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November 14, 2009

go with god, vsl

"Very Short List" started up a little over a year ago.  A friend of a friend was involved, so I signed up.  It was a single email a day, highlighting some one thing that was supposed to be cool, some single cultural item.  A book!  A movie!  It's heart seemed in the right place, and there was one or two revelations that I found useful, so I kept up with it.

A bit ago the New York Observer bought it.  The NYO is mostly relevant for having fired a lot of good writers.  The quality of the picks dropped off, but inertia won and I remained a subscriber.

Last night a "sponsored post" hit the inbox, touting a book by Steve Forbes, the famously awkward free-market presidential candidate and scion of the Forbes family.  The copy reads as follows:

Co-authored by Elizabeth Ames, the book takes on the tough questions about the economy, and explains what really caused our current financial crisis and the “great” recession.  But, it’s not all bad news: the book also sets out to explain why freer markets are not the problem but the answer to healthcare, unemployment, and other economic problems facing Americans today – in short, how capitalism might be the answer.

And that's the piffle that inspired me to unsubscribe.  I mean, fuck that noise.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:59 PM

troubulation episode two

As inducement to convince those of you local to NYC to attend tonight's Saloon, this right here is a video of last month's installment of "Jack O'Hanrahan and the Troubulation of Doom".  Roll credits:

Starring J. Eric Cook, Kevin Cristaldi, Lex Friedman Kelley Rae O'Donnell and Aaron Weiner, directed by Padriac Lillis and Courtney Wetzel, and written by Brent Cox, who is me.

I am uncomfortable with this multimedia thing, but God hates a coward.  (Fortunately, Jesus loves a coward, so it all works out.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:42 AM

November 13, 2009

kim masters on watching movies in your hand

Kim Masters explains the changes that will be coming to a theater near you, or rather will not be coming to a theater near you, as theaters become artifacts like phone booths and independent book stores:
The studios are scrambling for a new approach because DVD sales—for years now, the life blood of the business—have started to dry up.  (Retailers are slashing prices; Wal-Mart, for example, will offer this summer’s big movies, including Star Trek and the latest Harry Potter, for less than $10 this holiday season.) After all, why buy DVDs when they can be rented cheaply through Netflix and Redbox?  So the studios are looking to replace that critical lost income through on-demand viewing and other new approaches. What’s not clear is whether these new strategies will generate enough money to support their business.  You might say the studios are gathered on the edge of the new-technology pool, trying to figure out how to dive in without breaking their necks.

Because you see that entertainment concerns, at least for the past half century, embrace new technology only at gunpoint.  Except of course for the dirty movie industry, which for some reason equates new distribution platforms with more more money.

So the VOD?  The digital sell-through?  This is how you will be watching movies in the future.  You've known this for a while, but, much like learning French, you figured that it would happen soon but definitely not tomorrow.  It's now tomorrow.  And you still don't know French.

And movie theaters will still be around, and the audiences at them will resemble the kind of audience you'd see at New York's the Film Forum a decade ago: dedicated and insane.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:35 PM

pfizer story has legs

This is heartening.  Two days after The Day's Ted Mann filed the story of Pfizer pushing the city of New London, CT, out of a moving car, the New York freakin' Times grabs the story and runs it on the front page.

Why is this important if you are not in New London?  Well, New London is hardly the first locality to hitch its plans for communal prosperity to neighborhood-destroying development in the guise of giveaways to a potential employer for the region, and it certainly won't be the last.  And maybe we should all be questioning the wisdom of such deals.  Unless you're Pfizer, in which case MORE DEALS LIKE THAT PLEASE.

My first instinct is to haterize a little more on Pfizer — they're easy enough to despise for past bad behavior , but I ran it past a friend of mine who is a former New Londoner:

And yeah, they're not evil, but in this case, they really haven't been honest for a long time about the level of their involvement in this, and how the whole project the state has paid so much to try to construct was designed around something they wanted in the late 1990s, and which now is of no use to them.  It's easy for them to walk away.  Not the people who lost their houses, or the city that fought within itself for a decade over whether that was the right thing to do.

Which I will summarize as, "Pfizer effectuates evil even when not trying."

