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March 7, 2009

sad answers to orphan questions 3.7.09

A brief sad answer to an orphan question, as I answer the question implied by a referring link left in my stats.  From earlier this week:
thomas frank is a joke

First of all, that's not a question, but we'll treat it like one for the purposes hereof.  (Maybe the link-follower is not trying to uncover something but rather troll up websites with slander?)

I've never met Mr Frank, he of The Baffler and currently the token sane person writing for the Wall Street Journal, so I can't vouch for him personally.  Is he a joke?  Is any of us a joke?  The intrinsic value of a person is some pretty high weeds, and even those I despise I wouldn't say are a "joke" -- there's room in the great grand scheme of things for even the loathsome.  So I'd have to say that Thomas Frank is not a joke.  It's possible that that he could be a joke attempted by the WSJ, parodying those no-sense liberals who refuse to swallow for the free market, but if so, it's not a very good parody, because he makes more sense that everyone else in the rest of the paper.

Sorry another windy answer (as usual).  Here's a short version:  Actually, no: your mom is a joke.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:00 AM

March 6, 2009

rush limbaugh: just an asshole

As long as "when is it appropriate to be a dick" is a theme I'm mining for the nonce, let's just set this goalpost: if a national radio personality who is not at all the putative head of the Republican party is to say the following into a live mic:
Before it's all over, it'll be called the Ted Kennedy Memorial Health Care bill.

Well, then I'd say any reasonable person is more than entitled to call this radio personality a jerk or a creep or a person unlikely to be admired or a sayer of unkind things or a poster child for millionaires cynically enriched by forced scandal or Cruella the Hutt or an everything-wrong-with-this-country or God-cries-when-you-open-your-mouth or Dr. Mobility Chair or How's-That-MNF-Gig? or even a fat old broken-down drug-addict lowlife asshole.

I think we can all agree on this one.  There's not-quite-funny, then there's outright-not-funny and then there's invoking someone's glioblastoma multiforme because you think it's fucking cute.  Well I know a thing or two about glioblastoma multiforme and there's not a fucking thing funny about it -- I wouldn't wish it on strangers; I wouldn't even wish it on Rush fucking Limbaugh.

Smiling children on their way to Sunday School should be calling this piece of shit an asshole to his face.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:58 PM

that's not what i meant

In the novel interest of being perfectly clear, in the post from yesterday in which I used a link to a post by Emily Gould as an excuse to be a dick while vocalizing my desire to not be a dick, let me say that I was not intending for my speciousness to extend to my appraisal of Gould's post.  I actually did like the post very much, and it did get me to thinking about the Golden e-Rule and such.  It's just that I landed in a place that left me still acting like a dick.

In other words, her post was not one of the things I was trying to be a dick about.  I just placed it too near other things I was being a dick about, so I might've created an incorrect impression.  And now I'm concerned that I am perpetuating the incorrect impression instead of killing it.  It's a loop!

It's one of those thoughts that hit you when you're nowhere near a computer, like when you're in orbit or on the sea floor.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:29 PM


Here's a small article that you may have missed yesterday, discussing how the current economic foofaraw is affecting our great American post-graduate economics programs, that made me want to spend the next two years finalizing study of macroeconomics.  Because I always thought that Milton Friedman had killed John Maynard Keynes in a duel -- totally wrong!  He actually just cut the brakes in his car.

You might find the piece interesting too, if you're the kind of person who has crammed in the past six months to learn enough about macroeconomics to know exactly how much you don't know about macroeconomics.

The good news: even the economists don't really know that much about economics:

When it comes to the financial crisis Dani Rodrick, an economist at Harvard, said, "The problem wasn’t with the economics but with the economists."  Theories and models are tools, but "we have fixated on one of the possible hundreds of models and elevated that above the others," he said, referring to free market theory.  "We form a narrative of the moment, which fits the zeitgeist."

And it is the imprecision of these sciences that are a distillation of what-happened-so-far that makes them so much fun.

(And yes I'm cherry-picking the pullquote, demonstrating the power of the free market of my attention.)

