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March 2, 2012

ken mehlman is right

Yesterday I mentioned the possibility of the dead reviled man possibly having done good someday had they not died.  Today brings an excellent example.

Ken Mehlman was a rising-star Republican political operative in the last decade, heading the campaign to re-elect George Bush in 2004,  This successful campaign, if you remember, was fueled by the twin, despicable engines of Swiftboating John Kerry and gay marriage hysteria, which makes Mehlman someone to put in the "reviled" category.  However, a couple years ago Mehlman came out as gay, and as contrite for some of the tactics he employed.

Today, in a Salon piece, Mehlman is quoted as saying:

If you look at attitudes today and where they are headed, it’s clear to me that supporting equal rights, including the rights to civil marriage, is a net positive for winning elections, as well as the right thing to do. By contrast, opposing equal rights is a net negative that gets problematic to more voters each year.

And he is not talking about Democrats winning elections, as he is still a loyal Republican offering genuine advance for Republican prospects.  And loyal Republicans supporting gay marriage is something that would knock the snark right out of my mouth.

So: the potential for good exists, which potential evaporates upon the death of the doer.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:13 AM

March 1, 2012

speaking ill of the dead

Let's talk about speaking ill of the dead.

This issue arises frequently, on the passing of controversial figures.  And sometimes not so controversial, to be honest, as evidenced by the small eruptions of vitriol that accompanied the death of Whitney Houston.  But sometimes the public figure is genuinely controversial, both much loved and much reviled.

Andrew Breitbart is the obvious example, considering his sudden expiration last night.

I'll say it outright: I did not care for the man.  He was a crusader for things I did not believe in, this odd idea of a liberal conspiracy to destroy the nation.  He promulgated idiocy, like the Shirley Sherrod video, and the clumsy gotchas of James O'Keefe, and his "Big" network of websites trafficked in baseless calumny and bullying righteousness.  I did not think of him as an "honored opponent" or anything of the such.  I thought he was an insecure dick.

However, after a morning of scanning the Internet, I did find many a testimonial from those who disagreed with him, averring his good nature and his devotion to his family.  Also, he was successful by any metric in a nearly self-made manner, and that's something to respect.

Death is scary.  I'm scared of it, at least, being one of those agnostic-leaning-towards-atheism kind of guys, having no real answer to the question, "What happens when you die?"  It's the very definition of inevitable, according to our current conception, and I don't wish it on anyone because my wishes are irrelevant to the process.  It's easy to argue that this unknowableness is what propels people and there desires and ambitions and sidesteps and aversions.  It's a reckoning.  Hopefully it's far away because I certainly like being alive, as hard as it is sometimes.

So that version of Breitbart that was walking around and Twittering yesterday?  That guy was a dick, no matter how much his friends liked him.  But I'm sorry to see him go, and not just in the sense that I'm sorry to see anyone go.  He loved his kids, and now his kids are dad-less.  And maybe he would've done something not vile someday?  Or maybe his vileness inspired someone somewhere to do something good, or hardened their resolve?

Death isn't going to inspire me to change my opinion of someone's life.  But that version of Breitbart that is either moving on to the next scene, or dispersed into nothingness?  To that guy I say, "Peace."

Posted by mrbrent at 12:33 PM

February 29, 2012

the stratfor problem

So there's the latest WikiLeaks event (which is a co-production of Anonymous, apparently), consisting of the hacked emails of private global intelligence firm Stratfor.  Funny, Stratfor and WikiNonymous being at loggerheads, given that on paper Stratfor sounds like the kind of corporate endeavor envisioned by Warren Ellis maybe, a shadowy worldwide organization of private spooks, out to save the world.

But that is NOT what Stratfor is — they're a business like any other, and what they sell (either by subscription or by contract) is information.  Intelligence, if you will, in the James Bond sense.  "Strategic" intelligence about what's happening in the world, what's going to happen, etc.  The kind of stuff that governments/multinationals need for decision-making.

But of course if you sift through the emails (only a couple hundred out of a couple million released so far), you see that Stratfor is a little bit less than the sober specialists you might expect, and more the normal convolution of greedily clowny and clownishly greedy you see in any other business — trafficking in wackadoo Obama election conspiracy theories, crowing about the offshoot investment fund (called StratCap) created to exploit Stratfor's "expertise" and "knowledge".

Stratfor is the natural result of a half-century of promulgation of the Chicago School of Economics, wherein no function of government is so precious as to be spared from privatization, as the power of the free market trumps all.  It's a direct result of Don Rumsfeld's/Dick Cheney's efforts ten years ago, when they decided that there was no reason to preserve government functions when someone could make billions of dollars off them.

And this is why I would think that any client of such a firm, be it Coca-Cola or the United States Marine Corps or anyone in between, is a fool to contract private intelligence services.  Intelligence, generally speaking, is not necessarily something that you want to buy from the lowest bidding vendor, nor is it something you want given to you from someone seeking to make a profit off it.  Intelligence is not like, say, a school or an energy plant, which when falls down scant years after being built by the privatized vender is someone else's problem.  Intelligence has to be correct, and the gatherers of intelligence need to have that as the goal, and not the goal of soaking clients for as much cash as possible.

