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February 27, 2010

chile tsunami

Thoughts out to Chile and its people in light of this tremendous earthquake, but this event of the entirety of the Internet focusing on the tsunami that is right now traversing the Pacific, including real time info from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is mind-bogglingly futuristic for a Gen-Xer like me.  Again, social media moves at a blinding speed.  It's a time-waster, but it's fully shown its uses.

"Where's my jetcar?"  You're soaking in it.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:11 AM

February 26, 2010

greece

I'm still too dumb to fully grok this, but my non-expert eye detects some things that make me furrow my brow suspiciously.  As you may have heard, Greece is in all kinds of economic trouble — too much debt, leery investors, a run by speculators and general strikes by the citizenry not down with the upcoming austerity budget.  And of course the EU is hoping that no one notices the EU standing there, because Greece is an EU member and the EU should be shouldering the burden, even though this situation is precisely what many pols told potential member countries would not happen back when the EU was coalescing.  So it's a lot like the United States eighteen months ago, but it's happening in a little snowglobe.

So then look at these two paragraphs from a story on the Greek crisis the NYT ran on Thursday:

Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, told Congress Thursday that the Fed was “looking into a number of questions relating to Goldman Sachs and other companies and their derivatives arrangements with Greece.”

[Snip.]

The S.E.C., in a statement, said that it could “neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation,” but added that it was cooperating with United States and international regulators in examining “potential abuses and destabilizing effects related to the use of credit-default swaps and other opaque financial products and practices.”

Now like I said, I'm a bit of a lunkhead, but I do know this much — the effect of opaque financial instruments referenced by the SEC refers to the hiding of debt, or the moving of debt off the books, so that Greece then looks more financially sound for the purposes of evaluation by potential lenders and credit ratings agencies.  The standard response to that by those that know more than I do is, "No, it's not hiding debt, it's managing risk," and I respond to this strawman by adding that it certainly is managing risk, up until everything crashes and then it instantly turns into hiding debt.  And this all sounds very familiar because the same thing happened (is happening?) to the US in the past couple years, as financial behemoths, facing devaluation because of a bursting real estate bubble "managed risk" right into insolvency, nearly taking the world economy with it.

And then the second resonance is the reference to "Goldman Sachs and other companies".  These are the surviving financial behemoths whose opaque financial instruments caused the near-crash in America.  In fact, if you squint and read the story replacing "Greece" with "the United States", then it's easy to imagine you're reading something eighteen months old.

My question is, then, when will we stop them from doing this again?  When they run out of economies to topple?

Posted by mrbrent at 5:54 PM

really? coffee party?

On the surface, this seems to be a story — Coffee Party activists say their civic brew's a tastier choice than Tea Party's — and what a good idea it is.  Why not counter the inchoate insanity of the Tea Parties with a bit of sensibility and irony?

But in reading further, you see that the impetus for this feature on the Coffee Party is that someone started a Facebook page, and that page had 9,200 fans at the time of writing.  Not to be uncivil, but 9,200 FB users is not much different that a single sparkly snowflake in a snowstorm.  Why, I know a fanpage for a pickle that has one and a half million fans.  One point million fans can fit nine thousand fans in their vest pocket.  So, there's not really any there there.

Professional journalists surely need to stay on top of social media events and trends, but there should be some logical threshhold crossed before it counts.  And of course if this Coffee Party phenomena surges, will it be because the cause took off, or because a WashPost reporter had a slow afternoon?

But it's cute, I guess.  Cute is a commodity.  And not to say I wouldn't join a Coffee Party myself.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:30 PM

even balk likes it

Dunno how it is around the rest of the Eastern Seaboard (where I hear that they might be tired of the sequential snow events), but today's crossing-of-the-snow-streams or whatever they're calling it, is truly a delight.  The last couple?  Meh.  But for some reason this one has me all happy like my little dog was on her morning walk — bounding through snow taller than she is and generally pretty damn excited to be there.  (Not like this, from a previous snow event.)

The train into town was idyllic, as passengers were iPhoning shots of snowy Brooklyn outside the windows.  Manhattan is ghost-towny, but well-shoveled, except for the crosswalks, where the snowplows have erected three foot barriers of street snow to climb.  Which was an excellent chance to help a little old lady or two up and over, which actually does make you feel better about yourself.

How good of a snowstorm is it?  Not only has it shut down the Greenmarket, it knocked David Patterson clean out of his reelection campaign.

Also: six more inches by tomorrow.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:39 AM

February 25, 2010

tim love on bacon

I'm gonna link this brief essay by Tim Love up because not only do I agree with it, but Love opened up a version of his Lonesome Dove Bistro here in NYC some years ago and I thought it was super.  I might have been the only one — the LDB did not last long — but I will carry affection for Chef Love and his big cowboy hat, personally serving the Flintstone-sized tomahawk chop.

