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February 16, 2008

a rec, a warning and lee siegel's guide to selling books


Warren Ellis's webcomic.

News from the Department of Perpetually Ulterior Motives.

Nice turtleneck.  No, really.  That's some turtleneck.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:15 AM

February 15, 2008

happy valentine's day, domestic spylords

To follow up on the ex post facto protection of vichy telecoms, yesterday the House Democrats stalled the domestic spying bill.  Basically, they refused to bring the bill to the floor before a one-week hiatus, allowing the current legislation to expire on Saturday -- not so much driving a stake through it as thumbing their noses at the president:
The bill's expiration is largely symbolic, but demonstrates that House Democrats are willing to fight Bush on anti-terrorism policies, where fear-mongering rhetoric had previously cowed their opposition.

Of course, the intricacies of the bill and the parliamentary maneuvering are impossible to summarize, as the summary would be exactly as long as a thorough explanation.  This is why these Congressional showdowns are so much fun to follow, with their straightforward narratives and black-and-white resolutions.

But at least some portion of the government did not faint when accused of "helping terrorists to kill Americans".

Posted by mrbrent at 10:32 AM

February 13, 2008

science is funnier than i am

A bit of archeological slapstick in the Yahoo! Headline Corral:
• 25-million-year-old fossil shows bats developed flight before sonar

So, bats' ability to echolocate developed in response to bumping into things.  (And to extrapolate, if I can live another couple thousand years, I, too, will develop sonar.)

If that's not the most direct and approachable anecdote illustrating evolution (i.e., species mutation as a response to environment), I don't know what is.  Well, maybe: "Fossils show that man was bipedal before man had actual feet."

Posted by mrbrent at 3:50 PM

"dogs" spelled backwards is "sgod"

I don't generally follow the Westminster Dog Show (though Lord knows there's nothing better to put on the TV at the bar, with the sound off), but this year join me in giving it up for the beagle.  I am partial to the Boston Terriers (and the North Williamsburg Black-and-Tans) myself, but that is one good-lookin' beagle.  Regal, even.

Growing up, my grandparents had two beagles, but this was back in the hills of WV, so dogs were generally pets that lived in a pen outside.  Needless to say, Brooklyn has not afforded me the opportunity to continue the family tradition (though our Little Dog does sometimes prefer to sleep in a half closed closet).

I like especially how they force the champion beagle into some sort of silver bowl to celebrate his victory (see linked photo).  They should do the same to hockey players with the Stanley Cup.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:09 AM

February 12, 2008

bush: no to nooses

The sentiment is somewhat unassailable, but I will still file this under "astonishingly tonedeaf":
For decades, the noose was a symbolic part of a campaign of violence, fear and intimidation against blacks, [President Bush] said.  Sometimes, he added, it was orchestrated by the law enforcement officers charged with protecting them.  Bush also said the noose was a tool for intimidation and killing that conveyed a sense of powerlessness to millions of blacks throughout the country.

And no, that is not an answer to the question, "So, Mr President, what do you think of nooses?"  It is part of his prepared remarks at "a black history month event at the White House".  I forget which part of Black History Month devotes itself to the examination and repudiation of nooses, but apparently the president does not.

But at least he closed the event on a high note, as it "ended with music performed by The Temptations."

No note is made of the look on the faces of The Temptations as the president got all noose-y with it.

Posted by mrbrent at 6:13 PM

telecom immunity

Many of the usual suspects are alight with the news of telecom immunity passing in the Senate.  If you are the type to care about this, then you were already aware that the vote was upcoming today, and you've probably already figured out at whom to point the stinkfinger of blame.

If you are not the type to care about this, then you should change what type of person you are, and this is why.  Briefly, during the Bush Administration, the National Security Agency decided that its spying efforts would be more convenient if the various telecommunication companies would cooperate with the NSA, giving them unfettered access to domestic traffic (phone, internet, etc.).  As this fact came to light, anti-domestic spying types were upset, and threatened to take legal action against the cooperating telecoms.  In response to this, the Administration refused to sign any "intelligence oversight" bill offered by Congress unless it granted retroactive immunity to the telecoms from such legal action.

So if such legislation is signed by the president (as it presumably will be, as there are few options left), then enormous business concerns that you give money for you to be able to talk on the phone and surf the web will be given a legal pat on the head for aiding the NSA in spying on you.

