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November 28, 2009

indymac: ahead of the trend

The import of this news item of a NY judge wiping a mortgage and granting the property to the mortgagee by reason of the intransigence of the mortgager is not the news itself.  It is good news, of course — one for the little man and notice to financial services monolith that their power will know limits.  However, it will likely be overturned on appeal, and at least be tied up in court for the rest of the natural lives of the couple that now owns their home.

The significance is the unadulterated glee with which this decision was met by public at large.  No matter how many full-page ads they take out in the local newspaper, banks have burned every last scrap of good will they ever had.  No mystery in why this would happen — from the overturning of usury laws to the repeal of Glass-Steagal, banks have not been in the running for any community service awards as they do their best imitation of economic kudzu.  And while there is not guarantee that a demonization in the public eye will affect anything, I call it a fair fight and one I'm happy to pick sides on.

(For some real fun, read Judge Spinner's decision.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:24 AM

spam: since you asked

A friend of mine is considering starting a little site in which they can publish the responses that they have been writing to spammers for, you know, stress relief (and the inevitable book contract).  So in the way of inducement to this friend, I'm going to publish a few, so friend can see if they are still as fun when the entire world can read them.

The offending spam (links altered, duh):

On Nov 26, 2009, at 8:38 PM, NeEdUrHelp51@aol.com wrote:

You would be stupid to pass this up. thought of you when i read the city name in this article

The response [sic]:

Why did you call me stupid? Do I know you?
I think I am smart.
Thank you for the link. I like business. I spend $2 everyday on lottery business tickets and never win but know I will some day. You help keep dreams alive. I have passed the link along to every stupid person I know. I don't think their feelings will be hurt.
I like apples and think you are nice.
Hope you email me all the time. I have BCC'd my lawyer on this so I can sue you if you contact me again.
Thanks stupid,
George fanguard

Hopefully a response to the response will come in some day, but this world isn't perfect enough for that to happen.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:05 AM

9-11 pager data

This dollop of weirdness hit on Wednesday morning, when most people were somewhere between over the river and through the woods, so I repeat it for posterity's sake.

A website has released a data dump of text messages sent on the morning of 9-11.  And keep in mind that back then texts were the province of professionals with souped-up pagers and not teenagers.  And it's fascinating, if not overwhelming at times.

No mention is given of the source of this data, but I'm going to skip right over that so my beautiful mind isn't troubled with the eventual resting place of all my digital communication.

You can file this under historical curiosity, or you can file it under Truther inanity, if you are less generous.  But one discrete difference between now and Back When I Was Whatever is that raw data is now a publicly available artifact, and it can be really interesting in its many guises if you give it more than forty-five seconds.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:17 AM

November 27, 2009

all about thanksgiving

It is the day after Thanksgiving, and most of you are probably fighting strangers to the death over an Easy-Bake Oven.  That is terrible news of course, but it's nice to see the return of the Easy-Bake Oven to the public consciousness, and now people will open light-bulb powered restaurants much like the little giants of cinema made movies with Pixelvisions back before trampling was a hazard of shopping.

But Thanksgiving was good, and many thanks were given.  Much food was cooked and eaten as well, and by the time I was done with the cooking we were already in the car with the trunk tricked out as to not spill any of the food and then at dinner I discovered that whiskey was this year's wine.  (And yes, those carrots that bedeviled me turned out as good as they looked, glazed with a knob of butter and a pinch of salt.  The purple ones?  Not purple all the way through.)

So if I'd had time yesterday what I would've posted was something along the lines about how among the things I'm blessed with to be thankful, the fact that I have even a single reader is up there — below the family stuff and above most of the material comforts.

So thanks, readers.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:58 AM

November 25, 2009

taibbi: a walk through the sausage factory

Ordinarily I'd recommend this bit by Matt Taibbi on Sarah Palin.  Sure, you're Sarah Palined out, but he hits a few points that I haven't seen elsewhere, such as how she is a perfect candidate for the time as she is absolutely issue-neutral and exists solely as an engine to manufacture outrage for the purpose garnering support from an inchoately bitter base.  Good stuff!

