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December 5, 2009

solomund on goldman sachs

If you're like me, forty percent of whose Internet reading consists articles/items concerning Goldman Sachs, you'll agree that most posts about Goldman Sachs are just hard — discursions explaining macroeconomics, acronym definitions and just plain explanation, explanation, explanation.  Who can keep their head wrapped around all that stuff when a Tiger Woods mistress is just a tab away?

Well, this is an nice quick and to-the-point post by Solomund on everything you need to know about hatin' on Goldman Sachs, or at least that part of Goldman Sachs that insists that they could have survived the recession without government insistence.

I'm not saying that shorter makes it less smart than other writing on the topic, or even easier to understand.  I'm just saying that Solomund sketches it out, so that it can fold up and fit in your wallet, like a cheat sheet.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:40 PM

today in historic fiction

The reporting and disproving of urban myths and their sleeker younger cousins, email forwards, has long been a source of joy and togetherness for all the families of America.  But rarely does the DENIED come from a source like the airline on which the alleged terror plot was thwarted, and this one is as detailed and unequivocal as they come:
Since the flight and initial media reports, several blogs and Internet sites have recounted the incident as portrayed by a passenger originally scheduled for the flight.  Below is that passenger’s account (unedited in any way including spelling and grammar), as reported on several blogs. Highlighted between the passenger’s account, are the factually accurate circumstances surrounding this incident.

We bring this to your attention in order to dispel myths that are beginning to make the rounds in chat rooms, blogs and conspiracy theorists’ Web sites.

So Theodore Petruna may well be a hero in some parts   maybe he pulled a kitten from a tree, maybe he surrendered that last slice of pizza to his bro — but he is not a hero of the foiling-Muslim-hijackers-in-full-attire sort.

And given that Petruna was not on the alleged flight, maybe it wasn't even Petruna who ginned up this little fantasy that warms the cockles of frightened Americans everywhere.  If this is the case, the author is a dickwad two times over instead of the normal one time.

[Via TPM.]

Posted by mrbrent at 10:47 AM

December 4, 2009

jay nordlinger: coward

Don't know why the news seems to be so fast and furious on an early December Friday, but if you didn't get up early enough you might've missed this TPM story concerning some smart guy wondering if the descriptive phrase "tea-bagger" should be accorded similar status to the en-word.

To be fair, if you go back and read the source (controversial, I know), you will note that the piece is more a slow meander down Dullsville Lane while wondering to self, "Self, whither the name Tea Bagger?"  The comparison to the en-word is not the central premise, and reads like this:

What about a special case — the worst word in American English, as some of us see it, namely the N-word?  When I was growing up, in Ann Arbor, Mich., there was a little debate: Should school officials try to prevent black students from using the N-word?  I don’t believe the issue was ever settled.  And this brings up the question of whether “teabagger” could be kind of a conservative N-word: to be used in the family, but radioactive outside the family.

That's not so much a correlation as it is wishful thinking, and noxious thinking at that.  This radioactivity is not declared, it grows, like a callous, after a hundred or so years of racial hatred.  Skipping the issue of Tea Bagger being a name generated by the Tea Baggers, you don't get to just proclaim this name a Really Bad Word no one can say.  That's not the way the world works, except in the mind of Tea Baggers, whose vision of their own victimhood is as arrogant and short-sighted as the rest of their core beliefs.

So, you could say, that's some pretty colossal dumb-assery, but it's not like the author centered the whole 1,000 words around it.  And you'd be partially right.  Or, you could say that since when does a writer get to sidebar off into seemingly unrelated sidebar, muse some caustically offensive idea out loud, and then scurry back to the opinion piece at hand like nothing just happened?  Since The Tears of The Sweater of Glenn Beck, roughly, but it doesn't make it any righter.

