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December 4, 2010

offense intended

Here's a freakonomic facile realization of the day: why are there so many mother/baby combos in the bars these days?

Because of the smoking ban.

Thank you!  Please email all book contracts c/o this site.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:36 PM

December 3, 2010

close the washington monument

I stumbled across this by reading a copy of the New York Daily News that I picked up when I didn't have enough change for the NYT nor time to hit the ATM.  Yes, I am going out of my way defending my reading habits.  Still waiting for the day when all the dailies are delivered to me so that I may survey the entirety of the newsholes.

Anyhoo, it's an essay from Bruce Schneier, who I've linked many times before because he is a security expert who coined the phrase "terrorist scuba divers armed with almanacs", and as usual it is absolutely worth the read.  His suggested solution to a number of problems?  Shut down the Washington Monument:

The empty monument would symbolize our war on the unexpected, -- our overreaction to anything different or unusual -- our harassment of photographers, and our probing of airline passengers. It would symbolize our "show me your papers" society, rife with ID checks and security cameras.  As long as we're willing to sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety, we should keep the Washington Monument empty.

This is the second or third iteration of the Modest Proposal that I can remember in the past fourteen days, which means that things out there are getting Swiftian bad.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:37 AM

david brooks can't quit paul ryan

Instead of another couple hundred words about how the best of David Brooks columns (like today's)are self-fanfic concerning the greatest president of them all, President David Brooks, let's just quote him out of context and roll around on the floor laughing:
On Thursday, I debated Paul Ryan at the American Enterprise Institute on the proper role of government.  Ryan is the incoming House Budget Committee chairman and one of the most intellectually formidable members of Congress.

First, I know that Ryan is America's sweetheart and gets all kinds of credit because he is the only House Republican that actually suggests an actual budget, his suggested budget was just a bunch of pages ripped from "Atlas Shrugged" with some random numbers jotted on them.  I'm not saying Ryan is actually dumb &mdash like Michelle Bachmann — but if he's intellectually formidable then I'm a small forward for the Boston Celtics.

And second, I realize that this clash of wits took place at the American Enterprise Institute so it's not exactly going to be Keynes vs. Freidman, but what exactly are David Brooks and Rep. Paul Ryan going to debate?  How beige is beige?

I've decided that if I limit my diet of Brooks to Fridays only, it'll be an important first step — remember, swimsuit season is only six months away.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:13 AM

December 2, 2010

banks, from the outside

So I wrote this thing for The Awl about ATM fees.  I should say here, where there is more (!) space, that the standard disclaimer applies: I do not have any post-high school education in economics and/or business, so I'm not pretending to be perched high atop academia in any of my thoughts on the matter.  But I do know a hawk from a handsaw and have had more than one bank account in my lifetime, so, you know, it is what it is.  This is not by way of apology, but more in case anyone accuses me of writing about things I don't know anything about (like capitalism).  Sorry, that's what writers do.

And the comments on the piece, recommending banking locally?  I am totally down with that and wish I would, but for years I did only too have each community bank get swallowed up by a larger bank and ultimately WAMU or some such.  So I'm sticking with ubiquitous now (Chase), and I'm actually happy with the services they provide.  Were I a better person, who lived in a better place, I'd be right there with Abe Sauer, who recommends this site for the purpose of reinvesting your bank account.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:09 AM

December 1, 2010

gop: the millionaire tax cut party

I know that this is more difficult than it looks, but with today's news that Senate Republicans are threatening to filibuster everything until the Bush tax cuts are renewed (for everyone), the only possible "narrative" is this:

Senate Republicans will hold the entire concept of governance hostage until millionaires get a tax cut.

I forget which plank of whatever serves as the Tea Party All-Caps Manifesto that is, but, dudes, surf's up!  All those hours of #tcot tweets and screaming down town meetings have finally paid off!  Hopefully the nation's grateful millionaires will give you at least four or five more jobs as greeters at Walmart.

(See also this.)

Posted by mrbrent at 2:04 PM

confidentiality!

Obsessive discussion of the Wikileaks leaks continues, as posterboy Julian Assange hints that the next unauthorized disclosure will be the files one of the very large banks that owns everything it can see.  "Data bomb" is how each of these little events is being described now, where some secret information is set free just to see if it comes back to us, proving its reciprocal love.  And the financial services industry, specifically banks — well, I'm sure that upstanding citizens will rush to the letters-to-the-editor page to demonstrate their disapproval of the unfair injury done to such a fine and vital institution as a bank, whose shepherding of our very economy is worth every reward.

