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January 18, 2008

meet the reals

Just to keep up with the real-life superheroes that we sometimes report on, this story from City Pages of Minneapolis catches up with them quite nicely.

Biggest update is that they've come up with a moniker -- "Reals".  Which works just fine, I suppose, though not what I had in mind back when I was a daydreaming ten year old.

Also, while many Reals focus on awareness/civic work, are there not a few that skipped straight from the Silver Age to "The Dark Night"?  Yup:

Rumor has it that a Real named Nostrum recently lost an eye in the line of duty, and some wonder if it will take a fatality to jolt the community out of its four-color fantasy.  Wall Creeper, a 19-year-old who fights crime in Colorado, even seems to welcome the possibility.  "To die doing something so noble would be the best thing to happen," he says.

As creepy as that may be, all we'd need is a radioactive spider or an alien power ring and it'd all work itself out.  Or not!

[Via Whitechapel.]

Posted by mrbrent at 3:52 PM

i keep stubbing my toe on the future

Was up late last night, videoconferencing.  Wasn't exactly my plan, but Wife was poking around on her PowerBook, and next thing I know, boom, our Montreal friend's face is on the screen, full-sound, full-video.  Zoinks!  (He was not in Montreal -- only the UWS.  Still, too far away to see with the naked eye.)

We very much felt like parents, talking to our boy stationed in Al Asad: proud.  Then that wore off, and I was left wondering what exactly live video adds to a remote conversation other than yet another reason to make myself presentable.

This is worth noting only because it was my first time; I popped my videoconference cherry.  All that's left now is my jet car and anti-grav belt (both of which will be rolled out at next year's MacWorld, I hear).

Posted by mrbrent at 9:12 AM

January 17, 2008

three cheers for plan d (or is it plan e?)

I'm nominating "The Surge is working!" as this year's model of Patently Offensive Semiotic Bullshit.  Dunno if you've noticed, but it's become a refrain for garden variety presidential candidates and other water-carriers of the Bush Administration.  I'd been noticing it slowly, but it really all came together upon reading this, Bill Kristol's latest contribution to awesomeness, wherein he breaks his arm in four places while patting himself on the back over "The Surge is working!"

It's a semiotic dodge not because the Surge is or is not working.  I'm not qualified enough (and mistrust the newz too much) to make a judgment either way.  It's a dodge because it is to the entire venture of the occupation of Iraq as the tree is to the forest.  It actually does beg the question (for once):

"Hey, how's the war going?"
"Why, the Surge is working!"
"I see."
[A moment's reflection.]
"Dude, you just begged my question."
"Wakka wakka wakka!"

It's an equivocation, and I'm all for equivocation (hell, I plan on equivocating once I'm done posting this), but if an equivocation is your primary weapon to whip the like-minded into a frenzy, then you need to question the subject of your frenzy.  The invasion was an historically bad idea, and no amount of congratulation on how well one is treading water will change that.

I'm sorry to revisit that whole Iraq War thing from so long ag-- holy smokes, it's still there!

Posted by mrbrent at 3:46 PM

willful douchery is worthy of note, we deem

Not much I can do to set this up other than to paraphrase the entire thing.  But it is worth your time, as it is the story of the petard, being hoisted by it and blithely soldiering on as if the entire petard-hoisting incident never happened while complaining about petard-hoisters in general.

The guilty party's name is Lee Siegel, which is only worth mentioning to the extent that when you see his name connecting to acts of punditry, you can say, "Ohh, that Lee Siegel."  And no, I haven't read his work (except for his sock-puppetry), so I can't comment on it -- ah, the wages of sin.

But wait.  One little spurt of sock-puppetry shouldn't disqualify one's work from being taken seriously ever again, should it?

Actually, yes it should.  (Especially to the extent the guilty party persists in commenting on the Internet and its uses/misuses.)

Posted by mrbrent at 11:26 AM

romney? really?

Whoa.  Smart guys are predicting that Mitt Romney will become the Republican nominee for the president of the United States, solely because he is the only candidate that the GOP rank and file won't not vote for.

I see the logic in this, or at least the predictive logic in this.  I see no logic in an actual Romney candidacy, however, and every time I see footage of him campaigning I can't help but laugh -- he's a character from "The Simpons", so transparent and feckless that he must be somehow voiced by the ghost of Phil Hartman.  In the words of Warren Ellis's Grumbling Email Robot, Romney is "an experiment to see if America can handle the idea of a figure of authority who also believes himself to be wearing magic underpants".  Sure, that's a cheap shot on the guy's faith.  But with this guy, this Mitt Romney, this vacuum whose personality has been replaced by pointless ambition, how can you not cheap shot this guy?  Can you ever imagine him not falling for the "you've got something on your tie" trick?

And it is through his absolute uselessness as a candidate, his screaming lack of qualification, that will make Mitt Romney our 44th President of the United States.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:04 AM

January 16, 2008

didn't think i'd be posting on katie couric, nope

This may another curious case of "too much information" (which is my new favorite personal pathology -- bye bye, dipsomania!), but I found this bit of video to be strangely soothing.

I would have thought that live-feed non-broadcast footage of Katie Couric on the eve of the New Hampshire primaries would be icky -- a peg on which to hang the vulgarization of a decade.  But about two minutes in, I started to like her.  She may not have the Cronkitian stature of One Who Decides The News, but maybe it's time past for that.  She's a person with a job, and that job is newsreading.  She asks for pronunciations.  She makes sure the team is on the same page.  She thinks Giuliani is toast.  She cusses.  She reminds you of a friend of your little sister, all grown up and sitting in Dan Rather's chair.

If I had the time and the expertise, I'd rip the audio from the clip, and play it to myself every night, as I fell asleep.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:16 AM

January 15, 2008

michael mcconnell: not afraid to tarnish the family name

It's official: the National Security Agency is run by insane persons.

