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February 2, 2013

we miss you colleen

At the risk of getting personal, six years ago today my sister-in-law, Colleen O'Donnell, died.  She was 28.  She had brain cancer.

Six years is a long time, and time heals all wounds, as they say.  But it's a particular kind of healing, a bit too close to forgetting.  Easy for me to say, and less so for my wife, who is a saint, and for whom the loss was debilitating.

Colleen was an actual saint, the kind of person described so by people to whom they are not married.  Never heard a bad word about anyone from her mouth as long (too short) as I knew her.  Her last words to me, the day she was released from the National Institutes of Health, thirty-six hours before she died, were, "Thank you," which was plainly embarrassing because there was nothing to thank me for, but that's how she rolled.  As usual, if there was anyone that didn't deserve it, it was her.

So we miss you, Colleen.  And you guys, hug your family and friends, because these tiny (not really so tiny) cataclysms are unasked for and unpredictable.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:01 PM

don't be saying super bowl

Here's a free bit of factoid that I'm sharing on account of how I had to fill my head with all sorts of Super Bowl knowledge in order to write that piece for the Awl.

You might have noticed some advertising campaigns teasing the advertising that will run tomorrow during the Super Bowl (like maybe that stupid talking baby one).  You will note that they do not refer to the "Super Bowl."  They will instead refer to the "Big Game."  Awkward, right?

The reason for this is the unequaled litigiousness of the NFL when it comes to its trademark, "Super Bowl."  Not to get too deep in the weeds of how IP works when the lawyers get their teeth into it, basically the four million dollars that a company is paying to have a 30 second spot aired does not include a license to throw the property (the phrase Super Bowl) around wherever they want.

It makes sense if you think about it like this: if an ad (not airing during the Super Bowl) has the phrase Super Bowl in it, then that's an implied endorsement, right?

And it doesn't make sense if you think about how the NFL owns the words Super and Bowl.  (Only when used sequentially, and not in certain contexts, but please go ahead and freak out anyway.)

My prediction for tomorrow: it's one of those games that it's too bad someone's gotta win.  Hopefully somehow Jim Harbaugh and Ray Lewis will break some law of causality and cease to exist.  Otherwise, I'm ready for some football.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:33 AM

February 1, 2013

gun control, crazy people, etc.

Not to start TGIF with depressing, but depressing is what this is.  It's the last paragraph (the kicker) from a NYT story from a couple days ago on New York State opposition to the gun laws that Gov. Cuomo rammed through a couple weeks ago:
"They're not going to stop until we don't have any right to have a firearm, and just to heck with the Second Amendment," Mr. Rogero said. "It doesn't mean anything to them. They don't like it, they don't want it and they just want to ignore it."

Mr. Rogero is of course identified earlier in the story.  "Tea Party Doomsday Prepper" is the description one might expect, but no, he is actually "George W. Rogero, a handgun safety instructor from Orange County."

This is what is depressing about that: traditionally, the straw man is deployed to discredit the opposition — creating a "people say" that distorts the position of the people that oppose your point.  What Mr. Rogero is doing, and what the vast majority of gun-proponents are doing, are relying on a straw man argument as dogma.

There are no facts to support his statement.  Not in the sense of, there are no facts that he sites, but rather in the sense of there are no facts in existence.

The rank and file of the gun control movement do not want to take away anyone's guns.  Period.  They're absolutely not trying to rid the world of the Second Amendment.  But people, purportedly reasonable people like Mr. Rogero, do not need facts because they have their beliefs, and they believe that gun control proponents will stop at nothing until they have seized every firearm in America.  And there is no use starting a conversation with them, because their belief is inviolate and hermetically sealed.

The short hand for this is, you know, "crazy people" or "dumb people," but that bit of ad hominem is fun and all but ultimately begging the question of how to penetrate the thinking of these people.  Which should be the goal, right?

Posted by mrbrent at 9:48 AM

January 31, 2013

adjusted for inflation: super bowl

A new piece for the Awl is up, the Super Bowl edition of Adjusted For Inflation.

