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November 20, 2009

goldmann stockholders

Back when the financial-services-compensation issue was molten, back before the taxpayers bailed them out penny-for-penny, the argument that came right after, "We need to be able to attract and retain talent," was, "Besides, we are a publicly held company and ain't heard boo from the stockholders."  Well today, the stockholders are reported to have said boo:
"We think the compensation debate is coming across as a populist issue, when to us it is really about how Goldman and other firms can best allocate capital and how pending changes in the regulatory framework may change all this," Tom Marsico, founder of Marsico Capital Management, a Goldman shareholder told The Journal.

The complaint that the size of the bonuses is determined by the talent market is not entirely specious — competition happens.  But the appearance that the bonus recipients are largely the ones setting the bonus levels, that the game is rigged and competition is the spiel to dupe the marks, is pervasive.

I own no stock, so I have no dog in the fight.  But if I did, I'd have a hard time believing that the cash poured into a bonus pool exceeding sixteen billion dollars might not be put to better good (well, let's say might better increase stockholder value) elsewhere.  I might even wonder, might there not be a bunch of best-and-brightest that could achieve the same results for a bonus pool of, oh, eight billion dollars?

In fact, were I a stockholder, or if I were talking to a stockholder, I'd suggest that the equity in the company was being spirited away from stockholders by people giggling at how easy it was to do that.

(Normal disclosures apply: I'm no economist, I'm a leftie, I'm an idiot, etc.)

Posted by mrbrent at 11:13 AM

virginia foxx eats paste

So I slept on it, and I was feeling pretty about about getting all mad as heck because Representatives aren't exactly known for their rocket science or their brain surgery.  It's not like this is a fresh new angle on the House — the one not known as the more deliberative body of the Congress — as a moment of non-anger-clouded recollection reminded me that the House of Representative has been peopled as if it were an asylum for the long proud history of our nation.  It's gives color and pep to the events of the day, and something to talk about at the water cooler better than "Top Chefs".

So of course we can delineate their various misspeakings and revelatory slips.  Just because they are imbeciles does not mean that they are beneath our contempt.  So let's be contemptuous!

Like Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who said not only in front of the esteemed body but also in front of a live camera that it was the party of Lincoln that ushered in civil rights legislation despite the efforts of Democrats.  Demonstrably untrue.  What is true (and interesting) is that a large number of Southern Democrats voted against the Civil Rights Act.  But to paint the Republican Party as the instigative force and the Democrats as not-helping is a God-damn lie.

Which is why I say that Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) eats paste.  And worse, acts like she's from South Carolina.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:25 AM

November 19, 2009

pause for dumb rant

There's been more than one incident of a sitting representative in the House says something stupid and provocative about something happening currently.  Like, "It's Obama's fault that Nidal shot up Fort Hood," or, "Health care reform has an abortion surcharge," or, I don't know, "ACORN has destroyed Twitter's trending topics," or whatever.  A whole blog's worth, for reals, and none of which will I dignify with a hyperlink.

Which raises the question: should we be setting the outrage bar at Senator/talking head or higher?  Should it be assumed that a member of the House of Representative will say stoopid shit as a matter of habit, that they don't know no better, they're just dumb-ass representatives?  It's not like any of them ever get held to account — Michele Bachmann (to use an obvious example) has a terminal case of the invisible robots in her teeth that tell her what to say, and she's a rising fucking star.  I'm not convinced that you have to even be able to tie your own shoes to be voted into the House.

There's a sign outside Capital Hill warning motorists not to pick up any hitchhikers because they might be a Representative, yes?  Heaven forfend.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:21 PM

orwell was british, right?

Terrifying copyfight news item as leaked to BB — UK Secretary of State proposes changes to a bit of legislation before Parliament that would basically empower this Secretary of State to do whatever he or she desired — creating new punishments for "infringers", compelling compliance from ISPs and even "deputizing" movie studios and record labels to provide them with enforcement powers — all without significant oversight.

