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October 30, 2009

cheney: all in the family

Speaking of winning, I won the betting pool for the first republican to say disapproving things about Obama visiting Dover Air Force Base two nights ago!

I picked "non-elected publicity whore" and "just long enough to make you think they won't go there".

And I was right!

This is another example of mud slung based on the innermost desires of the slinger — a photo-opper leveling the dire charge of photo-opping.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:13 PM

we have won the war on childhood

Today brought with it some excellent news: childhood has been irreparably destroyed!  So let's all give ourselves a pat on the back.

It's been a long hard slog, but back when we started our war on childhood — helmets!?! for bike riding!?! &mdash: I just knew we would prevail in the end.  It sure did take long enough though, right?  I thought that after banning classic cartoons from Saturday morning television we were most of the way there, but no.  There were still see-saws to be demolished, and monkey bars to rip out of the ground in the dead of night.

Also, Baby Einstein?  Nice freakin' job.

And credit where credit is due: childhood has been a worthy opponent, what with its imagination and whimsy.  And the cuteness!  That was some sort of secret weapon, right?  But ultimately our determination and the general soul-crushing-ness of modern society won out over their giggles and pretending and low center of gravity.  Better luck next time, childhood.

My only regret is now that every parent in the universe has been whipped up into a state of perpetual paranoia, it is impossible to actually smile at a stranger's child without being beaten by an angry mob and then arrested.  I guess we're responsible for that.  Me, I'm not much for children unless they need to be yelled at, but I know that chicks dig kids, so this is a regrettable collateral damage.  Sorry, chicks.

But now is no time for rest!  Surely there must be something that is fun, something that is sunny and optimistic, that we can run to ground and then bleed like a pig.


Posted by mrbrent at 11:26 AM

October 29, 2009

fox news, goalposts

Amateur take here, but the battle is not that Fox News is demonstrably conservative.  I mean, duh.  Even if you are a tea-baggin' dittohead, even if you think that Glenn Beck's weepy know-nothingism is gospel, you do not disagree with the notion that Fox News is conservative.  Of course you agree!  You are conservative as well, and what the Sam Hill is wrong with that!

The battle, undertaken by Roger Ailes and his kajillions, and joined into by the White House, is whether Fox News is a legitimate news outlet, whether Fox News is reporting objectively.  Fox News would very much like to move the goal posts to the point where their ideologically driven calumny is considered actual objective news coverage.  And the administration (rightfully, I think, as a pinko) is pushing back against that notion.

An age-old strategy to sway opinion is to bray loudly that the opinion offered is the clear majority opinion.  Ailes, though fat and probably a bad person, has learned this lesson.

Polls don't matter.  In fact, polls rarely matter.  What matters is that Fox News, alone amongst any serious news outlet, pushes the news to fit a conservative sensibility.  There is no law against that, and no reason for Fox News to stop — they're minting money! — but it does preclude them from being treated as an actually impartial source of news as our long and storied history of journalism understands it.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:46 PM

boo-go yankees

Inconsequential, yes, but this is an excellent explanation of why I'm using "Fire Girardi!" as a response to any question I don't know the answer to:
Why are you filling the airwaves with demands that Johnny Damon be benched?  Why are you booing a young stud like Phil Hughes off the mound?  Why oh why are you leaving in the seventh inning of a 2-0 game when you know full well the Yankees led the majors this season in late-inning comebacks and walk-off wins?

Being a fan means being a fan.  (Of the Yankees, I'm not.)  Being a fan means persevering.  Pirates fans?  They are fans.  Yankees fans?  They are an embarrassment.

Now if everyone I respond to with "Fire Girardi!" would just read the piece linked above, they would stop giving me blank stares and compliment me on my excellent ironical wit.  Maybe next year!

Posted by mrbrent at 4:23 PM

sad chimps

Yes, I admit it, the grieving chimpanzees photo that went mildly viral not only moved me, but moved me to tears, which can be complicated at work.

I'm not usually a visual guy — much more affected by the words.  But just the look on their little chimp faces as they pondered mortality, that's just too much.  And it's not anthropomorphic, any more than we are bing chimpanzee when we grieve.  It's sad.

It's just a little something in my eye.  An eyelash, I think.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:47 AM

plasma engine!

Even dorkier than the dorkiness of the constant comic book reading and Star Trek watching of a misspent youth was the obsession with how the technology would work in real life.  In fact, the first year of my "I'm going to draw comics for a living" phase was spent exclusively illustrating cross-sections of secret hideouts, be they underground or orbiting or, my favorite, disguised as an actual mountain.  And how many hours did I spend wondering how phasers worked?  More than one.

So then I do not surprise myself by finding this schematic of a plasma engine for extraorbital propulsion so nifty that it makes my day.  We monkeys are good at science, huh?  I'm going to get right down to building one of these suckers in the basement of my apartment building.  (It's prewar, so the basement is plenty cavernous.)

Maybe if the NYT ran one of these a day they could save the entire newspaper industry? you want to build one in your garage.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:23 AM

October 28, 2009

directv: nice job!

