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April 22, 2011

gas price apathy

Gasoline in my 'hood went up four cents overnight.  And I think the previous increase was Sunday night?  It's up to $4.11 a gallon (well, really $4.12 because we always forget the .9 cent that's tacked onto every gas price in a America).

I got no beef with paying more for gas, other than I don't like spending money generally.  Though of course this is a commodities spike and not a sudden shrink in supply or increase in demand, and a commodities spike is a dumb reason to pay more for something, but whatever to all that — the AG is on the case and maybe Matt Taibbi will sniff something out.  I don't mean that spuriously; coming from me, insinuations of market manipulation/fraud are idle speculation, but I do bet if someone roots around hard enough a bad guy or two can be found.

But nevermind that; think of this instead.  Three years ago, the last time that gas in the U.S. topped four bucks, we experienced panic.  Breathless news stories, conversation topic-dominance, a collective wigging-out.  And I would say rightfully so (at least in the sense of concern and not hysteria) — the implications of upwards-spiraling fuel prices are long and none of them are good — less consumer discretionary income, concomitant across the board inflation, shrinkage in GDP, etc.  Apprehension would not be out of place at this point in time.

And where is it?  Are our expectations so diminished that we look in the face of this — and whether "this" is forty or fifty extra bucks in gas costs a month or "this" is tipping into the double-dip recession — and we are numb?  Just a mild cringe, waiting for the next bad news?

Posted by mrbrent at 9:31 AM

April 21, 2011

it's a birther tidal wave

Washington Monthly's Steve Benen reacts to a NYT/CBS poll that reveals a plurality of Republican voters believe that President Obama was not born in the United States:
I might be able to spin this into a less-depressing result, noting that many of these Republican voters aren't aware of the natural-born citizen language in the Constitution, and may not appreciate the extent to which they're buying into a ridiculous, arguably racist, conspiracy theory with no foundation in reality.

Now polls are pernicious little things that I'm convinced do not always have a causal relationship with reality, and I'm not sure that each respondent who claimed to doubt the president's birthplace does so with the full force of belief.  Some, I'm sure, just answered every question with the option that was least supportive of Obama because HE'S DESTROYING THE CONSTITUTION or some other claptrap.

But as to the hand-wringing: poll results like this, and the objective truth noted by Benen in the last clause of his sentence above, is why I don't have a lot of patience for civility arguments.  Yes, you may attract more bees with honey than with other unmentionables, but the advantage that bees have on Birthers is that bees are not willfully and defiantly stupid.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:49 AM

taco bell's meat filling remains horrifying

So there's this: Taco Bell, the easily-rhymable fast food chain, is now running a nationwide ad campaign demanding an apology from those that sued Taco Bell for not having enough meat in their meat filling.  The suit was dropped without any consequence after it became evident that the meat in Taco Bell's meat filling is actually meat.

This ad campaign also features, as ad campaigns do these days, an Internet component that is tellingly entitled "Beef Quality".  Click over there and you will learn all kinds of interesting things about Taco Bell, like how the meat filling is 88% meat and why the 12% "other things" have weird names:

They do have weird names—perfect for tongue twisters! But these ingredients are completely safe and approved by the FDA. They're common ingredients also found in food items at your grocery store.

Completely safe, FDA-approved and widely-used — intended as reassuring, it comes off as the total opposite.

Taco Bell giving itself a victory lap after an embarrassing lawsuit was dropped is not a questionable decision.  However, inadvertently calling continued attention to Taco Bell's "meat filling" is not something that I would personally advise, because that is some icky-ass goop, and it doesn't get any less icky the more it's explained.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:47 AM

April 20, 2011

mystery dog in metro ny

Good news/bad news!

The good news it that Metro New York, a free daily paper they hand out on sidewalks and subways, ran a story about the dog I found, who went by the names Mystery Dog, Buddy, Boobs and finally Angel.  This is awesome, because Mystery Dog, while safe at a no-kill shelter with a fine reputation, still needs a permanent home, and he deserves the finest home possible.  So to get the word out there is terrific.

The bad news is that the story is only online and not in the print edition, so the dreams I had of a hundred thousand straphangers seeing Mystery Dog's photo did not come true.

It's a minor disappointment, and the good news outweighs the bad.  But I'm not going to feel good until I know Mystery Dog is happy and housed.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:56 AM

April 19, 2011

az is crazy people

While the Arizona story that's grabbing headlines is of the laws that the governor vetoed, there are some that she did.  Neither the Birther bill nor the college students carrying firearms bill survived, but Governor Jan Brewer did find a law or two worth of her pen.

