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January 16, 2009

iyi 1.16.09

I am beset with mild flu-like symptoms (aches! chills! sweating!).  I've been complaining about it all day to my wife and my dog.  They are now sick of it, so it's your turn.

I hope nothing too novel happened today, because the only thing worse than missing something novel to write about would be having to endure mild flu-like symptoms (aches! chills! sweating!).

Oddly enough, the dreams that happen while trying to sleep off the aches/chills/sweating are all about how the symptoms are caused by a groupblog that I'm a member of that has been hacked or something and keeps giving me an ominous screen (that I can't remember) somehow indicating that it is the cause of the chills, most specifically.

I don't know exactly how to parse that.  I'm taking it as a sign that caring about the whole Rex Sorgatz (if that is in fact his name) thing makes me a bad and shallow person.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:39 PM

January 15, 2009

plane crash?

At the risk of leaning towards the morbid side, this Boing Boing post is looking a little ironic right now.

Crash site is about twenty blocks north of the office here, which office is about a half block from the Hudson River.

Plane looks to be in one piece, so I hope that everyone is okay.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:04 PM

dahlia lithwick on the t-word

Last night I caught a snippet of a talking head on The Rachel Maddow Show and mentioned, "Hey, that's Dahlia Lithwick.  She's real smart.  I should read more of her."  And here it is fifteen hours later and I have, as she (and Phillipe Sands) explain the importance of Bob Woodward's interview with Susan Crawford (the top U.S. official deciding legal fate of Guantanamo Bay detainees), wherein Crawford actually went there with the T-word, stating that she would not recommend alleged 20th hijacker Mohammed al-Qahtani for prosecution because he had been tortured while in our custody.

This may seem like a story that we've heard before, but Lithwich and Sands explain why it is a story that we have not heard before:

What changes as a result of Crawford expressly using the word torture?  First, the administration can no longer hide behind parsing the language of the Geneva Conventions and the torture statute.  Whether or not Michael Mukasey is willing to call water-boarding torture -— as the president-elect did on Sunday —- a reputable senior military official has put that label on conduct that is arguably not as bad and has been widespread in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A chosen word may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but then again words are the basic building blocks of the law, and something as harmless-seeming as using one word instead of another can have lasting effect:

The consequences go further.  Crawford also told Woodward that the charges against al-Qahtani were dropped because he was tortured.  This has devastating consequences for the Bush administration's entire rationale for the new techniques of interrogation: that they would make the United States safer by producing intelligence and keeping dangerous individuals off the streets.  We now know they do neither.  The torture produced no useful information from al-Qahtani, and the cruelty heaped upon him will make it more difficult, if not impossible, to justify his long-term incarceration.

Which is the kind of direct and revelatory explanation of the implications of an event that I was thinking about when I noted-to-self to read more Dahlia Lithwick.  And as to matters of state, I sense that Crawford's interview is an omen that the unraveling of the work of the Bush administration may be a bit more spectacular than is currently anticipated.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:44 AM

it's never to early for some bush revisionism

President Bush's small bump in the polls is being reported as insignificant, as his popularity, even after the softening of his image as caused by his impending exit, still remains at a current level of 34%, which leaves him the least popular president since Richard Nixon.

Pessimists, I say!  Looking at it differently, since last month, the president's popularity has skyrocketed by 17%!  Accordingly, if he were to remain in office for another nine months, he would end up with an approval rate of nearly 140%, making him the single most popular mortal being in the history of the universe.

So maybe this bewildering column comparing Bush's legacy to that of Abraham Lincoln isn't so idiotic after all, thanks to the purifying power of math!

Posted by mrbrent at 10:29 AM

January 14, 2009

michele bachmann will now only bring the crazy when you least expect it

When I saw links to this story in the Hill concerning Rep. Michele Bachmann (America Lover-MN), I was hopeful and looking of news of her denouncing Barack Obama as a communist or a "Two And A Half Men" fan or something tasty and batshit -- it's never not time to write about Rep. Bachmann doing insane things that would be embarrassing to normal people with the ability to blink.

But no!  It's just an oddly timed puff piece, and there's no there there.

While Bachmann, 52, wasn’t the typical freshman in the last Congress, she isn’t your usual second-term congresswoman, either.  Bachmann isn’t exactly a household name, but she is well-known among liberal and conservative activists.  Love or hate her, Bachmann attracts attention.

