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January 29, 2011

snow drift ate my phone

So a snow drift ate my phone.  Happens to the best of us, I guess.  Actually I remember fifteen years ago (when was the last time we got this much snow, I think) running and jumping and bouncing off of snow drifts as big as we were on North Eighth Street and getting home and realizing that the price for such fun was my housekeys.  No fun this time, just a slip, pop-up and oh, I'm fine, thanks.  Because I was fine, just unwittingly without the cell phone that flew out of my breast pocket.

And my secret shame is that, for the past two days that I've been phone-less have been two of the greatest days of my life, as far as my relationship to phones goes.  Dunno why but the little sucker makes me anxious.  It has it's uses, mostly for calling out.  Texting can be fun, though I'm definitely slow on the draw.  But I mostly use it as a telephone, and not having the feeling that robocallers are staring over my shoulder, that there's an unwanted call right around the corner, laying in wait, is a no fun feeling and I do not miss it at all.

Having said that, obviously I need to get a new phone.  Sad face.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:57 AM

January 28, 2011

more egypt circumspection

Naturally after a night's sleep I have some further thoughts/clarifications on the immediately subsequent post, concerning Egypt and the Middle East in general and digital righteousness.

As far as the point about criticism of VP Biden being unfair or naive, this morning Cory Doctorow posted on his Boing Boing that "Joe Biden says Mubarak isn't a dictator, questions legitimacy of protesters' demands."  This is technically true, but it's a very thin technicality.  The post includes the actual words of Biden:

Asked if he would characterize Mubarak as a dictator Biden responded: "Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he's been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with - with Israel. ... I would not refer to him as a dictator..."

Biden urged non-violence from both protesters and the government and said: "We're encouraging the protesters to - as they assemble, do it peacefully. And we're encouraging the government to act responsibly and - and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out." He also said: "I think that what we should continue to do is to encourage reasonable... accommodation and discussion to try to resolve peacefully and amicably the concerns and claims made by those who have taken to the street. And those that are legitimate should be responded to because the economic well-being and the stability of Egypt rests upon that middle class buying into the future of Egypt."

I'm sorry, but the tone of the words of the vice president do not match the tone implied by Doctorow's description — just as easily (or just as tenuously, rather) they could be accurately described as, "Biden reluctant to label troublesome-but-important ally dictator, encourages support of the protesters."

It seems like I'm quimbling, but what is Biden supposed to do?  Picket the Egyptian embassy?  He's the Vice President of the United States, and he already has a reputation for being a loose cannon.  Is he supposed to confide to the Christian Science Monitor, "You know, between you and me, Hosni's always been a pissant little son of a bitch."

(It goes without saying that I am an admirer of Doctorow and many of the people jumping on Biden, and I remain so.)

And why am I not being swept up into the fervor?  The world is changing, man, right in front of our fingertips!  And since it's social-media fueled, we helped!

I feel like the interest and support for this world event is not because of freedom or self-determination, but because of the weird appeal of the technology it's being viewed by.  Maybe it is the participatory feeling, the idea that by altering my username or profile location I can help change the course of human history?  I'm not sure.  But I am cynical at first, and passing reluctant.

Also there's something very patronizing about a bunch of tech-savvy Western liberals playing geopolitics like it was a video game.  Oof, that's a pretty big puddle to step in, isn't it?  Let's digest that.

Do I support the protesters?  From what I know of them, yes.  I still feel that the isolated fact of a populace taking the streets against their government is not an automatic qualification for my support.  And the fact that the chain of popular uprising seems to be focused exclusively on US allies in the region is not comforting.  I'd rather our allies not be dictatorships, but I'd also not want to run out of allies.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:51 AM

January 27, 2011


My gosh, but it's not parades that everyone loves anymore, is it?

And now that everyone can personalize their relationship with domestic events in foreign lands with social media, the smugness is noticeable.  It started with Iran last year &mdash" "we must stand with our brothers and sisters!"  I'm down with that, in theory, but at the same time I'm leery to assert that what I want to happen in some country in which I do not live is what should happen.  I don't live there.  I don't know.  And while the wisdom of crowds is a neato concept when applied out of context, the wisdom of mobs is not a universal truth.  I know little about daily life in Egypt, and while the crowd seem like nice people looking for more liberty, they also might be looking for free Internet and better chicken restaurants.  I don't know.  I'm mostly hoping for an outcome in which the least amount of people get killed, to be honest.

