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June 24, 2011

david brooks on childhood

I am worried about NYT columnist David Brooks, like, is he trying to get fired?

Take for example today's column.  It is titled "The Saga of Sister Kiki".  This is already a problem, as there is exactly a zero percent chance that an 800 word column is going to be a saga.

The first 600 words are just Brooks retelling a Rolling Stone feature about a girl whose life has been impacted negatively by the Internet.  Brooks is alarmed!  Not just by the pathos of the poor girl and her Promethean relationship with digital media, but by the fact that there is a thirteen year old who speaks without being spoken to.  It's not the worse 600 words in the world, especially if you think of it as a book report.

And for his zinging kicker, Brooks indulges himself with his most recent model of OUR KIDS ARE GROWING UP ALL WRONG.  This model is the one absent any irony or any sense that OUR KIDS ARE GROWING UP ALL WRONG is not exactly a new sentiment or a novel thought or even something that has not been averred every year for centuries now.

Is the Internet affecting how kids are growing up today as compared to generations before?  Yes.  Did cable television?  Yes.  Did terrestrial television?  Yes.  Did radio?  Yes.  (Please stop me before I get to the wheel.)

I'm just concerned that Brooks is just phoning it in (with an actual telephone with a handset, and not one of those cellphones he has yet to figure out).  If we don't have David Brooks around, who will remind us of the dangers of beige?

Posted by mrbrent at 9:47 AM

June 23, 2011

ghost stories on the awl

Yes, I am ignoring you, website, but I do have another piece up on The Awl, which takes time away from the blather blather.

This one's a bit of a curating job, as we've gathered actual real-life ghost stores from Cusi Cram, Lori Horvitz, Emily Rems and Christopher Conry, who are all nice and talented people in different creative fields who generously lent their time to contribute to.  So thanks to them.

And there's one from me, which if disproved only gets stranger.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:21 PM

June 22, 2011

cotton pickin' georgia

Down in Georgia, where the politics are as repressive as the summer weather, the state successfully passed an immigration law not unlike the legislation in Arizona, forcing police officers to act as immigration agents, etc.  Conservatives were pleased, as yet another blow against brown people was struck.

And undocumented immigrants responded in kind, by leaving.  Now it's harvest time for a bunch of crops that would have been picked by undocumented immigrants.  Which crops are not being harvested:

Thanks to the resulting labor shortage, Georgia farmers have been forced to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields. It has also put state officials into something of a panic at the damage they’ve done to Georgia’s largest industry.

At least the state officials don't have good sense to act surprised, though it does say something about the wisdom and prudence of these state officials, as my pet dog Asta could've told you that there aren't a whole lot of "Americans" looking to pick strawberries in the blazing sun for eight bucks an hour.

The law of unintended consequences is starting to look more like the unified field theory.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:59 PM

good morning 6.22.11

This is a strange thought.  (And it's about the Internet, so if you're not up for some navel-gazing then I'm sure there's some good slideshow out there.)

So I'm checking the traffic stats like I do regularly, and I noticed that the traffic was up a bit.  Looking into it, I see that it's because that it's been a particularly bad month for referrer spam, specifically from a bunch websites originating in Russia.  Referrer spam, briefly, is the spoofing of the URL of the page a viewer was on when clinking a link to this page.  It's not so much to trick an admin into clicking to the spoofed site, but rather to game the algorithms that determine search rankings.

So basically, we have this alternate reality, this digital universe that was pretty thoroughly imagined by the likes of Phillip K. Dick and William Gibson and Neal Stephenson well before it became real, which has organically developed a new currency — clicks.  And this new currency can actually be converted into cash money to the extent that advertisers will pay for these clicks.  One way that the ambitious (if not criminal) out there have discovered to make ad money is to put up sites that consist of nothing but ads and then get people to visit it.  And the way to get people to visit it is to artificially get the site to show up early in search engines.

This is called search engine optimization, which is a term that's already a bit over, but the fuel that runs the Internet.

So then, the weird thought that I had is: are there actually any flesh and blood people out there?  Or is it like email, with spam constituting 90% of email traffic?

Obviously the Internet has insinuated itself into daily life in a way that television only ever dreamed of, but, at the same time, as this new currency is chased, how much of the "community" online just endless loops of robots pretending to be people spoofing referrals so that more robots visit the robot sites?  How many of the readers out there are actually just lines of code?

Oh, good morning, BTW.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:43 AM

June 21, 2011

jon huntsman

Jon Huntsman is currently speechifying his entry into the race for the Republican nomination for the presidency, making this the most Mormon-heavy race ever.  He is doing this in Liberty State Park, in New Jersey.  This is the same place that Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy for the 1980 election.  (He also ran for president in 1976, but no one remembers where he announced that one.)

They should just drag out Reagan's coffin every four years so all the Republicans can stand on it when they talk about how much they love liberty, and what the American people want.

But, on paper at least, Huntsman is not bat-shit or grotesque, so he is what passes for electable.  Expect Mitt Romney to get a whole lot more American in the coming weeks.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:18 AM

June 20, 2011


This is not important!  But it is good.  Cyriaque Lamar of io9 begs the comic book industry to stop the Green Lantern-ification of superheroes:
For example, there are 6 separate Hulks running around and all but two debuted before 2008: Hulk, (the stalwart and sensational) She-Hulk, Red Hulk, Red She-Hulk, Hulk's son Skaar, and Hulk's alternate universe daughter (also) She-Hulk. Remember when the Hulk's only sidekicks were a pair of torn purple khakis and a sad piano? Nowadays we have the Country Hulk Jamboree.

This may be a little inside baseball for the non-comic book fan, but then again the fact that I allow for a portion of the country to not have a deep cultural background of Marvel/DC comix is very naive of me.

It's challenging, I'd guess, to craft the storylines of basically static (or endlessly retconned) characters, characters whose Intellectual Property Value are so high as to demand a certain stasis, or at least endless return to the status quo.  Also the publishers do use these "Events" that spawn the Rainbow Hulks and the Everything Is Different Now! as tricks to pop sales, as the company-wide storylines beckon the reader to buy every single book and not just the usual ones.

The example of an earth-shattering story arc done right that I use is a ten-year old sequence from James Robinson's Starman.  It was the most together run I've ever seen, the entire series, and in the penultimate arc Robinson tied in story elements that had been slowly building for five years.  It was masterful.  I don't think it sold very well.

But thank you, Cyriaque Lamar, for your essay.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:02 AM

June 19, 2011

hitchens on mamet

This is one of the best ledes I've read in a while:
This is an extraordinarily irritating book, written by one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason.

It give an in media res sense, doesn't it?  Almost a conversational feeling, and an assertion that the topic is such a slam dunk that the reader does not need to be teased into it.

It's Christopher Hitchens, of course, in NYT Book Review takedown of that David Mamet book recently released wherein he converts to conservatism, finally deciding that it is the ideology that provides most shelter for assholes.

It's not so much a takedown — there is a gentleness to it, and an effort to find areas of agreement with the premises of Mamet.  But it hits Mamet in the place where it must hurt most, accusing him of soft thinking and a lack of intellectual rigor.

It's as snappy and well-crafted as any other piece of writing that you'll find on this Sunday, and as a bonus it implies that the secret shame of David Mamet is that his mien of macho arrogance has made him a dummy.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:25 PM