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April 7, 2012

nice job michael wilson

Super good story in the New York Times this morning — "The Shots Sounded Like Fireworks, So Nobody in the Cafe Reacted" by Michael Wilson.  It's not long, so I'm only pulling the first sentence:
They always say it sounded like fireworks.

Nice reporting, and a nice, if a little bit sad, snapshot of How We Live Now in parts of Brooklyn.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:14 PM

April 6, 2012


There are a couple of things I avoid writing about, and one of them I only avoid after having tried a number of times and crumpled the thing up (digitally) and walked away.  It's a small "sputtering incoherent rage" problem.  I mean, it's one of the few times the words come easy, but they end up being not very good words.

But now that the cops who went on a little killing black people spree on Danziger Bridge six and a half years ago have been sentenced this week, folks are turning their attention back to Hurricane Katrina, with a little more hindsight.  And this Charles Pierce paragraph (from this post) is about the best paragraph I've read on the topic (or if not the best, representative of the thoughts I have a hard time getting down cogently):

All of New Orleans was once Trayvon Martin. The storm hit and the city drowned and, suddenly, the country got a good look at a lot of itself that it had not cared to look at for an awfully long time. It saw ruin and apathy, poverty and desperation. It saw the fruits of political corruption, political fantasy, and political neglect. It saw race and class in the starkest way that you can see them, swollen bodies floating in a city that became a canal, and then a lake, and then a noxious inland sea. It saw the long, lingering death of the idea of a political commonwealth, and it saw the final glorybound triumph of laissez-faire and supply-side and social Darwinism. It saw all these things and then, dammit, the country looked away again.

What happened in New Orleans is the most important thing that's happened in my lifetime (but not in a good way of course).  And nobody really noticed.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:44 AM

April 5, 2012

galbraith on inequality

Naked Capitalism has a nice interview with economist James K. Galbraith up, concerning issues raised by Galbraith's new book, "Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis."  Issues such as, now that inequality is such a hot-button topic, why don't we just refer to the decades of research we have?
[Q:] From the book I get the impression that this is bit of a dark corner in the economics profession. Why do you think this is the case? JG: Two reasons primarily. One is that surveys are expensive. The other is that for many years there wasn’t that much interest in economic inequality among economists; growth, development, trade and finance were all more fashionable fields. More recently there has been an explosion of interest in inequality — but it’s too late to go back and take surveys for past years, let alone past decades.

And on questions of the relationship between inequality and boom/bust cycles:

A rise in inequality – while it lasts – can and often does appear to be a moment of prosperity.

Hey now, that... actually makes a lot of sense, right?  Especially considering that our past two or three periods of "growth" were entirely bubble related and left meat and potato things like real wages untouched.

There's also a bunch of neat stuff in there about inequality on a global scale, and how inequality affects U.S. elections.  It's wonky; it's good.

(You may have for a second thought that this was a recent quote from John Kenneth Galbraith, who was the leading-light Keynesian economic of the last half of the 20th Century, and then remembered that that would be hard considering that that Galbraith died in 2006.  That is because James K. Galbraith is the son of John K. Galbraith, which means that this is the most emphatic, "Nice to see someone carry on the family business," I said in years.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:53 AM

April 4, 2012

oh sure, chewing gum with yr mouth open is worth a couple hundred words

I know that I'm generally too obsessed with the entropic degradation of all things, and far too quick to take an event as an omen and not just a bellwether, but why on earth is my world suddenly filled with people chewing gum with their mouths open?  And no, not in Chinatown, but like in the office, and on the subway, and in the elevator.

One of two things are happening.  Either I have somehow become more sensitive to minor annoyances (entirely possible!), or an entire generation of Americans somehow that sharing the wet disgusting noise that one's teeth make in the process of mastication is inalienable, much like the right not to be called racist when caught in the commission of racist sentiment.

And yes maybe these situations could be ameliorated with a polite, "Excuse me, could you please close your mouth while your chew that gum," but really all I want to say is, "Who fucking raised you? Care you so little for your fucking family and your name," and I'm scared that if I try the former the latter will come out.

This could be the early onset of Get Off My Lawn syndrome on my own personal part.  OR it could be yet another supporting argument for the thesis that the world is getting almost imperceptibly incrementally shittier with each passing day.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:55 AM

April 3, 2012

aramark is bad for everyone

This is a small case of, "This tastes terrible, try it," both literally and figuratively — small news today of the variety of snack food available at baseball stadiums this year:
This year, the nacho enters Opening Day with a new look and greater fan appeal thanks to an "extreme nacho makeover," courtesy of ARAMARK. ARAMARK chefs spent the off season exploring new ingredient combinations and testing various recipes to come up with a roster of gourmet nachos that is sure to be a home run with fans.

