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October 17, 2009

sweet government interference

In this morning's GOP response to the president's weekly fireside chat, Texas Representative Kevin Brady said this seemingly innocuous sentence:
Americans inherently know government interference drives costs up, not down.

Er, they do not know that.  They get it crammed down their throats from school-age on, but it's just not true.  Look at your most basic utilities, water and waste removal, which are government-regulated because it's impossible to live without either.  Do you find the costs of either to be excessive, either now or over the long term?  Do you think that the Interstate system is unscrupulously expensive?  Now compare these to the expenses of less regulated enterprises, like your cable or cell phone bill.  Are these not both costly in the short term plus also increasing at a mystifying pace?

And the cheapest of all is the government-run program, of course, as it takes that fifteen to twenty percent "overhead" in private enterprise, mostly comprised of profit margins for the bigwigs, and shrinks it down to a pure overhead of three or four percent.  You literally get more for what you pay for because ain't no one trying to take a vig on it.

It Saturday morning and I'm late for cartoons and pancakes, so I'm not doing the job of citing stats on any of this.  But this American knows what Rep. Brady asserts to be incorrect.  Inherently even.  And no decades amount of repeating it as if it were fact will make it so.

Keven Brady: you lie!  And you've got beady eyes!

Posted by mrbrent at 10:02 AM

October 16, 2009

nyt on bachmann

So there was this.  The New York Times turns its gimlet eye to explaining the phenomena of Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), who is known around these parts as being somethinger than a shithouse rat.  And it's not such a good profile — it runs down her particulars, and even debunks some of her statements, but meh.

Mostly, the story is guilty of understatement, as everyone who follows politics (and not governance, say) knows that Bachmann really outdoes herself with each successive statement that struggles to make sense both internally and in the larger sense of the world.  Plus also she has crazy eyes, but that's pure subjecture on my part.

In fact, if there's anything worth reporting on Bachmann, I'd say it would be the question of whether she actually means the stuff she says?  Because if she does, it would make her perhaps the dumbest person in the State of Minnesota.  And if she doesn't, then that makes her shrewd and calculating as she LCDs herself into the hearts of profoundly stupid but aggrieved Americans.

But the good news is that finally she's arrived!  And if she gets one more feature on her in some vaguely respectable publication — why, then she's practically halfway to the state house!

Posted by mrbrent at 12:41 PM

perhaps the nicest racist jerk yet

With regard to this outrage of the day, for once, the accused racist seems like he could pass for a decent guy, and if you squint while reading about it, you can see how his protestations are not rote or calculated and possibly he's just a misguided dude making a bad decision.  It's not like he's giving these quotes while smirking and pantomiming a lynching like a recent transgressor.

But how can you be reasonably intelligent in 2009 and not think that something like, oh, denying a marriage license to a mixed race couple will not blow up into a news storm that will make you famous and hated?  Or do these little casual cruelties happen all the time and only rarely get reported?

I just wanted to stick up for nuance for once and give the dumb-ass credit for that portion of him that is not dumb-ass.  And maybe politely remind that society is to blame for some of this?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:51 AM

balloon boy

So I had a dream last night that was even worse than the whole afternoon of Balloon Boy that we'll never get back — I'm tooling around dream-Manhattan and these enormous ink-black supercells keep flying in from the northeast and if you have the bad luck to be underneath them, they fill the sky with lightning and winds that topple buildings.  So the dream was basically about finding something sturdy to hide under in between storms.

Yeah, it was terrifying, but a) meet my debut sci-fi novel; and b) if our collective attention span and need to be entertained is such that every freaking network/website will splash coverage of a maybe six year-old boy maybe falling a couple thousand feet, then maybe building-toppling storms are what we deserve.

It was a pretty cool saucer-balloon, I'll give you that.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:54 AM

October 15, 2009

yes more limbaugh schadenfreude

The Rush Limbaugh/NFL/salivation story had more legs than I thought it would, especially when his business partners kicked him to the curb, as now the usual suspects allege that the politically correct thought police are responsible for this and that it's a terrible day for liberty etc. etc.

I have a feeling this won't be the last time that this has to be repeated, but the exercise of your First Amendment rights is not the same thing as the freedom from consequence.  Limbaugh can opine however he likes without interference from the government.  That's his First Amendment Right.  But if some of what he says inspires someone to not buy his book, say, or to choose not to listen to him, then the First Amendment never enters into the picture.  And the same goes if an individual decides that they don't want to do business with Limbaugh.  No one, not even the government, can impel someone to do business with someone else no matter what the person says.  And nor would I think that someone who agrees with Limbaugh would welcome such an interference with free enterprise.

