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November 22, 2008

maud newton on the economy

So Maud Newton is very concerned about the economy, and not just as a dinner party conversation.  And I am too!  The difference between us is that she actually knows what she's talking about, and I am pretending to know what I'm talking about.  For example: Citibank losing half its stock value in a couple days?  Some would be able to look at that critically, and remember that, regardless of the stock value, Citibank is sitting on a trillion or so dollars in assets, so maybe let's examine the root of the stockholder panic before we give Citibank a whole bunch of taxpayer money for free.  Me, all I know is that Citibank "job discontinued" my father when he was a year shy of full retirement benefits, so Citibank can go sit on something sharp for all I care.

So Maud was writing a long screed on the fiscal situation and then her browser ate it.  Which is sad, because I sure would like to read that.  But in her post on the economy/browser-eating, she successfully distilled her entire point into a nice simple sentence (only two commas!):

What scares me most about this recession is that, despite my background, I have no idea how bad it will get or where it will end.

And she is coming from a position of knowledge.  When I say that, I come from a position of trying to look cool.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:10 AM

wherein i stub my toe on the very obvious: a curb

Yesterday at half past five or so, I was listening to a friend describe how it's only in the last seven or eight years, since she moved to New York, that she's broken any bones.

Five hours later, my little dog pulls me up Westminster Road at a serious clip, whereupon I trip over the curb and faceplant into a very well manicured lawn.

I'm not sure if my toe is broken, but it's certainly playing broken on TV right now.  Thank God I was wearing Crocs and not barefoot, because, oh right.  The result would have been exactly the same.

I just want to thank the Gods of Ominous Foreshadowing for paying attention.  And may they continue to do so when I'm listening to a friend describe their fabulous success (though that's usually when the Gods of Dramatic Irony step in).

Posted by mrbrent at 9:27 AM

November 21, 2008

politics!

I personally will not be happy unless the Secretary of State position is never filled.  Yeah, it might gum up diplomatic efforts over the next four years, but as the news-reporting industry is decimated by perpetual layoffs, is it fair to take away the one thing that every pundit does not tire of writing about?

I mean, any job good enough to have is good enough to hand-wring over, endlessly.  Yeah, I'm talking to you, Senator-for-life Clinton!

Also, just to validate the tireless efforts of the Bill O'Reillys and the Laura Ingrahams of the world, let me, an avowed liberal, say out loud: bring back the Fairness Doctrine!  In fact, let's make it the Fairness Dogma, or the Rightwing Gasbag Interment Doctrine!

Whatever you want, conservative talking heads.  Tell me how to be your straw man, reality be damned.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:11 PM

chinese democracy

So I dared myself to listen to "Chinese Democracy" all the way through.  It's streaming on MySpace, and it's Friday!  So why the hell not.

Funny -- I'm not really a fan of Guns N Roses.  They were certainly planet-sized back when me and GNR were of a certain age, so I'm passing familiar, but I never really bought an album.

And now it's a hundred years later, or at least fourteen years since Axl Rose started recording it.  And you'd think that if you spend fourteen years on an album, it would come out sounding like "Pet Sounds, or at the very least "Loveless".  Which it clearly did not.  But, the good news is that I don't think it really sucks much more than you'd imagine GNR sucking were this a reunion tour and not an urban legend imminentized.

What does it sound like?  Well, it would make sense if it was wearing all the years that passed, an olio of many of the sounds that were influential at various times between then and now.  Butit does not.  More like you notice the genres that are absolutely not present -- nu metal, screamo and the other microgenres that constituted "hard rock".  They're not there.  What is there:  Power ballads, with strings, grand pianos and minor keys!  These cuts feel like Axl conceived the music videos first and then wrote the songs.  Also, there are two tracks where Axl sings in funny accents.  They are a bit confusing.  Edwardian?  Ethel Merman?  There are guitar solos, in nearly every song!  Remember guitar solos?  And finally there are a couple cuts that have the old GnR swaggering heavy-boogie.  Which sound like, well, GNFNR.

Basically, it rises above sounding like a parody of GNR, but not by a large margin.  But it's not glaringly dreadful, so that's a victory of sorts.