Some dude just got paid to write, "Love or hate her?"  I thought it was just economically that journalism was dying?

As much as I love Rep. Bachmann and all her crazy, this article is making news out of nothing at all, so, if you want to read about how her friends agree with her and how her enemies think she should speak more freely more often, or how the color of her office matches her personality (proving that, having a personality, she is an actual person), go have some.

And on the other hand, Rep. Bachmann's publicist?  Money well spent, because the piece has image rehabilitation written all over it.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:30 AM

bin laden: if that pizza's not here in 30 minutes...

I'm not sure how far into today's news cycle this will persist, but here's a headline from this morning's Yahoo! Headline Container (which is now officially 20 years old!), concerning the 24 hour party people in and around the Gaza Strip:
• Bin Laden calls for jihad against Israel to stop Gaza offensive

Finally more comic relief!  Sorry, bin Laden -- maybe you've been living in a cave for too long, but you can't call for jihad against a nation you've already called jihad on!  That would be calling for re-jihad, which I don't think is doctrinally permitted, or at least gauche.  I mean, what happens if you call for jihad sometime in the future and really mean it, but then get ignored by the faithful because you've called for jihad so many times before?  Why that means that there'd be a colossal failure to jihad, and then's it's all like party over, dude.

Bin Laden is now a punchline, and, worse, a punchline in a terrible Seinfeldian sense.  The Mideast is a big ugly box of trouble and no-fun, but at least bin Laden has marginalized himself enough with his tired posturing to be irrelevant.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:50 AM

what to do on the inauguration

There is some discussion around the house about what we should do next Tuesday.  In October, there was even a brief entertainment of the idea of driving down to DC, which quickly was nixed as it became evident that DC, unless you're one of about a thousand people (or a pickpocket), is the last place you'd want to be next Tuesday.

There was briefly a rumor that the inauguration would be simulcast in Central Park, but I haven't heard anything about that since then.  Also, every bar I know is throwing a party, but then the TV in our very own home is actually pretty nice, so we get stuck between the poles of "go-out"/"stay-in", with their respective pros and cons.

Plus also there's this possibility, which is... yeah, about the last thing I'd do, no matter how much I'd rather see Olbermann tear up than Gibson stare down over his bifocals, and no matter how often I drink the Starbucks coffee (how often? Interstate rest areas only).

Of course, it is also a work day.  Working is a strong possibility.

(Suggestions are welcome, of course.)

Posted by mrbrent at 8:10 AM

January 13, 2009

dream a little dream of ukulele

Ever since this Christmas, when a certain life partner got me a certain gift, I'm paying closer attention to videos like this than I would have ordinarily.

Nope, I can't play it yet, but I've got two or three chords down (the easy ones).  Keep in mind that the tuning of a ukulele was envisioned by an insane person -- whenever you tune it, you have to roll a 20-sided die to determine the note of each open string.

Straw boater not included.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:05 PM

mercenary writer's press

Day's grinding at me in discrete ways.  Nothing intentional, just a blue fog.  So, let's shake it off and be nice, which should sufficiently shock the system.

Via "The Twitter" -- a 21st Century Drone Tagging and Monitoring System -- I have gained the acquaintance of the website Mercenary Writer's Press, and I find it well worth my time, which may qualify it as worth your time too.  It a Tumblelog -- which I explain to my more rustic relations as "like PM Magazine except you have to make the pictures move by reading words -- which is devoted to posting small bites related to writing, specifically writing for money.  And they have now been officially out-shouted.

I would just throw them in the links, but I'm taking a rototiller to the whole design soon, once I squeeze some learning in my head.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:24 PM

joe the plumber plus pizza hut

Further to the phenomena of the Voice of the People w/r/t Joe the Cable Guy Plumber, on the TV last night was a commercial for Pizza Hut, in which a cooking show is faked (with an ominous voiceover tipping it off), with a credible looking chef-guy going through the motions of making a pizza from scratch -- fresh tomatoes!  And then as the audience is trying the scratch pizza, chef-guy lets them know that it's a Pizza Hit pizza! and then employees in Pizza Hut polo shirts file out smiling and an audience member exclaims, "This is the best pizza I've ever had!"

