May 17, 2013If you're keeping up with your news diet (listen to your doctor, please, keeping up with your news diet is very important), then you know that Washington is Mired in Scandal, and the Obama Administration is At The Crossroads, and Will He Regain His Footing? So since this is a universally talked-about thing, let's talk about it.
And I'd really rather not, for reasons that will become evident, but there seems to be a mass delusion concerning the scandals, so let's maybe point it out and the deluded might find a mirror sometime quick before they reach morbid levels of mortification.
The scandals themselves: obviously, your mileage may vary on this, but whether you find them trivial or criminal, you have to agree on one thing: they're very recent. The Benghazi whatever is months old, sure, but the IRS/Tea Party kerfuffle is one week old, and the DoJ seizure of AP emails broke last Monday. This matters in one way, namely that the duration of this Mired In Scandal in no way merits the word "mired," or "beset," or "dogged," or any other verb you might read in your local thinkpiece.
Basically, the Beltway media was so primed for this to happen to a second term president, one rabidly hated by the opposition, that the Mired In Scandal analyses were virtually pre-filed, like an obit of an old famous person. (Charlie Pierce really nails this phenomena, BTW.) To wit, a whole bunch of reporters are bored with reporting about legislative agendas and governance (and in many cases, bored with reporting at all) and would rather worry a manufactured scandal like a dog chewing a bone.
For example, did you hear that the budget deficit is actually shrinking rapidly? I didn't think so.
But of course the press rooms are not purely to blame. (Well, BuzzFeed is, but that's a whole 'nuther.) You also have the various facets of the Republican Party, all of whose existence is predicated not on any policy goal but rather the destruction of the majority party. These sad men would call for impeachment of President Obama for an improper ball drop on the sixth hole. And as you know they all get their news from the same two sources (the Fox/Drudge Axis), and as such are terribly easy to whip into a frenzy.
It's all they have, this dingbat quest for what they think of as righteousness but really is nothing more than the tantrum of a two-year old from whom the blankie is taken.
But the good news is this: the GOP will not be able to resist overreach on this. It's a monkey trap, a bright shiny thing in a hole, and the Republican Caucus will get their hand stuck in there as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, further solidifying that they are the party of nothing but vicious trivialities. Oh, it'll be ugly all right, and the GOP will grin the grin of an idiot as they pursue this endlessly, and wonder why they're going stag to the prom in the 2014 elections.
Or at least I can hope.
(And breaking good news, as CBS calls out the Republican distortion machine. Maybe a reason for additional hearings?)
Posted at 9:44 AM
May 16, 2013Let's get a few things straight. First of all, certain administrations actually used the IRS for political retribution, as opposed to having low-level employees choose words poorly. Second, come to find out the IRS also slow-walked the non-profit applications of a couple of liberal groups, and (unlike the Tea Party groups) actually denied one of the Lefties. And further, well, let's let the New Republic's Noah Scheiber say it:
Democrats can't say it; Barack Obama can't say it; and the IRS certainly can't say it, so here goes: The only real sin the IRS committed in its ostensible targeting of conservatives is the sin of political incorrectness--that is, of not pretending it needed to vet all the new groups that wanted tax-exempt status, even though it mostly just needed to vet right-wing groups.
Now, maybe the scrutiny should not be on the small, Tea Party groups, who don't really raise/spend that much money, but rather Karl Rove's American Crossroads GPS and the other gargantuan 501(c)(4) orgs that through a couple hundred million dollars around during the last election.
And the really puzzling aspect of this is that the IRS is supposed to give 501(c)(4) orgs scrutiny, especially if they seem to be political. It's a tax exempt status, which can be a big deal if a lot of money is involved, and it's a status you are supposed to lose if you engage in electioneering. IRS is not supposed to be doling these out like free condoms on a college campus.
It's just a laughable pile of hooey.
I hate to go into Full Oppo Mode, but nothing darkens my week more than the damn Republican Party prancing around the Beltway because Scandale! The entirety of the legislative agenda of the GOP of the 113th Congress of the United States of America is Impeach the President. It's really hard not to hate the feckless bastards.
But yes: Pile Of Hooey.
Posted at 10:03 AM
May 14, 2013No, it's not just you! The news cycle of last week, and of the week we're climbing uphill into, is much more novel than usual.
I do not know why this is the case, as there is no reliable gauge of novelty that I'm aware of, nor any serious research into novelty and its causes. I blame Mercury. But if you are someone easily affected by novelty, then you might want to stay away from the associated media industries for a few weeks. Because it is NOT SLOW NEWS DAYS OUT THERE. And I'm not just referring to Beltway gossip, no. Business news, environmental news, the EU splintering, China emulating the Japan of the 1980s, Japan a sudden haven for investment, NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, the TV industry collapsing... there's not a single House Subcommittee in there, and yet still nowhere to turn without out being distracted by something fascinating/terrifying.
Oh, and Russia just detained an American spy. Oof.
Stop everything; read a book. Let's keep tomorrow tomorrow.
