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February 13, 2009

fortunately "american values" is a totally value-neutral thing to be called

Via Ken Layne in Wonkette, which of these things in not like the other things?
"There is an ongoing battle for the vocabulary of our debate," said Gary Bauer, president of American Values.  "It amazes me how often in public discourse really pejorative phrases are used, like the 'American Taliban,' 'fundamentalists,' 'Christian fascists,' and 'extreme Religious Right.'"

Nice try, Bauer, sullying two legitimate things you and your followers are called by including two objectionable nicknames.  And imagine how pissed off the fascists will be when they find out they're being grouped in with you guys.

We kid!  Not because we love or anything -- we haven't taken Jesus Christ into our heart, so we don't know love!  But I think I'm seeing Bauer's point.  Non-whatever-you-want-to-call-thems keep insisting on calling the whatever-you-want-to-call-thems the same name over time.  How is there any cover in that?  They get called [x], and then some time later someone hears [x] mentioned and they think, "Oh, those assholes again."

So, the solution would be for Bauer's whatever-you-want-to-call-thems to pronounce that they shall be called somebody else's movement name, and then repeat the process every six months.  Maybe first, Rastafarians.  Six months later, fanboys, and then, post-post-modernists, and then, Wobblies.

So, three or for years ago, when we're asking ourselves who was that again that hates gays so much, that wants to criminalize birth control?  Was it the Detroit Lions?  The hipsters?

Problem solved, Jesus Goblins.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:39 PM

david vitter looks in the mirror and sees you

I'm looking for a short phrase that describes the rhetorical ploy of accusing your opponent of an ideological excess that you yourself are actually more guilty of.  Like, if you are a UNC fan, and you are arguing with a Duke fan, then you accuse the Duke fan of being a freakin' Carolina-blue wearin' Tar Heels jackoff.  Basically, it hurts the feelings of the opponent -- because what Duke fan want to be called a Heels fan? -- but nonsensical upon even cursory examination.

A more specific example would be the talking points of Sen. David Vitter, the Republican from the state of Louisiana, where prostitution is not yet legal but still accepted in some circles, from an appearance at the Federalist Society:

After quoting comments from President Obama suggesting that he'd like his judicial nominees to be able to empathize with the downtrodden, Vitter declared that demanding empathy in a judge was something you'd expect in a "dictatorship."

Ignoring the absence of any logical link between empathy and autocratic government systems, the key is Vitter's choice of the word "dictatorship".  He's hoping that the listener hears only "Obama" and then "dictatorship", or something like, "Obama is a dictator."  And a dictator is a pretty bad thing, so, invective!

But the problem is that of all of the overreaches of a left-leaning US administration none of them really create the impression of dictatorship.  And if you search your memory to find an era that did approximate a dictatorship -- marginalization of the opposition, appeal to a muscular nationalism, rule by threat of force -- it would be the immediately previous one.  Which administration Vitter was implicit in, as a member of the majority party.

So, yeah, Vitter is an idiot, but, more importantly, I'm just looking for an abbreviated bit of jargon so that I don't have to go through this whole explanation every time I want to refer to another example of a Republican accusing someone of having egregious, Republican-like properties.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:26 PM

neanderthals are taking the fiction outta my sci fi

This is another example from this mornings NYTimes of how the scientific advances that we casually refer to as "the future" move not like a well-maintained Suburu Forrester down an empty highway, but more in fits and starts like a bowling ball being pounded through the brush with a sledgehammer, and behind your back to boot.  From a story on the reconstruction of the neanderthal genome (and as if that not enough of a "we did WHAT?"):
Possessing the Neanderthal genome raises the possibility of bringing Neanderthals back to life.  Dr. George Church, a leading genome researcher at the Harvard Medical School, said Thursday that a Neanderthal could be brought to life with present technology for about $30 million.

As a frame of reference, the price tag on reengineering an extinct primate one click behind us on the evolutionary tree is a little more than Alex Rodriguez, the only steroid abuser in baseball, will make this year, or about one and two-thirds percent of the $1.79 billion loss posted by Bank of America last quarter.  So, yeah, if Dr. Church is anywhere close to right, we're getting a baby neanderthal for cheap, and soon.