Also, keep in mind that I am one who does not pick out lyrics of sounds unless they are hammered into my head by a relentless chorus or a shouty bridge.  So the above thoughts are exclusive of lyrical content, which, chances are, will hurt and not help.

All in all, it's nice to see that Tommy Stinson is getting a paycheck.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:25 AM

mukasey: best wishes

Damn.  Every headline I'm seeing concerning AG Michael Mukasey's health scare last night is saying roughly the same thing as the Yahoo! Headline Corral:
• Mukasey conscious and alert after collapsing during speech

"Conscious and alert" is not a description that fills anyone with blazing hope, and it seems to be a phrase deliberately chosen.  (Though it is the nicest way you could describe the performance of the Department of Justice over the past eight years.)

Dude's a middling-to-poor Attorney General, but he's still a dude, so I hope he's gonna be alright.

Also of interest: an eyewitness report of the incident, detailing the actual speech he was giving -- "defending the administration's torture policies and particularly arguing against prosecutions of people who made decisions in the aftermath of 9/11".

Posted by mrbrent at 9:18 AM

November 20, 2008

michele bachmann: why so serious?

Not content with merely appearing to be insane, with her crazy-saying frozen-grinned wide-eyed terrifying media-whoring, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has decided to exhibit actual pathological symptoms of brain injury:
A month after calling for an investigation of fellow members of Congress to "find out if they are pro-America or anti-America," Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is now claiming that the whole episode was "an urban legend."

Asked about the comment Tuesday night on Fox’s “Hannity & Colmes,” Bachmann said, "That’s not what I said at all."

Except that is exactly what she said, in a live national telecast that was later Youtubed within an inch of its life.

Is it feckless to assert that up is down in the face of evidence to the contrary?  Maybe.  I think, however, that it would be more useful to consult the DSM-IV to see what exactly is ailing the Representative, because she either has no memory of the recent past or thinks that every day is idiomatic-opposite-day, with "urban myth" actually meaning "easily verifiable truth".

And, in a passing note, the reelection of Rep. Bachmann was the only tight House race that I was rooting for the GOP incumbent, at least a little.  She should be on TV every night for the next two years, for the greater good of commentators everywhere.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:03 PM

25 stories not as dumb as the "amero"

For this morning's diversion, I recomment Project Censored's (aptly named) 25 Top Censored Stories for 2008.  I find these pretty useful each year, as a majority of the stories I've never caught wind of even though I like to wade around in the tall weeds of the fringe left from time to time.  So then these stories were actaully well censored!  Nice job, censors.

None of this year's crop rise to the level of, "Government collaborating with Alpha Centaurians!" or, "Halliburton controls ABC/Disney!" or, "Chicken wings not made of chicken!"  But, there are a couple of eyebrow-raisers, like, "President not bound by executive orders," and "The FBI's got a posse," and, "No Child Left Behind is a smoke-screen for profiteers!"  Those are some nice, dignified conspiracy theories, the kind you can take home to meet your mother.

And as far as undignified conspiracy theory goes -- I've come across three separate references to the "amero" in the past week, which makes it a fad.  If you're not familiar with the concept (and pray you're not), the "amero" is the mythical currency that will be forced upon us once the black helicopters merge Mexico/U.S./Canada into one preposterous really big country with oddly-named paper money.  I'm not gonna waste bandwidth on this with a link -- just be sure that there are more crazy insane people/dedicated freedom fighters out there that are trying to get the word out on this NOW before we're all forced to eat our poutine with salsa verde.

I bring this up only because the "amero" is not only righteously insipid, it's silly.  The shadowy powers-that-will-be have already named the new evil fake currency?  And they named it the "amero"?  Was "schmeuro" already taken?

I'm not saying that there's nothing to the greater conspiracy represented by the "amero" -- I'm open-minded in that literally anything is possible, even whackadoo things.  I just want to congratulate whichever tinfoil-hat-type who coined "amero".  Way ta go, poopie.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:14 AM

only math can save us

I saw that the Dow had dropped another 5.1% yesterday afternoon -- whoa there!  I've been busy paying attention to all this other stuff like Sarah Palin and race-baiting terrorists that I totally forgot that we're in the midst of a financial crisis a photographic representation of which would be a bullet passing through a red delicious apple, except delete the apple and replace it with the international economy!  5.1%!?!  How can we wake up in the morning and face the new day when 5.1% of the Dow is gone!  Forever!

