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November 7, 2009

the statistical sample of the wacko

Further to this, we need, we really really need, to solve the problem of the motivation of the wacko.

Because that will answer all our questions about trenchcoat teens, Muslims and also (as a bonus!) the generic lone gunmen not lucky enough to have an easily identifiable characteristic that might indict a larger subset.

Should we screen the military for those of the Islamic faith?  Yes, and for high school students, overstressed collegians, Pennsylvanians, Chechen separatists, hurricanes, militiamen, spurned spouses, serial rapists, Lou Dobbs-ians, the recently unemployed, Pakistani militants and petty criminals having a bad day.

And of course post office employees.  That should about cover it.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:58 PM

November 6, 2009

now we just need a wile e coyote particle

Further to the Higgs-Bosun particle and its time-traveling Road-Runner ways, the Large Hadron Collider has experienced yet another setback: a bird dropped a piece of baguette on it.

Nope, not a joke.  Much like Michele Bachmann, the Higgs-Bosun particle preempts parody.

If driving in the vicinity of the Large Hadron Collider, please make sure that all tunnel entrances are not just black half-circles painted on the sides of boulders.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:08 PM

fort hood

Almost as bad as the reality of a nutjob opening fire on a population and hitting a whole bunch of them is the aftermath of opinion that follows as axe-grinders try to fit a peg into a square hole, even though the actual shape of the peg is as yet undetermined.

As much fun as it would be to spend a day cataloging every fool who has jumped on the opportunity to turn the Fort Hood shooting into a canary dying in a big Jihadist coalmine, that's not what we generally do around these parts.  Spencer Ackerman is doing yeoman's work on the topic, if you're looking for it.  And I'm sure that as the day progresses the number of posts decrying Muslims in general, or tying the shooting to the president, will grow and grow (as will the number of posts pointing these out).

It is not pure pessimism that leads me to believe this: it's pretty much experience, as no tragic event goes unmined for rhetorical manipulation for pure political gain.  And if you're looking for an example, try 9-11.  Try the entirety of the eight years that have passed since 9-11.  And then land somewhere around the co-called "9-12" movement, which at least admits that it's appropriating 9-11 in its name.  It's demagoging at its most obvious, and it only seems logical for those more concerned with winning by bloviating the loudest than with being truthful to do.  And I don't know if they believe it or they are trying to fashion the most attractive message possible.  Actually, I don't care, as the two are just flip sides of feckless.

But it's not so frustrating that people resort to this — big world, poor breeding, bad people — as it is that other people can be swayed by it.  And this frustration can be boiled down to, "Hey stupid people stop being so stupid."  But I don't feel like that's any closer to happening.  In fact, it seems that with each passing year people who don't believe in scapegoating and xenophobia and base incrimination have to yell louder to try to counteract.

This is not a Goodbye Cruel World post.  I like doing this!  But it sure does seem that the Fourth Estate's supposed function as a referee in a democracy is dwindling, and it's just one more layer of sadness on top of the sadness that an asshole with firearms blithely destroyed the lives of a whole bunch of innocent people and their families.

Posted by mrbrent at 7:56 AM

big parade this morning

I had forgotten that the real fun of the Yankees taking the Series is that they get a ticker-tape parade down the "Canyon of Heroes", which only the name of anywhere when there's a ticker-tape parade.  It's fun, I hear, though I've never gone to one.

But the real fun is, if you're a Yankees fan in town for the ticker-tape, is to find one of the little taverns that qualifies as a "Yankees bar", where they will be having a very special Yankees Happy Hour in celebration of the Yankee's 27th championship: $8 Buds, $15 house cocktails, $6 hot dogs, and all the drunken profanity you can carry.  And if you get there before 5p, it's free admission for only $35.

Face it: you Yankees fans need to ring in the new era of Yankees dominance in true Yankees style: by giving them all your money.

(Actually, I wonder at what point in history they ran out of ticker-tape and substituted some other form of paper?  Which is of course the better alternative to reusing the same ticker-tape every time, or throwing instead computer monitors and keyboard down from the buildings overlooking Broadway... er, "Hero Canyon", I mean.)