Also, nice use of the construction "bringing... back to life" in the article -- it's a little blunt for the style of the NYTimes, but it appropriately evokes Colin Clive in front of an array of electrical arc generators.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:10 AM

February 12, 2009

rep. elijah cummings: no, not busy at all, why do you ask?

Well of course Alex Rodriguez should appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  Why shouldn't he?  He's a baseball player, right?  Isn't that what every boy grows up dreaming of -- being a baseball player that appears before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform?

And special kudos to Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) for sending a letter asking that ARod appear.  Cummings is clearly a man that realizes no issue of governance is as important as hauling baseball players in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  Because without baseball players, how will we ever oversee and reform government?

Posted by mrbrent at 4:12 PM

a new pitchforks and torches for tomorrow

Of the many phrases that I overuse on this site, "pitchforks and torches" is probably my favorite.  For the record, it's meant to evoke the classic scenes of Universal monster movies in which the villagers take to the streets and not any specific riot -- I'm much more of a fan of the concept of the popular uprising, the will of the people winning over in the end, than I am actual mobs, because mobs are a stupid person-magnet that have a tendency to devolve into just Fucking Shit Up, which I assume is cathartic, but that car you just set on fire? probably not owned by The Man.  Actually, it's probably your neighbor's.

This blather is necessitated by a DailyKos diary that I browsed that is definitely a kindred spirit.  After contrasting two quotes from news stories, one concerning maximum wage provisions being banished from the stimulus package and the other on US employers increasingly fighting unemployment claims, and then wrapping it in a Disreali bow, the author (Billmon) then kicked in with his own personal two cents:

Someone please explain to me why we haven't had a revolution in this country yet, because I don't fully understand it -- given that our political and business elites both seem to have a death wish bigger than Marie Antoinette's.

And it was then that I realized that after all these years of "pitchforks and torches!/pitchforks and torches!" we actually arrived at a place in history where pitchforks and torches are becoming a distinct possibility as the populist rage increases.  I'm an unreconstructed lefty, so for me to haterize on the kajillionaires is not exactly a bellwether of anything.  But to see both sides of the aisles in the House of Reps shake their fists at the bank CEOs, to read of your soccer moms and your joe sixpacks wondering why we're giving the Wall Street bastards free money when this whole thing is their fault, its pretty easy to extrapolate that into some pretty big-street type action.

And that is totally not what I'm wishing for.  Which is why I'm clarifying a bit here.  As Billmon later adds:

My question was rhetorical, of course -- if we got through 1933 without a revolution, then presumably the system will muddle through its latest exercise in human misery, too.

What I was really wondering is how the American elites could feel so confident in their own entrenched positions that they could so blatantly ignore or defy reality...

...it amounts to the same thing: A total unawareness that at the end of the day, the only thing standing between them and the guillotine is sheer social inertia.

At a certain point the slow realization that the unmitigated gall of the top 2% of the wealth holders was not borne of privilege but rather larceny is going to become a very fast realization, and my "pitchforks and torches!" are meant to be a suggestion for ameliorative action on the part said top 2% and not a threat.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:44 AM

sad stockbrokers

Is there some kind of system on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange whereby certain traders/brokers are the designated sad guys anytime the Market tanks?  Maybe based on if the last number of your license plate is odd or even, maybe, or astrological sign?  Because they certainly do seem meticulous about sharing their grief in an easily photographed way.  These dudes are not hitting the bottle or taking it out on the wife.  No, they are holding their faces in their hands, disconsolate, terrified of the impact that their day's efforts will have on the nation, and liberty.

Like a bunch of crybabies.  Like a bunch of four year old girls.

(Come to think, there is nothing about their hysterical displays of fretting that would preclude them from hitting the bottle or taking it out on the wife.)

Posted by mrbrent at 7:39 AM

February 11, 2009

stupid sunday satellite drivers

To counter-balance this morning's front-page NYTimes story on the ubiquity of bionics and the bright shiny bionic future that portends, tonight there is word of a multi-vehicle accident 500 miles over Siberia.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Two big communications satellites collided in the first-ever crash of its kind in orbit, shooting out a pair of massive debris clouds and posing a slight risk to the international space station.  NASA said it will take weeks to determine the full magnitude of the crash, which occurred nearly 500 miles over Siberia on Tuesday.

