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May 23, 2009

this is why i don't watch tv

Things I learned last night from actually watching broadcast television last night:

1.  CNN is confusing.  Their production design is a befuddlement -- every set is filled with screens.  Screens are referred to, and correspondents will touch the screens to zoom in, inset, zoom out and you feel like you are watching someone surf the web over their shoulder.  Even when they cut to a video, they don't actually cut to the video, they cut to a screen on which the video is playing.  We can't just watch TV, we have to watch TVs on the TV.  We are being mediated to death.

2.  And in the same vein, CNN has an "Internet reporter".  A what?  Basically a reporter that reads the Internet to you concerning topics of interest.  Like last night, there was a small quake in Mexico City.  Did they cut to a reporter on the scene?  No, they cut to the "Internet reporter", who walked us through what people in Mexico City were Twittering about.  I don't know why you would do that if you were a news channel, unless you're trying to scare people from ever watching you again.

3.  The daughter of Dick Cheney is the second or third most qualified person to comment on the efficacy and moral basis of torture, no matter what you think.  It may seem spurious to throw someone on TV in the "Jane you ignorant slut" slot just because of her parentage, but if you think that you are ignoring the fact that Dick Cheney did not get so smart on this issue by study or practice.  There is such a thing as genetic knowledge, and it generally flows down the generations.  And if you don't like it then flip over to Rachel Maddow -- maybe patient and reasoned explanation is more your style.

4.  Sporting events are watched live for a reason.  No, I did not get over to the Cavs game in time, but I've now seen Lebron's less-than-a-second-left fadeaway three a number of times on video, and missing it is something I will regret for a long time.  History was happening, and I was dicking around trying to find the Weather Channel.

5.  I don't know when Green Day became the apotheosis of everything I liked about rock and roll music, but it has happened.  They were on Letterman last night and they mopped the floor with the song they played (presumably, the next "single", if such a thing still exists).  I was never more than a passing fan, but now their black-eyeliner operatics get me good.

6.  Craig Ferguson is a very funny man.

7.  I feel dirty having watched so much TV.  Now all the books I'm reading are mad at me.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:39 PM

May 22, 2009

the strawmen of karl rove

So Karl Rove has a page on his website that he calls "Straw Man Watch".  On it are twenty-five different quotes from the president.  Presumably, Rove intends to hold these twenty-five quotes up as examples of the rhetorical device of the straw man argument.

Well, I've read all twenty-four of the quotes, and I'm here to tell you that thirteen of them are absolutely not examples of the straw man argument.

Of the remaining eleven quotes, five are definitely not an example, but I disqualify them as absolute because they at least refer to opposing viewpoints.  (For example, to question the motivation of an opposing argument is not constructing a straw man, it is just a motivation-questioning.)  This leaves six quotes that are arguably straw man arguments inasmuch as they restate the other side's argument.  In two of these, the president does go on to respond to the recharacterized opposing argument -- so there are at least two.

These numbers may be a bit off as two of the quotes are repeated -- very sneaky.

But clearly, the problem here is that Karl Rove doesn't know what constitutes a "straw man" argument, which is decidedly strange, considering the number of fucking times his clients have employed one.

[Via.]

Posted by mrbrent at 3:17 PM

classmates!

This is from a bit of email from Classmates.com, which sorely misses the three months of access I once paid for years ago:
Did you dance to "Footloose" or cruise the Fairport High School parking lot blaring songs like "That's What Friends Are For"?  Feel cool again.

No, no and thanks, but I feel plenty cool already.

Apparently appeals to see who might be looking for me were fruitless, so they decided to imply that I was some kind of simpering idiot instead.  Still not working.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:23 PM

and if we can't find a terrorist, we will make a couple

It's only been a day, but the NYTimes has managed to compile about a novel's worth of information on the dastardly terrorists, the crucible of whose lives had brought them to the point of leaving the ultimate mark on the world -- for evil!