It is as usual a tough sell — "Another story about the Super Bowl?  Hose me down."  But this one, see, is also a little bit about all the other stories about the Super Bowl!  Fer example:

All that guacamole that may or may not be consumed? Well, it's possible to take the potential amount of guacamole, figure out how many avocados will be consumed, and what could be done with all those avocados! Eight million pounds of guac is the figure often cited. So, if all that gauc was made from two avocados, then each of them would be as big as the Staten Island Ferry. (This can be repeated, and will be, for Cinco de Mayo.) See? Fun!

See?  Come on, it's fun!

There is also of course information concerning the historical price trends of not only Super Bowl television advertising time, but also Super Bowl tickets.  Try it!  You'll like it!

Posted by mrbrent at 10:23 AM

January 30, 2013

heidi moore on the economic contraction

So come to find out that the U.S. economy shrank in the fourth quarter of last year.  The last quarter that the economy contracted instead of growing was 2Q 2009.

This was unexpected!  Surely you've heard from your grocer or the guy washing your car that the economy was supposed to be back!  So what happened?  The Guardian's Heidi Moore pulls no punches:

Washington's idiotic battle over the fiscal cliff is what. The automatic tax hikes and government spending cuts set to go into motion would have hurt a wide swath of American people. CEOs were particularly loud about the need for Washington to come to some kind of decision. Still, despite the pleading and the obvious economic harm implied in letting the fight go to the eleventh hour and beyond, lawmakers refused to get their acts together enough to address the fiscal cliff.

Remember that contractions generally result in less jobs and not more, and I don't remember anyone screaming about creating fewer jobs while they were refusing to relent on their hostage-taking of the U.S. economy.

I've shared Moore's work before, as she is increasingly my go-to business reporter.  Why, just yesterday her piece on the LIBOR scandal taught me everything I needed to know about a confusing (and outrageous) scandal.

But in this case, it's refreshing for a business columnist to say exactly what they mean.  (As opposed to, say, transparently carrying water for Wall Street.)

Posted by mrbrent at 12:15 PM

January 28, 2013

Before we plunge into the Super Bowl out of the way, let's get a small uncomfortability out of the way.  There's this thing called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.  If you follow sports, you've heard of it.  If you don't, you might have read about it last week.  It's a very special kind of brain damage, one that is presumed to be caused by repeated concussions, or at least is frequently diagnosed in the brains of people who have had a lot of concussions, like boxers, and football players.  And it's tough to diagnose, because the diagnosis is performed via examination of a tissue sample of the brain.  Which you can't get from a live person.  And from the prevalence of diagnoses of recent football players (Junior Seau being the most recent, retired in 2009, committed suicide in 2012) we can surmise that there are an awful lot of not-very-old retired football players dying.

It's still being researched, and the NFL is scrambling to stay on top of the subject ("player safety") after spending decades paying the subject no heed.  And some researchers are exploring the premise that CTE is caused not just by concussions, but rather by repetitive violent movements of the head, like the kinds that happen when an defensive lineman crashes into an o-lineman.  If that ends up being the case, then it is not the extraordinary collisions that causes the degradation of the brains of players—the highlight reel hits—but rather the ordinary collisions.

Put plainly, the game may not be safe.  In fact the game may be a whole lot less than safe.  It may be deadly.  Accordingly, it's difficult to imagine how football can continue to be played in its current form, if at all. There are a lot of forces at play here, the league itself, the player's union, the billions of dollars generated, and, eventually Congressional oversight, and no one wants to kill the game, any more than the game wants to kill the players.  (Which is the problem.)  But of all the imaginable outcomes from this conversation, the least likely is the game of football being played exactly the way it is now.

So, football fans, enjoy it while/if you can.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:44 PM


I hate to resort to this, but I'm busy!  I'd say on deadline were I the sort to use little details like that to remind the general public that one writes for other people! and is therefore important! but I'm not.  Chances are better than even that the next thing I'm working on is another intrepid look into a forty year-old sitcom, or deep thoughts about pants.

But I acknowledge the need to feed this thing content, so go read Michael Tomasky going the extra mile on the Dennis Miller-ization of David Mamet, or this lovely sad story by Brett Micheal Dykes about another old football player who played himself into dementia.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:59 AM