Posted by mrbrent at 8:00 AM

March 5, 2009

wherein i reconsider my churlish ways

Dammit, I read this very thoughtful consideration and got all like, man, I should maybe be more careful with calling everyone an asshole all the time.  Because I really do call people asshole an awful lot.  I mean, a part of it is the mission of the website/the definition of "titivil" (which I will post here someday, all couple thousand words of it, I swear), but also it's just more fun.  It is more fun to to watch Jon Stewart school CNBC than it is to watch Anderson Cooper, you know, anchor something.  Cooper seems a talented newsman, but his job description doesn't entail calling out hypocrites.  Stewart's does; Stewart wins.  And it is more fun to write about an ethical lapse, a poorly-chosen but apt word, than it is about the heroes or the clear thinkers of the world.  Once the outrage machine gets turned on you got to let it out, because it's certainly nicer to turn the other cheek but if no one remarks on the outrage, how can we be sure the outrage happened?  But then again let's say I'm not me but a representative from Minnesota, and let's say I do demonstrably stupid things all the time, so people write about me doing these stupid things.  Do I feel good about the things people write?  Do I enjoy being called an "insane crazy person", or "batshit", or "Michele Bachmann"?  No, I don't, and I may well have some children at home, or at least a cat, in whose face(s) I have to look every evening and try not to burst into tears because I am so laden with the fact that someone out there, that more than one someone out there, thinks I'm dumb and makes fun of me.  Would I want to be in the position to emotionally scar my children and/or cat like that?

No, I wouldn't.

So I should really try to be a little more deliberate, a little more thoughtful in the future.

For example, one person that I've written mean things about is writer Lee Siegel -- not so much because of his sock-puppetry, but because of his pompous defensiveness of said transgression.  I've never met Siegel, and I have no knowledge of him as a person.  He could be the very picture of generosity, grace and forbearance, a true gentleman that deserves slings and arrows not even a little bit.  So should I drag his good name through the mud?  And when I do so against my better nature, does that make me feel better, like a big man?

So when Siegel writes something objectionable, I need to learn to hold my tongue.  Find something nice to say.  Like for example, this story in the Daily Beast, in which Siegel decides that the heroism of one of the victims of the Florida boating mishap somehow derogates from the heroism of Capt. Sullenberg of US Airways Flight 1549 -- it'd be easy to talk about how the impulse to force moral relativism over two different non-related events is shrewd and makes for a good hook, but is actually a bit dickish.  Instead, I should opt for something more positive, like, "That's one well-punctuated bit opinion piece, no joke."

I just want to be more careful in the future.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:55 PM

welcome to ayn rand daze!

Reference to Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" are unusually thick and heavy this week, which is odd.  I understand that Objectivists will cling to Rand/"AS"/Galt like I cling to the Replacements, but current economic circumstance seems to be clearly the result of Objectivist principles, like a whole bunch of heroic figures just productively-achieved us right into a depression.

Well, I do understand those with posters of Rand in their bedrooms take some solace in the actual plot of "Atlas Shrugged", as related by this item:

In Rand’s novel, creative people (the “Atlases” of the title) are hounded and punished for their labor by an oppressive, socialistic state.  In response, they retreat from society to a hidden enclave where they watch civilization’s slow collapse.

See now, I never really read the book -- gag reflex problem -- but I thought the plot was more like, "A secret society of entitled self-involved greedhead assholes steals the resources of an entire nation to build a gigantic treehouse in which the members can keep each other warm solely by virtue of their own talent and will, free from the prying eyes of the feelings-hurty and newly-destitute world-at-large."

I guess I got that wrong.

I know I'm kind of a jerk for not having read it, but you know, my happiness is my highest moral purpose, and unless that novel ends with a gigantic murder/suicide party, then I'm not sure how I, or the gene pool, could be happy.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:30 PM

i would debate rush limbaugh, if i weren't a coward

I'm starting to worry that my capacity for outrage is on the fritz.  Ordinarily, the gradual escalation of the conflict between the popularity of Rush Limbaugh vs. the leadership qualities of Rush Limbaugh would be a reason to get out of bed in the morning and keep me happily cracking-wise for hours on end.

