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May 28, 2011

eric cantor needs to be made more fun of

We are not spending enough time making fun of Eric Cantor.

Cantor is a Republican representing the Seventh District of Virginia, which, if you look at on a map, looks like a plume of radioactive gas released from Richmond.  He has the good looks of a marginally good accountant, and speaks with all the fire and authenticity of a professional athlete shilling lawn fertilizer.  But he's also currently the House Majority Leader, so he must have some pretty sharp elbows, which would go along with his outsized ambition, as evidenced as his campaign to have himself referred to as a Young Gun (because I guess Wolverine was already taken?).

Sidebar: In the rush to anoint Rep. Paul Ryan as a Serious Thinker (a rose the bloom of which is gone), it was conveniently forgotten that Ryan also decided to pick himself a nickname, as he co-authored (with some other dude unluckily not as famous as Cantor or Ryan) the book with Cantor.

Cantor gave this weekend's response to the President's weekly address.  A transcript of it can be found here (scroll down) — nothing really noteworthy in it, just the same old mish-mash of how regulations and high taxes cause all of our unemployment problems that spins untethered from reality.  But if you watch it, you see that this pencil-neck is not only genetically bereft of charisma but also a walking amalgam of everything that is the new Republican leadership: good teeth, not-inexpensive suit, sober appearance and then a serious-sounding speech that is nothing but motor-boat noises at the heart of it.

At least John Boehner and the older guard have the gravitas of a politician, of the fervent belief that John Boehner belonging to a country club is a right and not a privilege.  Eric Cantor is the douchebag standing in front of the mirror every morning, asking his wife, "Do I look presidential in this?"

Posted by mrbrent at 10:23 AM

May 27, 2011

the vasty reaches of the inside of the head of david brooks

It's Friday, so that means so more good David Brooks.

Today in the fantasy world that lives only in the head of David Brooks that David Brooks writes about like it is a real world, David Brooks has some sage moderate advice on how we can all stop worrying and love a world without Medicaid:

They need to lay out the facts showing that Medicare is unstable and on a path to collapse, as Representative Paul Ryan is doing. But they also need to enmesh Medicare reform within an agenda to build solid communities: more money for community colleges and technical schools, an infrastructure bank, a values agenda to shore up marriage and family cohesion, tax holidays to help the unemployed start businesses, tax reform to limit special interest power.

Because, in the fantasy world that is inside of the head of David Brooks the pain to be experienced by the next generation of seniors, after Republicans replace Medicare with private insurance vouchers, will be easily alleviated by a bunch of ephemeral shit the average American could even describe in a paragraph let alone care about.

It's not just disconnect — it's some kind of political schizophrenia.  I don't think he's being disingenuous.  David Brooks actually believes that clean, upright ideas mean more to people than the cash in their wallet.  There has got to be some box on the driver's license of David Brooks that needs to be checked for that.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:46 AM

May 26, 2011

remember sarah palin redux

There was a story in the New York Times this morning about how it looks like maybe Sarah Palin may actually run for President.  You may remember Sarah Palin.  She was a polarizing choice for running mate in John McCain's ultimately futile bid for the White House in '08.  Since then she's been largely unheard from.  In fact, that's one of those things that Wikipedia is for, right?

On those lines, did you know that she was actually governor of Minnesota or some state at the time?  And that her tenure as governor ended as she heroically stepped down so that she could spend more time with her mostly grown-up family and some dude named Roger Ailes?

Anyhoo, if that's the kind of thing that interests you, then maybe you'll like the article!  It's right there, on the front page (but "below the fold" as they say).

Posted by mrbrent at 9:54 AM

May 25, 2011

eric cantor is monstrous

Starting with this bit of news, I'm starting to notice a creep in the portrayal of the House Republicans.  The bit of news is story by Steve Benen on the conditions laid on the emergency aid to the survivors of the Joplin F4 — being namely a corresponding cut in a program spurring the development of fuel efficient cars.

Now the House GOP is all-in on this weird fiscal austerity thing, which is an absolute flip-flop from the last time they controlled the House, and also I'm not sure if it has the political legs that they think it does?  But they're there, and they're dug in, and they're not budging.

But if you are one of the people afflicted in Joplin (or everywhere else the tornadoes have hit), would you feel favorably towards a government that would attach some sort of ideological blackmail to your emergency aid?

