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February 28, 2009

obama: so am i

I think that this sums up the appeal of the president pretty succinctly, at least around these parts:
..I know these steps won't sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business, and I know they're gearing up for a fight as we speak.  My message to them is this: So am I.  The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long, but I don't.  I work for the American people.  I didn't come here to do the same thing we've been doing or to take small steps forward, I came to provide the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November.

The "Obama picks fights with lobbyists" angle has splashed around the headlines a bit today -- which is fun, and I love fun -- but for me, I can honestly say that I never thought I'd live to see a president state explicitly that the system is gamed in favor of the wealthy and the well-connected, to imply that corporate interests with small city-level budgets devoted to convincing Washington to do their bidding act in contravention of the public good.  That they cheat.

Contrast that with Republican governors willing to punish their unemployed (during a depression) in order to score political points, to give themselves a narrative to propel their chances as a national candidate.

I'm an idealist, but I've got decades of cynicism to get through, but the through is getting there, slowly.  And if elected officials want to argue that corporate interests need to be protected from the needs of the unfortunate?  Well fuck them sideways, the assholes.

I'm an idealist, but I have a potty mouth.

Posted by mrbrent at 6:35 PM

February 27, 2009

vernor vinge is smart

Just to end the day on some contemplative sweetness and light, this is a clip of an interview of author Vernor Vinge on the shorter-than-you-think-term transformational possibilities of networked technology.

It's partially about the coming (here!) manifestation of cyberspace in the actual world.  Gibson's "Spook Country" also deals with this in a very tangible way, as does Vinge's "Rainbow's End", both of which I recommend highly.

It's very smart and worth four of your earth minutes, even if you, like me, are not inclined to partake in an externalized cyberspace powered by locative processing.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:31 PM

chicago tea parties dissrupt nation

From a Twitterer on my feed I heard that today has been designated a day of of "Nationwide Chicago Tea Parties", I guess named such after CNBC's Rick Santelli's Whine Heard 'Round The World.  Supposedly events all over the country, with moneyed elites protesting... taxation?  Tea?  I hope they're not protesting the erosion of their political influence and likability, because I doubt that interfering with longshoremen unloading tea is going to go a long way towards that.

Oh, I guess they're protesting increased government spending.  No, that's not a punchline.  They're protesting increased government spending.  Just like all those other great populist movements inspired by increased government spending.  They're continuing the proud tradition.

It's kind of cute how they keep trying to emulate the tactics of the actually-oppressed, because these tactics -- street protests, say -- are embarrassing to watch when they are under-attended and lacking any moral purpose.  But don't let me stop them -- they be the man!

The bigger point is that Neocons decided to have a nationwide day of protest and I had to Google it to find any mention of it at all.  I'll try to get on the email list, so that when the Great Death Tax Riots of '09 happen I can tell my friends to keep the kids home from school.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:21 PM

michele bachmann: 'you be da man!'

I absolutely do not believe this bit of reporting, no matter that it comes from TPM, which does not play loose or fast with journalism, and no matter that it is news of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who is capable of anything.  No matter.  This can't be true:
Michele Bachmann praised [coincidentally black RNC Chairman Michael] Steele's speech:  "Michael Steele!  You be da man!  You be da man."

It can't be true.  It reads like the least funny Onion bit ever.

How could a party that dominated for so many years think that the appropriate response to a black Democrat as president would be indiscriminate tokenism and tragic expeditions into ebonics?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:16 AM

untited states post office is not so good

I stopped by two US Post Offices on the way to work.  On a lark!  Just to mail something, capriciously.

Based on my experience, I have decided that the USPO is now a conspiracy against the act of mailing.

The coin-operated stamp machines have been absconded with in the middle of the night and replaced with a video game.  After the folk in front of me in line took a very long time and spent most of that time with their heads tilted quizzically, I was thinking that maybe it was a stupid person problem.  Then it was my turn.  It wasn't a stupid person problem.  I forget all the options on the first screen offered to you, but none of them was "buy a fucking stamp".  And the thing does not take paper or metal money, so it should be real useful to the apple-sellers and blind-pencil-salesman of the coming depression.

And I thought about standing in line to speak with someone helping customers, but I forgot to bring a tent and provisions.

