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December 18, 2014

what is all this good news?

I'm not going to pretend.  Today is our office's annual Christmas dinner, which consists of dinner at Peter Lugar's, which is Oh My God, so I'm looking at a day of pretending to look busy and watching the clock.  Plus also yesterday was the first Entirely God News Day since, what, Obama's first election?  I mean I guess Sony pulling "The Interview" could maybe take some of the gloss off the rose that is the normalization of relations with Cuba and Gov. Cuomo putting the kibosh on fracking, but you don't actually care about Sony.  You just feel like you have to care about Sony because it's highly novel and we are poorly trained conversationalists as a people.

But here's another little dollop of happy news to get you through the day until I can go to my party:

A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted four owners and operators of the company whose toxic chemical spill tainted a West Virginia river in January, forcing a prolonged cutoff of drinking water to nearly 300,000 residents in and around Charleston.

Each was charged with three counts of violating the Clean Water Act, which bars discharges of pollutants without a permit. Their company, Freedom Industries, and its owners and managers did not meet a reasonable standard of care to prevent spills, the indictment stated.

Freedom Industries is of course the company that, after crippling the greater metropolitan area around the city in which I was born, swiftly declared bankruptcy so as to avoid anything like consequence for its actions.

It is these small boons that will cheer us, as maybe if we indict enough of the actual people behind these environmental crimes (yo Don Blankenship what's up dog?), perhaps they will be disinclined to commit these crimes in the future, since apparently conscience has failed them.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:50 AM

December 17, 2014

constitutional rights in the toast

Just in time for the end of the year, I wrote my first listy-type thing for the year-old The Toast, which is easily the best new website around and of a specific voice and viewpoint that I'm shocked that they'd let me contribute.  To wit, The Toast is the idiosyncratic butterfly that grew out of the comments sections of such so-called "ladyblogs" as Jezebel and The Hairpin, and it is truly sui generis.  Acutely literate, fiercely feminist, occasionally misandrist — they're really great and you can see why I'm an odd fit.  (Also: go buy Mallory's book if you haven't already.)

But anyhow it's a list of Fifty-Something Constitutional Rights Most Frequently Exercised.  It's a strange little beast, as it does whip back and forth from tongue-in-cheek to earnest sarcasm to whimsy and back again.  But I like it!  Especially the last four, which I don't think anyone's read all the way to yet.

Thanks Toast!

(Yes, that is my first byline in nearly a year.  I'm working harder to rectify that, for my own good more than yours.  Now hush.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:51 AM

December 15, 2014

santacon and its discontents

Let's talk about SantaCon real quick before it recedes too far in the rearview.

It is currently common sense that SantaCon as it exists now is a frothy geyser of spewing garbage that people of good conscience avoid like a GGer, just a buncha bros and the girls that love them ginning up a cheap North Pole drag and going out there to terrorize normal people with vomit and urine and sex acts.  There is no way I would dispute that characterization, and I'd sooner volunteer to intern for Chuck Johnson before I'd agree to be within ten city blocks of a SantaCon event.

But here's the interesting thing about all that: SantaCon was started as a completely different sort of event.  It went like this (and forgive me if I elide or fudge details, this is a breezy conversational recollection and not a research project), back in the late 90s, this sorta-anarchist movement, which started in San Francisco, largely, was seeping across the country.  The primary "organization" (if you can call it that) was the Cacophony Society, which soon became the SF Cacophony Society, because chapters were popping up all over the place.  Including Brooklyn!  And after some very mild pranks, the BCS decided that this SantaCon thing that some of them had participated in SF the year previous would be a really neat thing to do here in NYC.

"Really fun": yes, there was a dash of public intoxication intended, as well as a far amount of bar hopping.  But the actual intent of the thing was to do a bit of "culture jamming," or casual social protest with a bit of a sense of humor, assailing commercialism and consumerism and complacency in general.

I can't tell you what wickedly funny pranks they played because I was not there for the full evening that first time, in 98 (I think).  I was friends with them, and a putative member of the BCS, but I hate dressing up.  So I had a beer with the Santas at Rosemary's Greenpoint Tavern before they all headed out, and then off they went, robotically chanting HO. HO. HO.

That was the first one, and the only one I was around at all, so I'm not sure exactly when the wheel came off.  Maybe the first time SantaCon got a bunch of TV News footage, the first time that your miscellaneous American saw it and though, "Binge drinking. Cool."

And I realize that whatever organization that is claiming to run SantaCon right now is making a big show of claiming "culture jamming" as a raison d'etre for SantaCon, but this is demonstrably not so in the actions of the dirty filthy Santas all puking all over themselves while 50,000 other folks marched for justice on Saturday.

But I just wanted to note: SantaCon was not birthed as some frathouse tradition, or as some Elks Lodge attempt at transgression.  It began with some actual fringe-types who accomplished a lot of fringe-type activities, as a fuck-it-all attempt at social good with a tiny bit of larceny in its heart.  And perhaps the largest irony is that instead of fading away and being forgotten, SantaCon was derailed and zombified.  (See also Man, Burning.)

Or hell, is being co-opted by bros the ultimate fate of everything?

Posted by mrbrent at 11:12 AM