November 27, 2014To reiterate, these days there's an awful lot of things to be upset and/or concerned about, on top of all the background-noise things to be upset about. State of the state of things, late 2014.
But it's Thanksgiving Day here in the States, and while I've had wonderful Thanksgivings and less so (this year: wonderful), I have always subscribed to giving thanks, because at the end of the day, it's all about thanksgiving. And I'll be giving thanks to the IRL people I'm about to break bread with, and I'll give thanks to everyone else with a nice note, I am grateful for you people, whoever and however many you are.
It's been more than ten years now, and there have been times when this was my primary outlet, and times when this was a bit of a journal when I was publishing elsewhere. (Next year: who knows?) But without you I'm just barking at a mailbox, so thanks for the time spent here, and I hope your own personal circumstances are favorable, with a forecast that is even moreso.
And tomorrow, back to fighting crime.
Posted at 12:37 PM
November 25, 2014Obviously a lot to talk about on this Tuesday, November 25. Let's not!
Instead, let's talk about dressing.
See, over the weekend I went down to Virginia and had a little pre-Thanksgiving dinner with the family. These days, I do most of the cooking, as I am the only one that doesn't think it a chore. And I always play it safe with the dressing/stuffing — I might throw chestnuts in there, or some sage, but mostly your standard store-bought dried bread, onions, celery, spices, etc.
But Saturday, as I was prepping, I opened the package of croutons and noticed that they were pounded to dust. Oh no! No one wants to eat dressing like that! It'll come out either like concrete or like gruel.
So what I did was I did use the bread dust, but I also took about a quarter loaf of actual bread, shredded it, tossed it in a drizzle of olive oil, and toasted it up in the oven until browned, and then added that to the bread dust and all the savories I was using.
And the result was beyond what I expected: the dust served as a binder, to give it the texture you expect, while the bigger toasted pieces were crispy on top, and pleasing to the eye. It was the best of both worlds, and I can't imagine I'll do it any other way from now on.
And that's you're Thanksgiving cooking tip, to help you forget we live in a world that a cop can chase down and execute an unarmed teenager and still have "supporters." Hug your loved ones, and be better than that.
Posted at 1:51 PM
November 18, 2014There is a pretty unique situation happening in my happenin' Brooklyn neighborhood of Ditmas Park. (If you are not local to NYC, Ditmas is a leafy nabe in the dead center of the borough filled with gorgeous Victorians, and adjacent to some of the most ethnically diverse areas in the entire city.) What's going on? We have our very own crime wave, with five armed robberies in the past three weeks. And these are not your garden variety stick-ups, but rather hold-ups of bars and restaurants with the customers in them. One happened a block away from my apartment, at 8:30 at night. Scary stuff!
Not that I'm actually scared. I might be a little too chill for that — this is clearly a crew that is pushing their luck, and are destined to be behind bars soon even though our precinct is a little bit less than ept. However, my many friends in the service industry are rightfully freaked out, and the people who I've met who were victims are well shook up.
But as interesting as it is to live through this truly novel time, the real interest is in how our little community is reacting to it. Which is to say, thoughtfully, and also garbage.
There's a little website that serves as our town square, Ditmas Park Corner, and it is in the comments that these conversations are happening. I know: never read the comments, and obviously the content therein is mitigated by whatever 21st Century malady that enables people to act like absolute monsters when anonymous and on the web. But there is some honest talk about gentrification, or, to put a less glamorous moniker on it, what is happening to cities like New York and the many many neighborhoods thereof. Even outside of the boom times, there is a push and pull between longtime residents and the news ones that move in. And we are in a boom time, real estate-wise, so that tension is a lot more tense.
And even in the garbage comments there's a possibly nuanced conversation (except for the one racist dude who always deletes his comment — eff him), as there are two or three commenters who truly believe that the crime wave is not the result of the pressures of gentrification, but rather our new mayor, Bill de Blasio, who they blame for tying the hands of the police by cutting back on stop and frisk. Now this is nonsense of course (S&F was being cut back two years before de Blasio was swept into office), but hey, let's do talk about policing! Our precinct traditionally is more of a responsive force than a patrolling force, and it was rare that you would see a cop that wasn't actually at a crime scene.
Good news: in recent days I've seen foot patrols. It's not quite a return to the beat cop, which I'd prefer, but it's a start.
Anyhow! Interesting times, and it's nice to realize that your community is a living breathing organism.
