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May 1, 2010

drudge's katrina moment

Don't remember where I first heard the "this is Obama's Katrina" meme yesterday, but now I'm reading it in the New York Times and it's starting my day on the wrong foot, both of them.

The number of ways that Katrina and this oil catastrophe are not similar is so vast that I don't want to insult anyone's intelligence by making a forceful argument — George Bush did not wait for BP to handle the hurricane that BP created, and Barack Obama did not fail to mobilize FEMA's massive rescue and relief assets when meteorologists forecast an oil rig explosion that would drown neighborhoods of New Orleans in their attics, etc., etc.

The cruelest irony is that the people who are so eager to hang a Katrina around the president's neck are the same people who shrug and roll their eyes when someone like me becomes pale with rage when trying to explain how Katrina was the greatest failure of this nation in a hundred years, and wholly caused by a purposefully rapacious and inept government.  It's tit-for-tat.  It's not about equivalency, as they wonder why all the bitching about Katrina in the first place?  For years they have waited for some false comparison that would assuage their feelings that were hurt when their platonic ideal (handsome, squinty, want-to-have-beer-with) of a president let a city die.

Hey look I'm already incoherent!  Jason Linkins says all of this better and with less sputtering.

(And New Orleans ended up not dying, no thanks to George Bush, and if you want to read something that will motivate you to visit, read this.)

Posted by mrbrent at 8:43 AM

April 30, 2010

tpm: service journalism

Yet another useful aspect of the continuing success of Talking Points Memo is that they have a lucky combination of manpower and sensibility to run insane-people leads to ground.

For example, when a minor Senate candidate in Illinois says something crazy like we should microchip illegal immigrants, TPM has the patience and the free time to actually track the candidate and put him on the record:

While [candidate Dr. Pat] Bertroch acknowledges the privacy concerns of microchipping, he says that as a physician (he's a psychiatrist), he's not sure there are legitimate medical concerns.

"The jury is still out on that. A lot of the microchip technology comes from animal studies.  And for the most part, they seem to be pretty OK or pretty innocuous," Bertroche said.  "I don't support microchipping people, but if it's going to become part of the debate -- which was not my intent -- then microchipping people is not one of those things that is going to cause long-term cancer problems."

Not a whole lot of news-fiber in that, unless you consider the greater story that either politics is being written by Joseph Heller from beyond the grave, or it was always like that and we never noticed, as the crazy-people-quotient is the leading economic indicator these days.

TPM is filling a whole unplugged in American media since "Real People" went off the air in the early '80s.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:54 AM

April 29, 2010

let's be careful with the pitchforks and torches

So I was cruising some conspiracy sites last night, and in a thread full of predictable rage at the financial services industry and the folk that testified in front of the Senate committee on Tuesday, I came across an image that disturbed me.  It was a Photoshop of Saddam Hussein, ten seconds before he was poorly hanged, with Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein's head subbed in for Saddam's.  I will not link up the thread or the image because you are either the type of person who's already seen it, the type of person with no interest in seeing it, or the type of person who wants to see it but will have to do so without my help.

And that's when I hit the point when I understood the whole, "You liberals are as bad as the conservatives!" argument.  Because conservatives are not funny.  And of all the bad things I'd like to see happen to Blankfein, getting Saddam'ed is not one of them.  And most importantly, the juxtaposition of Blankfein/Saddam's hanging is not funny.  Blankfein as Sydney Greenstreet?  That could be funny.  Blankfein/Saddam is just icky, and there's already enough of that in the world (try a Tea Party party).

The key to being effective with the torches and the pitchforks is to never lose your sense of humor — that way you don't turn into the kind of angry mob that you don't want to be associated with.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:33 PM

nyt: blowing kayfabe

What follows is a sentence from the sixth paragraph of a story projecting a wider trend of Tory David Cameron's chances in the United Kingdom's upcoming general election:
Mr. Cameron’s visit here was too narrow a base on which to project any wider trend, especially in an election that British commentators say is proving harder to forecast than any in a generation.

Well that's a nice bit of candor that you don't usually see.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:15 PM

drill baby drill

Aside from me thinking it to myself last weekend once it was clear that oil was leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, the only person I've seen give voice to an ironic "Drill Baby Drill" is my friend Max, whose leftist politics, like mine, tend towards the ardent.

And of course it is in bad taste, given that eleven men working on that oil rig died went up.  Nothing against the guys who do that job knowing the risks.  So I understand that the risk exists that appropriating "Drill Baby Drill" for our own purposes could be construed as callous to the memories of the eleven lost.  Of course it's not what we mean.

The reason why "Drill Baby Drill" is sardonic now is because of the vicious glee that the precursors of the Tea Party chanted it during the 2008 election.  It was an image that bumped right up against parody, on purpose — it was not so much a cry to erect lots more drilling platforms all over the coasts as it was spitefully politically incorrect to contravene caution and stewardship of the planet.  They might as well have been chanting "Nuke The Whales".

