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December 5, 2008

yes on prop 8: a new skirt to hide behind

Amazing, when you think about it, how sophisticated the tactic of victim-not-victimizer has become.  Why, it seems like only yesterday when claiming to be the aggrieved party would never even occur to racists or homophobes.  And now they crow from the highest mountaintop (or at least from the Paper of Record).

Case in point is this big ole full-page ad, purchased by "a project of the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, that ran this morning.  It's all about how the people who have been protesting the Mormon church for its involvement in funding the Yes on Proposition 8! drive in California (the one that took GLBT marriage off the books) are jackbooted thugs who are picking on the Mormons for being Mormon:

Nevertheless, we're united in this: The violence and intimidation against the LDS or "Mormon" church, and other religious organizations -- even against individual believers -- simply because they supported Proposition 8 is an outrage that simply must stop.

(Nice tangled structure on that sentence, but at least it rumbled to a conclusion without an exclamation point.)

So then the premise is that the victims of Prop 8, in protesting the Church of Latter Day Saints' buckets of out-of-state cash, are now victimizers, and the Mormons would like your help in protecting their feelings.

This is of course a steaming load of hooey, a cowardly cry in the night by a cowardly organization unwilling to accept Newton's Third Law of Motion.

I agree that the Mormons may well be uncomfortable with the attention Prop 8 has brought them, but them's the breaks.  They went well out of their way to delegitimize, to depersonify, even, an entire subset of society.  It is reasonable for representatives and supporters of this subset to protest you.  It is in fact every bit the valid exercise of speech that was the Mormons' concerted effort to fund the passage of Proposition 8.  Protesters are protesting the fact that LDS hates gays enough to legislate them into second class existence.  LDS in fact hates gays enough to legislate them into second class existence.  To insist that opponents sit on their hands and accept their loss quietly is just an empty posturing.

(Curiously, this little submovement is named "No Mob Veto," which seems in line with what Gov. George Wallace was thinking in the early 1960s.)

And let there be no confusion -- in this instance, no one is protesting the Mormon church for being Mormon.  No one is saying that LDS was founded by a very transparent fraud in Manchester, NY; no one is saying that "Moroni" was an especially prescient choice of a name for a special angel; and no one is saying anything at all about magic underpants.  (Except for me.  I just did, just now.)  The protesters (in contrast with me) are holding the Mormon church accountable for their very vigorous efforts to write discrimination into the CA State Constitution.  Not every disagreement with a religious body is automatically discriminatory against that religion, and to claim otherwise is an obfuscation.

And as far as the claim that protests are devolving into mob violence?  It is deplorable, and welcome to the real world.  I file it under "reaping what one sows".  Why people would take to the street to protest a harmless little church I have no idea.  Maybe it's something to do with having taken too much and an unwillingness to take any more.  Any such mob violence and/or white powder incidents should cease, because it discredits the movement.  Everything else?  Bigger faster more please.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:21 PM

pirates will not quit me

Where is the first place you'd turn if you're looking for non-talk-like-a-pirate pirate information, now that piracy is number one export of Somalia?  I'm not sure where that place would be; it almost certainly wouldn't be today's NYTimes Op-Ed page, in which two out of three pieces were on the issue of piracy.

First (and most fun), author John S. Burnett explains how exactly terrorists with water wings and pointy sticks can take over an entire supertanker bigger than a bunch of sideways skyscrapers.  Because, admit it -- ever since you heard of the rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden you wondered just how it could be done without dozens of men and cutlasses:

The aft deck of a fully laden crude carrier is only 10 to 13 feet above the surface of the sea.  Motoring up to the giant ship, the pirates hooked grapnels connected to ropes and fastened to aluminum ladders onto the railings above, scaled the hull, rushed the bridge and commandeered the ship.  It was probably over in minutes.

Oh.  That's mundane, I guess.

And then other author Douglas R. Burgess, Jr. chips in with the range of responses available to non-pirates to deal with the pirate problem.  He explains that enforcement and prosecution may be dragging because of confusion over jursidiction, and suggests that all of this could be ironed out if we ditch the term "pirate" and replace it with "nautical terrorist":

For this reason, it seems sensible that the United States and the international community adopt a new, shared legal definition that would recognize the link between piracy and terrorism.  This could take the form of an act of Congress or, more broadly, a new jurisdiction for piracy and terrorism cases at the International Criminal Court.

I don't entirely agree -- I'm leary of new deployments of the term "terrorist", both legally and in polite conversation -- but his heart is in the right place, which is the place of redefining piracy into a crime of universal jurisdiction.  Or, "You're not even TRYING to stop the pirates, are you?"

