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January 30, 2009

where bruce sterling ends brian francis slattery begins

In conversations (well, in FB statuses, actually) I've been noticing a creep towards "Oh jeez this might get rilly bad" concerning now.  Hard not to take that away just from a cursory spin around the Net once daily.

Well, if you're one of those people, then you probably don't want to read this piece from Bruce Sterling entitled 2009 Will Be A Year Of Panic.  Sterling is an author/futurist that I keep getting drawn to, and this one is a very succinct analysis of the year that will be, and, by extension, the Red Letter Year for the next many.

There's a whole lot to snip out of this, so let's skip the obvious (global economy!  environment!) and hit intellectual property:

To imagine that real estate is worthless is strange, though we've somehow managed to do that.  But our society is also built on the supposed monetary worth of unreal estate.  In fact, the planet's most advanced economies are optimized to create pretty much nothing else.  The ultimate global consequences of this situation's abject failure would rank with the collapse of Communism.

Whoa.  And then... insurance?

Insurance underlies the building and construction trades.  If those rates skyrocket, that system must keel over.  Once people lose faith in the institution of insurance  -—  because insurance can't be made to pay in climate-crisis conditions  —-  we'll find ourselves living in a Planet of Slums.

Remember, it is only through vigilance and care that we can avoid reliving the mistakes of the future.

And as far as my own personal thoughts: I'm susceptible to a bit of the doom myself, but I'm reading a rather excellent book right now -- "Liberation" by Brian Francis Slattery -- which is set the day after the day after tomorrow, tomorrow being the day that the dollar collapses, taking with it civilization as we know it.  It's harrowing as shit, but the harrowing actually takes the edge off of worrying about the actual day after the day after tomorrow.  And as a bonus, it has a distinctly New Journalism feel to the prose, loping and rambling but tight still as a drum.

Posted by mrbrent at 6:53 PM

the chairmanship of the republican national committee

Not a lotta free time today, but (for pure entertainment) I am following the selection of the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, mostly through Ana Marie Cox who is "livetweeting" the event.

As it stands now, the two leading candidates are a former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland (who is black) and the head of the South Carolina GOP (who belongs to a whites-only country club).  And the whites-only dude is in the lead.  I know little about the abilities of either the collision between the whiff of me-to-ism and the whiff of traditional GOOP racism is pretty unmistakable.  (And don't forget that the candidate with the "Barack The Magic Negro" problem dropped out yesterday.)

This all makes today as good a day to look up the definition of "schadenfreude" as any.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:06 PM

ah youth

Yes, that 1993 was indeed sixteen years ago, and it was a blast.

I'm glad that I'm not alone in being nostalgic for such an utterly underrated year.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:05 AM

January 29, 2009

veteran care

To sidestep the terribleness of this headline from the Yahoo! Headline Container:
• Army: Suicides among U.S. soldiers hit 30-year high

What on earth was going on thirty years ago?  There weren't any active conflicts that I can think of, and there certainly wasn't any stop-loss or National Guard call-ups.

(Answer to silly question: thirty years ago is when the Army started keeping track.)

And while I'm all sarcastic and what, I'm also recommending that you can find more info on this issue from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:27 PM

rush limbaugh: bend your knee, house gop

You've probably already heard that Rush Limbaugh has made a move towards respectability, submitting an op-ed to the Wall Street Journal in which he suggests a solution to the President's bipartisanly failure to concede to House Republicans on the make-up of the stimulus package passed yesterday.  Limbaugh reasons that since Pres. Obama did not win with a hundred percent of the vote, then legislation should reflect the wishes of the vanquished on a pro-rata basis:
As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009: 54% of the $900 billion -- $486 billion -- will be spent on infrastructure and pork as defined by Mr. Obama and the Democrats; 46% -- $414 billion -- will be directed toward tax cuts, as determined by me.

Why, that's awful big of Mr. Limbaugh, our unelected co-president.  And in case you're worried that Limbaugh's grab for posterity is free of the bluster and fatheadedness that is Limbaugh's trade, this is the immediately next thought:

Then we compare.  We see which stimulus actually works.