But the better stuff is his follow up post, in which he anticipates and addresses the complaints of the inchoately bitter:

You had these people eating out of the palms of your hands (remember what it was like in the Dixie Chicks days?).  Now they’re all drawing horns and Groucho mustaches on your heroes, and rapidly transitioning you from your previous political kingmaking role in the real world to a new role as a giant captive entertainment demographic that exists solely to be manipulated for ratings and ad revenue.  What you should be asking yourself is why this is happening to you.  Even I don’t know the answer to that question, but honestly, I don’t really care.  All I know is that I find it extremely funny.

What makes Taibbi so valuable above and beyond his writing (which you may take or leave — I take) is that he has actually put in time on the campaign trail, in the back of the bus or the airplane, sitting with those that are filing for all the dailies and the TV news.  So Taibbi's bitter cynicism is not just a fashionable, just-for-laughs cynicism, like mine, but one born of experience crashing the corridors of power.  It's a useful perspective to have.

And his point is that, yes, the media behaves in a conspiratorial manner, but borne of pack-mentality and not evil machinations, and that if the mainstream media, as they call it, is taking potshots at someone like Sarah Palin, they are doing so because the accumulated Beltway hivemind has decided that it is permissible.

Which will be an interesting wall for the Sarah Palin Parking Lot phenomena to crash into.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:22 PM

the biggest loser

There was a little bit of an expose on the reality television industry in the NYT today, in the form of the medical risks to the contestants of "The Biggest Loser", which is a show about losing weight.  No, really!  The story has garnered some interest and hopefully is only the first volley, as I like most geezers despise the form and would rather watch "Solid Gold" with my eyelids taped open.

But the best paragraphs of all to share are this two:

JD Roth, an executive producer of the series who created its current format, said that while the show was extreme, “it needs to be extreme in my opinion.”

“For some of these people this is their last chance,” he said. “And in a country right now that is wrestling with health care issues and the billions of dollars that are spent on obesity issues per year, in a way what a public service to have a show that inspires people to be healthier.”

And in another way, what kind of a fucking prat claims public service in a fucking television series, one that is inspiring $100 million worth of licensed merchandising?  Oh, that's right, a reality television executive producer prat.

I've no problem with success or making money.  I have a problem with sanctimony.  If that God-awful show is inspiring America to do anything it's to pack on the ell-bees so that they too can one day be a contestant.

If JD Roth really wants to provide a public service, the friendliest suggestion I can think of is to try giving his licensed merchandise away for free.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:06 PM

huffpo and naked things

I've wondered about this to myself more than once — which is the lowest class facet of Huffington Post, the constant (self?) promotion of Arianna Huffington and her v. v. important talking head TV appearances, or the reliance on naked celebs and nip slips as link bait?

Mary Katherine Ham makes an argument that it is indeed the casual prurient misogyny:

I'd argue that the kind of Internet traffic HuffPo trafficks in is below a political site of the caliber it purports to be, period. But the Huffington Post is also a left-of-center reporting outlet with a keen interest in harping on what it calls the "anti-woman" views and policies of the Republican Party, conservative leaders, and even conservative Democrats. Somehow it's hard to take HuffPo's rant about Neanderthal Stupak-amendment supporters seriously when it's right next to Rihanna's exposed nipple and some D-lister's leaked sex tape.

I'd say that pretty well sums it up.

Well, she doesn't say that the eyeball-fishing is necessarily worse than endless Arianna vids (which would be the opposite of eyeball-fishing), so I guess I'm reading something into that.  The Arianna vids can get to be a pretty annoying waste of a newshole, though, for sure.

[Via Ackerman.]

Posted by mrbrent at 11:34 AM

happy black wednesday

I barely dipped my toe into the Union Square Greenmarket just now, and I gotta tell ya, it is experiences like that that are the engines that drive the secret origins of stand up comedians.  A hodgepodge of New Yorkers, some dodging to get to DiPaolo's to beg for the last minute bird, some picking over the just-dug yams, most milling around like cattle, clotting an expanse of what could pass for a parking lot, where my friend Tina and I used to dream about fishing for rats back in college days, as that was where Sanitation would store leaking bags of garbage in a giant mound.  But back to now: the fog of foodie/localvore/I-watch-people-cook-on-TV rolling across the park left more than a little crazy in its wake, as this skinny guy with the ZZTop beard and that ex-editor whose Conde days are firmly two weeks behind her would juggle produce, maps and calculator to ensure that the streams would not be crossed!  Also: boy are my arms tired!

