« April 12, 2009 - April 18, 2009 | Main | April 26, 2009 - May 2, 2009 »

April 25, 2009

have some irony, jesse watters, you dick

I wholeheartedly endorse the efforts of Gawker's John Cook, who spent yesterday trying to ambush the unrepentant ambush-producer for Bill O'Reilly's show.

The little turd actually manages to exceed the normal amounts of ideological odiousness by stalking the unsuspecting and then trying to badger them into saying something stupid on camera.  When O'Reilly loud-talks a moronic logism about someone not loving America enough, well, that's a disagreement, a judgment call on my part.  When his producer, Jesse Watters, drives 200 miles to jump from behind a bush with a camera and a microphone, then both sides of the aisle can agree: useless assholery.

And is it proper for John Cook to try to turn the tables, to make a right from another wrong?  No, but it's warranted and it's fun.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:27 PM

April 24, 2009

steve schmidt is the anti-michele bachmann

How often is it that campaign managers sound reasonable?  Not very often, in my reckoning, whether you're talking about Karl Rove or James Carville, who are both smart enough but even yet seem that they are working the refs when they appear publicly, looking for traction in some forever-argument no one will win.  But Steve Schmidt, the campaign manager for John McCain, has twice been put on the record with eminently reasonable sentiments.  First he embraces gay marriage in the context of conservatism, and then he's quoted by Ben Smith on the historical context of the Obama campaign:
If you read history about Bobby Kennedy's unfinished race in '68, this was, in my view, the unfinished Bobby Kennedy campaign – the idealism, the passion, the inspiration he gave to people, it was organic and it was real and it wasn’t manufactured at a tactical level in the campaign.  It was a function of the president's unique skill set and presence, and it was really taken advantage of by a campaign that for the first time using the social networking technology...

I'm not thumbs-upping Schmidt because he is now saying something that I agree with.  That is not how I define "reasonable"; I know that many things I believe in -- ghosts, sausage gravy & biscuits -- are not reasonable.  I guess mostly I'm singling him out because Schmidt is saying nice things and is not locked into the perpetual campaign mentality that so many are.  Which would make him either crazy or sent from the future to save the human race.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:23 AM

April 23, 2009

doritos flavor dust

Further to Tacos on the Storm, we received some correspondence from Jessica spilling some delicious beans on the providence of Doritos' finger-staining flavor dust:
While I have no experience with "Tacos at Midnight" per se, I can report that Doritos' flavor dust in general starts out as a solid-esque, rubbery lump which is wheeled around the factory in hundred-pound sacks.

This comes to me via my brother, who worked one summer in a Frito-Lay factory.  In its original solid state, the dust acts like one of those grotesque squeezey desk toys.  If you poke it, the dent very slowly un-dents itself.  When taken out of its bag and laid on the (whatever machine/conveyor belt apparatus it goes into), it gradually tries to flatten itself.  It wants to be a liquid, a puddle, and slowly creeps into a wider, flatter lump.  My brother swore it would emit little sighs as it did this.

It's not enough to put me off Doritos, but I can't stop telling people.

It is only appropriate that flavor dust originates as a large-dog-sized block of silly putty -- the worst thing I could imagine was not nearly banal enough.

Now we need to find a correspondent whose brother once worked in the Doritos flavor-dusk factory and our journey will be complete.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:55 PM

opinion from an actual interrogator

If you're following the torture story (which ha burst open like a parachute in the past 48 hours) like I am, then do read this op-ed from former FBI agent Ali Soufan:
It is inaccurate, however, to say that [Al Qaida detainee] Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative.  Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August.  Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence...

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics.  In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

Given that Soufan is not only an FBI agent and not only an interrogator but also an FBI interrogator with direct experience pertinent to the discussion, hopefully he will be taken a little more seriously than a lapsed vice president with iron-fisted delusions.

As the men and women who actually have dirt under their fingernails on this slowly drop their customary silence on the issue -- perhaps driven to it by torture apologists and their crack-ass claims -- it will become more and more difficult to argue that torture methods are wise and/or just.  And soon all that will be left is the "Jack Bauer argument", which only makes sense if you are worried about how big your dick is.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:40 AM

retroactively profiling our students

Further to this contemplation of the Craigslist Killer and his permanent record, this morning's NYT runs a story on the young man that also limps to a conclusion with former classmate recollections:
Rob Baker, who said he went to high school with [accused killer Philip] Markoff, remembered him as a highly competitive bowler who would sometimes bet on games.  Mr. Markoff set exacting standards for himself, Mr. Baker said, and once fumed after bowling poorly.

"The coach sat him down," said Mr. Baker, 20.  "He just got real quiet, red in the face.  He looked dejected and mad at himself."

And so obviously, after bowling poorly, it was a life of crime for him.

Also interesting to note that the former classmate appears to be three years younger than Markoff (who is 23), which would imply that Markoff was guilty of hanging out with underclassmen -- another clear warning sign.