Threat Level tells of a New Yorker feature (which is not online and therefore excerpts must be typed instead of cut and pasted) detailing the funny, funny ways of the Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, and his belief that the only way to head off a terrorist mega I-attack is to monitor all emails, downloads and searches.  Why that's so crazy it just might... never ever work ever.

Well, maybe not ever work ever.  I'm sure an artificial state of omniscience will catch a whole lot of file-sharers, maybe some pornographers.  But I do remember something about unreasonable search and seizure in those amendments to our Constitution, and am of the belief that basically the good guys don't treat the innocent like the guilty, no matter how little the innocent "have to hide".

Even more hilarious is this pullquote from the New Yorker piece [emphasis mine]:

In order for cyberspace to be policed, Internet activity will have to be closely monitored.  Ed Giorgio, who is working with McConnell on the plan, said that would mean giving the government the authority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer, or Web search.  "Google has records that could help in a cyber-investigation," he said.  Giorgio warned me, "We have a saying in this business: 'Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.'"

"Privacy and security are a zero-sum game?"  The only business that has that saying is the Stupid Asshole business, or maybe the "1984" business.  I can think of plenty of security models where losses in privacy do not equal exactly gains in security (say, a Golden Rule model, or a Deterrence model), and I can only think of one (the Total Information Awareness Asshole model) where they do.

There are plenty of perfectly good totalitarian counties out there that must be hiring autocrats.  Dir McConnell and Mr Giorgio should brush up those resumes.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:15 PM

stay delicious, dwindling food supply

Welcome to a day full of terrifying food news.  No, not news of lima beans, or tripe, but rather news of how eating may someday soon become either a luxury, or a calculated risk.

First is the second part of a New York Times feature, the story of how Europe, not satisfied with depleting its European fish, are now depleting the fish of Africa,  This is, of course, violative of a web of international laws and treaties (which web is, sadly, poorly defined by the story), but proceeds apace because Europe is hungry for fish, dammit!  The piece ends with an inadvertent kicker:

In the short term, prices will be higher.  Procuring genuinely sustainable fish means buying more expensive fish, or not eating fish at all.  “We’ve acted as if the supply of fish was limitless and it’s not,” said Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation.

Screw peak oil, dudes -- we're running out of fish, and I'd much rather eat me some tuna than petroleum.  We spend thousands of years struggling with the mathematical concept of infinity, yet we behave as the amount of fish in the sea is a boundless set.  I guess our maths are strong after all.

And second, the Food and Drug Administration has decided that protecting our food supply is of secondary importance to protecting our food suppliers, as it has concluded that " that foods from healthy cloned animals and their offspring are as safe as those from ordinary animals".  This is somewhat alarming, not because of the imminentization of sci-fi it represents, but rather because that the only infallible way (I would argue, off the top of my head) to determine if something is safe to eat is to have a bunch of people eat it and wait for them not to get sick.  And when you're talking not about an item but rather an entire species whose genetics have been fucked with, it's rather difficult to project the "eat it and wait" test long enough into the future to account for any possible long-term effects the compromised genetics might cause.

Fortunately for us (and out food supply), the FDA is not so troubled with science:

Finally, there was the overarching problem of deciding which measures would best predict whether the food was safe.  Most puzzling was whether to take into account the subtle alterations in gene activity, called epigenetic changes, that are common in clones as a result of having just one parent.

In the end, facing the reality that epigenetics have never been a factor in assessing the wholesomeness of food, agency scientists decided to use the same simple but effective standard used by farmers since the dawn of agriculture: If a farm animal appears in all respects to be healthy, then presume that food from that animal is safe to eat.

So as long as these cloned livestock are pretty, then they're edible.  And if some weird problem (I'm voting for allergy) develops with these livestock down the road, at least we'll have the solace that those cows we can't eat anymore were attractive.

I'm sure there's more scary food news out there.  Bovine spongiform encephalopathyFrankenstein vegetables?  Some other day.  I'd like to protect my ability to sleep peacefully.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:28 AM

January 14, 2008

all that stuff you that saddam did? iran actually did it

To risk the Andy Rooney hypothetical, can someone tell me how the president of the United States is able to allege that Iran is "the world's leading state-sponsor of terror" and there is no one with a soapbox of the public variety to call bullshit on that?

I'm not saying that Iran is not the world's leading state-sponsor of terror.  My operations are somewhat limited to the the Eastern seaboard of the U.S., and I only occasionally spend time with terrorist elements.  However, I do try to keep pathologically current with the news, and I did really well on my SATs, and I feel safe making these two assertions: (i) in all or my non-presidential-daily-briefing perusals, I've seen enough other nations mentioned as contending for the title, like Syria (duh) and our ally Saudi Arabia plus let's not forget Central America or the internecine conflicts in equatorial Africa, enough other nations, in fact, to doubt whether Iran is actually number one; and (ii) the president and his administration have clearly identified themselves, through sabre-rattling and other imperial versions of "plain-talkin'", as having an interest in what the world thinks of Iran, which interest would compel any gatekeeper of the public record to cite said interest when the president or his administration addresses the object of this interest in public statements.

In other words, not only is the president not above rigorous fact-checking, his record would demand very rigorous fact-checking on anything he says past, "The sky is blue", or, "Chicken wings are delicious."

And are not these putative fact-checkers supposed to be one and the same as the purveyors of the news media that we consume?  Are they waiting until the president asserts that the Ayatollahs were behind 9-11?  The government of Iran is a bad actor in many ways -- is the egregious vilification thereof necessary?

Ahh, who am I kiddin'?  The president says it, it's news.  That's why journalists carry tape recorders.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:59 PM