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July 10, 2010

hamburger helper

Well now I wrote this little essay and The Awl was nice enough to publish it.

A big difference about writing stuff for this site and writing for other people's sites is that when you write for other people's sites, you get an "editor".  I'd heard stories about editors and always wondered why such a duplication of effort?  I was wrong, and, come to find out, I like having an editor.  For example, the title — which is "Hamburger Helper and the Entropic Degradation of All Things" — editor wrote that.  And it rocks.  So thank you, editor.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:32 AM

July 9, 2010

glenn beck's civil rights movement

Glenn Beck bla bla bla Glenn Beck.  He's odious.  This is not a revelation.  But, in promoting his upcoming Enrich-Glenn-Beck event on the steps of the Lincoln Monument, he actually goes above and beyond, even for Glenn Beck:
This is a moment quite honestly, that I think we reclaim the civil rights movement.

Two possibilities.  The first is that Beck actually thinks that the civil rights movement was at some point stolen from people like Glenn Beck.  (And by that I don't mean from gasbag millionaire demagogues, but rather people that find some appeal in gasbag millionaire demagogues.)  If this belief is in fact held, that raises some questions, like, "What the fuck?"  I might have not read the right books, but I don't recall any movement of white people taking to the streets for equal protection under the law, for the end of discrimination against white people, for the de facto slavery of the segregation of white people to be lifted so that they are judged not by the color of their white people skin but by the content of their white people characters.  No memory of that at all.  I guess the other question would be, "Reclaim from whom?"  Because I'm not sure who else one would reclaim the civil rights movement from other than the people that perpetrated the civil rights movement.  And if that is the case, how far away from burning crosses while wearing a pillowcase on your head is that?

And the second more likely possibility is that Beck's brain can't quite keep up with his mouth, and sometimes shit comes out that makes great broadcasting but terrible thinking.

Admittedly, the first possibility is more interesting, and passes the smell test, just in the sense of entitlement possessed by fans of Beck that is as inchoate as their rage.  But, seriously?  Wouldn't that be on the list of beliefs that would constitute news if avowed?

Posted by mrbrent at 3:03 PM

david brooks can't figure this darned thing out

When writing about a David Brooks column, reactions fall into two camps.  The first, and admittedly more fun, is the Outrage! as Brooks takes a political situation and refracts it through a broken prism of moderation and finds a very simple answer that he wishes the powers-that-be would apply.  The columns that provoke this are frequently in the form of a parable, and the load-bearing wall of them is the infallibility of David Brooks.  The second reaction, distinct and just as lovable as the first, is astonishment that a man paid to write opinion columns for a living can so often fail to escape the gravitational pull of his own navel.

And today is a day for the latter, as Brooks files a column concerning how reading a book is different from surfing the Internet.  The column might as well start with, "There are many differences between reading a book and surfing the Internet," but he manages to avoid that pitfall.  He nominally pegs the whole thing to some book that some dude wrote, and he tosses in the obligatory results of studies that contribute the he said/she said aspect, but ultimately the piece is more about David Brooks' complicated relationship with the Internet/confusion than it is anything else:

A citizen of the Internet has a very different experience.  The Internet smashes hierarchy and is not marked by deference.  Maybe it would be different if it had been invented in Victorian England, but Internet culture is set in contemporary America.  Internet culture is egalitarian. The young are more accomplished than the old.  The new media is supposedly savvier than the old media.  The dominant activity is free-wheeling, disrespectful, antiauthority disputation.

Not only a hilarious stumbling around in the dark, but Brooks walks smack into Steampunk and mistakes it for a Better, Brooksian Internet.  All of which leaves me feeling like that's a little more than I want to know about David Brooks (again).  But on behalf of everyone else churning out another post about David Brooks, I'd like to thank him: keep makin' the good pablum.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:32 AM


Not on purpose, but I did catch the biggest hour of television on the World-Wide Leader in sports at an after-party for a book reading, which means that allowed to have an opinion on it.  Which is as follows:

Never has so much celebrity capital, so much good will, been squandered so quickly and effectively.  James' gang of advisors may not be the people you'd want to engineer the ascendancy of the most beloved man in the world, but if you are looking to release metric shit-tons of respect and admiration out of the hearts of children and back into the wild, like NOW, then these are your guys.

In other news, the "B" in "LeBron" is capitalized!  I always find things like this out at the most awkward times.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:03 AM

July 8, 2010

roger simon on michael steele

Roger Simon's column on Michael Steele's presidential prospects is the most ridiculous thing I've read in weeks:
His comments since assuming the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee have been weird, his actions crazy and his behavior indefensible.  Which leads me to believe he is preparing a run for president.

This would be a sensible lede if the column were a piece on the colossal weirdness of presidential campaigns, or the bad sit-com that national politics has become.  But it's not.  It's an argument that, despite the fact that Michael Steele is Michael Steele, it just might happen.

The reasons that this is absurd are legion — Steele is barely tolerated by both the GOP establishment and the tea-drinking GOP fringes, Steele's resume consists mostly of failed candidacies and ethics investigations, Steele reflexively hides behind the "race card", Steele is a clowny-clown-ass, etc.   But columnists are not here to serve a news function — they are here to analyze and suppose.  This column, however, has all the analytical prescience of a hypothetical column that could be titled: "Lebron To The Yankees?  Not So Crazy?"