Writes Benen:

Did voters elect congressional Republicans or comic-book villains?

Or as Oliver Willis put it, “Let me repeat: Republicans say that the gods of spending cuts must be appeased before we assist our fellow Americans in a time of disaster…. The Republican party has so far gone around the bend, it’s beginning to resemble an actual monster.”

Partisan politics does have a way to make you doubt the motives of your political opposites, and I'm as guilty of that as anyone.  But what is novel to me is when these motives are confirmed in the light of day.  The House GOP would literally hold emergency aid to a devastated city hostage in order to further gut beneficial programs that are ideologically troublesome to them, under the canard of "austerity".

It's stomach-turning.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:02 PM

kathy hochul, talking funny

Congratulations Kathy Hochul, new Representative for the 26th District of New York!  You'd think that I'd have little interest in this (other than general ill wishes for those Republicans for whom governance is anathema), but come to find out NY-26 is actually not at all that far from my hometown, so it is also a parochial interest that I have.

The interesting thing about NY-26 is that it stretches sixty or so miles, from Rochester to Buffalo.  You'd think that this would be out of the ordinary, but no — it's called "gerrymandering" which is always a word that I try to add an extra "e" in to invoke the meandering, and which is the old new craze and everyone is doing it.  Hochul was the Clerk of Erie County, which is the county of Buffalo (and, naturally, not Rochester), and yet now she has constituents that do not eat the beef-on-weck but rather Country Sweet chicken wings and Zweigle's white hots.

And I only bring this up because of all the television/radio coverage of the race (which was about destroying Medicare or something? I forget) had interviews with the locals, which was a forceful reminder to me that people from up there talk funny.  I mean, very funny.  But I hear a sentence's-worth of that and it's like it's 1993 and I'm back there.  Which is not a bad feeling.

But anyhow, nice to start the day with the pendulum of American politics swinging away from my head (again).

Posted by mrbrent at 9:23 AM

May 24, 2011

the old france-surrendering punchline

A headline on various news sites/aggregators around the web:
British Royals Greet Obamas With 41 Gun Salute

Whereupon France promptly surrendered.

You may have thought that it is too late in history to roll out the old France-surrendering punchline.  You are wrong!  It is never too late in history to roll out the France-surrendering punchline.

Now you try it.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:04 AM

May 23, 2011

big lonely things in space

If you follow a drib or a drab of science news, you saw last week a bit of a breakthrough in thinking about exoplanets, or planet outside of our solar system.  The news — there are possibly more planets untethered to a star than there are not:
However, this week astronomers are announcing a truly unique and new class of exoplanets: Jupiter sized planets that are in extremely large orbits or completely unbound from a host star altogether. And there appear to be a lot of them, as these planets seem to be more common than main sequence stars.

That is exciting news!  In fact, it's hard to think of a planet not having a solar system to give it context, isn't it?

But this is the excellent thing about astronomy as opposed to particle physics or molecular biology: it's easier to have crazy contrary opinions that science, but the phenomena are a little less ephemeral.  Instead of units so small that it's difficult to even compare them to really small things we deal with every day (a hair! the head of a pin!), we're talking stars and planets, which would be hard to mistake if we somehow could get close enough to see them.  That is to say that it is a lot easier to have an opinion about a planet that may or not be there than it is a muon.

Now here's how they've found these orphan exoplanets: there's this thing called "microlensing".  If an object that passes between us and a distant star that is not big enough to blot it out completely, gravity should act like a lens and make the star look brighter for a moment.  So scientists surveyed the vasty deepness of the sky and identified a number of these microlensing events, which they postulate reveals rogue planets that are not traditionally close to a star.

This is the fun part: I, as a normal joe with a healthy interest in this science but no actual expertise, would like to point out one thing — why is it that it is assumed that these planet-sized objects outside of the gravitational web of a solar system are actually planets?  Seems to me the data indicates that they're just massive objects that we can only detect because of Einstein being right.  And the objects are many light years away (and therefore, many years ago, given that's how the speed of light works) so it's not like we can send someone to go check.

Which is why I say that while it might be awesome to say they are planets, I say that it is more awesome to say that they MIGHT be planets, and they MIGHT be planet-sized things that were many constructed.

Isn't it more neat to say that these astronomers have actually discovered an array of planet-sized debris?  Or even Death Stars?