Buried in the mess o' details (bios of the small-time perps, motivations, details of the investigation) is the aspect of the case that fuels the contempt for the all-caps headlines that some feel this bust deserves:

Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, the imam at the mosque where the authorities say the confidential informant first encountered the [alleged terrorists], said none of the men were active in the mosque.  An assistant imam, Hamin Rashada, said Mr. Cromitie and Mr. Payen occasionally attended services.

Mr. Cromitie was there last June, and he met a stranger.

He had no way of knowing that the stranger’s path to the mosque began in 2002, when he was arrested on federal charges of identity theft.  He was sentenced to five years’ probation, and became a confidential informant for the F.B.I. He began showing up at the mosque in Newburgh around 2007, Mr. Muhammad said.

The stranger’s behavior aroused the imam’s suspicions. He invited other worshipers to meals, and spoke of violence and jihad, so the imam said he steered clear of him.

Sending a suborned perp into a mosque with a big smile and a "Honk If You Wanna Jihad" T-shirt is nothing that I'd want splashed proudly in the news.  It's a great way to cast a wide net for criminals (and the criminally gullible), but I do not think it to be an anti-terrorism effort.  More like an anti-doofus effort.

And maybe this is just the small-fry operation that law enforcement publicizes so that serious efforts remain sub rosa.  That'd make perfect sense.  It's just that every time the Feds pop Don Knotts and Harvey Korman for being walked through a plot to blowtorch the Woolworth Building into rubble, it sets off a couple days worth of hysteria about sleeper cells and vice presidents calling for the fingernails of terrorists' moms in his own personal set of pliers.

As a final thought, and remember that the job of the prosecuting attorney is not so much to tell or discover the truth but to get convictions, this:

"It’s hard to envision a more chilling plot," Eric Snyder, an assistant United States attorney, said on Thursday in federal court in Manhattan.

If that is true then I would like to read the story of how Snyder's imagination was tragically run over by a beer truck when he was a child.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:07 AM

who's killin' who?

I won't begrudge Michael Steele for saying a damn-fool thing -- he's good at it, and he does not seem to be daunted at the prospect of saying yet another damn-fool thing.  But this turn of phrase is a trigger for one of the few things that fill me with tangible rage (as opposed to grouchiness, or dander-up)  In comments to Who Cares magazine, Steele says:
Like a bad diet, liberalism will kill you.  It’s a drug we don’t need to be hooked on.  We are what stand between an America of prosperity or dependency.  Which one do you want?

Liberalism will kill me?  Wait, walk me through this.  Will it kill me like, oh, an American city run down by a hurricane and abandoned for the sake of cronyizing the federal government into utter impotence?  Or will it kill me like, drown me in my own attic?

Because if anyone ever wants to have a serious conversation about which ideology, which political party will kill you, will literally kill you, I am very fucking happy to accommodate.

And again, I've got no problem with Steele's speeches and interviews -- I was also a fan of the promos of Dusty Rhodes back in the day -- but he should be careful with his words, lest his very fucking existence be harried by the vengeful souls of the victims of Katrina.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:15 AM

May 21, 2009

more terrorist scuba divers armed with almanacs

The great thing is that on the heels of the news of the Feds busting some home-growns for thinking about blowing shit up is that the creeping cynicism of the appearance of entrapment (or exaggeration of the threat, at least) is now endemic, and a pretty prominent reaction this morning.

The not-so-great thing is that everyone else beat me to it.

But still, the perps might be as close to a case of terrorist scuba divers armed with almanacs as we're going to get -- yeah, they parked some "car bombs", but there's nothing to suggest that this was the product of their own ingenuity, especially since their Act Two was reportedly going to be shooting stinger missiles at an Air National Guard base.  All that's missing is the perps asking the undercover Fed if they can have uniforms.

Nothing says that these idiots should not be arrested, but flogging this story like the Next Heroic Chapter In Our God-Approved War On Terror should be subject to the grain-of-salt rule.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:29 AM

cheney's arms too short to box with tall men

In but a few minutes, the president will deliver a speech that will be carried live, concerning terror and torture and stuff, and soon thereafter Dick Cheney will deliver a speech that will be carried live, also concerning terror and torture and stuff.

