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February 20, 2009

victoria iseman would like more publicity

The news of a libel suit against the New York Times, filed by a Valerie Iseman, a lobbyist who certainly never had relations with Sen. John McCain, broke the day before New Year's Eve.  And I spent a good part of New Year's Eve talking with a media friend about it.  I was bemused, and I thought that the lawsuit had no substance to it and couldn't understand why Valerie Iseman would let anyone file it.  Media friend was less glib about it, and was concerned that Iseman dragging the paper into court could cause some damage to the credibility of the paper, if not financially.

Well, the suit was settled without payment or retraction, and the best part is that in the NYT reporting on the matter, they were required by the precepts of journalism to repeat the facts behind their initial article:

The article dwelled in particular on his friendship with Ms. Iseman, a lobbyist for telecommunications companies that had business before the commerce committee, which Mr. McCain once headed.  The article said that in 1999, during a previous presidential run, some top McCain advisers were "convinced the relationship had become romantic," warned Ms. Iseman to steer clear of the senator, and confronted Mr. McCain about the matter.

There is some back and forth over whether or not this was a victory for one side or the other, but -- it's funny -- all those that are saying that this is some victory for Iseman are also the same that are wrong.  Uncanny.

In no way is this a victory for Iseman -- not only did the NYT take the opportunity to repeat the same allegations that Iseman was steamed over, but before the suit, she was someone whose name you'd never remember.  Now she's a marginally more famous not-other-woman litigant who settled without cash or an actual apology.

I am a partisan for the New York Times, plus I am a bad person, so I take pleasure in this.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:32 PM

fred barnes doesn't know what a straw man is

Steve Benen reads a Fred Barnes column and disputes Barnes' characterization of the winds of change blowing through the fields of science:
...but one concern in particular stood out for me [Benen].
Obama may not be eloquent, but he is glib and clever and at times persuasive.  One of his favorite rhetorical devices is setting up a straw man, then knocking it down.  He invoked this classic ploy subtly in his inaugural address, crudely in his press conference.  "We will restore science to its rightful place," Obama said at his inauguration.  Really?  Where had science been?

...As for where science disappeared to, if Barnes really wants to know:

More than 60 influential scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, issued a statement yesterday asserting that the Bush administration had systematically distorted scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry at home and abroad.

I totally agree, of course -- where was science?  Hiding in a root cellar, waiting for nightfall to make a try for the border.  But I also, and more importantly, don't think that's an example of a straw man.

A "straw man" is a speaker that doesn't exist that is created solely for the purpose of disagreeing with.  Customarily the arguments of the straw man are fashioned to be easily refuted, or even a distortion of the argument that a non-straw man might put forth.  Implying that science was not in a rightful place -- that's not creating a straw man at all.  That's an implication.

When President Bush would reel off some tripe starting with, "Some critics say..." or, "House Democrats have accused me of..." that was your classical straw man.  It could be argued that the science quote is a misrepresentation of an implied opponent's position, but the only person tracking back the layers of inference to, "Bush purposefully put science in wrong place," is Fred Barnes.

If there's any straw man in there, it's only talking to Barnes.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:17 AM

blowhole theater winterlude

I don't know what you're all doing this evening, but I will be performing at the Blowhole Theater Winterlude this evening, at Barbes in scenic Park Slope, Brooklyn.

I will be the one not playing music or acting in a skit, bringing the show to a crashing halt with some of my "writing".  It'll be good.  Sometimes shows like that get out of control, and need someone (like me) to bring everyone down to earth.

I think that there might be some suggested donation at the door.  I get that sense.  It's not mentioned in the promo, but I guess if you're coming be prepared to have someone suggest that you pay them money, just like every other day.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:43 AM

February 19, 2009

thomas frank on bipartisanship

Long-time favorite smart-guy Thomas Frank is now published by the Wall Street Journal, so I'm not going to feel lazy if I overlink him, because only capitalists read the WSJ, and perhaps he would like a little more love from the choir.  Further to thoughts on bipartisanship, Frank edges the spotlight a little stage right, as he identifies the mysterious unseen hand that wields the Amulet of Bipartisanship:
Above all else stands the burning question of bipartisanship.  Whatever else the politicians might say they're about, our news analysts know that this is the true object of the nation's desire, the topic to which those slippery presidential spokesmen need always to be dragged back...

The reason the Washington media think bipartisanship is the top issue, even when economic disaster stomps Americans like Godzilla, is because of the way it reflects their own professional standards.  They are themselves technically impartial, and so it's only natural for them to wish for a hazy millennium in which everyone else in Washington is impartial, too.

It is supposed to be high-minded stuff, this longing for a bipartisan golden age.  But in some ways it is the most cynical stance possible.  It takes no idea seriously, since everything is up for compromise.  The role of the political parties is merely to cancel each other out, so that only the glorious centrists remain, triangulating majestically between obnoxious extremes.

