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February 19, 2010

premise accepted!

This was directed to me by a pal, and I love it — the APA Philosophy Referee Hand Signals.

It is not only funny, it is useful, because I can never remember all those rhetorical devices that one used (or misuses) while having a philosophical argument.  Now all I have to do is somehow print the jpg on some sort of wallet-sized piece of cardboard and I'll be in business.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:54 AM

crowd-sourcing the news

And the other interesting thing about the plane intentionally flown into an IRS office in Austin, TX is that the lag between the information I was getting via the mainstream news outlets and the information I was getting via social media was glaring.  Thanks to Twitter, I'd heard of the e-suicide note about fifteen minutes after it was discovered, and as late as last night the radio news was still hedging on the identity of the flier and the flier's motives.  The e-note could have been a fake, etc., but it was a clear example of the unnameable horde of semi-pro/aspiring journalists digging up and disseminating news quicker than the bigs.  (Begging the question of the benefit of a deliberative editing process, of course.)

This is not to say that crowd-sourcing news is the future — in fact, you're soaking in it.  This is to say that crowd-sourcing news has its uses.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:30 AM

February 18, 2010

flying things into buldings

I don't think that it's unfair to say that the confluence of the opening day of the CPAC conference in DC, special-guest-starring Dick Cheney, and the crash of a stolen aircraft into an IRS office in Austin, TX is very ironic.

I actually read the homegrown terrorist's suicide note, and I don't recommend it.  For a screed it is surprisingly well-written, or at least surprising in that it is not written poorly — complete sentences, complete paragraphs, a progression of ideas.  But it's still crazy, and a whole of it.  It's not easy to pull context out of it, because the grudges this guy carried, against the IRS, corporations, the government, you name it, had calcified into a white-knuckled impenetrable narrative.  It's just inchoate anger and frustration and desperation.

Which would bring us back to CPAC then, wouldn't it?

And as far as the reluctance of the newsers to characterize this as terrorism goes: flying airplanes into buildings on purpose qualifies as terrorism, or at least it did the last time it happened.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:28 PM

polling the supreme court

This story is getting a little bit of play:
Americans of both parties overwhelmingly oppose a Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on political campaigns, and most favor new limits on such spending, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Now, I'm also of the opinion that it was a bad decision, based mostly on the belief that corporate citizenhood should be walked back by the Court.

But at the same time, I am pretty convinced that the last thing in the world that the Supreme Court should care about is a poll.  There are people out there who think that living in a representative democracy means that the state should reflect every whim of every person, especially the person having the specific whim, the person with the loud voice and the teabag hanging from his ears. 

So maybe an unpopular SCOTUS decision is news, but isn't there something newsier?  Because the unintended consequences of exit polling the Supreme Court are grim.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:38 AM

February 17, 2010

glenn beck, endangering the troops

Doughy gasbag millionaire Glenn Beck, distilling the wisdom of the people concerning the fate of recently captured Taliban second-in-comand:
"The first thing out of my mind?  Shoot him in the head," Beck said on "Fox & Friends" Tuesday morning.  "Shoot him in the head before it goes into a court and we're doing all this nonsense back and forth.  He's a bad guy.  Shoot him in the head."

This is why I loathe the man.  It's not beyond the pale that a man on the street might have this conceit — we generally are not very good people, and "justice" and "due process" are just things we put up with for the occasional chance to ice some shitbag.

But the reason why you absolutely do not shoot captured soldiers in the head is because it is wrong, for three reasons: (i) it is not behavior we wish to be accorded to our soldiers should they be captured; (ii) it is behavior that historically been perpetrated by people we consider the "bad guys"; and (iii) that whole ethical thing about killing when you're not actually returning fire.  But that first reason is a real big one, and I defy you to find a man or woman in uniform that would be all for shooting the Mullah in the head in light of that first reason.

So Beck is not only whipping his acolytes up into a distasteful frenzy, he's whipping them up into a distasteful frenzy that disregards the welfare of our troops.  And it wouldn't have taken but five seconds of circumspection to figure that out and wait stop don't.