For example, there is presently some chaff on Twitter about how the president and vice president will not denounce President Mubarak of Egypt.  Thing is, the Mubarak government is our ally, and while apparently bad enough to fill the streets with protesters, what we call a "strategic partner" in a region we call a "powder keg".  So if the president and the vice president are thinking to themselves, "Oh goodie," at the thought of a Mubarak ouster, they don't get to say it out loud until the deal is done.  (And further, they are probably keeping an eye on Twitter and putting a ribbon on their profile pics, but instead being briefed by serious people about what to do when what happens next happens.)  VP Biden refused to call Mubarak a dictator because he is still our ally, and we do not and never have chosen our allies based on who is or is not a dictator.

I'm not advocating for an online isolationism.  I am cautioning against being swept up into a swell of digital righteousness.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:04 PM

sputnik, we have a problem

At the risk of writing about you-know-who again, gotta say that I am alarmed that for the second time in less than a week a public figure asserted a demonstrably untrue historical fact.  No, the Soviet Union was not bankrupted by the space race, and no, the Founders were not tireless in their efforts to end slavery.  These are not matters of opinion.

It's fun to note the stupid things said by people that are in positions that should be peopled by non-stupid people — surely there's a joke in there about what one sees from one's house?  I do it a lot, and opinion journalism is at least partially powered by the sentiment of "I disagree with this statement".  And I know, given the two speakers, it's easy to lose the importance of this behind a screen of dingbatism, but should there not be some part of the news media, and a decidedly mainstream part, that will very loudly declare that the statements are factually and inarguably wrong wrong wrong a hundred times wrong?

Without it, we're going to have a generation of young patriots walking around believing the political equivalent of the flat earth.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:33 AM

January 26, 2011

michele bachmann est arrive

As someone who has written about Michele Bachmann for three or four years or so, I just have to admit how truly proud I am of her reinvention of herself into someone whose ambition is only exceeded by her lack of facility.  The representative from Minnesota has long been known for her blunt dumbness as well as her crazy eyes, and last night in her her poorly-staged hijacking attempt she was bluntly dumb and crazy-eyed.

Way back in 2007, who'd a thunk that she would have progressed so far, from weirdly popular embarrassment to the Minnesota Republican Party to self-appointed president of national embarrassments everywhere.  It's an astonishing path, and shows you that in this great country anything is possible if you stick your foot in the right door, no matter how badly history refuses to bend to your understanding, no matter how untethered each of your pupils is from the rest of the eye.

It's like she's a Frankenstein monster created purely by the force of her own self-regard, an auto-Promethean curiosity.

I'm very proud.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:34 AM

January 25, 2011

rep. hunky mcsmartguy

If you are going to write about Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican from Wisconsin who is Brad-Pitting his way through the Beltway on account of his alleged smarts and seriousness, you are obliged to lead with the following paragraph:
He is the guy with the piercing blue eyes, love for heavy metal on his iPod and a reputation among Democrats, including President Obama, as a Republican who has put forward budget ideas that are thoughtful and serious, if not in sync with their own.

Dreamy?  Check.   Reputed smarts and seriousness?  Check.  Rock star allusion?  Also check.

Not just something like the paragraph above.  In fact, going forward, we shall all use the exact paragraph above, to save time, and to ensure that the reading public is on the same page when it comes to Rep. Hunky McSmartGuy.

Fun fact: I'm a year older than Rep. Ryan, and not even the irony of a Republican being pointed at like a sideshow freak b/c he is "smart" and "serious" can make me feel good about that.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:00 AM

January 24, 2011

yeah it's cold

I'm sure there's some very interesting things going on out in the wide open but hey! here's a funny story about being from upstate New York!

The year before I relo'd back to NYC, 1994 it must've been, I was living in downtown Rochester, working in a bookstore, working in a bar.  And that winter, there was a two week period during which the temperature never rose above five degrees.  Night or day.  There was nothing that was not ice.  I wore two pairs of pants if I had to walk far.  I remember it rose-colored and dreamy.  We were all walking parkas.  If it was sunny the sky was so blue you could cut yourself on it, but mostly it was dark but white.  I was impossibly innocent and depressive, and of course I had no idea how good I had it.  But mostly it was just cold, and we dealt with it.

And today?  I refuse to go back outside; cold only works in nostalgia, and it is only cold out there.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:17 AM