Why was I there?  I was there to pick up these carrots that make me want to break the no-graphics rule on this here site, purple yellow and orange.  I was going to wait until on the way home from work, but I couldn't stop thinking about them on the train, so I switched at West 4th and headed for the mosh pit.  I do not know how these carrots will taste or how they were grown.  I do know they are from New Jersey, which makes sense, as New Jersey is the home to many a farm.  But these carrots are very beautiful and got into my head, and I will enjoy making them into something (I don't know what).

And yes, the carrots made the excursion into one of Dante's circles worth it.  I love this freaking holiday.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:59 AM

November 24, 2009

more employment

Further to my this DailyKos post is (like my thoughts) scanty on statistics but phrases the situation better than I have:
There are millions of ex-manufacturing workers who used to make good livings making things here in the USA. The "New Economy" had and has no real place for them: the Old Economy is the only place that offered them a way to use their skills and gifts in a way that afforded them the basics of life plus a little fun.

Again: the economy offers people with less than a college degree precious few (and vanishing) ways to support a family in anything approaching comfort.

I don't know on a theory level which one (of the manufacturing sector and the middle class) is the cart and the horse, but common sense supports the premise (no matter what Morgan Stanley says) that prosperity on a national level is best supported by a robust middle than an ultra-successful high end, inasmuch as your average financial services CEO will buy a whole lot less goods and services than the number of tool and dye workers that said CEO's annual compensation would pay for a year.

I know, I need supporting facts and research.  I'll stumble across them soon.

And also, I'm starting to suspect that this is a question (i.e., "How do we employ everyone?") that might not have an answer based on precedent, on account of how much everything changes no matter how much you wish it wouldn't.  I don't see a likelihood for a national resurgence in the gadget-making industries, or even the gadget-parts-making industries, because competition from unregulated labor markets is too great, and our access to resources ain't what it used to be.  Maybe we will all end up being Skynet-polishers or some such thing.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:15 PM

what's the opposite of synergy?

David Carr, on the trail of even more dead canaries:
It comes as a bit of shock to learn that USA Today, which would seem to define a traditional news organization, is teaming up with Fark in a sponsorship of its Geek page. USA Today content will be featured on the page and the Gannett-owned newspaper will sell ads on the site as well.

So what's the coalmine in this instance?  It is the coalmine from which the exact moments when bakelite became a hipster fetish, when the last person threw out their pager and when the acronym UHF became untethered are mined.

I found it a moderate freakout to see a bit of promo from TimeWarner advertising the extensive menu of VOD movies available simultaneously with DVD release.  But strange-bedfellows content-sharing deals like USA Today/Fark I think are queerer ducks screaming towards ubiquity.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:33 AM

bill bennett: more racism

Using the ingenious portable AM/FM radio headphones, while walking the dog I caught just the perfect two minutes of conservative drive-time talker Bill Bennett (who is a former Secretary of Driving or something and the first, best-known appointed czar), and he was very heavily intoning — actually reading newspaper accounts — of the news of the additional arrests in the Minneapolis/Somalia terrorism case, much in the same tone one would read a list of dead.  And then he confided to his radio audience how he was reminded of the work of some crazy person or other who posits that a sign of a weak society is the fear of being called racist.  And there might have been a "tsk" or some other non-verbal indication of import.

That's a paraphrase, for which I apologize but I was busy picking up dogshit, appropriately.

But yeah that was no way to start the day, hearing some old white nobody with a gambling problem who coattailed Ronald Reagan to fame and fortune telling a live radio audience that our problem is that we are afraid of being called racist.  And what the things are that you could be called racist for that are not racist I cannot imagine, which basically means that Bennett's solution for a nation in which another, what, 14 guys were picked up on terrorism charges is reason for a new age of racism.

File this under, "Well why would you keep slamming the drawer on your finger if you know it's gonna hurt?"

Posted by mrbrent at 8:25 AM

November 23, 2009

onion on teabaggers

I don't think that the Onion has been sucking recently, exactly, but they definitely haven't been nailing like they did way back when, like say from 1999 until about 2002.

