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September 10, 2010

attention economy

For those of you who don't already have Warren Ellis in your feed, yesterday he ran a little burst of what-he's-thinking-about:
The truth is that working the attention economy is hard in 2010 because there is so much noise and so many things vying for your attention.  I actually feel a glimmer of pride because I’ve gotten my Google Reader down to under 600 unread items for the first time in six months. I think of it as the Manfred Macx problems, from Charlie Stross’ ACCELERANDO – Macx had to absorb a megabyte of text and a few gigs of AV a day just to stay current.  This is why the web is still rammed with curatorial sites, from BoingBoing on down.

I work indirectly in the attention economy in the job that keeps me in rent (and that I honestly don't mind much at all) and directly in the things that I do when I'm not on the clock.  About the only thing that I do that doesn't intersect so much is the odd theater gig, and even that I feel is going to have to integrate with the attention economy if it wants to survive.

So basically that excerpt pretty much sums up all the Big Things I've been thinking/writing about for the past half year.  I mean, it's a thumbnail, so I'm not exactly shaking my fist and throwing out six months' work.  But yes, that thing.

I guess what I mean to say is what Ellis wrote, that's Where We Are Now.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:58 AM

the wacky economic history of david brooks

If you would have read David Brooks' latest vanilla stab at immortality, these are the three things you would have learned about the causes of the current state of our American economy:

One, smart people entering non-business fields has gummed up our economic engine.  Specifically, he cites "less productive fields like law, finance, consulting and non-profit activism," so if we are looking for who to blame, it is the lawyers, bankers, lobbyists and, um, community organizers.

Two, the reason that our manufacturing base eroded because of the middle class and their finicky shopping habits.  You see, as our middle class "tried to build lifestyles that fit their station, consumption and debt levels soared," and as you know, the last thing a robust manufacturing sector needs is soaring consumption.

Three, the American underclass is under-parented, poorly schooled, and only worth about fifty words.  (This is of course the least controversial of these fictions because, well, it's just poor people we're talking about.)

I used to think that David Brooks was well-intended but just coming from a different perspective — like maybe he's got a secret but shameful crush on Ayn Rand or something.  But I fear that beneath his warmed-milk-before-bedtime facade lurks an actually crazy person willing to misstate history for some political purpose.

Which, on the good side, would maybe stop everyone from talking about how lukewarm he is.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:20 AM

September 9, 2010

terry jones

Just realized that I haven't written anything about that dimestore preacher in Florida who wants to burn-Koran his way to fame and fortune.  So here:

Dude's a twenty-four karat douchebag, and equally embarrassing to the faithful and the other douchebags who just want to hate Muslims in peace.  And whose fault?  Every scumbag who tried to score political points off the Cordoba House.  It's a terrible thing that it's about to happen — i.e., people will die if it does — but in the final reckoning the law of unintended consequences holds, and the douchebags deserve each other whether they like it or not.

Remember: there can be only one.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:49 AM

crazy for breakfast

Since you've already probably read and enjoyed (who doesn't enjoy Gail other than evildoers?) this morning's Gail Collins op-ed on what she calls the "crazy 5%", let me enrich your reading experience by calling your attention to a similar concept put forward by John Rogers nearly five years ago — the Crazification Factor:
Obama vs. Alan Keyes.  Keyes was from out of state, so you can eliminate any established political base; both candidates were black, so you can factor out racism; and Keyes was plainly, obviously, completely crazy.  Batshit crazy.  Head-trauma crazy.  But 27% of the population of Illinois voted for him.  They put party identification, personal prejudice, whatever ahead of rational judgment.  Hell, even like 5% of Democrats voted for him.  That's crazy behaviour.  I think you have to assume a 27% Crazification Factor in any population.

Now there seems to be a discrepancy.  Collins' crazy five percent is a much lower figure than the 27% Crazification Factor, but I think that the discrete difference between DSM-VI crazy and merely crazified explains the looseness in the metrics.  And oddly, if I had to think about it, I think that we've gone well beyond 27% in the intervening years.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:05 AM

September 8, 2010

moscow! heat! swimming!

Deep within this otherwise sober contemplation of the possible effects of extreme weather as effectuated by climate change walks a writer with a deep sense of humor concerning the Russians:
Moscow, suffering from a once-in-a-millennium heat wave, tallied thousands of deaths, a toll that included hundreds of inebriated, overheated citizens who stumbled into rivers and lakes and didn’t come out.