But of course they were on the surface chanting for more drilling platforms.  And I'm not opposed to drilling platforms.  I just think there's a certain risk involved, especially when considering worst case scenarios.  Which we now have.

So why be snotty dickheads and parry back with "Drill Baby Drill"?  Because when it was being chanted in '08, it was a game.  It was a fun patriotic way to advertise certain ideological beliefs held by the chanter.  And it was a wrong-headed juvenile thing to do, because drilling isn't actually a game, as the families of eleven men, a couple species and the entirety of the Gulf of Mexico coastal economy will tell you.

Now I'm going to hit publish and see how many more "DBD"s there are this morning.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:02 AM

April 28, 2010


Purely on the strength of this review by Maggie Koerth-Baker, here's another book for the to-read list: Superbug, by Maryn McKennna.  It is about MRSA, which is that very muscular staph bacteria which has grown all deadly and horrifying thanks to decades of anti-biotics use:
Where will the next major epidemic come from?  According to Superbug, that epidemic is already here.  It grew out of our hospitals, our prisons and our high-school locker rooms.  We fed it with our demand for antibiotic ointments, prescriptions we didn't need and factory-farmed cows packed together and pumped full of their own antibiotics.  We spread it with unwashed hands. The story of MRSA is more prosaic than tales of tracking Ebola through the African jungle, but that's exactly what makes it terrifying, and fascinating.

This topic is interesting because it is a very full illustration of the law of unintended consequences — all our medical science know-how inadvertently changes a harmless bacteria into a killer of the young and healthy.  Which is why when we are all wearing full hazmat suits and irradiating drinking water for fear of these Superbugs, we will be able to share a chuckle at the hubris of our species.

Now that I think of it, this is the second time in a week that I've taken to the Internet to recommend a long old fashioned book with thousands of words that take days, if not weeks, to read.  Novelty is trying to tell me something.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:49 PM

blame the congress

I didn't know that the Bethany McLean Op-Ed in which the smoking gun of the financial crisis was discovered buried in the backyard of the Congress was actually a precursor to an organized pushback against the financial reform bill that the GOP is now filibustering.  But it's a good pushback — "Oh no, I'm not carrying water for the banks, I'm just hating on the government, just like you good people!"  It's a cynical attempt to obscure affinity by anointing a new boogie man.  So it should work pretty well.

I still think the premise is hooey.  But if it is going to be repeated until it occupies a meaningful portion of public opinion, then I suggest this: if you are sincerely of the belief that Congress is the author of the discrete calamity that befell us, then perhaps it's time we undo some of that damage that was done by Congress and reinstate Glass-Steagal.  Or at the very least admit that the failing of Congress was not having done too little, but having done too much, slavishly following a free-market slash and burn of meaningful regulatory oversight.

It's not as much fun as railing against those "corrupt politicians down there in Warshington DC who ain't listening to the American people or anything" but it could be good for a laugh.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:05 AM

timberwolf was a shitty deal

I'm not sure which Rubicon was crossed by Sen. Carl Levin yesterday, as he alarmed a C-SPAN/furtive-workdesk-livestreaming audience during the Senate hearings with Goldman Sachs innocents-til-proven-guilty by cussing himself up a blue streak.

I'm on the fence myself.  Though I've long been breathing profanities, there was a time when I was a little kid and, back then, hearing people swear made me physically nauseous, like my little-kid body could not bear the stress of taboo being broken.  So I am sympathetic to the argument that swearing shouldn't happen in venues where children are, and that children should understand that swear words are special language that you only get you use when you win the old-enough lottery.

Otherwise, they're not swear words, they're just words.  Fuck that shit.

So hopefully we can put "shitty" back in the barn so that Sen. Levin's consternation will not be diluted by history.

And I have a minor disagreement with the AOL News story linked above, specifically with this passage:

"Look what your sales team was saying about Timberwolf," said Levin, the committee chair, looking like a deadly serious Bob Newhart.

Bob Newhart has been, and is, never not deadly serious.  That's why they call it "deadpan".

Posted by mrbrent at 9:00 AM

April 27, 2010

the social responsibility of the finance industry

From an NYT op-ed, finally someone (writer Bethany McLean) has figured out who's fault this whole economic slow-mo train wreck is:
Yet, in the end, it comes down to this: Goldman Sachs, ACA Capital, IKB Deutsche Industriebank and even the rating agencies never had any duty to protect us from their greed.  There was one entity that did — our government.

