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September 16, 2011

heritage foundation on poverty

Out there somewhere is a study/position paper from the Heritage Foundation, released in the past few days, that claims that people living below the poverty line don't have it as bad as everyone thinks.  Why, they have air conditioners, and televisions (sometimes more than one!), and the kids even have video games and other toys to play with.  I think there's some sort of historical comparison in there too — it's nothing like the Dust Bowl!

It's a particularly noxious bit of speciousness, and I'm not sure what the point is.  Does the Heritage Foundation want more poor people?  Do they want to cut back on social services on the poor, since they're so fucking happy?

It is alarmingly close to the revisionist argument that slaves were happy, and yes I do think it appropriate to make that comparison.

If you are an asshole sociologist with an ideological axe to grind, and you want to make the argument that there's nothing wrong with poverty, then you better have lived a year or two in poverty (remember, that would be under $11,000 a year, pre-tax, if you're single), else you might be mistaken as a terrible terrible person that deserves to have bad things happen to you.

(And no, I'm not linking the study because I don't give a flying Ayn Rand about those classist assholes.)

Posted by mrbrent at 1:21 PM

texting while driving

Not to start the day too curmudgeonly, but this story from earlier this week, about how texting while driving may soon be banned for commercial drivers, is yet another exhibit in the argument that people are stupid.  The prospect of a "LOL" (or better, a "as;dlfja;sdklfja") is too tempting to resist, even at the well-known risk of fiery automotive death.  You can call that human nature, but I tend to call it dumbness.

But why should the government interfere, my libertarian straw man asks.  Because:

In the Kentucky crash, which occurred just after 5 a.m. on March 26, 2010, a truck driver who was southbound on Interstate 65 crossed a 65-foot median, went through a cable barrier and hit a northbound passenger van, killing himself and 10 of the 12 people in the van. Board investigators found that over the previous 24 hours, the trucker had used his cellphone 69 times while driving, including four calls in the minutes before the crash, the last of them at the time his truck left the highway.

I'm all for Darwinism as the next guy, but the ten people in the van didn't do nothing to deserve it.

And as usual, I suggest adding walking as one of the things one should not do while texting.  (Though lives are not so much at stake as the free flow of sidewalk traffic.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:00 AM

September 15, 2011

consumer confidence

It's fantastic that we're spending so much time figuring out why consumers are less that sunny about their future prospects (after being called out by Ben Bernanke last week).  The reasons cited in the first link (beware, slideshow, but it's Business Insider so why expect otherwise) include high consumer debt, falling home equity and just a general lack of confidence, which dovetails nicely with the free-market belief that unemployment is high because job creators are reacting to the uncertainty implied in possible tax hikes, regulations, etc.

Those may or may not be valid (I tend towards thinking them makarky), but let me suggest a better reason that consumers aren't spending: because they've been alive a while, and know that things are sucking.  According to this WSJ article, household income not only fell 2.3% in the last year (adjusted for inflation), but has fallen overall 7.1% in the past decade.  And if you remember the last decade, a good five years of it were a period of marked profligacy, with people throwing money at anything that moved.  If there's any discrete emotional reason that people are consuming, it's that they are the first generation that's doing worse than their parents in a century.  And frankly, I don't think you have to be an economist to know that; you just have to be a grown-up.

This is yet another reason why the income disparity and the withering of the middle class is more important than just a blogger's complaint.  It's the engine that's driving the economy into the ditch.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:02 PM

September 14, 2011

eddie huang on sam sifton

Perhaps the best "Goodbye Sam Sifton" (who, as you know, is leaving the lead resto critic chair to, um, become national editor) post I've read so far is from NY restauranteur Eddie Huang, who writes a love letter to Sifton so long that I don't feel bad pulling such a substantial quote:
Sifton was the perfect guy at NYT because he WAS New York. He told inside jokes, understood stigma, used code words that we would get, and became someone we could trust to steer us away from scenes that weren't for us. He was able to applaud a restaurant for one group while warning those that wouldn't fit in to pass. He had a genuine interest in sub culture. He could see food in relation to things that other writers/chefs/restauranteurs can't. Look at the culturally relevant guys like Roberta's, Frank's/Prime Meats, or RuthBourdain, they understand their place in food in relation to other sub cultures. I mean, have you guys chilled with some of the chefs and food writers out there? THEY ARE FUCKING HERBS. Did you see that bullshit G-9 food summit in Lima? It reminds me of the time KRS-One decided to form a Temple of Hip Hop. Once it's academic, it's over.

True all true.  And the best thing about Eddie's post (that goes unmentioned in the post) is that Sifton famously gave Eddie's spot Xiao Ye the goose egg.  Though, if you read the review, you realize that it was the most for-your-own good goose egg that you'll ever read, which was yet another facet of Sifton's charm.

And Eddie is a good guy for realizing it.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:46 PM

the voice-heard fallacy

This is baffling to me.  Not the fact that a Republican won the 9th District of New York in a special election — that's politics, that happens, and now every reporter in America will try to derive the Narrative from it.  We are used to this by now.

