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October 19, 2013

the cult of exceptional creativity

Always happy to recommend Thomas Frank.  This time, for Slate, he's writing about "rule-bending whimsicality" and TED talks and the cottage industry of writing about creativity and all that:
Had our correspondent developed the gift of foresight? No. He really had heard these stories before. Spend a few moments on Google and you will find that the tale of how Procter & Gamble developed the Swiffer is a staple of marketing literature. Bob Dylan is endlessly cited in discussions of innovation, and you can read about the struggles surrounding the release of "Like a Rolling Stone" in textbooks like "The Fundamentals of Marketing" (2007). As for 3M, the decades-long standing ovation for the company's creativity can be traced all the way back to "In Search of Excellence" (1982), one of the most influential business books of all time. In fact, 3M's accidental invention of the Post-it note is such a business-school chestnut that the ignorance of those who don't know the tale is a joke in the 1997 movie "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion."

It's full of cynical epiphanies and keeps a sober eye on the ball, which in this case is the self-fulfilling daisy chain of foregone conclusions, aimed squarely at each of our senses that public acknowledgement of our genius is but days away.  (And it's one hundred percent true all true, I tell you.)

Then here, have another piece that comes at this phenomenon from a different angle, concerning the weirdly-Randian cult of exceptionalism that is Silicon Alley, and how one of its prominent citizens went on the record being for the government shutdown and dismissive of furloughed federal workers:

You could chalk this view up to simple short-sightedness -- [Marc] Andreessen and [Chamath] Palihapitiya, after all, are the kind of very rich investors who will never need to draw on Medicaid or worry about making their mortgage payments next month because of the government shutdown. For them, government is mostly a hindrance -- a regulatory obstacle to the kinds of disruptive start-ups they fund, and an enemy of a looser immigration policy that would allow their portfolio companies to recruit more talented foreign engineers. But the message they're pushing isn't as simple as small-government libertarianism or selfish profit-seeking. It's a kind of regional declaration of independence. The entrepreneurial community in San Francisco and Silicon Valley increasingly thinks of itself as a semi-autonomous region within the U.S. -- one that has its own funding scheme, its own leaders, and its own paths to success. And the message they're sending is simple: We matter, you don't.

I guess that's what happens when you take the TED talks to heart, acting like you hit a triple when in fact you were born on third base.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:34 PM

October 18, 2013

please no more man on the street stories

I understand the impulse behind publishing this.  It is, after all, an historical feature of the newspaper, the man on the street story.  But fer the luvva Pete I personally have got to stop reading them.

Reference hereby made to the NYT's Man-on-the-Street round-up of the hurt feelings of conservatives following the non-breach of the debt limit.

Like there's this lady shaken to her very core:

The failure to stop the health care plan left Republicans like Ms. Naples pessimistic and disillusioned. "I'm just totally blown away by everything," she said. "I don't know what's right and what's wrong anymore."

And sometimes the reporter will sort of translate, presumably to up the coherence, but not always:

And in Pennsylvania, Karen Brask, 57, a driving instructor, said she had no problems with the Republicans' hard line that led the nation dangerously close to default. "I don't mind at all that they are in there kicking and fighting for limited government and the whole personal responsibility thing," she said. "This is American politics at its finest."

The personal responsibility... what did she call it?  Thing?

And sometimes the quotes are curious for the lack of the obviously-needed follow-up:

"The whole system is rigged," said Thomas Crye, 69, a real estate appraiser sitting at a regular breakfast gathering at the Old Fort Restaurant here in Tennessee. "It's not just one party."

It's not just one party rigging it?  Or, it's supposed to be one party, but now there's two?

Obviously the topic of this could add to the exacerbation, but it's not just the conservatives who are dumb.  Sports fans are dumb.  Witnesses to crimes and accidents are dumb.  Everyone is dumb.  I am dumb.

And maybe it's not fair to equate verbal acuity with presence of mind, but the Man-on-the-Street piece is Exhibit A that we shouldn't be allowed to operate heavy machinery, let alone vote.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:10 AM

October 17, 2013

shutdown hangover

So that happened.  And somehow I don't feel any better?

I avoided the social media last night as the votes were hitting the Senate and the House, for exactly this reason.  We were staring at the foregone conclusion and so the posturing to come would be so macabre that even a raving lunatic stenographer didn't seem out of place.

And now all the recaps and explainers are starting to run, and of course none of them agree.  Harry Reid mastermind!  John Boehner keeps suicide caucus in check!  Tea Party won!  Obama held fast!  And the only thing that's readily discernible is that the past two weeks are no longer the exception; they're the rule.