So please cut it out with the First Amendment yadda yadda.

But most entertaining is this gem of a reaction from RedState (via The Awl) which hilariously ends a tightly wound screed about how We Are All Rush Limbaugh (ew!) with this quote:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

- Pastor Martin Niemöller

Which basically implies that once They get done coming for all the caricatures of the left, then they'll get around to coming for the RedStaters.  Which is most unlikely, even if that's what he meant!  If you're going to appropriate the past rhetorical successes of the opposition, you're supposed to fudge it so it makes at least a lick of sense.

But really after all, there is nothing more manly than whining and crying.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:31 PM


Disturbing trend: escalating bully violence.

And disturbing reaction: "What will we do to stop this epidemic of violent bullies!?!"  [Links withheld b/c it's not nice to point.]

Not to be too glib on this: there are some issues that can be addressed on a societal level, and there are some issues that cannot.  Or maybe not "cannot", but more "can only over a span that lasts generations."  If you have a bunch of, say, jaywalking, then the 5-0 can put their heads together and find ways to crack down on jaywalking to discourage the behavior.  But a whole bunch of kids who grew up bad seeds... I'm not sure how you address that other than by trying better with the next generation.

It's not like it's the bullies that are the problem.  They're the symptom.  Incivility is winning these days.  You can blame video games or network television, but the Zeitgeist temperature is rising, and it's not only the teen bullies that are making the day-to-day untenable — all those little teen bullies have parents that yell in traffic and leave poison for the neighbor's dog and compare public figures to Hitler.  Try going to a ballgame.  Hell, try leaving the house.  Maybe Andy Rooney has been right all along: the world is one big lawn and we need to get off it.

Some say that this is all a by-product of a me-first, free market society, as there is no margin in being a good neighbor or a good citizen.  I'm not gonna say that, but I will let it float there while I think about the implications.

And I was bullied too!  Weren't most of us?  Isn't that the gauntlet you run through to get out of adolescence?  And I can't believe that dynamic has changed too much in the intervening years.  So, are the concerned Americans of America hoping that we all hold hands and stop bullies forever, or just stop bullies from setting other kids on fire?  Because the second one seems more of an attainable goal.

If it's the former, then it's going to take more than a couple After-School Specials to get there.  The instinct towards collective action is admirable, but I'm not sure what it's going to accomplish without a nationwide "you're grounded" movement.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:50 PM

ronaldus magnus

So as if mildly oversleeping were not enough, I spent a sizable portion of the morning's bandwidth trying to think of something pithy/shrill to write about "Ronaldus Magnus".  Josh Marshall did, which was hilarious, especially for a guy busy trying to turn journalism upside down from the Internet-side out.  But me, I try and try and all of a sudden I'm doing the mental math to figure out how old my little dog is, because my brain done gave up.

"Ronaldus Magnus" is mock-proof, because nothing could be more scathing and incisive than the initial decision to first conjure up the high school Latin.  And then to actually put it in writing!  And then kidnapping stray cats as offerings to the great Ronaldus Magnus.

Basically the author of that little venture beat us all to it.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:41 AM

October 14, 2009

the georgia peach

If you happen to be driving through Paulding, GA and are thinking about stopping somewhere for a bite, you might want to skip the Georgia Peach.  Nothing wrong with a restaurant owner exercising his First Amendment right, I guess, but I imagine he's too busy congratulating himself for showing those liberals a thing or two to be any good at cooking.

But I do remember a time when throwing the n-word up on your signage was an more an invitation to scorn and turned backs than it was to celebrity.

Wait — I don't actually remember that time.  It's my naivite I'm remembering.

(And if you want a true measure of the depths of this dude's beliefs, read the Atlanta Journal & Constitution story about the thing, which is shocking enough all by itself.)

Posted by mrbrent at 5:59 PM

cern wednesdays?

Too many items concerning CERN, whose particle accelerator intends to end the world with a particle-physics hiccup, these days, so it must be addressed.  Especially when an item concerning the investigation of a CERN physicist for Al Qaida connections contains this following paragraph:
In principle, antimatter could be used to make a powerful bomb, because particles and their antiparticles annihilate each other into pure energy on contact.  This was the premise of the recent movie and book by Dan Brown, “Angels and Demons,” as well as a propulsion scheme in “Star Trek.”

