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January 2, 2010

danish axe attack

I am generally in support of cartoonists and against non-wood-cutting uses of axes, so it is with alarm that I note this news story.

Islamic extremists I'm actually of two minds about: I'm against all the people-killing, but as a progressive I'm all hate-the-sin/love-the-sinner, which used to be a Christian precept until they wised up to it — sinner-lovin' does not put butts in seats on Sunday morning.  It's safe to say that Islamic extremists who try to kill cartoonists with axes I am very opposed to, and I hope that he is dealt with properly by jurisdictional authorities, and then has his axe-wielding privileges yanked.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:52 AM

flying in dreams

So I suppose that everyone will dream about having the ability to fly at some point.  I know I have, and consistently, for years.  The thing is that I do so dream, it's never flying in a Peter Pan/Wendy sense &mdash: no zooming, no zooming around.  For me, the flying is always something achieved by practice, and it's mostly involves skidding through the air.  You take a little running jump, and then increase your hang time somehow, so you slide along before you finally land.

It's kind of a realist's version of flying, though I'm more shocked that my subconscious has been so consistent over the years.

And I'm sure that the witch doctors all agree that flying dreams represent some specific deep obsession, and I'm almost afraid to look it up.  Now that's a surprise &mdash: quick Google search revels that flying dreams represent liberation, success and, in the case of low-altitude flying like mine, persistence.  I was not expecting that.

I do remember in my teens having an out-of-body experience dream, which was a much better flying experience.  Though in the dream I used my discorporeal ability to investigate adult bookshops, so that might have been an actual OOBE instead of a dream.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:32 AM

December 31, 2009

happy new year

Happy New Year, you anonymous people.  Not gonna pretend that the good outweighed the bad in the past twelve months, but the good things were pretty good.

And I just wanna break character for a second and thank my family: my wife who is my best friend, and my folks and sister, who remind me how lucky I am to have been borne to them subsequently raised thereby.  And my friends, who mostly have no online presence, so they know who they are, but specifically Abby, Qui and Robert of Vampire Cowboys for talking me into writing plays again, and Maud and Sam, who inspire me with their work in between nudging.  I also have a little dog of whom I am quite fond.

And of course you people.  You people are surely the most talented and attractive digital audience a fella could ever hope for.

Tomorrow's not just another day — it's a whole bunch of new things, so let's kick out the jams on that motherfucker.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:11 PM

totally last underpants bomber post of 00s

OK, so instead of letting the new new focus on terrorism float for one freaking day so that I can concentrate on burying the torn and broken body of the year that was, I spent the commute reading the couple thousand words the NYT put together over "intelligence failures" and "systemic breakdowns" and the like.  And I was struck by what seems to be a conception that counterintelligence is ideally infallible, and that if a terrorism plot falls through the cracks then heads must roll.  "The pieces were there and we failed to put them together," is the gist of this morning's pieces.  Which is true, but should it be so earth-shattering?  It paints a picture that our intelligence services are sitting around playing Freecell and withholding information from each other as sort of a prank.  And I am especially shocked that this seems to be a consensus position, as reported by the Paper of Record, and not just partisan contrariness quoted from failed vice presidents.

It posits a universe where the Underpants Bomber is the only man alive that wants to harm us, or at least one of the small few, and to lose him on the radar is inexcusable.  I don't believe that's the case.  I think that there are comparatively a whole lot of folk capable of detonating their crotch to achieve some foolish goal.  And I think that we do not have nearly enough manpower to track each and every world citizen that has reportedly succumbed to a radicalized Islam.  I'd also say that there's a big difference between becoming radicalized and strapping on a bomb, but that's beside the point — hyperventilating critics think somehow that each and every potential terrorist can be monitored like incoming air traffic, and that is a magical world in which we do not live.

Obviously it'd be super if every attempt was squashed before it got to the operational stage, and the good guys are trying really hard, but this hysteria is unwarranted.  Newsworthy, sure, but unwarranted.

And that's the last of that for the decade.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:48 PM

the end of the 00s at the awl

If there is any justice in the world some enterprising book editor will snatch up the rights to the complete The End of the 00s run on The Awl, which is wrapping up today.

I know that the "blog-sold-as-a-book" trope is tired and worn, but honestly damn near every essay in the series is worth reading in its entirety and would not be out of place on a dead tree.