Chef is writing about bacon, and trends, and about can we all please chill out?

A lot of people are latching on to feel like they're part of a bigger food trend.  But we should be moving on from the humble pig (pork belly, I'm talking about you, too) and elevating other animals.  The culinary world is waiting for some gambler out there to take the next step.  Right now, my menu has a lamb belly BLT because I think both lamb and goat are underappreciated and delicious.  And, what about game birds (remember, I'm partial to doves)?  There's so much wonderful experimentation going on for those brave enough to venture there. So many cuts of meat that may sound just as initially odd as pork belly, but can turn into the next big cooking trend coming from the right cutting board.

OK, so, he's not that electric of a writer, but he's right: lay off the bacon for criminy's sake.  Not stop eating it, necessarily, but stop obsessing like it's a flag of non-conformity.  It's not.  All your bacon innovations are being concurrently discovered by an entire generation of people who have adopted bacon as a new hobby.

So hat tip to Love for saying it out loud.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:29 AM

health care summit

Yesterday, I was tempted to scoot out of work early to catch the US-Switzerland hockey game — I kinda thought that the "sneak out of work for sporting event" wasn't going to hit again until this summer's World Cup.

And now here it is one day later and I am seriously tempted to gin up some "stomach flu" and park myself in front of a telecast of the Health Care Summit which is starting as I type this.

I have no idea what will happen, and I sadly don't have a dog in the fight, as any health care reform that leaves private insurers in business is not good enough for me.  But it is a venue (y'know, conversation) in which the president acquits himself well.  And of course the ever-sneaky Republicans tried to work the refs by claiming that this is some sort of set-up — yeah, dudes, to be forced to defend your policies by talking with other people watching, that's my very definition of a set-up.

Sadly, I be here at the desk.  These LLCs won't form themselves.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:06 AM

February 24, 2010

nra fringes itself into the mainstream

Speaking of paranoia!  Check this NYT article, which details both the president's generally gun-owner-friendly ways and the goldrush by NRA-friendly state legislatures to legalize concealed gun possession by toddlers in playgrounds.

You probably remember some of the stories that came out in the run-up to the 08 elections, interviewing sincere Americans who believed that only ammunition would get them through four years of an administration run by an Islamist sleeper agent who happened not without coincidence to be less than Caucasian.  Because that boy in the White House was gonna see which would happen first: takin' away the guns of the Righteous or throwin' the Righteous into interment camps where they would be forced to accept single payer health insurance.

I'm exaggerating, except that my exaggerations do not do justice to the beliefs actually held.

So the irony (and I love irony) in this paranoia is that this administration has made the least amount of noise about taking guns away of any Democratic administration in decades.  And yet the head of the NRA would have you know that this may not be the case:

“The watchword for gun owners is stay ready,” said Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association.  “We have had some successes, but we know that the first chance Obama gets, he will pounce on us.”

Now of course LaPierre would not keep his job by saying, "Um, coast is clear, fellas," but still, yet another log on the fire of paranoia, yet another reason for the unhinged to scan the horizon nightly for the black helicopters before they retire to a healthy night of "American Idol".

Or, as my friend Max rather succinctly puts it, "Clearly, the proper response to an imaginary crackdown on gun ownership is to legalize guns in bars."

Posted by mrbrent at 12:15 PM

be careful not to photograph your children

It seems that Boing Boing runs two or three stories a week of citizens with cameras being harassed, but this one is pretty egregious.  A dad takes photos of his toddler son, is braced by a mall cop, accused of being a pedophile.  Man decides to decamp mall, whereupon:
Outside of the mall, Kevin was stopped by a police constable who had received a complaint from mall security that a suspicious potential paedophile had been taking pictures on its premises.  The PC threatened to arrest Kevin "for creating a public disturbance" and ordered him to delete the photo of his son.  The PC also averred that the Bridges Shopping Centre is a hotbed of paedophile assaults.

Even though it does not outwardly appear so, the amount of paranoia out there is unprecedented, at least for what I've been alive for, and it is concentrated on a day-to-day level and not exclusively in the heads of tin foil hat types like me.