No matter what I said yesterday, "Star Trek" does not deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as Dan Brown unless there is a verb connoting violence connecting them.  But a nice example of the perils of explaining the importance of egghead stuff to the general public.

And speaking of egghead stuff, and even more interesting that possible terrorist infiltration of CERN, this may be my favorite theory to grab headlines outside of the science journal world — the target particle of CERN itself is foiling efforts to produce evidence of its existence.  I only understand enough of it that I understand that I don't understand much, but basically the particle, the Higgs bosun, is so bad-ass that it exerts a discrete but forceful effect on experiments to find it, which influence could be dismissed as "bad luck".

Sound crazy?  Well, crazy is a start, and I'd say read the article to get a deeper understanding, but then I'd have to ask you to then better explain it to me.  Revel instead in a weird world that intends to keep itself so.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:51 AM

no, i have nothing to disclose but my talent

I'll try not to do this every Wednesday, but Sam Sifton is one of the most talented writers I read, and he's back on the restaurant reviewing beat for the New York Times.  His debuts run today — a hearty clap on the back for DBGB Kitchen & Bar, and a friendly nod at Cowboy Seahorse, which sources the menu throughout the NYC space-time continuum.

I'm not gonna bother with the "haven't been to that resto," as I feel it should be implicit, and the point of these is only partly to review the restaurants and convince you to/dissuade you from giving them your money.  Right?  I don't have to ruin Christmas and spell it out?

So make a habit of reading Sifton, and I'll shut up about him now.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:28 AM

good morning 10.13.09

So here in NYC we have this mayoral election, and last night I tried to do my civic duty and watch the debate between the incumbent Michael Bloomberg (who was first the mayor of Boston and then of a TV network) and Comptroller Bill Thompson.  Did you see it?  It was held in a Macy's loading bay, which space was shared with an AA meeting, and moderated by the 57th caller from last night.  Bloomberg was typical Bloomberg — imperious, peeved, short — and Thompson was full of fire, but sadly looks like a bird (to those people who know who Thompson is).  Thompson was having a whole lot more fun than he would if he bought a sports car, and Bloomberg all but said out loud that he wished that someone would tell him how big a check to write and be done with it.

I kind of wish we'd do away with this foregone-conclusion election and save everyone time and money by designated a despot to take care of local affairs.  Which is why Bloomberg is running for his eighth term, I believe.

But good morning, you guys.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:25 AM

October 13, 2009

stross vs. st:tng

Charles Stross, whose novels I enjoy immensely, takes on "Star Trek: The Next Generation", which I enjoyed when I was eighteen years old for is vision of distracting utopianism.
Star Trek and its ilk are approaching the dramatic stage from the opposite direction: the situation is irrelevant, it's background for a story which is all about the interpersonal relationships among the cast.  You could strip out the 25th century tech in Star Trek and replace it with 18th century tech — make the Enterprise a man o'war (with a particularly eccentric crew) at large upon the seven seas during the age of sail — without changing the scripts significantly.  (The only casualty would be the eyeball candy — big gunpowder explosions be damned, modern audiences want squids in space, with added lasers!)

Yes, it turns out that the utopianism was purely there for the distraction, and that each episode was a small reenactment of a previous episode with different "tech" thrown in to save the day.  Or even that the utopianism promulgated by the series was that of a static world in which the people living on it were bloodless policemen of the proper order, and not people, like you and me, who do things like win or lose.

This is why I am now a cynic, and am probably lying to you more often than not — I thought it was a vision of a finer world and slowly came to realize it was just "tech".

Patrick Stewart is still my favorite Captain, though.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:37 PM

bufallo wings

Imagine my horror when, during a subway ride in which I try to absorb a day's worth of news, I see, right there on the second page of the National section of the New York Times, a story about buffalo wings.  Was this it, the moment that the NYT decided that if you can't beat 'em join 'em and was refashioning itself as HuffPost, with blithely ganked stories and plenty of specious lifestyle pieces and boobs thrown in for the linkbait?  What on Earth was news about chicken wings?

But I read further, as I am wont to do on my better days, and found that the story contained legitimate news: the growing popularity of chicken wings combined with recession-shrunk consumption of the lower-fat chicken cuts have rendered chicken wings more expensive now than skinless breasts.  Which is absolutely insane but a strong reminder that ultimately we live in a market economy and value is not intrinsic (see lobster, the one-time poor man's chicken).