And then there would be the bit where I'd pull the old trick where I'd challenge Limbaugh to a face-to-face debate, even though his audience outnumbers mine by an order of magnitude, so that either he accepts and I get the status-elevation, or he doesn't and I can call him a coward or whatever.  I win both ways!

Though let's be honest -- that would be a playground tactic utterly transparent in motive that has no place in a grown-up conversation.  Who would think that they could get away with that?

Maybe it's not me at all.  Maybe it's that Limbaugh isn't even trying anymore.  He's phoning it in, perched precariously on a stack of money.  This is what happens when our blowhards are overcompensated.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:40 AM

more twitter

Josh Marshall of TPM, which I just won't shut up about, posted that he'd given in to the gravitational pull of technology and set himself up a Twitter account.  And I did have to think about it for a second -- there's a whole lot of ubiquitous on Twitter (mostly a week or two old).  And the nastier secret is that as feeds get swarmed by hundreds of thousands of followers, the "social" evaporates from the social app and all of a sudden you're just watching TV like you have been all your life.

But it's Josh Marshall, so my admiration outweighs my misgivings and I decide to follow.  He did not hyperlink his feed, so I had to search his username to find it.  However, search brings up not just his account, but a lot of tweets directed at him.  And I don't want to repeat them, out of niceness, but that is some nerd-ass shit out there.  "Greetings"?  Sorry, but don't say, "Greetings," unless you're trying to make fun of people who say, "Greetings."

Of course this is followed by, "Oh fuck, am I one of these anonymous nerds too?  Do strangers stumble across things I write, judge it poorly and then hope to not be grouped in with me?"

Yeah, it's been that kind of week, and I blame Twitter entirely, which is demonstrating that you don't get to be everything right about the Internet until you are also everything wrong about the Internet.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:12 AM

March 4, 2009


Finally a term has been coined to describe that small portion of the population that believe that the State of Hawaii was paid off by Obama's Ruskie handlers in order to bribe them into withholding evidence that the president was actually born on the moon and therefore ineligible to be chief executive of these states, or any other.  This term is "the Birthers".  Very clever how closely the term rhymes with the Birchers, as I'm sure there's a high percentage of double membership between the two.  Maybe they could share offices or something.

A quick Google reveals that the term is by no means new, which is par for the course with regards to my cultural awareness.  So that word "finally" up at the top should be read in the context of my personal body of knowledge and not the public-at-large's.

But I'm glad to hear of it -- I was getting tired of having to think of clever new synonyms for "batshit insane people" every time I'd write about them.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:26 PM

charles stross on black swans

Yet another smart guy writing a long smart thing about the tomorrows to come -- this time, author Charles Stross with an unprovoked FAQ on his blog concerning the coming 91 years.

The predictions are a little less alarming than some others I've read -- a straight-line progression as the planet's population becomes more urban as the tide of ecological changes pools around our ankles, and a little pooh-poohing of standard sci-fi expectations, like space colonization and Singularities and jet-packs and flux capacitors.  My favorite is his discussion of the unpredictable:

From the point of view of an observer in 1909, the modern consumer electronics industry (not to mention computing and internetworking) is a black swan, a radical departure from the then-predictable revolutionary enabling technologies (automobiles and aeroplanes).  Planes, trains and automobiles were already present, and progressed remarkably well —- and a smart mind in 1909 would have predicted this.  But antibiotics, communication satellites, and nuclear weapons were another matter. Some of these items were mentioned, in very approximate form, by 1909-era futurists, but for the most part they took the world by surprise.

We're certainly going to see unknown unknowns in the 21st century.  Possible sources of existential surprise include (but are not limited to) biotechnology, nanotechnology, AI, climate change, supply chain/logistics breakthroughs to rival the shipping container, fork lift pallet, bar code, and RFID chip —- and politics.  But there'll be other stuff so weird and strange I can't even guess at it.