It's easy to dismiss this story as a bit of Life In These Modern Times trivia, but it has its implications, even bigger than, "Isn't someone driving these things?"  (Largely, no.)  What's troublesome is the debris.  Here on Earth, you have a collision like that and then someone comes to tow away the big parts and sweep up the little parts.  And the littlest parts get moved around by the elements -- the wind, the rain -- until no trace is left but for maybe a skidmark.  Up there, there's no one to remove the debris, and no elements other than a vacuum.  So, the nearly two tons of debris stays, and its orbits were not exactly planned out and will have to be observed, recorded, etc.  Just think about the first time you played Asteroids, and then look straight up at night.

And why worry about that?  Because of the various craft we send out into orbit, none of them were designed with protection in mind -- first because the lighter they are, the easier they are to put up there, and second because, what are they going to hit?  Well, man-made debris, come to find out.  It's a long term thing to worry about, but I've read the word "insolvent" about twelve times today online, so let's just get the worrying over with.

Also, I just typed, "Here on Earth."  One more thing to check off the list.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:50 PM

morgan stanley/smith barney: you're why good people hate you

What could be worse than receiving taxpayer money as a basically no-strings bailout and then disbursing billions of dollars to your executives as bonuses?  Receiving taxpayer money as a basically no-strings bailout, disbursing billions of dollars to your executives as bonuses and then instructing your executives not to tell anyone because it would look bad.

That will nicely start day seventeen of Wall Street's ingenious Hearts And Minds America campaign.  Because it is only through mustache-twirling and hand-rubbing greedily that we non-millionaires will stop being so mean and finally come around to Wall Street's way of thinking -- it's not rigging the system if it's their system in the first place, duh.

And if they keep it up, they might wanna invest in some Pitchfork- and Torch-Repellent, if they can spare the cash.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:31 AM

bionic arms!

You can keep all your smelly jetpacks and your robot butlers -- I'm going to go with the future that is here now and politely put in my request for a bionic arm.  And this arm is not a cheap copout ripoff "bionic" arm.  It is the real deal -- operated by the arm-wearing user just by thinking, running on self-contained motors.  Portable and autonomous.  I'm sure it's prohibitively expensive as well, but no one said that the jetpacks would be free.

My first question, after the initial, "Say what?" was, "Exactly how is that thing supposed to work again, without someone pushing a button or wrestling with a joystick somewhere?"  The answer is the fifth paragraph:

The technique, called targeted muscle reinnervation, involves taking the nerves that remain after an arm is amputated and connecting them to another muscle in the body, often in the chest.  Electrodes are placed over the chest muscles, acting as antennae.  When the person wants to move the arm, the brain sends signals that first contract the chest muscles, which send an electrical signal to the prosthetic arm, instructing it to move.  The process requires no more conscious effort than it would for a person who has a natural arm.

So, very cool, notwithstanding the fact that you need to lose an arm to enjoy this.

I wish that there was a Scientific Breakthrough Early Warning System so I can stop waking up finding out that the threshhold is somewhere behind me.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:18 AM

February 10, 2009

on the risks of being president, and the dumb-asses that would shoot him

My response to the two years of "I hope they don't shoot Obama" concerns voiced to me has been this: it's really, really hard to shoot a president.  This obviously wasn't always the case (and let's sidestep the issue of who shot JFK, because about the only guy I can think of who didn't was Oswald and that's a long rabbit hole to go down and I should make myself some dinner at some point), but if you think about it, the last time someone got a shot off was Hinckley in 1981.  Since then, it's pretty clear that the Secret Service decided that the best way to prevent attempts like that was to utterly deny the opportunity, to ensure that no non-Secret Service firearm would ever get within firing range.

Of course, this does not mean that idiots will not try to shoot Obama.  But I'm confident that said idiots will try something like this -- "Um, I have a delivery for President Obama?"  It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but next time try painting the tunnel entrance on the side of a boulder or something.

I'm leery of going there, and I'm knocking on wood, but I feel it's important to subject would-be idiot assassins to the mocking and derision that they deserve.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:45 PM

tom fife foils the communists!

The Red Menace is back, and we've got it!

A Bircher (Birchite?  Birchalero?) from an online haven for people who bleed flags tells the fevered story of how an ex-DoD contractor by the (patriotic!) name of Tom Fife was warned that all this was gonna happen, a black president, from Hawaii, etc.  Warned... by a Commie!  In 1992!!!

