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July 18, 2009

good morning 7.18.09

I was away from not only the desk but most everything else yesterday on a little company outing.  Driving back into the city, as everyone else massaged their Blackberrys to catch up on a day's correspondence, I stared out the window and realized that I hadn't been on the Internet all day long -- huh, how about that.

Scanning through a day's worth of news, it seems that nothing out of the ordinary happened, other than the passing of Walter Cronkite -- sad.  And maybe a good opportunity to remind the younger folk that there was a time not too long ago when the objectivity of the TV news was not questioned (It's true!), largely because of the efforts of Cronkite, who worked hard to be the most trusted man in America, and took the office seriously.  It's not necessarily a good thing, as perhaps the events of the day could have used a dollop of cynicism, or a bad thing, as a mouth-breathing ideologue like Bill O'Reilly would not have been able to become legitimate just by proclaiming himself so, and would have been limited to distributing cheaply made pamphlets to the like-minded through the US Mail.

Some of the commentary on Uncle Walter I've heard/read likes to point out the current phenomena of news consumers tailoring their news intake to match their political agenda as What We Lost when we lost Cronkite, but I think is a spurious point to make, as the habit of choosing the newspaper you read because of its editorial content predates Walter by generations.

But, yes, things are different now (and will be different again, soon), and Cronkite was a man who accomplished much.  So, good morning.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:43 AM

July 16, 2009

john yoo: lowering the bar

I'm a big dummy, and only keep in my head the vague outlines I've what I've learned, or read, but one of the billboard-sized things I've heard about that stuck is the Presidential Daily Briefing that George Bush received in August of 2001 that was headlined, "Bin Laden Determined To Strike In US."

So when an a valued cog of the legal apparatus of the Bush Administration like John Yoo starts off an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal with:

It was instantly clear after Sept. 11, 2001, that our security agencies knew little about al Qaeda's inner workings, could not detect its operatives' entry into the country, nor predict where it might strike next.

Then I can forego reading the op-ed any further, unless I'm mining for more examples of disingenuous and preposterous rhetorical devices.

(And no, he does not go on to support this assertion in his work.  Double-check me, or, better yet, go check on a liveblog of "Top Chef Masters" or some such, because that might be more edifying to any reasonable person.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:17 AM

July 15, 2009

never lie to congress - they have subcommittees

Not for nothing, but the salient point of the hubbub over the Dick Cheney's secret CIA party and you're not invited is not the goals/parameters/missteps of the actual plan, but rather that the Vice President (and I don't know where he is in the org-chart, but I'm sure wherever box he's in, his title is still preceded by "vice") directed the CIA to commit a largish lie of omission to Congress about it.  Especially in the context of late 2001, when there were not a whole lot of ops the members of Congress that are privy to such briefings would have said "no" to.

So the point is not what the actual operation was, but rather why on Earth would a man with putative command over the operation (but with an excellent scowl) cause the CIA to conceal the existence of the operation from the elected representatives with appropriate security clearance who were to be consulted?  What was worth risking the uproar that's now happening?

If the CIA does have some top-secret program to assassinate Al Qaida bigwigs, then I'm buying an extra ticket to the CIA's Benevolent this year -- absolutely no problem with it, and I wish it had been done already.  In fact, that's what I expect of our shadowy foreign intelligence agencies: to commit shadowy actions of foreign intelligence, just like in all those Le Carré novels I've read.

To twist it such that the outcry is over the program and not the process, that critics are so gutless as to oppose actions against terrorists, is a cheap and cynical distortion that's not exactly lubricating the national dialogue -- i.e., par for the course.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:41 PM

consumer proctection, dingbats

Another day at the office in the Senate yesterday, as priorities were confirmed yet again:
President Obama’s plan for a single consumer financial protection agency to regulate mortgages, credit cards, payday loans and other financial products met with stiff opposition from Republicans and industry representatives in Congressional hearings on Tuesday...

But Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the committee, said he was not willing to sign on to an entire agency devoted to consumer protection.  “I find it a bit disturbing and somewhat offensive that the concept of the intellectually deficient consumer has found a voice in our legislative process,” he said.

What would the harm be in having a federal agency tasked with a more vigorous consumer protection?  Harrumph about the "intellectually deficient consumer" all you want -- if there is no exploitation of consumers out there, the the proposed agency will be a not very busy one, and everything's cool.  Where's the risk?

Opponents of consumer protection are implicitly saying that if consumers that are taken advantage of, then it is the fault of the consumers.  That stretches the argument of the sacred free markets into an economic Darwinism, into a land-rush to claim gullible consumers and strip them of their capital before any other business entity does.  Inasmuch as I believe that our measure is taken by how we treat the lowest among us, I'm not comfortable with that model, and I think it's indefensible by anyone other than the Randian dingbats.

What I find disturbing and somewhat offensive is the fact that this tacit protection of business interests against the interests of actual flesh and blood citizens is voiced without any shame.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:11 PM

h1n1 sez hi

While you were marveling at the bravery and rhetorical skill Sens. Sessions and Graham as they grilled Judge Sotomayor heedless of how hypocritical, misogynist and patronizing they might seem, the bird flu snuck into your house, ate all your food and is now rifling through your LP collection.  Once it finds the Funkadelic album it's looking for ("Maggot Brain"), the liquor cabinet is next!
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saying the new H1N1 virus is "unstoppable", the World Health Organization gave drug makers a full go-ahead to manufacture vaccines against the pandemic influenza strain on Monday and said healthcare workers should be the first to get one.

Every country will need to vaccinate citizens against the swine flu virus and must choose who else would get priority after nurses, doctors and technicians, said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research.

So yeah basically we were unable to stop its spread across the globe, so now the WHO is advocating an ounce of prevention, with a tablespoon of panic -- the virus didn't seem to affect everyone it infected as bad as the few that it killed, but the more virulent form of H1N1 is all like Swine Flu virulent, and that would be bad news in the future if the virulence ramps up.

It says something that the morning news seems to be largely H1N1 free this morning, in light of how alarming the WHO story is -- maybe we're back to feeling invulnerable?  Not that a return to shrill-screechy-utter panic would be welcome, but surely our societal reaction to the looming flu menace has more flavors than "freak out" and "ignore".

Me, I've been wary since I was told that the alignment of the planets in 1982 would turn the moon to blood and shit, so my hand-washing will not noticeably alter.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:28 AM

July 14, 2009

ayn rand: dingbat

So for whatever reason Ayn Rand is a bit of a topic again -- I suppose her work will be until every last gol-darned self-actualizer just ups and goes the heck Galt -- and I've discovered if you mention Ayn Rand, in your blog, in your Twitter feed, you attract a bit (small but noticeable) of traffic from people who think of Galt's Gulch as something other than a punchline.

And sometime I should really sit down and let these people try and convince me as to the error of my ways.  Someday.

Until then, I've been wondering what the casual slander against a fan of Ayn Rand that might actually hurt his/her (who'm I kidding?  His.) feelings, presuming that discipline and success has not objectivized every feeling out of this person.  And I think I have it:


Could be wrong -- maybe unfounded and weak-willed calumny only strengthens his will, self-regard, bad manners, etc.  But we'll go with it for now.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:35 PM

sarah palin never met a paragraph

I swear to God Sarah Palin has two speechwriters -- one to churn out the peppy Neocon copy, with hot button phrases like "Washington bureaucrats" and "ardent liberals" and other 1989's-latest-model rhetoric, and and another to dumb it up so it sounds like Palin actually wrote it.

Case in point is this Washington Post op-ed, which, as a column, is submitted in print and not barreled through on camera, so the medium gives rise to the suspicion that quirks of its language are not mavericky ad-libs but rather vetted and on purpose.

Like this one:

Many states have abundant coal, whose technology is continuously making it into a cleaner energy source.

