck to their vehicle makes them exempt from income tax.  In the interest of not feeding the animals, I won't link the specific examples - but Wolcott does if you're interested.

It's a parable.  It's about immigration.  It goes like this:

I bought a bird feeder.  I hung it on my back porch and filled it with seed.  Within a week we had hundreds of birds taking advantage of the continuous flow of free and easily accessible food.  But then the birds started building nests in the boards of the patio, above the table, and next to the barbecue.

Then came the poop.  It was everywhere: on the patio tile, the chairs, the table...everywhere.

Then some of the birds turned mean: They would dive bomb me and try to peck me even though I had fed them out of my own pocket.

And others birds were boisterous and loud: They sat on the feeder and squawked and screamed at all hours of the day and night and demanded that I fill it when it got low on food.

After a while, I couldn't even sit on my own back porch anymore.  I took down the bird feeder and in three days the birds were gone.

I cleaned up their mess and took down the many nests they had built all over the patio.

Soon, the back yard was like it used to be...quiet, serene and no on e demanding their rights to a free meal.

Now lets see...our government gives out free food, subsidized housing, free medical care, free education and allows anyone born here to be a automatic citizen.

Then the illegals came by the tens of thousands.

Suddenly our taxes went up to pay for free services; small apartments are housing 5 families: you have to wait 6 hours to be seen by an emergency room doctor: your child's 2nd grade class is behind other schools because over half the class doesn't speak English: Corn Flakes now come in a bilingual box; I have to press "one" to hear my bank talk to me in English, and people waving flags other than "Old Glory" are squawking and screaming in the streets, demanding more rights and free liberties.

Maybe it's time for the government to take down the bird feeder.

I think that the key to a successful analogy is that, if you are trying to convince someone of the truth of an assertion, it's best to compare the assertion to some event based in reality, if not a verifiable fact.  Because I been around a lot of bird feeders in my time, and I ain't never once heard of anyone complain of too many birds.  Nor have I seen birds complain about an empty bird feeder.  Nor have I seen a bird acknowledge that the birdseed was "free", because birds, in general, do not buy food for themselves.

These would also be bad analogies in this case: LOLcats, swimsuit models, and Good Samaritans.  Perhaps parables could be constructed using these, and your buds would clap you on your back, and ask if they could repost it.  But they wouldn't make any sense.  As the above makes no sense.  I could waste ones and zeros calling the author "stupid" or "ignorant" or whatever, but seriously: it's a really dumb analogy, and it only demonstrates the blinding nature of finger-pointing.  The lives of you illegal-hatin' American are not terrible because of the immigrants - they are terrible because you are terrible people.  And if you terrible Americans succeed in having yourself a little purge of the brown people, as you hint at in your rhetoric, soon some other minority will start taking the heat as you realize that, aside from the pleasure of hosing down protesters or stringing up some wetbacks or whatever it is that gets you hard in the morning, your life will be no fucking better.  Corporations will still suppress your wages, insurance companies will still interfere with your health care, and the government will still take your money and spend it on graft and corruption.

But keep passing around them emails!  You'll show them moonbat hippies a thing or too, yet!  (In between those moments of existential despair.) But it's about finding excuses to hate them Mexicans, so I'm sure the author will sleep the sleep of the contented racist, with dreams of Caucasian purity.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:32 PM

June 18, 2007

destroying white house emails, just like jefferson would

You may be fatigued by the US Attorney Scandal.  Sometimes even "Bush Administration Fixes Elections" isn't sexy enough to get you out of bed these days, what with so many scandals vying for your attention, and so little of them involving impeaching a president over a perjury trap.

Anyhow, if you can bear to, please note that while in the commission of all these indiscretions (including, of course, Fixing Elections), the administration has all along been wiping its fingerprints off the crime scene, or at least so suspects Rep. Henry Waxman, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

Waxman's committee is investigating whether RNC email addresses were used for official work to avoid a record required by official email addresses and to what extent those acts violate the Presidential Records Act.

It may be argued that preserving internal communications (as required under law) interferes with the president's right to seek anonymous counsel, and that emails, much like US Attorneys, serve at the pleasure of the president.  Patent bullshit arguments like that are always welcome, because they do little to obscure the fact that the only people who actively destroy public records are those with something to hide.  Or fuckwit incompetents.  It's not mutually exclusive.