Yes, I still find some value in arguing about whether Beck is literally insane or figuratively insane.  I'm old and set in my ways.  Wheel me in the corner and dust me off every morning.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:19 PM

mount vernon statement blah

Let's read the Mount Vernon Statement and see if there's anything funny in it!  To save you a click, the MVS is a text that's supposed to be a whole lot of things but really is just the last desperate stab at relevancy by those neoconservatives.  And when I write "neoconservatives", I mean the neocons directly descended from William F. Buckley's neoconservatives, as opposed to any of the Tea Party types who aren't really conservatives at all but whackjobs in need of a hobby.  Which is why a MVS, because if the whackjobs can be suckered into into supporting it then all of a sudden there's a new Contract With America and the Ghost of Bill Buckley finally wins and everyone gets to fight over who gets to be the Newt Gingrich 2.0 (other than Newt Gingrich).

The text of the MVS is here (as linked above), so let's read it together.

OK, done.  Nope, nothing funny in there.  Just a vague assertion of principles.  There may be some gotcha! in there, but you'd have to be a Constitutional lawyer to parse it.  Kinda like a guy, playing chess, who lays down a royal flush.

So yeah, as it's not sexy enough to mock, I doubt it's sexy enough to sway some of these grass roots folk, who would need something like an assertion of the illegitimacy of any election that did not reflect the vote of crazy people to be worth notice.  Or maybe the right to shoot first.

But a bunch of ex-Reagan appointees signing a piece of paper, that'll be some hot video.  Look for it to lead news broadcasts, unless a dog bites someone.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:17 AM

there is no walgreen street in nyc

Much like years are sponsored in David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest" ("Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment"), we will now mark the passing of time by the cataclysmic merger of rival corporations.  ExxonMobil hit it when the dotcom gettings were real good, and then Sears and Kmart got married right as real estate bubble was blowing itself up.  And now NYC drug store giant Walgreen is buying NYC drug store giant Duane Reade.  Yes, it is very much like that line from "Ghostbusters" you already know.

And in our idle moments we will wonder what specious collision initiated each "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!/You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!" exchange — Exxon runs into Mobil chasing after a Yankees cap being blown down the sidewalk, Kmart lands on Sears Roebuck while jumping out of a second floor window to escape a spree killer, etc. etc.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:11 AM

February 16, 2010

c.j. chivers in afghanistan

OK, I'm officially a fan of C.J. Chivers' reporting from Afghanistan.  This morning he files from Marja, where he's with some Marines trying to take a bridge:
MARJA, Afghanistan — Ten minutes after walking out of the small outpost on Monday morning, the Marines of Company K were ambushed again.

Taliban fighters waited until the patrol of perhaps 25 Marines had entirely entered the barren and flat open ground between two mud-walled compounds.  Then they opened fire.  Bullets twanged past in the air and thumped among the Marines in the dirt.

There was no cover.  The Marines dropped, fired, then bounded to their feet, running through muddy gunk.

“Break to your left!” one of them shouted.  “Go!”

Obviously the military action in Afghanistan is nothing to take lightly, and if I had my druthers there wouldn't be anyone at all getting shot or shot at.  But war reporting is something that was sorely lacking in the invasion of Iraq (in my memory), and while I'm usually more focused on why we should or should not be there, the reason we have a dude with a notebook and a helmet over there is to let us know what is happening on the ground with our men and women.  And the other men and women, too.

And Mr. Chivers can write, which helps.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:28 AM

mugger v. denton

This is not only inside baseball but also a test of how many rings get counted once you get cut in half, but someday someone should write a compare/contrast feature comparing Russ Smith (nee Mugger) and Nick Denton.

I've never met either gentlemen, so all of what I know is hearsay.  But, as dissimilar as their public profile is: they are both NY media upstarts who ate/eat their young.

Had Gawker started 25 years ago, would it have been more like NYPress, or Seven Days?  And if Smith had started NYPress only ten years ago, would it resemble a Gawker Media, or Inside.com?

Speculation!  Me, I just drive a desk.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:56 AM

February 15, 2010

evan bayh

Sen. Evan Bayh retiring is somewhat of a shock, given the timing, but the hysteria that surrounds the announcement is, well, hysteria.

