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January 9, 2010

kennedy/clinton/obama

See now, this is funny.  Not funny ha-ha — nooo.  It's Ben Smith quoting an upcoming book on the 08 race, looking for hints into what drove Ted Kennedy into the arms of Obama despite the urging of the Clintons.  And, according to the book:
Recounting the conversation later to a friend, Teddy fumed that Clinton had said, A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.

"This guy" of course is Barack Obama, and given the state of race of the race, I can see why Teddy would find that off-putting.

But the funny thing, to me at least, is that Bill Clinton's offhand wit tracks almost perfectly with the imaginary quote I've been using, in conversation, to illustrate how the establishment might have vaguely racist misgivings about Obama even if they were not outright racist, which would be:

"President?  I wouldn't let that guy park my car."

I'm still a fan of Bill, though "words have consequences" can be added to the list of things he's had to learn.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:21 PM

last saloon of the season

Tonight is your last last chance to see this season of the Saturday Night Saloon, at which the final episode of "Jack O'Hanrahan and the Troubluation of Doom" will be performed for the first/last time.  What "Jack" is supposed to be is a mash-up of the genres of screwball comedy and "Left Behind" (if that can be called a genre).  But now that we're five episodes deep, it's totally become its own thing, and I'm very fond of it.  Yeah, I wrote it, but the cast does all the work.

The thing, tonight at 8p in Bushwick (details at link above) is free free free, and you can drink canned beer for only five bucks, which is a bargain.  And there are other excellent serial plays wrapping up tonight, such as Dustin Chin's "Let's Ninja Science Ranger Team Get!" and Crystal Skillman's "Hack"   both of which will make you eat the dust of their awesome.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:32 AM

January 8, 2010

giuliani: a b-movie bad guy for the ages

In this Gawker post, Alex Pareene rather deftly (as usual) unpacks Rudy Giuliani's appearance on Wold Blitzer's show with the improbable name.  So go read it!  It's as gripping/damning as any of Giuliani's runs for office since he was mayor of New York, including his (cough cough) hints that he should remain mayor after 9-11 because of the extenuating circumstances of 9-11.

I would just like to add that Rudy now, thanks to the ravages of time and/or the conflict between his soul and his body looks exactly what Sydney Greenstreet would have looked like were he not fat.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:07 PM

wsaz mr. cartoon

As a follow-up to a snarky comment I left generally maligning TV weathermen everywhere, please meet Jule Huffman, who was "Mr. Cartoon" for a local affiliate in Charleston, WV from 1969 until 1995 (!!) in addition to functioning as the weatherman, hosting a live show that ran every day after school.

I myself never got to be one of the kids in the bleachers, which is a wonder, considering that they filmed five days a week and really if you think of it how many five to eight year-olds can there be in Charleston at any given time?  But my friend Chip Bennett was, and I sure did sit and watch and wonder what it must like to be on TV like Chip was.  Chip had a crew cut, and I believe that Mr. Cartoon did rub Chip's head, as grown-ups were given to do the crew-cut children in the mid-70s.

So yeah, no real topical interest here, just a little blast of nostalgia, like we geezers do from time to time.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:58 PM

giuiliani: burning credibility like it's firewood

Senior Vice Mayor of America, 9-11 Affairs, Rudolph Giuliani spouting nonsense on GMA this morning, speaking of terror and other things he is expert in:
We had no domestic attacks under Bush.  We’ve had one under Obama.

Well, all things being equal, I'll take the one that happened in which no one died over the one that didn't happen that knocked over a bunch of buildings and killed thousands.

And the best part of it is that it's equally galling if Giuiliani omitted 9-11 intentionally or if Giuiliani accidentally forgot to include 9-11 — either he's so craven that he's willing to gloss over an enormous bad thing that happened in a city he ran for the purpose of scoring political points, or he's the dumbest fucking demagogue ever.

But it's good to see Giuliani let his unelectability shine like a beacon.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:56 AM

weather!

This is an image that makes me wonder if I ever get around to a redesign that I should eschew the words-only rule — it's a picture of what Great Britain looks like from orbit right now.  It's pretty breathtaking.  It's also entirely white.

Why so?  Because the jet stream is squirrely.  Imagine places in the Northern Hemisphere that you think of as snowy and the places that you think of as not snowy.  The not snowy places (like England) generally stay to the south of the jet stream as it wiggles back and forth.  But right now it ain't so much wiggling as slowly writhing, as it plunges down from Greenland precipitously, which is why Great Britain is acquainting itself with snow shovels and also why the Midwest US has no degrees and will not for the next week or two.

I do love the weather.

