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April 24, 2010


It's now been long enough that I need to stop going back to the well of the Yahoo! Headline Box, but this cannot pass:
Hispanic Americans fear profiling under new Arizona law

Well yeah, the new law is profiling, no matter what lip service the governor gives.  Like, "AZ PD: profile."  So let's chalk it up as an understatement, like "Hispanic Americans: water is wet."

On the bright side, at least this rabid xenophobia is being pushed out into the open again where it can be confronted.  And on the dark side, it's bush-league racism.  Yay us.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:33 PM

April 23, 2010

paul davies: eerie silence

This book review caught my eye yesterday.  It is of a book called "Eerie Silence", by Paul Davies, who is considering the search for intelligent life in the universe, and the potential effects of a discovery, now that we're fifty years in on concerted scientific effort:
The problem with SETI as it’s currently conceived, in Mr. Davies’s view, is that it has been blinkered by anthropocentrism, the assumption that alien beings will be anything like us.  He quotes the British biologist J. B. S. Haldane, who remarked that “the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

We must “jettison as much mental baggage as possible,” Mr. Davies advises.

“Forget little green men, gray dwarfs, flying saucers with portholes, crop circles, glowing balls and scary nocturnal abductions,” he continues.  Drop those “X Files” DVDs and walk slowly away.

You may want to pick up "queerer" and run with it, but keep in mind the review also uses "woo-woo" as an adjective.

But the topic is right in my "wheelhouse", as they say, and I plan on picking it up.  (Bonus: first and last time I will use "wheelhouse" in a sentence.)

Posted by mrbrent at 12:19 PM

i can't spell

Terrible embarrassing realization: not only am I a slave to spell-checking functions, going so far as caving in to the "check as you type" function about two years ago, but I use the predictive text/autocomplete function of the toolbar search window as a dictionary.  So like I'm tweeting and I want to include Glenn Frey's name and I can't remember how many Ns are in this particular Glenn, I just enter "Glenn Frey" in the search window and the correct spelling drops down.

This is of course something that probably everyone's been doing for years and not at all novel, but it means two things: (i) time is passing! and (ii) the ability to spell will race the pinky toe to see which falls off first, evolutionarily.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:47 AM

April 22, 2010

racist douchebag: ipoopd

So you may have seen in the past few days the photo of the VA pickup truck, parked in a handicapped spot, with a Stars and Bars decal on the back window and an anti-Muslim/Twin-Towers-exploding decal on the gate.  If you didn't, you weren't missing much other than another of the endless iterations of bad taste.  But!  A sharp-eyed reader notices that not only was the pickup pimped out with offensive, but the license plate was a sophomoric coded shout-out to White Power groups.  Which info was shared with the VA Department of Motor Vehicles, which tries to screen against such things.  So, racist douchebag: busted.

And if being outed to the entire world as a racist douchebag weren't enough, racist douchebag's super sneaky coded license plate now gets to keep embarrassing company:

Among the few printable examples of rejected license plates, according to Melanie Stokes, a member of the Word Committee, are "JERKA55," "IPOOPD," and "HORNI1."

Yes, racist douchebag, you may be all lovin' Hitler and hatin' the coloreds, but your wit is the equivalent of "IPOOPD".

Posted by mrbrent at 11:56 AM

one hundred dollars

Why yes that is for certain a very very snazzy hundred dollar bill.  In fact, it makes the old greed hundreds look like rotary dial phones, or zubaz pants, and soon millionaires everywhere will just throw those old drab hundreds down the whatever millionaires use for garbage disposals rather than get caught flashing one of those suckers around the poors, who are mean and will point at and mock the millionaire for being gauche.

I do gotta say that that is a very unflattering picture of Ronald Reagan.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:13 AM

April 21, 2010

keeping up with the breitbarts

While I was busy being happy to see Josh Marshall invoke the Backwards B while talking about the latest dubious "Liberals beat me up" story from last weekend, I realized: the right wing outrage machine has some pretty dubious ideas about how the world works, in as much as allegations are not so much supported by proof as they fall to disproof.