You could waste time figuring out whether the technology belongs to the coal or the states, but then you realize that neither coal nor states possess technology in any sense, so, whose technology again?  Also, quick, don't think: define "continuously".

Or this one:

We must move in a new direction.  We are ripe for economic growth and energy independence if we responsibly tap the resources that God created right underfoot on American soil.  Just as important, we have more desire and ability to protect the environment than any foreign nation from which we purchase energy today.

Once upon a time there were three happy paragraphs.  They were related, but only distantly.  In fact, right next to each other, they didn't make a lick of sense as a progression of thoughts.  Then one day they met the pen of Palin12.  Needless to say, the results were horrific, and the paragraphs were left unrecognizable.

To be clear: I'm not attacking Palin's ideas -- I'm calling her stupid.  Though, even with the low bar set by Palin's policy acumen, it's some pretty rote stuff.)

Posted by mrbrent at 7:39 AM

July 13, 2009


And for an actual respite for reading political content, check this paragraph out:
I read before my journey to Baja of what happens to people when they come in contact with a whale, how they tend to go, literally and figuratively, a bit overboard: nearly tipping over boats for a passing touch; spontaneously breaking into song; crying out in ecstasy; or just flat-out crying. Frohoff herself warned me as we were first boarding Dolphin II that morning that she was given to doffing her scientist hat in the presence of a whale, and sure enough, there was Fluffy, her microphone, set down for a moment beneath her seat, Frohoff dangling far out over the boat’s prow, arms outstretched, cooing and trilling at the approaching mother and calf. Another watcher in our boat began singing Broadway show tunes. I joined in.

It's from this feature in the NYTimes magazine, about how whales are approaching dolphins on the list of species that make us wonder about our supposed dominion over everything else -- which, in light of our comparatively more vigorous historical effort to kill whales, can give pause.

It's written by Charles Siebert, and it is well worth the read.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:48 PM

paul krugman on frogs

Take a small pause in your breathless consumption of op-eds and other writings on current affairs.  Just for a second.  Because, while you've been harboring doubts over your leaving-the-house vs. staring at computer ratio, I'd like to remind you that you may actually learn something.  No, not something about politics -- you're as calcified on that as an oak tree grown around a storm fence.  I mean actual facts.  Like this, from this morning's Paul Krugman, which you've no doubt already read (emphasis mine):
I’m referring, of course, to the proverbial frog that, placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, never realizes the danger it’s in and is boiled alive.  Real frogs will, in fact, jump out of the pot — but never mind.

See?  Actual fact: your entire life's study of rhetoric has been at least partly built on a lie.

And now please resume media consumption, so that media people will continue to have jobs.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:39 AM

July 12, 2009

of course i will laugh at the girl who fell in a manhole

One of the larger temptations I face is to turn this into the porch from which I yell at the kids to get off my lawn.  I'm sure I tend that way enough, but a side effect of city living is the litany of complaints against you neighbors that lives inside your head at all times.  And these complaints want out, badly.

Which I resist, because I'm still gunning to be Miss Congeniality someday, somehow.

But this story is a clear opportunity to remind that, "[X] can't walk and chew gum at the same time," used to be a popular and colorful way to call someone stupid.  The moral: don't text message while walking, or you might fall into a manhole, and then everyone will make fun of you.

And while I'm here, please let the passengers off the train before entering, and then everyone get where they need to get faster, and no one will shove you and call you an asshole.

Also, I don't really have a lawn, but I'm sure that the lawn I will have someday is filled with kids.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:24 AM

sad answers to orphan questions 7.12.09

This one will be easy -- so far this month, my favorite referring keyphrase from a search engine that landed some poor hapless soul on this site is:
kennedy chappaquidick

I can clear that one up quickly and neatly -- the answer you are looking for, sir (ma'am?), is in 1979, when people cared about that.  So you have fun back there, and we'll go about our business here, in the present.

You also might have more luck rooting around in 1979 if you spelled Chappaquiddick correctly.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:45 AM