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May 22, 2010

texas board of ed

In case you're keeping track, the Texas Board of Education did indeed pass the amendments that will use school curricula to literally rewrite history:
The partisan board has amended or watered down the teaching of the civil rights movement, slavery, America's relationship with the U.N. and hundreds of other items. ... They dictate how political events and figures will be taught to some 4.8 million schoolchildren in Texas and beyond for the next decade.

Wait for the hilarity to ensue say five years from now as the children that are the product of this Texas education get to the university and have to get unlearned.  Or just add "history" to "science" as fields of employment that Texans will be precluded from.

But put it in the books: Republicans have officially legislated political reeducation, and rather ham-fistedly at that.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:44 AM

awl: ask a republican

I just used up a half-hour of my allotted writing time reading the entirety of this Awl post, which is the second installment of a series called "Ask A Republican".

It's not a very long piece, but the comment thread is where the action happens, as Awl commenters are a thoughtful and well-spoken lot that sometimes actually discusses and illuminates an issue.  And this is one of those times.  And it's relatively troll-free!

So if you've ever wondered what the use of comment threads was, the Awl post would be a good place to skim.

(FD: Yeah, I comment there myself, but I fiendishly obscure my name.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:36 AM

May 21, 2010

more texas textbooks

Distract yourself from the bleakness of the looming culture wars in which ambitious know-nothings try to refight the New Deal and McCarthyism by changing state education guidelines with this example of the kind of serious thought put into this very serious venture of altering what is to be put into the heads of children (from the NYT):
Barbara Cargill, a Republican from suburban Houston, successfully campaigned for a reference in the curriculum to the singer Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe, arguing, “How could any of us forget his rendition of ‘Old Man River’ in Showboat?”

I guess the catchphrase is that one is entitled to one's own opinions, but not one's own facts.  But that Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe is getting dragged into this just makes me sick to my stomach.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:18 PM

rand paul: relentless

Rand Paul is not just going to autodefenestrate his campaign, he is going to work darn hard to do so.  This morning his frantic damage control included not only trying to hide behind the 92 year-old body of Sen. Robert Byrd, but also calling the president "un-American" for showing pique towards BP, the companies that turned on the Deepwater Horizon oil spigot and then broke off the handle:
Paul continued: The President's reaction is "part of this sort of blame game society" where "it's always someone's fault." Paul added: "Maybe sometimes accidents happen."

Tea Partiers everywhere can now rest easy now that Rand Paul has given them their marching orders to support the oil industry at all costs.  Which is pretty much what brought the Tea Party together in the first place, isn't it?

Also: do you now need further proof that "blame game" is an enormous don't-say?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:00 AM

david brooks: self fanfic

Today the New York Times published what may well be the single greatest column by token Republican columnist David Brooks, a column so fine that Brooks may as well hang up his columnist boots and find some other trade to ply.

Proving that his appetite for lecturing is boundless, Brooks returns to his favorite topic: the political middle.  And instead of looking for a real-life example, some news peg that he could cite as showing a need for moderates, or the exemplary behavior of moderates, he just makes shit up.  Lead paragraph:

Let’s imagine a character named Ben.  A couple of decades ago, Ben went to high school.

And already we are sucked into Ben's life — he went to high school?  Good gravy!  And then there's a couple of paragraphs of description of Ben's life, mostly his education and work history.  No real mention of his personal life, though I imagine that he's straight and that he has really good teeth.

But perhaps all you need to know about Ben is this:

Ben wasn’t naturally an extremist sort of guy.  He didn’t live his life for politics or go in for the over-the-top stuff he heard on talk radio.  But he did have some sense that the American work ethic was being threatened by debt and decadence.

Which would make him an Everyman, wouldn't it?  I don't know how many times I overhear friends, strangers, schoolchildren, even, talking about the legitimate concern they have for the American work ethic.  As a matter of fact, I passed a hobo on the corner this morning, and he seemed a little down in the dumps.  "What's wrong, Curly?" I asked.  And it was neither his poverty or the lack of trains in my neighborhood that were getting to him; it was the fragility of the American work ethic.

Why is this the finest Brooks ever?  Because in attempting parable he ended up with a Mary Sue, which is no easy feat.  And now we all know more about Brooks than we'd like.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:39 AM

May 20, 2010

rand paul

This voter revolt that is the narrative being forced on Tuesday's primaries that you've read about?  Mostly its about incumbents being challenged, which is interesting but hardly revolting.  For revolting, let's look at the Rand Paul phenomena and how the Tea Party was on the march and whatcha gonna do when RandPaulamania runs wild on you, brother? 

Mostly what you need to know is that Rand Paul is a moron.  (Watch him on Maddow, who rips him to shreds.)  Not even talking about the quality of his ideas   he is not a well-spoken man, and his attempts equivocate or perform some tricky rhetorical maneuver do not imply competence.  Imagine a George W. Bush, but dumber.  I know that Scott Brown has lowered the bar for the amount of perceived talent a senator must have, but if Rand Paul is the next big thing, prepare for further bar-lowering.