Hey, history-dustbin: I will swap you one USPO for one Rocky Mountain News.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:52 AM

February 26, 2009

how to get ahead in publishing

At least twice, and I think three times, this week someone has linked an example of some publishing deal victory and cited it as reason to abandon all faith, publishing-wise.  And the two folks I have distinct memory of doing so are writers I look up to.  So I guess that makes this a trend piece.

First there's Balk, who references a forthcoming book by the inaptly-named Joe the Plumber, who I try not to say too many things bad about because he's a guy that was dragged into the spotlight until I realize that everything, from his initial ambush of then-candidate Obama to his current career as leading light of the Republican Party, is something he actually dragged himself into.  Which opportunism might be his only talent, as he has demonstrated no other, except for saying gallingly stupid things.  I don't even think he's talented at representing the "normal joe", because I know a couple of them and even the ones I disagree wildly with can string a sentence together, explain why I'm a socialist that hates America, etc.  Joe is even dumb as far as dumb guys go.  But he's done an excellent job of convincing the world that his dumbness is a taciturn and manly integrity, struggling to tell it like it is like a Bill O'Reilly without the megalomania.

Then there's Maud Newton, who tweets that Kathy Griffin's book deal is why writers drink.  While I disagree with her reasoning (i.e., dogs bark, fish swim, writers drink), I can see why news of a fat juicy advance to a non-writer can be discouraging.  But Kathy Griffin is Kathy Griffin, and if she can weasel long green out of a house for a buck that she won't entirely write herself, then good on Kathy Griffin.  And good for the publishing house, which can probably make some long green off a book by Kathy Griffin, who may be polarizing but puts butts in seats.

And then there's news of a Gawker alum selling a book that will consist of Tweets.  I'm pretty sure there were some cool kids outraged by that.  I'm outraged by that.  And not because Nick Douglas is getting away with something -- please, everybody make big money, drinks are on you -- but because from what I've read of Nick Douglas, he's capable of better.  And because, as much as I can kill some time on the Twitter, the wisdom imparted on Twitter pulled out of context sounds about as much fun as the inside jokes I have with my own personal friends.  Which are hilarious!  But only to us.

So yeah, after reviewing all that, it seems like giving up is the only way to go if your ambition is to be published, unless you're creepily famous or lucky.  Or, maybe instead, it's time to stop trying to be talented and start trying to be creepily famous, or lucky.

(BTW, Maud was totally joking.  She knows that if she were to quit over Kathy Griffin it would be pitchfork/torch time.)

Posted by mrbrent at 7:46 PM

goodbye rocky mountain news

I was lucky enough to land a bookstore job before I got to the age that the bookstore hourly wage could not support -- and it took me long enough.  Back in Rochester, NY, the primo indie bookstore was called Village Green.  It was ten or fifteen years old at the time, and had become successful enough that it had opened a number of stores in the city, and even a couple in Buffalo, I think.  And if you were a slack mofo with minimal food service skillz like me, it was about the only place you'd want to work, unless you could land one of those cushy jobs assisting one of the half-dozen local artists that could afford that sort of thing.  I'd applied four or five times over the course of four years and never heard a peep.  When they finally called me in, it was an honor just to be nominated.

Of the various positions I held at the Village Green, working the opening shift was my favorite.  The store opened at 6am, which was pretty brutal, but as the crew that worked early mornings, our biggest responsibility was maintaining the newsstand ops, switching in and out the magazines every Thursday morning and stocking the newspapers, over the first of too much coffee, within five minutes of unlocking the front door at quarter of.  And the newsstand duties were the best part.  We had a pretty ambitious collection of dailies from other cities -- a good thirty or forty of them, not to mention our overseas papers.  I was a newspaper kid since I could read, and it was a pleasure to get my mitts all newsprinty every morning on papers with exotic names, like the News & Observer, the Intelligencer and the Sun, and all the papers named after those words you only see associated in newspaper-titles, like the Picayune and the various Heralds and Tribunes.

So to see that the Rocky Mountain News is shutting its doors, that's like someone taking away one of my toys, a Micronaut or an X-Wing Fighter.  They're saying Denver just ain't big enough to be a two-paper town.  And if that's the case, what city is?  There's all kinds of you out there actually employed in the news media, so please forgive my naïveté, but is this it?  Is this where the industry evaporates along with the Rocky Mountain News?

