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June 22, 2012

adrien chen is wrong on the internet

We've all heard of the bus monitor who was mocked to tears and then Youtubed all over creation and THEN an IndieGoGo campaign raised over $500,000 for her.  Yes, it only happened a week ago, but that's how fast these things move, right?

Well there's a writer by the name of Adrien Chen who wrote a piece for Gawker advising that Karen Klein, the bus monitor, should not accept the money raised in her name.  His argument boils down to, first, that it's not fair, second, it won't stop bullying! and third, then she'll become some kind of viral celebrity and inevitably will be consumed by fame.  I know, those are all equally specious, but the first one really gets me. Writes Chen:

It's fundamentally unfair. Karen "deserves a vacation," reads the description on the Indiegogo fundraiser. Sure, well all do. But she certainly doesn't deserve over half a million dollars any more than the latest Powerball winners deserved that $640 million prize. Or, you know, orphans.

I've never had a problem with anything Chen's written before, but that's some sloppy-ass thinking right there, yo.  Specifically, to attempt to link unexpected good fortune with merit is something that we stop trying to do once we attain tweendom.  (And something, I suspect, Chen doesn't really believe at all.)

I don't know if Chen has been to Greece (the suburb of Rochester, where this happened), but I have.  I know what kind of neighborhoods Klein and the douchetard bullies live in, and just how far she gets on her salary.  It's not exactly the shiningest neighborhood of Flower City (tho not the worst, either), but it is exactly the kind of place where, if someone offers you half a million bucks, you take it, no matter what some new media dummy thinks down there in New York City.

(And yeah, no link: best case scenario is that Chen doesn't mean any of this twaddle and is instead trolling for outraged pageviews — no reward for that.)

Posted by mrbrent at 1:34 PM

vacation bible school

On the way to the subway, I had a very vivid memory come back to me, stopped me in my tracks.  Actually, two, but both are definitely related to the heat.

First, when I was eight or nine and we were living in the outskirts of Pittsburgh, there was a community center right on the edge of the development, not far from the Open Pantry where I bought my X-Men comics, and there was some sort of summer program, like day care?  Maybe like a summer day camp.  I'd walk there in the morning and walk back in the afternoon.  I think mostly we played dodgeball and the like, but I do remember once that we were bussed to a big public pool in a state park, and I spent the day trying to decide what I should get at the snack bar with my lunch money.  I have no memory of my little sister in the program (too young?), but I do know that I was largely friendless and kept to myself.

And then the second was from a couple years before, my folks dropped us off at an aunt's in Blissfield, Michigan for a week or two, during which week I attended Vacation Bible School.  We weren't churchgoers or anything, but I wasn't old enough to sniff around apostasy, so the "Bible" was kind of silent.  I presume we did some talking about Jesus, but I do remember we did some coloring about Jesus, and some cutting-and-pasting of construction paper about Jesus.

I guess I woke up a memoirist this morning, or at least a nostalgist.  But what do little kids do for summers now?  I presume there are still Vacation Bible Schools, yes?  Oh, I see, indeed, and in fact they are now referred to as VBS.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:13 AM

June 21, 2012

acxiom does what?

This is a leftover from the weekend, but a good read that puts into context what American industry looks like now — a long NYTimes business feature on the company Acxiom.

While you may think that Acxiom is either the answer to a trick question or the only word impossible to misspell, it's actually a self-described "technology and marketing services company."  What that means to you and me is that they have been collecting data about American consumers, and then selling/renting/advising based on such data.  And if your knee-jerk instinct is to think of "data" as "general and niche trends" or something like that, not anymore.  When Acxiom collects consumer transaction data, that means data concerning individual consumer transactions, like, fifty trillion of them a year.

It really is fascinating and an eye-opener if not a total mind-blower.

But, appropriate of nothing, this one paragraph caught my eye:

For Acxiom, based in Little Rock, the setup is lucrative. It posted profit of $77.26 million in its latest fiscal year, on sales of $1.13 billion.

Just off the back of this here envelope, the gap between Acxiom's sales and profit is nearly a billion dollars, which, given the size of its profit, is a large, looming, foreboding number.  Which raises the question: exactly how expensive is it to collect all this information?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:03 AM

June 20, 2012

briefly frustrated

I'm a bit disappointed by the election this far.  On the surface it seems that this is a close race, contested by the candidates and their proxies, taking their issues to the streets, etc. etc.

But really: you have a charismatic presidential-type, well-funded and well-organized, against a candidate who was the last viable option for the Republican Party.  For real.  Romney said, "I'll do it!" and then the GOP asked every single person who was Mitt Romney and they all said no and then Mitt Romney said, "I'll still do it!"

Is it the media, as smart kids like to assert?  Do Our News Organizations need to have drama in presidential elections, and are therefor inclined to call them closer than they are?  Or is it the Citizens United Effect, the influx of hundreds of millions of unregulated dollars from people like the Koch brothers and Shelden Adelson, already flooding the airwaves with ads attacking the president before spring turned to summer?  Did Swiftboating just go nuclear?

Whichever.  This is boring.  I know that journalism has certain obligations, but frankly I'm sick the length that everyone is going to take Mitt Romney seriously.  Repeal all of Obamacare, cut taxes, slash discretionary spending?  Come on, man.  Where exactly does that work, has that worked?  And it still gets a straight face?  It's just stoopid.

I can't tell if this is a narrative failure of the current election or some function of either my personal age and/or history progressing, but I remember elections being fun.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:58 AM

June 19, 2012

joe nocera on alec

Joe Nocera is fast becoming my favorite NYT opinion writer.  I think I've mentioned his continued focus on unions and their importance, but he also seems to focus on the same issues that are not always the ones bouncing around, say, DailyKos.

This morning he writes about ALEC, or the American Legislative Executive Council, you know, the one that brings conservative state legislators together and writes their legislation for them.  Kind of like the exact opposite of grass roots.

Though this time ALEC is not providing a boilerplate law, but rather a tactic.  A property tax increase for Woonsocket, RI, which would forestall a municipal bankruptcy, is blocked by two local (and conservative) state representatives:

The two Woonsocket legislators quickly decided to apply Rahm Emanuel’s famous maxim about never letting a crisis go to waste. The fact that their town had a big budget deficit meant that if they played their cards right, they could do a lot more than just fix the schools’ problem [whose deficits caused the budget shortfall]. They could actually shrink the town government!

And how does one go about doing that? By refusing to go along with tax increases and forcing the city to the edge of bankruptcy, thus raising the possibility of bringing in a receiver.

Because, you see, the one thing that the receiver can do that the town of Woonsocket can't is unilaterally breach union agreements.  And any chance to abrogate a pension obligation, etc., etc.  And Nocera does the legwork to determine that the pensions "are not the core problem in Woonsocket."  Union-busting as sport.

And Nocera manages to tie it into ALEC, which is a good dose of Bad News To Watch Out For to start the morning.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:06 AM