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June 17, 2011

anthony weiner: who was he?

The actual Last Word on a topic are almost always said well before the Last Word piece is written.

But anyhow: Anthony Weiner!  The tawdriness of the episode is no secret to anyone, considering the minor players: Andrew Breitbart, Gloria Allred, Opie & Anthony, some Howard Stern flunky.  It really was a perfect storm of We-Are-A-Terrible-Species.

But the real surprise to me was the willingness of what would be considered the more traditional media to roll around in this wallow.  The arms-length that used to accompany these political non-stories has disappeared, and the prurience of something like the Huffington Post is now the default state.  The breathlessness with which the story was covered, culminating in the greatest number of reporters ever in Sheepshead Bay at the same time, was not very heartening.

But I will end with this possibly happy thought: while some think that Weiner's career will rehabilitate, and that he'll be back on a ballot in two years, I don't think that's a good idea.  I think that Weiner should be on television, regularly, because he was always a much better talking head than he was a legislator.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:17 AM

June 16, 2011

disposable income

A little tidbit of information from Marketplace, the public radio business reporting concern:
SALLY HERSHIPS: This statistic is getting a lot of play this week at the Cable Show [a cable television trade convention].

MARK ROBICHAUX: The bottom 40 percent of U.S. households have already exhausted their disposable income.

SALLY HERSHIPS: Mark Robichaux is Editor in Chief of Multichannel News.

ROBICHAUX: So there's not a whole lot left for clothing, or for cable. You can't have a business if people can't afford your product.

I'm not sure what the provenance of that 40 percent statistic is, but it sure makes anecdotal sense, and it seems like a stat that's a lot more important than home sales and even the federal deficit.  If folk can't buy much more than food and rent, then that's super bad news for a whole lot of industries other than the cable TV industry.  (Which cable TV industry is just one long exercise in highway robbery, IMHO.)

Posted by mrbrent at 11:25 AM

philly pinoy at the awl

My most recent piece for The Awl is a little bit on this restauranty little joint I stubbed my toe on while walking a dog with a friend in Red Hook.  It's called Philly Pinoy, and if you don't get the sense from the piece that I am wishing them well, let me do that out loud right now.

The saddest thing about the piece is that, even though I visited twice, I did not get to try the food, as both visits were very early in the morning in order for me to attend other duties (like jobs!).  Hopefully in the next couple weeks I'll get a chance and slip over there for something that I'll have to google to see what it is.

But as always thanks for readin'.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:19 AM

June 15, 2011

capsule review: high line 2

It's been two years now, so the next leg of the NYC public space they call the "High Line" has opened.  The High Line is an old elevated railroad bad that winds down the west side of Manhattan, through bad neighborhoods and good.

Of the first leg, which snakes through decidedly good neighborhoods like the West Village and the Meatpacking District, I did not approve.

The second leg goes through less choice real estate (for now), starting at 20th Street and going ten blocks north, all between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues.  That flies over some galleries (and my office, on 25th Street), but also covers some junk yards and chop shops and the like.  Here, I actually took some pictures.

It's a little bit more successful than the first leg, I think, because it's pretty much a straight shot, which provides less meandering, open spaces for the High Line to get wrong.  On the second leg, the walking spaces feel designed for walking, and the gawking spaces are designed for gawking.  It has a much lessened "museum-y" feel to it that the northern origins.

One small drawback is that if you are not visibly enjoying the High Line enough up in the 20s, then you are set upon by bands of real estate developers who will beat you into appreciation, because those property values don't raise themselves.

Though on the other hand, walking the High Line makes you feel like you are spending money even though you are actually spending no money, so there's that.

Ultimately, I say that if you are going to find yourself thirty feet over a Manhattan street, better the High Line than midair.

Give it a walk for yourself!  Stop by my office and make fun of my employer!

Posted by mrbrent at 10:19 AM

June 14, 2011

maria bustillos: vote you dummies

Of the many awesome things published recently, I nominate Maria Bustillos' love letter to electoral democracy as the one that you should read first.  It's a gem of what pitchforks and torches look like if you avoid actual pitchforks and torches.

Her bottom line?  Vote, you dummies:

If voting didn't matter, how come all these corpocrats and Koch Brothers and whatnot are spending zillions, too, in order to suppress voter turnout, not to mention all the illegal campaign shenanigans and gerrymandering and "caging" and the whole arsenal of repellent anti-democratic behaviors the plutocrats continually engage in? It matters, all right.

I love how she can pick a universal truth that actually needs to be patiently and gracefully spelled out out of the air and then pull a crackerjack essay out of it.  (See for example her explanations of objectivism and the non-threat of Shari'a law.)