The sense I'm getting from a quick dash around the media is that these two speeches will be covered as one story -- perhaps the word "throwdown" will be used.  This would be fair in one sense, just because both men will be talking about roughly the same thing.  But in another sense, I think it's an unfair way to frame the story.  In the words of Josh Marshall:

So as we see the big reporters trying to put him on some sort of equal footing with President Obama today, let's remember that the great majority of Americans see Dick Cheney, accurately, as a clown.

Not that the ex-Veep muttering dark and scary things in front of a live microphone isn't news, I just hate to see him given the fake heft of false equivalence, as journos thrill in seeing their "on the other hand" instincts brought to late-morning life.  This is not a give and take between equals -- one of these dudes is the President of the United States of America, and the other is a neutered megalomaniac grasping at the last straw of relevance.  (Or, at the very least, more kindly: a man whose current standing does not equal that of any president by any metric.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:03 AM

May 20, 2009

the terrorist nimby problem

Briefly: the Senate's cave on the issue of closing Guantanamo, and more specifically, the proviso that detainees shall not be transferred to prisons on US soil, is as dumb as a bucket of goldfish, and should be loudly called so.

The detainees are terrorists (or at least some of them are) and not super-villains.  We as a nation have a prodigiously large prison population already, and I haven't heard of any systemic problems of mass prison escapes and resulting shopping mall terror events.  The hysteria over bad-guy terrorists in our behind-bars midst is just fucking stupid, because we've had more than two hundred years experience of detaining insane evil people and only recently have we had the luxury of imprisoning them on an island whose cigars we cannot legally buy.  Our American shitbird badguys might not have masterminded 9-11, but they've managed to murder a whole lot of people and the local PTA isn't exactly up in arms in the towns that house the detention centers that house them.  They Guantanamo detainees might need to know which direction Mecca is, but they cannot despoil the innocent by virtue of proximity, and the uproar is a knee-jerk over-reaction to a GOP foot-dragging that has some imaginary traction.  Again: it is fucking stupid, and the Democratic caucus of the Senate behaves like the maligned Limbaugh talking-point version of them to accommodate this.

I don't wanna be the "my-president-right-or-wrong" guy, nor do I want to be part of the "bad-as-Bush" crowd.  But I also don't like my intelligence insulted, no matter how used to that I'm getting.

The response to the righteous NIMBY outrage should be, "Oh, shut up."

Posted by mrbrent at 8:26 PM

ventura on hannity

So I watched the footage of Jesse Ventura on Sean Hannity's show, partly for my own edification, and partly to be able to comment on the creeping creepy feeling experienced by progressives realizing that Jesse is leading the charge.  And now that I've seen it (thumbs up), I can say that I understand the cringing one do when one is de facto falling in line behind Ventura -- Jesse has always been fascinating (if not inspiring), but his plain-thinking plain-talking has occasionally painted himself in corners that I wouldn't want to be in.  Watching him wail on Hannity is to quietly anticipate Jesse losing the point and spinning off on some embarrassing Libertarian tangent.

But overall it was a great methodical performance, and I was especially happy to see Jesse push back (loudly) on the "great man who kept us safe for eight years" malarkey, which I hate not for political reasons but because I find pinning boasts on willful mistruths distasteful.  My only complaint about the interview is that the hey-old-buddy-ness of it made the rancor and disagreement seem fake.

Maybe not "seem".  Hmmm.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:20 PM

i do not want to be a media critic

Between the creepy dancing old guy character that shills for Six Flags, now improved from obvious-pro-dancer-wearing-old-guy-head to close-up facially animated old-guy-face, and the stupid Walgreen's radio ad in which some damn housewife-sounding lady brightly describes all the things she needs to buy from Walgreen's (in context) and commits the double sins of referring to certain products by their full trade name and then saying one of her cutesy lines with her mouth full, which is unforgivable, I'm having a small crisis.

