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May 9, 2009

citibank: you disingenuous pice of shit

A month or so ago I noted that the Obama Administration might try to cut the student loan line of the budget by de-privatizing them, allowing profits taken by banks currently administering them (even though they are federally guaranteed) to be re-allocated into more loans.

A pushback from banks was expected, and, according to Moe Tkacik, in progress:

If Citigroup -- recipient of $45 billion in bailout funds and constant visits with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and longtime employer of former Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin -- is supposed to be the government's friend, it's quite the underminer.  Today the bank emailed borrowers who took out student loans with Citigroup encouraging them to write to Congress opposing the administration's student loan proposal.

Only marginally more offensive than Citibank lobbying recipients of student loans is the rationale Citibank offers: competition and choice!  Because if you squint, student borrowers and Ayn Rand fans (who still might Go Galt, just you wait) are indistinguishable.  And nowhere does the obligatory full disclosure that Citibank would mostly like to keep its assloads of free money, whether students like choice, don't like choice or are on fire.

And speaking of Tkacik, she also has a feature in the Columbia Journalism Review giving long shrift to the phenomena that is CNBC, now that the hysterics have died down.  Also, recommend.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:34 PM

May 8, 2009

doritos!

So I have no follow-up to the story shared by Jessica of her brother's time in the Frito-Lay factory, spoiling the mystery for all of us concerning the origin of the flavor dust that Doritofies faux-tortilla chips into true Doritoness.  We will have to leave it lay where it is, and hopefully Jessica will rest with a job well done for writing that the flavor-dust-lump would emit sighs -- an image we all carry with us to this day.

But I would like to clarify -- Doritos are not something you should be eating all the time, or ever.  They are made purely of chemistry and profit motive.  Of course you're going to have some now and again, and so am I.  They are maybe a fact of life.  But when you do, you should feel the same way you feel when you smoke a cigarette -- heedless and immortal.  Until you see someone morbidly obese walking down the street, and you deservedly get the willies.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:40 PM

please pass the freedom mustard

There is (was?) much hubbub because people like me (but unlike me in an ideological sense) saw that Sean Hannity was mad that the president likes spicy mustard.  And then the usual back-and-forth was spawned, with the "Can you believe that they..." and the responding "Another example of moonbat..." for a cycle or two.  You do not need links for any of this; either you already knew of it, or you've already moved on to something more trenchant, like TMZ.

I would like to nominate this post from Roy Edreso as the best possible final word on the situation, purely on the merits of this sentiment:

It's like they all grew up thinking Frank Burns was the hero of "M*A*S*H."

The name of Balk's post (as buried in the URL of the link) is also good, but it does not reference Frank Burns.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:25 PM

moms rising

As the highlight of this weekend will be the day on which we honor our mothers, might I suggest this nifty little customizable video as a way to supplement the box of chocolates and necktie that you already got your mom.

It's a promotional effort for Moms Rising, whose efforts I support, so it'd be a good thing for them.

Also, I know that newscaster personally, and she's real swell.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:26 PM

citi field

I was skeptical of this whole "new ballfield" magic that is supposed to dazzle us into sushi-eatin', luxury-box-buyin' submission, but now that I have actually seen a game a the dubiously named Citi Field, I have to say that the only bad thing about it is its name.

The ballpark itself is beautiful -- instead of the old cramped corridors of Shea there are breezy concourses, open to the field and open to the rest of Flushing in places.  It feels like foot traffic was a considered from inception and not as an afterthought.

And the concessions are not only as varied as has been hyped (Shake Shack!  Seafood!  Premium beer!), also the prices seem reasonable, at least in the context of a MLB game.  Memory is hazy, but I think in some cases the prices were either frozen or reduced from the last season at Shea.  I didn't get to sample all the eats, because we decided to eschew the grazing for a big old Italian sub (today's special pork!) from Mama's of Corona, which was the the finest ballpark meal I've ever had and actually worth it a $9.75 a pop.

The feeling of going to a big league baseball game and not feeling violated by the price points is not a feeling that I ever thought I would feel -- sorry, Yankees fans.

I went expecting to be underwhelmed and the opposite of that occurred.  And I can't wait to go back.

And the Mets won.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:17 AM

norm macdonald, eff bombs

I'm not comfortable with the calcification of websites as reposters of last night's television, but I'm not resisting it either.  I mean, how could I, in the face of a couple Norm MacDonald eff bombs.

Also, that thing where the blogger pretends to scratch his/her head over the cultural something-or-other purely as an excuse to link it, instead of just saying, "I sure like this Cultural Something-or-other, here!"?  Sure, it's a cop-out, but it's a fair cop-out, guvner.