Posted by mrbrent at 7:56 AM

November 5, 2009

the people vs. traffic cyborgs

While the party's raging in DC, here's another better example of a grassroots effort — a campaign against robotic traffic enforcement:
There's something that doesn't smell right about these tickets, but you're not quite sure what.

Is it the huge profits the government and their cohorts, the camera manufacturers, make on them?  The District doubling the number of tickets it issued just two years ago, raking in $36 million last fiscal year?  The fact that Redflex, one of the big manufacturers of these cameras, posted a 48 percent jump in revenue last year while the rest of the economy tanked?

People get worked up.  Put these cyborgs on a ballot, and the voters beat them to the pavement.

Not all super fun stuff in there — yes it certainly is a drag to get one of those letters in the mail with the grainy photograph of your plate blowing a yellow light, but are there public safety goals that are being met by every inch of roadways being monitored?

Ultimately, for me, it boils down to whether or not the robots are being used to increase the amount of fines being collected by a municipality.  Because, generally speaking, that's not why we have laws.  And to have an automated system issuing citations for doing 35 in a 40 is not far from being stopped by the Federales for a polite shake-down.

But it's not clear cut!  Just like life to be that way.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:50 PM

super bowl of freedom

Today just may be the best Thursday ever as Zoloft spokesperson Michele Bachmann (R-MI) has offered to give every America a guided tour of Congress as long as they promise to threaten a Democrat — a small price to pay for an E-ticket ride.

The big fun goes down at noon today.  It's to be kicked off with a boy-girl party on the Capitol lawn, after which Michele plays Five Minutes In The Closet with a handful of lucky visitors (for liberty!).  Then they'll all pass around the Happy Lightning Juice that Dick Armey keeps in mason jars and go fuck shit up (for liberty!)  And as they wind things down, everyone is encouraged to enter the betting pool based on how many times the word "inchoate" will appear in tomorrow's newspaper.

The bestest thing (and much better than the eventual outcome, these things are usually letdowns), is that Bachmann is referring to this event as "The Super Bowl of Freedom", which again shows that she's trying to put people like me out of business by outpacing the satire.

It starts in something like a half hour.  This is me, can't waiting.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:42 AM

yankees win

Congratulations to the New York Yankess for making sure that call-in sports radio will be safe to listen to for the foreseeable.  As a Mets fan, it was truly one of those World Series you hate to see anyone win, and it sure lived up to that hype.

There's a push-back this morning that goes something like, "Well the jerky Yankees have the highest jerky payroll so no jerky duh they won."  I understand where this comes from — as does Mayor Bloomberg, as of yesterday — but I don't necessarily agree.  The loathsomeness of this year's model of the Bronx Bombers is not that they hog all the best free agents.  Dogs bark; cows moo.  The Yankees are loathsome because they treat their fans like chickens caged beyind mobility and expected to cough up a couple eggs a day.  Did you hear the deafening roar of the crowd in Game 2?  You did not, because the roarers were on their couch or at the corner bar because their tickets went to someone wealthier.

So please enjoy the victory, Yankees fans, remember that every time you gloat you owe Hank Steinbrenner fifteen dollars.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:34 AM

November 4, 2009

we get mail: peanut nougat

A small correction in an email from the man professionally known as The Candyman (D&P, word) on the disturbing and confusedly-named Reese's "Whipps":
You know of course that a Snickers has peanut flavored nougat.  It is distinguished from the nougat nougat of a 3-Muskie, the chocolate nougat of a Milky Way and the almond nougat of a Almond Snickers (formerly the Mars Bar — another travesty in the candy world — the name change that is).  I did force [Mutual Friend] to sample the different nougats blindly once by cutting away the other parts of the different Mars Co. candy bars and although it did infuriate him we were able to show that the Snickers nougat is the tastiest.

Is this why the Hershey's corp. tried to go the peanut nougat route with this new product?   Hard to say.  No doubt if we were able to talk to the powers that be at that mega-confection-delicatessen they would point to "focus groups" or "market research" as their rationale instead of plain old jealousy.  My gutty is that the decision to go peanut nougat was accidental, much like the reason Goodyear got to rubber.