Posted at 2:35 PM
November 13, 2014Good gosh this is depressing. I wanted one last quick hit on the 2014 elections, one concerning the effect of restrictive voting laws on the outcome. Naturally, this would be a topic that would need a little more than may say-so, so I did a little searching around for some authoritative links.
And, no, not a whole lot out there.
Now, you'd maybe think that the fact of that indicates that the restrictive voting laws in states like North Carolina and Kansas and Florida had no effect, seeing as how no one is talking about it. But actually that is so totally not the case, as not even twenty-four hours after the election, Wendy R. Weiser of the Brennan Center For Justice crunched the numbers and came up with this:
The Republican electoral sweep in yesterday's elections has put an end to speculation over whether new laws making it harder to vote in 21 states would help determine control of the Senate this year. But while we can breathe a sigh of relief that the electoral outcomes won't be mired in litigation, a quick look at the numbers shows that in several key races, the margin of victory came very close to the likely margin of disenfranchisement.
The races in question? The North Carolina senate race, and the governorships of Florida and, wait for it, Kansas. And instead of these stories being reported out, what we've been reading for the past ten days are stories of the "mandate" demonstrated by the election — which is ludicrous on the face of it as it was an election in which only 36.3% of registered voters bothered to show up. (And FWIW I didn't see 2006 as any sort of "mandate" as I don't really believe the concept applies until you get to a margin of victory approaching unanimity.)
Maybe as the results are solidified and the data rolls in, more attention will be paid. But until then, let me commend the efforts of the Brennan Center, as they truly are doing God's work when it comes to keeping elections free and fair.
Posted at 10:39 AM
November 10, 2014Now let's talk about how the results of the election a week ago are the fault of our sitting president, Barack Obama, whose unpopularity is so-famed that rarely a day passes that you are not reminded of this somewhere in the A section of your local paper. Let's look at the numbers!
So Obama's approval rating right now is 42%. That's pretty bad! Not sure if I would want to be photographed next to a man that only four of ten voters approve of! But wait. President George W. Bush's approval rating the month after his final midterms, November 2006, was 35% percent. For the record, that is lower than 35%. And for the record, the approval rating of Congress is currently 14%.
There seems to be a certain exaggeration of the toxicity of Obama. So what is actually going on here?
I have two answers. (Maybe you have your own!) First of all, and most depressing, is that while Obama is not necessarily less popular than historical precedent or other government institutions, the quality of the "unpopularity" is a bit more weaponized than in other instances. That is to say, people who don't like Obama really fucking hate Obama, to the point of unreasonability. Such as, if Obama is for something, the Obama haters are against it, on a kneejerk basis. This is maybe not such a new thing — there were elements of this at play during the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration certainly had its "derangement syndrome" — but the viciousness of this hatred for some reason has a much uglier quality (cough cough racism cough).
And the second answer is that this whole midterm was one big self-fulfilling prophecy. For months, the narrative that the news reporting interests ending up agreeing on was that the Obama unpopularity was "toxic" and therefor the motif of the entire election. Now, as we discussed above, this was demonstrably untrue, at least in any novel way, but it was repeated over and over again until it became conventional wisdom. And wishing made it so. "Obama is toxic" was repeated so many times that it became undeniable, to the strategists of Democratic candidates, and then to the blue voters that did not show up and the red voters that did. I'm not suggesting some conspiracy between all the DC newsdesks and blogs and Sunday AM newsshows, but I do think that there is a bit of laziness, and a bit of losing sight of what the news is for. The news is not some storyline that needs to be impressed upon the news-consumer so that interest is not lost. The news is, you know, what happened, not necessarily what is going to happen.
Is it possible that the so-called Obama drag on the ticket, as evinced by campaigns and voter turnout, would have happened had the media refrained from shoe-horning a result yet to be determined into a gripping drama easy to follow, but I think that this was not a natural phenomenon. I propose that it was conjured into inevitability by a bunch of people who have to file many more words per day than they have ideas for.
Posted at 10:51 AM
November 7, 2014Okay, let's hit this in small bites, because there is an awful lot to unpack from the results of the election on Tuesday.
Let's start with a little bit of Why the Democrats Lost. Well, in many cases, vote suppression, but we'll get to that later. Actually, I think a large part of the problem is that they had shitty candidates.
This is not universal, of course — Colorado's Mark Udall was about as close to Russ Feingold as we have now (other than Franken), and I can't think of any obvious defects of Alison Grimes in Kentucky. So maybe not shitty candidates.&mbsp; More like really shitty strategy.
