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March 21, 2009

support your local independent bookstore

OK, then, let's make this a day of cheerleading -- please visit this post by The Millions detailing a walking tour of independent bookstores located here in New York City.  (Still weird, after all these months, to type "New York City" and then realize I live there.)  The walking tour does not pretend to be comprehensive, so feel free to construct your own walking tour, especially in the everywhere-else that is not NYC.  For example, around these parts, I suggest this place, or this one.

I think it's safe to assume that the majority of visitors to this site are book people, and as a book person myself, I know it's easy to let a year past without visiting and supporting one of your local independents.  The indies are petri dishes of culture, and incubators of the next generation of excellent people.

So beat feet and bring a few dollars with you.  Consider it not a chore.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:19 PM

do what eddie vedder says right now

Last night I was sitting in one of the scary old man bars in Hell's Kitchen, watching some NCAA while waiting for a friend's bus to get into Port Authority, and Pearl Jam's "Spin The Black Circle" came on the jukebox -- the music was blaring -- and I thought to myself, "Hey now, that's a pretty good song, especially played very loud.  Maybe it's time for the critical reevaluation of the Pearl Jam."

And then this afternoon I see (via LargeHeartedBoy) that Eddie Vedder has posted a plea on the Pearl Jam website to help save indie comic strips:

Cartoons are a great deal for alt-weeklies: they provide some of the least expensive and yet most popular content.  Many times you have picked up Seattle Weekly, the Village Voice, Minneapolis City Pages or LA Weekly –- just some of the Voice Media [who suspended all comics in January] papers -– and turned right to the cartoon section.  Now that has vanished.

The only way this vital artwork will return is through a sustained outcry from readers.  We have to tell editors at our local alternative weeklies that we don’t want them to suspend cartoons; if they already have, we want them brought back.

I don't know about you, but synchronicity wins!  An entire generation of independent comic strippers are being whittled out of business by the slow sad death of American free weeklies, whether it's Tom Tomorrow, Ruben Bolling or Derf.  I'm gonna do what Eddie Vedder says -- email form to the executive editor of Village Voice Media is here.

Also, I apologize for those years in between when I liked Pearl Jam and then re-liked Pearl Jam.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:18 PM

March 20, 2009

george galloway: back, but not near you

Canada has unilaterally decided that British MP George Galloway ('member him?  the anti-war dude?) was far too dangerous to be admitted across the border, because, you know, he says things sometimes.

It's very cute when the Stephen Harper (who some good folk, like this one, think is a dick) led-goverment realizes that if it's going to be a big-boy country like George Bush's America then it needs some big-time assault on civil liberties and good sense.  But nothing gives the old career a boost like being banned from entering Canada.  Expect Canadian sales of Galloway-written works to match that of "Atlas Shrugged" even.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:50 PM

interesting times

I'm starting to feel bad for having invoked pitchforks and torches all those times.  No, it's not just you that's wondering if this frothing sea of outrage might evince itself in some more immediate, palpable fashion -- it's also author John Robb:
The motivation for small group violence will be based to the idea that financial companies will be depicted as the "betrayers" behind the rapid diminishment of "America."  Actual, rather than threatened, violence will likely become commonplace as the depth and scale of the crisis becomes apparent in 2010.

Robb normally thinks/writes about 21st Century security threats and tactics on a global level -- he's the dude that helped learn me what "asymmetrical warfare" was and why it's a very now thing indeed.  So to see Robb turning his gaze to the home fires, well that's some sobering shit, huh?

Posted by mrbrent at 11:41 AM

i didn't know there was bowling in the special olympics

It's no shock that the president comparing himself to the Special Olympics w/r/t his bowling acumen would cause a certain flushing of cheeks and shortness of breath -- Americans are rediscovering the healing power of outrage, and once you start you just can't stop.  Though, having lived through the early 90s, I gotta say that this is one part that I hoped wouldn't come back.

Actually, now that I think about it, if you were a certain doughy millionaire demagogue who is on the record with the belief that people who say politically incorrect things will be rounded up and held in interment camps, then should this doughy millionaire applaud the president for his willingness to say the inappropriate thing, maybe contribute a few offhand references to the differently-abled of his own?  Maybe put some money where his clowny-clown-ass mouth is?

(For the record, Special Olympics bowlers aren't special because they're preternaturally good at bowling, but those are your panties twisting and not mine, so go with God.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:41 AM

March 19, 2009

a new way to get sued

In my ongoing consideration about whether to redesign this little website in order to have a more visual element, this story of an organization I frequently link to getting trigger-happy with DMCA takedown letters concerning photographs leans me back to the words-only option.

I like to look as snazzy as the next guy, but the words thing I'm fairly comfortable with.  All the not-words disciplines, I'm two left-thumbs.  And if I'm gonna get a lawyerly letter for something appearing here, I'd rather it be for something more interesting than a photo of Tim Geithner or whatever.