And I think that any complaint of a failure of bipartisanship is ultimately a cynical act -- a change of subject, and a throwing of mud.  At it's most childish (and there's plenty of childish in there), it is purely for the benefit of the third party arbiter, who is supposed to punish the non-complainer for transgressions against fair play.  But ultimately it's chaff, the prestige, meant to distract from the relevant matter at hand.  It's not relevant to the sausage, just the sausage-making, which, as we all know, is not designed to be fun to watch.

It's been a quiet couple days as far as the issue goes.  Maybe it's the fault of Sean Delonas, or monkeys, and maybe Republicans aren't crying out loud any more.  Let's see if/how long it lasts.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:51 PM

there's probs also a factual refutation of michael steele, as well

There is the meme -- it's at least fifty-something years old -- that consists of an individual(s), representative of the dominant subculture, attempting to assimilate into a less-dominant subculture through appropriation of linguistic and/or behavioral traits of the less-dominant subculture.  The implementation of these traits is usually awkward and less than successful.  And the conflict caused by the attempts of the first party to fit in as filtered through the expectation of, and then reactions by, the second party -- well, that's comedy!

You've seen it a hundred times.  Think of the prototypical 50s dad, trying to talk "hep" to his children, or the bumbling cops, trying to pass for bikers in the early 60s.  Once hippies were full-blown in the late 60s, pretty much every bit of entertainment from "The Ed Sullivan Show" to "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." had some kind of interacting-with-the-blised-out-and-drug-addled bit.  And, since then, there's been a very long series of straight men/women embarrassing themselves, trying to pass for a nerd/punk rocker/New Ager/emo kid/yuppie/Gossip Girl.  The jargon floats lightly over the imposters' heads, the idiom tortured out of context and hammered into a Scarlet Letter of Not Down.  That is hilarity ensuing.

It's the old fish-outta-water schtick, and it is money.

Hey look, it's Republican National Chairman Michael Steele!

Posted by mrbrent at 10:22 AM

February 18, 2009

forty years and we've already messed up space

Proving that sometimes a topic of interest finds you and not the other way around, further to the news of the orbital fender bender from last week, James Clay Moltz, a Naval Postgraduate School expert on transplanetary security issues, thinks that enough's enough -- we need to throw some stop signs and some LANE IN STAYs up there soonest:
In many respects, our level of sophistication in dealing with space "traffic management" —- the active and dead satellites and orbital debris that whiz around the earth at speeds of 18,000 miles per hour —- is reminiscent of the early days of car travel, when a lack of rules resulted in frequent accidents.

The difference in space, of course, is that the fragments from past collisions remain in orbit, at least until they are eventually dragged down by gravity and burn up in the atmosphere.

Finally a bit of infrastructure reform that will sex the place up a bit, as it involves spaceships.  And you can add cellular communications and cable television to the staples in life threatened by a generational unwillingness to maintain/improve boring things, like water tunnels and waste treatment facilities.

The title of this particular piece of op-ed is "Space Jam" -- probably should be called "Space Jam!" or "Space Jam!?! HHOK!", but cultural allusion from a million years ago duly noted.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:39 PM

wherein i am schooled by boing boing

OK.  In case you're not on the Twitter feed, I just had a very enlightening conversation.

This afternoon I had noticed that the advertising banners on Boing Boing had been colonized by Cheetos, which is a Frito-Lay product that you might have eaten once or twice.  And it was a thing that made me say hmmm -- trying to think of Boing Boing and Cheetos in the same thought, well, there's some dissonance there.  And since I've been feeling chatty all day, I tweeted:

Cheetos Boredom Busters? Please tell me that it's a joke, Boing Boing.

Which was not as snarky as I'm capable of, but certainly plenty whiny.

This then elicited a response from a co-editor of BB, Xeni Jardin:

@titivil  yup, it's an ad. We run a single ad, once a week, and all the other BB video episodes are ad-free. I think that's a good model.

Which made me feel: a) when you don't have something nice to say, etc., and b) like I had maybe tugged on Superman's cape.  Why am I bitching about advertising, for criminy's sake.  That bandwidth for sure ain't paying for itself.  Which lead to the following exchange:

@xenijardin nothing against the model. it is a bit jarring, product-wise. but if frito-lay is interested, why would you say no?

@titivil They've been extraordinarily cool with us -- totally trusted us to create something that would be engaging and funny.

@titivil I'd rather run ads we create than dumb ads someone else creates that piss off our audience.

@xenijardin well then, cheetos are delicious -- for a snack or anytime.

@titivil see? You like Cheetos now. The Soviet Unterzoegendorf Terrorists (and Boing Boing Video) have won. SPASIBO, COMRADE.