True, the Republicans ran on nothing other than dislike of Obama, but the Democrats ran on pretty much nothing other than running away from Obama, and that is not a strategy. When a candidate (Grimes) is actually afraid to admit that she voted for the President, who is also a card-carrying member of her party, then that is a strategy problem. That's a character problem, and that's a candidate problem. When you have Mark Udall running around the State of Colorado basically only talking about a woman's right to choose, that's a strategy problem.
Obviously all of these campaign deficiencies were advised by the current generation of election svengali's, backed by reamed of polling and data-micromining (and it totally worked in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012), but, much like a cure for the hiccups, it stopped working, and made candidates seem timid and almost privileged.
For example, unemployment is under 6%, the economy is righting itself (well, at least on paper) and millions more people have health insurance that did six years ago, but you never would have known that from any of the Democratic Senate candidates. That's just dumb.
Posted at 9:49 AM
November 5, 2014Wow, I hate waking up to mornings like this. Anyone remember 2004? That was another bad one. I'm sure I'll have something to say about the Great Wave of 2014 (on the Internet they call something to say a take!), but right now I'm just gonna luxuriate in all this misery and see what kind of fire that kindles.
In the meantime, did you know that yesterday morning the New York Times published an op-ed about how Americans vote in their self-interest?
Most people aren't ideologically pure, and most don't derive their opinions from abstract ideologies and principles. People are more strongly influenced by the effects of policies on themselves, their families and their wider social networks. Their views, in short, are often based on self-interest.
Now you and I know that the past thirty-five years of American politics has been predicated on everyone voting AGAINST their own self-interest. Just ask the Middle Class. Oh right you can't ask the Middle Class because the Middle Class ain't there no more! But hey, a couple of academics got a hold of some numbers that actually a fraction more poor white households vote blue than vote red, so, yeah, sure, our economic self-interest has clearly been to give away all the wealth to the ten or fifteen families who really really deserve it, like the Waltons and the Kochs.
Well, cheers, everyone, here's to everyone voting their self-interest yesterday. I hate us.
Posted at 10:05 AM
November 4, 2014Okay sure, it looks grim. All the traditional news outlets have been screaming about a Wave Election for the Republican Party (when they're not screaming about the plunging toxic popularity of President Obama) so it's a sure thing that the Senate falls to the GOP and then on Inauguration Day in January the ACA will get overturned and only landed gentry will be allowed to vote and Lena Dunham will be deported. Meanwhile our own personal governor will sail to reelection even though his castle in Albany is festooned with the severed heads of liberals, and our public school system will soon be run by the Walton family who will prepare our children for a lifetime of helping normal folk get Big Big Savings for a buck above the minimum wage.
Really, the atrocities that may befall after today are innumerous. It's a wonder that we'll be able to get out of bed.
But still: we vote. There's a whole lot of people on this planet that don't get to, or don't get to in a meaningful way. And you can argue that we Americans don't get to vote in any meaningful way, thanks to the paucity of candidates and the many similarities in the major political parties, bought and paid for by wealthy business interests. Fair point, and not one that I'd argue against too hard. But, we get to vote, and because of that, the craziest things happen, good and bad. Just take Minnesota, for example — fifteen years ago they elected a pro wrestler as guv, and then six years ago an SNL writer as a senator. It's possible for the unexpected to happen. Very difficult, but possible.
So you gotta vote. Just to keep in practice, just so you can say you did, just to cleanse the cynicism from your soul so that when that actual candidate, one that can make a difference, comes along, you are receptive.
Chances are good tomorrow morning's news will suck, just as it did four years ago.
Go vote anyway.
Posted at 10:27 AM
October 30, 2014I find the fact that eight of ten Americans support quarantine for travelers visiting from Western Africa really depressing. Like, embarrassed for my species embarrassing. I don't want to begrudge a wee dollop of hysteria — after all, some people think Chris Christie is "charming." But an 80% majority? That's an awful lot of stupid people.
And when you combine this fact with the discrimination facing employees of Bellevue Hospital (the one with the Ebola patient) here in New York, it's pretty hard not to lose all faith in humanity.
Lookit: doctors got this. Never mind how Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas screwed the pooch a bit, the CDC is on this, the NIH is on this and the City of New York is on this. Ebola has been around for decades so this is not an unknown unknown we are dealing with. You are not going to catch it from a subway pole or from the seat of a movie theater. You are not going to catch in in parts of Africa that are not Western Africa. You fools, you fools.