It'd be easy to say that the audience member is a planted shill, or worse, a pizza moron that's never had an actual pizza in his life.  But, then again, think about the possibility that an average American has never really had a good pizza.  Surely there is a damn good pizza-maker in most localities, but how hard would it be to have never had a pizza from there, when there is a stretch of highway that has a Pizza Hut and an Applebee's and a Red Robin and a new Cheesecake Factory that is super-great, all with convenient parking?  If you're raised on restaurant chains (and if you're under a certain age, you were, unless you were urban and/or a hippie), then if a chain makes a marginally better product than what you're used to, it might be the best-tasting ever, even if it was largely cooked in a test tube.

The short version is that the audience member is not a jerk or disingenuous -- he just needs to try an actual pizza some day.

And the same goes for those that might think that Joe the Plumber is refreshing in the honesty and plain speaking of his views.  If you were raised on a steady diet of USA Today and Current Affair, why would you ever imagine for a moment that journalism had a function other than entertainment?  And you have enough screaming heads out there damaging your hearing with warnings of a liberal media that hates America, so then why wouldn't it be novel to see a dumb guy say dumb familiar things in a place where normally they don't let that kind of dumb guy in front of the camera?

So fans of JtP above all just need to try an actual pizza someday.  Point and laugh at them all you want (you sneering elitists), but ultimately remember that if these fans ever encountered quality responsible journalism they might come to see the value of an independent press.

Or not.  I mean, I don't see how anyone's going to un-dumb Joe the Plumber.  But still, I want to draw distinctions between JtP, whose dumbness is eclipsed by his loathsomeness, and the dumbness of people who think highly of JtP, who just need to get out of the house more often.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:26 AM

January 12, 2009

joe is no longer plumbing, except metaphorically

Surely you've already seen Joe The Plumber's first dispatch from Israel, as he has been hired by new media juggernaut Pajamas Media (called so because they are the last humans to wear pajamas while sleeping) to report on the world's newest best conversation-killer, the Israeli shelling/invasion of the Gaza Strip.  In case you haven't, his comments were, in part, as follows:
I'll be honest with you.  I don't think journalists should be anywhere allowed war.  I mean, you guys report where our troops are at.  You report what's happening day to day. You make a big deal out of it.  I-I think it's asinine.  You know, I liked back in World War I and World War II when you'd go to the theater and you'd see your troops on, you know, the screen and everyone would be real excited and happy for 'em.

Now, if you have already seen/read about this, then surely you've come away with the point that everyone is making: Joe the Plumber is the hair that people refer to when they describe someone as "as dumb as a bag of hair".  It's an easy point to make -- not only was Joe known as such when he was propped up by the McCain campaign as a subversion of the populism of the Obama campaign, he is, apparently, repeatedly, that dumb.

But the point that I'd like to add is not that he's dumb -- juvenile opinions stated poorly -- but that he's very wrong on top of it.  He cites (as if he was there, oddly) the popularity of newsreels as a source of propaganda during the two World Wars.  First, the newsreels he's obliquely referring to were a product of WWII and not WWI, as there were no talkies yet during WWI.  But more importantly in light of the overall sense of his assertion, that reporters historically did not report on the military during the world wars, he's absolutely incorrect, as journalists reported those wars pretty comprehensively.  I'm a bit of a collector, and of all the front pages I have or have seen, reporters were reporting pretty hard on the locations and movements of troops -- not on an individual basis, but definitely on the basis of a war fought largely by ground troops.  So there may be some version of history wherein the news media sat on their hands during military conflicts, but it happened in some large print book that one of Joe the Plumber's literate friends read to him.

I'm not saying that Joe shouldn't be paid to share his opinion with the world.  There's nothing I can do to stop the poster boy of stupid from drawing a paycheck.  But I'd be surprised if he could pick Ohio out of a 1945 map (hint: kinda in the middle), and if he's going to be rallied around as a Voice of the Common Man, then maybe common men with self-respect should remember that Joe's really stupid, like, stupider than you'd want to be associated with.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:32 PM

post-intelligencer: behind the scenes

I saved this link without noting which site led me there in the first place, so I'm breaking etiquette here -- nevertheless if you count yourself as one who gives at least one flying fig about the newspaper industry, then this blog post from Seattle's The Stranger is a must-read, as it reports the shit out of last week's news that the demise of the Post-Intelligencer will fold without divine intervention:
"And then [parent company Hearst Newspapers president Steve Swarz] slowly talked the air out of the room," [P-I columnist Mike] Lewis said.  People cried quietly, or stood there with the thousand-yard stare.  Some tried to ask questions.  Swarz wouldn't answer them.  "It wasn’t a dialogue, obviously, it was a monologue," Lewis told me.