Posted by mrbrent at 10:54 AM

jack o'hanrahan and the troubulation of doom

Quickly I will remind you that tomorrow night is the third edition of the Saturday Night Saloon, at which episode three of "Jack O'Hanrahan and the Troubluation of Doom" will be performed for the first/last time.  I just write the thing and then stay away from the rehearsals, so, will it be awesome?  Join me and find out.

The thing is free free free, and you can drink beer for only five bucks if you are the beer-drinking type.

I have some video of the last show.  I'm waiting to see if the above cast will let me share it.  Which should not be considered an excuse not to go.  Not liking to leave the house is a good excuse not to go, as is not liking me.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:41 AM

November 12, 2009

mary hk choi on 2012

Speaking of 2012, here is a review of the movie of the same title that is hitting general release tomorrow, by Mary HK Choi:
Seriously, will somebody tell me what people expected other than 158 minutes of apocalypse BUKKAKE?  Roland Emmerich knows how to destroy himself some world and sure it isn't so much a story but a sprayfest of rapid-fire money shots but what else would it be? And what else would make it THIS AWESOME?  It's like the movie has ultra-oxygenated blood and sleeps upside down in a hyperbaric chamber and eats tiger penis like it's its job because it has psycho endurance that feels GREAT in your brain.

If this is indicative of the new new journalism or whatever cute name it ends up with then that is perfectly fine with me.  I can still have my stacks of thirty year-old Rolling Stones next to the rocker, and I can still tote my doorstop Gore Vidal tomes with me to the beach — there are some folk leaving kick-ass in their wake as they write these days and Choi is clearly one of them.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:09 PM

2012, not the movie

From h+ Magazine, this piece by Mark Dery is maybe the only 2012 takedown that you'll need to read:
Much of the 2012 shtick is a light-fingered (if leaden-humored) rip-off of the late rave-culture philosopher Terence McKenna’s stand-up routine, without McKenna’s prodigious erudition, effortless eloquence, or arch wit, and [Daniel] Pinchbeck is no exception.  For Quetzalcoatl’s sake, if you’re going to start a religion, at least invent your own cosmology.  Even L. Ron Hubbard was canny enough to concoct a pulp theology for ham-radio enthusiasts out of leftover SF plots.  But every time I see Pinchbeck’s glum mug, regarding the world with a sort of forced bliss, I think: Would you buy a used eschaton from this man?

Not that this will be the only takedown you'll see, but it's pretty nifty work.  Just read them all quick before the world ends in 2012.

And in the interest of equivalency, which is thought to be next to cleanliness these days, Analee Newitz has collected more than one 2012 freakin-yikes documentaries in one place for your convenience.

December 2012 will be only the third world-will-end event I'll have lived through, so I'm quite looking forward to it.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:18 PM

lou dobbs

I can't let Lou Dobbs ride off into the sunset without a door hitting him in the ass.  His tenure on CNN was especially insidious because of Lou's inherent respectability, which legitimized the xenophobic nonsense he very seriously espoused.  That was something the Glenn Becks of the world can never do, and the thing that most infuriates them.  And Dobbs did it casually and almost as an afterthought.  His slow slide into paranoid bullshit was a little like watching a grandparent's descent into senile dementia, as they slowly lose it and insist that they're perfectly fine! as they leave the house wearing their underwear on the outside of their clothes.

At least he was endearingly old school about his heinousness — despite of his long career of television journalism before he took his crazy pills, he would genuinely not be out of place as backwoods Deep South racialist pamphlet distributor from the 60s.  None of this new-fangled crying on camera, just speaking with full authority and conviction without apology.

And he is bravely carrying on the brave conservative tradition of quitting.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:27 AM

the empathy of the president

I agree with Josh Marshall: this Veteran's Day story filed by James Gordon Meek is a must read:
This was Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.  I wasn't there as a reporter, but to visit some friends and family buried there when Obama made an unscheduled stop - a rare presidential walk among what Lincoln called America's "honored dead" - after laying a Veterans Day wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

What I got was an unexpected look into the eyes of a man who intertwined his roles as commander in chief and consoler in chief on a solemn day filled with remembrance and respect for sacrifices made - and sacrifices yet to be made.

