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March 7, 2008

stay classy, clinton campaign

Nothing is more presidential than the continuous calls for the firings of people who say mean words.  Words like "pimp", or "monster".  Though I guess such calls are appropriate, as Sen Clinton probably couldn't sleep for weeks when she heard these mean words aimed at her.

If I had a dime for every time I lost my job because I called some third party a "monster", then, why, I could build a four-post king sized bed, with mattress and box springs, completely out of dimes!

Just imagine the firestorm (and resulting uptick in the polls) when some sad flack or journo calls Sen Clinton something really mean, like "poopy" or "pizzahead".

Posted by mrbrent at 12:35 PM

they still have recruitment centers??

A lesson in the hazards of vague, imprecise writing:
There's apparently no link between the bombing of a military recruiting station in New York's Times Square and letters sent to Congress saying "We Did It," law enforcement officials said Friday.

The lengthy anti-war letters — which arrived with photos of a man standing in front of the recruiting office before it was damaged — contained no threats and were sent to as many as 100 members of Congress, officials said.

Once the authorities got around to parsing the context, they realized that "it" was not the "it" they were looking for.

Meanwhile, the nation continues to be fascinated with our latest, greatest security threat -- a man with access to cherry bombs and a bicycle.

But we can sleep soundly, as the investigative might of our police was clearly demonstrated -- they evaluated and downgraded the evidentiary utility of this hippie-written letter in only the time that it takes to splash a headline across the globe.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:20 AM

March 6, 2008

march modok madness

If you find yourself dragging a bit in the early afternoon, go have yourself some Modok.

What could pick you up better than a floating giant head with vestigial limbs?

[Disclosure: yes, I is a contributor thereto.]

Posted by mrbrent at 1:07 PM

fdr's first inaugural speech

I missed it by two days, but it is worth remembering -- Tuesday was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the First Inaugural Speech of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Thanks to high school social studies (and Living Color), we all know the money "...fear itself" quote.  But do remember that this was not buried in the speech, it was in the first paragraph, the introduction.  It was not in this paragraph:
The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization.  We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths.  The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

And it was not in this paragraph:

In the field of world policy I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor -- the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others -- the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.

For the record, the full sentence is, "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance," which I think is better than the abbreviated version.

And to contextualize this, remember that this speech was not given at Live Aid, nor at a tickertape parade -- at the time of the speech, the United States was neck-deep in the Great Depression, with the attendant unemployment, homelessness and bank runs.  FDR was inheriting a nightmare.  (Not that I'm trying to impute any correlation between now and then -- have not had coffee yet.)

Of course, in the end, it was just a speech, and therefore not worthy of discussion.  But, hey, now you can impress your cubicle-mates.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:30 AM

March 5, 2008

on negative campaigning

Further to my immediately preceding whining about primaries, I just want to get this out of my head because it's interfering with the other things my head does in the course of the workday (like earn money, etc.):

It is true that if a candidate cannot withstand a negative campaign, then that candidate is not as good candidate for national office as they could be.  However, this fact is not a rationalization for running a negative campaign.  It's not even a plausible excuse for running a negative campaign.  A negative campaign -- let's just call it a dirty campaign -- is run because a candidate's ambition intercedes with a candidate's principles.

There's no law against running a dirty campaign, but there is nothing heroic about it.  And I find it personally distasteful, to the point that my support of candidate with such expedient moral sense would at best be qualified.

Not that a negative campaign is never warranted; I'm a big fan of the appropriate response.  It's the late-70s pro wrestling fan in me -- the good guys never cheat, unless they've been pushed too far.

That being said, the people of Ohio may have decided that they don't want a certain candidate answering the Batphone at 3am, but they chose a candidate, the bulk of whose "qualifications" to answer that phone are identical to that of Laura Bush.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:48 PM

i am starting to not like wednesdays

I realize that it's a bit gauche to pile on the media, but I've come to the conclusion that the presidential primaries this time around are nothing but a poorly-veiled conspiracy to sell news.  Have you noticed that no event passes without some historic import being assigned to it, as the endless array of talking heads chimes in on the historic import of the day -- Giuliani's a lock!  McCain is out!  Hillary's a lock!  Huckabee is a lock!  Obama's a lock!  McCain's a lock!  Hillary is out!  Obama is out!

It's not the current events that whip back and forth like that -- it is the interpretation of the observers.  And these hairpin turns do affect public opinion, or at least the public opinions of the measurable portion of rocket scientists out there, as they are reported as the truth.

I know that the forward thinking newsman is always sniffing around for "narrative", as that's the New Big Thing.  But when the narrative interferes with actual reporting -- when storylines are flouted over facts -- then the journalist stops being a journalist and instead becomes a flack.

I won't move to Canada if this becomes the first election swayed by "SNL" or anything, but I certainly won't shut up about it for a long time.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:30 AM

March 4, 2008

nixon did what?

