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August 28, 2009

a spy on the house of panera

I'm at a Panera Bread (for its wi-fi and coffee) in s sleepy Pennsylvania town to try to get some quick work done and there is this largish group sitting behind me (there are always largish groups at Panera -- either Bible study or home sales meetings) and this largish group I eyeballed as Bible study because they were talking about their kids and the darndest things they say so I sat and logged on.  They are two tables to my back.  Now they are talking freaking Hilary Clinton conspiracy theories and about how capitalism is under assault and OH THEY WENT HITLER and boy that's not the first thing I want to deal with in the morning when I've got some shit that needs doing.

It is my own fault -- they seemed so innocuous and now they are complaining of the advertisers who have dropped Bill O'Reilly (even though I'm pretty sure they mean Glenn Beck and YES I am mocking them for being stupid and if they don't like it they can try being smart).

I was going to talk about how the coverage of the death of Ted Kennedy has verified that the networks have crack squads of obitumentarians on call at all times and now they're talking BIRTH CERTIFICATES.  And they don't have inside voices.

Sitting in the middle of the Great Unhingement, this is me saying, "Good morning."

Posted by mrbrent at 9:22 AM

August 27, 2009


It seems that non-profit rip-off schemes is experiencing a tetch of synchronicity this week, as Cory Doctorow, out of nowhere, links up an exploration of how a non-profit owns Ikea, enabling it to only pay a tax rate of 3.5%:
Ikea's corporate structure is insanely complicated.  It is technically owned by a Dutch charitable nonprofit -- a strategy that allows the group to pay 3.5% tax on annual profits of €553m.  However, the charity itself appears to do almost no charitable giving.  Most of the money disappears into generic line-items like "other operating charges" which it refuses to explain.

And remember, the excellent thing about these contortions employed to dodge paying taxes on the profits is that they are perfectly legal, and in fact I'm sure a number of American concerns are pouring over the explanation, looking to see if the structure can be replicated state-side.

Because that's what unregulated markets do -- legitimize cheating.  Oh, and promote liberty too, duh.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:29 AM

August 26, 2009

what they say once you're dead

Representative obituary sentiments on Ted Kennedy: Lion of the Senate, instrumental in decades of legislation that helped the downtrodden, personally flawed but absolutely committed to public service.  I think that kind of captures it, right?

So, the bad-person thought I had last night is that, when someone (and not everyone, but most everyone) on the other side of the aisle passes away, will they be lauded for the taxes on the rich they cut, and the regulations affecting business they repealed?  As long as the history-book argument is in play, is, "He was a principled xenophobe!" ever, ever going to be a laud laid at the foot of an expired long-termed Republican senator?

Even Ronald Reagan, much beloved -- what did anyone say other than the fact that he was much beloved?  What did he actually accomplish, other than a dismantling of tax law and other protections that prevented undue inequity of wealth?  Actually, I do remember words like "freedom" and "liberty" being used, which I guess is what you achieve if you only favor the privileged.  Was he remembered as having done tangible things, or just for being a rilly good president?

I'm being a little bit neener-neener, but I'm filing this under long-standing effort to understand the gulf between the right and the left.  Because the moral equation has always seemed glaring to me, but I'm also frequently wrong, etc. -- that kind of stuff.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:16 PM

politco: getting ahead of the kennedy story

Not to pile on Politico for their spuriousness, but today they are running a story the gist of which is that, well, as put forth in the lede:
Sen. Ted Kennedy's place in history books has been reserved for decades, but determining exactly where he fits is no easy task.

The more succinct way to put that would have been:

There are many interesting things about Sen. Ted Kennedy's place in the history books.

Maybe that's mean of me to say, but then again maybe Jesus God can't you wait at least for the funeral before you file a let-s-you-and-him-fight story with a bunch of historians wiping the sleep out of their eyes while answering questions about a man not yet twelve hours dead?

OK, I take that back -- I am totally piling on Politico for all the usual things everyone piles on Politico for -- transparent linkbaiting, dubiously tabloid conclusions, cynical contrarianism -- freely and of my own will.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:55 PM

please tip the friends of the high line

The dubious utility of the High Line here in the very Westish side of middle Manhattan just got a whole lot more dubious, in a douche-y sense.

The NYT reports that Robert R. Hammond, the kahuna of the non-profit that shepherded the High Line's conversion into sterile walking-trough, is paying himself over $250,000 a year.

Me, I'm just pissed off because its another example of how markets clearly do not police themselves, as Hammond is only being paid that much money because he can get away with it.  (It is, as the article points out, more than the NYC Parks Commissioner gets paid.)  And it's a useful example for the fair compensation discussion: the annual operating budget of the High Line is reported to be around $4 million.  I don't know if that budget includes Hammond's pay, but for purposes of comparison, his pay is six and a quarter percent of that budget -- and arguably not the best way to spend that six and a half percent of that budget.

But the truly pissed off should be the famous and/or wealthy residents of the neighborhoods abutting the High Line, who have been steadily pressed for a decade to pony up for the Friends of the High Line in support of the then-admirable effort to parkify the High Line, because I'm not sure if any of them were told that part of their money would be used to enrich Hammond.

Perhaps the most pissed off will be the Internal Revenue Service, who like to ensure that non-profit entities are actually not used for private profit.  (I'm dreaming, of course -- the salary is well within precedent for other 501(c)(3)'s -- but no harm in hoping for a finer day.)

It's a small thing to get cheesed about, and $250,000 certainly isn't going to buy Hammond an island somewhere, but it's demonstrative of the kind of thing that should generate outrage and does not, thereby outraging my own personal self.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:43 AM

ted kennedy

I hate to trivialize the deaths of public figures by writing about them, but the first candidate I picked by myself was Ted Kennedy in the Democratic primaries leading up to the 1980 election.  My nine-year old ass was totally a Kennedy man, despite the incumbent and despite the crazy Independent, John Anderson.