Posted at 9:14 AM
May 13, 2013I have no idea why I clicked on this link concerning the paucity of time travelers running around. I am a geek; of course I clicked on it. But while I was maybe looking for a little John Titor, instead I got my mind blown a little bit.
Oh sure, everyone's aware of the This Tree Wasn't Here A Thousand Years From Now problem of time travel — wherein one goes back in time and manifests into some solid object that occupies the same space from the future, which is ouchy if not lethal. That's why you have to be careful! Every thirteen year old thinking about time travel has figured this out.
But duh, that's just the tip of the iceberg, which iceberg is about as big as the moon. The TTWHATYFM problem is based on positional constancy, the fact that if you can travel time, you will end up in the same physical location that you were occupying before you traveled. But if you're going to rely on positional constancy, then there's NO WAY you can travel through time, because the freaking planet is hurtling around our sun which is at the same time rotating in a weird lumpy orbit around the solar system which is also speeding through space away from wherever the Big Bang was supposed to have happened.
So if you go back, say a thousand years, the problem you will face is not that you might materialize inside of a tree, but rather you will appear in space light years from the nearest solar system.
God, Young Brent, how could you be so short-sighted as not to have figured that out?
Looks like we're gonna need a wormhole.
Posted at 1:17 PM
May 12, 2013Necessary background: years and years ago, when writing was easy and of failure I was unafraid, I had a theory that I like to bray loudly about, considering the issue of normalcy and psychology. My theory was that normalcy was being whittled away into the strike zone of a midget. Years ago, normalcy was inclusive and left room for variation, and now (rather, then, the 90s), aspects of normalcy were being deemed deviant for whatever purposes (Big Pharma, cough cough) to the extent that no person could consider themselves normal, but rather a unique constellation of deviances.
That was then. Cute and entirely unsupported by fact, that was.
So my correlative 21st Century probably-not-truism is this: as our understanding of cognition increases, and as we figure out that "autistic" and "not-autistic" are not binary states, we will come to realize that that our individual cognitive profiles are actually comprised of a menu of "autistic" traits, and people what we now consider "autistic" are actually just people with more intense degrees of varying traits. In other words, in the long run, are we all autistic?
Again, no more science in that one than for the first one, and if I had time I swear to God I'd pursue it.
Posted at 11:18 AM
May 10, 2013I'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 at 10:42 AM
May 9, 2013It 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 at 10:44 AM
May 8, 2013So 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 at 10:05 AM
May 7, 2013The 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 at 9:47 AM
May 6, 2013So 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 at 10:11 AM
May 3, 2013Thinking out loud: so, I know what liberty means, in as much as I know what the definition of liberty is. "The state of freedom from external suppression," off the top of my head. And I know that here in these United States we experience a goodly deal of this liberty, or at least enough of it so we can generally do what we want as long as we're not hurting anyone. And I get that this is a good thing. I wouldn't go so far to say that it's a natural state, as it's certainly not endemic on the planet, but Western Europe (and its emigrants) evolved that way.
And I also know that liberty is a very important word on the right wing of the political spectrum. The Heritage Foundation, for example, puts out the Liberty Index every year which measures what the Heritage Foundation deems a quantified measure of "economic freedom" in countries around the world, and, hell, Libertarians adopted the word as a sobriquet. I don't want to spend too much time on examples — let's just agree that, to big C, little c, religious etc. conservatives, liberty is a word that is oft-repeated, and central to the core ideology that propels them. To paraphrase pretty much everyone, political speech from the right can be boiled down to either, "You're threatening to take my liberty away!" or, "The future of America's liberty depends on us doing something!"
Where I'm going with this is that while I'm all Team Liberty, like, no complaints about being liberated over here, I do not share with the right the ability to personalize liberty. I have never not once sat around worrying about liberty. I've never woken up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, terrified that liberty is at risk. Now, say with the Free Speech Zones at things like the presidential conventions, I'm terribly opposed to them, on the grounds that first they're unconstitutional and second they're doofily named. And I'm happy to add my voice to the chorus, write my representatives, even take to the streets if need be, but never once does any concern for liberty pop into my head.
Liberty is a concept. You can't kill it or promulgate it or claim it as your own, because it's not tangible. There are no particles of liberty dispersed throughout the atmosphere that can be gathered and distilled into pure liberty.
So what I'm positing here has ultimately to do with what makes those people on the right seem so alien to us (and vice versa), because, and this is not a new thing, a result of engorged partisanship or whatever, but there are certain tenets of conservatism that I just plain cannot fathom. At all. And maybe is this ability to, I dunno, animate liberty into this totem a symptom of whatever it is that causes the differences?
It the ability to say something like, "I fear for liberty in this country," with a straight face some kind of cognitive wrinkle that is shared by those with similar ideologies? And to be fair, is there some correlative cognitive kink shared by lefties like me?
Posted at 9:33 AM
May 2, 2013Go read this terrific speech that Steven Soderbergh gave to a film festival audience concerning the state of the filmmaking industry:
But let's sex this up with some more numbers. In 2003, 455 films were released. 275 of those were independent, 180 were studio films. Last year 677 films were released. So you're not imagining things, there are a lot of movies that open every weekend. 549 of those were independent, 128 were studio films. So, a 100% increase in independent films, and a 28% drop in studio films, and yet, ten years ago: Studio market share 69%, last year 76%. You've got fewer studio movies now taking up a bigger piece of the pie and you've got twice as many independent films scrambling for a smaller piece of the pie. That's hard. That's really hard.