I bet he also wore a trenchcoat.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:04 AM

April 22, 2009

not too superstitious to say this

So I'm quietly following the day's news arcs, a little closer than usual (actually watching some vid, like Laurence O'Donnell righteous pissed and a bemused but unmoved Cato Institute legal analyst), and I realized:

Remember four or five years ago, when stories would break and then be swamped like a dinghy by conventional wisdom that contravened anything that remotely resembled common sense?  Like when the president decided that a tenet of his foreign policy would be to arbitrarily name three nations the "axis of evil", and you'd think to yourself that maybe "evil" was a spurious word to be SHUT UP YOU HIPPIE ASSHOLE AND LOVE AMERICA ALREADY!!  And then you'd watch some TV or read some newspapers looking for some source of some repute that might agree with you on that, and then all you'd find was cautious he-said/she-said that refused to come out and say that calling other countries evil was so juvenile and manipulative that even a five year old, already naturally juvenile and manipulative, would swear that shit off as "small time".  And then frustration, bunker mentality and skulking around DailyKos hoping you wouldn't turn strident or anything.

But now, later, today, I'm getting the first sense of a significant realignment of the conventional wisdom, a shift back from know-nothingism, increased sightings of ration. Not that we live in some liberal paradise (nor should we), but I'm feeling a whole lot less marginalized than I did five years ago, and a whole lot less surrounded.  There's no objective proof of this to offer.  Just a thought, quite possibly merely a function of neurochemistry.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:22 PM

ok, so, the torture memos do have legs after all

Last week, I wrote about how the torture memos got released and maybe we should devote our clamoring to something other than the prosecution of potential torturers and nothing more to see here.

I was wrong:

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration put relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

This is a dollop of news from McClatchy, which can tend towards the provocative (like this) and then fall off the radar.  But, if you remember back and combine an administration that thinks that torturing detainees is a sign of maturity with an administration desperate for a smoking gun in Saddam Hussein's hand, then this would make total sense.

So yeah I was wrong and yes yes yes let's truth commission these fuckers into the ground like the dogs they are.

I never doubted that they'd be capable of something like this.  I just figured that anyone committed enough to try to torture false confessions out of someone would try extra special hard not to get caught.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:03 AM

moorcock: i will miss him enormously

J.G. Ballard is one of those writers that I always meant to get around to reading and then did not.  Odd, but it always smarts when one of those writers passes away, because it doesn't really matter if they're alive or dead, I can still read their books, and it's not like I'm going to bump into them on the subway.

However, I have read a lot of Michael Moorcock, who wrote this nice little remembrance of Ballard for a Ballard fansite, the Ballardian.  It's tough to pull a chunk out as a little taste, as there is no flash or sizzle -- it is, however, genuinely affectionate, and it focuses on "Jimmy" as an old friend of Moorcock's more than it does on Ballard's talent and works.  Which is something to think about.

And now I'd like to read some Ballard, and also reread some Moorcock.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:15 AM

April 21, 2009

dick cheney!

Dick Cheney's refuses to retire into a Jay-Leno-jokewriter's dream of evil obscurity, as he continues to insist that torture is good because Dick Cheney said so and Dick-Cheney-said-so was good enough for eight years, it's important to keep in mind that the terrorists that Dick Cheney couldn't catch aren't exactly behaving in a manner to support Dick Cheney's arguments, as the terrorists seem legitimately intimidated by the new administration:
[Al Qaida mouthpiece Ayman al-]Zawahri's public-relations panic fits in nicely with the larger trend (indeed, Zawahri was similarly defensive about Obama in early February).  Al Qaeda leaders were able to exploit George W. Bush's policies to recruit, expand, and raise money.  The terrorist network is now in a much tougher position, not only in light of Bush's departure, but also with Barack Obama's international popularity.  The very last thing al Qaeda wanted was a U.S. president who enjoys global admiration -- and that's exactly what they're responding to.

Of course, it remains to be seen if the Obama administration allows the terrorists to fly some airplanes into some buildings.  But that is exactly what the Dick Cheney administration did, so I guess that would make it some mark of excellence.

Also keep in mind that Dick Cheney was in charge of finding a running mate for George Bush and somehow decided that that running mate would be Dick Cheney.  (In case you're looking for an indication of the character of Dick Cheney.)

Me, I don't wish Dick Cheney would go away at all.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:58 PM

all he's done is walk on the moon, what would he know?

In our nation's capitol yesterday, former astronaut Edgar Mitchell (Apollo 14) went cuckoo for aliens, unleashing a torrent of insane people talk the likes of which DC sees only once or twice a day.  He was speaking at a conference of people who believe in flying saucers, [whistle noise, rolling of eyes, twirling of finger around ear, motoboat noise], wakka wakka wakka.

Mitchell, tinfoil hat next to him on the dais, clearly certifiable and barely speaking English, said:

"I urge those who are doubtful: Read the books, read the lore, start to understand what has really been going on.  Because there really is no doubt we are being visited," he said.

"The universe that we live in is much more wondrous, exciting, complex and far-reaching than we were ever able to know up to this point in time."

The stench of the crazy is cloying and tightening at my throat -- everyone knows that the universe is simple, staid and late for dinner.  Silly astronaut!

(Of course now, as someone that likes to lend the benefit of the doubt in hopes of a more novel world: if you want to talk extraterrestrials with someone, why not someone who's actually left the planet?)

