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August 26, 2011

brent cox in the awl: fashion?

Man, I've been unrelentingly cranky the past few posts.  I apologize!

I've got a new piece up at The Awl, which about very expensive handbags and celebrity and the Internet and stuff.  So in the past couple months, my topics have been Filipino food, ghost stories, space shuttles and fashion.  For the record.

Also!  NYC just issued a mandatory evacuation order, which is a clarifying experience, really.  We're not in any of the flood zones, as predicted by the city, but I have a whole lot of friends who are as of now looking for a place to stay.  It is a strange experience.  (Looking for some good advice on what to do if you're on the Atlantic Coast right now?  My friend Maud is smart.)

So again: everyone be safe please.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:42 PM

August 25, 2011

eric cantor remains monstrous

So yeah, there might be a little interruption in service hereabouts because Hurricane Irene is fixing to ruin everyone's weekend.  Who knows?  Maybe it swerves to the east, and we all feel embarrassed for the hysteria.

But in the meantime, let me just say that this makes me livid: House Majority Whip Eric Cantor, not content to sit in the sidelines and wait for John Boehner to implode, decides that his contribution to the public good when a Category 3 is sweeping up the Atlantic Coast is to warn that there will be no disaster aid without appropriate budget cuts.

That is the stupidest fucking thing in a world of stupid fucking things.

This does not illustrate why these small government dingbats are wrong, it is exactly why the small government idiots are wrong.  The entire idea of having a government, whether your condo board, or your municipality, or your state, etc. is that associations of people are able to accomplish what no person alone can.  And this is not just a question of cooperation; it's a question of collectivism and of contingency planning.  It also gives security that individuals do not have, not just from the aggression of neighbors, but for moments of force majeure.

And if this pencil-neck know-nothing that the potential devastation of a whole bunch of cities is the appropriate time to make some political point, a little flex of the ideological muscle, with a wink to the Tea Party?  Fuck him.  I've loathed a lot of politicians in my life, but this one's special.

Whatever, this is silliness to be wasting words on.  Everyone be safe.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:42 PM

oh apple

Sorry, folks, but Steve Jobs stepping down is not a story that deserves the play it is getting.  He's truly a successful guy, but if we are going to accord the success of Apple as some kind of defining moment of the new century, then I am going to buy a time machine and commit some pretty serious causality violations.  Apple is a very successful monopoly that has turned platform-exclusivity into a way to throttle competitiveness.  They make beautiful gizmos that with the ultimate design goal of effortlessness which will some day end in such a effort-vacuum that they won't need users either.  Apple does not just want devices with no moving parts, they want ones with no discernible part.  I don't like seamlessness.  I like seams.

And the last thing that I like is ubiquitousness.  And the next to last thing that I like is a consumer base lifestyle-swindled into a brand loyalty that rivals the loyalty we have for our spouses and children.

I have nothing against Steve Jobs, and wish him health and happiness, but Apple is not an altar, not for me.

God dammit, we totally have defined ourselves as idiot consumers that will fight a man if someone talks smack on our gizmos, haven't we.

Maybe a bright side: maybe some genius in Cupertino will invent a battery that can be changed by the gizmo-owner.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:42 AM

August 24, 2011


Perhaps the best thing about yesterday's seismic event (er, no not the one in Colorado, or the one in Albany — the one in Virginia that shook up NYC a bit and DC real good), is that I only heard one direct comparison to 9-11.  And that one was my mistake, listening to 1010WINS to try to suck up information, and I just couldn't rip the buds out of my ears fast enough when the newsreader remarked that the camaraderie of the office-workers having evacuated their buildings was akin to that of 9-11.  Sorry, newsreader!  You don't get to invoke 9-11 as a comparison, ever, unless there's another terrorist event that shuts down the nation for an entire week.  In fact, it's much like how I don't get to call Glenn Beck Hitler no matter how Hitler-y he gets.  Not my rules.  Comparisons to the blackout of 2003 make more sense, and actually they felt very similar, tonally, though yesterday we all went back inside instead of flooding the streets for the trudge home.

I guess that I'm saying two things.  First, that the earthquake was very high on the novelty scale and I don't care what you earthquake veterans have to say about it.

Second, I'm really, really looking forward to the next three weeks, as each day will get more 9-11-ier than the day before, culminating on the most 9-11-iest day ever, on which there will be all sorts of memorabilia for you to purchase.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:20 AM

August 23, 2011

that certain legal voice

Not to climb too deeply into my own navel, another thing that I realized concerning things like sentence structure and that certain breezy precision that is part of the voice of DFW (and the voice that Maud talks about in her piece referenced in the immediately previous post) is that those elements are, at least in my part, the direct result of working in a law office for fifteen years.  Draft and revise enough agreements over time and the style, which is all steak and no sizzle, starts to creep into you, and you can't help busting out the therefors and the notwithstandings and other words you generally don't hear spoken very often.  DFW obviously was not the recipient of any legal training, but he would have made a hell of a lawyer.  (See also William Gaddis.)

Also: there was an earthquake!  And I was on a bus so I didn't even get to feel it!  That was crummy.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:00 PM

maud newton kicks ass

If you haven't read it already, go read Maud Newton's essay for the NYT Sunday Magazine concerning the David Foster Wallace-ification of digital discourse.