I guess I feel down for a little victory lap, or some Schadenfreude, but whatever that was that just happened ain't over, by a long shot.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:25 AM

October 16, 2013

nothing to see here

It's Wednesday morning, October 16, 2013.  The partial shutdown of the government is two weeks and change old, and the debt limit is theoretically reached at midnight tonight.  Yesterday Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell got together and worked something out in the Senate, but McConnell threw it back to the House at the last second, to give John Boehner one last chance to either pull the fork out of the toaster or give a final demonstration of his uselessness when it comes to pulling forks out of toasters.

Needless to say, the fork is still in the toaster.

Rumors this morning is that Boehner will cave and let the Senate bill pass with Democratic votes.  But between you and me, there's still the chance that something could throw a wrench in the works: that last-minute rule change that prevents anyone but Eric Cantor from bringing a bill to end the shutdown to the floor of the House, a filibuster from Ted Cruz, and the fact that the CR and the debt ceiling are only raised in the Senate bill for a couple of months, meaning we could be doing this all over again.

So here's to the day that's going to be, I guess.  I'm gonna follow the feeds and meditate on powerlessness.  I mean, call my congressmen?  I'm from NYC.  My congressmen/women know the score.  Nope, sit on my hands, watch, etc.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:00 AM

October 15, 2013

not over yet

On the top-of-the-hour headline roundup on NPR this morning, the story about Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell trying to hammer something out ended with the sentence (paraphrased), "House Republicans have indicated that the possible deal does not include enough concessions with regard to the ACA."

And that's why I'm not exactly paying as much attention as I was at the beginning of this utter total waste of time and political capital: it is not tethered to reality.  After two weeks of committing political suicide, of being the object of mocking and derision, the House majority is still bent to extract political concessions in exchange for passing a Continuing Resolution (i.e., the budget has already been agreed and passed) to fund the continuing operation of the government and for raising the debt ceiling, forestalling an economic crisis that would pretty much push the U.S. dollar out of its status as global reserve currency.

It's untenable and I just cannot countenance it.  Every responsible media outlet should be screaming their heads off like they would if a political party was threatening to provoke a foreign invasion of the country.  Over politics.  The GOP is not playing with matches, or a loaded gun.  They are dicking around with armed thermonuclear weapons, and they have shown that they intend to do so every six months or so until they get what they want.  (Which they either cannot agree on or cannot put into words.

There really is no precedent for this other than the years leading up to the Civil War, and the news is treating it like, "Oh That Crazy Gridlock."  It's like all the wheels everywhere are coming off, and it's killing me to watch it.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:14 AM

October 14, 2013

how not to spend a sunday night

Last night for reasons unknown to myself, I decided to engage a rage-y Twitterer of the rightwing persuasion.  The expected thing to do would be to reproduce or at least link the exchange, which I'm not doing for reasons I'll explain (though they're out there if you want).

The precipitating incident was me tweeting something about the presence of a Confederate flag at the Million (Or Less) Vets For Seeing Ted Cruz Talk or whatever it was called, suggesting that it was perhaps not the best foot forward.  It got RTed by someone with a lot of followers, and subsequently I got a response from a gentleman who said that it was just one flag out of many and that I was laughable.

Now I don't get trolled a lot, and usually when I do, I'm more of a Go Eat A Bag Of Dicks In Space kind of guy than a Let's Talk This Out dude.  But for whatever reason I decided to try to talk this out, lay off the smark (or at least lighten it up) and try to engage this dude.

And not to get into the back and forth, but after a bit I got the sense that the fellow was actually a nice enough guy.  Like, he was not budging from his position and he definitely saw it as his patriotic duty to call me out, but it didn't seem like he really had it in his heart to really hate me like a true rightwing talk show host would.

But at the same time, I am still at a loss to tell you what this fellow believed, other than he was right and I was wrong.  He was grouping me in with the Fourth Estate (which is always a pleasant surprise), and as such everything out of my mouth is colored by bias.  He never really said what he thought about the Stars 'n' Bars and whether they should be there or not, or even what he thought about the event.  It stopped and started with: I was wrong.

It left me kind of sad.  I bet you a dollar that this person is a person that would be a solid coworker, a good neighbor, and who probably would never talk like that to someone without the advantage of the anonymity of the Internet.  Totally average non-urban American.  And full of this empty resentment that he'll no sooner be able to verbalize than he will sprout wings and fly. (And he votes!)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:17 AM