Namely, she signed into law a vague-sounding law, Senate Bill 1282, which will allow churches and other organizations tax-exempt for religious reasons to engage in political speech without having to register with the state as a lobbyist.

The two concepts that this law flies in the face of: first, the separation between church and state, duh, which is corollary to the second, which is the hoops that entities, be they churches or plain old non-profits, have to jump through in order not to have to pay taxes.  For example, your local indie theater group?  They also have to be careful of distinctly political speech (i.e., endorsements of candidate, electioneering, etc.)  So now in AZ the kids who keep putting up Beckett revivals will now be held to stricter account than, say, the Mormons.

Of course, there are still IRS aspects of this issue, as it is the IRS that grants the non-profit status in the first place, but I'm just sayin': state legislators are a bunch of people with curiously diminished capacity.  I.e., based on certain legislative output, I don't believe that they're qualified to greet at Walmart, let alone represent constituents.

(Via Abe Sauer.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:13 AM

do not videotape livestock in iowa

This is a story from last week that I never got to, but it is important and worthy of our concerted interest.

You may be familiar with the trend of animal rights activists getting hired by industrial food processors (think chickens, cattle), which activists then sneak videography of some very The Jungle-like misdeeds w/r/t the treatment of the livestock.  Then the video gets released, resulting in public outcry and government pressure to knock it off.

It's a big black eye for the agribusiness industry, which claims that the videos are deceptively edited and out-of-context (though to be fair there's not a whole lot that goes on in stockyards/slaughterhouses that would be real popular if available to view).  So in response, Iowa, one of the bigger agribusiness states, is proposing to make it illegal to photograph factory farms without permission, or even to possess or distribute such unauthorized photos and video.

This could easily lead to a couple hundred words decrying the palpable wrongness of that, prosecuting the whistleblowers, or even delegitimizing the very act of whistleblowing.  But the egregiousness is not hard to spot, so instead of that, think of this: the proposed law is not just an industry suggestion or a Chamber of Commerce daydream, but a bill before the Iowa legislature.

So you yourself may have a sense of right and wrong, but there are people holding elected office that do not have that sense, that will promote a very Soviet-seeming law to appease industry concerns.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:14 AM

April 18, 2011

donald trump redux

I really did not want to ever revisit Donald Trump, especially so shortly after I wrote what I thought was a one-and-done on him.  And he still may yet disappear into that ignominious level of celebrity from whence he came, but this interview with TPM is as they say "something else".

When asked about the wholesale dismissal of Trump by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Trump responded:

"I think it's a very bad thing for Cantor to have done," Trump said, "because I'll tell you, people love this issue especially in the Republican Party. And there's something to what we're saying."

Now I have no affection for Donald Trump and his megalomania, but if there is going to be a strangely popular man who is going to go around and tie the GOP into knots because he is saying blunt and direct true things about the GOP that the GOP would rather not have said out loud, then it is a small price to pay to have that man be Donald Trump.

Does the fact that Trump is a Birther solely because he deems it a popular issue make him slimy?  Yes.  And canny.  Perhaps Trump's absolute lack of a moral compass/inner censor puts him in the most unique position to say the things about the GOP that liberals have been saying for so long, and then have them stick.

It's Monday morning, so I'm hoping.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:23 AM

April 17, 2011

gold standard

I keep revisiting the comments thread of Maria Bustillos' terrific piece on Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan and the deep weeds of Objectivism.  The piece itself is awesome, but it drew a number of actual living Objectivists to comment in differing degrees of disdain.

I don't want to speak to the matter of these complaints (other than to say Maria is right and they are wrong), but they are easy enough to spot if you'd like to read them yourself — just scroll down until you see large blocks of text without any line breaks.  That's them!  Alternately, if you read something that intoxicates you with fumes of self-importance and then mystifies you with a tragic lack of a sense of humor (at all), then that's also them.

But a point they raise reminds me that I need to brush up on some history: a good portion of the condemnations take exception with Maria's exploration of Greenspan's long association with Rand because Greenspan was long the head of the Federal Reserve, and the Fed is an entity decidedly against the gold standard.  The gold standard, as I remember it, is long a flag of the Objectivists (and the Libertarians as well), because without it, money is untethered to any real value and arbitrarily set by the auspices of some machine the people can control.

And my reaction to that is that gold itself has a value that is arbitrarily set by market/government forces, just like the dollar, just like the yuan.  Arbitrary value, or at least subjective value, seems to be the basis of trade itself.

Which means that I need to do more research on this topic, because it can't be that easy a dragon to slay.  (And I'm dumb on these topics, etc.)

But no better way to spend a bit of time than not feeding the trolls.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:08 PM