But then I checked the numbers and saw that it was only 429 points, which is really nothing to get excited about.  I mean, back in the days of free money and an infinity of +9 derivatives (unregulated!), 429 is how much the market would swing if Alan Greenspan got a splinter in his finger.  429 is nothing to get hepped up about.

Again, math comes to rescue!  Imagine: when the Dow is down to about 5000, a 5% drop is gonna only be, like, three points down.

Posted by mrbrent at 7:35 AM

November 19, 2008

john ziegler is a tremendously unreasonable man, and also a dick

You may be as sick to death of Nate Silver, he of the 538 and the accurate election predictions and the sudden crippling ubiquity, but this has been linked around a bit, so I gave it a read.  And I was so impressed with the skills of Mr Silver that I chose to read it twice.

The quick version is that a fellow named John Ziegler commissioned a poll, putatively to determine how informed Obama voters were, as part of a larger "viral" effort to, what?  I'm not sure.  Make fun of Obama voters?.  Well, the results of the poll, and it's methodology, were released by Mr Zeigler, and Mr Silver looked it over and wrote that, in his opinion, the poll was a "push poll", as the questions, representing themselves to be statements of fact, had a decidedly Hannity-an worldview, wherein Obama is an election-rigging terrorist-hugging Muslim.  Mr Ziegler took offense with this characterization, and offered an interview to Mr Silver on the condition that the transcript be posted on Mr Silver's site.

The interview is a testy little affair, at least on the part of Mr Ziegler, as he accuses Mr Silver as being a poor researcher and a bad person and all kinds of other things, plus also while cursing.  And Mr Silver?  He keeps his cool, sticks to short, simple to understandable questions and remembers his manners.  Culminating in:

[Nate Silver]:  Would you consider yourself well-informed?
[John Ziegler]:  I’d consider myself extremely well-informed.

NS:  Who are the two senators from South Dakota?
JZ:  Thune and, uh, Johnson.

NS:  Very good. South Carolina?
JZ:  Go fuck yourself.  I'm done with this interview if you're going to ask me stupid questions like that.  Obviously I know who Lindsay Graham is.

NS:  Well, since you’re running a website calling people misinformed, I’d like to see if -- there are certain things you’ve said that I would consider misinformed.
JZ:  Misinformed?  You're a piece of work!  You are never going to have the guts to post a representative transcript on your website!  I thought you actually ran a legitimate website!

NS:  Thank you, have a good day.
JZ:  Go fuck yourself.

You'd think that a numbers guy like Mr Silver might not acquit himself so well in a live-fire interview like that.  Nice job.

And this is not about being ideologically in the right or ideologically in the wrong -- I'm unsure of Mr Silver's political leanings and how much I would agree with him.  But whether Mr Ziegler is correct in his arguments or not, he's evidenced himself a jerk.  It's about flushing the assholes out into the open and giving them enough petard.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:26 AM

america is a center-what country?

Thomas Frank drives a stake through the heart of the very popular premise that "America remains a center-right country":
It is possible, I suppose, that the pundits are right and the public didn't really mean it when it elected a liberal Democrat president and gave Democrats even larger majorities in both houses of Congress.  Maybe America really wants the same nice, reassuring, centrist thing as always.

But it is also possible that, for once, the public weighed the big issues and gave a clear verdict on the great economic questions of the last few decades.  It is likely that we really do want universal health care and some measure of wealth-spreading, and even would like to see it become easier to organize a union in the workplace, however misguided such ideas may seem to the nation's institutions of higher carping.

And that's just the intro!  Actually, the entire column moves on to discuss the implications of the election as far as organized labor is concerned (and is accordingly worth a read), but Frank so deftly skewered the premise that I felt compelled to share it.

I remember in the day or so after the election that the talking heads and talk show hosts began to assert that, "America bla bla conservative bla bla," I first immediately took it as face value, as we are trained to do.  "Oh, that sucks," I thought.  "I guess we'll have to work harder next time."