The new-look nacho offers fans fire, ice, and everything in between. Whether it's Fenway Park's Kickin' Chicken Nacho, a take on the spicy Buffalo wing, Angel Stadium's ice-cold Arctic Nacho, topped with vanilla bean ice cream, or Citi Field's Pastracho, the New York deli staple, pastrami, piled high atop fresh fried corn tortilla chips, ARAMARK's chefs have overhauled the nacho to offer fans something different this season.

I got nothing against nachos.  They may not be authentic per se, but sometimes that's how cuisine works.  And they are a bogglingly-effecting delivery mechanism for a variety food products.  Vegetable?  Meat (stewed)?  Dairy (more than one)?  Nachos are ingenuous.  And now I want some.

But as much as I'm not so down with theme nachos, I am absolutely not down with theme nachos designed by ARAMARK, because they are heartless bastards who have been destroying ballpark food for years.  I don't care if they come up with a foie gras nachos for the luxury seats, these foie gras nachos will involve both cutting open a ten pound bag of unrecognizable goop and a heat lamp at some point in their preparation, and they will be served to you by some poor joyless soul making minimum wage and not a penny more.

I grew up knowing guys with actual careers who would plan such careers around a season of selling hots or beers up and down the aisles of Yankee stadium.  It was work they enjoyed.  And ARAMARK has been Walmart-ing that type of food service out of existence.

And typical of everything else being Walmart-ing into decline, as well.  Ew.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:56 PM

update on ms. simone

Update on the fate of Ms. Simone, who was the subject of the last thing I wrote for The Awl, a teacher at a Brooklyn high school scheduled to be closed and reopened over the summer, with only half the staff being rehired: FDR High has been pulled off the list, along with six other NYC schools.

This is terrific news for Ms. Simone and her fellow teachers, as they were facing a summer of uncertainty.  And why was FDR High, which was on the DOE record as improving, but on such a chopping block?  Because Mayor Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers were at odds over concessions the Mayor wanted from the UFT.  Since the UFT was digging in his heels, the Mayor sent them a dead fish in the form of capriciously adding schools to the "turnaround" (which is the DOE's euphemism for the shutdown process listed above) list that didn't deserve to be there.  Which, for a Mayor that likes to give lip service to the futures of the kids, is a pretty venal thing to do.  But maybe not out of character?

Anyhow, congrats to FDR High, for improving so much as to foil the Mayor's attempts.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:51 AM

April 2, 2012

adam frank dispelling a notion

Here's a nice short piece from climate scientist Adam Frank illustrating what climate scientists end up doing with uncontrollable portions of their free time — disabusing notions.
In his eyes climate science was like the early phase of his school's contamination crises — everyone yelling at each other and pointing fingers.

"You want to know something weird?" I said. "For folks working on climate studies everyday, its not like that. Really. There's no controversy."

The question "Is the climate changing?" stopped being controversial for the day-to-day business of climate researchers a decade ago, at least. So much data had piled up that climate change stopped being a question. Instead it became an accepted finding. Researchers could not escape it if they tried.

I guess after giving a second of thought you could anticipate that this might be a problem faced by the climate scientist in public, given that an entire political party has convinced a swath of the electorate that climate change is a political issue, a conspiracy to take your guns and processed food away and make you take public transportation.

But what I like about the post the most is that it is gentle, and the its conclusion is entirely unspoken.  (Were it to be voiced, it would go something like, "Man those climate denialists are a buncha dingbats.")

Posted by mrbrent at 10:15 AM

April 1, 2012

romney: the hope of the earth

I heard a phrase in a sentence spoken by Mitt Romney that I wanted to note, and a little research reveals that this is not a carelessly spoken phrase, but rather a phrase that Romney's been saying for years.

The context that I heard it in this morning is in a bit of electioneering in Wisconsin.  Said Romney:

The president says he wants to transform America. I don't want to transform America. I want to restore the principles that made us the hope of the Earth and together, we're going to do that on Tuesday and every day until we get back the White House.

It's the "hope of the Earth" locution that made me prick up my ears.  I mean, we're all familiar with our unique 21st Century version of American exceptionalism, wherein the USA is de facto the best there was, the best there is and the best there ever will be.  But really, the "hope of the Earth?"  Isn't that a little much?

Part of the strangeness of the construction is the choice to say "the Earth" instead of the more natural-sounding "the world."  It has a certain sci-fi-ness to it, so much so that it would sound more at home coming out of Newt Gingrich's mouth.  (Though he'd probably opt for something more like "the galaxy.")  "The world" is a bit more colloquial, something that is all encompassing but taken to mean "mankind" or "civilization" or something like that.  "The Earth?"  Wouldn't that mean more like all the people and all the plants and all the fishes in the deep blue sea?  It's a pretty odd context for a candidate whose energy/environmental policies run a little bit more predatory on a planetary scale.

And just what is the fascination with the exceptionalism at all costs?  It doesn't speak of confidence.  On the contrary, it is the trait of the deepest insecurity.  The Republican dogma is apparently most terrified to ever ever look in the mirror.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:40 PM