It may come with the trade, but that's a nice job framing out the things that will happen that we can't expect.  Which is the real meat of any good prediction -- apprehending the incomprehensible.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:49 PM

just another asteroid near-miss

It's good that they announce events like this one in retrospect, because it's much harder to start your end-of-the-world cult and move them into a cave full of ammunition and cases of Pepsi Twist a week after the asteroid misses us than it is a week before.  Why, doing so a week before is a lead pipe cinch!

This passage from the story linked above is notable for two reasons:

The space ball measured between 69 feet and 154 feet in diameter.  The Planetary Society said that made it the same size as an asteroid that exploded over Siberia in 1908 and leveled more than 800 square miles of forest.

First of all, nice to see "space ball" enter the common parlance.

And second, I missed that point in history when an asteroid strike went from a leading Tunguska theory to the verified truth.  I'm still holding out for "unexplained", because I think it makes for better science.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:44 AM

michael steele cannot escape michael steele

I've been a big fan of Michael Steele the concept.  Not just that the Republican National Committee would elect a man to lead them whose greatest victory was the Lieutenant Governorship of the State of Maryland -- no, that's why I'm a big fan of the RNC -- but rather the projected persona, the idealized Michael Steele that physical manifestations of Michael Steele are the shadow of.

Such a refreshment!  He is full of unformed ambition and unfettered opportunism.  He is confident and gives the impression of geniality -- the petty and cruel bullying that would match his rhetoric just isn't there in his manner.  Willing to exploit not only (to the point of "shuckin' and jivin') his race but also his affection for Boston Terriers.  He's a perfect construct for right now -- the appearance of vague competence, the urge to accomplish something, whatever that thing happens to be.

Oh, I wouldn't trust him for high office, or for low office, but Steele is a bold new flavor in statesmanship, and credit must be given for that.

And then time happened, and the role of clownish Republican fit Steele like a glove.  Daily, it seemed.  But then the hits, they didn't stop coming.  And now when I see another item of Steele stuck in an elevator with Rush Limbaugh, or Steele working on the chocolate factory assembly line and the chocolates keep coming faster and faster so he starts to eat some and it gets all over his face! -- and the thrill is gone.  It's like he's doing it on purpose, like he thinks that if he can humanize himself through repeated failure then people will feel sorry enough for him to like him.  He even convinced mouth-foamingly-crazy Rep. Michele Bachmann to demonstrate that everything she knows about black people she learned from watching 1980s TV, and still... if I'd known that they were in the same room, I'd lay odds that something like that would happen.

And now there is another skeleton in Steele's closet, and it's starting to look as if his tenure will be unnaturally short.  Michael Steele has taken all the fun out of making fun of Michael Steele.

And now I affect ennui.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:25 AM

March 3, 2009

tpm est arrive

I've been a fan of Talking Points Memo and its associated ventures for long enough that I don't feel awkward in congratulating Josh Marshall and his crew for finally having made the big time.

It's no small achievement, being McCarthyized into something that good patriot children check under their beds for.  Hopefully the accolades will be commensurate with the ignominy.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:17 PM

the weekly "david brooks politely said what?" post

I, like everyone else, thought that David Brooks' column this morning was a load of hooey.  In it, he prattles on about how the great American middle -- moderates on each side of the aisle -- are disappointed with President Obama because of his "liberalism", because of his failure to compromise in his proposals to save the universe from economic collapse.

First of all, the column reads like a sad lament for bipartisanship, which should immediately qualify Mr Brooks for a "pity the fool".  But, another rejection of the piece -- this time by fellow-moderate Joe Klein -- raises a looming issue, so we will press on.  Mr Klein's thoughts:

But I disagree with [Brooks] profoundly about the Obama budget -- and so, I would venture, do most moderate-liberals.  The budget has to be seen in context.  We are at the end of a 30-year period of radical conservatism, a period so right-wing that many of those now considered "liberals" -- like, say, Barack Obama -- would be seen as moderate pantywaists in the great sweep of modern political history.  The past 30 years have been such a violent departure from the norm, such a profound destruction of the basic functions of government, that a major rectification is called for now -- in rebalancing the system of taxation toward progressivity, in rebuilding the infrastructure of the country, not just physically, but also socially and intellectually.