In fact I did not know that Snicker's nougat differed from your average ordinary nougat — I would have presumed that the presence of actual peanuts would render peanut flavoring duplicative.  But what do I know from nougat?  What does anyone (other than the man professionally known as The Candyman) know from nougat, for that matter?

And as to the big question of Why Nougat?: Why Not Nougat?  Why leave a sector of the candy market unravaged?  World domination ain't easy, especially if you're starting as a humble peanut butter cup concern.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:08 PM

bloomberg wins election, horse's head

And further to elections, here in New York City our mayor, a sloppy dressing Boston-accented billionaire named Michael Bloomberg, was elected to a third term, which doesn't happen very often!  In fact, it's never happened since term limits were enacted by the city 1993, a hurdle easily cleared by Bloomberg a year ago as he made it clear term limits would have to be changed if he were going to run for reelection, and then the City Council rolled over because it likes to have its belly rubbed.

Which was kind of a problem but not the whole problem.  The big problem (IMO) with the mayor is that, while the streets are clean and crime is down, he posits a city dominated by the financial services industry and real estate developers, neither of which of those rising tides lift all boats.

Last night I was talking with a stranger at a party about how none of us wanted Bloomberg to lose as much as we wanted him to be chastened, and that if he took less than 57% or so of the vote that would be considered a message received.  He got 51%, which means that message was not only received, but he also damn near lost that race.  Unbelievable.

And if you are a New Yorker or you know someone who is and would like to explore this concept of the non-victory victory, then Choire Sicha explaining how voters were maybe striking back against the unimaginably rich people who've been hogging all the excellent would be a place to go, as would David Carr talking about how the news orgs were the last to see this coming.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:24 AM

good morning 11.3.09

Quick lessons from the election:

First, now is a very good time to run for a republican to run for office, unless the republican is endorsed by Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, in which case the endorsed candidate can't even win a traditionally republican distract.

Second, secret hateful bigots love to vote.  It's what validates them, makes them feel important.  Well sorry, secret hateful bigots, but all the rest of us ain't going nowhere, so enjoy these little victories while you can.  And if you have a second, pull a book out and check how history treats the rank and file racist from back in the days of segregation, because that's you.

Overall, I'll take it, because voting is fun.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:24 AM

November 3, 2009

bill hoffman: being there

Results are still a couple hours away, but this is a nice little piece by David Weigel that goes beyond the "conservative bombthrower" description of Bill Hoffman, the now-GOP candidate for Representative up in NY-23.
... Hoffman’s mellow nature, and his ability to avoid committing to specific conservative policies, have been the cause of amusement in the press corps and in the candidate’s own campaign.  In a mid-October interview with TWI, Hoffman had strayed from the dogmatic conservative response to the stimulus–opposing it outright–and mulled over redirecting more stimulus funding to infrastructure and “job credits.”  He gave the same response to another reporter.  And another reporter told TWI that interview footage of Hoffman was so bland that it wasn’t worth using.  After the Watertown rally, Sandy Caligoire, a Hoffman spokesman, argued that Hoffman’s lack of charisma had become a boon to the campaign.

And compare and contrast that with some of his supporters:

“I was at a Tea Party, but this is too slow a process for me,” said John Dewitt, a contractor from Adams, N.Y.  “I’m more on the violence side.  I’m more of the Civil War, revolutionary kind of guy.  I’m of the old school–you kick them in the ass and be done with it.”

The Hoffman backers outside of the Biden event all said they’d attended Tea Parties.  Some were affiliated with Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project.  All worried that ACORN was going to show up in the district, or even at the Biden event — a paranoia that led to some minor awkwardness when an African-American Hoffman worker walked by.

“This guy’s with ACORN,” said Dewitt.

To be fair, that's only two of Hoffman's supporters, and they may escaped mental patients.  But still: that sentiment's out there, and it's what makes NY-23 so interesting.

For me, it's win-win — either fringe wackos get pushed back after hijacking a locality minding its own business, or Hoffman wins a distract that hasn't gone blue in a hundred years and the Republican Party gets to deal with the fallout of having candidates dragged before Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin for approval.