And if any of your knucklehead coworkers start in with the "so much for global warming!" nonsense, keep in mind that climate change not only involves hotter average temperatures, but also more instability.  Like cold snaps that are oddly long, and blizzards where they don't happen very often.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:12 AM

jay leno

And as long as we are blaming Jay Leno, let's remember back a couple decades ago when we all beamed in pride of David Letterman, who was so obviously was gonna take the desk from Johnny Carson because of their obvious affection for each other because it just made sense and then some Doritos pitchman contrived to sweet-talk NBC into giving him the gig.

Actually, NBC and Leno deserve each other.  Conan O'Brien deserves another network.

And I deserve a sausage biscuit.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:19 AM

January 7, 2010

more double-agentery

As a footnote to the ongoing coverage of the Jordanian double-agent, yesterday's coverage contained an insight that was an elephant in the middle of the room that hadn't crossed my mind, even though I persist in looking at this through the prism of literary spy thrillers:
Mr. Balawi proved to be one of the oddest double agents in the history of espionage, choosing to kill his American contacts at their first meeting, rather than establish regular communication to glean what the C.I.A. did — and did not — know about Al Qaeda and then report back to the network’s leaders.

To waste an opportunity of a highly placed double agent for a small body count would get the average double agent laughed right out of a Le Carre novel.  So yeah, the bad guys pulled a fast one, but the fast one they pulled is mitigated somewhat by their trigger-happiness.

And the headline of today's NYT follow-up does really say it all:

Suicide Bombing Puts a Rare Face on C.I.A.’s Work

Roger that — the press is all over these CIA assets like they cheated on Tiger Woods' wife or something.  And while I'm the kind of wonk that eats the information up, I do hope that the spotlight is not a hindrance operationally.  (Though surely there is an American Smiley pulling the strings on this coverage towards some unseen goal.)

Posted by mrbrent at 12:04 PM

please stop with the wrestling jokes

Though I am a long-time pro wrestling fan, I have no particular position on the candidacy of Linda McMahon for the CT Senate seat that Chris Dodds is giving up.  Linda is the wife of Vince McMahon, and she has as much to do with the financial success of the WWE/F as Vince does with the creative success.  But I do not live in CT, therefor I cannot vote in the race, and it's a compelling angle and everything but not compelling enough for me.

What I do have an opinion about, though, is that if you are going to write professionally about Linda McMahon, you really should keep all those pro wrestling jokes you've been dying to crack in the holster.  A perfect, egregious example is this NYT column from a dude I will not name:

Linda E. McMahon would recognize the scene.

The champ is dazed and bleary-eyed, stumbling helplessly around the ring on rubber legs like a weary drunk.  He’s one perfunctory drop kick, body slam and three-count from being a goner.

Ha!  I mean, ha.  Er.

We get it — McMahon comes from a carny world of fake violence that normal folk cannot penetrate because they are better than that.  And to employ some pro wrestling imagery while discussing a political race provides an opportunity for both irony and humor!  Except that it's awkward.  Glaringly.  So can we leave this nonsense for Jimmy Fallon's dead-eyed opening monologues of sadness?

(And yeah: Gail Collins, you are not excluded from this.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:06 AM

shirtless matt taibbi

Just noting: I still get hits from folk searching for "shirtless matt taibbi".  I have no idea if it's more than one person, or just one really committed person.  And I have no idea what post in the past years might light that up.

But if I ever meet Taibbi, I will suggest that he set up a site somewhere with him and no shirt, because there is money to be made.

He's a reporter.  He should understand.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:10 AM

January 6, 2010

i hate my cable

Lost in the shadow of the Time Warner Cable/Fox conflict that threatened America before the New Year is the more local skirmish between Cablevision and Scripps (which owns the cable networks The Food Network and HGTV).  This would be an annoyance for me, a Cablevision subscriber, if I were one to watch either channel.  Mostly it's a sign of the times, or the time, specifically, where we the viewers are considered a natural resource like air that will never be depleted.

Both sides took out full page ads in section A of the NYT today.  Cablevision's was all like, "It's Scripps' fault!!" and Scripps was all like, "We know you love your food/home stories and hopefully Cablevision will come to its senses."  They were really fun but for the fact that the readership of the New York Times doesn't so much overlap with the portion of the population that will be bothered to take a side.  It was all for show, for the "taste-makers" and the shareholders.  And it wasn't cheap, for sure, but hurrah for the NYT for that.

This all used to be a business conducted well away from the scrutiny of Ma and Pa Kettle.  Even before there were cable systems, license fees had to be negotiated, either with affiliates for network content, or with the same affiliates for syndicated content, like pre-Prime Time game shows and sitcom repeats.  The difference between now and then is that when a fee dispute arose, neither side appealed to the public for support.  What would happen instead is that MASH would stop running every night at 7:30, and if enough viewers complained, then the affiliate would bite the bullet and MASH would run again.  Viola!