I'm no moderate nothing, but I say that's an excellent point on why now is not the time for the middle: the President's proposal, in a long-term context, is not as liberal as one could be lead to believe if one is the type to throw a Chicago Tea Party with four or five friends.  It's restoring policies to where they were a decade ago.  It's a reset back to the middle.

But the better point made is that of the 30 years of profound destruction of the capabilities of government, the 30 years of empowering the powerful while punishing the poor.  I hesitate to accuse this without a little more diligence, but I suspect that it could be argued that this is not the George Bush recession/depression, but the Ronald Reagan recession/depression, which would drive an entire political party insane to hear.  Maybe someone should look into that.

It just goes to show how we can all be friends some day.  Well, at least me and Joe Klein.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:28 PM

releasing anti-liberty memos is destroying liberty

You would think that the actions recommended by the old Office of Legal Counsel memos, released yesterday by the Department of Justice, including abrogating the Posse Comitatus Act, trashing the Fourth Amendment and ignoring Congressional oversight, would represent a very near moment for the Black Helicopter branch of the right wing, as some of their more familiar bêtes noires are duplicated in these recommendations.  Jackbooted thugs interfering with private Americans!  Implicit martial law!  You would think that because it makes a certain amount of sense.

But it is not the case.  In fact, the right wing response (as evidenced by this collection of Freeper comments) is a whipsaw reversal of the underlining logic, accusing the Obama Administration of treason-y things for committing the sin of transparency.

There are some "socialist plot" comments, and even one or two "he'll get his" comments, which I think are kinda against the law?  But for my purposes, the best comment is this, in which the Yoo memos are rubber and Obama is glue:

On a more serious note, I think that these moves by the illegal 0bamunist regime are specifically intended to provoke a radical response from conservatives, and I would say they are hoping to precisely trigger one or more maniacs (and we've got some at our end of the political spectrum, there's no denying that) into doing something violent which would then provide justification for invoking all of those executive orders which are on the shelf, ready for use, martial law is declared, and all the rest of that noise.

The implication being that the White House is releasing these memos so that good-hearted Americans will take to the streets in outrage, and then the White House will invoke the powers outlined in the memos.  To analogize, The fiendish plot to take over the world is only being brought to public attention so that the revealer can trick the world into being taken over by the revealer.

One the one hand, it's a classic example of the right wing tactic of feverishly accusing an ideological opponent of one's own baser motive, but, on the other hand, it's as dumb as a can of Pepsi.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:35 AM

sam-joe the plumber-patriot-hero

This review of "Joe The Plumber: Fighting For The American Dream" by Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, written by Joseph A. Palermo, is something you probably should read.  It might be your reflex to dismiss this book as a bit of quick-buck red meat for the knuckle-draggers, but Mr Palermo -- or, should I say, Professor Palermo -- eschews such childishness for a reasoned and academic consideration of thoughts of Mr Wurzelbacher, as evinced by the words that someone wrote for him:
Wurzelbacher consciously expands on the work of F.A. Hayek, one of the leading conservative intellectuals of the twentieth century, by examining the fragility of civil society in the face of contending expressions of "socialism."  "The greatness of our nation can more easily be undone than you might expect. Many great nations in history have unraveled before and it will happen again." (p. 47)  This Wurzelbacherian historicism is replete with layers of multifaceted and revelatory observations that only someone elbow deep in the work of a humble plumber could contemplate.

It is the only review of this book necessary.

This should not prevent further reviews and criticisms of the launch of Joe-The-Plumber-Brand merchandise line to be written in the future.  After all, that's what certain media are for -- rushing to stand in a circle and point at a thing, until the next pointable thing happens.  But see that, waaay up there?  That's the bar.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:28 AM

March 2, 2009

sterling on 2.0 and other things I always wondered what meant

I'm stretching my navel-gazing to include these new media that I'm soaking in.  Bruce Sterling, who I feel like I can stop explaining is an author and smart guy, gave an address at Webstock 09, which apparently took place in New Zealand.  In the speech he gave Sterling says so many thoughtful and/or -provoking things about our relationship with this technology which tribbled our lives that it's tempting just to pullquote all fifteen thousand words and then call it a day.