Because what could be easier than discerning the effects of two competing but simultaneous governmental actions?

To the extent that Limbaugh is successful as positioning himself as not only the head of the Republican Party but also the equal and opposite force to President Obama, well, I'm comfortable with that.  Limbaugh is very popular and an experienced and talented broadcaster, but he emblemizes the same qualities that made Sarah Palin such a timely and dangerous projection of the brains of millions of stupid people, summed up perfectly by Michael Tomasky:

Never in my adult lifetime has one politician so perfectly embodied everything that is malign about my country: the proto-fascist nativism, the know-nothingism, the utterly cavalier lack of knowledge about the actual principles on which the country was founded.

And that's what Limbaugh is.  His sentences are actually complete, but he's still all sizzle and no steak, and his willingness to ignore facts is actually an enthusiasm, a mania.  This is a man who wakes up sweating in the middle of the night resisting the urge to ignore a fact.

So if Limbaugh feels that the time is right to vault himself over actually-elected as the singular voice, I say let the sun shine in.  He's a big dummy, and he's got plenty of gall to spare.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:38 AM

high fructose corn syrup: now with extra mercury

I am on the record saying that high fructose corn syrup is as icky as it is unavoidable.  I never had a solid reason why I believed so other than a strong gut feeling based on the Promethean principle that playing with fire is really fun up to an until oh my god I'm on fire I'm on fire.

Turns out that my gut is a whole lot smarter than I am, as researchers find that an unexpected benefit of HFCS is high mercury levels.  Now I remember from science class that mercury is awful fun to play with, and I loved those old films with a scientist sitting comfortably on a vat of mercury without sinking, but I'm really trying to cut down on mercury on my diet, just to make up for all the saturated fats, and cumin.

I know that these studies can sometimes be alarmist and contradictory, but I also know that actual cane sugar is 25% more delicious than HFCS.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:14 AM

January 28, 2009

cato institute: only more kerosene will extinguish this fire

There's a nice little full-page laugh in the NYTimes (.pdf of actual ad here) from the Cato Institute, which is a libertarian thinktank that gives itself a subtitle of "Individual Liberty, Free Markets and Peace".  That could be more of a slogan, I guess.  Anyhow, this is the set-up:
"There is no disagreement that we need action by our government, a recovery plan that will help to jumpstart the economy."

PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA, JANUARY 9, 2009

And then, in really big I'M RAISING MY VOICE type:

With all due respect Mr. President, that is not true.

Which is a reasonable enough proposition, that maybe there are some folks that don't think that the economy needs action from the government.  Then the ad more sedately explains:

Notwithstanding reports that all economists are now Keynesians and that we all support a big increase in the burden of government, we do not believe that more government spending is a way to improve economic performance.  More government spending by Hoover and Roosevelt did not pull the United States economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930s.  More government spending did not solve Japan's "lost decade" in the 1990s. As such, it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today.  To improve the economy, policy makers should focus on reforms that remove impediments to work, saving, investment and production.  Lower tax rates and a reduction in the burden of government are the best ways of using fiscal policy to boost growth.

That seems to accord with Cato party line -- lower taxes, deregulate business.  Which tax-lowering and deregulation happen to be leading culprits in what caused the economy to set itself on fire in the first place.  But that's not the big laugh -- I believe it's wrong-headed, but it's an ideology-based institute, and it's not like they're going to give up just because another Depression looms.

No, the big laugh is that the premise of the ad -- that some disagree that government action is required -- is immediately disproved, as Cato calls for "reforms" like tax-cutting and impediment-removing.  If a reform is not a "government action", then I'm the lost heir of the William Powell estate.

So actually, Cato Institute, when you respectfully telling the President that it's not true?  It's true.  At least in your case.  Maybe some other folk don't agree, but you sure didn't write about that, did you?

How much did the Cato Institute have to pay to embarrass itself in public with an alarming lack of intellectual rigor?

