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July 31, 2010

samantha peale kicking dogs

My friend Samantha Peale has a piece up on The Faster Times, which piece, oddly enough, includes running.  She's writing about "parenting ethics", which is either a relative recent development in ethical philosophy or my own personal childhood was an outlier, as I remember the sole ethical precept for parents being, "Do not kill your children, either accidentally or on purpose."  But times change!  Also, when I was a kid, fun was permitted.

I digress.  Samantha is a killer (no, not that kind) parent, so listen to her:

I’m engaged in the struggle to model good behavior, to use the parlance of our neighborhood nursery school, and also set the limits.  That means keeping my road rage, ill-considered battles, and rough judgments in check.

See, she's doing the right thing while at the same time taking a shot at the neighborhood nursery school.  Plus also there's a dog and the question of kicking the dog.  All just one click away.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:02 AM

July 30, 2010

cats & dogs: the revenge of kitty galore

I really don't know how I'm going to make it through the work day, knowing that not a few blocks away is a screening of "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" that I could be watching right now.

It seems an unlikely fit for me.  "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" is clearly a movie aimed at children, and I am no child.  Also, "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" is a children's movie that is not a cartoon, and so lacks the benefit of the cartoony aspects that win children over in the first place — exaggeration, idealized depictions of motion, anthropomorphization.  In fact, just from the ad campaign I can tell that there is not anthropomorphization whatsoever.  There are real-looking cats and dogs, and there are rockets and weaponry and there is conflict.  What more could speak to a modern childhood than creepily speaking actual animals and rockets and weaponry and conflict?  How the fuck am I supposed to concentrate on important job stuff when I could be out reliving a childhood that, when I was a kid, would seem like some horrible nightmare from which you do not awake?

In fact, if "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" does not at least equal the greatness and financial success and indelible mark on the cultural landscape that "Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp" left, then I will eat something really bad for me for lunch.  (Like delicious buffalo wings?)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:42 AM

July 29, 2010

yeah, he said "oligarchs"

This news has been bouncing around in various forms since the passage of the financial reform legislation, but in this post the Fourteenth Banker lays it out nice and concise: the unintended consequence of reining in the financial services industry is that the financial services industry will work harder to soak customers.

The post is pegged to a Bloomberg story on how Wells Fargo has indicated that the costs of compliance will be passed on, which includes comment from banking analyst Richard Bove: "This bank does not intend to sit there and get nailed."  The Fourteenth Banker continues:

I think that last comment really says it all.  The bank does not intend to get nailed.  Bove captures the spirit of unconscious capitalism.  It is about who makes the most money and who gets nailed.

There is nothing in here, no hints of ways that the banks can contribute innovation and come up with new product bundles to meet the needs of consumers (citizens), who have a new austerity ethic brought on largely by uncertainties about the future and strong doubts about the safety of either their primary asset, their home, or the financial markets which provide dwindling and volatile returns.

I'd say that the behavior on exhibit from the financial services industry is a lot more in line with what competition actually means in a free-market context.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:34 PM

morning stridency

The man-in-the-giant-lizard-suit-in-the-middle-of-the-room that does not get talked about right now is the Main Street/Wall Street disconnect.  It frustrates the left, because on paper the inchoate populist yelly rabble should be anti-Wall Street and not pro-, and it frustrates the right because there fails to be unanimous agreement that whats good for Wall Street is what Main Street is having for dinner, like it or not.  And even the vasty reasonable middle is perplexed because it can't figure out whether Small Business is part of Main Street or Wall Street.

But the schism is there.  Talk to people.  Corporate profits are up, and meanwhile unemployment won't go down, and a great swath of the youngest of the Boomers are at risk of becoming permanently unemployable the longer they can't find a job.  So through the magic of statistics, it can be said that "the economy" is growing or has grown, which metric does not take into account the millions of recently unemployed and newly minted second-jobbers and the general sense of belt-tightening that does not seem to be going anywhere.