Which I will not do, because I may be an asshole, but I'm not that kind of asshole.  My personal highlight, referencing (at the beginning) one of the tenets of "Web 2.0":

Blogs -- "participation not publishing."  Okay, I love my blog.  Mostly because there's never been any damn participation in it.  My blog has outlived 94 percent of all blogs every created.  I've got an ancient turtle of a blog.

I may also have one of the last blogs surviving in the future, because the rest were held together with duct tape and attitude.  Try going around looking for a weblog now that is literally a log of some guy's websurfing activities.  Most things we call "blogs" are not "weblogs" any more.

Even MY ancient writer-style blog isn't quite a weblog.  My blog isn't participatory, but it's got embedded videos, FlickR photos, links to MP3s.

You can go read my blog from four years ago. Five years ago. Still sitting there in the server.  Absolutely consumed with link-rot.  I'm blogged to stuff that has vanished into the ether, it's gone into 404land.  It had "granular addressibility," just like Tim [O'Reilly, "Web 2.0" coiner] recommends here, but those granules were blown away on the burning solar wind.

That little portion is somewhat tangential to Sterling's greater point, but it struck a chord with me, just for all those long lonely nights that I stayed up thinking, "If I'm not 2.0, will anyone like me?"  (Cf. duration of various online presences, presence of comments, etc.)

This phenomena of giving serious thought to media while I'm using them in a substantial (in media res, as it were) and significant manner is a new one to me.  It's not the science that my brain is wired for.  But, I do find it fascinating.  And whether you agree or disagree with Sterling, remember that in the late 40s, it was not fifty million people that were shaping the future of television because of their use -- it was a laboratory full of scientists and a conference room full of suits.  So, whether you're developing iPhone apps for beer money or just Twittering for the social background noise, you are history as it happens.  This "participation" may be the stickiest of the 2.0 memes, and the most inadvertently accurate.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:07 PM

censoring doonesbury for old times' sake

When I see a story about how "Doonesbury" was censored by the Washington Post, I can't help but think that it's 1979 again.

Somehow lucking into being a fan of "Doonesbury" by 1979, when I wasn't really old enough to understand the objects of parody (while fully understanding that something was getting the shit parodied out of it), was pretty much the sole basis of my precociousness.  Much to dismay of teachers, etc.

Actually, has there been a big critical assessment/celebration of the thirty-five year career of Garry Trudeau yet?  If not, he's overdue.  He's as much of a godfather of snark as Spy Magazine, in my books.  Withering cultural/political awareness, decidedly left-leaning, willingness to hurt feelings -- Trudeau had (has) all that, and he was definitely a big enough blip on the radar to have had an effect.  Maybe once this whole depression thing is over.

Oh, and the Washington Post did eventually post (with a mea culpa) the strips they withheld, so they were only cowards for forty-eight hours.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:58 AM

March 1, 2009

bobby jindal likes his brand new shovel

Remember: even if Gov. Bobby Jindal's anecdote was not LIES ALL LIES, it was still a stupid anecdote.

The gist of it would be: "So there's this time that I heroically braved arrest by insurance companies so that me and a sheriff could take a bunch of boats to go save people from drowning in their own attics for reasons I shouldn't get into here.  So President Obama is wrong!  And I hope I can expect your support in three years."

That's not a substantive argument against the stimulus package just passed, for a Jindal administration or even for "small government" -- generally speaking, it is not the size of the government that is stopping governors from using boats to rescue people.  Nor is the Boat Problem a problem facing our nation, or even incidental to any problem of our nation.  Right now our problem is that the economy is collapsing because of the confluence of the financial industry gaming the system to be a perpetual profit machine and a government more than happy to let them do so.  "Small government" may be a swell pick-up line at the places where neocons hang out, but it's got sexiness with rank and file citizens, who are much more worried about their continued ability to pay the bills.

If anything, it's an argument against the insurance industry.

Of course, this is all based on the hypothesis that Jindal was above stretching an anecdote to position himself as some kind of hero for our times -- which he might still be, to the mendacious.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:15 AM