That's a pretty compelling argument.  How can grown-ups be blamed for something as discrete as "scumbaggery" when there are other grown-ups that should have divined that "scumbaggery" was not only offensive to the general public that hadn't heard about it yet, but also nearly responsible for crashing the economy of the entire freaking world?  How can the actual actors, the morally-deficient seeking and finding new ways to extract money from the economy like profits were a vig, have any responsibility when the regulatory structures which these actors had worked so hard for so long to make irrelevant did not accurately see into the future?

But then again, isn't it God's fault for creating everything in the first place?  If we're gonna be passing the buck like this, we need to find the ultimate goalie.

Not to be too unkind, but the argument offered in the op-ed linked above boils down to, "If the economy's gonna dress like that, it should expect trouble."

Posted by mrbrent at 11:23 AM

arizona: boycott

Governor of the Soviet Republic of Arizona, Jan Brewer is incensed — incensed! — over growing cries to boycott Arizona over it's new immigration law that provides for stop-and-frisks of non-Caucasians:
She criticized opponents for not offering more solutions to problems related to illegal immigration and called the idea of a boycott “disappointing and unfortunate” at a time when the state is reeling from the recession and suffering from border-related crime that “continues to harm our economy and stifle trade.”

Yeah actually the entire idea is to harm the economy and stifle the trade of Arizona.  Because actions have consequences.  Gov. Brewer gets to throw some red meat to the the hard-Right xeonophobes who think that Sheriff Joe is the greatest American since Father Caughlin, and we get to decide that we don't want to do business with your state.  The bullshit law she signed?  That's why Arizona can't have nice things.

And how'd the last boycott of Arizona work?  Oh, AZ's will is strong indeed.

I personally won't be boycotting Arizona, because I had no plans to go there.  But if asked, I will suggest that actually new Mexico is a lovely place this time of year.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:10 AM

April 26, 2010

it's a newspaper war!

This is a nice little primer on the upcoming newspaper war here in NYC, between the New York Times and the amassed armies of Rupert Murdoch, led by a new Greater NYC section in the Wall Street Journal.  Sure, it's run by the NYT, but it still manages to be even-handed:
The fight bears watching for a few reasons.  This is New York, a crucible of city journalism, a place that has seen newspaper wars for almost three centuries. At one time or another, the city has hosted over 20 newspapers, but this time around, it is not a couple of scrappy tabloids in the fray, but broadsheet behemoths with ambitions to match.

I guess maybe the WSJ has some piece providing context for the upcoming newspaper war — I wouldn't know.

And I say that Murdoch's chances are slim, no matter how deep his pockets/spite, unless he manages to poach Will Shortz.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:03 PM

doctorow: read your contracts

A Monday reminder to all you creative types out there, courtesy of Cory Doctorow: never sign anything without someone in the know looking it over.  Doctorow tells the story of a commission for a short story he took that was ultimately scuttled because the publisher refused to negotiate the contract, which was a piece of shit.  The situation was ultimately resolved (with a kill fee) by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grievance Committee, so this is not so much a complaint against the publisher as it is a thank you to the professional association.

We're all friends, all the writers and artists and editors and publishers, but there are bad actors out there, and contracts should not be signed lightly.  I looked over one for a writer friend of mine (and the writer had already turned in the piece), and the contract provided for a "work-for-hire" — i.e., the writer would have signed over copyright in the piece, which is not only not typical for the industry, it is unforgivably slimy.  But ambitious scumbags see the future in content ownership/ancillary exploitation, so they go in for scumbag rights overreach and hope that the artist is too trusting/desperate to notice.

So pay attention!  Surely you have some friend qualified to give it a look.

See also this innovative new employment arrangement in the digital saltmines: uncompensated syndication.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:33 AM

April 25, 2010

stephen hawking terrible at one science

With regards to the issue of extraterrestrial contact which was recently referenced here, Stephen Hawking takes a controversial stand:
The Times of London report Hawking's theory that intelligent extra-terrestrial life is mathematically very probable.  And that we should be building alien shelters.  "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet," he said.  "I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet.  Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach."

Now Hawking is reputed to be a pretty smart fellow, but this is a rare way to look at the issue, at least among the less smart fellows who devote the preponderance of their thinking to these things.  Generally speaking, UFO researchers see the issue in more of a theological light — how to approach the motive of the unknowable?

And even those that frame the idea of contact as the ET closely resembling homo sapiens, there is the assumption that interstellar travel equals evolution, and that base instincts will dwindle the more space-travelly we get.  This speaks of the innate optimism of even dystopian science fiction (which somehow is handcuffed to legitimate scientific efforts).

But if you think about it, maybe we are the height of evolution, with all our warts, and why should we expect better of those other sentients that might be out there?  Depressing, for sure, but you can't blame Hawking for taking the straight line between two points.

Personally I think it's naive and short-sighted, but I am not one to argue with Stephen Hawking.  We need bigger ray guns and fast.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:52 PM