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June 20, 2014

i wish i could safely enjoy my scott walker schadenfreude

What I really want to do is distract myself from the 300 military advisers (which really makes me think only of French Indochina) headed to Iraq by immersing myself in the story of the slow downfall of Governor Scott Walker.  Walker, mysteriously touted as a rising star for the GOP, has been long dogged by the so-called John Doe investigation, which was a multi-agency look into fund-raising improprieties surrounding his campaign to defeat recall in 2012.

So this news broke yesterday:

Prosecutors in Wisconsin assert that Gov. Scott Walker was part of an elaborate effort to illegally coordinate fund-raising and spending between his campaign and conservative groups during efforts to recall him and several state senators two years ago, according to court filings unsealed Thursday.

Should be a big woo-hoo, right?  The very divisive Walker, who effectively crammed through legislation ham-string public employee unions in the state of Wisconsin, is exactly the kind of Koch brothers-funded politico you want to get caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

But wait!  While I'm still happy to enjoy my Schadenfreude, this is actually a vivid example of why reporting is hard, as it's just not that easy.  The simplified version, the version that you'll read on the blogs, is, "Gov. Walker named by prosecutors as implicated in illegal campaign fundraising and prohibited coordination with super PACs."  But in reality, it is oh so much more complicated than that, and hardly a slam-dunk.

To wit, there are so many moving parts (campaign officials who were "unaffiliated" with the campaign at the time, various advocacy organizations with different IRS classifications, etc.) that it's impossible to distill into a neat paragraph without overstating or eliding.  Additionally, the laws being broken (in this case, state campaign finance limits) are not the ones that you, the judicious observer, would hope are being broken (Federal tax laws that govern the behavior of tax-exempt organizations).  Basically, it's a movie that takes exactly as long as the actual movie to summarize, and there's the whole busting-Capone-for-tax-evasion cherry on top.

I've long been mildly obsessed with the fact that, when it comes to news, things are never as they seem; the actual events that cause the news rarely reflect the news being reported.  And this is making me leery of oversimplifying anything.

I suppose that it's impossible for Gov. Walker to walk away from this without a little tarnish, but, even with his bald admission of collusion in an email to Karl Rove, but even then it's best to temper one's expectations with a cold hard deep read of the facts.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:49 AM

June 19, 2014

maria bustillos for the humanities

Of course you want to read Maria Bustillos when she writes about the rhetorical excess/dingbat philosophy of some Silicon Valley stalwart, in this case Marc Andreessen, but this time around you really really should read.

After Bustillos is through eviscerating Andreessen's ideas (which boil down to that old "technology helps poor people because air conditioning" canard), she concludes with the best collection of paragraphs I've read in months, which of course I cannot spoil but I can at least tease:

The classification of human inquiry into the Sciences and the Humanities is a rough but useful one. In essence, the part that concerns itself with what can be measured, we call "science," and that concerned with what cannot be measured, we call "the humanities". The former field of study provides us with the means to operate more effectively in the material world. The latter (and the latter alone) grants us the ability to judge what goes on out there. This is a question of balance. The study of the humanities is for judgement, and it's judgement that our age is sorely lacking. We seem to have forgotten that we even need it.

It's an important point to make, squishiness vs. certainty, especially at a time like now when the swells are more concerned with discussing the proportional distribution of ideological blindness.  Because the world is squishy.  That's just the way it is, and if someone is telling you they know the answer (as Andreessen does concerning poverty, as any number of politicos do concerning the splintering Middle East, etc.) then it is almost a certainty that that person is wrong.

Bustillos' closing paragraphs are basically an indictment of the past decade of discourse.


Posted by mrbrent at 10:58 AM

June 18, 2014

on seeing or not seeing the replacements

So yesterday morning I get the news through Facebook, an old friend tagging me in a post — the Replacements are playing a show in NYC, at Forest Hills Stadium.  We all have to go! was the tenor of the post, as we, the friends referenced in the post, have been fans of the Replacements since way back when, before they broke up.  (You could even say "the 80s".)  So it would make natural sense for us all to be dying slowly in anticipation to swarm this remote Queens location and mouth along alllll the lyrics.