Maybe Galactus is real?

(Astronomy roolz, BTW.)

Posted by mrbrent at 5:15 PM

May 22, 2011

kevan mayor on the travesty of david brooks

So Friday's David Brooks column was as infuriating as they usually are.  It's about how the current PM of Great Britain, David Cameron, fits in to the David Brooks version of the world, wherein all leaders exhibit Brooksian qualities (hygiene, punctuality, moderation) in order to better the world against all odds.

Now, I was prepared to give it a couple hundred words of haterizing, but then I remembered my friend, Kevan Mayor.  He's a resident of London and one of the smartest men I know, as well-versed in military history as he is in the history of comedy.

So I dropped Kev a line and a link and asked his thoughts.  I told him that it didn't matter if he was familiar with the Brooks oeuvre (and he wasn't), but did he have some thoughts?

He did, and they follow.


Do you know the best way to learn a language? Go live in that country, live among the people, observe their culture and absorb their history. After a while the language will make sense because it evolved out of those people over eons. It's not about words or grammar, it's about a method of living that worked.

That's why we don't speak Esperanto. It didn't emerge from a culture, it has no soul, and it fails to recognise that a language needs both.

David Cameron's "Big Society" is the Esperanto of social thinking.

To be perfectly honest, and I'm sure Cameron has admitted this to his friends among the elite, it's not a real idea at all. After 13 years of New Labour rule, the Tories were still combatting the tarnish of the Thatcher years. Although the public voted for the hedonistic self-interest promised by Thatcher, they lived to learn that they didn't like the brutality and social division that ensued.

Cameron had to do something that distanced his Conservative Party from hers . The "Big Society" was something he cobbled together in a tea break one morning. The notion that the Conservatives care about anybody but their friends (and paymasters) in the City is frankly ludicrous.

David Brooks is naive in believing that he can use the template for American free-market libertarianism as a guide to British politics. That sound you can hear is a hypertrophically oversized square peg being steam-pumped into a very small round hole.

And he's wrong because he fails to understand how British Society works. I'm sure he's met some nice British people. He's probably been invited to their dinner parties. I'm sure they're all sorts of people; journalists, bank managers, doctors, lawyers, business men, university lecturers. Not all of them will be Tories.

But he's met them because they're the people who organise and run things. They're effectively running the country. They're turning up at local council meetings demanding that their local rugby field is mown properly, and that the road in their street is resurfaced, and whilst you're about it why don't you shut that children's centre, it's only used by the working classes, and we don't want to subsidise it. We don't need a children's centre; we have nannies. That's what the bureaucracy is doing, doing what the professional classes is telling them to do.

Our working classes don't have dinner parties. They're at home in front of the TV. Or tinkering in their sheds. Or playing with the kids. The working classes spend much of their spare time with the kids.

They don't join together to run things. They rarely have the time, and it's not allowed.

Aspire as much as you want, you will not get voted onto the board of the community group, as the lawyers and chartered accountants have already bagged those roles. They will not tolerate some upstart with a working class accent and poor table manners demanding change.

That's how a class system works, and the class system is, and always has been, the mechanism that the Conservatives have relied onto to stay in charge, regardless of who is in government, at national or local level.

Brooks asserts, optimistically "The people who thrive in a globalized information economy have the ability to process complex waves of information. They have the ability to navigate incredibly diverse social environments."

Actually, no they don't. Just as there are golf societies that turn away jews and blacks in New Hampshire, the resident upper-middle class in Britain hold onto their power jealously. Understanding social media is no qualification for overcoming the archaic and unbending social norms that have ossified over centuries, and there is little diversity amongst our petit-bourgeoisie. Social mobility has been in decline since the Thatcher government into power, and the structure of our education system is designed to ensure that that doesn't change.

The few examples of Cameron's Big Society in action are actually where doctors, lawyers and chartered accountants have lobbied to take money away from the democratically elected councils in order to elevate their own community at the expense of those that actually need it. This won't make the working classes more aspirational, because Cameron's constituency will merely exclude them from the process. They be expected to do as instructed and be happy with the results.

Sadly, what Brooks and Cameron share is a belief that there's actually nothing wrong in that.


I heartily second Kev's thoughts, and could not have put it better myself with a week's time.  Go read Kev's stuff in his native habitat.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:21 PM