And now we are all the children of a messy and public divorce.  Who do we love better, our cable system, or the network providing content to the cable system?  Because our business is taken for granted, and there is no excess that we will refuse to countenance.

Sadly, the end result is that the already exorbitant basic cable fees we pay will go up, no matter what.  Do this little math in your head: take what you pay for cable, and then multiply it by the number of households in the United States.  That's a big number, right?  And then take what you pay for cable service and add two dollars, just to account for Scripps or Fox or whoever else has realized that "what the market will bear" actually has no ceiling.

So I say, fuck all y'all.  Cablevision, your outages are less egregious than Time Warner, but your rates are insane and your UI is ridiculous.  And Scripps, at least as far as the Food Network is concerned, you have taken a pleasant gentle channel of interesting shows about food and turned it into relentless and nauseating reality show content, which both makes me not watch you and harms the food industry.  Who wins if Cablevision and Scripps have a fight to the death?

Me.  At least halfways.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:23 PM

charlie jane anders on adverbs

Three-quarters of the time, when you point out someone else's work with the intention of calling attention to the fact that they might be churning towards a post/word-count, you are secretly jealous that you did not think of it yourself.

In this spirit I point out that Charlie Jane Anders phones in a post on adverbs which then goes on to hang up the phone and be totally useful and instructive to younger readers/adverb users, complete with five ways in which your wayward adverbs may be holding you back.  No, I am not being sarcastic, and I will prove it with this sentence that encapsulates Anders' charm:

It's kind of sad how boring all of this spinning and grabbing and gunplay turns out to be.

It is written from the perspective from sci-fi writing, but it totally applies to everyone because it's twenty-whatever and sci-fi is the stuff you're soaking in.  So if you find yourself dragging in the afternoon because of poorly planned adverbs, go there now.

And yes, there is an adverb post somewhere in me that will now never be written.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:47 AM

poutine is gonna gitcha

Apropos of nothing, and based on nothing but my poor overworked instincts, I am predicting that 2010 is the year that poutine is gonna gitcha.

See now, you say that you don't know what poutine is, but you are totally pretending because you know full well what poutine is and you judge it poorly.  And as you have appearances to keep up and do not want to get trapped in some gastrohipster telephone game as "a poutine-eater" you pretend, almost petulantly.  But you are wrong!  Neither I or poutine will be judged by you!  Poutine, as you know, is a simple yet specific arrangement of french fries, cheese curds and gravy that is local to the great great city of Montreal, Quebec.  The first time you heard of poutine you were all like, "Ew, I wouldn't eat that unless I was fucked up," and that was exactly the point!  It's a late-night food from a boozy place that is very very cold.  Duh.

The reason that this is the year the poutine is gonna gitcha is totally because 2008 was totally going to be the year of the poutine.  The conditions were perfect: haute barnyard cuisine was epidemic and the hipstervore DIY movement was just starting, burgers were ascendant and restaurants were toning down the luxury and throwing smart reinvented comfort food on the menu.  Poutine is authentic and made of inexpensive ingredients, and has the cachet of an exotic local dish.  And then some money guys opened a swankhole gastropub featuring Montreal cuisine in Manhattan's foo foo Meatpacking District, which meant that conditions were perfect for poutine to asplode and eventually hit an Applebee's menu after three or four years of quiet renown.  But it did not happen!  The swankhole failed, and poutine was rebuffed, bruised by the failure to launch.

Which is why I'm picking it.  I go for the wily veterans, the persistent.  And if I'm coolhunting, the only thing more terrifying than being wrong is being right — faddishness has always been annoying, but the shrinking attention span has turned faddishness into something deadly, something that will kill what it embraces.

But poutine can take it.  You may have been around the block a few times, but poutine was stayin' home, gettin' shit done.  Poutine will withstand the cover of Bon App and a special episode of Rachel Ray and a Throwdown or two.  You don't think so, try some.  Better yet, try to make some.  Don't bother with a recipe.  Find actual cheese curds, make gravy how you make it, make fries how you make them, and then put them all together with enough heat to start to melt the curds.  It will work.  It's got starch, it's got dairy and it's got gravy — it is engineered to combine.  It is a strong and wise food.  It is made for eating and not styling; it is made for eating too much of and not deconstructing.  Poutine does not care how many Followers it has.  Poutine does not care what you think about it.