Hey, that's my navel.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:06 AM

May 7, 2009

rushkoff: debt is not a good product

An interesting proposition from Douglas Rushkoff, guest-bloggin' on Boing Boing -- catchphrase the paradigm-shifting of our economic preconceptions:
So, I figured I'd start with the generally unrecognized fact that finance is America's biggest industry - our biggest business sector.  How does banking make its money?  In short - over-simplified, yes, but ultimately true - interest.  It sells debt.  And, like I'm arguing in my book, this whole scheme was arranged by 14th Century monarchs as a way of making money by having money, rather than providing value.  So "Debt is not a good product" helps encourage that line of thinking, sound-byte style.

I've been struggling how to distill why our current economy is fundamentally skewed, if not outright dishonest, for some time and the best I ever come with is "You are kindling not capital" or something with the phrase "Soylent Green" in it.  "Debt is not a good product" is a definite improvement, but it seems a little too polite.  Maybe if it got Warren-Ellis'd up.

Play at home, if you like.  Or rather, give it a shot.  You're probably already "playing at home", right.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:16 PM

free chicken riots sweep anxious, hungry nation

As the hysteria builds, let it be known that the KFC/Oprah rage that has swept the country was presaged by a small incident in my dear hometown of Rochester, NY, on a day in which there was no Popeyes to be had -- April 22, 2009.

True story: two days ago I got an email from the wife, saying let's have some free chicken tonight, wouldn't that be fun!  And I was all like, it would be fun, and it is indeed excellent that KFC has some Celiac-friendly menu items, but there was this thing up in Rochester a couple weeks ago, and I got a baaad feeling about this.  So instead I made a biriyani, which was too spicy, as usual.

Incidentally, you may notice that everyone interviewed for the news story linked was African-American.  Yet another proud moment for my hometown, the Flour City, producing the likes of me and Foster Brooks.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:09 AM

national prayer day

The reason that you don't know that today it National Prayer Day is because your calendar just isn't good enough to list every National Whatever Day that some comical-but-inspired session of Congress designates over the decades.  But today is indeed National Prayer Day, and the President is breaking with tradition and not holding a commemorative event, and Steve Benen approves:
Good.  If Americans want to pray today, they will.  If not, that's fine, too. There's no need for the White House to host a special event, organized by evangelical activists, promoting an exclusive and unnecessary "holiday" encouraging worship.

Being a fellow traveler I understand where Benen's coming from, but I disagree.  It's like office birthdays, man.  You can't just hang back in your cubicle and avoid the cake/song just because you think the birthday boy/girl is a little bit foolish and unnecessary.  Besides: how can you not like someone so much that a little cake won't take the edge off?  German chocolate, especially.

The president should muster all the muted irony he can and flash those pearly whites for all those who only pray once a year -- maybe have a Prayer Hunt for some kids in the South Lawn.  And then wash the taste of foolishness out of his mouth with some delicious prayer cake.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:50 AM

May 6, 2009

so what to call them? the unreals?

Perhaps this was inevitable.

The advent of the Reals -- or people like you and me who dress up in costumes and fight crime, like super-heroes -- has been around long enough as to constitute common knowledge.  But, have you yet heard about the introduction of super-villains into our modern world?

If you are familiar with the landscape of super-hero mythology (and these days who isn't?), it is a law of super-hero thermodynamics that the first super-hero shall soon be followed by the first super-villain.  So we're moving right along, excellent.

Of course, come to find out that there is a corollary to this rule, stating that the super-villains will be exactly as goofy/non-goofy as the super-heroes.  Which is good for us: it'd suck if some guy in a mask crept around taking people's garbage to the curb and then a city-sized floating head entered our orbit and threatened to consume the moon.  It just wouldn't be fair.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:04 PM

rush limbaugh culls the republican party

Colin Powell forgot to call Rush Limbaugh svelte and handsome when he was doubting Limbaugh's leadership w/r/t the future of the Republican Party, so Limbaugh responded with calls for the ultimate sanction -- Powell should leave the GOP.  Greg Sargent's thoughts:
The optics of this one are not good: The de facto leader of the GOP (according to Dems and some in the media) is reiterating his claim that a high profile black Republican and decorated military man’s endorsement of the country’s first black president was only about race.  And that he should leave the party.

Remind me again of how the optics of that are not good?  From where I sit, I could watch Rush Limbaugh's crypto-racism all day long.  I think him a cynical asshole who manipulates the poor behavioral tendencies of a market demo to enrich his fat ass.  And the more he thunders around without any clothes on, the easier it is to point it out to people.

Nothing against the GOP on this.  (No, really.)  They sure do deserve better, but it's not like Limbaugh is holding a gun to anyone's head (except for public officials who criticize Rush).

Posted by mrbrent at 11:28 AM

new york times: those weekender ads don't pay for themselves

I may be too easily discouraged these days, but I find this news, that the New York Times is going to raise its newsstand price by fifty more sense, to be a total downer.