And here is a little package of graphics that illustrates the problem — namely, not only are corporate profits rebounding, but one of the factors that are effectuating this turnaround is the fact that these corporations tossed a bunch of people out of work, and then squeezed the survivors for concessions.  So not only is there a schism, there is a causal relationship, and the reason it seems that corporations grew three inches overnight is because they are standing on the necks of the people they fired.

And the prognosis, according to the author of the linked post, Derek Thompson for The Atlantic:

How do you fix this?  How do you encourage businesses to take a chance on new factories, machines, products, and people? You can hope for overseas demand to increase.  You can try to create domestic demand. Or you can stand back and hope demand self-generates in the absence of government action.  With Washington tied in a knot, it's hard to see Congress passing another stimulus measure.  Conservatives are about to get the stand-back-and-watch government they've been waiting for.

That's some pretty good bleak, right there.  In fact, I don't think there's gonna be a "class war" — that shit already happened, one side lost and doesn't even know it yet.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:12 AM

July 28, 2010

myth of competition

From a Tumblr thread, a mild argument over bank fees, and whether or not they are a problem and what to do:
There’s an easy way to solve this problem without unintended consequences.  Education.  Don’t try to regulate the system to operate the way you think it should work.  Let competition drive some banks to behave better, and educate people about how they can better manage their finances by moving to those banks.

Admirable sentiment inasmuch as it at least pretends to hope for some consumer-positive outcome.

But this is what is not admirable: the concept that "competition" will be the motivating force to cause free enterprise to be good citizens.  Respectfully, disagree: there is nothing about the organizational documents that govern a business entity, and nothing about the laws that govern such organizational documents, that speak to the good citizenship of such entity.  It's sole motivating principle is profit.  That's it.  No love of country, no fear of incarceration, no peer group guilt, just increasing shareholder value.

So on paper, what happens is that the entity somehow comes to the realization that good citizenship will somehow be more profitable, as consumers all rush to leave the bad citizen companies.  But sadly, the question unasked in this construction is, "Are the profit margins of bad citizenship larger than the profit margins of increased good citizen market share?"  I don't know if the answer to that question is always yes, but it is certainly never not yes.

Which is why the free market needs rules and oversight.  This is obviously a longer conversation nutshelled, but think about it: has the free market ("competition") inspired more bad behavior or good behavior from these extra-human corporate persons?

Posted by mrbrent at 1:55 PM

the three chords of the dead kennedys

From a restaurant review of a new Brooklyn joint I'd like to try:
Ingredients are repeated.  So are seasonings.  So what?  The Dead Kennedys never needed more than three chords.

A punk rock reference, insouciance — why, that could very well be the voice of Sam Sifton.  But for the fact that Sifton would not get it wrong.  The DKs had more than three chords, just because they were punk doesn't mean that they were repetitive.  There are two common acceptable "three chords" referents: the Ramones, and Bono's added lyrics to "All Along The Watchtower".

Yes, I'm nitpicking, but flubs like that make all the rest of us look bad.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:13 AM

July 27, 2010

too many acronyms

I'm all for legislation.  I love legislation.  I'm a child of the 70s, so, it's just a bill on Capitol Hill, etc. etc.  In fact without exaggerating I can say that legislation is how things get done.

At the same time, perhaps our congressmen and women should stop contorting themselves into pretzels over coming up with catchy acronyms?  Take this one — a good bill, but named the SPEECH Act.  What's it stand for?  The "Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage".  It's an anti-libel-tourism provision, but you'd never know if you committed yourself to parsing the title.  And then there's this bad bill (not passed, like SPEECH).  It's called REINS, and it stands for "Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny".  Oof.

I know we voters aren't too smart, but I think the ones that are dumb enough to need an acronym to understand the effect of a bill are too dumb to care about it in the first place.  The Constitution?  It contains no acronyms, and "CONSTITUTION" doesn't stand for anything nifty.  It's just a noun.  Also the Bill of Rights, and the next seventeen amendments.

