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February 3, 2012

indiana, china, indonesia

Oh, lost in the hoopla yesterday concerning Trump/Romney and the slow suicide of the Susan G. Komen foundation, the governor of Indiana on Wednesday signed into law a right-to-work bill, "right to work" being, of course, a euphemism for union busting, as conservatives long ago learned to always name their anti-this or anti-that legislation positively.

Indiana is not the first right-to-work state, not by a long shot: the South is filled with them.  But it's important to note, and of course many of the voters who support this sort of law are probably way too busy to think about these things, but the reason that right-to-work states are alleged to be more business friendly is because without union protection it is easier for businesses to screw over employees, thereby saving them money, which they like a whole lot more than they do funding pensions.

So congratulations, Indiana, for joining that vaunted group of right-to-work communities, which include such worker's paradises as China, Taiwan and Indonesia.  Soon, Indiana, your very own workers will be threatening to commit suicide over working conditions of an iPad factory.  That's Hoosier pride!

Needless to say, do not expect any of my tourism dollars, nor my support of any industry that takes you up on your offer.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:21 AM

hey look, donald trump

I was largely removed from the reading any of the news yesterday, but did pass by a TV set showing Donald Trump endorsing Mitt Romney for president.  I didn't give it much of a second thought.  Trump has successfully inserted himself into the political process over the past six months, and Romney would accept the endorsement of a cartoon character if it would put another couple points between him and Newt Gingrich.

But seriously, what?  Ignore the fact that for Trump the endorsement makes no sense at all, considering what constitutes the stated views of Trump, back when he figured that the easiest press in the world for "The Apprentice" would be to head-fake a presidential run, and considering his flirtation with a third-party run.  Ignore that.  The fact of the matter is that Trump is a clown, and not secretly, and Romney was embracing Trump like he was the ghost of Ronald Reagan.  Even the optics of it are unwise, as Josh Marshall explains:

During season one of "The Apprentice" he even had this custom firing hand gesture. 90 degree angle hand, flat hand, "You're fired." Mitt Romney is going to appear together with him? For pictures? If I were one of the guys at the RNC in charge of getting Mitt elected in November, I really think I'd be shaking my head right now.

Not that it would be out of character for Romney to do/say something that generally a person running for election wouldn't do, but still. Ultimately, it's important to keep in mind, at all times: we live in a world in which people care who Donald Trump endorses.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:31 AM

February 2, 2012

what is more interesting than the imf?

Brief ambiguous thoughts here:

So if you're following the Eurozone crisis (that's what we call it, right? a crisis?), you will note that Consensus Sez that austerity is needed in Greece, in Italy and pretty much in every European country that is not Germany.  And this is the prescription of the chorus of nations, to some extent, but most markedly of the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

Now, standard "I'm not expert (at much of anything, really)" disclaimer applies, but two things come to me in reaction to this, and these are things I don't see repeated much elsewhere.  First of all, is it worth someone's time to wonder why the ECB and the IMF are considered the white hats on this?  One is basically the Federal Reserve of the Eurozone, established by treaty, and the other is the result of an Articles of Agreement signed by member countries in 1945.  Neither has much in the way of transparency or accountability, and neither is organized under anything resembling democracy or any of the tangential political systems.  Ostensibly. they are the heroes of this story, but I personally am uncomfortable with the fate of nations (and the people contained therein) being determined by bankers.

Second, and maybe this informs the first, but has the IMF ever recommended to a developing country, or imperiled existing country, anything other than austerity?  Is this like the Republican Party, for whom the universal cure-all is cutting taxes?  (Recession? Cut taxes. Inflation? Cut taxes. Asteroid hurtling towards Earth? Cut taxes.)  Is the IMF ideologically locked into a worldview in which governmental spending is never ever good?  And if this is the case, should they maybe be asked to leave the cockpit and let someone else fly the plane?

I'm not trying to sound conspiratorial about all this, but the question of who really runs the world is one that's been bouncing around my head since I was a kid, so I find these questions enormously interesting.  And I'm sure the response to this goes something like, "Yeah, but so what? Are your arms long enough to box with macroeconomics?"  And no, they're not.  But I'm still curious.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:57 AM

February 1, 2012

warren ellis in space

In light of the results of the Florida primary (and in the interest of kicking someone while they're down), for a last word on Newt Gingrich's intent to not only be president of the United States but also the president of the moon, I'm deferring to Warren Ellis, who was interviewed by Vice as not only a lay authority on future space endeavors but also as someone as interesting as Gingrich is nakedly ambitious.

And it's not all mean on Gingrich — it is filled with insight!  And even hope!