I know that our civic attention spans are somewhat taxed these days, tuning in to Sportscenter every night to see who will be the nominee of the respective parties for unitary executive.  But, among the not-so-outlandish possible future implied by events like the failure of the Congress to rip telecom immunity of the latest spying bill is a future of a state-backed corporate spynet monitoring your actions, beyond oversight and public recourse.  (If your imagination fails you, maybe you saw one of the "Terminator" movies?)

So, at some point, you have to ask yourself, is this a future (or a potential future, at least) that you want to welcome?

And finally, if the telecoms are getting paid to do this by the NSA, can't they at least reduce our rates?  Because, one of the things that telecoms will not become immune from is concerted consumer action.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:29 PM

something about celebrities

Do you think that it would be possible for a satellite to track the movements of certain celebrities in Los Angeles just by tracking the clots of paparazzi that follow them?  Or would it be easier to track them by the trail of pissed off Los Angelinos left in their wake, trapped in a Starbucks by a sidewalk full of barking cameramen?

This may not be the case for the indefinite future, and Radar reports that the phenomenon has drawn the attention of the authorities:

L.A. City Councilman Dennis P. Zine wants to build a paparazzi space bubble—and not just around celebrities but the foot and car traffic, emergency care facilities, homes, and businesses they bunch up like a cheap thong.  His law would create "safety zone of clear space that would protect public safety," according to his recent city council proposal.

This is a topic that's arisen in a number of conversations with different folk over the past few weeks, mostly spurred by some recitation of Britney Spears gossip as news -- to what extent is the swarm of paps that occurs in the NY/LA areas a public menace?

On the cultural level, I argue yes, but our hands are somewhat tied.  The paps swarm because there is a market for photos of celebs, and there is a market of celeb photos because normal folk buy magazines and patronize websites that peddle these celeb photos.  The consumers created the market and not vice versa, and until the consumers grow some kind of conscience or decide to read a book, the market will persist, and the photographers will swarm like bees we so fondly remember.

On a public safety level, of course they are a menace, in the same way that anyone blocking a public right-of-way (or anyone driving recklessly, for that matter) is a public menace.  I'm not sure if a new level of legislation is required to confront this, but if this is the beginning of the backlash to the paps, then I'm all ears.

(Please note that this post is begging the question, on purpose, of the impact of the consumer-driven interest in hyper-realized people.  I'm gonna assume we're all of relatively the same opinion, no matter which weekly tabloid we keep in the bag for subway rides.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:58 AM

February 11, 2008

and somewhere ron paul wonders if anyone is wondering about ron paul

Here: a thing to do when you discover you're a few payments behind on your blimp.

That's just a suggestion, of course.  Also, you could watch the evening news and try to remember the name of the candidate you support.  Or you could get drunk on cheap burgundy, and carve "I didn't leave the GOP, the GOP left me" into your forearm while weeping.

Yeah, it's a cruel world, but still mostly free.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:35 PM

oh canada, with your canadian pop bands

OK, the recommendation threshold has been passed -- after seventeen listens, I will stick neck out on "Reconstruction Site" by The Weakerthans>.  (I searched for the appropriate link to easify your purchase, but your iTunes store is probably the same one-click away that mine is, yes?)  If you like records like this one, then, why don't you have it already, already?

The Weakerthans are a power-pop outfit from some part of Canada that I've never been to and probably couldn't pronounce.  They are brainy and hooky in that way that everyone has always liked.  It's a little bit retro, but only in the sense that it is tightly crafted pop and none of the songs are about robots.  I still got room in my life for retro and so do you.

They can be sweeping and theatrical when they have to ("The Prescience of Dawn" -- which would be a terrible track name were it not from a James Agee quote -- or vice versa?), but mostly they are quirkfully conversational, including the driving and oddly inspirational pet-voiced "Plea From a Cat Named Virtue"

All you ever want to do is drink and watch TV,
and frankly that thing doesn't really interest me.
I swear I'm going to bite you hard and taste your tinny blood
if you don't stop the self-defeating lies you've been repeating
since the day you brought me home.
I know you're strong.

I have purchased their more recent album "Reunion Tour", which I do like (it is more on the dreamier side, and not in the amorphous happy sense -- 'resembling the quality of dreams' is what I mean).  I just like "Reconstruction Site" more, so it gets the nod.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:54 AM