Together, the two pieces paint a pretty complete understanding of the phenomena and the related issues.  Yeoman's service, NYTimes Op-Ed page.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:05 AM

December 4, 2008

comic books are still good

Hey comic book fans, of which there are plenty considering that geeks so run the world that even our president-elect grew up a comic book fan, perhaps you have a passing acquaintance with the full-company storyline running in Marvel Comics right now called "Secret Invasion"?  The one where the world is invaded by shape-changing Skrulls and WHO DO YOU TRUST?  The fifth or sixth full-company event after which NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME EVER EVER?  Well, the final issue of the series which constitutes the spine of the story is to ship this week -- in fact it's in stores now -- and it contains the conclusion to the storyline which set out to be hair-raising or earth-shattering or whichever hyperbole that comes out of the Stan-Lee-Emulation machine,  The conclusion!  How it ends!

Well, the industry, now that it is run purely on whipsaw plot, is struggling with spoilers, or the leaking of the events comprising these largish plot points to the general public.  Me, I usually read them.  I still buy the comic books, but knowing how a story ends does not ruin them for me in the way that knowing how a novel ends would.  But generally these leaks come from message boards and news aggregators and there's not much Marvel (or DC for that matter) can do about them.  Just like bedbugs.

Unless of course the spoiler is the New York freaking Times.  Probably, Marvel could've stopped that if they wanted.  Unless they've thrown their hands up and decided to show THAT'S how you spoil the ending of a comic book, fanboys.

Suffice it to say, that link up there?  Warning, spoiler!

Posted by mrbrent at 2:04 PM

rachel paulose: trailblazer

In the tumult of the election, this totally slipped my mind, but remember Rachel Paulose?  She was one of the US Attorneys that drew attention to themselves after the "US Attorney Firing Scandal" broke in 2007.  She eventually resigned under pressure after running the Minnesota district with a mixture of cravenness and self-promotional grandeur that forced even Sen. Norm Coleman to publicly question her tenure.

Yesterday, the allegations of impropriety were at least partially validated as a the U.S. Office of Special Counsel found that why yes she certainly did retaliate against employees:

Former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Rachel K. Paulose retaliated against a top prosecutor in her office who reported her for careless handling of classified homeland security reports, a watchdog agency said Wednesday.

As much fun as it is to watch comeuppance happen in real-time The point being, most importantly, that Paulose was totally a dry run for the candidacy of Gov. Sarah Palin -- ambitious, aggressive, petty and untalented.  Paulose was the trial balloon floated to see how preposterous someone could be and still get away with it, and Paulose was a modern originator of responding to reported facts by lying about them without blinking.

Perhaps this repudiation of Paulose can give us hope for a similar fate for Palin.  Unless you like writing about this stuff, in which case, please do not investigate Sarah Palin any more.  She has more work to do.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:25 AM

December 3, 2008

jeff frederick didn't do it no matter how much he did

Virginia's GOP head Jeff Frederick has found a curious way to celebrate the fact that, on his watch, Virginia was won by a Democrat for the first time in 44 years -- revisiting his decision during the campaign to compare Sen. Obama to Osama bin Laden in front of volunteers, and a reporter:
"It was a stupid joke I gave to somebody in a small crowd of people and that's what happens," Frederick said.  "But you know, it's really unfortunate. We live in a `gotcha' society..."

...He stood by the comment Tuesday, defending it as true and saying he was taking cues from Republican John McCain's campaign after running mate Sarah Palin said Obama had been "palling around with terrorists."

"The McCain campaign, for quite a while, was getting on me about not being on message, about not delivering their talking points," Frederick said.  "And in an effort to do more of what they wanted ... I was doing that, and the Ayers talking point came out."

Lesse, refuses to own his own words?  Check.  Describes the act of transcribing/reporting his own words as "gotcha"?  Check.  Blames his misspeaking on the already-vanquished McCain campaign?  Check.  So that would Jeff Frederick a... what's the opposite of "a principled man you'd like your children to grow up to be like"?

I do enjoy it when the record of events leads so obviously to a conclusion of, "Dude's a mealy-mouthed coward," that I don't have to finesse it at all.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:43 PM

david carr, then melissa leo

I'm reading David Carr's movie-industry blog "The Carpetbagger", and I'm reminded why I like his prose so much (and why his prose probably pisses a whole lot of people off). The specific entry that caught my eye is about last night's Gotham Awards, which is a little NYC indie film awards ceremony that I've been to once or twice, as I am employed in the greater indie film business, or that portion of which is still actually in business.  Carr describing the performance of the host:
Guy got clobbered by a very tough room and he sort of had it coming.

It's just one short sentence in a post that is long on listing names of movies and execs and actors, but something about the rhythm, something about all of the monosyllables -- I like that sentence very much.

And the Gothams?  It seems that David Carr had fun.  This would lead me to believe that Carr can have fun anywhere, because the consensus around these parts is that except for the food, the ceremony and the blitz of business cards, it's not a bad night.