You are not any more sick of me linking to the work of Maria Bustillos than I am overjoyed to read it.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:16 PM

June 12, 2011

james kwak on the insecurity gap

Sometimes you read something and all you can do is make a delighted squeal.

You are probably familiar with the argument that the "instability" of possible government regulation and unforeseen tax rate variation is what has been causing employers to refrain from doing anything useful, like hiring.  This is of course a crock of hooey, and we all know that, inasmuch as "uncertainty" has jack shit to do with any grown-up's business decisions.  But where it gets problematic is that it is a point that gets repeated, like freakin' gospel.

So the thing that makes me squeal (not like squeal, but more like OooOOOoh!) is this takedown of the concept by the Baseline Scenario's James Kwak.  It is a gem, and you should read every last word, but convention dictates that I plop down a paragraph as a free taste from the pusherman, explaining why an actual businessman might carry the water of this fallacy:

Why? Because they watch Fox News, too. If you watch enough people telling you that the Obama administration is raising the cost of doing business, you start to believe it, just like if you watch enough people telling you that Obama was not born in the United States, you start to believe that, or if you watch enough people telling you that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, you start to believe that. And once you believe that the Obama administration is raising the cost of doing business, and you believe that this is creating a lot of uncertainty, you slow down your hiring. But in that case, the uncertainty wasn’t created by Washington; it was created by Fox News.

It's very good, so run don't walk.  And to toss in my non-business-owning but pretty-business-smart cents in, if a haircut of a couple percent caused by either regulations or tax increases is impeding your growth, then you are not very good at what you do, and to bitch about it publicly makes you a little bit of a coward, hiding behind polemics.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:53 PM

kevan mayor figures out the copying conundrum

Turns out that Kevan Mayor, frequent correspondent and friend, is expert in more than military history and British comedy.  He promptly responded this morning to the previous post concerning the logistics of Daniel Ellsberg pilfering the Pentagon Papers.  His email follows:


Even if a copier back then had a feeder, which it probably didn't, he'd have to guillotine the spine off of the documents, or de-staple them to feed them in. Even if it ran at the speed of a modern entry-level platen model, it would take 20 hours to complete.

Any machine with a feeder back then would be such cutting edge technology that it would be in the hands of a technician who would be expecting to balance the click rate with the corresponding remuneration. Xerox would certainly be billing them on the click rate, and the guys in purchase ledger will be wanting to square up the numbers on the invoice with the internal recharges. And copying was EXPENSIVE back then.

My guess is that the only machine available surreptitiously would be running at about one sheet per ten seconds, but there would be considerable time in just dealing with the curl on the finished copy paper and the considerable heat being generated, which would mean that the machine would require some down time to cool. Then there the time to change the corona wire which would need de-cacking every 1,000 sheets or so.

And god help you when it jammed: you would have to call Xerox to clear it, and explain to security why you kept setting off the fire alarm, because that jammed paper had a habit of combusting. And anyone who operated a copier at any time up until the late 1980s will tell you that copiers jammed ALL THE TIME! Yes, heat was the chief constraint on a run that size.

We're talking weeks, and someone not reading their invoices.

Mind you, I used to make transatlantic calls back in the 1980s at the site of an internationally renowned accountants which was clearly unaware of the land-line down in the basement, installed for emergencies with the alarm system. No computer audit software systems back then!


Thanks, Kev, you're a peach, and the master of all things.  And now I'm half-inclined to contact Mr. Ellsberg and get to the bottom of this pressing matter.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:54 PM

daniel ellsberg was the greatest copier ever

A story is splashing around this morning (if you can break from the gravitational pull of the Weiner story) is Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers, stating that the crimes President Nixon committed against Ellsberg (which eventually led to the Watergate scandal and Nixon's resignation) are all legal today.

Fair point!  But what I find interesting is this bit of historical trivia:

In 1969, [Ellsberg] photocopied the 7,000-page study and gave it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In, 1971, Ellsberg leaked all 7,000 pages to The Washington Post, and 18 other newspapers, including The New York Times, which published them.

How does one, in the course of one's job manage to photocopy 7,000 pages and then spirit them off to someplace?  And remember that this was 1969, back when photocopying was a relatively recent, and painfully slow, process.  It's not like Ellsberg plopped 7,000 pages into the feeder and then came back in an hour.  I don't know if they had feeders back then at all.

I'm not saying that it can't be done, but there must've been a couple guys in his office who had a certain light bulb go off over their heads when Ellberg's arrest was announced.

Also presumably, when he leaked the papers to the NYT and others, the newspapers picked up the tab on further copying and shipping.

See, history can be fun!

Posted by mrbrent at 10:28 AM