The paper would be put on sale for 60 days.  Then, if there were no buyers, it would cease printing.

And the reaction from the rival daily Seattle Times:

"We got a tip something was coming on at about 5 to 5," one reporter told me.  "As the news started, people were starting to gather around the TVs in the core of the newsroom.  Everyone was shocked, and some people started crying.  It was pretty emotional.  I saw one reporter head out in tears to go report the story."

I love that industry for more than nostalgic reasons, and I hope that the paradigm shift (i.e., when, after all the corporations shutter their papers because they want an unachievable 20% annual growth and some smarter parties realize that the news ain't gonna report itself) will find most of these people losing their jobs re-employed.

(If you can bear it, video of the newsroom speech by the company man in which he shitcans everyone is here.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:01 AM

answers to sad orphan questions 1.12.09

Occasionally, when reviewing the traffic stats of one's websites, one notices odd or quirky phrases in the list of referring search phrases, in the sense that, "OMG, someone clicked onto my website because they entered [usually something profane and odd] into Google and my site came up."  Exclamation point exclamation point!  Maybe you're familiar with the phenomena.

And now that the algorithms of the search engines are much more sophisticated and grown up (or maybe because the searchers are lazier), searchers are more likely to give up on trying to outthink Google with artfully constructed search terms and just type in a question like they were talking to a person and not something a million times smarter than a person.

And when I see record of these sad orphan questions left in the stats of this here website, well then it makes me feel sad and orphan too.  So, I'm gonna make sure that these poor questions shipwrecked all over the Internet get at least the benefit of an answer. First up, recorded sometime this month:

good answer for a question how was your vacation?

Oooh, a question about what to say.  I say things.  This should be easy.

Well, first of all, person, the best answer for most questions in the answer that the asker of the question wants to hear.  And in this case, odds are is that the asker is interested but mostly being polite -- you, person, need to use your own judgment to determine the ratio of sincerity/disingenuity.  For example, where is the asker asking the question?  If you're having dinner together, the odds are the asker is looking for a longish description of your vacation.  If the asker is asking you in the elevator, then not so much.  So fashion your answer to fit the situation.

As most askers are of the elevator variety, it's good to have an answer that is a short sentence, if not just a phrase, ready at all times.  Even, "Fine," will do in a pinch, though it can be construed as brusque, especially if you tip off that you can't freakin' stand when people ask you stupid questions.  But better to think up something punchy, something that politely moves the conversation to the next topic.  "Beautiful weather, great to be back," could do it, as could, "Fantastic, you gotta check to photos on my Facebook."  You want to answer the question vaguely positively and completely, such that no follow-up is invited either contextually or tonally.

And do keep it upbeat.  To do otherwise ("It rained the whole time," is an easy example) is to whine, and nobody likes whiners.  Even other whiners don't like whiners.  Avoid bad news in general, unless it is either comically bad news ("Brad got bit by a shark in the ass and couldn't leave the room for a week") or tragically bad news ("Brad got bit by a shark and the medics couldn't revive him").  Nobody likes whiners, but this nobody loves a good laugh and loves even more a car crash.

At some point, person, you may feel compelled to answer the question honestly, and try to describe how your vacation actually was.  Truth is not the social currency of interpersonal relations, and it never was.  You are not under oath and you are not in a confessional.  In fact, you are rarely ever either.  And remember that truth is subjective anyway -- you are not a bad guy, you are a realist.

So, person, I hope this answers your sad question about manners and vacations.  I didn't even touch on the absurd possibilities ("The building is on fire!!") or even the factual basis of your concerns (did you in fact just have a vacation?).  Hopefully, some other sad orphan question will bring you back here before social anxiety turns you into some kind of hobo shutin.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:13 AM