So yes: who am I?  I'm not much, but I'm the guy saying that this year poutine is gonna gitcha.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:55 AM

January 5, 2010

the business of the awl

If you have a continuing interest in how the sausage is made, go read this off-the-cuff analysis by The Awl's David Cho, who is a smart smart guy, of how to fashion your little piece of digital real estate into a profession.
For example, if you were to compare two, not completely dissimilar-ish, websites like New York Magazine vs. HuffPo, I think the same people who are asking the, “Can a smart magazine make money,” question would probably think that New York Mag’s content was “smarter” than that of HuffPo’s. But clearly New York Magazine as a business, when comparing just which of the two makes more money, is far and away the winner.  So then the question is less about how “smart” or “dumb” the content is, but much more about the cost at which it’s created in relation to what it’s sold at.

So tighten your belts, entrepreneurs.  At least I think that's what that means.  All that business stuff can sound like moon-man talk to me if I don't pay close attention.  (Note to self: pay attention, asshole.)

But it is a good answer to the the question all us olds with closets full of zines ask: "They get paid to do that?"  Not yet!  But hopefully soon.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:25 PM

jordan hung out to dry

The double-agent suicide bomber story has gotten even more interesting, as now the chain of events goes something like this: Jordanian intel suborns jailed physicist, offers physicist to CIA as AQ mole, mole then offers to double for AQ, mole gains trust of CIA/Jordanians, mole lures agents to in situ visit, mole detonates explosives hidden on person.  That's a whole lot of detail, and it's a whole lot more detail than one is used to seeing so soon after the unfolding of events, especially when such events involve such lurid spook shit.

This all could suggest exactly why CIA sources are leaking this story to newspapers — to punish Jordanian intelligence for their colossal fuck-up, as Jordan's cooperation with US intelligence is not a thing that Jordan wants publicized to its general population.  Just speculation on my part, thinking more like a spy novel reader than a reporter.  It's just an awful lot of dirty laundry to air in public.

Speaking of which, my suggestion that the LA Times broke the story seems to be inaccurate, as the story is running in all the national dailies.  I apologize to everybody else.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:02 AM

david brooks smells the glove

We're back to normal, I guess, as this Tuesday brings a double super neato op-ed by David Brooks in which he cautiously begins to woo the Tea Baggers, of whom he is not enamored, but from whom he predicts great influence on the coming decade.  Woo them how?  Well, by opting to call them Tea Partiers instead of Tea Baggers, for one.  Plus also, he actually attributes a coherent motivation to them:
The tea party movement is a large, fractious confederation of Americans who are defined by what they are against.  They are against the concentrated power of the educated class.  They believe big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation.

That sounds surprisingly close to a description of Neocons, so you can tell Brooks is laying it on thick.  Brooks suspects that Tea Baggers will define the Aughts, "the way the hippies defined the 1960s; the feminists, the 1970s; the Christian conservatives, the 1980s."  And ultimately, any man who will reduce past decades to single influences, even for the purpose of making a point, should not be taken seriously.

Tea Baggers may well be looking at a coming ascendancy, but there's an excellent chance that they will get their heads stuck in a banister along the way, b/c they aren't very smart, and they think that their purpose, fueled by secret bad feelings, makes them somehow important.  It doesn't.  It makes them self-satisfied boors, and it's tough to tell if Brooks is more attracted to the self-satisfaction or the boorishness.

Ultimately, I'd feel bad ending any conversation concerning Tea Baggers without citing the clear call-and-response call-to-action employed at their little Tea Bag Parties:

WHAT DO WE WANT?

YEAH!

AND WHEN ARE WE GONNA GET THERE?

U-S-A! U-S-A!

If only I can yell loud enough myself, so that David Brooks will think me important.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:00 AM

January 4, 2010

jordanian double-agent

So come to find out that the suicide bomber who killed a whole lot of CIA agents in Afghanistan last week during the holiday news freeze was a double agent — a Jordanian that the CIA had believed was infiltrating Al Qaida on the behalf of the CIA.
"What this tells you is that Al Qaeda is now capable of running a fairly sophisticated double-agent operation," the former CIA official said. "This guy totally had them believing, which means he had [previously] given them verifiable information, and everything had checked out."

This is interesting, well, in the morbid sense, in the sense of the le Carre world finally evincing itself in ongoing counter-terrorism efforts.  But it's really interesting in what it reveals about the sophistication of Al Qaida.  From a current events-reading perspective, the idea that Islamic radicals are crude but effective has held strong for years now, and the opinion that we could either bomb them into the Stone Age from whence they came or send in one Navy SEAL with James Bond gadgets to take them all out has not been uncommon.  Sadly, Al Qaida may have read the same spy novels that we have.