If I may, bwoo ha ha ha ha.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:49 PM


Speaking of Election Day, go read this gentle takedown by Choire Sicha of John Carney's Why Vote? piece.  Needless to say, I agree with Sicha:
If you aren't sure about voting today, lemme give you one good reason: voting against Mike Bloomberg just felt great.  (Perhaps for you, voting for him will feel great!)  Does my vote matter? Not really!  Are the reasons that I voted against him intelligible from my vote?  Of course not — my ballot would have to be accompanied by a three-page rider that no one would ever read.  Do I know why I voted?  I sure do.

There is a subtextual exuberance in Sicha's writing that I'm growing fonder of — short sentences!  Exclamation points!  Which means that I'll probably start swiping that soon, but: Fun!  Writing!

But back to topic, and further to Sicha's point on the endorphinal pop of casting a vote, one argument of Carney's glared a bit as a bit specious:

Some democratic fanatics will tell you that if you don't vote then you give up your right to dissent against subsequent government policies.  I've never understood this weird part of pseudo-democratic theory.  It certainly isn't part of the constitution of the United States, which preserves the rights of free speech, free press and petitioning the government even for non-voters.  If anything, the opposite should be true: by voting you are tacitly agreeing to abide by the outcome of the vote.  By not voting, you are doing not such thing.

That line of reasoning only makes sense if there were a number of varied self-governing options available to us — without that, it's an exercise in nihilism, whether or not you are refusing to accept the outcome.  It's a straight-forward straw man argument, as Carney stretches the sentiment of, "If you don't vote, you can't bitch," to, "If you don't vote, you give up your right to dissent."  No one is suggesting any extra-constitutional rights-squelching.  Rather, I am suggesting that if you do not vote, then the legitimacy of your complaint is compromised.  The Constitution does not prevent me from judging that the whining of the non-voter about electoral outcome is horseshit on account of refusal to participate.

In other words, and to paraphrase the president, if a non-voter is going to stand around and tell the voters to mop harder, then that non-voter is a presumptuous fool.

So I say vote!  Hold your nose if you have to.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:48 AM

whatever happened to the candy man?

So as a reward for the ghost-towniest voting experience I've had in years, I tried something the H.B. Reese Candy Co. calls "Reese's Whipps" as a mid-morning snack.

The first odd thing right off the bat is that there is actually only one — it's not a bag of "Whipps" nor are there more than one pieces of candy product in the package.  The easy answer is that H.B. or one of his progeny decided to brand the collective mark and not the individual.  But the more fun answer is there is no such thing as a single "Whipp" any more than there is such a thing as a "pant"!  Paradox!  Deal.

The gimmick of the thing is that instead of the normal peanut butter flavored filling regularly inside a Reese's product, "Whipps" has (have?) "Light and Fluffy Peanut Butter Flavored Nougat", which coincidentally has 40% less fat.  Not so much concerned with the fat, as fat reduction comes generally from smaller portions or test tubes.  But Reese's?  Nougat?  How's that supposed to work?

Like this: it is basically an oddly-shaped Three Musketeers bar (the natural repository of nougat) with a faint peanut butter aftertaste.  And if you, like me, can eat a gross of peanut butter cups because of the level of deliciousness, you will be disappointed by "Whipps", which leaves (leave?) you hungry for both a peanut butter cup and a Three Musketeers bar.

Not exactly how I'd choose to celebrate my deliberately-not-Bloomberg vote, but a whole lot better than the new chewy Sweet Tarts, which are disgusting.

(FYI, the H.B. Reese Candy Co. is a division of The Hershey Company, so don't get any funny idears.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:12 AM

November 2, 2009


Up in the North Country of New York State, so tantalizingly close to Canada, there is a small hoo-ha a-brewing based on tomorrow's election.  Basically, in an race for the House seat up there, the local GOP all agreed and nominated a candidate that was less than Glenn Beck-y.  Then an utterly useless businessman ran as an independent on a more socially conservative (and district-oblivious platform) platform, which attracted folks nationally who think that 9-12 is a number that means any damn thing, which eventually pushed the GOP candidate out, the national GOP to pretend that the knuckle-dragger was their idea in the first place and then the GOP candidate to endorse the Democrat.