Also, New York Times: not for nothing, but the black hat is awful hard to take off once you slap it on and square the brim.  Just saying, is all.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:44 PM

how to solve the aig contractual obligation problem

One of the puzzling problems raised by the AIG Bonus Kerfluffle is this -- how exactly could these bonuses not been paid, or clawed back, as it were, if there were fully-signed agreements that provided for these bonuses?  This problem is being chewed over by our best and brightest.  A good example of the mastication is this Slate column.  It is a good example because it is clumsy and awkward, as the columnist tries to cram in a text-book's worth contract law before deadline.

Though I work in the legal industries, I never went to law school, and I've never taken the bar of any state.  But, from practical experience, there are two relatively direct ways to achieve a goal not contemplated by a written agreement.  First, you get the parties to the agreement to sign a written instrument agreeing to modify the agreement.  Alternately, you do what the big boys do and you freaking break the contract in the bald light of day and let the litigation commence.  It's really that easy.  Parsing contract law in advance for a sneaky justification might be useful in anticipation of breaking the contract, but you know what's more useful?  Hiring lawyers to devise your defense.

(Yes, I'm simplifying this terribly; it's my nature.  But I think my point -- second-guessing the AIG employment agreements as a hobby is a waste of time -- survives the simplification.)

I guess this is why the "sanctity of written contracts" argument turns my stomach -- it's a cynical elevation of a legal practice to dogma, when the practice actually has many real-world workarounds.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:32 AM

stick figure aliens!

I would be remiss not to share the latest spate of humanoid paranormal videos that will be making the rounds.  The two videos depict maybe the only bipeds on the planet that are not incensed about the AIG bonuses.  For that reason, and other intrinsic reasons, they're spooky!

They are no creepy gnomes, but there may be room in my heart for an elf or two as well.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:37 AM

aig: next scene

It is still tempting to continue to cite those with whom I do not agree as they vigorously defend the right of AIG to use a portion of their bail-out money to pay a lotta millions of dollars in bonuses.  Like Glenn Beck!  Or Rushbo!  Or even Dana Perino, who is a dummy!

But, I'm not sure what the utility is in wallowing in this topic too much.  Not that executive compensation is not a topic worthy of a vigorous public debate -- few topics are more worthy -- I just worry that this would be putting the cart before the horse.  AIG weaseling bonuses when no one was looking has little to do with How We Got Into This Mess In The First Place!, and even less to do with whether or not our current solutions are the right thing or the wrong thing.

Sadly, the everybodys of the world have discovered that this Kerfluffle is a very convenient handle,enabling them to take and carry their outrage with them wherever they go.  I can't blame them -- it's fun to hate on the fat cats who play fiddle with trillion dollar bills while Rome burns!  But now the big questions, the heavy lifting, will have to wait until some new bright shiny thing redistracts everyone.

My frustration with the life-span of this topic is not a function of my attention span, I swear.  Also, odds that the universe will agree with me and kill this topic are about a whole lot to one.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:35 AM

March 18, 2009

laurence wilkerson speaking plainly

"MUST-READ" gets tossed around a little too easily today, but in case the Nerf-batting of Edward Liddy on Capitol Hill pushes it off the radar, you very certainly should read this essay by Colin Powell's Chief of Staff in the State Department from back in the first term of the Bush Administration, Laurence Wilkerson, who discusses the many elements of the detainment of "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay that are generally unknown to the general public.

Pretty much any paragraph from the piece could serve as a healthy taste to whet your interest (hence the must-readability), but I choose this as the money:

In addition, it has never come to my attention in any persuasive way -- from classified information or otherwise -- that any intelligence of significance was gained from any of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay other than from the handful of undisputed ring leaders and their companions, clearly no more than a dozen or two of the detainees, and even their alleged contribution of hard, actionable intelligence is intensely disputed in the relevant communities such as intelligence and law enforcement.

This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric -- continuing even now in the case of Cheney -- about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation and for secret prisons and places such as GITMO.

That's a pretty black and white statement from a dude in the position to know.

And of less import, but maybe as much interest: this essay is about as clear a signal as anything that Wilkerson's former boss, Colin Powell, would like Dick Cheney to know that IT IS ON.  I'd hope that it wouldn't take that to sexy up a truly revelatory piece of work for me, but it's difficult to not enjoy Dick Cheney getting taken out to the woodshed.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:16 PM

why, jesus would kick that shitbird's ass down the road to shelbyville

Buried in a chillingly 2009 story of a community rebelling against the presence of a convicted child killer on parole is another example of life among the faithful:
"The reverend [and harborer of the parolee] keeps touting this as a Christian thing to do," [local woman] said of Mr. Pinckney, pastor of River of Grace Church, an evangelical congregation in Concord.  "But I’m Christian, too, and I don’t agree that he should put us at risk without even having asked."