For years now, one of the things on that list of Things To Do Before [x] was to read up on Game Theory.  Maybe because of the band?  Maybe because that's what all the smart kids would glancingly refer to, like I was supposed to know about it already?  Whatever.  I didn't.

And now, I couldn't be happier, because, as published by Wired, game theory nearly started WW3.  Thanks to the FOIA, we learn that in 1969 Nixon, on the advice of still-with-us Henry Kissinger, tried to bluff the Soviets into pressuring the end of the Vietnam War by dispatching a squadron of B-52s loaded with armed nukes towards their eastern border.  Seven years after the Cuban Missle Crisis, what would inspire a sane man to do this?  Some eggheads and a little theory, apparently:

Nixon's madman pose and [Operation] Giant Lance were based on game theory, a branch of mathematics that uses simple calculations and rigorous logic to help understand how people make choices — like whether to surge ahead in traffic or whether to respond to a military provocation with a strike of one's own...

The madman theory was an extension of [the "flexible response"] doctrine.  If you're going to rely on the leverage you gain from being able to respond in flexible ways — from quiet nighttime assassinations to nuclear reprisals — you need to convince your opponents that even the most extreme option is really on the table.  And one way to do that is to make them think you are crazy.

So, in retrospect, I am glad I did not learn Game Theory, because I do not want to be tarnished by my association therewith.

It's great to live long enough for these historical facts to become unburied, but, all the same, fucking yikes.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:05 AM

a good day to be texan/ohiolian

I turned the TV on before coming to work (for once), as this is the day of the final primaries of the Democratic campaign (unless of course they go on), and I wanted to hit the street forewarned (as that would make me also forearmed, by some thinking).

On local network "NY1", which is like a 24 hour news station just for the Greater NY Area, but funded by begging dimes and run by your high school's AV corps, they were running some fashion of poll that viewers could respond to by pushing a button on their remotes.  The question was about under what circumstances Sen Hillary Clinton should drop out of the race, and about 75% of the respondents gave some version of the "Please quit now" options.

So can we just call the race now?  Three quarters of the kind of people who respond to basic cable television polls at 7a on a weekday think it's over?  The people have spoken! -- at least, the people whose conversations you avoid at dinner parties, or, more likely, in the stalled elevator that you nightmare about.

Meanwhile, in the real world of ones and zeros, some poll with a bigger sample pool (but worse science) saw its shadow, so, hold my calls -- there will be six more weeks of the primaries.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:56 AM

March 3, 2008

wherein we channel consumerist for one post

Is it okay if I wax Too Much Information for a moment?  I just called a certain communications company (well, Optimum, formerly Cablevision) to cancel my phone service, and was subjected by a service rep to a pretty thorough interrogation over the reason that I wanted to do such a thing.

The reason?  We decided that the land line was redundant with our cell service.  No biggie, right?  Just trying to make a dent in the overhead.

But, I do feel pretty strongly that, in my consumer relations, my motive is my business and mine alone.  When first asked, I responded, "Because I want to?"  When prompted again, I asked which option on the service rep's script would make everyone happier.  This was ignored.  (And I was putting the Really Nice Guy on pretty hard, and not the default Snarky Asshole.)  Later I got asked a third time.  I did not want to break into a rant, because I know the dude is just doing his job, so I tells him.

But why on Earth is my motive relevant to anything?  Considering that I'm provided the cash and the company is providing the service, and further considering that none of the Terms of Use I agreed to contained any prohibition of discontinuing services for a spurious reason, what the fuck business is it of yours, Optimum?

Dude was nice enough, and Optimum has a monopoly on the comm services in my building, so my blood pressure should know better.  And who wants to grow up to be the Shut-In Compulsive Complaint-Letter Writer?  Not me.

But I will not be inviting Optimum to any boy-girl parties anytime soon, that's for sure.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:16 PM

first time writing about municipal bond ratings

I got stuck in the wonkery of this story on the train this morning -- basically, states, cities and other municipalities are protesting because different (more stringent) criteria are used in determining their bond rating than are used for corporations, which makes it more expensive for states to raise money.  I know, it sounds super-fun already, but, to clarify, with the words of someone paid to be a more illuminative writer than I:
A complex system of credit ratings and insurance policies that Wall Street uses to set prices for municipal bonds makes borrowing needlessly expensive for many localities, some officials say.  States and cities have begun to fight back, saying they can no longer afford the status quo given the slackening economy and recent market turmoil.

"More expensive" may be deceptive -- i.e., why compare?  It is what it is, right?  Actually, no.  While it is galling that it is more expensive for, say, a city to raise a couple billion dollars for public works improvements than it is for a retailer to raise the same couple billion to open a new wave of high-fructose corn-syrup fountains, it is more galling that, basically, municipal credit is subsidizing Wall Street credit.  Which is not the way things are supposed to be.

It's today's most important story you'll never read!!

Posted by mrbrent at 9:31 AM