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April 8, 2011

good morning 4.8.11

At the end of a long day, all David Brooks wants to do is to go home and curl up in front of the fireplace with a nice bottle of Paul Ryan.

Is that so much to ask for?  How beige does David Brooks have to be before he can finally relax?

Posted by mrbrent at 9:32 AM

April 7, 2011

harm and destroy

I intended to snark up on the use of the phrase "harm and destroy" by a NYS Senator who's having some kind of Peter King Fanclub meeting about how Islam is bad.  The quote, and I paraphrase, was, "These Muslims intend to harm and destroy America," and it struck me instantly as a pretty dumb turn of phrase, the kind that you string together to make yourself seem solemn and smart but ultimately does the opposite.

So I googled the phrase, just to see if this was a quote the State Senator gave to one reporter or if he put it in a public release, and I was astonished to see that "harm and destroy" is not an unpopular thing to say, with more than two and a half million results.  Strangely, the only result that comes up from the past 24 hours is this profile of a Peruvian journalist named Jaime Bayly, which is very interesting, and which employs "harm and destroy" in an appropriate manner ("...who prefer to cause harm and destroy those they most love").  But best of luck to Mr. Bayly!

I guess it's a possibility that many of the results are actually in the form of "[noun] and [verb]", but it doesn't seem to be the case in the results pushed to the top by whatever algorithm Google is using these days.  There's a blog post about lies that may be written by a SEO robot (complete with University of Phoenix ad!), there is a Buddhist smear-debunking site, there is an archived sermon from a Methodist church in Iowa (also used in the context of lies), and another religious piece, but with much more caps lock, against vaccinations from a far-right site with a Geocities sense of design.  Scanning the deeper results, I'm seeing a lot of religious sites — I guess the phrase does have a Biblical sound to it.

But still it's a really dumb thing to say.  It's not just repetitive, it makes no sense — if a thing has been destroyed, then its state of harm is utter and total.  "Harm then destroy," now that makes some sense.  But "harm and destroy" does not clean up so nice, not at all.

And for the record, the Islamophobe State Senator who is trying to propel himself into the headlines and who is not so well-spoken is named "Greg Ball".  Looking good, Greg Ball!

Posted by mrbrent at 9:47 AM

April 6, 2011

joseph stiglitz

Here's something else to read, a couple thousand words from economist Joseph E. Stiglitz for Vanity Fair entitled "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%".  What follows is not the most revelatory passage, but the passage that is the argument for you to give it ten minutes of your life:
Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie. That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America’s—is not likely to do well over the long haul. There are several reasons for this.

It's easy to fall into the trap of arguing against brazen wealth inequality purely on the grounds of it not being fair.  That would be true, were there anything like fairness that could be quantified.  But there is also more than one reason that it's bad for society in general, and even for the mega rich themselves.

And it's important to vocalize these reasons why, because the threat of inequitous income distribution has not yet made it into common wisdome — look for example at Rep. Paul Ryan's suggested budget.  Not only is it made partly of fairy tales, it is also a road map to exacerbate the already precipitous gap between the wealthy and the poor, slashing further top tier personal and corporate tax rates, cutting services.  That's what happens when Republicans mean "prosperity".

Posted by mrbrent at 1:37 PM

inside dfw's library

Do yourself a favor and call in sick to work so that you can spend the day reading and rereading Maria Bustillos' examination of David Foster Wallace and depression and self-help and gifted/talented children and reverse parenting.

There is an awful lot in there that stays with you, whether or not you were a fan of David Foster Wallace.  And I understand that DFW is an instant turn-off for a lot of people, and I have no problem with that — he was a polarizing figure, in his way, plus also he committed suicide, and many feel that posthumous attention should not be rewarded to suicides.  But Bustillos' piece (written after spending three days with DFW's personal papers) is both about DFW in a way that is satisfying to his fans and about enough Big Things to achieve escape velocity.

Here's that link again.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:44 AM

April 5, 2011

shutdown!

When my sister and I squabbled as kids (usually over what to watch on TV and, by extension, possession of the remote control), the point was not just to win the squabble, but also to maintain plausible deniability (i.e., "She started it!").  That took a lot of work — intricate propositions of if-you-do-this then I'll-do-that and then it will be your fault.  A lot of lines drawn in the sand.  (I usually won: Karen has a bigger temper than mine, which I knew and exploited.)

Meanwhile, for the last month or two DC has been living in the shadow of a potential shutdown.  Similarly, the two parties are maneuvering into positions of innocence in case it does actually happen: federal shutdowns are things should not be taken lightly and wildly unpopular with normal folk.