It was very gracious of Jardin to respond as she did, and my initial complaint was the sort that I'd ordinarily make fun of, some proto-hippie bitching about selling out, needing a bath.

And then I went back and gave BB more than a glance.  The actual Cheetos video does have all the small print explaining the arrangement with Cheetos -- that BB produces the ad from scratch, with Cheetos getting no approval over the spot.  And the spot is funny (and has been running for weeks, meaning that my paying-attention problem is not a new one).

The BB/Cheetos deal is very unique.  It does recall the old TV/current radio practice of the live ad, where there is no preproduced spot and the talent reads the ad copy on air, with the big difference is that the client is not supplying the copy.  What Cheetos is getting is not only eyeballs from site visitors, but a spot that is produced by the combined talent of the site.  And, they're paying enough to subsidize a week's worth of BB videos, so it seems to be a win-win scenario.


So that's how I spent my lunch -- learning a little something about myself.  Click on all those links up there.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:28 AM

hey, sean delonas: thanks for the schadenfreude

If you've ever wanted to see Sean Delonas, editorial cartoonist for the New York Post, get the national attention he so richly deserves, click over to the Huffington Post mainpage.

And in case time has passed and the story is no longer leading the sight, check this shit out.  I doubt that Delonas intended to invoke our president by riffing on the chimpanzee attack that happened on Monday, but, on the other hand, you can't fake timing.

To be fair: Delonas can draw better than Bruce Tinsley, and I'll never be able to take that away from him.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:14 AM

eric cantor: utility GOP infielder

Now that Rep. Eric Cantor (R-part of VA that James Madison used to represent) is the new public face of the Republican Party and its new plan to save America by worsening it and blaming it on the Democrats, I reckon he's fair game for some good-natured ribbing.  Well, actually he was always fair game.  Now he's low-hanging fruit, which is fine by me, because I'm starving.

From the hagiography on the front page of last Sunday's NYTimes, marking Cantor's arrival as one of the GOP's truly great prospects -- markedly good at obstructing, and not bad at bomb-throwing either:

In discussing the Republican defeat [last year's, not 2006], [Cantor] said: "I don’t think it was an outright rejection of what I call common sense conservative principles.  And as a Virginian, holding James Madison’s seat, I don’t think it was a rejection of the principles upon which this country was built."

See, now I bet before you read that, you didn't know that common sense conservative principles were synonymous with the principles upon which this country was built, did you?  And now, not only do you know it, but you can't remember why you know it.  He's a sneaky little sucker.

And then there is Josh Marshall debunking the particulars of Cantor's hero worship of a Winston Churchill that apparently only existed in an alternate universe:

I say all this as a big Churchill fan.  But, I mean, not only is Eric Cantor no Winston Churchill, I'm not even sure he's read a book about Winston Churchill.

Dude!  Josh Marshall just called you stupid!  And Josh only calls stupid people stupid, unlike me, who will call you stupid just to increase my electoral chances.

Keep in mind that Cantor is just the Minority Whip of the House of Reps, so he's not exactly at the top of the GOP org chart, so he must have a very talented publicist, which is important for a career in broadcasting.

Or maybe House Minority Leader John Boehner has constructed Cantor for use as some kind of duck blind.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:13 AM

February 17, 2009

michele bachmann digs in her heels

Obligatory Michelle Bachmann (R-MN, but an insane people part of MN) post!  Steve Benen has a friend in Minnesota with a radio:
Bachmann "explained" to the host and Minnesota audience:

* ACORN is "under federal indictment for voter fraud," but the stimulus bill nevertheless gives ACORN "$5 billion."  (In reality, ACORN is not under federal indictment and isn't mentioned in the stimulus bill at all.)

* many members of Congress have "a real aversion to capitalism."

Running out of things to say w/r/t Michele Bachmann having a thorazine-shuffle relationship with reality.  Sad but true.  Wait.  Not sad.  Life-affirming!

Posted by mrbrent at 10:10 PM

hfcs: better obesity through chemistry

This is a very long, detailed DailyKos diary concerning additional revelations of the overall ickyness of High Fructose Corn Syrup:
Yet another damaging HFCS report surfaces: researchers from the Monell Center in Philadelphia report that overweight people who drank a fructose-sweetened beverage with a meal had triglyceride levels almost 200 per cent higher than the same group who drank a glucose-sweetened beverage with a meal.  In plain words triglycerides are manufactured by the body from dietary fat and function as fat transporters.  While normal levels of triglycerides are essential for good health, increased levels have been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

I don't pick on HFCS because it's fun, or because I have a specific grudge against Archer Daniels Midland or any of the other concerns that have made billions of dollars by the wholesale replacement of sucrose with fructose.  I do it because I personally try to avoid the stuff, mostly because I can taste the difference, in the same way that I can hear a television that is plugged in but not turned on.  Combine that with my belief that one undertakes Promethean endeavors out of necessity and not out of greed -- there was no need to load the nations' diet with so much HFCS, there was no shortage of actually sugar.  There's no need to blithely experiment with the effect of introducing a new food source on such a wholesale level on an entire population, without their knowledge or consent.