I can afford the four bits a day -- in fact, we use earthenware pots of pocket change as ballast for wintertime operation of our motor vehicle -- but it just seems so bellwether.

I guess that the prospect of the newspaper industry contracting to the point of unrecognizability I can brook, but the prospect of made-of-paper newspapers becoming luxury items, difficult to find and at a pricepoint too dear for the everyday, is breaking my heart clean down the middle.

Plus also my elbow hurts.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:40 AM

May 5, 2009

the phrase they use is "wins the internets" right?

This is very inside baseball (though not really about baseball), but it contains the line of the day for me:
Maybe Michael Wolff should tape a set of steak knives to the back of his hands.

Oh I know it's not fair to rip a line out of context and appreciate it like it was intended to float there, by itself, unburdened by the couple hundred words on either side of it, but this is what we have come to.

The link is to a feature of The Awl in which Choire Sicha and Tom Scocca simulate what a conversation would be like if the speakers were media-smart and derisive of Michael Wolff.  (I say "simulate" because I don't know if they're joking! -- they seem talented and sane, but if they deride Michael Wolff, don't they risk being call sem-retarded by Michael Wolff?)

It's all very 2006 of course.  I have the strangest hobbies.  "Who's Michael Wolff?" right?

Posted by mrbrent at 2:37 PM

oh my god the commas

Also implausible this morning is that Sarah Palin has a spokeswoman that speaks just like Sarah Palin:
Palin "looks forward to doing all she can to bring about positive change many desire and deserve, across Alaska and our great nation, through this National Council for a New America and others," Meghan Stapleton, a spokeswoman for SarahPAC, said in an e-mail.

It doesn't have the same teeter-on/plummet-off-the-edge-of-inanity tenor that classic unscripted Palin has, but it does adhere to the Palin tenets of, "More commas, more clauses, more smarter," and "Close your eyes and pick from this big bag of phrasal verbs."

Is it that everyone in Alaska speaks like that?  Or that the Palin-syntax-virus has hit Pandemic Phase 4?

Posted by mrbrent at 11:00 AM

john ashcroft is publicity hungry?

Former Bush Administration Attorney General John Ashcroft (the first, less-obviously-incompetent one) has submitted an op-ed to the NYTimes, which the NYTimes ran this morning.  Ashcroft must be an old friend of someone's dad, I guess.  But this is what Ashcroft sounds like when he's wondering:
I CAN imagine the Treasury secretary’s face turning pale as he is told by the attorney general that one of the financial institutions on government life support has been indicted by a grand jury.  Worse, I can imagine the attorney general facing not too subtle pressure from the president’s economic team to go easy on such companies.

I guess it wouldn't be that hard at all to imagine "not too subtle pressure" on the Justice Department for an AG who served under George W. Bush.  Also, face!

There was also some other stuff in there, about the difficulty of policing corporations that the government has equity interest in, but I couldn't finish it because the idea of the government "policing" corporations just seems too far-fetched.

Also, I haven't heard anyone remind the world that John Ashcroft is a man who lost his Senate seat to a dead person in a while, so let me do that now.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:31 AM

May 4, 2009

more on jack kemp

A little follow-up to the passing of Jack Kemp, and why George Bush's words on Kemp as primarily a Reagan Revolutionary were off-base and insulting to his (Kemp's, though probably Reagan's too) memory -- Dan sent a note with a link to a remembrance from The Nation's Washington correspondent, John Nichols:
My respect for Kemp was rooted in my experience with the antiapartheid movement in the US and South Africa.  While many leading conservatives in the US were busy making excuses for the racist and antidemocratic regime in South Africa, Kemp emerged as a bold and consistent critic of apartheid.  And he worked hard, if not always successfully, to get Republicans to recognize the freedom struggle in South Africa as having links to the founding fights of the GOP.  Recalling the first Republican president, Kemp suggested after apartheid had ended and South Africa had experienced a peaceful transition of power that "Abraham Lincoln's response to a Union soldier at Gettysburg who asked him after his address why he showed no rancor or anger toward his Confederate enemies comes to mind: 'Do I not destroy my enemy by making him my friend?'  There is no better example of this spirit in the twentieth century than Nelson Mandela."

And again, we're not saying that Kemp was cool because he managed to believe in some things that were unfashionable among his party (that we agree with), but rather because he seemed a man genuinely moved by his beliefs, whether or not they fell within the orthodoxy of the party he believed in.

It would have been cool to have had dinner with him, though I'm certain we'd never ever vote for the same candidate.

Thanks, Dan.  And how're you doing?

Posted by mrbrent at 9:05 PM

craven fecklessness!

Here's a short deep thought for the morning.