The fact of the matter is that there are three actors that determine the budget that will be passed: the two houses of the legislative branch, and the executive branch.  Two of these actors are controlled by the Democrats and one by the Republicans.  The leadership of the House Republicans very badly does not want a shutdown, but the Tea Party wing of the House GOP very badly does want one — it's the governance equivalent of yelling loud.

So you have two and a fraction greater than a half actors that don't want a shutdown, and a fraction less than a half of a party that does.  And the less than half actor, the Tea Party, is, if the shutdown does happen, try very hard to make it seem that the shutdown is everybody else's fault, the president's, the Democrats', Speaker Boehner's, because they wouldn't capitulate to exactly what the Tea Party Caucus is yelling loudly about.

That just doesn't make any sense, does it?  (Also see earlier point about exploiting quick tempers.)

Posted by mrbrent at 12:42 PM

opinion-based fact

Quick request:

Obviously, the decision to try 9-11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a military trial in Guantanamo Bay instead of in a federal court is newsworthy (and I'm especially fond of AG Holder's very spirited defense of his original decision — "Yes, I know more than Congress").

But wherever we fall on the issue, can we please refrain from interviewing the next-of-kins of 9-11 victims about what they think?  Obviously, the families of murder victims get to prepare victim statements and such, but they don't get much to say about jurisdiction.  Of course this issue somehow polarized into a political football, with righteous patriots supporting trial by military commission and commie pinkos supporting criminal prosecution, so the various victims' families' lobbying groups fall along these political lines.  But ultimately, on this specific issue, their opinions do not inform at all.

Just generally, asking normal citizens questions about interpretation of law that end with, "What do you think?" is a dumb idea.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:15 AM

April 4, 2011

david j roth on pizza

You would do well to leave this site immediately an indulge in an epic, colossal meditation on national pizza brands, written by David J. Roth.  There are all kinds of many-worded hilarity in there, and some sober contemplation that found its way in:
But even if pizza is what we eat when we want to feel like kids, or to remember a time when eating was just a fucking blast -- even then -- I don't know why macro-scale pizzas have to be so dumb and irresponsibly fatful and somehow un-foodlike. I understand that, nationally and discursively and in an increasingly dangerous way, our nation has had a hard time distinguishing between "better" and "more" for a few decades now. Of late, at least in our politics and also I think in our other smaller life-decisions, that indistinctness has curdled into a sad, babyish nastiness -- alternately an hysterical fear of being asked to make do with slightly less excess and a childish petulance at the prospect of ever and anywhere being told "no" and having to get by on less More in the future. Finding ways to jam more More into everything -- regardless of whether or not grafting a pepperoni roll to the perimeter of your meat lover's pie could possibly taste good -- is no way to go through life. It's a decent enough way to go through second grade, and a popular one. But if you're an adult who understand where food comes from and what effects it has on one's body and so on, this is no way to eat.

Someone please hire David J. Roth and let him write about whatever he damn well pleases.

Ooh, I now see that I am not the only one hearting on this essay.  Excellent.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:18 AM

an inadvertently true thing

I've stumbled across this point for the third time now, so that means it's no accident.  It's in the middle of a Ross Douthat column, one that's merely bland instead of ridiculous, about the relative strength of the Republican field for president (everyone has to write one of these or they get kicked out of the treehouse).  The concept is as follows:
The public loves to vote for leaner government and then recoil from the reality.

Specifically, candidates who espouse austerity can garner wide popular support, while actual austerity never ever ever garners wide support.  I think that's something that we can agree on as historically accurate, yes?

The thing about it is that it's usually invoked by the conservative/moderate/right-of-center commentator, the type that believes that leaner government is some sort of ideal state to achieve, and it's spoken with a shrug or a certain exasperation — "How can the voters support the right candidate but then turn on the candidate once he does exactly what he said he would do!?!"  It is offered as a lament.

Two things to take from it: campaigning and governing are two fundamentally different things.  Running for office you get to appeal to these ephemeral things like pride and prejudice and really boils down to pushing emotional buttons to get people to like you enough to want to see you win.  It's wholly separate from governing, and it's just about having a team (in very much a sports sense) and rooting for that team and wanting that team to not lose.  So the fact that voters could be swayed by an austerity message is not a surprise at all, because that austerity message will be coupled with all sorts of other semiotics that are a lot more convincing.

And the second thing is that people don't like austerity because they don't like austerity.  Whether or not it's necessary, the pain of it is invariably felt by the lower classes and there are a lot more of them than the upper classes and why the hell should they like it?  It sucks.

I guess what I like about the concept is that it is an inadvertently true thing.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:29 AM