So now reimagine my horror, not at the NYT but rather at the fact that I've reached the point where not only have I been priced out of neighborhoods, but also out of my favorite foods.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:02 AM

October 12, 2009

the shrillity of my friends, the left-wing

This is the smallest of small stories, but it's a federal holiday and I'm desk-bound so it is worth five minutes: basically, a White House flack said some mean things about bloggers on the left and now bloggers on the left are STEAMED!

To which I say: grow up a little bit, bloggers on the left.  Frankly, you can be shrill and melodramatic, and your calls to the ramparts whenever the administration refuses to give you a backrub only confirm your shrillness and melodramata.  We are all interested parties with ideologies that differ either widely or by degrees.  When your own personal ideology slips over into orthodoxy, then you damn well are probably wearing pajamas.

You did not get thrown in front of a bus — you got mocked, and hamfistedly.  And the flack (who'd a dick, sure) who mocked you has probably won the bet he made based on your reaction, so please just hush, plug in a "West Wing" DVD, maybe watch Stewart and Colbert before you go nighty-night.  And tomorrow please govern yourselves accordingly.  Because you guys are great!  You got the tools, the talent, etc.  You can take a few "stoopid bloggers", right?

(And when I say "you" I'm going to have to include myself, for fairness' sake.  But if you check my surname, you'll see that mockery is something I had to not care about pretty quick in life.)

Posted by mrbrent at 5:13 PM

time enough at last, starring rush limbaugh

It's a learnin' moment, and it involves Rush Limbaugh, the big fella for whom I've run out of ad hominem!

Limbaugh is making quiet noise for credibility.  See, he's just an entertainer, looking for ratings.  It's just a business, like any other — supply and demand.  So can he please buy the St. Louis Rams please, as he is a sports fan and all?

Actually no, he cannot buy the St. Louis Rams, or so says the NFL Players Union, who not only have no small sway over the issue but also make a fair point: a bilious gasbag is not the kind of guy the sport needs with a hand on the till of any team.  I'm paraphrasing, of course, and this does beg comparisons to Jerry Jones, but still.  Sorry, Mr Limbaugh, go buy a jet or an island instead.  In fact, the very thing that has made you wealthy beyond wildest dreams is the very thing that disqualifies you!

It's all very reminiscent of that Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith where he's finally the last man in the world but oh no he broke his glasses!  The irony!

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, of course.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:51 PM

ross douthat: aw, look at the cute little neocon!

Further to the immediately preceding post, you may now ask yourself why it is you know Ross Douthat, who turns in a column to the NYTimes (which is paying him money, I believe) concerning how the president is a failure for not turning down that award-thing he got last Friday — an idea whose halflife is shorter than that of your average Twitter hashtag.

But yeah yeah we all know that — why bring up Douthat?  Because, buried in the depths of his out-Kristol-ing Kristol is this tidy little libel:

Here was a place to draw a clean line between himself [Obama, that is] and all the overzealous Obamaphiles, at home and abroad, who poured their post-Christian, post-Marxist yearnings into the vessel of his 2008 campaign.

Now that leaves me confused by my yearnings.  I had no idea that they were informed by both Christianity and Marxism, and I betcha both Christ and Marx are more than confused to be sitting in the same rhetorical zip code.  Unless, of course, Douthat means Groucho Marx, in which case guilty as charged, guv'ner.

And secondly, big duh, presumably a lot of those Obamaphiles are people that voted for him, and the logic in pissing them off to satisfy Ross Douthat, a man (a columnist) who will not be voting for him, is addled.

Remember: the NYT pays him for these.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:45 AM

October 11, 2009

good morning 10.12.09

Just so you know, it is actually seasonal out there in NYC right now, so remember to wear long pants.

Also just so you know, if anyone you know offers unsolicited opinions about President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize today, you should reconsider knowing that person.  This is the fourth day after Obama got gifted by the Norwegians, and unless you have always been Nobel-obsessed, if you are still giving thought to Obama/Nobel then you need to ask yourself what you are obsessed about.  Some dude you'll never ever meet got an tenuously-reasoned award from some dudes you'll absolutely never meet.  It won't affect your taxes or your healthcare or the price of buffalo wings.  The weekend is over.  Shh.

So yeah, good morning.  It is cold out there.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:48 PM