Now, that's true and all (the online version has a link proving so, while the paper edition, of course, did not), but that sentence comes awful early in the piece, so you really get distracted for a second, wondering if this is going to be an op-ed on climate change or whether Russians swimming abilities are more affected by heat or vodka.  And when you find out that it's the former and not the latter, you are suddenly less likely to finish the piece (unless, like me, you read to the end to see if there is more about why lakes and rivers in Russia are put in places easily walked into).

Posted by mrbrent at 10:49 AM

superchunk: recommend!

So yesterday I spent the day (while doing all the things that needed to be done) listening to the streaming preview of Superchunk's new album, "Majesty Shredding".  At least six times?

And now here it is the next day and I believe that I'll spend a goodly portion of this day as well streaming that fucker.  It's a nostalgic sound, but it's crisp and it hasn't changed in embarrassing ways.  In fact, it's pretty unrelentingly Superchunk, a whole lot less tentative than the past two albums (from all those years ago).  NPR, who is hosting the stream, describes it as "fist-pumping rock" and you cringe, in the same way that someone who is 60 years old now cringed in 1971 when their dad said something was "cool".  But I'm sitting here, churning out high-quality dayjob materials, and there is actually some notional fist I am pumping.

You can pre-order the album from Merge Records.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:23 AM

September 7, 2010

david brooks fanfiction

Hey, visitor who clicked this site looking for "David Brooks fanfiction":


But I hope you enjoyed your probably brief stay.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:40 AM

September 6, 2010

fdr's timely but old words

Have some Labor Day!  As is bouncing around Tumblr, sizeable portions of the Labor Day Address of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from 1936, well worth five minutes of your time in between the BBQ and the packing away of your summer whites:
There are those who fail to read both the signs of the times and American history.  They would try to refuse the worker any effective power to bargain collectively, to earn a decent livelihood and to acquire security.  It is those short-sighted ones, not labor, who threaten this country with that class dissension which in other countries has led to dictatorship and the establishment of fear and hatred as the dominant emotions in human life.

All American workers, brain workers and manual workers alike, and all the rest of us whose well-being depends on theirs, know that our needs are one in building an orderly economic democracy in which all can profit and in which all can be secure from the kind of faulty economic direction which brought us to the brink of common ruin seven years ago.

Delete "seven" and insert "two" and it's like something the ghost of FDR wrote for right freakin' now and not something from the archives.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:18 PM

bill spaceman lee back in the saddle

Need a hero?  I nominate Bill "Spaceman" Lee, 63 year old ex-Big League pitcher who just got the win in an independent league game yesterday, with a respectable two runs over five and a third frames.

If you're a baseball fan you're familiar with the Spaceman, and if you're not, look him up.  He was a genuine "character" over his decade and change in the Bigs, and has remained so since, making bats in Vermont and barnstorming as an ambassador for the game (as opposed to for MLB).  He was an early and vocal proponent for both free agency and marijuana, which he said protected him from traffic exhaust as he would jog to Olympic Stadium in Montreal before games.  And he has given a thought or two to philosophy:

I think about the cosmic snowball theory.  A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull.  The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space.  When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.

It would not be so bad a thing to be Bill Lee.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:37 AM

September 5, 2010

stieg larsson did not like big finance

So I did finish that book about the Swedish Girl Polymath and Her Tattoos, and I have to say that I was very impressed with how not-bad it is.  I'm still seeing three of four copies being read on the subway everyday, so the Stieg-Larrson genre is alive and well, if not already ubiquitous.  It is a little surprising, though — it is not a page-turner in the classic American sense.  The plot is not so much propelled as it is tugged gently along, and the novel itself is much more clinical than it is cinematic.  It is an odd duck, but I liked it.

And not to spoil anything, but the protagonist (or one of the protagonists, I guess), is a financial reporter, which is an unlikely archetype for a hero to anyone but me, who for some reason keeps getting strangely drawn to financial reporters.  There is a lot of dry prose concerning financial issues — how the sausage gets made, as it were — which culminates with a nice bit of a speech from the financial reporter concerning the difference between the stock market and the economy and how the interests of the markets and finance in general are not necessarily aligned with the interests of the good people of Sweden.  Well, it's set in Sweden, so let's say the the interests of all the friends and neighbors.

So basically it's anti-21st century free market capitalism.  Please read more Stieg Larsson, America.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:46 AM