I don't know if I grew up thinking that content would someday rise to a level that everyone would agree was appropriate (and smart and funny and earnest and sober), or if I thought that some day I would achieve some serenity where the inane, the profane would no longer bother me, or if I wasn't paying attention to what I was thinking or if I was thinking about the future unwinding at all.

But I do know this: the shit that I watch or listen to, my media consumption, is making me flash hard on Saturday mornings -- the lifeless cartoons, the naked extortion of the advertising, the palette of primary colors and the sense of fat guys behind the curtain smoking cigars and counting the money rolling in.  For Christ's sake, you had Bob Denver and Forrest Tucker in live action Saturday morning shows -- can you imagine anything more plainly, cynically commercial than two middle-aged TV comedians stooping for a last paycheck?  And then you take a whole generation of children with parents holding no fear of the television whatsoever (except for the odd hippie or two) marooned for a four or five hour hitch once a weeks for years.  Impressionable years.  Whatever the distillation of that is, that's what I feel like now is like.

And I can't put my finger on it any more than that stupid dancing old guy and the voiceover actress talking with her mouth full.  You know, advertising is a young industry, but it is at least a century old in its current form.  A dancing old guy jumping out of the TV screen?  Isn't the target demo that would be swayed by that dead, or at least to old to ride a rollercoaster?  And gagging while listening to the radio is supposed to induce drugstore patronage?  God, I'm just thinking about advertising -- I haven't even started to think about actual content, to the extent that the distinction even exists anymore.

Urgh.

Ending on a positive note: Mom's Saturday morning pancakes were the best pancakes I'll ever have.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:10 AM

May 19, 2009

yahoo! box of headlines: thank you, goodnight

This will be the last time that the Yahoo! Headline Box will be cited here.  It was a nice ride, but the creepy Yahoo! redesign altered the Headline Box in two ways that make it untenable as a general reference for all the peoples of the Internet.

First, I've noticed that the last two or three items in the box are of specific NYC interest.  Knowing that no matter how much New Yorkers feel we are the center of the universe, this is not objectively the case (just from what I understand of astronomy); therefore, Yahoo! is sensing my specific location and trying to tailor my news accordingly.  Yawn.

Second, they are now indulging in ellipses for headlines too long to fit on one line.  A nice move towards accuracy, but half of the fun was the tension of the copywriters trying to distill a complex event into six or seven words.  Tension equals comedy -- way ta go, ellipses.

So yeah.  Right now in the version of the Yahoo! Box of Headlines generated by the cookies stored in my browser:

• Actress Angelina Jolie attends war crimes trial at Hague court

Well, I hear that the service at the Hague can't be beat, and that their buffalo wings are pretty snazzy.  But did she bring Brad?

Posted by mrbrent at 2:52 PM

give it up for heather brooke

Further to the egregious expenses scandal in Britain which threatens to dissolve Parliament, old friend Nonstopshoebox's thoughts:
I've been carrying round a copy of the Guardian around with me for a few days, and have only just got round to reading about Heather Brooke who effectively did all the work on the Freedom of Information Act disclosures which confirmed that MPs are a bunch of venal liars.

The link is to an first person piece from Ms Brooke, reflecting on how she upset the entire British Empire with her journalism super-powers and a few FOIA requests.  She wins this personal heart over with her first paragraph:

I've always been in love with old-style investigative journalism.  You know those movies in the 1930s and 40s about the press in Chicago featuring hard-bitten hacks with hearts of gold, like Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday?  I always wanted to be that kind of reporter.

I do know those movies, and those movies are why I talk too fast to this very day.

I don't want to suggest that journalism should continue to be a viable trade because, how else would we be able to overthrow the government?  But Ms Brooke's work should be included in the collection of anecdotal answers to the question, "Why is journalism the only trade protected under the Bill of Rights?"