This one, though, nails it:

According to Mortensen — an otherwise mild-mannered husband, father, and small-business owner — the most serious threat to his fanciful version of the 222-year-old Constitution is the attempt by far-left "traitors" to strip it of its religious foundation.

"Right there in the preamble, the authors make their priorities clear: 'one nation under God,'" said Mortensen, attributing to the Constitution a line from the Pledge of Allegiance, which itself did not include any reference to a deity until 1954.  "Well, there's a reason they put that right at the top."

It's a small shame that for me the best Onion pieces are ones that I agree with on some political level, but it all goes back to the verity that conservatives aren't funny.  And the point that the Teabaggers understanding of Constitutional/policy issues is visceral at best is a valid one.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:52 PM

commodifying their dissent

Used to be that electioneering was a career, but a specialized one.  You could make a career of advising campaigns for a living, and lucratively, though not usually baseball-player lucratively, and you also have to be willing to be looked upon by the rest of society somewhat quizzically, if not as a sideshow freak.

But buried in this mild consideration of Glenn Beck is the fact that electioneering is now something you can sell to regular people, like on QVC, and then sit around counting money all day:

Mr. Beck is not the only media firebrand trying to mobilize Americans disaffected with a Democratic-controlled government.  The radio host Laura Ingraham is inviting candidates to sign a 10-point pledge on her Web site.  Sean Hannity, on his afternoon radio show and prime-time Fox News program, is promoting “Conservative Victory 2010,” his name for the map on his site that will spell out questions for candidates.

Gold Rush!  And it's not too late for you: all you need is a podcast, and acronym and some method to process the credit card numbers of the gullible.

When I saw the headline I wondered it the story was going to be a "Glenn Beck cynically exploits followers" story or a "Glenn Beck crazy enough to believe own hagiography" story.  And the answer is, "You bet!"

Posted by mrbrent at 11:47 AM

unemployment

So the topic of this morning's message from the president (which sorely needs a fireside) was about the economy, and how it could maybe use a few jobs, as seeing how unemployment, even the friendly government figure, is mind-bogglingly high.

But here's the question that I've had for a while that I'm too dumb to answer: where exactly are all these jobs supposed to come from?  Wal-Mart?  I poked around for statistics fruitlessly (the Internet needs disambiguation), but my scant understanding is that the industry that primarily put us on the right track a couple generations ago was manufacturing — it employed millions of lightly trained workers, provided a whole lot of them with union protections, and was self-fueling, to an extent, as a sizable portion of the goods manufactured were purchased here in the States.  So as affluence grew, purchasing power grew, which then supported the manufacturing base which was driving growth in the first place.

Now, fifty years later, manufacturing has been decimated, as the concerns that haven't been squeezed out by foreign competition have outsourced their labor.  Take automotive manufacturing as an example.  Detroit used to be a monster, employment-wise, and there are a whole lot of folk born in Detroit and put through college on their pop's manufacturing salary.  Now Detroit's a ghost town, and Michigan in general leads the country in unemployment.

So, assuming that what I'm saying is even twenty percent correct, assuming that our manufacturing base is gone for good, off in a Bangalore cab-ride with Tom Friedman, where are all these unemployed people supposed to work?  Retail?  Not everyone can run a hedge fund.  Small business?  Do they even have that anymore?

Oddly, what brought this to mind was not so much the endless depressing employment stats, but when I saw that FedEx Kinko's was now FedEx Office.  Not that the death of Kinko's is a bellwether, but I am of a generation that was employed to a very large extent by Kinko's once we were post-collegiate slackers.  It was either food service, a bookstore or Kinko's back then.  And then technology took them down, as the tech became affordable for the small business and the home user.  And when I saw the commercial in between downs of some football game that heralded the knife across the neck of Kinko's, I wondered: where the hell are this generation of slackers making rent?

Which then leads to the bigger, "Where the hell is anyone going to work?"  When I offered, "Wal-Mart," above, I did so with the knowledge that some percentage of our economic brain trust would answer that in the affirmative.

Big topic!  Thinking out loud!

Posted by mrbrent at 10:34 AM