The short version of this is that watching newspapers fold one by one is gonna suck.  Change is hard.  It's nobody's fault, and newspapers have been shuttering for a hundred years, so please excuse me if I shed a tear or two.  I mean, I'm still missing the Pittsburgh Press and the Rochester Times Union, from back when there were afternoon papers.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:47 PM

mike doughty! videochick!

This is a brief pimping of my talented peers working in the audiovisual arts.

First, two friends (Tina Fallon!  Rob Barocci!) collaborated on making a music video for the most infectious cut off of Mike Doughty's last album, and you can go watch it here.

And second, because I know that you are secretly watching a whole load of reality TV that you'd never admit to out loud, check out WeTV's VideoChick, who is videologging the holy heck out of some reality on a weekly basis.  She looks familiar...

I probably should describe these folks as friends instead of peers, because they're all a whole lot gooder than I am.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:25 AM

recession sneaks up behind dept of labor

The Yahoo! Headline Box isn't even trying any more:
• New jobless claims rose unexpectedly last week to 667,000

You could quibble over exactly-who's-supposed-to-be-expecting, but generally speaking, it's inconceivable that someone tasked with reporting news to people could be at all surprised by an increase in unemployment statistics at this specific point in history.

Of course, the expectations referred to are probably those of the Department of Labor and various economists, who predict what the number is each week (like this guy), but still -- not the headline you want to hold up as a shining example for all the student copywriters in headline school.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:10 AM

February 25, 2009

dean grose and watermelons

We're approaching the point where news items like this require no set-up and no snarky comment, because they contain sentences like this:
[Los Alamitos Mayor Dean] Grose confirmed to the AP that he sent the e-mail to Price and said he didn't mean to offend her.  He said he was unaware of the racial stereotype that black people like watermelons.

When AP reporters get to write about mayors not knowing anything about racial stereotypes of black people liking watermelons, wiseasses are going get put out of business.

Hell, just AP reporters typing the phrase "black people".

Posted by mrbrent at 5:33 PM

john batchelor probably doesn't know he's ripping off bob kane

This is a sentence from a The Daily Beast essay written by a talk-show host, detailing why the president is not confident or unfit for the job or something like that:
The GOP House members are a randy, sophisticated, energetic lot, and they are eager for the contest with the young Obama administration and the Democratic House leadership.

It made me laugh out loud is why I'm sharing.

Oh, there's all kinds of other twaddle in the piece, putatively about how a shrewd, wizened GOP leadership is already eight steps ahead (though mostly about the numerous anonymous sources of the author, "John Batchelor" if that is in fact his name), which provides all kinds of traction for disagreement, but how am I supposed to focus on that when there is a grownup out there that published this sentence:

The GOP House members are a randy, sophisticated, energetic lot, and they are eager for the contest with the young Obama administration and the Democratic House leadership.

I go too far sometimes with what I write.  For example, if I were to describe GOP House members as "dead-eyed zombie know-nothing status quotients", then I'd be going too far.  They most likely are not the dead risen from the grave.

But I don't think I can ever outdo, "a randy, sophisticated, energetic lot."  I mean, just give me a second to get up off the floor.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:18 PM

jindal kenneth asplosion

I still haven't watched the Bobby Jindal response from last night, but I've read a bunch of reaction to the debate, which is the current equivalent of actually having watched the thing.  Looks like it didn't go so good.

I understand that Jindal is the governor of Louisiana, which probably has a whole lot of citizens that agree with Jindal's mistrust of the federal government, and it probably had a couple more back before a bunch of people drowned in their attics in the Ninth Ward.

Most interesting, though, are the comparisons of Jindal to Kenneth the Page from "30 Rock" (which I also haven't seen) -- am I crazy to think that with one apt dig Jindal's national political future is as dead as Generalissimo Francisco Franco?  Is Jindal/Kenneth reboundable?