This is just a suggestion, of course.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:18 AM

good morning 7.27.10

Remember a week ago when the Washington Post finally ran the story they'd been working on for two years that everyone agreed was going to change things forever?  Wait, you don't remember?  That's because things got changed forever three subsequent times since then.  This is the jumpiest news "narrative" I've seen in years, and I won't be shocked if something else happens today that pushes all the WashPo/Breitbart/WikiLeaks stories further down below the fold.

That's what I'm thinking about.  Brooklyn was very beautiful this morning, though, I gotta say.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:21 AM

July 26, 2010

jean shepherd, hearing voices

There are two good things about having a little dog wake you up at six each morning and insist on being walked.

The first is that, during a heat wave, it's about the only time of the day tolerable for both the little dog and the little dog-walker.

The second is that you luck into some pretty excellent radio with your clunky AM/FM headphones that must look a fright.  Like yesterday morning, when I caught pretty much the entirety of this episode of Hearing Voices, a look at Jean Shepherd hosted by Harry Shearer.  You'll know Shepherd as the source of "A Christmas Story", but he was primarily a radio broadcast personality, working the graveyard, filling the airwaves with stories.  Halfway through, the episode excerpts Shepherd's show the day after he got back from DC from marching, watching Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.  It is colossal.

Those are the only two good things about having a little dog wake you up at six in the morning.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:43 PM

more hamburger helper

As a follow-up on the Hamburger Helper piece on The Awl, I received an email that contained an interesting bit of hearsay:
About three years ago I knew a General Mills employee here in Minneapolis. I asked them what they were working on lately, and they related that since the price of wheat was skyrocketing--or maybe just rising, I am not trying to embellish--GM was trying to figure out how they could swap out the wheat in some products for inexpensive nonwheat....what? fillers? I can't remember. But apparently there are legal ramifications to diluting the wheatiness of your product with nonwheat stuff--maybe just labeling-related, but still-- that is what he was working on. I have zero idea what products were involved but I thought this third hand piece of gossip might be interesting to you.

Yes, that is indeed interesting to me, and I guess it wouldn't be a shock were it to be true.

I didn't really get into it in the piece, but I wasn't trying to imply that General Mills was bad for the changes that have happened to their product.  First of all, they are a company and not a family member making food for you.  Their business is to make things as cheaply as possible and sell them to you for as much as you will pay for it.  It would make perfect sense to swap out wheat products in the interest of the bottom line (if they could get away with it).  To get angry over that would be like getting angry at a dog for barking.

Is it sad?  Well yes it's sad.  Try eating a tomato that you get at a good farm stand, one of those ugly ones that aren't perfectly round, and then compare the taste to a supermarket tomato.  Things change.  Tomatoes have been engineered into blandness because it increases their ability to stand being shipped and their shelf life.  The fact that they don't taste like tomatoes anymore is just the depressing result of the free market.  Or, "modern life" or "sentimentality".

And also, as far as GM goes, I gave the ingredients list on the box a good state, looking for a smoking gun that I could put in the piece, and I have to say that they've done a great job of keeping the chemical names out of it.  Actual vegetables are listed, and actual spices.  Now, is there some USDA standard that says the minimal state an onion has to be in for a company to put "onion" in the ingredients list?  I'm pretty sure there is, and I'm pretty sure the onion put into HH no more resembles an onion than I do William Powell.

But mostly: thanks for reading, thanks for writing.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:09 PM

yeah, i said "ack"

You know, probably the biggest reason that I didn't want to be a journalist, a newspaperman, back when I was younger because it seemed like a good idea and can you ever get tired of watching "The Front Page"?  But I thought about it, kind of projecting myself into the future, and decided that it would be a bad career choice because, no matter how good I got at it, even if I rose to the heights of the industry, no one would ever let me write a feature on Abdullah the Butcher.

So then I decided to pursue theater.  "Easier to meet girls," I thought.  Ack.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:23 AM