So yeah, the world we live in is terrifying and creepy, but at least it's interesting.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:55 AM

"the watchers" by shane harris

One day after I got an email from a friend bringing attention to the new book of her friend (whom I've never met), I see NYT review of the very same book, "The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State" by Shane Harris.  It's about the last decade of ascendancy of the NSA, which makes Harris the answer to the question, "Who are the watchmen-watchers?"  And the reviewer, Eric Lichtblau, liked it:
While Mr. Harris’s examination covers a fair amount of ground that has already been well plowed, it uses smart technical analysis and crisp writing to put the reader inside the room with the watchers and to help better understand the mind-set that gave rise to the modern surveillance state.  “We have never lived in a time,” Mr. Harris writes, “when the government has had such remarkable technological ability to watch its own citizens.”

So on account of the friend-of-a-friend rule, I am hereby prospectively recommending the book.  Perhaps even I will buy this book and read it myself (to the extent that I "buy things" these days).  Because I sure would like to read that sucker.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:33 AM

February 23, 2010

scott brown: fabrizio bordo is maaaad at you

See now, count me as one still willing to make fun of new MA Sen Scott Brown even though he did the right thing and forced comity on a fractured Senate.  I approve of his decision, but I think his comments on the vote (basically, "I don't love the bill but will support it for the people of MA, etc.") help legitimize the idea that procedural votes (from whicj the filibuster is born) have the same weight as up-or-down votes when a bill hits the floor.  The idea that only bills with a supermajority can ever get out of conference is the basis of the gridlock problem that everyone's all up in arms over, and Brown's sentiments take that idea as truth.

So yeah I'm grateful for his vote but he's still a big dummy.

Which is probably for the best, to have a leftie like me disapprove, considering the ample (and hilarious!) pushback he is getting from his base, all of whom want not a single piece of legislation passed until they can finally get a judge to declare President Obama a foreign terrorist bent on selling the nation's children into New World Order slavery.  It's really hard to pick a favorite, as they are all equally evocative of privilege and crayon.  Maybe this one:

Mr Senator don't break our trust and don't forget WE ARE THE PEOPLE!!!!

I especially like that one because it conveys both the idea that elected representatives must ONLY vote exactly how each voter wants, and the idea that the way you get to be "THE PEOPLE" is by mashing your caps lock.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:45 AM

boing boing says hi to magicjack

Boing Boing definitely creeps the line sometimes — as much as you love them for distilling every zine you ever loved into easily accessible digital form, sometimes you wonder if they are too cultish, too orthodoxical...  Because you are a cynic, and you are trying to anticipate the big reveal where the flaws are laid bare.  So yes you love Boing Boing, but you are twitchy about it.

Or maybe Boing Boing doesn't creep this line and it's all me.  I come from a time and place where success was an instant disqualification, and maybe there's still a couple of those genes stuck in me.

But all of this is to say that when the sun of Boing Boing shines upon you, it is a very excellent sun indeed, as BB takes a company trying to nuisance-sue BB into retracting criticism to the mat:

At several points in the process, we could have taken a check and walked away: as it is, the award doesn't quite cover our costs.  But we don't like being bullied, and we wanted the chance to tell anyone else threatened by this company what to expect.

That is unmitigatedly awesome and if the rest of this day can keep up with this then boo-ya to us (no matter the weather).

And if you are into the gears of the legal system, BB's counsel utilized an anti-SLAPP regulation in the State of California to prevail.  "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" are basically where someone sues you with the intention of bankrupting you into complying and no intention of actually winning.  So this is one for the good guys a couple times over.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:14 AM

the takeaway is killing me

At the risk of being a jerk first thing in the morning, why is NPR's "The Takeaway" trying to induce me into my first cardiac event?  They just ran a story on the health care proposal put out by the White House yesterday and the subtext of the thing was, "Is this really a reset?" totally accepting on the face of it the hypothesis that the American people rejected the last proposals on Capital Hill and demanded the "blank sheet of paper".  This is not the case.  Polls, to the extent that a poll is evidence of anything, are inconclusive.  It is the so-called other side of the aisle, the one with the marked minority, that stuck a fork in it and will not come to the bargaining table unless DEMANDS ARE MET.  It's disingenuous of the GOP, but it's a political ploy, and disingenuous is fair in politics.  But for a journalist, whether on NPR or not, to take as truth the false moral high ground promulgated by a minority party is worse that inexcusable — it's just stupid.

If you are not a radio person, "The Takeaway" is a public radio news magazine show intended for the young and the hip.  In order to achieve this, there is a lot of interstitial computer noise and all recurring segments are named, like pets.  And since the young like interactive environments, they break in a lot with shit like, "What's your favorite color?  Email The Takeaway and let us know."  The program employs journalists so I vaguely support it, but hoo boy it is the dumbness that gets me.

And why do I listen?  AM radio rig for dog walks, and if I want news it's either The Takeaway or 1010WINS.