It's intellectual cowardice, and it's more noteworthy than the vile concept meekly offered up.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:38 AM

by the grace of sarah palin

Some mornings, Sarah Palin wakes up in a funny mood, and in between jogging and fashioning voodoo dolls of Katie Couric out of soiled diapers, she decides that bloggers got it hard, what with all those wars in those exotic places in Asia and Africa and all that news about the economy which is just a bunch of facts and figures that could mean anything with a little bit of algebra!  Those just aren't things to write about in a fun and snappy way that our precious national resource of nature's bounty, American bloggers, are so known and accustomed to doing!

And then she turns to whoever she's standing next to — a child, her husband Todd, a snowmobile, or Russia — and says, "You know what?  Let's give give those darned bloggers a big old hand and throw them a gift bone with gratitude and blessings and brighten up their day!"  And then wink!  Oh gosh that wink.

Yesterday was one of those days.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:39 AM

ackerman on containment

Spencer Ackerman reads the tea leaves and throws some runes and however else one divines these days and looks for the benchmark for victory in Afghanistan.  The answer he is leaning toward: containment of Al Qaeda.

During the previous iteration of this conflict (and the one two nations over), I've long complained that there was never a tangible goal, and instead vague assertions of resolve and getting the job.

"Containment", or let's say an irreparable disruption of that specific ilk of international terrorism, seems to at least creep towards an answer to the question, "What are we doing over there?"  And it may be a small comfort, but it does start a slow march towards rationalization of the conflict, for better or worse.

And if in fact it is the answer, then I don't think that it is a clear cut judgment call on whether its worth it — or even if it's tenable.  Maddeningly, it's an "only time will tell" as far as I'm concerned.

But nice job on Ackerman's part putting things together.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:39 AM

December 3, 2009

comcast!

The Comcast/NBC peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate is going to happen, as is reported all over the place, so please enjoy this wry and informative graphic that Boing Boing posted that shows the numbers that are in play.

My take is that the world is trending towards platform neutrality — that the majority of content delivery systems will begin to resemble each other (VOD vs. streaming web) and then ultimately conglomerate into one big universal delivery-amoeba.  And that is why that I think that our grandchildren will think of televisions in the same way that we think of telegraphs.  Accordingly, the most valuable asset in the two companies is not NBCs production capabilities or even networks, but rather Comcast's ISP subscription base (nearly 15 million strong as of a year ago).  Networks are fun little branded entities whose goodwill is vary valuable, but controlling the digital spigot, and then finding ways to integrate bells and whistles into the spigot (as Cablevision is doing now, I say as a Cablevision customer), is where I believe we're headed.  (I could be wrong!)

So will Comcast Rupert-Murdoch the content on all the NBC properties?  No.  Comcast is not in the Rupert-Murdoch business, and the reason they're buying these very expensive bells and whistles is not to render them useless.

Also, I'd say that clearing the hurdle of the FCC and whichever other federal authorities that might have purview over this acquisition is no sure thing, or at least a lot less sure than it would have been four years ago.  The phrase "too big to fail" is tossed around too much theses days for a bit of anti-merger empathy not to seep through.

Yes yes this is all dry and boring, which is why I led off with a fun infographical.  But it is the future, especially if you are in the content-making business.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:03 PM

howard roark was a jerk

Culled exclusively from Maud Newton's Twitter feed — first, some fella who has sadly not yet gone Galt replies to a Brownstoner thread concerning opposition to development occurring amidst the stately brownstones of Brooklyn.  He generously flags the Randian content of his small novel by his lead:
Dear Readers of the Brownstoner, I have never read any of your blogs before I saw this article.  However, I have been exposed to your opinions and ideas since the day I was born.  Most of those ideas have been around long before all of you were born and have lead to the establishment of, among many other things, Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany and ultimately the eradication of more than half the Jewish race.

Which is followed by a bunch of paragraphs about heroic developers and the craven masses that impinge on developers right to pursue happiness and other rote Objectivist mystical bullshit.  And he circles back to the Holocaust, lest you start to forget that he is an insane person.  And then he gets torn apart in the comments.

And then Maud points us to a nice little ditty she wrote concerning the lab rat for garish and non-sensical development, Williamsburg, as how it ties in to the work of Ayn Rand.