HHOK, of course, except that the prospect leaves at least one leading light of the left feeling a bit queasy: "And yet, just like governments, big corporations have both a legitimate need for confidential deliberations," he wonders to himself.  Which luckily for me prompts Moe Tkacik to explain why in fact liberals can feel perfectly OK with the upcoming piercing of the corporate deliberative veil.  Sadly, to do justice with a quote would be to repost the entire thing, so I encourage clicking.

And further to her excellent explanation (invoking oligarchy), I would add that confidentiality is not exactly a natural law.  If a corporation asserts confidentiality on its own behalf, are we to shrug and cower and complain that there's nothing we can do, now.  This is not a game of freeze tag.  And even if we all agree in some inviolable confidentiality, accidents happen, whether with criminal intent or not.  If you — a diplomat, a CEO — have a thought that you never want to see the light of day, then do not put it in writing.  Or, from the other angle, the felonious breach of your confidentiality is no excuse for the wrongdoings revealed.

And further further: I am still having fun with this whole thing.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:46 AM

November 30, 2010

wiki-false flag

And as long as we're briefly discussing the Wikileaks leaks that are currently devouring the newshole, keep this in mind as a little mental exercise: how many of these diplomatic cables are in fact falsified for the purposes of counter-intelligence?

This is not just a "trust no one" exercise — this is based on the thoughts of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who's kind of been there and done that:

And I wonder whether, in fact, there aren't some operations internationally, intelligence services, that are feeding stuff to WikiLeaks, because it is a unique opportunity to embarrass us, to embarrass our position, but also to undermine our relations with particular governments.

Or even, I guess, non-U.S. counter-intel.  Hey, I guess I do trust no one!

Posted by mrbrent at 12:16 PM

general wikileaks thoughts

General Wikileaks thoughts!

First, outside of the hoopla over whether or not these cables should be released, how fun is this?  We are two generations deep in this "insider" culture, where box office projections means more than a review and rotisserie leagues have peopled our nation with little tiny experts, so what could be more √† propos than a total ripping of the veil of international diplomacy?  Now instead of rereadings of le Carr√© novels we can roast in the muted light of our iPads.  This should be a surprise to no one.  If Assange hadn't gotten around to it, it would've been John Stossel or Rick Santelli some other rabble-rouser of negligible value.

Second, so far, nothing has come out that is exactly going to break the world in two like an angry dead god.  There's been some fun gossip and some interesting states-of-play that wouldn't be out of place in Foreign Affairs.  Otherwise?  It's more like Mom stumbled upon the US State Department's porn stash than anything else — a mild embarrassment quickly forgotten.  The only nation thin-skinned enough to give two whits about any of this is North Korea, which is already knee deep in crazy, thanks.

Lastly, on whether these cables should have been set free in the world, I defer to David Brooks, who says that it's easy to figure out if you look at if from the perspective of order versus chaos.  And here I was trapped in a stale paradigm of good vs. evil!

No, really: order vs. chaos.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:38 AM

November 29, 2010

happy cyber monday

I am going to celebrate this Cyber Monday the same way I celebrated Black Friday three days ago: by staying well out of it.

Just like I did not step foot in a mall, I am keeping the expletive off the Internet.  I just do not like crowds.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:14 AM

November 28, 2010

talking about wealth concentration

Buried in a post from Matt Langer about deeper issues concerning the kudzu-like growth of the amount of capital tied up in hedge funds is this paragraph:
And what made it so curious for me, I guess, was the fact that we spend a lot of time in this country talking about wealth concentration, about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, and about how the national share of after-tax income of the top 1% of earners has doubled over the last four decades from 7% to an absolutely staggering 14% of total income among all US households.

Actually, would that we spend a lot of time in this country talking about wealth concentration.

But, in the sense that Free Marketeers warn that stirring up a class war is irresponsible: um, sorry, the class war is already happening.  It's almost over.  And it's not much of a war, to be honest.

(Please read the rest of Langer's post, as it is very decent.)

Posted by mrbrent at 2:54 PM