But never mind all that. We're Americans, and public opinion overrules scientific fact, and so we will cure Ebola with torches and pitchforks. It's not just the criminals that are a superstitious, cowardly lot.
Heaven forfend if an actual public health crisis in the form of a communicable disease were to happen. It would not be pretty.
Though, to be honest, I find the fact that someone thought that this is an issue worth polling in the first place depressing enough in the first place.
Posted at 10:32 AM
October 29, 2014If you were cruising the social media yesterday evening, you might have noticed that an Antares rocket launch ended in a big explosion, as that's the sort of video that really catches everyone's attention.
Two interesting things about that. First, note the explanation from Orbital Sciences Corp., the private company contracted by NASA to conduct the launch (with a payload of supplies for the International Space Station):
Though stressing the exact cause of the failure was unknown, an executive at Orbital lamented the lack of more modern alternatives to its rocket engines, which were built in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the failed aim of putting Soviet cosmonauts on the moon.
"When you look at it there are not many other options around the world in terms of using power plants of this size, certainly not in this country, unfortunately," Frank Culbertson, Orbital's executive vice-president, said after the crash.
So yeah, as Elon Musk, CEO of competitor SpaceX and general millionaire-happy-to-give-a-quote, noted, Orbital is using actual Cold-War relics as boosters for their rockets — not Cold War technology, mind you, but boosters that were manufactured forty years ago by the Soviets.
This is a bit of a punchline of course, but the real joke is that even if the boosters were of recent design and manufacture, it would still be using tech that's basically a century old. To paraphrase Warren Ellis, we are still escaping the planet's gravity well by people a payload (and sometimes people) in a little craft perched atop a building-sized tower of chemical explosives and then setting it on fire.
You'd think we'd have come further?
And secondly, note that this NASA mission, vital to the ISS, was conducted by some dimestore corporation with a clear profit motive and all the other trappings that come with private companies. Now check this graff from the NYT account:
By hiring private companies, NASA hoped to reduce costs, improve efficiency and spur a new commercial space industry, and it has taken a similar approach toward launching its astronauts in the future.
It so chuffs me that this has become dogma, that government is somehow less efficient than private companies, that the free market somehow brings better results, because it is absolutely not the case at all. Think of the cornerstone American achievements of the Twentieth Century: Social Security, the Interstate System, and the Moon Shot (hell, even the Manhattan Project). Were any of them, ANY of them, market-driven in the least?
And now just because some fairy tale of Neoliberalism — one which is not predicated on efficacy but rather the grab of government funds earmarked elsewhere — has calcified into common sense we've pretty much given up on our ability to get anything done at all.
In a word: ugh.
Posted at 9:52 AM
October 24, 2014Hi, I'm in the middle of three or four longer-type posts that I'm really looking forward to! You may have noticed that 2014 has not exactly been the year of the byline, so I'm trying to scrape and crawl my way into practice, which means a bit of treating this site like I used to back before I was lucky enough to get published. So I'm shooting for a bit of a higher frequency, and a little more depth.
But in the meantime, let me tell you all (especially you family members who are no doubt fielding calls from the great aunts in WV), yes, there is a case of Ebola in New York City. The hospital in which the patient is under care is pretty much right on the opposite side of Manhattan from my office. The trains he rode on Tuesday night, the A line and the L line, are trains that I take too! Williamsburg, where he went Tuesday, is a place I go too, but Gutter, the bowling alley he went to, is one I haven't been too. And the High Line, which he apparently visited thinking he was a German tourist, is about a hundred yards from where I sit now.
But, knowing that, you should all know this too: I'm going to be fine, and the city is going to be fine. There were no surgical masks on the train this morning, and the High Line was as clotted with people as it usually is.
NYC is bad at a lot of things (and it's especially sad knowing that half the friends I make eventually leave, as this place can chew people up and spit them out), but dealing with shit like this is one of the things we're good at.
We got this and we'll be fine. I mean, we're not Dallas, for Christ's sake.
Posted at 10:08 AM
October 22, 2014Happy/sad to see this story on the front page of the NYT — well, sad to see it but happy to see it noticeably displayed. Here, have the lede:
Over the last two years, lawmakers in at least eight states have voted to increase the fees or the interest rates that lenders can charge on certain personal loans used by millions of borrowers with subpar credit.