Whatever the president's failings are, and as the more progressive types among us will tell you there are more than one, I don't recall a Commander-in-Chief ever taking the job as seriously, as being more affected and as showing such genuine empathy.  He is not blithe, and he does not go through the motions.  After the past couple decades of leadership, it really is a striking difference.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:27 AM

November 11, 2009

the gastrohipster counterinsurgency manifesto

Sam Sifton is putting some terribly good words to paper over restaurants for the NYTimes — yesterday's was his first less than positive review, a nice exercise in finding the nice thing to say.  But he also filed a Dining Brief on the Brooklyn restaurant Prime Meats, which contains this phrase:
As in a lot of these steampunk hipster outfits, restaurants raised on nickel bags and old Traffic records, the whole control-freak cocktails-and-locavore scene...

I haven't been to Prime Meats yet but I hear it's great.  But you can hate something and love something at the same time, which is why I'm nominating the sentence fragment above as the Gastrohipster Counterinsurgency Manifesto.  (Or at least as the descriptive phrase that describes the gentle contempt that drives the GCM.)

To the ramparts.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:44 PM

pfizer pfucks new london

Here's a sad story to brighten your day — a decade ago the small city of New London lures Big Pharma behemoth Pfizer to the region by offering to eminent domain an neighborhood and a ten year tax abatement.  Fast forward to now, as Pfizer decides to decamp from New London — at about roughly the time the tax abatements expire.  And now someone's holding the bag and it sure ain't Pfizer.

Ted Mann reports:

As Pfizer prepares to leave New London, some of the early dissenters feel a sense of sad vindication, some of its defenders feel sandbagged, and the controversial overhaul of the rundown Fort Trumbull neighborhood that Pfizer triggered remains unfinished.

"I've always been concerned about what they would do once that corporate welfare deal went down," said Lloyd Beachy, a former mayor and city councilor who was often a lone voice of opposition on the council to aiding the corporation.  Beachy also helped lead prayer vigils to try to halt the demolition of houses in Fort Trumbull that followed.

It's not quite as simple as Pfizer being evil — they have been on a merger/acquisition spree in the intervening time and are sitting on a lot of real estate.  However, Pfizer is certainly not going out of the way to avoid the appearance of being evil.  And it sucks for New London in any event, as the intended beneficial effects of bribing an employer the size of Pfizer to commit to the community never evinced themselves, and now never will.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:07 AM


So I met this dude, and our conversation went something like this:
ME:  So you're like an actual journalist?

DUDE:  Yeah.

ME:  You mean you have to call people and remember what they say and stuff?

DUDE:  Yeah.

ME:  Like what?

DUDE:  Well, I had a piece recently about the H1N1 vaccine and how the Pentagon is restricting access to certain websites.

ME:  So you had to, like, talk to the Pentagon?

DUDE:  Yeah.

ME:  And you weren't scared?

DUDE:  No.

ME:  It sounds real hard.

DUDE:  And you write too?

ME:  I have a blog.  I guess.

DUDE:  What do you write about?

ME:  Mostly, um, stupid people?  You know, libel this, defame that.  And bees, or sausage gravy.

DUDE:  Oh.

ME:  Yeah.  So when you call people to ask them questions they actually answer them?  Because I totally wouldn't do that.

A rough paraphrase, of course.  Dude's name is Allen McDuffee, and he actually even went and wrote a little logroll for this guy here, which may be back-handed?  Whichever.  I will take it in the spirit offered, and either buy him a beer or whup his ass next time I see him.

(Actually, what we talked about at some length was investigative journalism and its slow whimpering death.  Allen is a practitioner of investigative journalism, and therefore busts his ass to break news, so you should give him your support.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:06 AM

veteran's day

Happy Veteran's Day!  Or Somber Veteran's Day, I guess.  It's nice to have a holiday with something tangible/practical to commemorate -- as opposed to the anniversary of the birth of a dead president, or a secularly retrofitted holy day of some sort.  Sacrifice is worth the recognition no matter your political stripe.  All gave some, some gave all — hard to get your snark on over that.

Of course, it is a little bit of a shame that Veteran's Day didn't remain Armistice Day, because how much more awesome is it to celebrate a war's end than it is to honor sacrifice?  But I guess once the Great War had to be renamed the First World War (to differentiate it from the world wars that followed), it made more sense to find a way to include the soldiers from all the wars.