What I am baffled (kerfuffled, really) by is this bit of man-on-the-street reporting from the above linked NYT article:

“I am a registered Democrat, I have always been a registered Democrat, I come from a family of Democrats — and I hate to say this, I voted Republican,” said [Woman On The Street], 61, after casting her ballot in Queens. “I need to send a message to the president that he’s not doing a very good job. Our economy is horrible. People are scared.”

I've no problem with the reporting (and I obscured the name of the interviewed, because I'm about to say not nice things), but does what WOTS said actually mean anything?  "I need to send a message to the president that he's not going a very good job."  OK.  In what universe does the result of a special election for a House seat influence the job performance of a president?  I mean, it's a higher sentiment than, "I voted for the guy I'd rather have a beer with," but it's a sentiment that has no tether.

But it is totally a reflection of how these minor political events are spun, by both the strategists of either party and the news media that parrots them.  What is nominally a non-story (election for a lame-duck congressman whose district will be gerrymandered away in months) becomes a Referendum on the Obama Administration.  And I've spent some time down in the 9th District (there's some nice crab houses down there, and enormous Russian mansions right across the bay from them), and they are no more representative of the entire country than any geographically limited, homogenous population.

But after decades of listening to each political event magnified into tipping-point importance, people like WOTS mistake the act of voting as the act of Having Your Voice Heard!, instead of the act of electing the person who will make discrete decisions, mostly motivated by special interests and party loyalty, that contribute to the arcane and unknowable process of governance.

Maybe her voice is being heard, especially now that she's NYT-famous.  But what is she saying other than, "If I see a phrase spoken enough on television I will repeat it!"

Posted by mrbrent at 9:04 AM

September 13, 2011

examining the response

An interesting thing to think about: I don't want to commit the sin of distilling a Maria Bustillos thinker, but the bit of advice I gleaned from it, aimed at progressives and various fellow-travelers, is, "Be thoughtful about condemning the motives of your ideological opposites."  It's a reaction to the Republican debate from last week, in which the fact of numerous Texan executions was seemingly cheered by the GOP faithful crowd.  This caused all kinds of folk to go off, half-cocked or not, about how such a cheer is nauseating and says good things about no one.  Maria disagrees:
But to assume that rank-and-file Republicans are cheering for executions simply because they are out for blood is irrational and wrong. They are far more likely to have cheered because, as we have long known, like a majority of Americans, they support the death penalty for violent crimes, and Perry has conclusively demonstrated that he shares their conviction. It's not news, surely, that Republicans love the idea of Law and Order, nor that they think Democrats are "soft on crime." Perry was, and is, merely doing the cowboy thing that every Republican presidential hopeful has done since forever. Please note: no Democratic presidential candidate can afford to be against the death penalty, either. They never, ever go on the record against it.

That is an excellent point (and not the only one).  And it's a point that I'm squishy on.  As in, I understand that generalization can squelch the conversation, as can villification, but at what point does that turn into reluctance to make a judgment?  Because I'm all for discourse, but I'm all for the consequences of free speech.

Interesting sidenote: last night, at a different GOP debate, a couple of members of the crowd voiced their opinion that the insurance-less should be left to die.  There is not a direct equivalence between the two manifestations of the madness of crowds (i.e., the audience seemed a bit discomfited by the lone bloodthirsties), but not only is the motivation of the crowd worth examining, also too the timbre of the response should be looked at closely.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:27 AM

September 12, 2011

bill keller on christopher hitchens

This is the best paragraph I read yesterday (and I read a lot of paragraphs yesterday, including some really good ones in this by Spencer Ackerman, but no, not as good as this one):
If there is a God, and he lacks a sense of irony, he will send Hitchens to the hottest precinct of hell. If God does have a sense of irony, Hitchens will spend eternity in a town that serves no liquor and has no library. Either way, heaven will be a less interesting place.

The Hitchens in question is of course Christopher, and the paragraph is from a review of Hitchens' most recent book of essays, as reviewed by former NYT executive editor Bill Keller.

Keller gets a lot of flack for his failings, as a columnist and as a liberal hawk in the period surrounding the invasion of Iraq and the like, but I like paragraphs, so credit where credit is due: that is a swank-ass little paragraph, and it was the thing to move me the closest to tears on a day in which that happened more than once (and 9/11 free, to boot!)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:10 AM

September 11, 2011

i'm going to go without a title!

I was walking along Prospect Park last night, on the way to a birthday party, when I say that the Twin Tower lights were on.  I'd forgot.  And my PTSD faded nine and a half years ago and all that, but seeing them did knock the wind out of me a little.

And I had a long way to walk.  So I wrote about ten different 9-11 posts in my head (actually, talking out loud.)  Because, you know, it was a really bad fucking day, the implications of which never improved the terribleness of such day.

But ultimately, as I turned down 1st Street (I think it was), I decided that writing the pithy and moving 9/11 post is basically Amateur Night.  We all have our stories, and there are hierarchies of of directness (in a tower/in NY/in a mall, etc.), but if it didn't make you lose sleep for a long time, wherever you were, you're kind of a monster.

So!  It was a day that I don't care to remember, but it was a day that made many heroes.  Hopefully in the next ten years we'll do a better job of making the world a better place.


Posted by mrbrent at 10:03 AM