The only reason that I am not picking faves and pullquoting is because it is all honestly that good, and to inadvertently exclude a writer would be unforgivable.  It's like Second City over there at The Awl, as far as assembled talent and potential go, and a week of essays suits just fine.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:37 AM

bruce schneier on cnn

Further to Bruce Schneier being your go-to smart guy when it comes to counter-terrorism security issues, Schneier has a guest op-ed up for CNN.  It is titled, "Is aviation security mostly for show?"
Security is both a feeling and a reality.  The propensity for security theater comes from the interplay between the public and its leaders.

When people are scared, they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn't truly make them safer.  Politicians naturally want to do something in response to crisis, even if that something doesn't make any sense.

See?  Exactly what you were thinking but synthesized better, right?  But wait, there's more:

By not overreacting, by not responding to movie-plot threats, and by not becoming defensive, we demonstrate the resilience of our society, in our laws, our culture, our freedoms.  There is a difference between indomitability and arrogant "bring 'em on" rhetoric.  There's a difference between accepting the inherent risk that comes with a free and open society, and hyping the threats.

It is like a holy text, this essay, plainly serving forth common sense and ignoring distractions.  It is all of it worth a read.

Remember that Schneier is he who coined the phrase, "terrorist scuba divers armed with almanacs."

Posted by mrbrent at 11:00 AM

December 30, 2009

and the ball drops on jeff dunham

Just in time for the end of the year/decade: Jeff Dunham's Comedy Central show is no more.

Not necessarily a thing to be overjoyed about — it is a man's livelihood, after all, and such livelihood is sadly not brought to a merciful conclusion, as Comedy Central still has an ongoing deal for DVDs and the like.

But it does start to make up for all those freakin' wheatpaste posters that tormented me so.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:45 PM

the underpants in question

Hopefully I won't have much more to say about terrorism and underpants bombers.  I need to spend two hours or so driving, so if end-of-the-year/decade wrap-ups have pushed security hysteria off the front page, maybe I won't have to.  In the event that it is the case, this is Xeni Jardin on the whole damn thing (specifically ABC's distribution of photos of the underpants in question):
What better way to round out this scorched and shitty decade than to gaze thoughtfully into the charred, soiled underpants of a stranger.  A troubled young man who seems to have hated America only as much as he hated his own junk.

An em-dash might have made more sense than that period, but a fine final word nonetheless.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:36 AM

dick cheney: limp response

Not only is Dick Cheney's latest forced reentry into the national conversation a day late and a dollar short, it also reads like the writer was trying to parody a Jesse Jackson speech.

Of course it also defies logic &mdash: "He seems to think if he gets rid of the words, 'war on terror,' we won't be at war." &mdash: but it does so tepidly, like Dick Cheney was cribbing from Michele Bachmann.

Sometimes you think that it's not really a party until Dick Cheney shows up, because he may be Dick Cheney but he knows how to BRING IT and just imagine all the hair he'd be letting down had he any, but then finally Dick Cheney does show up and all he's brought for the host is like a bag of Lay's and some airplane bottles of scotch and then he just sits around and answers questions with one word and won't play Monopoly or anything.

Now his daughter is a real pip.  Why isn't she president of something yet?

Posted by mrbrent at 9:21 AM

sydney greenstreet on fred allen

This is why I love dead media: last night, driving away from the interference of the megopolis, I caught an AM radio station from Hamiltion, Ontario.  I confirmed the origin of the station by listening to the newsbreak, which was robust yet polite in the way one expects of Canada.  I then left the car for a moment, to obtain some chicken wings.

Upon returning to the car, the radio was playing Sydney Greenstreet, in a comedy routine, referring to himself as "fattie".  It was an old episode of the Fred Allen show, and from the tone of Sydney's guest spot, it seems he was thought of more of a B horror movie actor at the time than a top-rate Hollywood character actor.  But what do I know from?  It was Fred Allen and Sydney Greenstreet, flubbing lines they had in front of them, in a recorded live broadcast.

So not only do I love AM radio, but I love more that these fossilized bits of entertainment history are seemingly trapped in the aether forever, waiting for you to drive at night under just the right atmospheric conditions.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:06 AM

December 29, 2009

i guess i kinda missed writing about this

I see that the underpants bomber has not yet used up his fifteen minutes, and that his attempted attack is still a popular conversation topic around some parts.  Adam Serwer isolates just what about the whole thing is icky — the Republican's zeal to bash the Obama administration is the kind of publicity that Osama bin Laden cannot buy:
The latter incident [the failed underpants bombing] should be evidence that al-Qaeda’s ability to conduct complex, large-scale attacks has become diminished in the face of sustained efforts by the United States and its global partners.  Instead, the right has become al-Qaeda’s unwitting hype men.  Shortly after news of the failed attack broke, Rep. Peter King of New York, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the failed bombing “shows how deadly this enemy is, this shows how real this threat is, and how we have to do whatever we can to protect the American people.”  Sen. Richard Shelby declared that the war with al-Qaeda would last another half a century.

