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July 27, 2007

enjoy watching the wealth go elsewhere

More news of the economic cognitive disconnect today.  The Commerce Department released a report showing that the Gross Domestic Product is growing at a high rate last quarter -- 3.4%, if these numbers mean anything to you.  This news left certain types excited, as some portion of economic conventional wisdom dictates that GDP growth equals "growing economy" equals bourbon and teddy bears for everyone.  Even our normally reticent president got his rah-rahs in:
"I want the American people to take a good look at this economy of ours," Bush crowed.

Not "mumbled" or "slurred", but "crowed"!  Sounds like a certain bubble-living president's maybe got a little extra lead in his pencil over this.  Well, let's do take a good look at this economy of ours.

Real wages?  Stagnated.  Median household income fell for four years starting in 2001, and in 2005, grew at a rate of just 1.1%.  Obviously, income lags significantly behind GDP.

Poverty?  As of 2005, 12.6% of Americans, about 37 million, were impoverished.  BTW, the 2006 threshold for measuring poverty was $13,500 per year for a two-person family unit.  So first, imagine how long you could last on $13,500, and then imagine how many millions of families live in conditions that should be called poverty but aren't because of the dishonest metrics of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Debt?  According to this year's Economic Report of the President, outstanding consumer credit has increased by a trillion dollars -- nearly half -- in the past ten years.  And that's just the increase.  Collectively, Americans have a little less than two and a half trillion dollars in secured and unsecured debt.

The GDP may be all bright and shiny, but it can be pretty bleak out there for those who are not hedge fund managers or otherwise of the robber baron class.  Obviously, whatever wealth that is being generated by the economy is not trickling down into the average American household.

Is there anything else the president would like us to take a long hard look at?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:53 AM

July 26, 2007

real-life superheroes

Today I came across a link on Ectoplasmosis.  It concerns the phenomena of "real-life superheroes", a couple of which I remember having read about in the past.  As one of the millions of grown-up nerds who spent measurable amounts of childhood time in tree-forts wondering if there would ever be an actual superhero, I decided to look into this, if for no other reason than to mark 2007 in my head as "the year people decided to be superheroes."

So I hit the link in the Etcoplasmosis post, and then the referring links, and so on.  Turns out that there is a whole community of citizens who have decided that the way they want to make a difference is to dress up and patrol the streets for crime -- social networks, message boards, the works.

But the deeper into the nests of links I dug, it all started to feel wrong.  Wrong, in the way that "furries" are wrong.

So, as intrigued as I am by, say, Foxfire, of an anonymous town in Michigan, who is dedicated to "teaching anyone who will listen about the hidden world, the more interesting stuff that goes on beneath the surface of their humdrum little lives" -- dude, sign me up -- I am also feeling that eventually I'll get to the thread that's about "what are you wearing under your spandex" and then I'll be forced to confront the tendency of a phenomenon to skid towards fetish/paraphilia, and is that okay in a cultural context or is there some serious shit that needs dealing with?  So I pulled out -- like out of a nosedive, okay -- I'm I'm going to bookmark this phenomena for some time when I feel up to wading into these vital but prurient implications.

Of course, in the interest of your edification, this is the initial link.  You may decide for yourself if you would like to go there.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:40 AM

July 25, 2007

no, not that kevin sullivan

Yeah, the president got all Al Qaida-ey again yesterday.  It was tough to miss, even on a fast news day, with Lindsay Lohan lying to Congress and Alberto Gonzales popped with blow in his pocket.  Somehow the tortured logic of Pres. bush's argument that we need to continue occupying Iraq because of what happened after we occupied Iraq glare and stick out from the cluttered newshole like a drunk in a choir.

After all, he's such an accomplished public speaker.

There were the usual hilarities of the actual words spoken by his actual mouth, but, for me, the most interesting thing is a quote explaining the president's intention, as published by the NY Times (and I couldn't find it anywhere else, so good on them, but not so good for me to link, as there link policies still believe that content can't be free, like it's 2002 or something).  The paragraph:

Kevin Sullivan, the White House communications director, said the speech was devised as a “surge of facts” meant to rebut critics who say Mr. Bush is trying to rebuild support for the war by linking the Iraq group and the one led by Mr. bin Laden.

