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May 10, 2013

rosie schaap on gin

I'm taking a break from outrage for at least one post to share with you this rather nice drinks column from Rosie Schaap.

It's succinct, so I won't spoil it with a quote, but it's a lovely brief appreciation of gin, with a couple of cocktail recipes that will have you looking for things like cardamom bitters and readily available fresh mint.

There's a peculiar thrill about reading a Drinks column, especially in the New York Times.  I mean, duh, this city is a thirsty one, and is not shy about it, but there's still a disapproving whisper that haunts you — how can you celebrate this thing that has destroyed so many lives?

Relax, Disapproving Whisper.  In fact, why don't you have a drink?  It helps when you've got a bad case of the wringing of the hands.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:42 AM

May 9, 2013

the domestic security alliance council

It may seem like ancient history, but remember back at the beginning of the decade when a bunch of activists got together to occupy public spaces to, some say, try to bring attention to the societal problems brought on by wealth and income inequality?  Occupy Wall Street, there were called, and while they survived generally getting roughed up by the NYPD, they could not survive the passage of time as measured by the American attention span.

Except it was not just police batons and relevance that was fighting against them.  Actually, according to documents obtained by the The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, they were also, unbeknownst to them, up against a concerted effort between local police, the FBI, the DHS and even representatives from the banks and other firms being protested by OWS.

You may well greet this news with a shrug.  You're not planning on breaking the law in an institutional way anytime soon, and besides, Time magazine is picking on Millennials!  To the ramparts! But think about it like this, as Naomi Klein puts it in her piece for the Guardian: this alliance (actually sometimes referred to as the Domestic Security Alliance Council) is not as ad hoc as it would appear to be.  They did not band together just to face the looming domestic terror threat of a bunch of crusties marching with puppets.  It was more about setting up an apparatus that will be there for when it's needed:

Why the huge push for counterterrorism "fusion centers", the DHS militarizing of police departments, and so on? It was never really about "the terrorists". It was not even about civil unrest. It was always about this moment, when vast crimes might be uncovered by citizens - it was always, that is to say, meant to be about you.

I'm not sure which -archy that would be, but it certainly is alarming enough to maybe share the links with your affinity group, or to broach the subject with your neighbors the next time you're picking up your CSA.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:44 AM

May 8, 2013

oh swell

So this Benghazi fascination is going to mirror the morbidly cynical fixation the Republican Party had on Whitewater twenty years ago, isn't it?

To refresh, Whitewater was a real estate deal that the Clintons lost money on that the GOP was convinced was some sort of impeachable offense and devoted hundreds of hours of subcommittees to while searching for the smoking gun.  It is not coincidentally that it was during this testimony Bill Clinton was less than forthcoming over an extramarital dalliance, and since nothing impeachable came out of the Whitewater matter, they impeached him for that instead.

The concept that some combination of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would somehow twist an attack on a foreign consulate for purely political gain is extra special ridiculous considering that the charges of the same are leveled for purely political gain.  It's that thing where the movement right accused opponents of the worst thing they can imagine, which is something that the accusers have themselves done or are really tempted to do.

And it's totally self-fulfilling: based on the mischaracterizations of Fox News and the talk radio contingent, Obama is already guilty as a function of his low moral character.  If you're out there Tea Partying, losing physical sleep because of all that spending they're doing in Washington, then there's no possibility that Obama/Clinton didn't do something nefarious, because nefariousness is the narrative you've been fed.

The dissonance that this Benghazi has with the actual news is the most jarring.  We all know that Fox spins right and MSNBC spins left (and CNN spins cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs), but now Fox is constructing an alternate universe that just untethered itself from reality.  And we're the ones that will be stuck with endless hearings and that great uncle who keeps braying about it at the family picnic.


Posted by mrbrent at 10:05 AM

May 7, 2013

david brooks and the tautology of social conservatives

The frustrating thing about David Brooks is that he is not Evil On Purpose.  Rush Limbaugh, Micheal Savage, those fellers, they're saying provocative things on purpose, because that is how they make their money.  Hell, they may even believe the heinous things that come out of their mouths, but, whatevs, they are already intentional douchebags because that is their gimmick.

David Brooks, however, is firmly convinced of his own reasonability, and would no sooner act in a deliberately provocative fashion than he would wear his summer whites before labor day.

And yet, he writes things like this, blithely, as if it's a reasonable thing to think:

First, immigration opponents are effectively trying to restrict the flow of conservatives into this country. In survey after survey, immigrants are found to have more traditional ideas about family structure and community than comparable Americans. They have lower incarceration rates. They place higher emphasis on career success. They have stronger work ethics. Immigrants go into poor neighborhoods and infuse them with traditional values.

So then if I am reading that correctly, those of us not so infused with traditional values — let's just call us progressives, for the heck of it — would be the ones with higher incarceration rates, lower emphasis on career success and weaker work ethics.  It's a pile of hooey, of course, but at the same time it's damn close to a blood libel.  I'm sorry, David Brooks, but you don't get to corner the market on virtue purely for tautological reasons.

Is it worth it to sit and catalog the various moral failures of social conservatives?  No, it's not, nor is it worth looking into incarceration rates of conservatives versus progressives.  But you don't get to say that shit like it's accepted fact, when it is by no means so.

This is from today's column, which I wish I could be applauding, as it is a letter to anti-immigration conservatives, trying to convince them of the wrongness of their venture.  But then he has to go and David Brooks it all up.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:47 AM

May 6, 2013

data mining has achieved full snake oil

So we now know that the next big thing, the next industry that actually creates itself out of nothing, is data mining.  If you go back thirty years, it was known as statistics, and statisticians had all of the social cache as community dinner theater.  But after the math-heads capitalized Google and Facebook to the extent formerly reserved for weapons manufacturers, and put Barack Obama in the White House twice to boot, data mining is HAWT (and certainly not going anywhere anytime soon).

But perhaps the best sign of the arrival of data-mining as a Thing is that it is now being adopted by con men, as detailed in this NYT story from this morning's front page.— Seems some statistician saw the writing on the wall and decamped for Hollywood, where he is offering "script analysis" services, as in he claims to have analyzed the plot and story elements of verified box office smashes, which he then compares to the plot elements of your very own screenplay.

An example of his acuity:

Bowling scenes tend to pop up in films that fizzle, [Vinny] Bruzzese, 39, continued. Therefore it is statistically unwise to include one in your script. "A cursed superhero never sells as well as a guardian superhero," one like Superman who acts as a protector, he added.

Obviously the utility of data mining was unexpected, but to claim that it can be used to predict the financial outcome of art is all a little bit too breathless for me.  And I'm not complaining that this will somehow infringe on the "artiness" of a film — the meddling of studio execs has exceeded this level since the origins of cinema.  Rather, the box office success/failure of a movie only has so much to do with the actual contents of a screenplay, so even if this process is not an exaggeration (which I think it is, see below), it is still of limited utility.

But studios are a cowardly, superstitious lot:

But ignore it at your peril, according to one production executive. Motion Picture Group, of Culver City, Calif., analyzed the script for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," said the executive, who worked on the film, but the production companies that supplied it to 20th Century Fox did not heed all of the advice. The movie flopped. Mr. Bruzzese declined to comment.

They're just a bunch of marks, low-hanging fruit for the picking.

(Disclosure: my primary employer is in the business of box office grosses, and there is a team a floor above me also trying to apply data mining to the financing and distribution of motion pictures.  And it is for that reason that I believe that a process such as the one being sold by Bruzzese, which boils down to whether the demon is a summoned demon or a targeting demon, grossly underestimates how stories work, let alone variables that affect box office success.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:11 AM