Ordinarily when a person (say me) alleges something mildly outrageous, then another person who wants to deny this allegation demands that it be proven.  Then the ball is in my court, and I either supply proof or admit that I cannot and withdraw weakly.  This is the normal order of things, a process that grown-ups allow themselves to be governed by.

Now then.  Say that you are a specific sort of conservative ideologue, the kind that gets paid more money the more attention you garner.  If this person (screw it, if Andrew Breitbart) alleges something that is met with, "That's not true," then instead of providing proof, the Breitbarts of the world demand that the denier provide proof that allegations are false.

This does two things.  First, it shifts the burden, the actual heavy lifting, to the denying party, which results not only in extra resource allocation by this party, but a subtle shift in the perceived high ground — the Breitbarts get to say things like, "How dare the deniers accuse me of falsehood without a shred of evidence!"  That the evidence is to be actually a disproof is the question begged, and the Breitbarts thunder on and the deniers wonder what just happened.

And the other mission accomplished is that this occasionally puts the denying party in the uncomfortable position of having to prove a negative.  Look for example at the incident referenced above, wherein some GOPers get mugged in New Orleans and the Breitbarts claim a liberal plot.  And even while the NOPD is not supporting the idea of a "plot", the Breitbarts continue to bellow, and the implication becomes that liberals are unable to disprove the fact that they mugged a couple in New Orleans.  And even if liberals were of a mind to give in and scramble to disprove — how could they?  How do they prove that something is not so?  And even if the perps are bagged and they confess to a lack of liberal motive, then the Breitbarts just charge that the perps are lying.  The plot dreamed up is a wet dream born of a closed belief system, and it is intrinsically unassailable because it is absolutely without tether to reality.

It's a rhetorical tactic that can freeze up the opposition because of its gall — first lie, second shirk the onus of proof and third refuse to accept actual truth.

Naturally, the kung fu defense to this is to refuse to play the game at all.  Sadly, this defense is only partially effective, as it leaves the insane allegation (see, "The New Deal failed") standing to be repeated and eventually calcify into common sense.

It's a nifty little trick the Breitbarts play, but it only works if you are an actually crazy person.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:05 PM

eater is bad

Beautiful wife asked me the other day, "What food blogs do you read?"  I had to think about it.  "Kinda none of them," I answered, "I just hit Eater every once in a while and they'll link up anything good."

Turns out I'm a jerk.  After reading this takedown of Eater (by Washington City Paper's Tim Carmon), I am going to rethink my behavior.  The charges?  Being an aggregator, cashing in on links/rewrites of the content of others — totally fair, but there's not a fixed standard of when the value-added lifts one from aggregator to commentator.  But as far as the value added by Eater, it appeals to the baser instincts:

I can only hope that we will see more of this anti-populist work in the future. Might I suggest a take-down of lowly independent food truck operators who litter our streets with their pathetic attempts to feed us affordable snacks? Or expose a working critic while trying to do his job? Or maybe pushing moribund independent restaurants over the edge by publicly cataloging their struggles?

There is arguable journalistic (if not ghoulish) interest in struggling restaurants/food trucks, but photos of anonymous critics on the job has no redeeming value other than it might draw a couple clicks.  Why not stalk the children of the critics, or see if you can get a photo of them on the crapper?  That would drive traffic and the day's conversation.  So yeah: fuck that shit.

And I am a jerk for using Eater to scan the foodblogs — that is why I have a CSS feed.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:16 AM

net neutrality: something something europe something

After reading so much in favor of net neutrality, I guess it's no surprise that an NYT op-ed opposed to net neutrality would strike me as lacking luster.

The piece, a multi-authored affair with professors and economists and lobbyists alike behind the byline, rings in at scarcely 500 words, and tepid words they are.  Presumably the purpose of the op-ed is to counteract the groundswell of support for net neutrality (generally defined as "preventing ISPs from giving bandwidth preference to users/sites in exchange for money").  But if this is the case, the counter-argument is not discernible to the reader — instead, the authors stick to comp 101 form, plodding through tired anecdotes that are supposed to serve as analogy, I guess, but not.  "Look to Europe," they say, long-windedly, and then recite all the excellent innovative ways EU regulations allow ISPs to choke your traffic.