Obviously, if you're pressed for time, follow only the second link.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:20 PM

the "middle class"

Elizabeth Warren, who is the chair of the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel and dark horse economic contrarian, serves forth a brief essay on the "Middle Class" which was apparently written for the Huffington Post.  Alarming!  But still, she's writing important stuff:
Pundits talk about "populist rage" as a way to trivialize the anger and fear coursing through the middle class.  But they have it wrong. Families understand with crystalline clarity that the rules they have played by are not the same rules that govern Wall Street.  They understand that no American family is "too big to fail."  They recognize that business models have shifted and that big banks are pulling out all the stops to squeeze families and boost revenues.  They understand that their economic security is under assault and that leaving consumer debt effectively unregulated does not work.

The "Middle Class" is what we used to have back when phones were attached to a wall or a table, and when you couldn't swear on TV.  It was mostly remarkable for its upward mobility, and it's fake wood paneling.  And then the financial services industry realized that members of the "Middle Class" made for some real good eatin', and here we are now.

In other words, I entirely agree with what Ms. Warren is saying, and look forward to hearing it again from a public figure, maybe in six months or a year.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:44 AM

slingers

Not to crowd the wave, but this sizzle reel for a television series called "Slingers" is pretty awesome — it's got the caper vibe I dig so much, and it's got a nice tight aesthetic, which is important, as it is set in the future, and in space.

I am unsure if this little gem is picked up and if so by some distribution channel that is available stateside, but tagged posts on the blog of the exec producer, Mike Sizemore, is here.

This of course was brought to my, and a large portion of the digital universe, by Ellis.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:00 AM

December 2, 2009

afghansistan, and why not to be pissed off

Okay, I think I've found my own personal consensus position on the Afghanistan surge, from this nice little round-up by Jamelle Bouie:
Beyond that, for as objectionable as this decision is, liberals and progressives ought to think twice before they decide to withhold support from Democrats or actively work to sink Democratic candidates in congressional elections.  Progressive change is the work of decades. It's hard, time-consuming and riddled with setbacks. And that's true even in the best of circumstances, with a Democratic Congress, revitalized grass-roots, and a president who -- his flaws notwithstanding -- is one of the best vehicles for moving a progressive agenda that we've seen in a generation.  Granted, punishing the Democratic Party is emotionally satisfying, and as a matter of principle, probably the right thing to do. But giving the extreme right-wing another opportunity to control the national agenda is a tremendously dangerous thing to do.

In the general sense, leadership gets shafted with having to make hard decisions that piss off leadership's natural base.  And then it is up to this base to let cooler heads prevail and not consume itself.  (See, rather obviously, the civil war ripping the GOP in two over purity tests.)

This is sadly reminiscent of Bill Clinton's presidency, when progressives jumped ship in the first two years, leaving us with such masterpieces as "The Contract With America" and other lies all lies that had nothing to do with governance and everything to do with swaying disaffected voters.  But hey, first tragedy, then farce, right?

Plus also, after a bit of thinking, given the state of international terrorism and the amount of fissionable material in the western part of that region, I'm not uncomfortable with a US military presence hanging around and trying to look disinterested.  Dunno if that presence needs to be a full-blown expeditionary force (or four), but still.

So: the president is wrong, but I understand why he is doing what he is and he has my support.

Sidebar: Actually, are we calling it a surge yet?  Isn't it one?  Are we only consistent on our convenient nicknames on an ideological basis?

Posted by mrbrent at 4:48 PM

acorn: stop presses

Meanwhile, if today is just not newsy enough, Dave Weigel catches up with the GOP's efforts to truly make a difference in these United States:
Six cameras were staged around the room, and national reporters filled out the seats behind the witness stand alongside members of ACORN-investigating conservative organizations like the Capital Research Center and Big Government.  Officially titled a “Joint Forum on ACORN,” the hearing gave Republicans a chance to re-air allegations against the controversial activist group, which lost its long-standing federal funding in two lopsided September votes.