It's a fascinating story, and you should go read Roy Edroso's meticulous play-by-play which really fills out the Catch-22-ness of the whole situation.

Whoever wins tomorrow (and it's polling close and confusing), this race could be the Fort Sumter of the Birther/Teabag wing of the Republican Party purging the less wild-eyed elements.

(My sister went to school up that way, and from the time I spent there then, I can only imagine that the majority of citizens, left or right, are mortified by the attention.)

Posted by mrbrent at 4:57 PM

i will only say jeff dunham's name in the title

My suspicions are confirmed!  The dude responsible for the terrible wheatpaste advertising in my work neighborhood is now verified to be a fount of terribleness, in fact so awful that his awfulness has obviated the NYT Sunday Magazine's ability to publish a good feature.  Pull quote!
Here are some things we haven't discussed:
Gradually, a lot of Dunham's material has come to reflect his exhaustion with political correctness.

Can we please not pretend like this is a thing?  The fight against political correctness is such a nonsensical throwback argument to the early-'90s. No one is pushing for "political correctness" as a decontextualized blindly dogmatic philosophy.  What people are pushing for is not pretending that racism and homophobia and misogyny and anti-semitism don't exist, or trying to camouflage these things as "jokes."  Suggesting that hate speech is offensive and upsetting and dangerous if used in an unilluminating and...well, hateful way is not "politically correct," it's just correct.  If Jeff Dunham wants his puppets to "say" the word nigger, or whatever, he should just do it. That's his constitutionally-protected right.  But please, let us not pretend that it has anything to do with a non-existent, hyperbolic, media-created movement from 15 years ago.

Why, that applies to the despicable careers of a whole lot of men and women.  I will put that on my refrigerator door.  And now I can save myself that lost half-hour that might be spent watching the freakin' show to see how freakin' bad it is.

But the NYT piece is only one feature — there's still all kinds of time to rewrite the "hard-working ventriloquist makes lotsa cash" story the Comedy Central flacks are shilling.

[Via The Awl.]

Posted by mrbrent at 12:34 PM

ripped from context, irony

It must be taught, somewhere, that the way to sound informed yet colorful, knowledgeable but witty, is to take some existing turn of phrase that you've heard often enough to be familiar with and then merge it, if you will, with the concept that you're trying to get out there.

Take perfectly sane and electable Rep. Michele Bachmann, the pride of Minnesota.  She has some thoughts about health care reform that she'd like to broadcast, but if she says just exactly what she's thinking ("The public option is bad.") then she'll definitely come off like a Rhodes Scholar, but a boring Rhodes Scholar, and Bachmann knows that you need to be zippy to keep getting asked back to the talk shows.  So she used the mechanism described above, and came up with:

This is cradle-to-grave government takeover of the Pelosi health care nightmare known as this bill...  This is the crown jewel of socialism.

See, now she comes off as smart and snappy, and nobody comes off the worse for wear other than socialism, who used to have more than one crown jewel, made of actual jewels.

And not just smart — convincing!  Why, as a pinko myself, when I hear it out of her mouth I find myself thinking she must be right!  That walleye charm gets me every time!

Posted by mrbrent at 8:14 AM

November 1, 2009

good morning 11.01.09

I somehow managed to make it through Halloween without seeing anyone in a "sexy/slutty X" costume.

Either that, or:

Somehow Halloween came and went and I didn't get to see anyone in a "sexy/slutty X" costume.

I'm still deciding.  But between now and next year, we really should decide whether it's "sexy X" or "slutty X", because sexy and slutty should not be thought of as universally interchangeable.

But I did see whole lots of children in the neighborhood, hustling for candy like the little playas they are.  Kids: do not buy the bag from the drug store that has bats or "Happy Halloween!" or whichever on it — it's just not as cool as you think.  Take a tip from a geezer and grab a pillowcase next year, which is free and scientifically proven to have the greatest lbs of candy/child ratio.

We didn't give out any candy this year, but we did turn off the boobytraps, so there's that.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:49 AM