Though why is this not a federal holiday?  If we're going to commemorate, let's put our money where our mouth is, maybe kick Columbus Day down a rank.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:38 AM

November 10, 2009

the next pearl harbor happened but nobody told nobody

Here's some super-scary, and I haven't seen it splashed around the Internet, so let's check it out — in 2007, a couple of terabytes of information was ganked from federal servers by parties unknown:
Steve Kroft reported that we are, more than any other country, vulnerable to such attacks because we’ve moved so much of our government and industry onto the internet.  The whole piece was downright scary, but sort of buried inside of it was the revelation that in 2007 a group of hackers basically infiltrated all of the U.S. government’s computers and downloaded everything, financial records, military secrets, EVERYTHING, and the Bush administration, which loves to tout how they “kept the country safe” during their reign, kept it all under wraps to spare themselves the embarrassment.  And perhaps worst of all, we still have no idea who did it.

This is just not fair: traditionally, looming national security threats are eased on us by a decade or so of action films in which the unimaginable almost happens but is thwarted by the resolve and sacrifice of a winningly photogenic hero type who also probably gets the girl.  And if we face a threat that has not been previously fictionalized how are we supposed to wrap our minds around it?

The grumpy old men were right — the Internet will destroy us all.  And it's not even 2012 yet.

And hey, foreign national bad guy hackers: how about a little more panache next time you're striking a blow for evil?

Posted by mrbrent at 3:58 PM

itinerant geniuses

If you like watching the sausage made in that digital publishing industry (Lord knows I do, almost as much as I love sausage gravy), then read this post by Spencer Ackerman — it starts out as a recommendation of a Moe Tkacik review of Malcolm Gladwell, Brigadier General of the Light Intellectual Brigade, and ends up as a consideration of the careers of some of our favorite writers:
And so there’s the absurdity.  A media architecture that rejects Moe Tkacik and rewards… really, don’t make me name names; we know who we’re talking about… — it’s that media architecture we labor within, and that’s what’s corrupt.  So we need to disaggregate between failures of substance and failures of careerism. We should reject the former and — yes, I suppose, ironically — underwrite, subsidize and reward the latter.  Someone who fails a couple of times to find an audience because her presentation is simply too dense and complex and challenging and innovative really needs to be given as many times as possible to fail, because the ambition is that worthy and the wages of mediocrity are that, depressingly, obvious.

This is why we cheerlead persistently.  It's fun to consider success stories, but it's much more fun to expend some shoe leather and follow the work of writers who don't necessarily publish consistently for one publication.  And it's certainly more fun to share the work of these ronin with you.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:38 PM

david brooks: should be ashamed

I could give a couple hundred words pretty easy on why this morning's David Brooks op-ed is the most deliberately specious thing that he's written in the past year, but let's operate under the assumption that brevity is the soul of wit.  The load-bearing argument of his piece, on the motivations of the Fort Hood shooter:
So immediately the coverage took on a certain cast.  The possibility of Islamic extremism was immediately played down.  This was an isolated personal breakdown, not an ideological assault, many people emphasized.

Absolutely false.  All anyone talked about in the immediate aftermath was about how Muslimy the shooter's name sounded and how we shouldn't be jumping to any conclusions about THIS TERRORIST ACT.  I can't think of a Composition 101 class that wouldn't knock you down a grade for "many people".  These are the same ghost liberals that do bad things that Rush Limbaugh doesn't like, which means that David Brooks is basically a slimmer, less wealthy Rush Limbaugh that cleans up nice.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:38 AM

November 9, 2009

soldiers and faith

This story seems to be the tip of the iceberg of the building reaction to the Fort Hood shootings, which was apparently exactly the terrible thing that a lot of terrible people were waiting for to confirm the darkest fears that they've been manufacturing for some time now.  The story concerns a specific subset of the terrible people who would like to bar Muslims from service in the U.S. military.

Which raises the interesting, devil's advocate hypothetical: is there a reasonable situation that could arise for a U.S. serviceman or -woman that would cause this believer to refuse orders or worse?  There's a whole lot of proscriptive behavior in the Bible, and some of it (the Old Testament stuff, mostly) exceeds the bounds of our nation's agreed laws.  I mean, isn't there some Commandment dealing directly with killing?

In no way am I saying that Christians should be barred from anything because of their faith.  I'm just taking a fun ride down the slippery slope.  Is it reasonable to think that a person who has taken the Lord into their heart as their own personal savior would act against God's will because of their day job?

As long as we're going to have a volunteer army, maybe soldiers should all be atheists so that there's no eternal reward that would interfere with an oath to the state?