This an unprecedented power grab by any Western governmental authority.  As bad as it would be for a family to unilaterally lose Internet access because Junior was filesharing, imagine being arrested on the say-so of a film distributor because of a mash-up you posted to YouTube.

I will defer to UK libel laws and say only that it's pretty clear the UK SecState, Peter Mandelson, is a lot more interested in the desperate flailings of dying media conglomerates than he is in the welfare of the average British enduser, or copyright law in the abstract.  Why would that be?  I have no earthly idea.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:14 PM

doug hoffman wants to run for vice president

Empty-suit flavor-of-the-week conservative who managed to both split the GOP and lose a long-held Republican House seat takes marching orders from a talk show host and un-concedes his election.  And now that the outcome is all but locked, Doug Hoffman, the carpet-bagging candidate of NY-23, is blaming ACORN for his defeat.

But not to worry!  Hoffman is not doing so to encourage Teabaggers to build a time machine and go back to November 3 and stop ACORN in their tracks (face it, Teabaggers were already on high alert) — no, the claims of tampering come in a fund-raising letter, which makes it all about the cabbage.

Which means that Teabaggers are now an exploitable resource.

ACORN is the boogeyman that just will not die, because it's got the taint of all the things that unreasonable people are prejudiced against: poor, minorities, grass-roots activism and even a whiff of organized labor.  If reality were as cinematic as it should be, ACORN leadership would finally hit the breaking point and say, "Fuck it — as long as we're going to get accused of this shit we might as well steal some elections."  Of course then they would find out that election-stealing isn't exactly as easy as it was back in the 60s, while voter suppression, which is I guess is the more patriotic version of election-stealing, is still pretty easy to accomplish, though I have no idea who'd stoop so low.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:55 AM

steven simon on 9-11 trials

Yesterday's op-ed from author and CFR fellow Steven Simon wraps up every logical argument against the rending of garments by opponents of federal 9-11 trials here in New York City, and it does so calmly and cold-bloodedly.  In the wake of this essay, no argument — that terrorists might go free, that intel sources would be revealed, that terrorists would be given a live microphone — is left standing.  Much of the matter of it was skated over by Attorney General Holder yesterday, but Simon applies a more military straight-forwardness to the discourse and I not only highly recommend it but will also probably stop making my own arguments and point back to Simon's work.

The one thing I would add is the over-arching point that we are a nation of laws and not whimsy.  And the application of these laws in the face of threat and danger would be the first thing we've done to actually support a thesis of American exceptionalism in the past decade.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:30 AM

November 18, 2009

jacques vallee on boing boing

If you're not familiar with Dr. Jacques Vallee, you should be.  The bulk of his body of work might not be your cup of tea, as it at least tangentially deals with UFO sightings and similar phenomena, but should at least appreciate him for this fact: his trade for the past couple decades has been as a partner in a venture capital firm.  In fact, all the time he was writing his more speculative books he was a working computer scientist imagining the very high tech world we live in today.  And now he's guest blogging at Boing Boing, which is a tidy little marriage indeed. His excellent first post is a common sense discussion of U.S. torture policy:
When it was revealed that the U.S. resorted to torture to extract information from prisoners, many people my age must have had a very somber thought for the thousands of young Americans who had given their lives on the beaches of Normandy in a brave effort to rid the world of governments that engaged in such shameful practices.

And then he goes on to make a series of escalating glaringly obvious statements and ends with the point that he guesses there must be no such thing as a truth serum, hmh?  He's smart, and right.

I look forward to more.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:15 PM

grace under butt spray pressure

This seems to not happen very often — a bit of Gawker Media snark backfires into a grace note.

I came up with acting type folk, and then married into that sideshow, so it's always nice to hear the story of a hard-working basically normal brother or sister who is making a living without taking any crazy pills.  And the subject of the post, Lanny Fuettere, is not letting the fact that he was cast in a butt spray commercial stop him from minding his manners.

