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December 17, 2011

allen west: specious lunatic idiot

This was going to be a little piece about how Allen West, the congressman from Florida, is an insane person for comparing the Democratic Party to Joseph Goebbels.  Because you know the messaging of the Democrats is really nothing like that of the Nazis bla bla bla.

But actually, thanks to the efforts of people like Allen West (as a weird confluence of politician and radio host), going full Hitler is no longer any kind of a shock, and in fact now a drinking game that you'd only want to play if you in some kind of hurry to get drunk.  Republicans will reference National Socialists in the way that David Mamet used to drop F-bombs, back before he drank whatever Dennis Miller is drinking.

So we're going to have to put our heads together and come up with some new meaningful metric of the conversations of specious idiot lunatics, the evil personage that it's just not fair to compare an opponent to.  Ed Gein?  Roy Cohn?  Art Modell?  Comic book villains could be useful.  Darkseid?  Thanos?

In sum, Godwin needs a new law.  (Thanks to specious lunatic idiots like Allen West.)

Posted by mrbrent at 12:50 PM

December 16, 2011

good morning 12.16.11

Here's fun news: I nearly-broke my big toe!  It's as much fun as it sounds, really, and I lost a significant amount of writing-this-or-that time to either walking as slowly as possible or OMG-that-fucking-hurts.

Oddly enough, one of the last times I've had an injury so hurty was when I shut my thumb in a truck door (and I don't mean slammed, but shut entirely, which truck door was locked and the keys of which truck were in the front pocket of my jeans on the trapped-thumb side), which not only hurt a lot but also gave me the opportunity to compare getting your thumb stuck in a truck door to trying to figure out how to leave Iraq.  Which apparently happened yesterday, I'm told.  And that contemplation on decamping Iraq is seven years old, so prescient I'm not, or wasn't.

And on top of that, Christopher Hitchens passed away yesterday, on the same day that the war he so controversially (iconoclastically?) rah-rah'ed ended.

I hope that's not what he's remembered for, his war-mongering, as he was the last of a breed of public intellectual that was actually intellectual, not to mention all of his other talents.  But there is sometimes a terrifying symmetry.  And now today, whether I can walk with or without a limp, it's kind of a different world than it was yesterday.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:35 AM

December 14, 2011

farhad manjoo is wrong

The primary news today is that yesterday was the dayjob Christmas party, which is a very generous affair involving steak and whiskey and a carelessly spoken word or two.  The result is perhaps the slowest, quietest office ever, one made almost entirely out of hangover.

So please do keep your voices down when you read this blithe jeremiad against independent bookstores:

Compared with online retailers, bookstores present a frustrating consumer experience. A physical store—whether it’s your favorite indie or the humongous Barnes & Noble at the mall—offers a relatively paltry selection, no customer reviews, no reliable way to find what you’re looking for, and a dubious recommendations engine. Amazon suggests books based on others you’ve read; your local store recommends what the employees like. If you don’t choose your movies based on what the guy at the box office recommends, why would you choose your books that way?

The writer's name is Farhad Manjoo.  I'm not familiar with his work, but I assume that he has some sort of graduate degree in specious arguments.

But as a longtime book buyer and one-time bookseller, let me suggest that Mr. Manjoo is wrong wrong wrong.  He suggests that the ubiquity of Amazon is proof of its efficiency and the inefficiency of brick and mortar stores.  I suppose if you're the sort that reduces everything to dollars and cents, the suggestion is unassailable.  In reality, however, the cheapness of Amazon is the result of bullying of the publishing industry, eating profits to deliberately undercut competitors and mind-boggling economies of scale.  And ultimately, the one thing you can't do at Amazon?  Hang out.

I'm not suggesting that Amazon should be out of business.  But I will say that a future in which only Amazon sells things is the very definition of dystopian, and may Mr. Manjoo be Burgess Meredith in "Time Enough At Last" if this world comes to be.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:23 PM

December 13, 2011

k12 is a criminal enterprise

This long NYT feature right here is everything you need to know about the privatization of education and were afraid to look up for yourself:
By almost every educational measure, the Agora Cyber Charter School is failing.

Nearly 60 percent of its students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll.

By Wall Street standards, though, Agora is a remarkable success that has helped enrich K12 Inc., the publicly traded company that manages the school. And the entire enterprise is paid for by taxpayers.

Those are the first three paragraphs.  There are many many more, that describe how exactly companies like Agora make money by taking away money from public schools, how they overwork and underpay teachers, how they create untenable situations for parents, how they provide substandard education for students who statistically fall below the national mean, and how they sometimes cannot account for kids who just drop out.

This is what privatization does: it turns an endeavor of the public good, the education of children, into a business, which has no moral compunction to actually educate children so long as they are getting paid.  Cheerleaders of privatization talk about how the "efficiency of markets" will provide cheaper better educations: that's a God-damn lie.  What is does is convert the students into some kind of commodity that has nothing to do with preparing them for adulthood.

It's very good and you should read it and the New York Times should be commended for putting resources towards it.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:17 AM

December 12, 2011

iyi 12.12.11

So this is going a bit back, but if you were reading this site in, say, six years ago, you might remember Dudeman, a ten year-old whose weekend was destroyed because Dad would not let him take home: "the most beautiful baby copperhead I've ever seen!  WHHHHYYYYYYYY?"

Well we got to catch up with Dudeman yesterday at a little holiday party in PA, and he's practically grown-up!  Junior in high school with a hard science bent, destined for an Ivy and a life in research.

He is a legit smart customer and very comfortable jawing with the adults, which he did for a while.  During which the upcoming presidential election came up.  He's a Ron Paul man, and he thinks that the president is in office because of reverse racism.

Whoa!  But now again I'm fond of this fellow (if he goes to school here in NYC I will function as an uncle of sorts), but after probing him on his ideological leanings I asked him, "So you're a fan of Ayn Rand?"  He leaned into it.  "Yeah, I am."

"You'll grow out of it," I told him.

And there was concern at the table that I had legit heat with the kid; of course not.  But if you're old enough to think of yourself a whackjob libertarian, then you're old enough to have me be an avuncular jerk about it.

Here's to you, Dudeman, and I hope you do come to NYC, because your ideas about bioengineering fuel cells are all kinds of awesome.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:43 PM