This argument definitely shares a zip code with the argument that defenders of traditional marriage should be more concerned with criminalizing divorce, inasmuch as it is untenable but makes perfect sense.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:58 PM

grant morrison's new x-men

Comic book break:  there are only two comic book storylines that I would recommend for reading, from first issue to last issue, by the random person that was not raised into a familiarity with sequential art and the stories it tells.  (I would call these people fogeys, but boy my back is killin' me.)

The second one (first one some other time) is the writer Grant Morrison's run on "New X-Men" from eight or nine years ago, which is helpfully reviewed by David Brothers:

Morrison turned mutants into a subculture, a logical extension of what happens when new elements are introduced into society.  They were still oppressed, but they actually had some kind of culture to go along with their oppression.  He gave them their own Chinatown, their own Little Italy, and made it a point to show that mutants, while not entirely accepted just yet, were more than just mutant paramilitary teams.  There were ugly mutants, ones with useless powers, ones with hideous powers, and ones who just didn’t really care about the X-Men.

Yes, he did!  And Morrison also fashioned a very long storyline which was gripping and stylish, which ended satisfactorily with long-forgotten threads tied in and which was grown-up without losing the awe and wonder that sucked us into comic books when we were only desk-high.

If you are looking to take "familiarize self with whole comic book thing" off the bucket list, then the Morrison run is very rewarding.  And if you are looking to take "learn French" off the bucket list, there is very little French-learning in the Morrison run.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:30 PM

how to save a dying medium

I know that most of you do not listen to the radio like I do, because you are all Early Adapters and not Tenacious Clingers like me.  Better for you!  Someone has to drive the future, and I'm more comfortable in the backseat looking for interesting license plates.

But if you are wondering how this radio broadcast industry is surviving fifty years after it would surely be killed to death by the new-fangled television, I share this: 1010WINS, as good a source for surface news as almost the Internet, described today's forecast this morning as a "Time Warner Cable and Television crystal clear day" or something close to that.

It's an old tradition in radio to have an advertiser pay to sponsor a discrete element of the broadcast — baseball games have the most obvious examples, with, say, a phone company sponsoring a pitching change as the "[CompanyX] call to the bullpen".  But this would be the first time that I've heard of a company sponsoring a possible forecast.

So how does a dying medium survive?  By lowering one's standards to match one's need for revenue.

When I win a million dollars, I'm going to sponsor partly cloudy with a chance of rain.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:42 AM

lieberman: goof

Not content with being the both the most despicable living Nutmegger and the most feckless sitting U.S. senator, Joseph Lieberman has decided that the attention of the Senate urgently needs to be focused on crazy people who shoot things.  Sen. Lieberman is concerned that the Fort Hood shooter, was not just Islamic but an Islamic extremist, which means you might want to invest in duct tape stock to benefit from the coming storm of weak-kneed panic.

The senator has truly elevated grandstanding to a historic level, realizing that in a post-modern world being the bad guy is as attention-getting as being the good guy.  So heroically waving "hi" at chickenhawks paranoid of the Islamic faith — which will bring him many hearty huzzahs! — is an equivalent act to breakneck changing his position on health care reform from supporter to filibusterer.  As long as they spell his name right, as the saying goes.

But I'm sure that the U.S. Army, state and local law enforcement and the F.B.I. would be happy with Sen. Lieberman's assistance in divining the motive of a crazy person who shot things, which person is alive and in custody and left a 38 year trail of family, friends and acquaintances.  Police work is hard!  And the good Senator has clearly demonstrated that he is the master of all things, as long as those things include equivocating and backstabbing.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:37 AM

November 8, 2009

i missed the healthcare party

So the House passed a health care bill last night by a margin that a leftie fundraising email called "razor-thin" but actually by a margin of five votes, so please do not try cutting anything with that razor.  Everyone is very excited (or agitated) about this but me — the bill does not jettison health insurance companies into the heart of the sun, so there's still a ways to do in my eyes.

But more importantly, while the House democrats were staying up late governing, the House GOP was having an obstructionist open-mike hoe-down, which Wonkette gets the gold star for documenting:  Rep. Mike Pence with his action grip on Ronaldus Magnus!  Rep. John Shadegg out-Gallaghers Gallagher with his prop-based comedyViewer mail!

It is nights like last night that Wonkette earns all the chicken wings.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:41 AM