Posted by mrbrent at 12:49 PM

squeezing in a little norm coleman before it's too late

Norm Coleman, while we all respect your dogged tenacity in contesting the election for senator from the great state of Minnesota at the expense of any political future you may have in that state, I submit that your problem is not that you don't have enough money.  Your problem is that the lawyers you are already paying are stupid.

Of course, your greater problem is that you got less votes than a Democrat that could be considered in two or three ways not the strongest candidate in the world.  But still, maybe with more money you could hire better lawyers or even protract this lawsuit further -- venality could always use another poster boy.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:26 AM

January 27, 2009

banks: you also suck

This bit from a Dailykos news roundup reminded me of an important point:
I like stories in which banks are screwed.  They lost all sympathy from me after the Bankruptcy Reform Bill.

God, I totally forgot about that, and I know I was speaking of it openly not two months ago.  In 2005 the banking industry moved heaven and earth to ram through a bill that made it more difficult for consumers to declare bankruptcy.  It was only fair, banks said, because so many people were abusing the bankruptcy process to wipe out debts to moral and upstanding lenders, who would never ever engage in confusing or onerous practices when dealing with a client's unsecured debt.  And it was a load of hooey -- at the time, banks were raking in profit like a drunk on a bender, and were in (again, at the time) no imminent danger from a bunch of down-on-their-lucks hiding behind bankruptcy.  It was an already unnaturally powerful industry flexing its muscles just because it could.

So yes, if we needed another reason that can be easily repeated that the banks deserve no mercy (or at least the same mercy they have shown consumers), that would be it.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:11 PM

the public relations genius of citibank

This may be controversial thinking, but maybe Citibank is not so wrong after all?  Face it, the banking business is not what it used to be, and the Feds have been breathing down Citibank's neck for months -- "Spin off your non-bank businesses!"  "Lend more money!"  Plus also, the writing is on the wall, executive compensation-wise, and if the huddled masses keep up with their whining it'll be impossible for a bank exec to make enough millions to support the lifestyle to which he is accustomed.

So why not start buying some private jets?  Surely that's one asset that won't depreciate as quickly as, say, Citibank stock?  The whole banking thing was fun while it lasted, sure.  But come on!  Private jets!  Fun!  Maybe they can buy a dumptruck and a fire engine too!

Posted by mrbrent at 11:32 AM

takeaway: macy's sucks

Here's a deep question based on a world-class terrible experience that someone's beautiful wife had at Macy's yesterday.

Deep Question:  Are people getting worse?  That is to say, is the average citizen now (as compared to five years ago, or ten or twenty) more given to what are considered vices (greed, pride, sloth, etc.) than they are given to what are considered virtues (kindness, generosity, selflessness)?  In fact, is one of the deeper problems that we will face in years to come is the slow disintegration of the "model citizen" as any kind of standardized proscriptive behavior, leaving a vacuum in which the golden rule is silly because how can you be sure how they are going to treat you after, in which only fools suffer gladly and every decision is a fistfight to be won?

Answer:  Yup.

(This post is brought to you by Charlie Brown playing a game of Chutes and Ladders with Andy Rooney.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:04 AM

January 26, 2009

gitmo nimby

The "but where will we PUT the terrorists?" chorus has grown (as collected by TPMDC) which I didn't expect.  I kinda thought that after the first round, the espousers of this complaint would see themselves on TV and realize how foolish they sounded, wringing their hands over our feeble and porous prison system and its obvious inability to detain individuals who have largely been on hunger strikes for the near-decade they've been in super-secret extralegal incarceration.

There may be political points to be scored on this out there, but only amongst the GOP base, who are already convinced that torturing people is the natural consequence of American machismo and apple pie.  But, on the face of it, it is a big dumb argument that posits a world in which the terrorists have won: an entire nation, still the mightiest military power on the planet, so filled with terror that enemy combatants may not be housed in the same facilities as our own murderers lest they blow up shopping malls just by thinking about it.