But then thought kicked in and I shook it off.  And it didn't take a whole lot of brain power to decide that the premise seemed delusional, like a Mets fan at the and of last season clinging to the belief that the Mets were still the best team in 2008, but just caught a few bad breaks.  And the argument used to prop the premise up -- Obama's landslide wasn't land-slidey enough? -- can't even look a laugh-test in the face.  It's a collective Power of Positive Thinking; it's a mantra that may become true if repeated often enough.

However, if we can take any kind of lesson from the past, the fact that the premise is patently false and has been rebutted at length repeatedly by writers who do not "live in their parents' basement" will not prevent it from being cited as undeniable truth.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:49 AM

yup, that's what happens when you get a black president

Man, some executive vice president of a certain international terrorist group has been watching a few two many action movies.  It's not enough to knock over a few of our buildings and blow stuff up?  Now he's gonna get all personal on my president-elect?  Are we approaching the part where he shoots our dog?  And right before he gets taken in, will he launch into a maniacal monologue about how he planned everything all along?

Plus also, "house negro"?  The best he can do is "house negro"?

Ayman al-Zawahri may be an Al Qaida bigshot (and B-movie fan) and everything, and he's certainly realized that employing racial epithets is NOT NICE, but he needs to get out of the house a little more.  Maybe listen to some rap.

So then what does it mean when even Al Qaida is lapsing into self-parody?

Posted by mrbrent at 8:13 AM

November 18, 2008

i've been misspelling thomas kinkade's name all this time

The usual suspects have been making fun of Thomas Kincade's list of suggestions to the crew of the movie that was produced as part of the Thomas Kinkade empire.  (Thomas Kinkade, to refresh memory, is the worst painter ever, whose work you've seen a million times.)

Yeah, the rules he proposes are preposterous -- half step all over what a cinematographer is hired to do, and the other half are just dumb.  But for me, the scariest thing is not any specific rule, but a bit of info buried in his closing remarks:

After painting for nearly 40 years, I still wake up every morning daydreaming about new ways to make paintings.

God please no.

Also, isn't the news that Thomas Kincade's latest shitty merchandise is an entire motion picture enough to make one shriek?  Isn't he happy enough with the millions of coffee mugs and placemats haunting the garage sales of the world?

Posted by mrbrent at 3:08 PM

you are why the democratic party can't have nice things

I was trying to figure out why a buncha rowdy NYC liberals have taken to the streets outside my office this afternoon -- burning tires, stopping traffic, eating brunch -- because I didn't get the memo, and, besides, we usually try to only riot when it's sunny and warm.

But then I clicked over to the news and saw that Sen. Lieberman will be retaining the Chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee -- see now, that makes sense.  Senate Dems refused to answer the calls for blood from the left, and now IT'S ON ALL OVER AGAIN!  Boy, those liberals are steamed, and they will not sleep until EVERYONE THINKS SENATOR REID IS INEFFECTUAL!!!

So yeah, you might wanna avoid DailyKos for a day or two, until the Kossacks find a new outrage to be outraged about.

I feel bad, knocking on people that I generally agree with (hey, I'm a liberal too!), but not so bad that I won't quote the entirety of this post from Alex Balk:

Dear Jackass,

You’re why the Democratic party can’t have nice things.  It’s fucking November before the guy’s even been inaugurated.  You make Republicans seem ecumenical and far-thinking.

FUCKING MORON.

Best, etc.,
Balk

I'd love to see bad things happen to Lieberman as much as anyone, but I'd like to avoid the ANGUISH as much as possible.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:18 PM

wherein i break up the workday with holy moley!

A friend of mine, living in Germany, just IMed me -- "click this link so I can test this sucker out," he said.  I clicked, and it's a site with a user-friendly broadcast function.  No registration on my part, no downloads -- a live feed of my friend, full video/audio from the camera in his MacBook.  On my end, there's a chat screen, and all I do is pick a nickname and I'm good to go.

So we were like "Holy shit!" for three or four minutes, because, dude, holy shit.  I'm just a normal citizen driving his desk for a living, and an instant later I'm on a one-way four thousand mile videophone call.  With just a click!!

I think the reason we employ the "I just [injured myself making physical contact with] the future" trope so often is that, when you first encounter some new application of technology, you really do feel shocked in the same way that you feel when you walk into a wall or hit your head on a cabinet door -- startled but not injured.