What's missing are the "whys".  Europe may be super-nifty with their ways to milk cash from customers, but how is that a compelling argument that we should do so here?  (Unless you are an ISP, duh.)

The central fallacy is buried in what serves as the kicker:

When it comes to the Internet and net neutrality, ensuring transparency promises to enhance the evolution of this dynamic market.  Imposing heavy-handed rules about how providers can operate will only hinder it.

The Internet is not just a "market".  It's a medium, and a method of transmission to the general public.  And in this country, the precedent is that public media are the property of us all, which is why the government licenses it.  It's a funny thought that the electromagnetic spectrum is owned, but it surely is, at least that portion of frequencies used by television and cell phones and walkie talkies and everything else.  Accordingly, as ISPs are in the same electromagnetic frequency business, why should they not be subject to regulation, and why should the public good not be protected from ISPs?  Nothing in those soggy 500 words even addressed that question, let alone answered it.

Come on, free marketeers, at least make it look like you're trying.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:10 AM

April 20, 2010

kids too fat

For once I concur with the Department of Defense — US kids these days are just too fat:
National security is threatened by the sharp rise in obesity rates for young people over the last 15 years, the group Mission: Readiness contends. Weight problems are now the leading medical reason that recruits are rejected, the group says, and thus jeopardize the military's ability to fill its ranks

This is kind of like, oh we should get around to worrying about climate change some day, and then you blink and there are polar bears drowning because the ice floes all melted.

And why are kids fat?  Fast food?  Processed food?  High fructose corn syrup?  It'll take hindsight to tell for sure, but I say, "Yes, yes and yes."

Candidates for DoD contracts to solve this problem: Michael Pollan and Jamie Oliver.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:05 PM

tomasky on neener neener

Another rhetorical tactic is subjected to a healing dose of sunlight in this piece by Michael Tomasky on the false equivalence between right wing/left wing violence:
This would be hilarious if it weren't so twisted and frankly juvenile. Some of you simply have to have an answer for everything that throws the matter back in the faces of liberals. For every charge made against the right, you have to find a case that proves that liberals do it too. And then, when that case isn't covered in the press to the same degree a case emanating from the right is covered - which on planet Earth is understandable because it's simply not as dramatic a case - you then get to toss in the accusation that the liberal media won't cover it. It's all really pathetic.

I point this out not as some condemnation of the knuckleheads that engage in this sophistry, but rather as a gentle nudge towards actual conversation/arguments unpoisoned by idiotic schoolyard Am Not You Are!  Because in a lot of these issues (like the one Tomasky writes about, the conservative blindspot to burgeoning right wing domestic terrorism) are valid and worthy of discussion.  And maybe I'm wrong on these issues, or my beliefs could use fine-tuning, but we'll never know if the other side is mostly interested in Evil Genius Conversation-Winners like sticking one's fingers in one's ears.

Also: I did not know that Michael Tomasky was writing for the Guardian now — sweet gig.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:48 AM

i'm sorry for turning mcconnell into a sex object

Now I'm feeling all kinds of bad that I called Mitch McConnell ugly, as I suspect that I was raised better than that, calling men who I never met ugly.  In fact, I think that even calling ugly men ugly would be a no-no, as far as the codes of behavior imprinted on me go.

And it's not really fair, because Sen. McConnell is not actually the optimum age in which one's attractiveness should be judged.  Though on the other hand, I wasn't saying that the senator was an unattractive for a teenager or anything — he's awkward looking for a senator, and that's the point.  Whatever the opposite of gravitas is, Sen. McConnell has got buckets of it.

So yeah, the whole "ugly" thing, that's just a component of the senator's comportment antithetical to leadership and trust, and there's other stuff about him that does not involve subjective judgment of his waxy features.