But let's keep in mind that the crushing victory of Rand Paul is not a harbinger of greater electoral success of the Tea Party, not at all.  It's a sign that the Republican Party has split in twain and is now devouring itself, that no Republican incumbent or leadership-selected candidate can withstand the inchoate and ill-informed roar of the entitled, who will be duped into voting for a candidate with a wink-wink first name who opposes the very entitlements (Social Security, Medicare) that they depend on.

Will this translate into general election success?  It's entirely possible, but it does not seem likely:

If we follow the logic he's already articulated, Paul must necessarily oppose the minimum wage, for example.  The Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, in light of their burdens on private companies, would be equally problematic.  Social Security must be out of the question.  Child-labor laws would obviously be a problem, as would workplace safety regulations and OSHA.

This speaks to the actual content of Paul's beliefs (if you can discern them from his muddle): he's not really a Tea Partier, he's a libertarian with a brand name.  He's handsome, and he doesn't mind attending endless rallies and saying all the catchphrases, like how some ominous "we" is going to take back "our" government.  So he can certainly steamroll a GOP primary in a purple state.  But he suffers from the central fallacy of the libertarians: freedom from government interference is a slippery slope that you do not want to be caught on in public, because it goes from troublesome to indefensible real fast.

While it's been fun watching him implode twenty-four hours after his primary victory, I sure do hope that he makes it to the general.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:23 AM

don't say: blame game

Listening to the small dollops of news in between fund-driving on NPR this morning I heard what must be the eighth or ninth use of the phrase "blame game" to describe the events surrounding the Deepwater Horizon Spigot.  I've heard it mostly as a noun, something to by played, but I've twice heard it used as a verb.  Actually, once as a verb and once as a gerund, I think.

The verb/gerund issue is the easiest: try using "blame/blaming".  It sounds crazy, but once you do it, you will understand the universal appeal of brevity.

And as far as the noun goes, or I guess as far as the phrase "play the blame game" goes, if the plain simple verb "to blame" isn't snazzy enough, try tried and true "point fingers" or "pass the buck".  And if you've already used both in the story you're writing, then try devising your own bit of metaphor.  Your readers/listeners will thank you for it.

"Play the blame game" is a hackneyed catchphrase engineered by some dull politician who thought that it would have powerful appeal to his base because it rhymed and has no word with more than one syllable.  So let's refrain from its use.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:38 AM

May 19, 2010

fucking kudzu

There is little in the world that I hate more than kudzu.  And I will feel this way until long after the time we've figured out a way to eat it and end poverty forever.

Kudzu is the zombie of flora.  Without human intervention, it does not stop and it always wins.  There's not many interstates left that you can drive down without seeing entire hillsides denuded of anything but fucking life-choking kudzu.

I'm no outdoorsman, but I did grow up with ample opportunity to play in the woods, and the thing about kudzu is that is leaves no woods to play in.  And if you send your kids to go out and play in the kudzu, there is no guarantee that those kids are coming back.

Everyone talks about global warming or the bees or drug-resistant super-strains or the sad slow rate of locomotion of tourists.  Is anyone talking about kudzu?  No, even crazy people.

Which is why I'm glad that finally science agrees with me:

The fast-growing kudzu vine may be responsible for more toxic emissions of ozone than cars.  Not only are these plants releasing chemicals into the air that harm humans, but they are spreading unchecked across the Eastern US.

I'm not exactly sure how you kill kudzu — does it have a head you can shoot it in? — but right now I'm gonna start with hating kudzu with all the force my shriveled little heart can manage.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:26 PM

say hello to gary pierce

Gary Pierce, a Commissioner of the Arizona Corporation Commission, sends a reasonable message to the Mayor of Los Angeles:
People of goodwill can disagree over the merits of SB 1070.  A state-wide economic boycott of Arizona is not a message sent in good will.

(SB 1070 is of course the AZ law whereby non-white-lookin' people are stopped and asked for their papers.)

The unreasonable portion of the letter to the Mayor is the part where Pierce threatens to disrupt delivery of electricity to the city of LA as retaliation.

You may think that this is a reckless abuse of power by Gary Pierce, as what could a "Corporation Commission" have to do with utilities?  Actually, what it has to do with utilities is oversight.  So then the abuse of power is not so reckless, and I guess should be considered as legitimate and State-authorized.  Arizona just got interestinger.

[Via this DailyKos diary.]

Posted by mrbrent at 12:01 PM

1010-wins, gah

Alright, I think that maybe the baseline definition of "feeling old" is when you have an idle thought to yourself, a thought really too idle to share with much of anyone, and the next day you see a story filed on this idle thought in the New York Times:
If you wake up to WINS-AM (1010) every morning, you may have noticed an adjustment this week in the staccato clacking of xylophones and teletype keys that has been the all-news radio station’s sonic trademark since the 1970s.

On Monday, a more musical lead-in to each 20-minute news cycle was introduced. The sound is more tonal than teletype.

So yeah they totally changed up the lead-ins and beds for 1010-WINS (which is the ubiquitous news/traffic/weather AM station here in NYC), and it is dislocating to say the least.  The old themes were frozen in time, low tech and evocative of, say, screwball comedies from a time when newsmen wore hats.  And now, the new stuff is very action-newsy — more dramatic, more jarring.  Yes, updated, but updated to circa 1980.