Either that one is wildly out of context, or the wheels are finally coming off the White House communications team.  So, the critics say "Mr. Bush is trying to rebuild support for the war by linking the Iraq group and the one led by Mr. bin Laden".  So the president gives his speech, which was "devised as a 'surge of facts' meant to rebut critics".  And what is the point of this speech/surge, which is rebutting assertions that the administration is trying to drum up support by conflating the two Al Qaidas?  Naturally, it's a very forceful conflation of the two Al Qaidas.

Well rebutted, Mr. Sullivan!  I suppose there may be some wiggle room between "rebuttal" and "confirmation", and, if there is, the President surely wiggled around in there yesterday, convincing all of us that his renewed push to mention Al Qaida all the time was not actually a renewed push to mention Al Qaida all the time.  I guess that mentioning Al Qaida all the time worked wonders on us!

I suppose that there is some beauty in that the logic of the speech is exactly as convoluted and dangerously uroboric as the logic of the intended effect of the speech.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:58 PM

200 bad comics

A friend (who will remain nameless but whose work should be seen more often) sent me this link, which is brilliant (and probably making its way across the 'sphere), and which I link for you because you generally like brilliant things.

Here: 200 Bad Comics.  Which are actually not bad at all.  So then it is a failure of the artist, Nedroid?

And, yes, I've read all 200.  To prove it, I'm listing each of the 200 that made me laugh out loud:

13.  "Scary Pumpkin"
17.  "Robots"
25.  "Taco Night"
27.  "Invisible Birds"
40.  "Forty Cakes"
55.  "Laserface"
64.  "I'd Eat That"
90.  "Watermelon"
96.  "Scary Pumpkin 2"
115.  "Smoking"
128.  "Cockfight"
136.  "So Hungry"
142.  "Treasure"
167.  "Decisions"
179.  "Work Of Art"
189.  "Tornado"

So.  What are you waiting around here for?

Posted by mrbrent at 9:44 AM

July 24, 2007

and an economist shall lead them

I'd never heard of Dean Baker prior to today -- which means only that I don't remember his byline -- but he came up twice in my surfing, which I will accept as significant in some way.

First of all, I read an Op-Ed in the NY Times which left me so steamed that I couldn't see straight.  It was by David Brooks, and it was eights arguments refuting a straw-man statement concerning unequal distribution of wealth -- it could easily be titled "Why all you non-rich people should shut up about us rich people."  It was indefensible sophistry, and disingenuous to boot.  Sadly, it's behind the NY Times paywall, so I was searching for some enterprising sort that had written about it in order to link for reference.  And I came across this post on Dean Baker's blog on American Prospect.  The post goes a step farther than summarizing Brooks' bald-faced lying, as it argue against it, point by point, like a cold-blooded killer.  Yes, much of it is a little dry in the wonky sense, but you can play the "David Brooks is a bad person because..." game yourself, with your friends.

And then while trolling around TPM, I found a post from Mr Baker extolling the lack of virtue of hall-of-fame bad-guy Grover Norquist, who, after shrinking government to the size where we will drown in a bathtub, is fighting for the right of hedge fund managers to pay proportionally less taxes than you or I do -- assuming, that is, that you are not a hedge fund manager, in which case, nice scam you have going for yourself, sir.  And while Mr Baker's post on Brooks is just-the-facts, this post on Norquist reveals a sense of humor:

While the situation of fund managers may be dire, we have to ask ourselves whether subsidizing them is really the proper role for government.  Those people who sympathize with the hard times facing fund managers can always contribute to charities that help them make ends meet.  They can even hold bake sales and walkathons, involving the whole community in voluntary fundraising efforts to assist the fund managers.

I hear the kids today like their opinion pieces leavened with a little humor.

Mr Baker is an economist, which comes as no surprise to me.  For some reason, economists seem to be not so bad at the blogging, and especially making points not with wordplay but with cold, rational fact-analysis.