So I'm watching the World Series on the live television, as is my wont, and I realized this — the DirecTV campaign, which has rightfully raised a hackle or two, exists in the context of the regular, non-media obsessed world as a meter of the magnitude of which beloved actors of yesteryear need cash.

And there's nothing wrong with needing cash!  I wouldn't turn some down, for reals.  (But then again I don't have a career the legacy of which I should be concerned about.)

Phillies up two.  As a Mets fan, I am sad/happy, or happy/sad.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:26 PM

first/last time i consider criminal psych

Further to the fact that Texas murdered an innocent man, I had a scary thought.

It's pretty obvious if familiarize yourself with the case that a conversion happened amongst the witnesses — as Willingham became a suspect, their recollections of the day of the tragic fire creeped from what they actually saw to what would be more in line with the actions of a cold-blooded killer.  So instead of a man wild with grief that his children were in a burning house, he slowly became a man calculating to appear filled with grief.  And even his defense attorney to this day claims that Willingham was obviously guilty.  Willingham was no angel, like most of us, but his difficulties with his wife, his taste for heavy metal posters, are not directly incriminating.  The directly incriminating evidence, from so-called arson investigators, has been shredded as witch-doctory.  But it seems that the weight of the judgment of the community — obviously guilty — overrode any clinical consideration of his guilt or innocence (and in fact any clear recall of the events of the day).

So what if this is not an isolated incident?  What if this is a mechanism that happens in cases like this — a suspect is named, and then the recollection of this suspect curdles until the suspect is nothing but a mass murderer?  I'm not saying it's a volitional act.  I guess you'd have to file it under Human Nature.  But it passes the laugh test as plausible.

So if we accept that as at least possibly true, if this mechanism has convicted a measurable number of these "obviously guilty", is our conception of sociopaths based on a century of bad science?  Considering that forensic science is nascent science still developing, and considering that witness reliability may be tainted by this social instinct, are some of the "murderers" studied to construct the body of criminal psychology then tainted by both anti-sympathetic recollection and possibly non-murdering murderers?

This is not exactly the what-if that you'd use to drive the plot of a novel, but, anyway: what if?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:58 AM

chamber of commerce: fortune's fool

So you're a big lobbying group for a cross-section of American business interests and you're having a little bit of a PR issue with members dropping out (publicly!) because of your knuckle-dragging position on global warming.  Already no fun, right?  And then, out of nowhere a crazy bunch of kids make some sporting fun of you in front of a bunch of television cameras.  That's not making your day any better is it, but it's not like a flaming bag of poo on your front step?

So of course you brush that off, right?  You're a grown-up lobbying organization with grown-up responsibilities and if you don't tighten it up this cockamamie Consumer Protection Agency might get signed into law, which is the exact opposite of what you've been paying those Beltway fatcats to do all these years!

You are incorrect!  What you do do if you are a big lobbying group for a cross-section of American business interests is you threaten a lawsuit against the crazy kids on specious civil grounds.

Because, you know, if a bunch of snot-nosed anarchists prank you in what you believe to be a naked ploy for publicity for their work, what better way to deprive them of this publicity than to drag them into court?

In other words, if the lawsuit threat was again the work of the Yes Men, I would not be surprised.  Which places the Chamber of Commerce in the position we call "flummoxed".

Posted by mrbrent at 10:30 AM

dont' say: man cave

I only point out this Maureen Dowd op-ed because of this casual description of Rahm Emanuel:
...the former ballet dancer who prefers yoga to golf.

Probably totally accurate, but it has the whiff of libel to it, and when it comes to the whiff of libel, I'm still a teen.

That's all you need to know about the column, because it is titled "Oval Man Cave".  Putatively, it's about gender issues and access inside the White House, but I disqualify it for reference to the "man cave" phenomena, which always makes me scratch my head when I'm out of town and the townies who would ordinarily be kicking my ass or at least calling me hippie talk seriously and without irony about their "man cave".  It is infantalizing, and merits pointing and laughing.

But nice one on Rahm, that.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:01 AM

October 27, 2009

what if bush had done that?

Here's Politico, again leading the day with an empty piece of provocation trying very hard to be serious commentary: "What If Bush Had Done That?"  It's at least as bad as you think it as, all false equivalency and concern troll.  Maybe even worse!  And no pull quotes, either, because that would border on, "Hey, I think this is spoiled.  Try it."

Why would the coverage of this administration have a different feel to the coverage of a different administration?  Jeez, search me.  In fact, why was the coverage of the Bush administration different from the coverage of the, say, Truman administration?  Why are things different at all?  Why is there not a consistency in the universe?  Why does time pass?  Why are questions so hard?

I hope the author, Josh Gerstein, got something really nice from the ex-Bush staffers whose quotes drive the narrative of the piece, like an expensive meal or a set of golf clubs.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:41 PM

newspapers: contraction

This might already be on your radar: Choire Sicha made a visual representation of newspaper circulation as a function of time.  It's very colorful!  And if you tilt it about seventy-five degrees to the left, they look like straight lines!  Which is of course not good, and is yet another log on the fire for newspaper fatalists.