The Republican caucus has finally found the magic bullet that will fix the economy, reform health care and lead us out of the forest of the two wars we are fighting: pointless and cynical grandstanding.  The funny thing?  The GOP has to do silly things like this, because it can no longer count on the support of the insane fucking people who think this has the slightest relation to reality.  I repeat: the Republican Party is worried about the votes of the singularly insane fucking voters they deliberately created.  It is the Law of Unintended Consequences in action.

But most of all the article, and the accompanying photograph, clearly illustrate that sitting Representatives would be wise to keep themselves well away from props of any kind.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:29 PM

fuck you ny state senate

There's a good bit of profanity out there this afternoon directed at the New York State Senate for seemingly having the votes to pass a gay marriage bill and then totally tricking everyone bwoo ha ha ha!

Count me in: fuck you, New York State Senate, or at least that portion of the Senate on the wrong side of history.  Whether marriage is a right or a privilege, it shouldn't be discriminatory, and if its your god that's making you so hate those of us who are gay/lesbian, then one of you and your god is an asshole.  Have fun figuring that one out.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:50 PM

peter watts on scientists

This is the best explanation/defense I've found of the Climategate scandal that unfolded as those desperately in love with carbon dioxide sift through climate scientist's trash and hack their email accounts — a post from novelist Peter Watts, discussing how the bickering contained in the nicked emails is evidence of nothing but science:
Science doesn’t work despite scientists being asses.  Science works, to at least some extent, because scientists are asses.  Bickering and backstabbing are essential elements of the process.  Haven’t any of these guys ever heard of “peer review”?

[snip]

This is how it works: you put your model out there in the coliseum, and a bunch of guys in white coats kick the shit out of it.  If it’s still alive when the dust clears, your brainchild receives conditional acceptance.  It does not get rejected.  This time.

Watts' post may not be enough to allay the fears of one who thinks that global warming is a socialist scam and that Obama is melting the poles out of sheer spite towards white people, but I think it's a fine piece of work that goes a long way to ground the idea of what scientists actually do (when not twiddling test tubes).

And just as an illustration of how this brave new world is affecting the arts and the making of a living thereon, just because that post was so good I'm gonna buy me a book written by Mr Watts, and then I'm going to read it.  That easy.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:28 AM

let's start a war

I avoided watching the president's speech last night, just I've avoided a lot of in depth reading on the topic, and I thought I could skate through without having to have an opinion but then the beautiful wife came home from rehearsal last night and ambushed me with a, "So what do you think about Afghanistan."  Cold busted.

So, what do I think about Afghanistan?  Well, I will assume it's a nice place to visit just to be nice, but not in the past ten years.  Also I think that Afghanistan had more to do with the crumbling of the Soviet Union than Ronald Reagan did, but that's just a historical perspective and not a patriotic one, so please don't revolution on my.  And also I think that my little corner of Flatbush, Brooklyn, is populated by Afghans, and I would like to eat their food more often.

And more to the topic at hand, about the only thing I'm sure of is that it would be much better for everyone if this little war was over by now.  Didn't happen, and no use in pointing fingers (unless Dick Cheney has something further to say).  It is an unenviable position that President Obama is in, and I don't know what I would have him do.  Declare victory and withdraw?  That'd be a lie, and political suicide to boot.  Throw more troops at the problem?  Well, it's what he's doing, so.  Maybe it's a little bit less of political suicide on account of inertia?

At the very least he gives the appearance of mindfulness of consequence, which is a small comfort.  And he's not only closing the open-end of the engagement, he's also going into a little more detail on the mission than his predecessor did, so you do end up with the feeling that this action is being prosecuted by grown-ups and not caricatures.

(But here's a question that arises as I try to work my way through this — how soon until we have any kind of significant withdrawal from Iraq?)

Ultimately I'm more of an amateur than usual on the topic and am more than happy to learn my way through it.  And oddly the two best sources I know are both Twitter feeds: Spencer Ackerman's and Adam Serwer's.  Oh, they both have web presences, but the Twitter feeds point to their own work and the work of others, plus thoughts off the cuff.

