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February 22, 2013

david brooks, dubstep, awkwardness

The problem with this morning's David Brooks (titled "The D.C. Dubstep") is not that he doesn't know what dubstep means.  He probably doesn't, and he wouldn't be above a malaprop as long as it was awkward enough, but editors pick the headline and the writers don't.

Oh, it's plenty of awkward, with David Brooks imagine the Beltway as a disco or something, and then describes the dances that each party does as the sequester approaches!  Oh, how David Brooks was snickering to himself as he crafted this!  The two dances, BTW, are the "Permanent Campaign Shimmy" for the Democrats (because the president is running for office?) and the "Suicide Stage Dive" for the Republicans.  Actually, the suicide aspect is a rare thing I agree with David Brooks: based on recent history alone, if the GOP gets that gleam in their eye over how their Masterful Strategy Will No Fail, then it's a sure sign that someone's going to end up with their foot stuck in a mop bucket at the end of the day.

This is the problem with the piece:

What's America's biggest problem right now? It is that business people think that government is so dysfunctional that they are afraid to invest and spur growth.

The reason that there's no growth is that there's an unemployment problem and a wage stagnation problem, and on top of that, the payroll tax was allowed to expire.  Demand is down in general (and if you think I'm generalizing, ask Walmart how they're doing this month).  If no one can afford to buy your widget, then why bother expanding production?

Sure, sequestration will hurt the economy and no doubt tamper employment, and sure Republican intransigence creates a dysfunction that must be hard for our Captains of Industry to countenance, but David Brooks is putting the cart before the horse.  Businesses are doing fine, better than fine, sitting on cash reserves.  Who's hurting are those without a job, or those who've seen their real wages basically frozen since 1970.  (Though undoubtedly not for David Brooks.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:29 AM

February 21, 2013

heartburn rememdies over time, for the awl

Here's your bit of added value to induce you into clicking over/reading the most recent Adjusted For Inflation for The Awl, concerning heartburn (and Larry the Cable Guy).

So the marketing history of Alka-Seltzer is a large part of the story, which is a lot more fascinating than you'd think, because there are no less than five hall-of-fame campaigns that I'm sure all of you can list of the tops of your heads.  But in researching, I came across a video labeled Alka-Seltzer Bloopers, which alleges to be outtakes from the production of a commercial, the subject of which being a spicy meatball.  So I threw it in, as an aside.  And even my editor is all like, "That spicy meatball video is CRAY-ZEE!"

And then who but the perpetually awesome Maria Bustillos should point out that the bloopers are not bloopers but the actual commercial.  Which I looked up to be sure, though between you and me, the memory did emerge of seeing it on TV (I would've been barely two, I think?).

It's really a spectacular example of how good the marketing was for Alka-Seltzer — a deliberately fake commercial, back in the days when deliberately fake things were more than a minor shock.

Anyhow, link to that video, plus all those words I wrote, are over here, if you're curious.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:20 AM

February 20, 2013

welcome the underwar

There's been a slow trickle of Chinese hacker stories over the past few months (years?), which yesterday turned into a full-fledged geyser.  Mandiant, the cybersecurity firm that consulted the New York Times Company when they had their little hacked-by-the-Chinese-military problem, released a sixty-page report detailing the extent of the efforts of the haxxor arm of the People's Liberation Army.  And the NYT devoted a whole bunch of inches to the story.
While Comment Crew has drained terabytes of data from companies like Coca-Cola, increasingly its focus is on companies involved in the critical infrastructure of the United States -- its electrical power grid, gas lines and waterworks. According to the security researchers, one target was a company with remote access to more than 60 percent of oil and gas pipelines in North America.

This is one of those stories where the real hair-raising shit is what is implied and not stated out loud.  Between the lines: the Chinese military has been beta-testing hard-target sabotage via the Internet.

The motivations and implications are vague— Runaway cadre?  Shot across the bow?  Irrational exuberance?  But if that's not scary enough for you per se, then think of it as less harmless shenanigans between super powers and more as the beginning of the next Cold War: digital, asymmetrical conflict involving data and its uses instead of weapons.  Not the new Cold War, the Underwar.

(Underwar, oof.)

Posted by mrbrent at 8:58 AM

February 18, 2013

handing out the goodies

So that thing I was whining about over the weekend, wherein opposition is mounted against universal pre-kindergarten on the grounds that it is a naked ploy to buy votes?  It metastasized!  Awesome.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney pilloried this proposal, concluding that it is designed to "hand out the goodies" to future voters. Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy questioned whether children will benefit from preschool education past childhood.

This is that thing that happens, and it is totally partisan of me to think/write this, in which a person of high self-regarded morals will accuse ideological opponents of the Worst Sin Imaginable — i.e., the sins that the accuser would contemplate.  Discourage voters who vote against your candidate from voting?  Manipulate voter sentiment to achieve unspoken goals?  Buy votes?

It's a very casual, inadvertent admission of low motives, and the contempt it reveals not just for the administration but also public education plus also the voting public is a little more than galling.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:44 PM