Of course, I (and Serwer) may be off base in suggesting that folk like Rep. King and Sen. Shelby are braying as they are purely for political gain.  The other option, of course, is that they are unmitigated cowards, eyes rolling in their heads like horses trapped in a burning barn.

So if I am wrong: my bad.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:48 AM

sad mall

Go right now and read this by Maura K. Johnston for The Awl:
In an effort to further lessen the divide between patriotism and capitalism, I present to you memories of a few stores that shuffled off the turnpikes during this decade.  (B. Dalton's middlebrow book offerings won't be leaving this nation's malls until early 2010.)  The stories share a lot of parallels; most collapsed under the weight of their own debts, which were racked up during pie-in-the-sky expansion efforts during a bubblicious period that many thought would never end. Never forget—and hey, Five Guys and Zara, please read this as a cautionary tale.

It's super, like extracting a piece of ice and distilling it to see what the atmosphere was like at the time.  (Except for the time would be the past calendar year.)

And do not ignore the comments, as the comments contain a spirited and personal discussion of the Sad Mall.  Which, coincidentally, is what all the malls of my youth have ended up to be, except for Eastview Mall outside of Rochester.  Eastview tried to avoid the Sad Mall metamorphosis by upscale expansion — only partially successfully, as the original portions of the mall definitely still have a whiff of Sad, with a vestige of a Hickory Farms and a ghost of an Orange Julius.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:36 AM

December 28, 2009

further to sky falling

Further to the last post, obsessing about stupid dumb terrorists and the sky that is not falling as a result: I spent the day away from the newses, so I thought that it was only me thinking about Fuckwit and his Magic Pants Bomb, and I felt kind of bad about wasting words on it.  But I get a chance to plug back into the nets and I see headlines like the following on branded multinational portal/aggregators:
Confusion fills air travel after attempted U.S. bombing

And I wonder how many are the accepted spellings of the word, "Whoa."

In fact, in the course of driving (which kept me from the nets), I heard a fill-in host for a liberal radio talker arguing that only focused, 21st century profiling will keep our air-commuters safe.  In response to which I thought to myself, "The fuck?"

Is not perhaps the primary goal of strapping some explosives to your nutsack and then setting your crotch on fire to achieve the above headline instead of actually blowing up a plane?  (Or even inconveniencing a plane at the sacrifice of your male down-there things?)

I mean, Christ, people get run down by taxi cabs all the time and no one eats up the public attention span with Serious Talk about screening hacks.  Life is hard and not without its risks.  Idiots sometimes ignite their nether regions.  We can still all eat fruitcake.

Can we not comport ourselves like grown-ups until this misbegotten year is in the rearview?  Let's just ask ourselves, "What would Joe Lieberman do?" and then do the opposite.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:03 PM

who will stop the rain?

I wanna jump in and answer this question from a NYT article before I even read any further past the pullquote:
Now that Mr. Abdulmutallab is charged with trying to blow up a transcontinental airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day, some members of Congress are urgently questioning why, eight years after the Sept. 11 attacks, security measures still cannot keep makeshift bombs off airliners.

Because human ingenuity is indomitable.  Short of strip-searching each and every passenger, which is untenable for so many reasons, there will be enough wiggle room in any security protocol for the insane or the committed to defeat it.  (And it's not like strip-searching would be iron-clad either.)  As long as people want to blow up airplanes, they will find a way to try to blow up airplanes, even if they are someday reduced to sitting in a circle, holding hands and wishing real hard thanks to a six-hour screening process fliers will have to endure.

The better question is, "Why are all y'all's panties all in a bunch?"  The "plot" was foiled and the perp is in custody, where he will never accidentally set himself on fire again.  Is there any point in public hand-wringing other than scoring political points?  If I may stoop to tit-for-tat, I recall the previous administration had an aviation incident in its first year as well, and I don't recall anyone blaming that administration for it.  (Until the Truthers came along, of course.)

And I of course recommend Bruce Schneier on this topic.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:19 AM