That's why I'm feeling bad about it -- I was objectifying Mitch McConnell.  Was not my intention.  May his heroic plan to forestall finance regulation reform in the name of the people be unhindered by all the manners I've forgotten, in the spirit of fair play.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:10 AM

April 19, 2010

warren ellis on atemporality

Constant posting of Ellis borders on hero worship, I know (and there are plenty of those hero worshipers out there), but the fucker has some ideas useful to have bouncing around in the back of your head, a little useful white noise.  Like this one:
* Atemporality.  Recursive culture.  Bruce Sterling thinks that's where we're spending the next ten years.  In comics -- and I've been doing it too -- it's where we've spent the last ten years.  A state of extended postmodernism, focused on dealing with the business of the 20th Century.  We're still having dreams about that very long day, still processing it.  The 00's were always going to be about that.  Some say that 9/11 was the true start of the 21st Century -- and that, too, speaks to atemporality, with its medieval overtones, its remake/remodel of the fireship and its vessels taken as prizes and turned against their makers.

This may not have been a burning question in your own personal world, but it does intersect with mine.  It may be a function of my age, but I feel like there was a vaster difference between 1990 and 2000 than there is between 2000 and 2010.  And I've wondered if it was just me or I stopped paying attention — did things stop growing in a novel way, in a way that was not reiterations of the past, or did I just lose the capacity, or the means, to notice?

Which leads to: Are we in a cultural period that is unable to get past digesting the past century to get down to the business of imagining the next?

This of course won't affect the cost of a cup of morning coffee, but it's better than wondering about your fantasy baseball team.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:25 PM

pay no attention to the historical connotations

Deep in this TPM story of today's convergence of openly armed folk in DC and Virginia rallying for expanded Second Amendment rights is perhaps what I might push up towards the lede:
Even groups inclined to agree with [rally organizer Daniel] Almond under other circumstances are not amused by his plan to gather armed men with grudges against the government in the shadow of the Capitol on the fifteenth anniversary of the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in American history.

The quote refers to the distinction between a Second Amendment March, happening in the capitol, and a different, loaded-arms event happening in Virginia.

Though I would ask why whether or not the protesters are armed or not makes any difference?  Why would you want to hold any kind of rally on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, especially if the rights you are espousing is one that the Oklahoma City bomber probably also advocated?  It is a difficult implication to evade, and there's a whole lot of other days of the year that Second Amendment rallies could be held (why, more than 300, by my count).

It is either intentional, or our critical facilities as a nation are on a marked decline.  Or both, duh.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:38 AM

sen. mcconnell's leadership

Brief thought!

I suggest that the reason GOP obstructionist efforts are star-crossed with regard to financial regulation reform is because the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, is too ugly.  True, it's an untenable position that Sen. McConnell has taken, with his valiant populist stand for Wall Street, but at the same time McConnell is now the public face of the conflict with the White House.  That is bad for the GOP.

It's sad but true, but American politics has been largely governed by physical appearance.  Go back to the Nixon v. Kennedy TV debate if you want a good example (and perhaps the exegesis?).  And then try to remember a national race where the least attractive candidate won.  Americans want charisma and not sober expertise or wild enthusiasm.  Maybe it's a case of voters going for the visual shorthand, i.e. attractiveness, or some semblance of indicators of competence that are indicated by carriage/facial characteristics.  Can't really point a finger at that, right?

But where we land at is, McConnell, and I'm sure he worked very hard to reach the leadership position he has, is not genetically fortunate enough to be the face of this or any other viable movement.  Apologies to his fans and family, but he is not an attractive man, with a mouth too small for his chinless face, and perpetually startled-looking eyes.  If you're wondering how health care reform passed, just imagine a stage with Sen. McConnell on one side and President Obama on the other, and then forget what the debate is actually about (like a real American) and then pick who wins.

Of course, I would not want to be subjected to this scrutiny of my own personal good-looks, plus also I'm not even remotely approaching comment on the merits of the senator's position.  I'm just saying — is Sen. McConnell someone you'd bet on in a national debate?

Posted by mrbrent at 9:36 AM