So yeah, I think the future just parked a truck on my foot.  Really, I can't feel my foot, thanks to the future.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:50 AM

bill kristol got hit with the "reasonable" stick

Famed conservative thinking-guy William Kristol, currently on secondment to the NYTimes Op-Ed page, finally wrote a paragraph that I will not take issue with on a factual and/or ideological (mostly factual) basis.  This is not to say that his entire column yesterday was not hooey -- hooey it was! -- but it's nice to ignore the hooey every once in a while and find those margins of consensus, and then give everyone a hug and a kiss.  The non-offending paragraph is as follows:
And I don’t see why conservatives ought to defend a system that permits securitizing mortgages (or car loans) in a way that seems to make the lenders almost unaccountable for the risk while spreading it, toxically, everywhere else.  I don’t see why a commitment to free markets requires permitting banks or bank-like institutions to leverage their assets at 30 to 1.  There’s nothing conservative about letting free markets degenerate into something close to Karl Marx’s vision of an atomizing, irresponsible and self-devouring capitalism.

See?  An absolutely reasonable position, from someone whose advocacy of the Free Market Capitalism, which is very very not broken, would preclude him from writing those sentences -- "toxically"!  "self-devouring"!

Of course, in the previous paragraphs he sidesteps the long-range causes of the crisis, but if all the Neo-cons start argreeing with the paragraph above, then I guess we're gong to have to find something new to disagree about.

Posted by mrbrent at 7:55 AM

November 17, 2008

easiest joke of the day 11.17.08

The Yahoo! Headline Box decides that it's time for a nation's ironists to play a little tee-ball:
• Obama, McCain plan to work together to 'fix up the country'

Well, about time, right?  The gutters haven't been cleaned out in a couple years, and maybe replacing the siding with some brickface stucco might be a good idea.

And while we're at it, maybe we could convince Canada that all those rusty El Caminos on blocks in their front yard are a freakin' eyesore.  Sure, it's a "weekend project", but when was the last time they even mowed over there?

Posted by mrbrent at 3:08 PM

distract yourself with dean kamen

Sadly, this came to my attention because of an issue of Esquire.  I finally fell prey to the "professional discount" subscription offers, so now the apartment is filled with the last vestiges of the magazine publishing industry.

But anyhow I became fascinated with an article on inventor Dean Kamen, most widely known for his creation of the Segway, which might not have solved the problem of personal, mechanized, urban transport, but it did teach a generation how to pronounce "segue".  The article details two of his most recent creations, one a non-charcoal based water-filtration system that can pump out hundreds of liters a day, and an engine (whose waste heat is used by the water-filtration system) that can run on bio-combustibles.  Like dung.

These are not intended to supplement our wonderful modern lives, but rather to services that largish portion of the world still stymied by a lack of clean water and electricity.  So then the coolness of the inventions are superseded by the lofty intentions behind them.

And even better was the profile (which I have to paraphrase in lieu of a link to the text [see below]) of Mr. Kamen -- who has constructed for himself a thriving concern of engineers who actually are rebuilding the future like there's no tomorrow.  And in contrast to this, there is Kamen's difficulty in garnering interest in such inventions from the private sector.  Because, to develop a network of factories and distribution for the Slingshot would be a proposition of hundreds of millions of dollars, and Kamen is wealthy, but not that wealthy.  Overall, he is a very interested and committed guy and I'm glad I read about him.

And I'd say "read the article", but, as not all of the general interest magazines have fully actualized their Internet footprint (and those that have employ the busiest, gee-gaw-est page design this side of a MySpace page), here instead are links I went out and found myself, like a lumberjack.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:30 AM

whither joe lieberman?

Am I a bad person if I really don't care about what happens to Sen. Joe Lieberman?  A couple of the highly-traffic leftwing websites have devoted a substantial number of words/voices to express outrage that Lieberman would remain in the Democratic caucus in the Senate, let alone retain his lofty chairmanships, in light of his endorsement of McCain, his attacks on Obama and his general assholery/unlikability.

