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January 17, 2014

the coming wave of terrible writing

Much as the Bush Administration heralded a new dawn for Leftist hack writing ("blogs," we called them), the De Blasioification of New York City is already reaping a crop of awkward Randian odes to wealth and power.

Watch specifically the New York Observer for this, given their predilection for being the mouthpiece of its real estate scion owner, Jared Kushner.  Why, just yesterday they ran the very hand-wringy "The Day New York Died," written by some VC hump chuffed over the fact that he might have to pay an extra couple hundred bucks someday.

JUST FOR A moment, take away the high concentration of financiers that make New York the preferred place for capital-raising to happen. Assume an end to the trend of several decades that have encouraged well-off commuters to both work and live in New York. Take away the park-view co-ops of Fifth Avenue that sell for tens of millions of dollars. Take away the media glitz of charity fundraisers stacked high with celebrity. Take away the dreams of every kid looking to land his first job in New York because that is where you can get rich beyond your dreams. Take away the throngs of tourists who visit New York because, well, because it is New York. What do you have left?

Hahahahaha.  What you have left, O Great Influencer, is the New York that actual people live in and enjoy, and enjoyed much more greatly before you kajillionaire dingbats moved in and Ayn Randed all over the place.

And then over at NYT, good buddy David Brooks is taking that same obfuscation — that tending to the welfare of the non-upper classes is somehow an indictment of the virtuous wealthy — and beige-ing it into submission, tsk-ingly.

There is a very strong correlation between single motherhood and low social mobility. There is a very strong correlation between high school dropout rates and low mobility. There is a strong correlation between the fraying of social fabric and low economic mobility. There is a strong correlation between de-industrialization and low social mobility. It is also true that many men, especially young men, are engaging in behaviors that damage their long-term earning prospects; much more than comparable women.

That's the chicken-shit way to say that poverty is the fault of the poor, but David Brooks understands that it's not polite to say that outside of the country club.

This is gonna be fun.  Bill De Blasio was worth it, already.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:48 AM

January 16, 2014

sterling's state of the world 2014 is good

Since so much of the Internet was talking about tabs yesterday (if you don't know don't ask yeesh), it is an annual custom for me to open up a tab in January for Bruce Sterling's annual State of the World thread on the WELL, and then leave that tab open until around the Super Bowl, when I close it, unread, because I am lousy at time management.

Not this year!  I made the time for the 2014 version, and I am glad I did.  It's not just the futurism and views on technology that you'd expect, it's a lot more wide-ranging than that, touching on a whole lot of disparate topics (the Serbian Velvet Revolution, Ovid, the problems with the future of speculative fiction) without once degenerating into talk of naked Lena Denham or sanctimony or even privilege.

Plus also, man I love it when Sterling hits peak idea-density and just lets 'er rip:

No amount of code evangelism is gonna stop the control-room itself from acting as the trojan horse. On the contrary: the better the systems work technically, the easier it is to discover some mission-creep application that allows a sly operator to put the knife in, and then act plausibly-deniable. You're not gonna engineer away the human spite and wickedness, any more than you can engineer away your *own* spite and wickedness.

And not all of the value in this conversation is the words of Sterling.  The other WELL members contribute, and the other half of the conversation, Jon Lebkowsky, gets in some good ones too:

Tt's like we're watching the Man from U.N.C.L.E., the bad acts are bad video, some sort of fiction imposed by deus ex Tom Clancy. We have the same response to the careful dismantling of government and whole sections of the former middle class - it's a film by Frank Capra, or maybe Judd Apatow. A cheesy bit of cinema that will somehow resolve itself, credits will eventually roll, we'll step out of the fantasy and into the light of day, and everything will be fine, just fine. But what we're watching is not cinema, but a maleficent YouTube video gone viral, shot by rabid weasels with an infected Android, looping constantly like Einstein's definition of insanity. We've dozed off watching it, fallen into nested dream states fed by networks of fantasy, no clear way to consciousness.

Another way to see it: slammed by a firehose of information, it's hard to know anything, to be other than intellectually numb and detached from any sense of broad existential danger.

There's a whole bunch of things to think about deeply in there, if you are so inclined.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:08 AM

January 14, 2014

the rick berman self-enrichment machine

Another one of those enraging full-page ads is in the NYT this morning, this one decrying the horrors of the minimum wage, and like the current GOP push, it is couched in the terms of compassion! and ending poverty!, with a big soft-focus photo up top of some homeless-looking person holding a sign about wanting a job, not a raise.

You'd be tempted just to focus on the willful stupidity of the money paragraph:

President Obama and Senate Democrats want to reaise the minimum wage to $10.10 to help the poor. But nearly 60 percent of the working-age poor don't have a job and wouldn't be affected.

It's only going to help a little less than half of the 46 million Americans below the poverty line!  Outrage, outrage, etc.

But it would be wrong to do that.  Instead let's point out that the "think tank" behind the ad buy, the Employment Policy Institute, is another Rick Berman production.  So while it seems to be an insidious and clumsy appeal to sway influential liberals to the anti-minimum wage position, what it actually is is Rick Berman finding a way to enrich himself by manipulating gullible ideologues.

Think about it.  First, it's horribly written, factually incorrect, just all around rank.  Second, it's running in the freakin' New York Times.  A bit of Koch brothers propaganda has about as much chance to change the mind of NYT readers as a Michael Moore op-ed has to affect the National Review's core audience.

The purpose of the ad is not to sway anyone, or even to irk people like me.  It's a very expensive bit of advertising property, and I'm sure a sizable commission on top of that.

If Rick Berman wants all that billionaire money in his bank accounts, he at least has to look busy.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:19 AM