Who cares?  Me and the fogies on the Grey Lady's city desk.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:15 AM

May 18, 2010

texas textbooks

I am of two minds on this.  If it's slipped under your radar, the State of Texas has evolved its textbook reprogramming efforts to include ramming an amendment through the school board as its term expires, which would provide for such things as discussing "entitlements" and UN efforts to impugn U.S. sovereignty.  Not much worse than the matter of the revisions already debated and voted on, but still, it's an effort to squeeze even more under the deadline.

On the one hand, it's queasy.  I was born in a purple state, and I was raised on public education that did nothing like question hegemony or honor indigenous peoples or in any way controvert the basic "U-S-A! U-S-A!" tenor of our course materials.  Nothing remotely Zinn-like about my intellectual growth.  And yet I still arrived at this Godless commie pinko progressivism.  One anecdote is by no means a universal proof, but the idea that all you need to build a more ideological compliant citizenry is to program them better is dumbassery on the face of it.  And yet, the amount of self-deprogramming I had to do was a walk in the park compared to what a young Texan will have to do, and this sidesteps the issue of the amount of sheer ignorance that will be beaten into kids who have no interest/impetus to find out whether or not what they taught might be looked at critically.  The paradox of the cave, indeed.

On the bright side, going forward we will have the benefit of daylight.  The universities may be filled with heathen liberals, but the liberals refrain from a certain tactic: hijacking school boards on a local level and imposing state-mandating political education.  The countries that have in the past trafficked in such behavior are not countries that you want to be compared to, and now that horse is out of the barn.  The Texas School Board fanatics are doing exactly what they accused the left of doing for a generation: ushering in a political correctness.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:03 PM

vampire cowboys win obie

Congratulations to Vampire Cowboys for winning a grant from the Village Voice Obie Awards last night.  It was a lot of fun, those Obie Awards, and they felt a lot more Off-Off-Broadway than Off-Broadway — equal parts self-deprecation and self-affirmation, with an afterthought of turning-the-barn-into-a-theater.  Which is why I'm so fond of the VC, because they are turning the barn into a theater as a first instinct and not because they got sick of never getting callbacks from "Law & Order".

Plus also I'm on the board of directors now, so if I fail to congratulate them in a public fashion I might lose the rights and privileges bestowed upon me.  So I hope this constitutes a public enough fashion, now that I think of it.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:22 AM

May 17, 2010

bruce sterling on flash-trading

Weird confluence with regard to the minicrash that happened to the Stock Market a week and a half ago.  First on the commute I read this NYT piece on "speed traders" — basically, non-Wall Street firms that use technology to trade stocks, securities, etc. on a very frequent basis with the goal of making a penny here and a penny here and ending up for the day because of the sheer volume of pennies.  They do not have a portfolio per se, as they try to end the day with no holdings at all, just profit, and then start over again the next day.  The NYT gives them some ink because of speculation that the speed traders might've caused the crash by dumping their day's worth once the Dow started to nosedive.

And then over lunch I was scrolling down Bruce Sterling's blog and came to an entry from yesterday wherein he ponders the phenomenon of "flash-trading":

*But let me ask this: why do these microsecond-trading enterprises even exist?  Why is a stock market subject to this kind of reckless hacking?  It what way does this fit the purpose of a market?  Even a casino would disallow this kind of techno-"innovation".

Isn't that the best question to ask?  Markets do not exist as giant ATMs (or, worse, as rigged table games).  Aren't they supposed to be a mechanism for capital to be allocated to industry in a securitized fashion, a vehicle for both investment and business-growth?  It sure doesn't pass the common sense test, liquidity or no.  Actually, what it seems like mostly is Richard Pryor's evil scheme in "Superman III".  Which was a terrible movie, so can we regulate this now please?

Oh, and the asterisk in the pullquote?  That's just something Sterling does.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:51 PM

mick jagger on the music biz

From a BBC interview, Mick Jagger explains everything you need to know about the business of selling recorded music in the time it takes you to endorse a check:
But I have a take on that - people only made money out of records for a very, very small time.  When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn't make any money out of records because record companies wouldn't pay you!  They didn't pay anyone!

Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money.  But now that period has gone.

Basically, the music industry went through a boom period where it shared the wealth, and before and after, there was no wealth-sharing.  Think of the boom period as an accident, and the current state of skinflint labels as a return to the natural state.

Additionally, Mick Jagger is a smart guy.

[Via Boing Boing.]

Posted by mrbrent at 11:12 AM

May 16, 2010

stop it, dreams

So what was supposed to be the last couple of hours of sleep were interrupted by a particularly vivid set of lucid dreams in which I knew I was dreaming all along and the dreams persisted.  It was exhausting and not like sleep at all.

And the exact bit of dream-information that was repeated three times was that I am expecting a message from "Judy".  I know two Judys, and I'm expecting messages from neither.

I just hope that there is a little bit of spooky to this and not just my subconscious pranking me because spooky is a whole lot more fun than worrying about the Euro.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:02 PM