This is above and beyond the problem of the intelligence client looking for something specific (say, the Bush Administration looking for excuses to invade Iraq), as if a vendor is getting paid to find intel that does not exist you can be sure that they will find it one way or the other.  The problem is that markets are not the most efficient at everything.  The market is there to extract capital.  If a client, like the USMC, is paying with little attention to the eventual usefulness of the intel, then the vendor is certainly incentivized to provide the intel as cheaply as possible, and with less than a serious concern over the accuracy of the intel.

But don't take my word for it: take a stroll through the Stratfor emails, and then ask yourself if they strike you as reliable.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:26 PM

February 28, 2012

lessons from the copier

At the office, there was a period in which the copier constantly needed repairing.  And every time, after the repairman would show up and spend his half hour in the guts of the machine, he would inform us that the problem was that somehow a stapler got gummed up in the works.

Which was confusing, because there were signs all over the copy room, warning not to let staples get into the copier.  And reminders in office meetings.  Someone went so far as to say, "Not like, only put a couple staples in the copier.  No.  No staples in the copier, ever ever."

I'm only relating this because it would make sense that a military engaged in a ten year mission in Afghanistan would have pretty constant reminders to service personnel (and contractors!) not to burn Korans.  Not not to only burn a Koran every now and then, but to never ever burn a Koran.  It would make a little sense.

(BTW, I don't remember the copier being on the fritz that much lately, which can only mean that the copier company has developed a staple-proof machine.)

Posted by mrbrent at 12:40 PM

hello tuesday

The bad news is I have a nice little head cold, which means I'm in the apartment and not behind the desk.  (I was raised partially Lutheran for a while there in adolescence, and somehow the precept of Industry stuck with me.)  Not that there's not work I could be doing here — in fact, there's plenty, but there's the whole headcold thing, which gives me the attention span of a three year-old who just ate his way out of a mountain of Sweet Tarts.

The good news is that I'll be able to watch the day-long live coverage of the primaries in Michigan and Arizona, where our long national nightmare of primary elections is just starting to gain downhill momentum.  Santorum will express some spiritual concept antithetical to government profanely, and Romney will gaffe his way through the day, maybe wad up a couple hundred dollar bills and throw them at some hobos.  And I will be able to turn to practically any cable channel and watch it live, since Angelina Jolie's leg is already so yesterday.

Also: can I just steep some ginger in my tea?  Does that count?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:08 AM

February 27, 2012

barry ritholz on robosigning settlement

Nice Barry Ritholz column in the Washington Post concerning the robosigning settlement that's been worked out between The Banks and 49 out of 50 states, and why he's against it.

The issue has been around for so long it's easy to forget what's it's really about, and Ritholz does a nice job laying it out in plain English.  In order for a foreclosure to proceed, the party seeking the foreclosure files an affidavit with the court attesting that the facts of the foreclosure are in order (i.e., the bank holds the title, the mortgagee's failure to pay, proper service of notice, etc.)  And what The Banks did, and the reason that they should be in more hot water than they are, is:

How did this happen? Instead of a careful review, people were hired to rubber-stamp hundreds of foreclosure documents an hour. Former burger flippers were paid $8 to $10 an hour to violate the law, file false affidavits and commit perjury. Some of the information was correct, but much of it was wrong — and none of it was verified for court purposes.

Ritholz should probably apologize to burger-flippers, but you see where he's going with that.

And then there's the settlement.  Ritholz says that the number being thrown around — $26 billion — is inflated as it includes writedowns that would have happened with or without the settlement, and in any event is not an amount that is going to change anything, either for underwater homeowners or the economy in general.  But mostly, Ritholz says, the settlement is bad because of a little thing called the law:

The bigger issue is the economics of criminality. Most people who get caught committing crimes are punished. Commit a felony — if you run a bank — and your shareholders pay a monetary fine. Violating the law has merely become the banker’s cost of doing business.

Thus, the robosigning agreement has allowed the mass production of perjury. It has gone unrecognized and unpunished. It has made perjury a business expense, like travel or office furniture. The same reckless approach to giving loans to unqualified people was institutionalized, leading to another reckless approach to foreclosing homes.

That's a pretty common-sense opinion to have, and one I agree with.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:49 AM

February 26, 2012

charles pierce is good

A brief note of appreciation: Charles Pierce was not a name known to me, which is probably entirely my own fault.

But recently I've been reading him daily.  He's a "political blogger" for Esquire, which, yes, sounds like "baseball blogger for Elle" or some such, but he's really quite good!  He's got a muscular and profane approach to political matters, and I find him a bracing antidote to the political writing that's been the standard for the past couple years.  I think what I like is that he's not that bloggy?  Such as, there's some outrage in there, but no melodrama.  A little more engaging than DailyKos, and a little less Taibbi than Taibbi.

Apparently Pierce came from the Boston Globe, where he was for a while.  Good hire.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:50 PM