We are in the middle of a paradigm shift — what was once considered "moderate" on either side of the aisle is being squeezed out of existence, either by primary or by second thoughts.  I don't think this is a good thing or a bad thing.  It's a thing.  The moderates (and I'm not one) were very useful in reaching across and horse-trading to pass legislation.  But in the calcification of ideology that is mostly happening with the right (in the form of Tea-Baggers or -Partiers or whatever thing other than Know-Nothings they want to be called), there is no longer a margin in leaning across party lines.  So Bayh decided he'd rather do something else for a living.  Maybe he could be Sarah Palin's vice running mate.  These are the wonderful choices we all face.  But, other than his one vote, what will be lost if his seat goes red?  Well, the one vote is huge, but the constant opposition to the administration, from a putative ally, is also huge.  Maybe it'll be better to punch upwards than it is to grin and bear it.

And it might not end up that way.  But it's pretty clear that we're in a flume headed for some place that is entirely different from what we've known.  It's hard to keep up, but it's the unintended consequence of history happening while you're trying to stay on top of things.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:43 PM

new london, ct

What follows is a long excerpt from a blog post by a fellow named Ron Samul, explaining the native allure of the city of New London, CT:
There is an interesting report that went back to Europe – that New London “county was regarded abroad as the focus of enthusiasm, discord, and confusion.”  Our city has always been the center of discord and confusion.  But perhaps enthusiasm is a parlance of their time.  Perhaps if we shift that word from “enthusiasm” to “acerbity” we would see a clear line between the wild confusion, the enthusiasm, and the way we feel today.  We aren’t enthusiastic about anything but we may be sharply bitter.  Why, because of things like “The Great Awakening”, “Benedict Arnold”, “The Hurricane of 1938″, “Urban Redevelopment”, “Ocean Quest”, and “Eminent Domain”. We are acerbic, bitter, sour people.  It’s not in the tourist information.  We like tourists.  But this town has always had the “enthusiasm”.  We like to be social, we like to participate in our community.  But just when we can muster up some interest or excitement for the city and the hope it can bring, something turns it sour and we become acerbic (enthusiastic) and miserable again.

We spent the weekend attending a Chinese New Year's party in New London, and gosh I like that place and the people in it.  And I think that Samul is ninety-five percent right &mdash: I think the misery might be more subjective than universal.  But the swing between acerbic and enthusiastic?  Of course I love that place.

So yes, New London, hopefully we can be good friends, even though I'm a poseur from Brooklyn with another Dour City on my resume.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:19 PM

moe tcacik on streeter douchebags

Moe Tcacik writes about attending the Wall Street Tea Party event that occurred last month, wherein she is afforded the chance to ask a question of a speaker:
“Sir,” I said.  “I don’t know if you have read Too Big To Fail, but there is a very interesting passage at the beginning where it is noted that Dick Fuld’s salary as the CEO of Lehman Brothers in 2006 was ten thousand times his starting salary as a bond trader at Lehman Brothers in the late sixties.  If over the course of a generation, within Wall Street itself, forgetting the rest of the country and the economy and all the other industries, the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us has become so huge, well, how much would Dick Fuld have to have paid himself to merit the term ‘fat cat’ to you?  The real unemployment rate is eighteen percent, how high does it have to go for the supposedly populist rage to become warranted, in your eyes?”

That seems like an unfriendly thing to ask a person at a rally ginned up to avow the self-esteem of Wall Streeters, who want to remind the public that they are not the dudes who caused all the economic collapse problems but rather honest guys trying to make a lot of honest bucks, but that may be the tip of the iceberg of unfriendliness.  Because then Tcacik does a little due diligence on the Streeter organizing the little rally/press conference/sad party.  That gets ugly pretty fast.

Tcacik's piece is a very strong indictment of the culture that produced the Goldman Sachs of the world, and an argument that the thing stopping the rank-and-file from similarly exploding the economy is not motive but opportunity.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:38 PM

the awl is good

This is why The Awl is good:

Take a small news story that would have myriad snark angles on it, and then refrain from being snarky.  Take for example the death of the founder of The Knack (who if you don't remember then "My Sharona"), which Dave Bry writes earnestly and heartwarmingly about.  And you half-expect a bunch of bad taste and "one-hit wonder" jokes but you know what?  There are aspects of culture and people making news that deserve mockery and mean-spiritedness but Doug Fieger isn't one of them.  And The Knack was a pretty good band to be saddled with the Secret Origin of One-Hit Wonders.

The Awl has contrast, which is something hard to pull off.  Here endeth the fan letter.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:06 PM