Also keep in mind that the third party email server being used - that of the Republican National Committee - gives rise to the implication that this is not only the case of a president and his water-carriers grabbing un-Constitutional amounts of power, this is a political party invading and pillaging the executive branch in a manner reminiscent of a third world coup.

Or, if that is too upsetting for a Monday afternoon, "in a manner reminiscent of a teddy bear picnic."

Posted by mrbrent at 1:47 PM

vocabluary and its miscontents

This is a big long feature with way too many ideas in it.  Which is why it is called a "feature" and not a "blog post".

This feature that I'm recommending was written by Ian Brown, and its general topics are big words, academic disagreement and time passing.  Hopefully one or two of those themes will appeal to you.

Specifically, the pieces examines what could in one hand be described as "natural societal progress abandons loquaciousness", and in the other hand as "continental dumbening defended as inevitable and time-saving".  Some of the smart folks say that one's vocabulary should always respect its audience, and the other smart folks (the ones I agree with) argue that big words remain good for you.  And, fortunately for me, the smart guys I agree with put their finger on the anti-intellectualism that has become more pronounced in past years, specifically in the American political arena:

Vivian Rakoff, chairman emeritus of the department of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, and one of the more articulate human beings on the planet, believes our resistance to big words is part of a bigger crankiness — "the suspicion of smart people, the well-rehearsed criticism of the Churchillian stance, that you shouldn't appear to be smart.  One of the worst insults we have is that someone is too clever by half, because it means you like to be wily.  There is a general suspicion of the man of many words.  It's ancient, but it's still there."

A little bit spooky, that part about this distrust being "ancient".  I'm pained to think that the race to the bottom is not so much a product of moral flabbiness but rather a genetic predisposition.  That would bum me out.

But the essay is worth your fifteen to twenty minutes if issues of language mean anything to you.

Also, the author, Mr Brown, is of course Canadian, and the piece was published in Canada.  This is no coincidence, as Canadians may well all be just a sodden lot of lumberjacks and hockey players, but they are smarter than Americans.  Surprise!  Plan your invasion now, Americans, before an undermanned but motivated Greenland beats you to it.

[Via Maud Newton.]

Posted by mrbrent at 11:15 AM

June 17, 2007

fred thomspon: attractive man?

This would be a first word on Fred Thompson.  This man apparently wants to be president, as being an imaginary president was not enough for him.  His prospects are envious to actual candidates like John McCain, who has been running for president for what seems like fifteen years, as the class of professional writers who determine our public opinions for us have decided that Sen. Thompson has some kinda "authenticity", and that his persona is one that will speak well to the public.

Maybe this goes back to Josh Marshall's "dog whistle" concept, but when I see Sen. Thompson, I see a trophy-wifed rich guy with zero executive experience affecting a cornpone accent and renting plaid shirts and pick-up trucks to mask the scent of the millions he made from lobbying.  And when I look upon the visage of this man that is said to be so attractive (Hello, Chris Matthews), I do not see a weathered but stately leader.  What I see is a man who looks to a lot more like the town drunk.  What I see is a man who makes Lyndon Johnson a handsome man in comparison.

This is not meant to prophetic in any sense.  In 1998, when the Republicans were whispering about a Texas governor who just might be their boy, I was deep in my larfs at the prospect at a silver-spoon dry-drunk failed scion of an Eastern political family getting through the primaries.  So that's how right I tend to be.  Nevertheless, even if Sen. Thompson makes the ticket, he will still look to me as if he should be holding up a light post somewhere, impressing passers-by with his Foster Brooks routine.

And please let's not think of this as a meanness on my part.  I ain't won no beauty contests myself anytime recently.  (Though, oddly enough, my wife, little dog and cat are each devastatingly beautiful.)  However, my electability is not being lauded on the basis of my voice/likeness, as is Sen. Thompson with his "authenticity".  And as Sen. Thompson's looks come into play, we can expand our inquiry, and wonder why a character actor with appeal along the lines of Gabby Hayes gets kicked upstairs into roles of district attorneys.

Is it maybe the case that "authenticity" is a codeword for "looks like an authentic town drunk"?  Is the GOP just giving the base what they want again?

Posted by mrbrent at 12:57 PM