Two trends come to mind.  First, on your AM radio (sports/talk/news), you will notice an abundance of paid advertising for entities that are concerned with your unsecured debt.  In fact, they are shocked by what they have learned about credit card companies, so shocked that they would like to offer you a free credit evaluation.  Now, over the years I have heard of a number of friends/FoFs who were helped by these credit counseling companies, but my feeling now (anecdotally and from general news reading) is that to find the lone honest credit counseling entity you have to wade through a swamp of entitles with larceny in their hearts.

Cross with the trend of hucksters promoting Twitter make-cash-now schemes in the guises of "Get 1000 Followers in Two Days!"  I haven't even looked into the exegesis of this one, but if it's not just a variation on the old scheme of starting contentless link-aggregator sites and making money off the advertising from the unwitting visitors, then I'm shocked.  But not as shocked as I am at the number of people who see Twitter as a revenue to be exploited -- something that Twitter's owners haven't managed to pull off yet.

The two trends are not the same but cut of the same cloth -- on one hand the "who is a bigger sucker than the newly destitute" criminals, and on the other the rank and file who suspect they may be entering a pyramid scheme, but think they can game the system and end up in the middle of the pyramid and not the bottom.  The two share the conscious willingness to take a leg up by stepping on the necks of strangers.  Which is a bad trait to have, unless you are some kind of creepy Ayn Rand friendless loser.

So then the thought (much briefer than the set-up) is this: are we at a time of rampant greed/unscrupulous get-rich-quick marks, or has it always been thus and now more noticeable for some reason?  Without copious research, my gut says that, while get-rich schemes have always been more popular, they are much more unafraid to operate in the light of day than they were a decade ago.

So what is it then?  Are we feckless and craven as a species overall, or is our craven fecklessness on the rise?

Posted by mrbrent at 8:27 AM

happy birthday tina fallon

I try to avoid the personal here, because I am old and that's the way old rolls.  But I make an exception this morning: yesterday was the birthday of my friend Tina, after a big nice dinner party for her Saturday night, for which friends flew in, which is a little more jetset than we're used to.

Tina is already much beloved by many many people (only in part because of her project the 24 Hour Plays), but she has been a friend to me of indisputable importance for the entirety of my adult life, and she has been such at the best of times and at the worst of times, and to have gone through this adult life, with its troughs and valleys and chasms (and peaks!) basically never not having had a friend like Tina makes me luckier than everyone.

Someone said that the true measure of a life is the quality of those who comprise one's affinity group.  Someone please let me know if they remember who, because it is an assertion that I am rooting for.

So happy birthday Tina: you are irreplaceable, to me and to other people who are less trouble than me.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:10 AM

May 3, 2009

national council for a new america

TPM's takeaway from this story of the initial town hall meeting for a GOP rebranding effort is some ridiculous shit Mitt Romney said, about how the GOP needs to refight the American Revolution.  That's pretty good, but since Romney has not yet reached out to the French, his chances of success are doomed, as any student of history knows.

That's pretty good; I like ill-chosen words as much as anyone.  But my takeaway is this:

The venue — a packed pizzeria in an Arlington strip mall — had the feel of a small-town campaign stop Saturday morning, with a supportive crowd tossing friendly questions at the panel.

From the strip-mall pizzarias they will rise, soon spreading to the TJ Maxx next door and then to Dodge Spring Savings Events, permeating every corner of the discount- to mid-range-retail landscape, remaking the nation for $199 down/$199 a month (plus taxes and title).

The weakness of this organization, also featuring the involvement of Jeb Bush, John McCain and Eric Cantor, is its unfortunate metonymy: it is called the National Council for a New America.  Maybe once they find a new America they can get around looking for a new Republican Party.  (Or at least stop leading with their chin when trying to Orwell up these organization names.)

Posted by mrbrent at 2:27 PM

jack kemp

Checking the news late last night, I saw that Jack Kemp had passed away.  I remember Jack Kemp as a pretty straight-up guy.  I didn't ever really agree with him on much of anything (other than the Buffalo Bills), but he didn't make much of a point of demonizing his opponents.  He represented his constituents honestly, and he was a strong, reasonable voice of advocacy for the positions he held.  A class act; it is a loss.

Which is why the statement of George W. Bush concerning the news is nauseating:

"Laura and I are saddened by the death of Jack Kemp," he said. "Jack will be remembered for his significant contributions to the Reagan revolution and his steadfast dedication to conservative principles during his long and distinguished career in public service.  Jack's wife Joanne and the rest of the Kemp family are in our thoughts and prayers."

I don't think that it's very tasteful to eulogize someone into the forefront of generational ideological dispute much too partisan to befit the deceased's record.  Nor do I think it tasteful to reduce Kemp's long and distinguished career to merely a time period during which he was allegedly steadfastly dedicated to some movement.

Either the former president is a good a eulogist as he was a president, or he just did not like Jack Kemp.  Whichever, it's a dickhead move.  (And Bush had been pretty good about avoiding the dickhead moves, at least so far.)

Posted by mrbrent at 11:50 AM