So please WMYC reallocate resources and bring back Morning Edition or some other news program by and for grown-ups.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:28 AM

February 22, 2010

john yoo on omnipotence

After a fun little read of John Yoo demonstrating that his water-carrying did not stop after the discontinuance of his employment, here are some other things that a president can do heedless of legislation that encroaches on his Commander-in-Chief powers.

Short answer: any thing a president damn well pleases.  You think you got a good seat at the 8pm Friday screening of “Shutter Island”?  Actually, that’s a seat that a president needs to have, for matters of national security.  The Sunday night parking spot, where you don’t have to move your car until Wednesday night?  Not if a certain unilateral chief executive receiving legal advice from John Yoo wants to park there.  The reservations at Babbo you got for your anniversary?  POTUS would like you to know that the Caliente Cab Company is just a couple blocks away, and the first margaritas are on, well, you.

And that’s for you, the loyal subjects of Yoo’s president.  Imagine if you are a foreigner.  Imagine if you are a foreigner because you actually live in a foreign country and are not on American soil.  Your name, and the honor of your family?  Mostly yours, but you might want to check with Yoo’s president first, because protecting America is a full-time job, and you can’t make an omelet without cracking a little name/family honor.

I mean, sure a president can level villages, but that’s just greasy kid stuff.  In fact, it’s greasy kids that stand between Yoo’s president and his constitutional duties sometimes, which is why a president can not only interdict global candy supply lines, he can tell any child anywhere at any time where babies come from and where Gramma goes when she dies.

Sure, it’s a free country.  But how do you expect it to stay that way if Yoo’s president can’t do whatever he wants ever ever ever?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:56 AM

the blowhole extravaganza

I wanna take a brief moment here and thank Don Rauf for including us in this year's model of the Blowhole Extravaganza that took place at Freddy's in Brooklyn last Saturday night.  It was a very pleasant evening, there in Freddy's back room, and filled with many diverting musical and comedic entertainments.  I personally tried to perform a lengthy and very good essay I had been working on, but was rudely interrupted by Griselda von Trapt, (who can also be seen in these installments of a play entitled "Jack O'Hanrahan and the Troubulation of Doom, which can be found here).  Fortunately the audience did not miss out on much.

And thanks to her efforts hopefully Bruce Ratner, who is a fellow working towards the untimely demise of Freddy's, will be frustrated now and forever.

Don (and Blowhole) don't really have a digital presence to speak of, but you may learn about his band, Life in a Blender, here.

Please keep supporting these idiosyncratic live performances of the arts.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:38 AM

February 21, 2010

ron paul wins!

Speaking of Glenn Beck, he was the keynote speaker last night at CPAC, and, boy, I bet he sold an awful lot of copies of his books!  I'm leftie and cynical, so naturally a speaker conflating his personal story with a greater political movement would strike as a little bit like the act of a politically ambitious megalomaniac.  But the choir eats that shit up — they get to be the victims and the righteous and the downtrodden and the heroes all at the same time, if they only take the words of the leader to heart!  I'm sure there were any many people demonstrating their independence by swearing their allegiance to Beck's 9-12 project.

But then to have Ron Paul win the straw vote as presidential candidate?  That's the cutest thing ever!  CPAC is marching in lockstep, three directions at the same time.

So yeah, cynicism, Schadenfreude, right on.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:53 AM

everyone gets to have joe stack

Final word on Joe Stack, and whether he was a terrorist or a nutjob and at whose feet his actions are laid, from John Cook:
The difference is that the Democratic Party establishment isn't currently engaged in actively fomenting the sort of rage that motivates the fringe of their party.  The problem isn't that the right wing is creating Joe Stacks, or should be held responsible for inciting them.  It's impossible to know whether Stack would have done what he did absent a current environment of deluded anti-government hysteria on the right wing, but given the facts that his grievances go back to the Reagan era and that he seems to have been squeezed to despair by the recession, it's likely that his rage transcended the Fox News-driven political dynamic.  And there will always be people like him.  The problem is that the GOP and Fox News are currently addressing their political messaging to people like him.  They're not creating or inciting the right-wing fringe so much as bringing it in from the cold.

It's a topic that I yap about far too much, but historically when the left wing gets mad, they march and sometimes maybe riot.  And when the right wing gets mad, they go postal, at best, or posse up at worst.  There is no equivalence between the two, and attempts to beat the bushes for a leftie sociopath killer targeting only The Righteous are just cynical protests-too-much.

And I do believe that it's a hair's breadth between inciting dumb political violence and capitalizing on already-existing tendencies towards dumb political violence.  Glenn Beck may not cross the line (like, say, Hal Turner), but what's worse, really: trying to foment an armed rebellion, or just trying to make a buck off of it?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:40 AM