Well, I know enough actual journalists to realize that the ones that still have jobs are lucky — that portion of the industry that pays writers/reporters/editors is obviously contracting.  But, I am going to resist the urge to Goodbye Cruel World the newspapers I love, for two reasons.

First, there is vast difference between growing smaller and disappearing.  It's hard as Americans to view any business with shrinking revenues as viable because we have been trained by free market assholes to always expect at least a ten percent growth rate.  But contraction doesn't necessarily mean death, and taking the foot off the gas when fewer people are willing to pay for what you're making is less fun than watching piles of money grow larger, but it is prudent.  Yes, circulation is down (almost across the board), but it's still counted in the hundreds of thousands for the major markets.  If this dude can do OK by following his dream and buying a paper with a circ of 2,000, then hopefully newspapers can be viable in the long term.  Though maybe not in the ways we remember, of course, but that's already the case — is there an afternoon newspaper left in America?

Second, I still listen to the radio.  To the AM radio.  I forget what decade it was that owners of AM radio stations looked at revenue projection charts and plotzed, but I'm pretty sure it's more than fifty years ago.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:18 AM

October 26, 2009

"depression era"

I'd just like to point out one thing in this NYT business piece on the bigness of banks and the debates resulting.  As the article rounds the corner, it drops this paragraph:
In a speech last week, [Bank of England president] Mr. [Mervyn] King said policy makers should consider breaking up the largest banks and, in effect, restore the Depression-era barriers between investment and commercial banks.

Okay, the barriers between investment and commercial banks certainly were born during the Depression — the Glass-Steagal Act of 1933.  However, these barriers remained in effect all the way up until 1999, when they were repealed by the Graham-Leach-Billey Act.  So it would be as fair to refer to these barriers as "Reagan-era" as it would "Depression-era".  And even if you are a stickler for secret origins, you could just as easily describe them as "New Deal-era" as "Depression-era".

It just seems disingenuous to characterize the protections as old and musty and archaic when in fact they were in full force for 66 of the past 75 years.  Is it customary to characterize the First Amendment as an Eighteenth Century free speech protection?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:17 AM

overvalued by forty percent

I remember a year ago when I was a lot less inured to not talking about the smoking crater in the middle of the room that used to be the economy.  I was a lot more excitable then, and I made a point to read every feature that had more than four thousand words concerning the financial collapse.  Thankfully the need for information has passed (now that all the articles have been fleshed out as books), because we as a people have decided that talking about the economy, or even those vagaries of the economy that impact us on a personal level, is tacky and should be avoided lest we are mistaken for socialists and children hide themselves from our gaze.  Oh sure, there were a couple of months of, "Why isn't anyone talking about this?" as a couple of hundred thousand jobs evaporated and the stock market waddled along just like nothing really happened, and the investment bankers who caused this whole thing in the first place by creating house-of-card hedges learned their lessons and brayed louder yet about how if their bonuses are cut they will move to some place where talent is rewarded.  Yeah, for a moment there, I was truly mystified that it wasn't getting more play on the TV news.  But since then, I've discovered that by not-talking about it like everyrone else, it makes it like the economic crater isn't even there.  Which is much more peaceable.

I only bring this up because, if I would've seen a story like this one a year ago, predicting that the stock market is overvalued by sixty percent, I would've been in eight kinds of a tizzy!  Not that I cared about the market, really, but a big enough crash and then you'd have had bread lines and bank riots and tangible chaos effects that would definitely harshed my mellow.

But now?  Forty percent is not like fifty percent, right?  Not even close!  Maybe if we pay the captains of the financial industries even more they'll work harder to forestall all this.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:17 AM

good morning 10.26.09

Three things that cheered me up this morning:

First, the fact that the Yankees are going to the World Series.  I do not root for the Yankees and would loved to have seen either the Twins or the Angels step up and defeat expectations, but at the very least the local sports fans will be quiet for the first half of the week.  Understand, the Yankees have only lost two games in the entire post-season and all I heard all weekend was speculation over whether manager Joe Girardi could keep his job.  This is not a safe place for the casual, sane fan.  But whatever have your World Series and do shut up.

Second, the Greenmarket!  Boy I like the farmers' markets of the world, and mid-fall is the most chromatically pleasing time for the martkets — I saw some cauliflower so purple it nearly poked my eye out.  And especially nice to stop on the way to work, because farmers' markets are for mornings.

And third, probably the best treatment for a feature-length motion picture I've ever read in a daily metropolitan newspaper.  Dig this:

Petulant and street savvy, they were children nonetheless.  One girl said she used a butter knife and a library card to break into vacant houses. But after she began living in one of them, she ate dry cereal for dinner for weeks because she did not realize that she could use the microwave to boil water for Ramen noodles.  Another girl was childlike enough to suck her thumb, but dangerous enough to carry a switchblade.

The fact that it is actual news borne of actual reporting does not change the fact that it has Oscar written all over it.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:30 AM