My, that's a big "but" she has there, isn't it?

Of course, in troubled times like these, religious conviction extends only the length of your arm, and charity is contingent on installing new locks.

I'm not making fun of her for being leery of a convicted criminal in her midst; that's a sticky one.  I'm just highlighting the ways in which her behavior is or is not Christ-like.  I redacted her name because I almost feel bad about the whole thing.  And I would feel bad, too, if it weren't for that "you own your words" thing.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:16 AM

ruth marcus is a hero, you dirty socialists

I do believe I could spend a month of Sundays just sputtering -- sputtering, I say -- with rage every time someone of the chattering class sticks out their neck to explain to us poors why the AIG bonuses are good and right.  Heck, I do believe that I could do so every time I hear a plain old guy on the corner doing, but for the fact that there are no such plain old guys guys.

Hey, here's a chatterer, the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus, doing just so!  Let's pick some cherries!

I get the outrage.  It's galling to pay $165 million to a bunch of wealthy traders to clean up a mess that they, or at least their company, made.

I get the rhetorical tactic.  It's galling to characterize a sizable amount of bonuses as pay for prospective work rather than rewards for running the entire company through a wood chipper.

In the longer term, having the government void existing contracts, directly or indirectly, as with the suggestions of a punitive tax on such bonuses, will make enterprises less likely to enter into arrangements with the government -- even when that is in the national interest.  This is similarly counterproductive.

Counterproductive?  Because the government might intimidate them into choosing bankruptcy over no-strings-attached money?  Or because it calls attention to the metaphorical gun they are holding to the Fed's head, being too big to fail and all?

If an autoworker doesn't want to show up on the assembly line under the terms of a new deal, he or she doesn't have to.  That's different from telling AIG employees they're not getting the amount on which they agreed for work they've already performed.

That's also different from telling a retiree that their agreed-upon pension benefits will be cut because their former employer reorganized purely for the purpose of dumping said pension obligations on the government.  Isn't it?  Can't we at least agree on the differences?

I'm not so good at prognostication, but it seems that the issues being raised are issues that probably should have been talked about years ago, before they were ironed into the fabric of society as the status quo.  And maybe something good will come of it.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:40 AM

March 17, 2009

halifaxians do the craziest things

Do I miss being in Canada?  Yes I do.
A Halifax bus driver will be suspended with pay while Metro Transit investigates why he jumped out of his bus and used a stick to beat a toy seal being used as a prop by anti-seal hunt protesters.

I wasn't exactly in Nova Scotia, but I swear that every bus driver I saw in Montreal was crazy-eyed and on the look-out -- at the time, I did not know for what.

(As long as I mention Montreal, let me heavily recommend the excellent Les Trois Petits Bouchon.  They kick all kinds of ass, with deliciousness.)

Posted by mrbrent at 5:19 PM

cheney! gibbs! pox! houses!

Compare and contrast:

The former vice president not only lapses into his predictable loop of how any not-Cheney policy will hug terrorists but also repeats claims that Iraq was training terrorists and making some good WMDs.

Then Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs answers questions about Cheney less than deferentially, and ends the world for WH reporters like Chip Reid and Chuck Todd

I don't want to get into the "MSM is Biased!!!" screed, because that argument is too shrill even for me.  Plus also it's a little bit boring.  Sadly.  But: Cheney started it by breaking the "Thou shalt not diss the current administration" rule.  So he's wrong, and no one us surprised!  And there's no way Gibbs should be required to legitimize Cheney's crack-ass remarks with anything like sober discussion -- "changing the tone" does not mean "tie hands behind back".  So Gibbs is right!

(And yeah, Reid and Todd are kinda tools for their wailing -- but it's a free country, and I'm guilty of everything myself at one point or another.)

Posted by mrbrent at 2:45 PM

hopefully, for andrew ross sorkin, the check is in the mail

The NYT's Andrew Ross Sorkin takes one for the team, creeping out on not the sturdiest of limbs to make the case that the only right thing to do is to pay AIG employees, lest freedom fail us:
"This isn’t just a matter of dollars and cents," [the president] said.  "It’s about our fundamental values."

On that last issue, lawyers, Wall Street types and compensation consultants agree with the president.  But from their point of view, the "fundamental value" in question here is the sanctity of contracts.

That may strike many people as a bit of convenient legalese, but maybe there is something to it.  If you think this economy is a mess now, imagine what it would look like if the business community started to worry that the government would start abrogating contracts left and right.

I don't think it's a bit of convenient legalese at all.  In fact, I think it's a very inconvenient, trolloped-up overreach that attempts to blind with audacity.  "Sanctity" is a little too florid, a little too wrong a word to describe contracts, even in a postulated Platonic world of pure law.  It is a building block, a glue.  There is nothing "holy" about them, because, frequently, they are broken.  Especially when some extenuating circumstance occurs, like, for example, the inability of one of the parties to operate one's business without billions of taxpayers dollars.