Just for keeping it real, for being outgoing but modest, for getting the joke and not overplaying his hand, Mr Fuettere is a hero for this Wednesday.  So go visit his website.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:26 AM

fill the screen with palin

Again it is too hard to resist.  So Marc Ambinder has a nice informative piece up examining two or three days of the Palin veep campaign as she presents it in her book, and as described by McCain staffers.  That career GOP political operatives are trampling each other to contradict Palin's accounts speaks for itself, I think, but it's not as memorable as the following:
Of the e-mails and the attempts by McCain advisers to rebut Palin's account of the campaign, said [Palin loyalist] Recher:  "Maybe the McCain aides would have been better served trying to get McCain's positive message out and less time clustering away e-mails like squirrels before winter.  This anonymousness... is not in the John McCain spirit."

First of all, any man that would compare the archiving of emails to squirrels foraging for nuts has either never operated a computer or never witnessed an actual squirrel, or both.

And secondly, "anonymousness" may be a lot of things, but one of the things it's not is a word.

Sarah Palin carefully surrounds herself with people that are not smarter than she is, so that when they play gin rummy and she insists that four cards of the same suit is as good as a set then no one will know she's lying.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:57 AM

November 17, 2009

mike mukasey: oh, actually, an asshole

Earlier today, as I posted this, I thought to myself that Michael Mukasey was at least a reasonable fellow less given to demagoguery and histrionics than other leading lights of the right.  I was wrong:
In an interview with Washington Times radio this morning, the hosts asked Mukasey about Moran’s comments. Mukasey responded by suggesting that the congressman “get professional help” from Maj. Nidal Hasan:
Q: Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia says anybody that questions KSM coming to New York City for a civilian trial — that they’re un-American.  What is your reaction to that?

MUKASEY: I think he’s lost touch with reality.  He ought to get professional help, perhaps from Maj. Nidal.

The segment then ends with the hosts laughing over Mukasey’s “joke.”

I was totally wrong!  Get that dude a gig with the Excellency In Broadcasting network, where he can fully legitimize his views to the righteous and faithful of the nation all the way to the bank.  I mean, he found a way to go Hitler without mentioning Hitler.  That's innovative.

And let me add that while originally I thought that the baseline reasonableness of Mukasey shielded him from ad hominem, I was wrong on that too.   Sadly, the only ad hominem he's worth is "asshole".

Posted by mrbrent at 5:06 PM

patterson: be scared

I hate to kick a guy when he's down — well, I hate to kick this guy when he's down — but NY governor David Patterson is sadly on the wrong side of this next material complaint against NYC 9-11 prosecutions, the "boo-hoo" argument:
Paterson spoke out against hosting the high-profile, high-security trial in the city, telling the Daily News: "This is not a decision that I would have made... Our country was attacked on its own soil on Sept. 11, 2001, and New York was very much the epicenter of that attack. Over 2,700 lives were lost.  It's very painful; we're still having trouble getting over it.  We still haven't been able to rebuild that site, and having those terrorists tried so close to the attack is going to be an encumbrance on all of New Yorkers."

This is the easiest one to slap down.  The name of the game is "terrorism".  How does one win this game?  One wins by refusing to be terrified.  And if New Yorkers are weak-kneed at the prospect of the terrorists being in the same county for their trial, then we're terrified.

And to speak for NYers, which I am generally loathe to do, we are not terrified.  There may be mixed support for the trials here, but the Governor is incorrect: we are over the event.  We are traumatized, and maybe some still have trouble sleeping at night, but for the purposes of the rest of the concerns of the rest of the country, we are over it.  In fact, when the rest of the country talks about "over it", we don't even know what the fuck that is.

And I do hate to pile on Patterson, especially if it puts me in terrible company, but he's the wrongest guy in wrongland on this.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:16 PM

"prefers the term 'man-wolf'..."

I have to keep reminding myself that it is in my interest for the world to be weird.  It's hard, because so many of the outrages that are tempting to write about are not weird at all — if anything, they're stultifying.  Even the evil and mendacious amongst us have blanded themselves down to the most casual level.

