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September 23, 2011

tea party and the banks: let's you and him fight

This is a brief Big Thought, so feel free to skip as you would a photo of what I had for breakfast.

So as you know, the concept that Social Security is not only a bad thing but also a Ponzi scheme is getting more exposure than ever before, thanks to the candidacy of Gov. Rick Perry.  Of course it's not (BTW, the place to go for the best refutation?  The Social Security website, believe it or not) for many many reasons, but since the fact that the money a citizen pays in is not the same money the citizen gets paid is going to remain a convenient handle for the aggrieved to pick up SS and try to throw it out the window.

But think about this: by the same logic deployed by Rick Perry, The Banks are also Ponzi schemes.  The money that you deposit is not necessarily the money that you get paid back.  And I mean even before the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 that enabled The Banks to engage in proprietary trading, back when The Banks were just sober little banks.  Even then, the money that you deposited was not put into a vault to await its eventual return to you.  Instead, the money was put out in the world, in the form of loans.  The capital requirements of The Banks hold that The Banks need only to have less than ten percent (10%) of cash on hand.  The only thing that guarantees that your money will be there when you want it is the FDIC (i.e., the federal government).

Now, none of this alarms me at all, but were I a Tea Partier, worried about who's doing what with my money, then I would yell about this very loudly and impolitely.

So whaddaya say, Tea Party?  Go get 'em.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:58 AM

the speed of light

Good to see the speed of light in the news:
An international team of scientists said on Thursday they had recorded sub-atomic particles traveling faster than light -- a finding that could overturn one of Einstein's long-accepted fundamental laws of the universe.

I caught an NPR segment on the topic (obligatory Brian Greene appearance — he's going to have a busy day), and Greene and the other scientist were very solidly suggesting that CERN might want to recheck their math, which makes this more exciting: controversy!

Funny, back in school, when I was much more the insufferable smartypants, I decided to argue with a professor that physics was specious because of the axiom that the speed of light was a constant throughout the universe (the question to ask self being in how much of the universe have we measured the speed of light? a percent of a percent of a percent?).  The professor was kind in shutting me up.

But now that I'm older and wiser, I'm against the speed of light purely on the grounds of novelty.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:51 AM

September 22, 2011

rip troy davis

Needless to say, I've been sputtering with rage since I turned off the DVD player last night and saw that they killed Troy Davis.  So: rest in peace, Troy Davis.  You may or may not have been guilty of the crime for which you were convicted, and in fact you may not have been a good guy at all, but you were murdered by the State of Georgia at a time when the fact that your trial was riddled with misconduct was no secret.

Georgia: if I spend a dime, one red penny, in your state, ever, it will be too soon.  Get fucked.

And to the people somehow cheered by the execution of a man (yes, even the families of the victims): maybe you should read the Bible a little more closely.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:57 AM

September 21, 2011

more troy davis

So the news for now is less than bad, but the thing to keep in mind is this:

The standard for conviction of a crime, in these United States, is convincing the unanimous jury of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  Hopefully we can agree that the standard for capital punishment, whether you agree with it or don't (I don't), should be more like beyond any doubt.

This won't happen anytime soon, but the proposed standard could be a useful litmus test between law and order types and "kill 'em all" types.  (Because the "KEA" types are really not much better than the people they hope to kill.)

And Davis may or may not be guilty of the crime accused, but he has yet to have had a fair trial.  Pull the switch on him now, and his murder is on the switch-puller, and the state of Georgia.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:17 PM

troy davis

We are obviously sophisticated enough to understand that the outcome of criminal trials is only tangentially related to matters of guilt and innocence.  The quality of representation, for one, can push an outcome over the line (railroading the innocent or getting the guilty off), whether by sheet talent or just the base manipulation of technicalities.  Hell, while it's true that a DA could indict a ham sandwich, at the same time the same DA will not try a case that they know they will lose.  It's a criminal justice system.  It's run and administered by people, and people make mistakes, sometimes by accident and sometimes by moral failing.

And while I'm still agreeing (lightly) with Maria Bustillos about the impossibility of divining the motive of the GOPers who cheered Texas's body count, this rush to execute Troy Davis (by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of GA, by the GA Board of Pardons and Paroles) in the face of pervasive evidence of police misconduct, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the urge to kill the bad guys is in some ways its own reward.  Which is downright disgusting.

And the real head-scratcher is that, all these Justice Must Be Done types are the same types that complain about the size and the power of the government, and the power to kill a possibly innocent citizen — that's just about the ultimate government intrusion into the lives of the people, isn't it?

The sides of the ideological divide are calcifying in ways that are a little bit daunting.  For example, how does engage in reasonable dialogue with someone that will lustily support the state-sponsored murder of a potentially railroaded man?

Posted by mrbrent at 9:48 AM

September 20, 2011

"old smoke"

Not to yammer on, but a few people, having read the thing about the old man bar, have questioned my use of the phrase "old smoke" to describe the dudes that hang out at an old man bar.  Well, to be fair, my editor first raised the issue, and I reassured her that it was in the common parlance, etc. etc.  So after a few comments/emails, I decided to do a little research and track down the etymology of this bit of metaphor, and then we can all go back to what we were doing.

Sadly, I'm not finding anything.  This is a little crazy-making, because I swear that this is a term of art I picked up (as opposed to made up), and I know I've been using it for over fifteen years.  Two possibilities: I picked it up from some book/movie, and somehow the term only stuck with me and no one else that would ever write on the Internet, or I picked it up from a friend who maybe made it up or picked it up from somewhere else.

Of course the third possibility is that I did make it up and then somehow forget that I had made it up, which would make me an insane person.  (Though if I am, and I did: I say it's not a bad little coinage.)

Okay, enough of that.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:59 AM

September 19, 2011

watching the jets with the old men

Posting was light over the weekend because I ended up working on this piece for The Awl, which is up now.  It's about watching football yesterday at a place in Brooklyn called Denny's Steak Pub.

And if it doesn't come through, I left that place yesterday with an enormous affection for the dudes that were there, watching football and shooting the shit.  It's weird to remove yourself and try to stand to one side, but it's what I did.  But I love those guys, even Jets Fan (who was really very very loud), and I really worried about coming off as judging or preachy.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:56 PM