I wish that I was as cocksure on this issue as I am on, say, usury.  The world gets messy.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:36 AM

December 1, 2009

wolcott: reality tv is ruining america

And as long as I'm devoting this Tuesday to wailing about the threadbare nature of our culture, let's turn to James Wolcott, who is a much better grump than I am, as he takes a stick upside the head of reality TV:
It’s the series that clog the neural pathways of pop culture with the contrived antics of glorified nobodies and semi-cherished has-beens that may help pave the yellow brick road for Sarah Palin, Idiocracy’s warrior queen.  It is a genre that has foisted upon us Dog the Bounty Hunter, with his racist mouth and Rapunzel mullet; tricked-out posses of Dynasty-throwback vamps and nail-salon addicts (The Real Housewives of Atlanta, et al., the stars of which pose in the promos in tight skirts and twin-torpedo tops like lamppost hookers auditioning for Irma la Douce); and endless replays of Rodney King throwing up on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. The influence of Reality TV has been insidious, pervasive.  It has ruined television, and by ruining television it has ruined America.  Maybe America was already ruined, but if so, it’s now even more ruined.  Let us itemize the crop damage.

I feel sorry for Wolcott, who must've spent a good chunk of his life watching that toxic pap in order to research the piece, but I'm glad that he goes the extra step from, "Reality TV is not to my personal liking," and takes it to the logical conclusion, "Reality TV is ruining America."

I'm agreeing with that premise, for the reasons that Wolcott sets forth.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:29 PM

slush pile zeitgeist

This post from The Stranger is a fascinating walk through a publisher's slush pile of unsolicited pitches:
The slush pile seems, in some sense, to serve as a sort of representative sampling of the collective unconscious of the American public — a surreal landscape of vengeance, conspiracy, otherworldly beings, and really big guns.  Sexual relations between ladies and gentlemen are fraught with peril (especially given that one or more participants in any romantic endeavor may very likely be aliens, demons, were-vampires, undead, or in a coma); queerness is almost nonexistent, as is any sort of radical politics (unless by "radical" one means "hoping to overthrow the government and install in its place a parliament selected by extraterrestrials from a more spiritually advanced dimension"); and people of color exist only as grotesque caricatures.

It feels almost dirty, reading these bits and pieces collected from unmitigatedly awful potential novels, but it is interesting in that it posits a world in which the Zeitgeist is measured not by the work of the talented, but rather by the dogged efforts of the hacks.

(And hack, right here, I'm proud to admit, though I think my unpublished novel could probably use bigger guns.)

Posted by mrbrent at 1:40 PM

free tiger woods

Consider this post a general statement of dismay at having any story concerning Tiger Woods that does not involve golf eating up all the newsholes like a little Pacman.

Trivia is fun!  And I'm good at it.  But really do any of us need to care about whether a golfer slept around and had a fight with his wife or didn't sleep around and didn't have a fight with his wife?  No we sure don't.  I hate to play the geezer card, but I remember a time when salaciousness was the province of Kenneth Anger and was more delicious for being under the radar.  Is this our generational flaw, watering guilty pleasure down into plain old pleasure?

Sadly we are now in a spiral where each bit of celebutard nonsense splashed on the cover of the NY Post is the new worst thing ever, and we all tsk-tsk and agree that it's a problem and then forget that we ever did that by the time the next worst thing ever happens.  I just hope that there's a bottom in here somewhere and that we hit it soon.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:39 AM

November 30, 2009

boffinry!

In this story from The Register (via Ellis) concerning a Bulgarian scientist's claims that aliens are among us, we learn two things.

First of all, The Register has a smart mouth:

"The aliens are very critical of our immoral behaviour and our destruction of the environment," says [Bulgarian scientist] Filipov, according to the Echo.  "They say that global warming is attributed mainly to infrastructural engineering."