Roger Simon plainly couldn't find a nip-slip to write about.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:17 PM

j. christian adams

This story is pretty low on the radar, and rightfully so — one of the Bush Administration sleeper agents embedded in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, having left his employment, is alleging that the DoJ is refusing to fully prosecute vote-intimidating Black Panthers.  Or, as phrased by the New York Times:
A former Justice Department lawyer hired during the Bush administration alleged on Tuesday that the department scaled down a voter-intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party last year because his former colleagues do not want to protect white people’s civil rights.

Keeping in mind the NYT's standards and practices, the reference to "white people's civil rights" is glaring, a bit of reporting and not conjecture.

TPM provides the context of this fellow, by the name of J. Christian Adams.  Namely, he was a hire of a tainted division that not even subtly abandoned vote suppression cases.  That's bad, but it's par for the course, to not only not shy away from wrong-doing but to accuse ideological opponents of the very same sin you are guilty of, just with the politics reversed.  It's farcical and it's galling.

But on top of that, no matter what year it is and no matter how many co-eds are enrolled in Glenn Beck U, the concept of "white people's civil rights" is odious.  It may or may not be overt racism, but its unctuous false equivalency and its cynical assertion that protections accorded to minorities must be also be applied to the already privileged majority has the stink of "See how you like it" and really shouldn't be brought up by adults in public unless they want to be called racist to their faces.  (BTW, J. Christian Adams, Esq. is an adult.)

If the GOP wants to run on the plank that white people can't catch a break then that's their decision, but I'm not sure if that's gonna affect the tenor of political speech in a happy fun way.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:35 AM

wye oak

If you are looking for a new morning ritual, I suggest this: at whatever point in the morning you power up the computing machine, before you make your electronic rounds, play this song at least twice very loud.  It's "Emmylou" by Wye Oak, and I like it more than I like coffee.

It's on Youtube, but it's not really a video — it's a rip of an mp3 to flv format.  But the audio still works!  It's off an EP called "My Neighbor/My Creator" from Merge Records, which is a particularly tasty label.

But it's 2010 and nobody buys anything anymore, so play the fuck out of the Youtube bit, if you are so inclined.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:05 AM

July 7, 2010

pt cruiser: down

I hadn't heard this:
On Friday, Chrysler will stop making the PT Cruiser, after 10 years and 1.3 million cars sold.  In a decade when obese SUVs were luring drivers away from indistinguishable efficiency-optimized jellybean-shaped sedans, the PT Cruiser's flared fenders and old-fashioned giant grille allowed automobile buyers to get an affordable and practical vehicle that still seemed a little showy and weird.

And I agree with the author, Tom Scocca, that PT Cruisers were showy and weird, and I wanted one very badly.  A friend's dad has one and it's practical as hell, for hauling family, antiques and stage properties alike.  In a decade of curious facial hair and ironic hats, what made more sense than a retro-future conversation piece for an automobile.  I will miss them.

On the other hand, considering the average age of the used vehicles I purchase, I'm not out of the market yet.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:05 PM

heat wave

For the record, I propose that anyone that lives/works on a 23 square mile island that is more than ninety percent concrete and steel waives their right to complain during a heat wave.  You are standing in an Easy Bake oven: yes, it is hot.  The city is a heat sponge, and it takes nearly all night for it to emit all the radiant heat it absorbs.  Not that it doesn't get real hot in places where all the trees and the shrubs remain in a pristine state.  It does.  But Monster Island here is +5 as far as the sweltering goes.

And incidentally, this current heat wave doesn't feel as heat-wavey as other heat waves of the past.  Two years ago, when tornadoes hit Brooklyn?  Going outside after that felt like getting hit with a boiling mop.  And there was a very choice heat wave about eight years ago which was absolutely unbearable and then broke not fifteen minutes after the firewords on the Fourth.  Yesterday?  It was hot, and uncomfortable.  Or maybe I'm just not as good at whining as I was.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:40 AM

July 6, 2010

doj gets sorta serious

In case you're wondering just how the Department of Justice is combating the electronic file-sharing problem that threatens America and its innocent children and puppy dogs, I have an answer: it is seizing URLs of offending sites.

It is very ominous looking, but it's the functional equivalent of finding an individual probably guilty of some crime and then seizing his or her shoes.  Having one's shoes swiped is a total drag, but without any provision preventing the perp from buying more shoes, it is only a minor annoyance.

So I guess its so much for America, huh?  If the Department of Justice can't devote its full resources to preventing people from down-loading a copy of "Avatar", how exactly is it that any of us are safe from brigands and frotteurs?

Side note: do you think the DoJ is also picking up the film/music industry's dry cleaning?

Posted by mrbrent at 8:48 AM

good morning 7.6.10

I'm back in business, behind the desk, after a very nice visit to the family that makes me wonder why I don't do it more often.  If there was some kind of news that occurred that wasn't the World Cup or MLB over the holiday weekend, I haven't caught up to it yet, and I hope to God it's not very interesting.

On driving: I'm not that old, but I do remember a time when the default number of lanes for an Interstate was two, and yet somehow we all managed.  Yesterday I hit ghost traffic jam after ghost traffic jam, as modern Americans cannot figure out how to make all those cars fit into only two lanes without coming to a complete stop.  I don't think we're becoming dumber — now we make robots! — but I do have a theory: average family vehicle being driven by average mom or dad, sets the cruise control at a healthy three miles an hour over the speed limit and does not deviate from it whether they are in the passing lane or not.  Small brakelight incidents blossom into traffic turbulence which culminates in total stoppage.  The culprit: poor community thinking plus technology.

(Was Singles a movie I liked?  Yes it was.)

Well, happy heat wave, and let's keep it between the yellow lines.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:24 AM