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October 29, 2011

dalia lithwick open mike

Dalia Lithwick is known for many things — her reporting, her insight into legal news items — but one of the things she is not known or is her ability to write pieces that would be better placed at The Onion.

Lithwick is condensing on-paper GOP positions to construct a premise where they are opposed to Halloween:

It’s become increasingly clear to the Republican leadership that growing mobs of masked youngsters, overrunning America’s pristine public thoroughfares with their unreasonable demands for free Skittles, are both frightening and disruptive. “If you give a kid a candy corn, he’ll eat for a day,” explained [inexplicably successful, weaselly VA Rep. Eric] Cantor, in unveiling the new program. “But if you take away his candy corn and make him grow his own sugar cane, he'll grow up to have a job you will eventually send overseas.”

I pray that this genuinely funny exercise in satire does not get Lithwick fired.  I mean, I doubt that will be the case, but in these times where journos are punished for having an opinion, it's impossible to say.&mbsp; Maybe Lithwick will be reduced to writing for one of those print magazines, like Time.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:37 PM

October 28, 2011

we're all maybe not gonna die!

Yeah, sure:
First off, it’s no danger to Earth right now. It’s what’s called a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid because its orbit intersects ours, but observations have shown it won’t be a danger to Earth for at least a century, and probably much more. There’s been some scare-mongering about it over the past few months, but as usual that’s all baloney. This rock will pass us safely, sailing on into the night.

That would be Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait explaining how an asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier, which is going to swing in between this planet and the orbit of the moon on November 8, is nothing to be excited about.

That may be the sober way to think about it.  Me, I have a hard time being so nonchalant about what is basically an entire shopping plaza hurtling towards us through space to miss us only by what would be, in Astronomical Units, a percentage of one that starts with a decimal point and then has a bunch of zeros between that and one.

In other words, it's an awful lot more novel to contemplate that than it is, say, Talk Like a Pirate Day, or Halloween.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:38 AM

October 27, 2011

the things coming out of paul ryan's mouth

Elizabeth Warren is awesome.  You know her, Harvard professor, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau guru, current candidate for Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat.  She's a fearless economic populist, and now that she's no longer on the payroll of the Obama administration, she has a little bit less discretion to have to deal with when choosing her words.

Now for some reason the designated anti-Warren of the Republican Party is going to be Rep. Paul Ryan, he of Wisconsin who is reputed to be, if not smart, at least able to read a book and author of a budget plan that the party would prefer to forget.  Maybe it makes sense, as Ryan is the closest thing that the GOP has to an economics expert, although his expertise is Bizarro'd through a lens of Ayn Rand and her Me-First-and-the-Gimmee-Gimmee-ism.

This is Ryan on what he calls the "fatal conceit of liberalism":

Money and wealth made and created in America is the government’s unless they benevolently spend it back to people. It’s the other way around,” Ryan said. “No one is suggesting that we don’t need good schools and roads and infrastructure as a basis for a free society and a free enterprise system. But the notion that the nucleus of society is the government and not the individual, the family, the entrepreneur, is to me just completely, inherently backwards.

I share this with you because I think it is transparently specious.  No liberal thinks that wealth is the government's until it's paid back to the citizenry; that's a misstatement that borders on libel.

Nor is anyone suggesting that Ryan or anyone like him are opposed to infrastructure, or fail to understand the need for it.  But what is suggested is that the jagged individualism preached by Ryan completely ignores the need to actually fund like infrastructure.  Taxes are not confiscatory.  They're the membership fee that you have to pay to be in an awesome club.  Like maybe the Soho House!  Because you don't get to elbow-rub it up at the Soho House unless you pay the membership fee.

It's one thing to get chuffed because Ryan can't defend himself without both constructing a straw man and putting words in the other side's mouth.  But his worldview (and I guess by extension the worldview of the entire Republican Party) is so freaking untethered to anything but a very personal greed.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:03 AM

October 26, 2011

are we entering the tear gas stage?

So the piece of mine ran in The Awl yesterday is kind of about Occupy Wall Street — it's a comparison, actually, between that and this little-remembered thing that happened in 1932, when down-on-their-luck veterans occupied D.C. for a couple months.  And then what happened??  Well, you know the drill.

Meanwhile, this is a little round up that was intro'd on Twitter as, "Is this how the American class war begins?"  Funny way to put it, as technically the class war is as old as the country is.  No, really.  Name the period of American history, and I'll show you the class issues.  Class war is what America's all about, and I think you can guess which side's been doing all the winning.

But that little tease was enough to get me to click through, and if you run down those links of the current state of the Occupy Everything, it does at least seem that we are slowly entering the tear gas stage, and I'm not sure what the stage after that is.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:12 PM

for david brooks, refutation occurs naturally

From yesterday's David Brooks column about something I forget what:
The Occupy Wall Street placards advocate income redistribution, but data from the General Social Survey shows that support for redistribution has plummeted during the recession, with the sharpest declines coming among people earning between $7 and $9 an hour.

Same newspaper, a day later, in an above-the-fold front page story on polls concerning Americans' feelings concerning Occupy Wall Street, income inequality, etc.:

Almost half of the public thinks the sentiment at the root of the Occupy movement generally reflects the views of most Americans.

With nearly all Americans remaining fearful that the economy is stagnating or deteriorating further, two-thirds of the public said that wealth should be distributed more evenly in the country.

I don't know if David Brooks has an intern or an assistant cherry-pick specious polling to buttress his argument that he is not just an op-ed columnist but also the crystallization of the sum total of American opinion, or if he does it himself, but it's some pretty bush league work.

Like, Douthat could do that shit in his sleep.  Come on, David Brooks, at least pretend to try.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:23 AM

October 25, 2011

station id

Hi there, a quick station ID in light of diminished leisure time capacity:

My name is Brent Cox.  I've run this site for (I think?) seven years.  Recently I began to write things for The Awl.  I also participate to varying extents in the social media.

I used to be a sketch comedian — weird, right? — but now am not.  Parkour would be fun, I guess, though I doubt my knees are up for it.

Thanks.  Back in a sec.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:26 PM

October 23, 2011

neal stephenson and word counts

So I finally just started Neal Stephenson's Reamde (and by "just started" I mean I'm 200 pages in, which for Stephenson counts as a prologue).  I am an enormous fan of Stephenson, and have been for years.  The Awl's Choire Sicha has a very handy snippet of the book up, which posits an important question: Why does Stephenson write the way that he does (i.e., at such discursive length)?
...he recounts [certain mundane events] in methodical, exacting detail, and you have to ask: why? Is it a meta-commentary? Is it an exercise? Is it a comment on mundanity? Is it simple OCD? No idea!

I have a whisp of an idea.  Mixed in with Stephenson's ability to reexplain now to you in ways you hadn't thought of is a fascination with the way things work, whether these things are a protean Internet or presidential campaigns or the Age of Reason or firearms.  And I think that what infuriates some readers (check the comments thread for the Occupy An Editor sentiment) is that sometimes the meticulousness flies right over the heads of the reader, or, more generously, falls outside of the interest-array of the reader.  You could call it a fetishization of mundane real-time process.  Or you could even call it Style.

But personally, I don't find it infuriating at all.  It's the thing I like best about him.  He's the best explainer I've ever read, and I've learned more about a panoply of topics, some vital and some not, from reading Stephenson than I did as an undergraduate.

I mean, dude, if you don't like patient, windy explanation, read a Reacher novel.  (Which is also very good but in an apples vs. non-fruit item kind of way.)

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the industry, but I don't believe that novelists get paid by the word, so I make the Leap of Faith and assume that all that's there for a reason.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:29 PM