I mean, that's worse than being caught with your hand in the hooker jar, in my estimation, and in that of Sen. David Vitter.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:30 AM

February 24, 2009

bobby jindal is the president of the us on planet awkward

So I missed the Not Ready For Prime Time SOTU speechifying, which is okay -- I'm already of the opinion that Obama's got this -- and I also missed the Republican response, which sucks because that one looked like a ton of fun, with GOP decided that making an Obama isn't so hard at all, see?  Just watch: brown guy, nice smile, add hope and... what you get is a marionette reenactment of the president's speech from forty-five minutes ago directed by an angry Mel Brooks.  Totes Palin-Jindal 2012 -- book it!

But at least I get a suggestive and irresistible message from the Yahoo! Headline Box:

• Excessive video game use can cause painful lumps on palms

Finally, something else that causes painful lumps on palms.

Sorry, but if I see a masturbation joke just laying around I'm not going to leave it there until Griz finds it.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:12 PM

i bet "obama's eligibility" is a popular searchphrase

I do wish that concerned patriotic like this one would realize that by bravely going forth with their convict that Kenya has finally achieved its goal of sneaking a natural-born citizen into the Oval Office, they really only serve the purpose of making WorldNetDaily and Drudge Report money.  Nothing wrong with that, if you own WND or DR.  But if you don't, then all the sane people of the planet are pointing/laughing at you, except for the aforementioned owners, who are too busy counting their advertising revenues.

But they'll be more than happy to laugh at you, once this right wing nocturnal emission of a ginned-up nothing scandal (see below) is forgotten in some linty corner of memory.  Your value to them is determined by how many clicks they can get from like-minded insane people and morons like me who are just stopping by to feed the trolls.

Besides, your political beliefs notwithstanding, is Alan Keyes really the company you want to keep?

(In case there is anyone in the world that would accuse me of flippantly dismiss the matter of the complaint, let me say this: the crux of the argument is that the word of Mr Obama, his campaign and the State of Hawaii is not good enough, and that an actual handheld birth certificate is required.  That moves the goalposts of the contention well past flippancy and into L-Ron-Hubbard-made-this-up.  Accordingly, the argument is self-dismissing.)

Posted by mrbrent at 4:43 PM

still trying to make sense of the economy, yes

As Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke provides the backdrop of optimism pulled out of orifice and then qualified to death, NY Times columnist Bob Herbert provides a thought in de-jargonified plain English that tracks most closely with my personal belief:
The U.S. economy cannot work if ordinary men and women cannot find work.  Let’s forget for a moment all the ritualized lingo about tax cuts, all the easy but uninformed talk about entitlement reform and all the empty rhetoric about balancing budgets that will never be truly balanced in our lifetimes.

What Americans need is new employment on a massive scale, and one of the most effective ways to get that started is to invest extraordinary amounts in the nation’s infrastructure, to rebuild America in a way that creates a world-class platform for a sustainable 21st-century economy.

The second paragraph reasonable people can disagree with, I suppose, but I do think that it's an indelible fact that the primary economic problem facing the US in the past generation, stretching back to well before the financial Charybdis we're living through now, is how to ensure that the work-age portion of our 300 million citizens are spending their time in a remunerative fashion.

It's an old saw that the story of the 20th Century is the emergence of a middle class whose prosperity would increase with each generation, but I can't see a logical way around it.  If you replace the middle class with worker-drones whose chance for increased fortune is a function only of improbable bootstrap self-up-pulling, then you've got an unhappy nation, no matter how successful the top portion of your demographics are (whether that means the robber barons or even just the white collars).

You can't have a nation whose success is mitigated by the half of its population living the suck.  (Even ignoring the fact that the profligacy of the vast middle is the fuel drives drives all industries, directly, like consumer electronics, or indirectly, like private jet charters.)

And rebuilding an crumbling infrastructure that could use uncrumbling might not be the best engine to achieve this.  Maybe some industry that does not exist yet would be better suited, like a robot maintenance concern.  But we are in pretty desperate need of an engine.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:12 AM

sean delonas is destroying the newspaper business

I don't know about you guys (in fact, I don't even know you guys), but I work in an office where I'm responsible for some things, but I'm not responsible for all things -- that is to say, I have at least one layer of management over me.