And then there is the sin of omission committed by Mr Sorkin:

If government officials were to break the contracts, they would be "breaking a bond," [some compensation consultant] says.  "They are raising a whole new question about the trust and commitment organizations have to their employees."  (The auto industry unions are facing a similar issue — but the big difference is that there is a negotiation; no one is unilaterally tearing up contracts.)

That's funny that Sorkin would bring up the "big difference" that no one, in this case, is unilaterally tearing up union contracts, because in doing so he invites the reasonably informed reader to remember all the times that union contracts have been (or will be) unilaterally torn up.  Which is why reading about some magical "right of contract" that millionaires invoke in their own defense is somewhat galling.

Overall, a very CNBC piece of journalism.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:12 AM

general statement on personal finance industry

Without getting too service-y, I'm starting to notice a whole lot more of articles like this one -- (i.e., banks/credit cards are out to get you) -- and let me for once not counsel skepticism and agree: banks/credit cards are out to get you.

This is a thought bigger than a post, but the companies that you have entrusted all of your money do not see you as a customer that is always right or whose business needs to be courted, but rather as fertilizer or as firewood.  Your business, your money, your future is not the ends of these companies; it is the means by which it can achieve some edenic state of eternal and effortless profit.  These companies will cheat, will act in bad faith and generally treat you not as a good parasite will treat its host -- that is, as a body whose health may be compromised but not unto death -- but rather treat you as a resource to be exploited and then wadded up and tossed away.

And maybe after the past twenty years the feelings of helplessness have pervaded to the point of "What can you do?"  After all, the banks have all our stuff and have vastly more resources than we do.  They own us, in short.  So, what can we do?  Withdrawing our meager business won't hurt them any more than them usury-ing us into insolvency will, and we certainly can't afford to buy as many congressmen and -women as they can.

Well, we can call them out, for starters.  We can agree that what they do is wrong, that they are not good citizens, and that their power borders on unassailable.  And we can hate them.  We can take away their good names.  We can wield the cleansing power of daylight until they are so reviled that no rational person can defend them.  For the time being, at least.

This is a topic that will fun to return to!  And by fun I mean "shrill".

Posted by mrbrent at 7:59 AM

March 16, 2009

always put wiper fluid in your kids

The breaking/fun news bar on Yahoo! pages -- right below the links bar and above the headline of the story you're trying to read -- is giving the mainpage Box of Headlines a little run for its money:
'HORRIBLE MISTAKE': Children accidentally served wiper fluid at Ark. day care

I'm not so much laughing at the phrasing ("MIDDLING" mistake?  "BIG DAMN" mistake?) or at kids being fed wiper fluid, which is probably a certain non-funny situation for parents.

I'm just laughing because all the times we got fed wiper fluid as kids, or kerosene, or broken glass, it wasn't exactly considered newsworthy.  Humans do the darndest things! and all, but, come on, rilly?

Posted by mrbrent at 2:13 PM

AIG's ass-kissing can kiss my ass

Back behind the desk and breathless from a brief small-vacation.  I spend too much time on intros anyway.  Hey, AIG, insurance giant too big to not receive an unending geyser of tax-payer money, is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore!
Whatever else you can say about AIG CEO Edward Libby, he ain't much for irony.  In his letter to Secretary Geithner he said that AIG "cannot attract and retain the best and brightest talent ... if employees believe that their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury."

This is not the first time that the "attract and retain" argument has been invoked, and it will not be the last.  And there are surely many logical, direct refutations of that -- maybe they're written down somewhere.

But from where I'm sitting, somewhere between the Ivory Towers and the bar, if the past couple years are any indication, there seems to be an inverse relationship with your best and brightest talent and their ability to actually run a company.  (Though they are excellent at bowing, scraping, begging, pleading.)

Maybe AIG should give the worst and the dimmest a shot.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:39 PM

March 15, 2009

moe tkacik writes well

Moe Tkacik has a site on which she is posting:
Six mostly unemployed months into the crisis, I am thinking you have to be unemployed to have the time for the reading necessary to comprehend how morally and socially destructive (and yeah also comically inefficient) the whole “investment banking” idea was to begin with.

Granted, not a whole lot of facts in that sentiment, but not only is it a sentiment which I suspect will be the end result of my own attempts to understand it, but also I like it.  I managed an usual amount of reading on this small vacation, mostly of the periodicals brought by my fellow small-vacationers, oddly all on the Downturn, and that little paragraph is exactly what I've been thinking, though I wouldn't have put it that way, or even well.

Let's call it a very primitive, powerful and archaic version of crowdsourcing, the whole people-reading-what-each-other-think thing.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:03 AM