She [the Commie] became more and more smug as she presented her stream of detailed knowledge and predictions so matter-of-factly –- as though all were foregone conclusions.  "It's all been thought out.  His father is not an American black, so he won't have that social slave stigma.  He is intelligent and he is half white and has been raised from the cradle to be an atheist and a Communist. He's gone to the finest schools.  He is being guided every step of the way and he will be irresistible to America."

Fife's chatty Russian left out the part where a couple of hundred million Soviet sleeper agents are inserted into the US to vote atheist/Communist Obama into office.  And the part in which the criminal geniuses of the Kremlin took a moment's pause from hiding as much loot as they could before the collapse of the Soviet Union was complete to plan the global dominance of an ideology which they only ever gave mouth service to.  Which is no reason to dust off our red-blooded eternal vigilance.

The author of the story of course received the terrible knowledge of Tom Fife from the most reliable of sources -- an email forward from before the election, which makes it a truth from which we can run but cannot hide.

But being old enough to remember when Communists hid under my bed every night, I'm finding the return of this specific brand of crazy people talk very comforting.

[Via Ken Layne, who trolls WorldNetDaily for material so you don't have to.]

Posted by mrbrent at 8:01 PM


Exactly which fool was it that thought up bipartisanship again?  Was it one of the Greeks from back before they figured zero out?  Was it one of those Mayan it's magic/it's not magic things?  No, it must have been one of those plucky Industrial Age inventors, with a career arc that starts as boy genius and then rockets up to captain of industry and then crash lands in penury and alcoholism.

Because bipartisanship sure looks good on paper -- slices, dices, cures the common cold, is fuel-injected,reversible, hand-tooled, no-huddle and goes great with red or white wine -- but then when it arrives, you find out that not only is it smaller than advertised, it's also broken and smells like rotten meat.  And then you pull out the catalog and compare the very attractive picture to the actual bipartisanship sitting in front of you, which comparison is unsettling in the least, so you dial customer service rep, who has been resourced from Mumbai to a long-term care facility in Ironton, OH, and by the time you get around to wondering if that noise on the other end of the line is what drool sounds like, bipartisanship has already emptied your liquor cabinet, eaten your cat and called in an airstrike on your sun room.  And the cat was old and is probably now comfortable in a better place, but you're pretty fond of that sun room, as it used to be a rear porch and you converted it by yourself, at the expense of an entire summer and a number of personal favors from your brother-in-law that knows wiring, and also you're wondering if the root cellar is far enough away from the rear porch nee sun room to be safe once the ordinance hits.  And bipartisanship has a big dark crooked grin on its face, like it had stolen candy from a baby whose defense of the candy necessitated messing up this baby, or like it had eaten a cat, and then produces a small harmonica and starts to play the three notes of "N-B-C" over and over again, bending the last note like a little show-off, heedless of the fact that the NBC jingle is protected under a copyright that is zealously protected by the lawyers of NBCUniversal, who are racing towards your home at that moment on the off chance that they can get there before the bombs begin to fall.  And all you can think is that, when your wife gets back from the library, she's going to come home to the worst day ever.  And what did you do to deserve this?  You bought her a gift.  That's what you did.  And she's going to come home to a smoking crater where the sun room used to be and ENN BEE CEE, ENN BEE CEE.  Is that your fault?

Well, you're the one that wanted the bipartisanship in the first place.  It's not your fault exactly, but you know that old slapstick bit where some poor soul steps on the business end of a rake and the entire rake whips up and the handle hits them smack in the nose?  You are that poor soul, and also your left foot is stuck in a bucket of dirty mopwater.

So who was it that invented bipartisanship, in total subversion of nature's natural condition of thesis/counter/thesis/synthesis?  Clearly, it was someone filled with malice and mischief, like Roy Cohn or Jeremy Piven, but smarter.  Because in the best of conditions bipartisanship works only haltingly, and in a vacuum of good faith, it doesn't work at all.  And as long as there are dumb people, there will be a vacuum of good faith.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:11 PM

white house presser: i'm waiting for the dvd to come out

I did not watch the president's live press conference yesterday -- there was one of those DVR collision moments where somebody's wife is recording two crazy-ass network shows at the same slot, rendering the live-viewing function useless.  So I played video games instead.