And a snark-free congratulations to Melissa Leo, who was given an award for Breakthrough Actor.  Melissa Leo is just great, and young actresses should want to be like her.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:45 AM

December 2, 2008

#twitter

Point: I find Twitter to be a nice diversion.  Some use it literally, either as literally what they are doing now or as a house-organ promotional machine.  Me (and my friends) use it to either link items too whatever for a full post, or to say random things to try to make each other spit milk up through their nose.  Plus also: mad scientists!

Counterpoint:  Twitter is poop on a stick with a napkin/handshake-on-oxycontin business plan and operational flaws that will cause global anarchy.  This may well be backlash to the recent hagiography of Twitter caused by coverage of Mumbai.  Or maybe Twitter stole Owen Thomas' high school sweetheart.

Thomas is probably 100% right, but imagine if there was a site/application that was well-managed and -funded that accomplished the same thing, that stepped up to crowdsource breaking news without third party mediation the way Twitter did last week?  Wouldn't that be something?

I guess I'll have to get my n00bie kicks while I still can, before Twitter plunges flaming into the mountainside.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:40 PM

nbc: hands off our profiteer!

Quick, before it drops completely off the radar, go read the NYTimes' excellent feature on how retired military brass have turned advocating the administration's interests as talking heads on the TV into a very lucrative career with military contractors.  Very specifically, the piece goes into great detail concerning the many ways that Gen. Berry McCaffrey has used his relationship with NBC as an "expert commentator" on issues of war to recommend policy that would benefit companies that have paid him a consultant.

Or, if you are pressed for time, read Ryan Tate's summary of the article and Alex Pareene's summary of NBC's tepid response thereto, which I'd describe as, "How can Gen. McCaffrey be a bad guy if he criticized Donald Rumsfled once or twice?"  Which of course isn't the issue anymore, as far as the profiteering goes.  Pareene:

Is it crazy that a major media company with a legendary news division just doesn't understand the concept of a conflict of interest?  Television news is more "consultant" heavy and flack-driven and non-transparent than just about any other medium besides maybe mp3 blogging.  The idea that a man being introduced on television as an independent voice of expertise is actually specifically shilling for a client that has paid him to appear on television as an expert and advance their commercial goals is to be expected.

Why punish a bunch of old generals for sins not directly related to the prosecution of the war by a corrupt and incompetent administration?  Well, because "profiteering" is a pretty dishonorable and pernicious crime in and of itself -- in fact, a whole lot worse than "water-carrying".

So keep clenching that jaw, Gen. McCaffrey, and maybe this will all sweep over.  Or maybe you all will repeat this as often as possible so that it achieves the prominence it deserves.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:34 AM

December 1, 2008

steve emerson: my goodness how i do go on

I was gonna write yet another bit on the Wit and Wisdom of William Kristol, but in the period of time between reading today's Kristol in the NYTimes and getting time to type, I've read something that addresses the same topic, but is much more flagrantly misguided.  Or, "dumber", really.  It's on The Daily Beast, and it's splashed as a "Must Read" or a "V.V. Important" or whichever notation they favor: "They're Winning".  It's written by a fellow named Steve Emerson, who is some kind of terrorism expert whose bona fides are wikied here.  His piece is in response to the attacks in Mumbai, and his premise is:
It is time to stop caving in to the PC crowd.  If we refuse to use the term Islamic terrorist, we conveniently take away any onus of responsibility for Islamic groups to halt the murderous ideology they propagate.  In fact, in nearly EVERY claim of responsibility, which I studied, for hundreds of violent Islamic attacks which took place since 9/11, the common justification by the Muslim terrorist perpetrator was that there was a "war against Muslims" by the West and the Jews that had to be avenged.  The real truth is that there is war against the West and the Jews by Islamic jihadists.  And no amount of territorial withdrawal or peace negotiations will assuage them.

DUH duh duhhhh!  DUH duh duh DUH duh duh DUH duh duhhhhh!

Needless to say, I think he's wrong.  Mostly, for quibbling over nomenclature.  And for taking "justification" at face value.  Because, you know, if I confess to abetting Lee Harvey Oswald in assassinating President Kennedy, surely it's true (even though I wasn't even hardly born yet).  "Justifications" are made, but it is not these "justifications" that should be affecting our response or our ongoing prevention of such acts.

The source of the past fifteen years' of terror attacks surely come from Islamic extremists.  But to insist to frame this as some kind of war between faiths brings us no closer to the resolution of the conflict.  In fact, it's simple jingoism, and whatever is gained by giving the masses a catchphrase to hold to their heart that enables them to hate better is lost in its ugliness and lack of reason.