Presumably the star-travelling aliens have long ago graduated to advanced energy sources such as nuclear fusion or antimatter, and sneer at our pathetic fossil-fuelled civilisation.

Ouch!  Were I one of those star-travelling [sic] aliens, I would have some hurt feelings indeed, as I stuttered that I'm not really sneering, per se, but my alien face just actually looks like that.

And secondly I am finally introduced to the word "boffin", which apparently is the UK slang equivalent of "egghead" with a dash of cruelty.  Which means it might be time to give "rocket scientist" and "brain surgeon" a vacation.

Never too old for new words, nope.  Or for showing those snotty ETs a thing or two.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:48 AM

welcome back

Happy After Thanksgiving Back-To-School Day!  Funny, that: no matter how far in the rearview my education is, my life is still dictated by the rhythms of the school year.  Which makes today the day in which we ask each other how Thanksgiving went, where'd you go, how was the bird?  And here's a good response from Choire Sicha:
Perhaps you learned at Thanksgiving that there are people to whom you are related by blood or by relationship — funny, kind, normal people — that also believe that Barack Obama is a liar, and a fraud, because he is probably not a citizen. Or at least cannot prove that he is a citizen.  And that he also should be killed!  Though you may be at first surprised that this is a topic for dinnertime conversation at all, there is a larger, lingering shock to that experience.  That shock is that you intimately know people — otherwise amusing, interesting people! — who likely believe that our President is just another test of our nation and our patriotism in these End of Days.

That is certainly a much more interesting Thanksgiving than I had.  And yet terrifying!  I hope Choire at least had some delicious apple pie.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:50 AM

November 29, 2009

anti-counterfeit skynet creation act

Perhaps you haven't heard of the secret international copyright treaty that the US government is refusing to disclose for national security reasons.  No shame if you haven't — it's secret, and the pushback hasn't been forceful enough to get it a shot on Larry King, exactly.  But this agreement, Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, is out there and it's cut from the cloth of criminalizing Internet use, forcing ISPs to act as peace officers and anything else that will make the entertainment industry smile one last time before it dies for good.

This news however is at least a step closer to the daylight that might cleanse the lack of scrutiny enabling the feds to so openly do the industry's bidding, as two senators have gone on the record demanding that details of the treaty be shared with the constituency on whose behalf the treaty would be signed.  No, not movie studios and television networks: actual people, I meant.

Now the two senators are Bernie Sanders (VT) and Sherrod Brown (OH), so I don't know if they will be heeded or just pat on the head mockingly, but it is a start.

Oh, we could write our own personal senators, I suppose.  Or we could be starting our own pirate networks of entertainment in preparation for the Iron Reign of MicroDisneyUniSony Networks.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:05 PM

obligatory snl post

Here's the deep question that will plague me for the duration of this Sunday: has the suck of "SNL" been a constant over time, or has their been a marked recent increase?

Someone's wife flipped over to it last night, and then would flip back to "The Chappelle Show".  I was trying to read, which became impossible: as funny as "Chappelle" still is to this day, "SNL" is dull and vapid and blithely so, with premises that are barely strong enough to support a catchphrase let alone seven minutes and then Kristen Wiig stumbling around mumbling some nonsense that sounds just like her last iteration.

Years ago I went apostate and told anyone who'd listen that the original seasons of "SNL" were not as funny as we remember them, tending towards the juvenile and mostly charisma-driven.  At this point I'm not going to backtrack on that, but I will say that the lack of funniness was perhaps not a bad thing.  It felt like they were working for it, like they were hustling, like they were getting away with something.  The episode that I saw last night felt self-congratulatory in its failure, like once you get a fat paycheck from Lorne you can stop trying.

It's a convenient punching bag, I know, but I really was shocked that I found nothing redeemable about it.  I'd thought before that I wasn't a fan but there must be something that draws all those fans.

(Also: having seen a bunch of "Studio 360" on DVD a month or so ago did not improve my opinion of current actual comedy shows, but that wouldn't be the first profession Aaron Sorkin has destroyed by effectively idealizing.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:42 AM