Which is why Werewolves!  Well, cryptozoology, to be more specific, but in the great state of Wisconsin, which is one of our finer states.  And the post reminds you that before there were ever reality TV shows there were eyewitness accounts that are things of beauty:

I couldnt believe what I was hearing but as the howling got closer and I caught a glimpse of what was out there with my spotlight and I totally freaked out, started my dirtbike and my big farmboy friend was screaming your not leaving me!!  He jumed on the tractor and i have never rode so fast in my life across a fully tilled field with-out caring about anything but getting away!!  He was so mad and scared at the same time because the tractor was not nearly as fast as a dirtbike but at this point i was saving my own ass!!  Its true it stands on its hind legs and is vicious as hell looking and its howl is something so scary sounding that its unimaginable to say the least.  Ill NEVER GO BACK OUT THERE NOT EVEN WITH A GUN.


There's also a clip of a local television news story on the phenomena embedded in the post, which is a healthy reminder of how bad local television news is (though the eyewitness accounts are as interesting as the reenactments and the anchors are terrible).

[This was on The Awl yesterday, but you already read The Awl so I don't have to tell you that.]

Posted by mrbrent at 10:51 AM

scary scary terrorists

There are innumerable ways to approach the wailing over the Department of Justice's decision to not only try Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and others allegedly involved with the 9-11 attacks but to try them right here in the Big Apple.  There's been an awful lot of wailing, you see, and it actually comes in a lot of different flavors.  So let's start for no particular reason with this specific complaint, as voiced by the final, least bumbling AG of the Bush administration, Michael Mukasey:
"It shows a willingness to disclose how our intelligence process works and offer [the suspects] a platform in our legal system to gather intelligence for themselves," Mukasey said before an audience of conservative lawyers at the national Federalist Society's annual legal convention in Washington.

What Mukasey is generally referring to is that the suspects will be granted the rights that people being tried for crimes in these United States are accorded — right to counsel, right to face one's accuser, and all those other rights we learn about by watching "Law & Order".  So if Bad Guy is tried under the jurisdiction of a federal court, then Bad Guy will get to see the evidence being used to prove their guilt.

And then terrorism will win?  I'm not sure.  I guess that the Bad Guys will use their secret terrorism superpowers to broadcast this information halfway around the globe using only their evil evil mind, and their fillings.  I could be exaggerating.  I doubt they'd need to use their fillings.

And even if the dark fears of Michael Mukasey were true, and that all the Bad Guys in the world have been waiting WAITING for the day that they'd be in front of a judge so that they could finally snatch up all the delicious counter-intel that wasn't available to them, too bad so sad, I'm sorry to say.  It's the way we do things: criminals commit crimes and we prosecute them, and the deck is totally stacked to ensure that the state does not take unfair of the accused.  It's the way we do things, and it's what makes us the good guys and gives us the moral high ground.  And to change the way we do things because we motivated as something as stupid as fear, that'd kinda be like losing, right?

I can't imagine Ronald Reagan advocating something so cowardly.

And that's just one of the talking points of which Ronald Reagan would surely not approve!

Posted by mrbrent at 9:52 AM

November 16, 2009

palin's radar screen

Sarah Palin on her presidential ambitions, from the Oprah taping:
"I'm concentrating on 2010 and making sure that we have issues to tackle," Palin said in the interview taped last week and broadcast on Monday. "I don't know what I'm going to be doing in 2012. (Running for president is) not on my radar screen right now."

OK then, what about the other parts of her radar?

That is what Sarah Palin is all about — answering an honest question with a non-committal gently-mangled euphemism.  It's not an outright flub of the euphemism.  She's always close enough to make sense, but it leaves a tickle in your ear.  It's intended to be a dodge, I'm sure, but I'm curious if the mangling of the euphemism counteracts the dodge, or just deepens it.