If we’re talking outside the space launch field, then, hell, America innovates every day, in a myriad of fields. The field of metamaterials, for instance — invisibility cloaks, and hiding events from time itself? That’s just today, as I talk to you, and that’s all American. I realize there’s a narrative that America is all done, and doesn’t make stuff any more, and it’s midnight for the American experiment and all that, but that ignores the basic mathematics of a country with three hundred million people in it. For every bunch of dubiously photogenic fetal-alcohol-syndrome cases from New Jersey who get on the TV for ten minutes, there are ten times as many people at MIT inventing the future.

See what I did?  I tricked you in with the prospect of a well-turned Gingrich punchline, and instead hit you in the face with a reason why today is OK.

Because today is OK!  For everyone except for Newt Gingrich.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:59 AM

January 31, 2012

david brooks, motorboat noise

This may come as no surprise to you, but today's David Brooks column is not so much a column but a number of unrelated paragraphs that are tossed up in the air and placed into the column on the basis of where they land.  The good news is that almost half of these paragraphs make some kind of internal sense (an average which, applied to a baseball player, guarantees you the Hall of Fame).

Here, check out the first paragraph:

I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important as Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart.” I’ll be shocked if there’s another book that so compellingly describes the most important trends in American society.

See?  It's like he was deciding between the two sentences, and then opted to go with both.

Of course, the source of this Brooksian incoherence is revealed in that paragraph, as the social hygiene ideas propagated by Charles Murray (he of The Bell Curve, and which ideas include qualities like self-discipline and productivity — ideas so Victorian they may as well be wearing whale-bone corsets).  It's as if Charles Murray wrote his latest just for David Brooks.

For a much more palatable (and well-spoken) take on the new Murray, read Joan Walsh for Slate, who includes this nugget of revelation:

Unfortunately [Murray's] portrait of this new uber-class draws heavily from David Brooks’s “Bobos in Paradise” for color, making many of its observations about the NPR-supporting, New York Times-reading, helicopter-parenting residents of “latte towns” seem tired.

The latest Brooks column: logrolling in our times.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:09 PM

January 30, 2012

yes, newt gingrich is a sociopath

Turns out that titling a post "Newt Gingrich is a sociopath" was an inadvertent little bit of search engine optimization (term of art: SHUT UP) on my part, as my dashboard is showing a modest spike in traffic from visitors using some iteration of the search keyphrase, "Is Newt Gingrich a sociopath?"

Welcome!  And, yes, of course he is.  If Newt Gingrich were running against a thrice-married, philandering, professional lobbyist, he would not hesitate to call his opponent that out loud.  But, isn't...?  Yes!  He is!  But Newt Gingrich is a sociopath, and that is what sociopaths do.

Don't need no DSM-5 to know that.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:55 AM

January 29, 2012

the sands casino in bethlehem, pa

Last night we stopped by the Sands Casino (in Bethlehem, PA) for a literal hour -- cocktail, drop $10 on video poker, get the hell out. It was packed. It was tougher to find an open machine than it was to find a cocktail waitress. It was also depressing as shit.

The crowd was tough to pin down it was so varied. There were the kids on the night out, the local couples playing slots next to each other, the clubbers weirdly hanging around the bar areas, the yuppies pulled in after a meal at the only Emeril restaurants this side of New Orleans, the old men who wouldn't look out of place at a dusty slots joint in Winnemucca, and the throngs of Chinese families busing in from other cities. It's a big place (and table games are open!), so I'm guessing an aggregate crowd of upwards of just on the short side of ten thousand. This particular Sands is smack in the middle of the Lehigh Valley, a three city stretch along I-78 in easternmost Pennsylvania with more than 800,000 residents, all no more than a half-hour's drive (and many with a drive of scant minutes) away. Even so, I'd say that a full quarter of the crowd came from farther away.

It's a strange room. For one, it's retrofitted into a dead steel mill, so it actually has tall ceilings, which is weird for a gaming floor. Also, it does not have what I remember from every single other casino I've ever been to: the overriding background noise of dings and chimes from the slots. I remember my first visit to a casino, back before there were any casinos other than in Nevada and AC, and the din of the slot machines hit me like humidity on a summer day in Florida. It was indelible. And the Sands does not have it.

But mostly what disturbed me, and this is compared to visits to various casinos stretching back two decades, was the number of people there who seemed they shouldn't be pouring their discretionary income into slot machines. Now, these people are always present at casinos; people are people and as such make terrible decisions. But at the Sands in PA, they are legion. That place is a process server's dream. And I wouldn't necessarily call them desperate. Maybe dedicated. Somewhere in those newtworked slot machines was the future that they deserved, and all they had to do to finally get ahead of the bills, maybe finally buy a house, was to be smart enough to be lucky. And in every life-story as told by the liver, the here is never nothing but smart, so it's only a matter of time.

I don't know if this is just me being more sensitive to the arrival of the dystopic future, or the actual arrival of the dystopic future. But as more and more states/communities are looking into the possibility of legalized gambling, of casinos plopped down within walking distance of residences, the word that comes to mind is not, "good."

Posted by mrbrent at 9:48 AM