This has no bearing on the achievements of Kennedy's life, of his Senate career, of his literal lifetime of service, and of how he consistently applied the measuring stick of how we treat the least fortunate among us.

But a nine year old can do a whole lot worse than picking Ted Kennedy, spuriously, as a guy to vote for.

Losing Ted Kennedy, and losing him to such a pernicious feckless fucking disease, sure does suck, but let's good morning our way through this.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:08 AM

August 25, 2009

a word from dick cheney

Dick Cheney would like to remind all of you are all free to believe in what you want to believe in as long as Dick Cheney believes it too, and that the rule of law is the most important of the numerated cornerstones of our great nation, as long as it the law that Dick Cheney makes up as he goes along.

Which is one of the awesomer things about not being in the Naval Observatory anymore -- Dick Cheney doesn't have to keep up pretending that HE HAS TO PAY ATTENTION TO ALL THOSE STUPID LAWS and then even sometimes MAKE UP LISTS OF LAWS THAT HE'S ABSOLUTELY GONNA FOLLOW not like last time and THIS TIME HE MEANS IT.  Of course he didn't mean it, and the thing about Dick Cheney you fail to understand is that Dick Cheney has only ever lied because YOU STUPID PISSANTS WON'T LET HIM TELL THE TRUTH.

And the truth is if that dry-drunk with the fake cornball accent wouldn't have lost his nerve in 2005 Iran would be a glow-in-the-dark parking lot and we wouldn't have to be having this conversation.

Also, if the Redskins do not at least make the wild card this season then Dick Cheney is going to do something that will make all you so-called comedians retire all the stupid "shoot in the face" jokes for something a little more timely.

Oh right, a link!  It wouldn't be a Dick Cheney post without a link!

Posted by mrbrent at 5:14 PM

good morning 8.25.09

In the middle of an otherwise unremarkable dream last night, Bobby Flay cornered me at an ice cream shop (I think it was -- art gallery, maybe?) to grill me about what I knew of the new spot opening next to Mimi's Hummus.

I wouldn't say it was a good dream, or a bad dream.  Just: (i) Cortelyou Road is invading my consciousness, and (ii) sometimes Bobby Flay really wants to know something.

And for my next trip, gonna go get car fixed.  It's No-Fun Tuesday!  Aaand good morning.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:50 AM

August 24, 2009

compassionate releases

Very good, very long consideration of the compassionate release of the man jailed for bombing Pan Am Flight 103 from Charles Stross, in which he makes some pointed but valid points concerning these United States (which I won't excerpt in deference for his stated desire that the reading of his thoughts is volitional, considering his station as novelist depending on good will from readers, etc.).  And if I'm not making the tone clear, he is arguing for compassion and against vengeance, and I think he's convinced me that I agree with him.  Though my inate American-ness fills me with "How dare they," I have to fall back on, "This is how the good guys act."

And of all the reasons sited by opponents of the release, there's one I gotta knock down on matter of principle -- ultimately, if a person is bemoaning the release because it incentivizes further acts of terrorism, then that person is IMO not very well versed in the motives behind such acts of terror.  That is to say, if a terrorist is excited by the prospect of a release from prison once they have cancer, then this terrorist is not a terrorist per se but a wannabe idiot of the like that the FBI have duped into prosecution over the past few years -- the ones that want uniforms and weed.

But bottom line, yeah -- being compassionate is hard, and not always a reciprocal act.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:43 PM

free julia child (from nora ephron)

It was a pleasant surprise to see a picture of Julia Child on the front page of today's NYT, and it was even more pleasant that the picture was only tangentially related to that Nora Ephron movie in which a blog is used to rationalize the existence of a Julia Child biopic.

The story is about how the movie has spurred on book sales of Julia's work, specifically "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", which is one of the few books that all the foodies (or alternately, folk who like cooking and eating) can agree on.  And of course there are the obligatory reactions of purchasers who are shocked -- SHOCKED! -- at how much butter is used in the recipes.  It's true, but even more shocking are what's not in the recipes, like Cheez Whiz, cream of mushroom soup and powdered flavor mixes.

Yes, I know that a lady is quoted in the story as using cans of soup as cheats in a Julia recipe for boeuf bourguignon -- this lady is probably not a bad lady but she might want to go back to the Rachel Ray cookbooks and just substitute a stick of butter for the 2 tsps of olive oil -- her husband will be just as happy for the food, and she can spend less time missing the point entirely.

And now I'm hungry.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:01 PM

August 23, 2009

good morning 8.23.09

Call me old fashioned, but I am not a fan of the post, be it a blog post or more commercial, that involves clicking through to a post that consists only of a media player with some streaming content.  Nothing against video (in fact I was raised on it), but the majority of the time I'm surfing the Net I am looking primarily for something to read and not to watch, and so to be tempted to add a click to a page that might have something like a transcript but instead only quick "people did funny thing WATCH" and the video is a frustration to me.

Not to mention the fact that for sport I sometimes tool around the web in a shiny browser from 2002 that does not like to be surprised by things like embedded video lest it gets startled into crashing.

Though maybe the reason I feel this complaint is appropriate is that there are a large number of sites who make money off the eyeballs that are increasingly recording television programming and posting clips of funny/interesting bits, like if someone accidentally says "fuck" or falls down.  This may be a useful service for those so burdened by a career that they cannot watch 14 hours of television a day.  I would rather pretend that the fact that I'm not watching all that television means that it is actually not happening.  And it's a cheap-ass way to provide content, I might add.

Wait, actually call me "Captain Old Fashioned" or something snazzier.  Good morning!

Posted by mrbrent at 8:32 AM