It is going to be very difficult to resist tossing off one or two of these a day for the next week, this week of Palin Ascendency.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:51 PM

piper mckenzie on the saloon

Yes, blather blather, Jack O'Hanrahan, Saloon, blather blather.  But still!  The show went off like a proud stallion on Saturday and universal fun was had.  And this morning I found this post by Piper McKenzie on someone's FB page:
Their name may imply a take-no-prisoners form of swaggering, maverick carnage, but despite all appearances the Vampire Cowboys are have pitched their tent squarely in the camp of the angels.  Supplementing the great productions they stage each year and their ongoing fight workshop, the Saloon is a theater experience unlike any other, in my opinion, and one that is of great benefit to both artists and audiences: a raucous, beer-drenched monthly affair in which dozens of enthusiastic showgoers cram into a sweaty room for several hours to whoop and holler and stomp their feet for not one but SIX intricate serial narratives crafted by an astounding menagerie of incredible artists.

Isn't that much more evocative than my repeated attempts to kinda sorta explain it without getting any self-promotional dirt under my fingernails?  And Piper is not exaggerating (except for the "intricate" part — this guy right here is not so much for intricacies).

Next show is in one month.  Forewarned is forearmed, yes?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:31 AM

apple: think different

Football totally ate my Sunday, which makes me a bad person.  But not as bad as Apple, which has come up with the equivalent device of the robot traffic camera for the entertainment industry:
Apple's filed a patent on a design for a device that won't let its owner use it unless that person demonstrates that she has complied with an advertiser's demands by paying attention to an ad and taking some action indicating her dutiful attention.

Smoke 'em while you got 'em, you scofflaw end-users: your days of failing to pay appropriate attention to the sponsors are numbered.

Now Apple needs to come up with the device that will prevent me from refusing to purchase the goods or services of any advertiser that buys time on a marketing-compliance killswitch device.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:20 AM

November 15, 2009

cheney 2012

If there was ever a better time to accuse Dick Cheney of hiding behind his daughter's skirts, I don't know when it was, as she floats his candidacy for 2012 on some news show that deems her relevant.

I don't know what makes Dick Cheney a better candidate for the GOP: his popularity with the general public, the success of his two terms as vice president or just his youth and robust health.

Of course, Liz Cheney might have been referring to herself when she quipped, "You could also look at the comparison and think, Cheney 2012," which might would make perfect sense — she might be the only American alive more deserving of four years at the helm than her father.

I clearly need to watch more Sunday morning talkers.  It's where the flavor is.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:24 PM

still talking about sarah palin

When digital archaeologists are sifting through the end of the Naughties, they will be wondering, "Who was this Sarah Palin woman, and why is there so much mention of her around this time even though she is utterly forgotten to history?"

Without citing specific examples (which you are aware of unless you are in a coma, in which case get well soon!), the strategy of her publisher is spot on — endless exclusive dollops of interviews, conducted by each of the venues spurned by the campaign back when she was running for the presidency of vice presidents.  It's a carpet-bombing, and whether or not it spurs sales, it certainly raises awareness of the book, and insane people in general.

But the more fascinating aspect is exactly how flawed of a character Palin actually is.  Were she to sit on her hands and smile and nod and keep to the script, her popularity among the crazifed twenty percent would make her a strong candidate for national office.  She does not, however, keep to the script, picking needless fights and rewriting history in the most vindictive fashion — Steve Schmidt becomes a backstabber, Levi Johnston becomes a spoiler of her innocent flower and Katie Couric, most confusingly, becomes pitiable.  These are not feuds borne of necessity.  These are feuds solely purposed to revenge some slight that Palin imagines.

Palin is so invested in her own hagiography that she is incapable of discerning reality, and each of her short-comings is overcompensated for.  She is not an under-qualified inexperienced veep pick that at least benefited from the exposure, no: she would have one that race were it not for the deadbeat at the head of the ticket she was shackled with, whose minions callously prevented her from demonstrating her leadership abilities and her command of facts and the nuances of foreign policy.

Palin believes her own publicity, which publicity she has demanded.  And it's insanity — she will have a syndrome named after her someday in the DSM.

It may well move some books, which is fine by me   the publishing industry can use any leg-up it can get.  But I can't help but feel like she's digging herself a hole, even among those predisposed to give her a shot.

It is a very public autodefenestration, and I'm curious to what extent it reflects greater societal forces and to what extent it is the suis generis actions of a small-time politician who went round the bend.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:07 AM