I mean I agree with them -- throw the bastard out and let him beg for table scraps from the GOP.  But ultimately, this is a Senate matter, and the Senate is an institution that runs on some peculiar and unspoken rules of conduct, and I don't pretend to fathom how to get something done in the Senate any more than I know how to coach an NHL team.  (Skate harder?  Hit somebody?)  If the powers-that-be have a better idea than flipping over a few cars and calling Lieberman names until he cries, then let's give the powers-that-be a shot.

(Also, the underlying theme of "punishment for his heresy" strikes me as icky, and something sagely avoided, for the sake of retaining moral authority.  I love a good muscular response [hello Mormons!], but I hate a lapse into caricature.}

So, and especially in reaction to the stridency of the draw-and-quater-Joe crowd, I am hesitant to say that my way is the best way when it comes to the single member of the Joe Lieberman Party.  And if I felt as militant as some do, wouldn't I be better off blowing off steam in someone's Rotisserie 111th U.S. Congress?

Am I a bad person?  Do I have to quit my position at the National Review?

Posted by mrbrent at 8:12 AM

November 16, 2008

michael steele: grabbin' headlines

So some Republican muckety-muck accused President-Elect Obama of having played the "race card in reverse beautifully".

I thought that maybe we'd come to the point in our national history at which the phrase "race card" would only be trotted out when a "race card" was actually being played.  That is to say, no action qualifies as "playing the race card" solely because it is the action of a person of color.  The race card needs to actually have been played, and as a pretty close follower of the entirety of the Obama campaign, I don't recall Obama playing the race card.  I recall him discussing race as an issue, and I recall him being uncomfortable at comparisons drawn between his campaign and Rev. Jesse Jackson's campaign, but that's about it.  Maybe the qualifier "in reverse" means that the race card is actually not being played?  That would be more defensible, though bizarre.

This GOP insider leveling the charge, currently running for chairman of the RNC, is named Michael Steele.  The highest office he achieved is Lieutenant Governor of the State of Maryland.  He ran for Governor in 2006, and got whupped by Martin O'Malley.  Lieutenant Governor -- the office you can win if you're the fifth caller and can answer the question, "What's the station that pays?"  So what then is his qualification to be chairman of the RNC?

Well, he's black, and in the grand tradition of GOP me-too-ism, he would therefore counter-balance the incoming president, much like Sarah Palin would siphon off Sen. Clinton's supporters, because of some ovarial resonance.

I'm sure he has strong, vital ideas (or something), and is energized to lead the Republican Party into an exciting new future (or whatever), but I do wish he would leave the "race card" slinging to others, like maybe talk radio hosts, or racists.

[Via The Hill.]

Posted by mrbrent at 9:45 AM

jonathan mahler beat arlen spector at squash

It's only recently that I've been purchasing the Sunday New York Times.  It's a counter-intuitive reaction to the recession, I guess -- before, I wouldn't buy the beast, worried not so much about the cash but about the reams of paper I would pay for and never read.  But lately, whimsy has taken hold, and now my dead tree news consumption has risen measurably.

From last week's paper (people who read the whole thing in a day? Don't trust them), there was an excellent cover feature in the NYT Sunday Magazine concerning the overreach of the Bush Administration in asserting executive powers, and the pushback and lack thereof from the Congress -- "After The Imperial Presidency" by Jonathan Mahler.  It's an excellent wonky read, maybe published a couple months too late, of how the White House converted the political capital of 9-11 into Congressional capitulation, and how subsequent efforts to correct this were steamrolled by an executive branch all too willing to ignore Beltway protocol.  But to me, the most interesting paragraph, even more interesting than tales of Mahler playing squash with Sen. Arlen Spector, is this:

During my conversations with the senators, I sometimes had the impression that their irritation with the White House's arrogance toward Congress had overshadowed their concerns about the administration's policies themselves.  I wondered if along the way they had lost sight of their duty to represent the interests of their constituents.

That is the third to the last paragraph.  Third to the last!  Maybe Mahler is laying the foundation for a follow-up, or maybe an editor decided that Mahler's impression was not as important as Mahler's reporting, but my "impression" is that either Mahler is showing respectful and appropriate restraint, or that is one very well-buried lede.

Which does not detract from the piece as a whole, so go read and smarten yourself up on the mistakes that are not to be repeated.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:45 AM