I don't expect the Republicans in Congress to blindly support every repudiation of the past eight years, but I would prefer that they not poison the discourse with chickenshit cowardice, employed for purely political purposes.

The above link is much more reasoned than this, and especially good for applying the NIMBY label.  And for the record: the detainees are criminals, just like Timothy McVeigh was found to be, and should be treated as such.  If they are not criminals, they should not be detained.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:05 PM

obama's bipartisanship

I am uncomfortable with the phrasing of this argument in the NYTimes:
Republicans plan to test President Barack Obama’s commitment to bipartisanship as his $825 billion stimulus package heads to the floor of the House of Representatives this week, with the House Republican leader saying Sunday morning that many in his party will vote no unless there are significant changes to the plan.

I'm not sure at what point "intransigence" was defined upward into "testing bipartisanship", but I do know that I didn't get the memo.  I'd say that the "bipartisonship" of the week-old Obama administration that everyone likes to talk about is more about things like "good faith" and "negotiotiation" as opposed to the majority dominating the legislative process and passing whatever they want, and, conversely, the minority obstructing wildly by repeatedly filibustering.  And to measure President Obama's bipartisanship by how willing he is to capitulate is specious, if not a regurgitated GOP talking point.

I know the world is filled with spurious analogies, so here's mine: when I am phished, my failure to enter my user ID and password to a fake website does not represent a lack of comity and good will on my part.  I think I probably also have a strawman around here somewhere.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:31 PM

blagojevich/oprah

Yesterday I was asked why I wasn't writing more about the improbable career arc of Governor (for now) Rod Blagojevich.  The question was spurred I think by the news that he thought of MLK and Gandhi as he was being arrested.  And then this morning one of the Mikes on Mike and Mike in the Morning actually cut in to the show to announce that Blagojevich claims that he was considering Oprah Winfrey for Obama's vacant Senate seat.

The answer to the question is that I don't write about it too often because frequently the news cannot be improved by my smarty-pants words.  Blagojevich has circled around certain literary comparisons (from John Grisham past Tom Wolfe to Carl Hiaasen then towards John Kennedy Toole), but he is finally landing as a Don Martin piece in Mad Magazine -- and I apologize in advance to the memory of Don Martin.  Blagojevich has weaponized graft to the extent that he can commit it with mere words -- no act of graft actually occurs, but the governor mentions a liver transplant survivor or a civil rights icon and you feel that he will go away, but only if you make it worth his while.

Yeah, ultimately he's a megalomaniac asshole that will quickly fade in our rearview mirror, but until then we Americans sure are fascinated by our megalomaniac assholes.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:51 AM

January 25, 2009

gop: terrorists make us afrightened

A side effect of the Obama Administration's intent to abide by the Geneva Conventions with regard to the population of unilaterally detained enemy combatants is that those that are legitimately detained will need to be put somewhere.  That somewhere would be, accordingly, somewhere in the federal prison system, which is located here in these United States.  Which has given the GOP fuel to make a characteristically cynical and alarmist political point:
Republican lawmakers, who oppose Mr. Obama’s plan, found a talking point with political appeal.  They said closing Guantánamo could allow dangerous terrorists to get off on legal technicalities and be released into quiet neighborhoods across the United States.  If the detainees were convicted, the Republicans continued, American prisons housing terrorism suspects could become magnets for attacks.

Ignoring for a second that the Republican Party would have us break our own legal and moral standards out of craven and five-year-old-girlish fear that something bad might happen, two points in response:

First of all, since when is a Republican worried that something might happen to a prison?  Isn't an airplane crashing into a prison a conservative's wet dream, a bunch of shitbirds being rehabilitated into eternity?  Granted, there's no way to privatize prisons in order to enrich the Wackenhuts of the world if you keep flying airplanes into them, but maybe the Wackenhuts of the world can find some way to make money off that too?  Cleaning and reconstruction?  Chartered suicide flights?