The research is still out, but it looks increasingly bad for HFCS producers.  I say let's not eat/drink that stuff to the extent we can avoid it until the Corn Refiners Association can come up with something better than, "HFCS: not as bad as everyone says!"

Posted by mrbrent at 11:51 AM

bipartisanship: college profs agree with me

Now the college professors are chiming in with their two cents on What Bipartisanship Means to Them, which means that it's time for us non-professors to shut our mouths, because we're cold busted.

Prof. James Morone (Brown, poli-sci) submits an op-ed for the NYTimes describing how, historically, bipartisanship is a word for a thing that doesn't mean what you think it does, especially if you consider the Roosevelt and Reagan administrations to be examples of successful tenures:

Roosevelt and Reagan reveal the dirty rotten secret of bipartisanship.  It happens only when one side is cowed, beaten or frightened.  More competitive elections mean more ardent debates.

Bipartisanship does not mean two disagreeable parties, coming to a consensus.  Bipartisanship means pretending that you support something for expediency's sake.  The last time that there was true bipartisanship was after 9-11, when everyone agreed that we need to invade everybody and keep the Constitution handy in case we run out of kleenex.  And why would Democrats support these positions which fly in the face of customary Democratic tenets?  Because the president had an approval of something like 95%, and Congressional Democrats were not anxious to march proudly with the backing of five percent of the nation.

Ultimately, what is the synthesis between, "The house is on fire," and, "The house is not on fire," -- that the house is a little bit on fire?  Instead, we need to argue, and one side is going to win that argument, but maybe after the goalposts move a little.  And if the Republicans want to whine about bipartisanship and change you can believe in, then so be it.  Whining is one of the most politically successful tactics ever.

(BTW, Morone knows what he's talking about, because earlier in the piece he references the Mugwumps as an 18th Century "a curse on both your houses" political party and not as a J.K. Rowling fiction.  It's a good succinct bit of historical background.)

Posted by mrbrent at 8:51 AM

February 16, 2009

the vexation of the cell phone charger

Another nice catch fielded by Boing Boing -- forcing the cell phone manufacturers to come up with a uniform standard for chargers, such that any charger will work with any phone:
Transformer bricks with esoteric connectors are the most common form of electronic crap I see on street-vendors' blankets around the world (at least a hundred of them yesterday on Brick Lane in London, and literally thousands and thousands of them in Mumbai's Chor Bazaar), and given that they all put out nearly the same voltage and amperage, it really does seem like pure waste.

And it's not exactly a waste that you can throw in the compost to make fertilizer, either.

I'm sure somewhere there is a phone charger lobby that will have something to say about it, but chipping away at the corners of planned obsolescence seems like a good place to start towards a more responsible free market.  A better place than the old pitchforks and torches, at least.  Though, to be honest, the regulation is to be enacted by the European Commission, so this is less a place to start than three or four steps in (in Europe).

Posted by mrbrent at 10:13 AM

February 15, 2009

sad answers to orphan questions 2.15.09

Here's another (after this) question suggested by a search engine keyphrase that directed some lonely soul here, looking for an answer that may or may not have been found elsewhere.  The keyphrase in question is:
is citibank in danger of bankruptcy

Um, yes.

And here's another one:

does antonin scalia like bacon

Well, let's see.  The short answer would be that Antonin Scalia, or Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as protocol suggests I refer to him, is a human, and humans like bacon.  It would follow that Justice Scalia likes bacon.

But Justice Scalia is a pretty complex dude.  He's the second most senior Associate Justice on the Supreme Court, and is widely regarded to be the center of the Conservative Bloc thereof.  He holds political and legal opinions that I don't agree with, but he's certainly no dummy -- he's so well-spoken, in fact, that he's on the record as being against contractions.  He is known as an originalist as well, opposing the idea of a Living Constitution that evolves as society does, favoring instead that the Constitution should be interpreted solely on the basis of the text as written and the intent of the writers.  This makes him feisty and contrary.

He's also rumored to have been a candidate for Chief Justice after the death of Chief Rehnquist, which position he was passed over for in favor of a younger, dumber version, Justice John Roberts, which could only have made Scalia more contrary, if not a little bit sour.  This would lead one to believe that he is very tempted to not like bacon just to spite all you bacon-lovers who use contractions.

However, his view on stare decisis is known to be moderate, making him not likely to ignore judicial precedent blithely.

So I'd say that Justice Scalia does in fact like bacon, but has some very specific ideas about how bacon should be prepared and enjoyed, and thinks that all of you that disagree with those ideas should just get over it.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:41 AM