Of COURSE I tease you with a pullquote:

Of course, Wallace’s slangy approachability was part of his appeal, and these quirks are more than compensated for by his roving intelligence and the tireless force of his writing. The trouble is that his style is also, as Dyer says, “catching, highly infectious.” And if, even from Wallace, the aw-shucks, I-could-be-wrong-here, I’m-just-a-supersincere-regular-guy-who-happens-to-have-written-a-book-on-infinity approach grates, it is vastly more exasperating in the hands of lesser thinkers. In the Internet era, Wallace’s moves have been adopted and further slackerized by a legion of opinion-mongers who not only lack his quick mind but seem not to have mastered the idea that to make an argument, you must, amid all the tap-dancing and hedging, actually lodge an argument.

Obsessive knowledge of DFW is not a prerequisite to enjoy Maud's piece.

And, obviously, I am as guilty as anyone for the windy, discursive, brittlely polite tone that may or may not contain an argument and/or lack a quick mind.  And I have absolutely no problem with that — Maud's points are valid and many kudos to her for being the person to point them out to the world.  The rest of us are left wondering if we're the one exception to Maud's rules.

Though I do have a couple of relevant thoughts.  First, while DFW was clearly the top of the class, and he clearly has his emulators out there, there's the possibility that those of us of a certain age kind of arrived at the same squishy place at about the same time, and DFW was just better than it than everyone else.

And the last thought is more of an I-wonder: yes, I bid read all of DFW I could find at about the same time everybody else did.  And yes the tone of my blog posts could be said to resemble a poor imitation of the voice of DFW.  However, at the same time that I was crazy for DFW, I was equally crazy for Nabokov and Barthelme (which makes sense), but also James Ellroy and then James Lee Burke.  The question is, then, how is it that my voice doesn't resemble that of Ellroy (staccato pure thought) or Burke (800 word digressions about the nutria nesting in the roots of the live oaks as the mist rolls in at dawn)?

I don't have an answer to that.  But Maud?  Go, read, discuss with friends.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:51 AM

August 22, 2011

this time a different koch

Well, the Warren Buffett op-ed agreeing that a certain raising of tax rates on the ultra-wealthy didn't attract the attention that I thought it deserved, it did attract the attention of of Charles Koch, one of the two Koch brothers who are wildly rich and finance all kinds of institutions that pretty much control the Tea Party and additional swaths of the Republican party.  Thankfully, his response is brief:
“Much of what the government spends money on does more harm than good; this is particularly true over the past several years with the massive uncontrolled increase in government spending. I believe my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington. — Charles G. Koch, Chairman and CEO, Koch Industries, Inc.

It was unlikely that Koch was going to agree, but it was a toss-up whether he was going to beat his chest a bit.  He did!

Setting aside for a moment Koch's obvious disdain for the concept of a social safety net (since he's never had personal need for one himself) as a moral necessity, if Koch's personal investments have done more for building roads for his limousines to drive on, making sure the water he drinks is safe, and that his industrialist poo is sanitized, then I'm Elmer Fudd.  It's not government that Koch rails against, it's any kind of social construct.  It's bewildering.

(I'm not Elmer Fudd, BTW.)

Posted by mrbrent at 12:38 PM

eric schneiderman's arm and its twisters

There's a story in the NYT that's a little bit depressing, but is very insidery and technical and it's just not going to get any play at all, which is even more depressing.  Let's walk through it.

The story concerns NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and his involvement with certain investigations into The Banks.  As you may know, the Justice Department along with a consortium of state AGs has been negotiating with the major banks that engaged in sketchy foreclosure practices.  The sides were close to a settlement, which would provide for a $20 billion penalty from The Banks, but immunity from further investigation into their mortgage practices.

Meanwhile, related but unrelated, Bank of America had floated a proposed settlement concerning bad mortgage securities sold by the former Countrywide Financial (which was acquired by BoA).  The settlement would provide less than five percent of outstanding amounts to investors.  The Federal Reserve of New York, among others, wants the settlement very badly.

And Schneiderman has scotched both, by refusing to waive the State of NY's right to investigate foreclosure abuse, and by filing suit to oppose the proposed Countrywide settlement.  And here is where we get to the story: apparently everyone, like, everyone, hates Schneiderman and wishes he'd shut up and go along with the program.  On the foreclosure end, he's receiving pressure from the Obama Administration, who wants the settlement to unfreeze the housing market.  And on the Countrywide Settlement, the Fed of NY is the aggrieved party, a board member of whom cornered Schneiderman at the funeral of Hugh Carey:

Characterizing her conversation with Mr. Schneiderman that day as “not unpleasant,” [NY Fed board member Kathryn S.] Wylde said in an interview on Thursday that she had told the attorney general “it is of concern to the industry that instead of trying to facilitate resolving these issues, you seem to be throwing a wrench into it. Wall Street is our Main Street — love ’em or hate ’em. They are important and we have to make sure we are doing everything we can to support them unless they are doing something indefensible.”

I guess it's not black and white — do we root out and punish the criminals, or do we settle matters as soon as possible in the interests of potential good to the greater economy?  But the bar set for policing The Banks (indefensibility) is not an exactly comforting one to hear said out loud.  It seems that Wall Street in general has enough going for it that we do not need to actively pardon its gross negligence and criminal activities.

So it is alarming to hear that Scheiderman's arm is one that the Department of Justice wants to be twisting at this point.  They really should save that for the perps.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:56 AM