I'm not denying the existence of a broader (and narrowly applied) jihad -- I'm saying that the smart guys driving the terror are using the jihad to recruit soldiers fanatical enough to give their lives to the cause, and to generally mask their long-term goals with under a flag of doctrinal righteousness.  Yes, long-term goals, as in other goals than, "Kill the infidels!".  To paint them as suicidal morons drunk on Allah a) underestimates the complexity of their operations; b) grants them even further recruiting power among fundamentalist Muslims; and c) is stupid.  Stupid like accusing any government, any faction, of having "evil" as a motivating factor.  Evil is certainly committed all the time, but the motivations are surely more discreet -- self-interest, xenophobia, etc.  In other words, the only people that get out of bed and say, "Let's go make some evil," are psychopaths, and psychopaths aren't so good at joining.  Everyone other than loner psychopaths have a goal to satisfy, and if you don't understand the goal then you can't prevent it from being achieved.

For example, what if the goal of certain terrorist acts of seven years were to goad Western powers into reckless military adventurism in the general area of the Arabian Peninsula?  And if maybe that goal had been identified instead of pulling our hair out about how the Evil Ones Will Stop At Nothing!!!, could we maybe have prevented it?

And to be more glib than usual, calling them "Islamic terrorists" won't exactly convince them to blow fewer things up, or to surrender.  So yes, Steve Emerson's contribution to the conversation is a big ole waste of fine English words, but that's why I love America, and sausage gravy and biscuits.

Kristol's piece is of the same cloth as he mops his brow that the Mumbai attacks have finally given us the reason we need to stop focusing on things like the economy and concentrate again on shrill paranoia aimed at Muslims.  And the money quote is his last paragraph, which starts with a manufactured aphorism that has no basis in reality, and is followed by a supporting example which proves nothing:

Patriotism is an indispensable weapon in the defense of civilization against barbarism.  That was brought home over the weekend in an article in The Times of India on Sandeep Unnikrishnan, a major in India’s National Security Guards who died fighting the terrorists at the Taj hotel.  The reporter spoke with the young man’s parents as they mourned their son: "His father, dignified in the face of such a personal tragedy, was stoic, saying he was proud of his son who sacrificed his life for the country: 'He died for the nation.'"

Mr Unnikrishnan's sacrifice is truly heroic for the public good, but I'm sure his parents would rather have him still living.  And he was not fighting barbarism as much as he was trying to save innocents from a feckless military act aimed at a purpose much more devious than barbarism.  Ignore the purpose and the "barbarians" win.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:06 PM

dow drops on last year's news

Extree extree read all about it at the Yahoo! Headline Container:
• Dow plunges 680 points on news recession began in Dec. 2007

So then the common wisdom is wrong: the frog, in the pot full of water, will sit there as it comes to boil, unless someone tells the frog that someone turned the burner on a year ago, in which case the frog will panic like a Girl Scout being menaced by a starving grizzly bear who has already tasted the flesh of a Girl Scout.

Please stop telling stock traders anything.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:28 PM

the rock and roll hall of fame annex must be chichi

As you locals may have heard, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is opening what they call an Annex, here in the city of New York.

Well, that's a fine idea, you'd think -- so many game-defining acts had either their origin or their breakthrough here, this was the flashpoint for American punk rock, the freakin' recording industry was based here up until the 70s, etc.  So then, agreeing that an Annex is a good idea, just where would you put such a thing as a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex?

Why, in Soho, of course.  (If you are not from here/do not watch television, Soho is a light industrial Manhattan neighborhood built in the early 20th Century that was successfully gentrified to a seventh level of boutique/gallery/tourist hell in the late 20th Century.)  Given the fact that the only rock and roll thing about Soho is that maybe some 1970s recording acts might have lofts there, is there anyplace less fitting for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame brand extension?

Well, other than Cleveland, of course.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:18 AM

November 30, 2008

plaxico burress did what?

To wax football for a moment, people here in NYC are all up in arms because Giants WR Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg at a nightclub late Friday night.

Half of the hubbub is from the hardcore sportsfans, bemoaning the affect this will have on the Giants, and wondering why the young man, who is world-class talented at catching footballs while being chased by equally talented young men who want to make him fall down, has been such a behavior problem with the Giants and with his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The other half of the hubbub comes from the knuckleheads, who are all like, "What does he need a gun for," and are generally indicting rich young black men while referring to the "gangsta" ethos.

The first half are correct to wonder, and the second half are racist.  My point would be not, "Why does he have a gun?" but instead, "How dumb do you have to be to shoot yourself with your own gun?"  Because guns have these things called "safeties" (no, not NFL safeties) and they also have triggers that require a certain amount of pressure to operate, and that are guarded by a little ring of metal to keep you from accidentally hitting the trigger with, say, a cup of coffee or a cable remote.

So basically, you gotta be really really dumb to shoot yourself accidentally.  Were I a Giants fan, that would be my concern -- I would not want to have a Pro Bowl wide receiver that I'm worried that he might keep accidentally shooting himself.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:08 AM