And all of a sudden, children everywhere are telling their parents that they want to grow up to be economists.  Which is why mommy and daddy drink.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:20 PM

how can you resist an item on writers cramp?

Here's some news for all you writers (professional and otherwise) out there.  Should you be unlucky enough to develop writers, some smart-guy doctors have deduced that it's all in your head.  Which is to say, not imagined, but actually in your head:
...researchers produced brain images of 30 people who had had writer's cramp for an average of seven years.  The images were then compared with brain images of healthy people.  The participants with writer's cramp had less grey matter in three areas of the brain: the cerebellum, the thalamus and the sensorimotor cortex -- areas that control the affected hand.

I know, the fact that some malady could actually have something to do with your brain is hardly big news, considering that your brain is, well, your brain, and (for all you know) may well be manufacturing every sensory input you think you're experiencing, reducing what you think of as "the world" to nothing but a wholly imagined simulacrum stage-managed by those three pounds of squishy meat behind your eyeballs.  So the fact that there is a correlation between some muscle twitches/pain and the brain maybe could be your first logical option.  It's just useful to denote some of these "science marches on" moments so we can more accurately keep track of progress.

And extra points to these French scientists for not making that assumption that scientists have been historically vulnerable to -- correlation equals cause:

The researchers now face a chicken-and-egg situation, because it's not clear whether the abnormalities are a cause or effect of writer's cramp.

Chalk one up for the empiricists.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:30 AM

July 23, 2007

a. whitney brown is funny, and right

No, I did not watch the video, due to the fascist fashionable workplace policy not to do so.  But I did read the transcript, and I am familiar enough with A. Whitney Brown to say that I can pretty much imagine what it looks/sounds like by just using my brain.

Which is why I recommend to you this bit of independent special correspondentry from Mr. Brown.  It concerns supporting the troops and the nuances thereof:

But to answer the question, what I mean when I say I support our troops is that I actually pay for their food, their ammo, their upkeep, transport, everything. I pay for all of it.

And I do that not only because I’m a patriotic American, although I am, but also because they take 35% out of my check every week and if I don’t pay it I will end up in jail.

That is what I mean by ‘I support our troops’.  I mean I am involuntarily, under threat of prison, forced to pay for their support. Now do I resent that?

You’re damn right I do.  Because it is stupid as hell. Other countries pay taxes, but they get something for it, like health care.  What do I get?  I get to kill a bunch of Iraqis.  Whoopdeedoo.

True dat, but we also get more than just to kill a bunch of Iraqis - we get to not get protected from hurricanes, to not have a secure food supply, and to have our income redistributed to robber barons.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Old Europe!

Posted by mrbrent at 1:55 PM

in hopes that jay garrity googles himself

As long as I'm going there today, please take a second to compare and contrast Mitt Romney's courageous stand against GameStops with the propensity of his director of operations to win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat.  It's like the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing - which would be, at the least, misdemeanor impersonation of a law officer.  Ah, the musky smell of electability.

And if Romney can manage to squeeze in a reference to "those people", or maybe get his hand stuck in this Aunt's favorite vase, why, they'll have to give him his own reality TV show on VH1!

Dude might not so much win the presidency, but he will mop up in the Superlatives.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:31 PM

is romney a footnote punchline yet?

I'm not sure what your own personal standards are, but, generally speaking, I'd like my president to be the type of person who has time to really know the signs that they take pictures with.  Because someone might hand them a sign that says, "Macaca!" or, "Nappy Headed Ho!" and the next thing you know, India is invading Pakistan and the end is nigh.  (Except for the NYSE, which will break eleventy-four thousand no matter who invades whom.)

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, that Mitt Romney fellow.  I almost feel bad smacking on the poor fellow, whose electoral hopes are tied to his likelihood to be mistaken as "None Of The Above".  He's just a big Hapless Sandwich with plastic hair and fake teeth.  Yeah, you can hit him with the mocking and derision, but he seems to be doing a fine job of that all by himself.

Though you do have to wonder: when Mitt Romney runs for president, does Romney get hypocritical, or does hypocriticism get Mitt?

Posted by mrbrent at 11:43 AM