Not that I think that this rationalizes the Dick Cheney axiom that this is a War on Terror and if you don't say that out loud you're a sissy — I don't.  Al Qaida are nothing more than criminals, and international ones at that.  They require bigger better crimefighting to foil them, and underestimating them serves no one.  (Except maybe Dick Cheney.)

Nice scoop by the LA Times, who should thank whoever in the Agency decided the story should break in the LA Times.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:31 PM

runaway magnetic north pole

And in case your holidays were relatively newsless, please be advised: the Russians are trying to steal the Magnetic North Pole.

I don't know what a Magnetic North Pole might be worth on the open market, but but without Western help securing this loose Magnetic North Pole, it may well fall into the hands of those who mean us harm, especially is the Magnetic North Pole wanders all the way down into those former Soviet states with the now-unpronounceable names.

I'll leave the argument of whether we retrofit the compasses or the GPS for smarter folk.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:58 PM

bonne annee 10

Hookay, finally back behind the desk, finally done with the last of the holiday events, finally building up the inertia down the big holiday mountain to hit this year with enough velocity to do some damage.  Weird how New Year's Day falling on a Friday made the weekend feel like some DMZ that was neither 2009 or 2010.  Plus I picked up a non-summer cold from staying in the domicile of one who does not believe in heating above 58 degrees Fahrenheit, which is disorienting.

So Happy New Year again to all the ham'n'eggers trying to remember how to get back in the workaday routine.  In the meantime, Bruce Sterling's annual State of the World is up again.  Let's read it together.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:00 PM

January 3, 2010

does ringing in your ear make you want to kill yourself?

If you are not familiar with it, AM radio is largely constructed of the same four or five commercials at any given time.  For the past month or so, there has been an especially vivid spot, mostly for the fact that it's not a debt relief come-on, concerning that great plague of Americans everywhere, tinnitus.  It starts with reenactments of folks like you and me hearing a high-pitched buzzing — "What's that noise?"

Well, it's tinnitus, and boy does this commercial have the answer for you: Quietus, which is a homeopathic remedy that is supposed to alleviate ringing of the ears and other ear-related maladies.  The commercial isn't that bad, really, mostly annoying in its ubiquity.

However, "quietus" is one of those words whose definition I know thanks to William Shakespeare, and this definition goes something like, "an ending, a release, a suicide".  I was holding out hope that they at least changed the spelling a bit, but no, they did not.  We've reached the point in time where entrepreneurs will willingly name a product after suicide because the word sounds cool.  Either that or 2010 is going to be a whole lot more Soylent Green than I thought.

(Yes, this product actually exists.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:43 AM

aughts: worst decade in a century

In the midst of everyone claiming that 2009 was a shitty shitty year (and I'm certainly one of them), I had a hard time remembering what it was exactly that set everyone against that poor defenseless year.  I have my own personal reasons, which I doubt are shared by everyone.  So what was it that rubbed everybody the wrong way?

I guess maybe it was the economy:

There has been zero net job creation since December 1999.  No previous decade going back to the 1940s had job growth of less than 20 percent.  Economic output rose at its slowest rate of any decade since the 1930s as well.

Middle-income households made less in 2008, when adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1999 -- and the number is sure to have declined further during a difficult 2009.  The Aughts were the first decade of falling median incomes since figures were first compiled in the 1960s.

(The article linked concerns the past decade, but remember that last year is the year that the excesses of the decade came home to roost.)

It was either that or the fact that health care reform has welcomed socialism onto these shores.  I'm not sure.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:34 AM

to blaspheme in ireland

Ireland boldly strikes a blow against Saying Mean Things, as a Irish law against blasphemy went into effect two days ago, which would make incautious remarks subject to a hefty fine:
A person breaks the law by saying or publishing anything "grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion."

Given the sheer number of religions and the human propensity to outrage, this is an unwise law, and a very confusing equating of enraging a private interest and then being punished by paying the public interest.  As in, crack a magic underpants joke in Dublin and then an angry LDS convinces Ireland to take a whole bunch of your money.  It's a running jump of logic into a chasm.

And, interestingly, the possible defense against blasphemy tracks with one's defense of fair use of copyrighted material:

Those found guilty of breaking the blasphemy law may try to defend themselves by proving that a reasonable person would find literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value in what they said or published, the law says.

Which is exactly what this law needs: a nice, objective, written-in-stone standard for use in judgment of the crime.

There already exists a mechanism to control blasphemy and other feelings-hurty speech out there — it's called society, and it's been working reasonably well for the past thousand years.  Think of it as a Heresy Law and you get a better understanding of the intent of its authors.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:00 AM