And then, later that night, spent a good hour reading about all the coverage and watching the clips thereof.  And you know what?  Obama is goooooood.  In fact, he is so good, that I dare say that he might be president of the United States one day.

Also interesting was the inside-baseball aspect, where, like any ordinary 21st Century American, you spend more time thinking about how the sausage was made than you do eating the sausage.  Because there is a whole new class of White House correspondents, and, for a lot of them, it was their first time around the block without training wheels.  Except for Helen Thomas, of course, who has decided that her questions are lethal instruments that must be wielded with the delicacy of a fullback.  And notably, NBC's Chuck Todd ended his question with, "...isn't that what got us into this mess in the first place?" which has leaped to the very top of the list of things you do not want to say to the president if you want to appear reasonable and intelligent.

And the best of all is that not only was Ana Marie Cox there at the presser, she's also currently with the press corps covering the president's trip to Florida.  That is equal parts weird and fucking-rocks.  So yeah, Cox sold out.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:06 AM

February 9, 2009

fred barnes has a fact detector and no you can't see it

Whenever I go on about how the newspaper industry is irreplaceable because of their sheer size, able to cast a wide net, able to devote resources on not-necessarily breaking news, etc., please note that I'm not trying to imply that web-based journalistic ventures are useless.

Specifically, at this point in time, TPM consistently does excellent work that exemplifies the agility and tenacity of a well-run news site.  They keep their focus narrow enough that they can flood the field, and they are big believers in good old-fashioned shoe leather, which is how they can break excellent grace note stories like this -- Fred Barnes writes a column asserting a crazy person thing as fact, and, instead of just ranting about the crazy person thing, TPM called Barnes and asked for comment on the source of his crazy person thing:

In response, Barnes said only that he knew where he had found it, but would not tell us, apparently as a matter of principle.  "I'm not going to do your research for you," he eventually said, before hurriedly ending the call.

Aaand, scene.

So yeah, I'll be defending the old dead tree media until I'm a dead tree myself, but I say that there will be enough room for everyone, and four or five sites like TPM would be a nice thing.  (And the omission of The Politico is purposeful, as they tends towards suck.)

Posted by mrbrent at 11:06 AM

amanda conner made my weekend

So instead of the normal Sunday of mimosas and immersive language study, I went to the New York Comic Con yesterday, and I will admit quietly that I enjoyed every last expletive out of it.

I am certainly a many-years geek through and through, but have never been the type to find any joy in being trapped in a room with a bunch of like-mindeds.  In fact, up until a year ago, the last comic book convention I went to was in 1986 (when I was still in my mother's belly!).  So going to the ComicCon would be considered an unlikely thing for me to do, and a thing that odds were I'd walk around once and then wonder where the bar was.

But it was not so!  It was pretty peachy keen, between the original artwork laying around to the booths of all the little publishing companies struggling to survive, the splashy displays of the majors and the videogames and the comic book dealers, who never ever change.

And the highlight of the afternoon was when we ran into a friend, who had picked up a couple of prints, one of which beautiful wife fell in love with.  So we trundled over to the artist's table -- Amanda Conner, who was a total sweetheart -- and picked up a print for our very own living room.  The print is of an illustration of Supergirl, Krypto and Streaky (the Super Cat).  And Amanda is own of the artists that I call myself a fan of, since I long ago gave up geeking out over comic book art for geeking out over comic book stories.

So yes!  Victory through consumerizing.

[Edited because I misspell like a stupid person.]

Posted by mrbrent at 8:53 AM

February 8, 2009

stimulus compromise

As far as the compromise in the Senate on the stimulus package goes, is it unfair of me to characterize it as follows?

"After days of negotiation with the minority party, an agreement has been reached under which the amount of water poured on the fire will be scaled back, and will be now mixed with some kerosene."

No, it is fair, and as evidence I will site the fact that William Kristol is actually paid to write.  As such, it would be fair of me to say that if you put on special eyeglasses, the Senate Minority Leader turns into an alien space lizard -- and you thought having a tragically-pruneface underbite was bad.

And none of this will stop Sen. John McCain from complaining that it is not bipartisan unless the Democrats will join him in fiddling, at least.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:44 AM