Posted by mrbrent at 12:01 PM

the interesting timing of larry fink

A small coincidence, but I'm beginning to think that it's a sin to ignore the small coincidences, much like it is to whistle while urinating.  But I've seen BlackRock, a money manager not widely familiar to the citizenry, in the news twice in two hours -- that's like once per hour!

First, the NYT runs a story about BlackRock, bringing to light BlackRock's rapid ascent and the wide range of government advisory/money management contracts obtained by BlackRock:

It makes sense for the government to turn to financial experts for help, but BlackRock has become so ubiquitous that some lawmakers, federal auditors and watchdog groups are now asking if the firm does too much, and if its roles as government adviser, giant federal contractor and private money manager will inevitably collide.

Can a company that is being paid to price and sell troubled assets for the government buy the same kinds of assets for private clients without showing preference?  And should the government seek counsel from a company whose clients stand to make or lose billions if those policies are enacted?

The article does detail what seem to be good-faith efforts by BlackRock to separate divisions that could have adverse (or unethically symbiotic) interests with a Chinese Wall, and more importantly does not allege impropriety.  But "ubiquitous" is close enough to "too big to fail" to raise an eyebrow or two.

And then HuffPo posts a clip of a Monsters of Chief Executive Officering roundtable in which the CEO of BlackRock, a fellow named Larry Fink, goes on the record that the cause of the Great Recession is that we all broke capitalism:

Fink:  Capitalism went way too far and there was no one governing the tails, the excesses of capitalism and im [sic] blaming the investors too...

[CEO of Acme Worldwide Widget or something Jack] Welch:  and government enjoyed it because they got a lot of revenues from it

Fink:  But government accepted this, regulators accepted it, lets be honest Citi was reviewed every quarter by... but it was the investors too... I'm guilty, Mohammad [the moderator, I assume, and not Jack Welch's pet name], we're all guilty everybody here was guilty we accepted that model.

So on the one hand you have the shadowy government possibly too entangled by profit-taking off too many levels of the government, of which I do not approve due to my abiding belief that human nature will eventually cause someone to take advantage of the interrelatedness.  And then on the other hand you have the CEO of this shadowy corporation espousing what must sound like socialism to the WSJ, and the kind of socialism that I play at night to help me sleep better.  Then does that leave us with the money manager too successful to escape scrutiny, or do we have the evildoing financial services firm fronted by a charismatic and obfuscating chief?

I hate it when the world is not black and white enough for my little pea brain.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:01 AM

May 18, 2009

the great republican evacuation of 2009

William Gibson calls this, "Watching an entire political universe inexorably collapse into the singularity at its core."  What "it" is is polling results revealing a mad dash away from the Republican Party that resemble an evacuation, as every demo other than church-going senior citizen conservatives erode as self-identified Republicans.

Personally, I'm leery of triumphalism.  This is not, "Yay, people agree with me!"  This is, "Yay, people who have been duped into voting against their own self-interest by a feckless appeal to their basest instincts are running away from that."  There is a goodly amount of Schadenfreude, which I try to avoid but am imperfect and mean-spirited, but mostly it is a sense of relief that the goalposts are edging back towards reasonability.  The Chicago School ultra-free-market philosophy that was peddled as patriotism wrapped in a flag with a big American cherry on top actually only benefits the elite, and the non-elite are starting to have a big case of "buyer's shock", in the form of the willies.

Ultimately, history will reveal that the great sweep of political success that Karl Rove bragged would be a permanent Republican majority was actually just an artful manipulation of post-9-11 sentiment by Rove, and one that had a much shorter half-life than Rove thought.  Of course it didn't help that as good as Rove was at electioneering he was correspondingly bad at governing, but I don't want to take the blossom off that turd too much, lest he decide to stop talking and serving a public reminder of what an expensive and smartly tailored empty suit he was.