It is terribly interesting and mostly about the business side of the industry — well, the studio business side of it — but there some nice bits in there on the source of the impulse to make pieces of art and the changing tastes of the moviegoing public and the coining of the term "mayhem porn."
Of course there are bigger questions about the future of filmmaking, such as, "At which point does filmmaking become indiscernible from every other audio-visual art?" or, "When will the last movie house close?" But if you can remove yourself from unbeautiful thoughts like that, it's a nice primer on how movies are made 2013, from a very accomplished filmmaker who's been there and done that, both indie and studio.
Posted at 9:58 AM
May 1, 2013Yesterday was a day without Internet for me for varying reasons, so I never did get to share my thoughts on the best thing about Jason Collins coming out.
(And for the record, I am one of the few non-rabid NBA fans to know who Collins is — my office used to be team counsel for the Nets back in the 90s, and we kept our season tickets for a few years after that, so during the Jason Kidd/Kenyon Martin years, Collins, who was like 19, was the enormous kid at center whose job it was to go bounce himself off Shaq in the finals. Go Nets.)
The greatest thing about Collins coming out, above and beyond the ceiling breaking and the silence of the smart bigots and the public shaming of the dumb ones who spoke up, is this: all the little kids being hassled in the schoolyard, or whatever passes for the schoolyard, for being a "faggot," whether they're gay or not (or turn out to be gay or not) can know dream of the possibility of a seven foot, two hundred fifty five pound man cross his arms stand behind the hassled kid and say, "Yeah, I'm a 'faggot,' though 'gay' is the polite term for it. Would you like to discuss this further?"
I know I'm two days late on this, but as a kid who got called fag an awful lot (and one that hasn't spent much time since then thinking about it), it would've been a nice thing to daydream about. (Because plugging Charles Nelson Reilly into that equation just didn't work.)
Posted at 9:40 AM
April 29, 2013Lindsey Graham managed to nudge John McCain out from front of a Sunday morning talk show camera yesterday morning long enough to make a serious, serious point about Syria, because the senator is known as a serious, serious thinker specializing in foreign policy:
Yeah, there's nothing you can do in Syria without risk, but the greatest risk is a failed state with chemical weapons falling in the hands of radical Islamists and they're pouring into Syria. The longer this goes, the more likely you have a failed state and all hell's going to break loose in the region.
That first sentence is the one that got picked up by various newspaper reports, and it's flaws are egregious, right? As in, those radicals that are pouring in are pouring in to support the side that Graham wants to support. A situation just like this happened thirty years ago, and those mujahideen that we backed up in Afghanistan back when are now what we call Al Qaida (in part, but the point stands).
So then, that's so stupid! Was that Lindsey Graham or Louie Gohmert, amiright?
But what the news reports elided is that Graham goes on to address that situation, too:
There are two wars to fight -- one to get Assad out of there. He's really a bad guy, dangerous to the world. The second war, unfortunately, is going to be between the majority of Syrians and the radical Islamists who have poured into Syria. So we need to be ready to fight two wars.
So, to reiterate, Sen. Graham is not one of the noted imbeciles currently in Congress — no Ron Johnson, he — but he is actively cheerleading the prospect for two more wars, with the first one along side of the people against whom we will wage the second.
Posted at 9:16 AM
April 28, 2013For years now I've been noting interesting little factoids concerning the bees. Because, you know, they're disappearing (Colony Collapse Disorder was the term of art at the time), and this will have consequences, considering that pollination is a pretty important part of the food chain and it's really hard to do that without bees.
And for a while there were all kinds of theories. Microwave interference from cell phones! A particularly vicious thorax parasite! But by now there's consensus in the scientific community, what's causing CCD is a specific kind of pesticide, neonicotinoids, which interferes with the ability of the bees to learn and remember, which for hives and how they are socially structured is pretty lethal.
So in response, the European Commission is looking to ban neonicotinoids for six months, which decision is being stringently opposed by insecticide concerns. "Not enough science," they claim, which sounds awfully familiar, as I live in a country filled with climate change denialists. And opposition of the insecticide firms may well be fruitful, as apparently their leading spokesman is the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of the United Kingdom, Owen Patterson. And if buying off the British government was not enough, one firm, Syngenta, threatening to sue individual members of the European Commission if they released a report fingering neonicotinoids as the CCD cause. (The report was released.)
This is a story that's right at the intersection of the outsized influence of business interests and the risk of unintended consequences as our technology advances. But the bottom line is, no matter how much companies like Syngenta and Bayer dance around singing "We love honeybees," they are willing to risk further damage to honeybee populations in the name of making a dollar (or a Euro, as it were).
Ultimately, it's shocking that a chemical neurotoxin (yes, based on nicotine) would end up being also dangerous to bees. Well, not shocking, but duh.
Posted at 9:54 AM