And second, I'm no expert in criminal law, but I'm pretty sure that when criminals (or even fiendish terrorists who take advantage of soft-sister liberals) get off on technicalities, they are not generally directed to the quiet neighborhoods of America.  And I realize that the "quiet neighborhood" phrase is that of the reporter and not an actual GOP mouth, and yet is that not the political point being made, that the Democrats with their silly "rule of law" will be responsible for beturbaned turrists carbombing your kids' swingset?

Apparently, Republicans are aware of super-powers that these enemy combatants have that are unknown to us.  Why else would their knees go so soft, why else would they whimper and cringe, at the prospect that a terrorist would be treated like the garden-variety shitbird that they are?

Y'all Republicans, and all y'all Limbaugh-listening mouth-breathers, you too, are a buncha chickenshit cowards.  But have a nice day anyhow.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:38 PM

watchmen viral video averts spoiling from actors

I agree with everyone that the latest bit of viral whipping you into a frenzy over "The Watchmen" (which you have no doubt already seen) is most excellent, and I can't hardly wait to see the movie.

But I would like to mildly object that the video is not entirely flawless.  (It is video of a purported newscast from 1970 that explains some backstory to the movie, if you are not so inclined to click.)  The casting of the newsreaders, the set of the newscast and the video quality is indeed flawless, and it's quite a flasback inducement to some very early memories of the teevee.  But, in the man-on-the-street segment, pretty much every interviewee exuded that ineffable quality of actor-ness that can really ruin everyone's good time.  You'd think that it'd be the easiest thing in the world to be actually genuine on cue, but it's actually not so easy, and sometimes the more you train to do it the more elusive it becomes (considering that, pre-training, that was all you could do).  And I mean man-on-the-street genuine, not you-can't-tell-I'm-pretending genuine, which is still hard to do but successfully pulled off by our brave and patriotic stage, TV and film actors.

But even with the distraction of hambone "better blue than red" in New Yawkish, it's a great bit of marketing/promotion.

(Sorry to yammer about acting.  I was called on to act in a little skit on short notice last night, at a birthday party, and it got me to thinking.)

Posted by mrbrent at 12:58 PM

warner music group: profanity suits you

One very small aspect of the transformation of the entertainment industries that is taking place is how to react to the growing ability of the audience to manipulate the product.  Thanks to the inexorable march of technology, audio/video editing capabilities are not just widely available but standard issue with many computers, and easy to use.  And also, that song/photograph/movie that a generation ago was just a fixed object locked to the average consumer is so easily copied/ripped/uploaded/sampled that your actual grandparents are doing it.  And finally, the Flickrs and Youtubes of the world offer easy publishing/broadcasting, so that the user can share product with not just friends but the entire online world.

So now if you are a media company, you woke up one morning and realized that all of those little widgets you were selling are being used by the widget-buyers in ways that you did not intend and you sure as hell aren't getting paid for.  And that was the whole purpose of waking up in the first place -- getting paid.

Warner Music Group was one of those media companies, and their solution to the whole not-getting-paid aspect was to extort the broadcast medium in paying up, and then forcing said broadcaster, via tortured application of copyright law, into pulling clips with WMG content.

Now, keep in mind that this is to a large extent a perfect case of let's-you-and-him-fight, because neither of WMG or Google is exactly in the gratis-betterment-of-humanity business.  If they want to dicker about how gets paid what, then that won't affect the price of milk and chicken wings down at the corner store.

Except that all those consumers who are now editing their own little fixed expressions of ideas get caught in the middle when the takedown notices start flying.  That cute montage of the new puppy set to Five Doors Down?  Yanked, or edited to obscure the music.  What happens now?  Well, emboldened by whatever it is that's emboldening people these days, folk are telling WMG to fuck off.

Personally, I'd say that the proper stand that Google should be taking, on its own behalf and on the behalf of all us little people, is that use of WMG songs in user-generated content is "fair use", as the lawyers say, and not a behavior that should be discouraged through onerous commodification.  (Plus also, as RobboMills point out, dumb business practice.)  So, yeah.  Warner Music Group?  Fuck off.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:21 AM