I know, Karl Rove didn't run the government, he just ran the parts that Dick Cheney didn't give a euphemism about.  Point still stands.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:22 PM

if it bleeds bananas, it leads

Compare and contrast, clueless shitbird edition:

First, two enforcement attorneys at the Securities and Exchange Commission decide that using inside info to make stock picks is not the same thing as "insider trading", because of, well, some cognitive dissonance that is mostly interesting because of its lack of rationalization -- if you are touching home base, which is this stapler, then you are safe and not insider-trading.  Not flashy, no, but lack of flash is kind of flashy in its own right.

And then second, dude who tried to knock over an Internet cafe with a banana.

Nothing takes the edge off a long day of not committing crimes like pointing/laughing at big dummies -- how you think Bob Saget made all that money?

I have a friend who works for the SEC, and every time I beg and plead for some inside info he gives me the twisted grin that says, "I think I can get arrested for even joking about that."

And oddly, I have another friend who sometimes puts bananas in his drawers.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:16 PM

maureen dowd

Sometimes having a normal weekend means being unaware that the Internet got set on fire in one's absence.  Maureen Down wrote a column in which someone else's sentence got cut-and-pasted, and the coverage of it is like the Hindenbug crashing fierily over and over again for twelve hours.  If Dowd hasn't tattooed "LOSER" on her forehead by now then we will all learn exactly how long we can tread outrage.

What do I think?  I agree with Sicha's very reasonable take on it, and I think that when my friend crushed my skull by hitting me in the head with his four year-old son last night it might have done lasting damage because the hurting is not helping me see this as the moment that broke journalism.

Having said that, remember, kids: only swipe other people's work if you can get away with it, unless the spectacle of your transgression can get you a book deal or some other notoriety-leveraging gig, in which case why haven't you done that yet?

Posted by mrbrent at 11:33 AM

May 17, 2009

at least dick cheney still has his millions of dollars

Duly chastened after a week of bad publicity, useta-be Vice President Dick Cheney is slinking off to the obscurity of the American Enterprise Institute, where he will explain to a polite and patiently nodding audience why we should un-execute the Japanese soldiers who were found guilty of water-torturing POWs.

No klieg lights, no Green Rooms, no first-name bonhomie with Larry or Jay or Dave.  Or even Wolf.  Just the same fifteen-minute "seven and a half years" bla bla bla, pushing the steam-table beef tenderloin back and forth on the plate and then some old business acquaintances shaking Dick's hand, patting him on the back, not quite able to look him in the eye.

God, even Charlie fucking Rose wouldn't give Dick the "I'm-not-thinking-about-the-dead-pool-when-I'm-talking-to-you" bullshit that Dick is gonna have to wade through at the AEI.

"Where did it all go wrong," Dick Cheney thought to himself, and then caught that thought in his powerful jaws and began to eat it while it was still alive.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:19 AM

good times in the uk

I heard about this late last week, and haven't given it another thought, and now that I have a moment, I feel like a douche for not having paid more attention, because this could be a big story.  Already it offers a lede like this:
The stream of revelations, recriminations and resignations over MPs' expenses has not only wrecked careers and ruined reputations; it has also threatened the legitimacy of mainstream parties to offer themselves for government.  Among ministers, there is a now genuine fear of a rerun of the poll tax riots.

Elected officials in the British government had been treating themselves like they were American business executives, as they buried perk after perk in their budgets, which was permissible but, as they found out, very politically unpopular once revealed.  And the MPs and ministers cooking the books were not limited to a single party -- the anger and, worse, cynicism is directed at the government itself.

It's the kind of event that American loud-mouths (like me) had suspected might happen here once a particular threshold had been reached; screenwriters everywhere are taking copious notes.  I presume that the UK has not Rush Limbaugh-type to distract the pitchforks and the torches into irrelevancy.

The article references soul-searching from the parties on how to whether the storm, and talk of election reform.  There was, however, scant talk of how unscrupulous greed is not a political failing but a moral one, and that even the up-in-arms proletariat, while rightfully cheesed that the elite milk the system for chandeliers and moats, also cheat on their taxes.  Yeah, they're pissed, and they're jealous.

Once the poll tax riots re-happen or not, maybe we can launch into a bigger conversation.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:23 AM