Posted by mrbrent at 12:26 PM

i knew it: 'inchoate'

David Carr nails what about last week's Teabag Parties really got under my skin:
It was a kind of al fresco Howard Beale moment, an opportunity to gather in a group and shout about very real rage — these are scary times for all working people — that is nonetheless inchoate and unnameable.

It's the "nonetheless" that gets me.  Nothing wrong with being up in arms, but I do believe that you demand the public bandwidth, you have to at least be able to name your complaint.  And if a smart guy like David Carr can't pick out why you're angry from your wild gesticulations, then you don't know why you're angry.  And if you don't know why you're angry, then why are you angry?

Actually, Carr nailed it just by using the word "inchoate", which puts a name to the itch I've been trying to scratch for a while.

(His column is a longer indictment of the eventization of news coverage, which is an even better point than the one I'm trying to make, especially in a world in which our news-gathering services are more dependent on ratings/circulation than ever.)

Posted by mrbrent at 8:52 AM

April 20, 2009

chrysler sounds like a good pick to me

One argument that is often repeated against mandated caps for executive compensation is that it hampers the ability of the company to attract the best talent.

My counter to this is (other than that of past performance being no testament to the talent of the best talent) that maybe this argument is a self-serving defense of a gravy train that protects only those aboard the gravy train.  Not that there is ever any evidence to support my counter:

WASHINGTON – Chrysler LLC's financial arm turned down additional government aid after some top executives refused to accept new limits on executive pay, according to a government official with knowledge of the negotiations.

I don't own any stock in Chrysler (or anything else) myself, but if I did, after reading that, I probably wouldn't for much longer.  Not to be a smart-ass, but I have a hard time making the jump from "protecting shareholder value" to "protecting executive compensation".

Of course, the fact that I don't own stock is evidence that I am not wise enough to comment on such things.  And if you think about it, if Chrysler execs accept some ceiling on their compensation, then how would they be able to dictate how much they should be paid?  How fair would that be?

Wait, Perez Hilton blocked a Miss USA candidate?  It's settled: nothing is fair.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:29 PM

hugo chavez wins!

Now one story I missed when I was away at the Colleen O'Donnell Memorial Golf Tournament was the story of our president shaking hands with the another head of state -- one that says mean things about us!!

We don't pay the President eleventy million dollars a year to be polite!  What we pay them for is to punch other world leaders right in the eyeball.  Either that, or to stare at leaders in the face and suck their souls out through this eyeball.  Ask George Bush's son about that.  Sure, he gave Angela Merkel a backrub, but it was an unasked-for backrub, which made it as intimidating as all get-out (or, "inappropriate", as the prudes say).

So if this president of ours wants to remain president he better next time be all like, "Hugo? Nice freakin' name, nerd!!" or else we will vote him out in a month or two, unless some other patriots beat us to it, for cutting our taxes or Waco or some shit.

Because who knows better than about matters of international diplomacy than us, the voters!?!

Also, racism, slippery slope, cynical macho bluster appeal, racism, LCD, tears of Glenn Beck, racism, hypocrisy, know-nothingism, racism.  And God!

Posted by mrbrent at 11:01 PM

what will the chemists at frito-lay think of next?

While I generally try to avoid the processed foods and the HFCS and everything else coincidentally consumed by the casually obese (but with no clear causal relationship, mind you), I do have a fascination with the branding efforts of these same poisons, thanks to an upbringing consisting pretty much exclusively food improved by science in some way, whether bought in the frozen section of the grocers or in the drive-thru line.

So it is this fascination that caused me to pick up a bag of Doritos this morning, Doritos with new packaging and with a brand new flavor.  It is actually a whole new subdirectory of Dorito flavors, much like their "mash-up" flavors that they rolled out a few years ago, in which one bag would contain chips that were either flavored A or flavored B.  The current initiative is called "Late Night", and the trade dress for it looks very similar to the first logo for David Letterman's show back when it too was called "Late Night" -- a neon rectangle, with the neon twisting to form "Late Night" at the top.  Of the two flavors contained in this subdirectory, I purchased the "Tacos At Midnight".

I repeat: "Tacos At Midnight".

I have tasted them, preliminarily, and I will say that they taste exactly like "Tacos At Midnight".  That is to say, like tacos eaten at midnight for whatever reason (like there's more than one), and not like the planned Warren Zevon/Jimmy Buffet collaboration that never happened.

And if the flavor-dusting that coats the little tortillas is anything other than actual tacos made after dark dehydrated and ground up, then I do know want to know what it is.

But there's still more than half a bag left -- who knows, maybe further thoughts will be warranted.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:58 PM

the awl

A new site goes live today called The Awl.  It is brought to you by two area writers, both of whose work I respect, admire and enjoy -- Choire Sicha and Alex Balk (not sure who is supposed to get top billing).

Why is it called "The Awl"?  I dunno.  I do know that an awl if an implement for poking holes in things, so hopefully the website lives up to the name and pokes a lot of holes in things.

Consider this a high recommendation.  Vote early; vote often.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:01 PM