But I am leery!:nbsp; In ways that may make me a terrible person, but leery nonetheless.

So what's the problem here?  This is obviously not the first reunion-tour phenomenon to cross the transom.  And before you sagely nod, "The Pixies, 2003," remember that reunion tours are much more historically endemic than that.  Do-wop acts were all over this, starting the moment that do-wop fell from favor.  All through my post-elementary school years, there was always some unit-mover from the 60s playing down at the outdoor amphitheater in Canandaigua, NY that served as the venue for that sort of thing — the Turtles, the Moody Blues, you name it.  In fact, some of these reunion gigs turned into enormous commercial successes, such as the Monkees charting again twenty years after their heyday, or the Eagles becoming a touring behemoth decades after they decided that they hated each other's guts.  There is no dishonor in reuniting, be it for the paycheck, or because Westerberg is bored, or whatever.  Good for them, good for the fans.

But even while acknowledging that this is just the latest of a long series of reunion gigs, there's still a certain seediness to it, a paucity of motive, a grubby cashing-in.  This is largely the fault of a certain meanness of spirit of the observer — "I'm still punching the clock for forty a week, how come these senior citizens get to go back out and relive the dream?"  Or in other words.  But, much like athletics, what are musicians supposed to do?  There's not much in the way of post-career planning at the University of Rock Star, so it's a bit hard, tempting as it is, to blame them.

Harder to excuse is the unseemliness on the part of the fan.  We are obviously very different than our parents' generation before us, but when you play the What Were My Folks Doing When They Were My Age game, you can't help being just a little skeeved out.  I mean, there are a couple of ways that I do not want to be like my parents before me, but refusing to let go of my twenties is not one of them.  Even if you're fine with the reunion act being just a glorified cover band, I think it's troubling when I become the personal equivalent of a cover band, trying to live vicariously through a version of myself that dried up and blew away decades ago.

And some of the uncomfortability on my part has nothing to do with the context of the passing of the generational torch.  I'm hesitant to bring up the word atemporality, because it's a very close-tab word, but if you are at all aware of the ways that our culture is in a twenty year rut, with a near-total inability to generate content that is not in some way a regurgitation of historical content, or predicated on the existence of such historical content, then the idea of a bunch of forty year olds swarming a Queens stadium to jump up and down to thirty year old songs is stomach-churning.  There's nothing wrong with nostalgia; I am made almost entirely from nostalgia.  But it needs to be leavened with the new and the novel.  That may be one of the traits from my parents' generation that I am trying to avoid: having one's cultural tastes frozen in amber from the era of one's young adulthood.

And finally, I'm also informed by a bit of personal experience.  There is another band, a successor to the Replacements in a way, and I was a very big fan in my young adulthood, saw them whenever I could, even drove back to Rochester to see them play in my hometown.  They had a bit of a reunion tour a couple years ago.  Up until then, I had avoided all the other reunions, but in this case, I had to go.  I scraped the money together, and attended eagerly.  And the band was great!  As good as I remembered them, and they even seemed to be having fun (not something they were renowned for).  During the choruses I'd look around.  I was no means the oldest person there, nor was I the youngest.  Everyone knew all the words, and everyone sang them full-throuted.

And somewhere in the middle of the first song of the encore, I decided that I'd had all of that experience that I needed.  And as I left, I was a little sad, awash in the memories of the times fifteen years ago when I saw them at this place or that, with this friend or that other one.  It made me feel hollow, and I'm guessing that's because either the show was a hollow experience, or I tend towards projecting my own personal hollowness on experiences, or a little bit of both.

So yeah.  I'm leery.  I'm not saying I don't want to go, or that I won't go.  I probably will go, if it's possible to get tickets.  But the announcement of the Queens show did engender a bit of complicated feelings on my part, which complicated feelings have nothing to do with the Replacements in general and an awful lot to do with the way that we live now.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:25 AM