This employment arrangement is a whole lot more common than it is uncommon, so maybe you'll empathize with this: you know how, you know, you're doing your job, and someone a rung down from you on the org chart fails colossally and publicly, and then everyone gets all upset about it?  And not just your fellow employees, but other businesses' employees with whom you're doing business and even to some extent the general public?  But you know what you're doing, so you tell the fail-ee to keep mouth shut and let you take care of it, and you talk to the powers-that-be and reassure them that everything will be taken care of.  And they're a little worried -- not because of you, no, but because they're concerned of a modest snowball effect that could ultimately hurt the bottom line, and so you type up a memo that details your plan of attack, and also argues that the bottom line will be fan, just based on your employer's good name and reputation and the rabid loyalty of your customers.  So they give you the thumbs-up and the pat on the back, and so you go about dealing with the problem, which you're pretty sure can be solved with a big public apology.  (Of course, you're no moron with the sentence-making, so you can even fashion an apology that you won't have to lie to read.)  It's all under control: watch this shot.

And then a couple days pass and then your boss has to come in a sweep up your mess for you.  Which makes you feel impotent and ultimately disrespected.

Wait a minute.  That's kinda exactly what happened to Col Allan, editor-in-chief of the New York Post.  So I guess that makes him Rupert Murdoch's bitch.

And Sean Delonas, to whose account this kerfluffle should be charged, has to my knowledge refrained from comment on this.  Which makes him a coward.  Nothing wrong with being a coward (and maybe he's been instructed to be a coward), but it does mean that you get called a coward.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:46 AM

February 23, 2009


I generally try to keep my more arcane enthusiasms to myself, but, in light of the recent success of Mickey Rourke living his own gimmick, it would be a shame to let pass the opportunity to share this sentence right here:
But if you’ve seen Mr. Rourke in "The Wrestler," or Anthony Quinn in "Requiem for a Heavyweight," or Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront" and wondered if they really coulda been somebody, the answer is: yes, Tito Santana.

It is from a NY Times profile of Tito Santana, who was a mainstay of pro wrestling back in the age of the beer-stained bingo hall and the grandmas who believed that it was real.  Tito got out when the getting is good and is doing just fine, which, in that business, makes him a curiosity.

Nice counter-intuitive profile, and nice little sentence.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:05 PM

give alan keyes his own vh1 show already

Ringing in my head from a weekend's worth of catching up onna news I've got all these what-was-that-about-change-agains, which erupt each time the president does something that the speaker, regardless of political affiliation.  I don't like it.  From the right, it's juvenile gamesmanship, and from the left it's just juvenile.  It's too much like a migraine.  Let's just disagree with the president on the merits and leave arguments over whether he's walking across water or being skipped across the water like a stone for other people whose free time is more cloying.

Let's instead focus on this, which is news that makes me dance like a person who enjoys dancing.  As the rest of the world enjoyed a slow news weekend, dingbat claims that Mr. Obama cannot be president because he has not passed his actual original birth certificate to each U.S. citizen edged closer to the mainstream.

On the one hand, if there's going to be an organized opposition to President Obama, let them be lead by insane people whose paranoia is so fine-tuned that they argue with each other over which voice in their head they should listen to.  President wasn't born here?  President is a USSR sleeper?  President shot JFK?  That's great.  Have some fries with that.

And on the other hand, any movement which becomes popularized because of the leadership of Alan Keyes is a movement that I want a poster of on my bedroom wall.  In politics, you have to do a lot to become so marginalized that you are irredeemable as anything but a cheap punchline, and that lot is something that Alan Keyes has done.  It'd be customary to farm a bunch of links to Alan Keyes' slow crawl beneath contempt, but I'd rather watch the Oscars.  The Oscars.  Alan Keyes is a man-sized box of crazy.  Alan Keyes hasn't said a single reasonable thing in eight years.

Either way, I win.  But still, please keep Alan Keyes in my news.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:06 AM

like a high school drop-out in a coal mine

After a weekend of economy doom and gloom from all sides, the Yahoo! Box of Headlines decides to see your doom and gloom, and raise you a little more gloom:
• Backlogs grow for GED classes as more Americans lose jobs

I think everyone knew that this negative economic transition might have ill effects, but not even our high-school drop-outs are safe?  It's either that or it's so bad out there that a bunch of people think that a second high school degree might improve their employment opportunities.

Either way, I'm keeping my high school degree right here, with me at all times, safe from all these diploma-seekers.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:00 AM