The overhaul of the state lending laws comes after a lobbying push by the consumer loan industry and a wave of campaign donations to state lawmakers.
Aww, quid pro quo in action yet again. I guess it's the kind of thing that we're inured to, yet another story of the Banks predations being tacitly supported by the legislative recipients of the lobbying money of the Banks. But the facts of it are pretty galling. Take for example, this, the stated logic from one of the lobbyists:
In pushing for the changes, the North Carolina Financial Services Association, which represented OneMain and Springleaf, as well as lobbyists for dozens of smaller, locally based lenders, argued that lending caps had not been updated in years. "Rents are higher, electricity costs more, gasoline costs more," the group's lobbyist, Richard H. Carlton, said in an interview. "But the rates hadn't kept pace."
I guess it is the job of the lobbyist to hide the actual reason behind the request — "Please let us take more money from poor people who have no other recourse" — but the argument that the interest rate on a loan should somehow be tied to inflation is insulting on the face of it.
To be honest the story in this is not that state houses are capitulating to legalized loan sharks. The story is that these companies exist in the first place. What's the going rate for one of these subpar-credit loans?
OneMain, which has 1.3 million customer accounts, offers its borrowers unsecured, installment loans with interest rates of up to 36 percent. Borrowers pay both interest and principal in monthly installments until the loan is paid off, usually within a few years. But many of its borrowers refinance their outstanding balance.
About 60 percent of OneMain's loans are so-called renewals -- a trend one analyst called "default masking" because borrowers may be able to refinance before they run into trouble paying back their current balance.
Yeah so basically the Banks have found that if you tailor services to the disadvantaged, it only takes a couple bucks to buy state legislatures to pass laws making it perfect legal to screw them over. And it's the perfect crime, because this is America, and Americans think of poverty as some sort of moral failing, so there will be no rush to protect or stand up for the poor. Comparing companies like OneMain to loan sharks may be unfair to loan sharks.
If this is at all acceptable in free-market capitalism or whatever you want to call this system we live under, then we are monsters.
Posted at 10:21 AM
October 17, 2014It was a bit of a surprise to see a trend piece in Sam Sifton's NYT Dining section concerning the popularity of chicken wings — I had no idea! I've had the Chongqing chicken wings at Mission Chinese and (on multiple occasions) the fish sauce wings at Pok Pok, both of which are delicious, but I didn't know that they were popping up on menus like kale salads did two years ago.
So hurray for all that. Chicken wings are on of the most effective vehicles to deliver flavor in the form of sauce/seasoning, given the amount of surface area as compared to the amount of protein. Basically every bite is an explosion, without copious amounts of meat to chew through. Plus also eating with your fingers zooms you back to childhood. It's just fun, no mystery to that.
However! I feel that the article did omit a very crucial fact about chicken wings: they are a relatively recent invention. Time was, in America, they were either served with the whole bird or discarded. And the mythological birthplace of the chicken wing is the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, where a cook there in the 60s was mistakenly shipped chicken wings instead of chicken backs and necks for soup, and then decided to fry them as a handout to the bar regulars.
So I say that you can't talk about chicken wings without talking about Buffalo wings.
And, as maybe a point for future research, check out (while the archives are still free) this 1980 Calvin Trillin piece from the New Yorker, which hints that maybe the Anchor Bar story is possibly apocryphal at worst or exaggerated at best.
Posted at 10:12 AM
October 16, 2014So #GamerGate, as it is known, made the front page of the NYT. Well then.
The controversy is, as usual, really complicated and insignificant in many ways — this is a good explainer, as is the NYT piece — but what it boils down to is a bunch of privileged dudes being unforgivably monstrous to woman, using the anonymity of the Internet as a shield. As usual.
But in the case it's not the bros being dicks, or even the Silicon V/Alley Objectivists, but rather nerds. And this is personally troubling to me (i.e., even more troubling than usual) because I myself was born and raised a nerd. Dad is a hunter and was hoping for a little buddy to go out and sit in a treestand with him, but nope! He got a bookish fool who was generally picked on for his first thirteen years. Programming in Basic? D&D? Monty Python? Check, check, check. And of course my pals were the same way. And we eventually coalesced into whatever sorts of grown-ups we turned into, whatever, but you know what we never ever did? Anonymously threaten a woman to the point of her going into hiding.
Well there's a lot out there that's been written and an awful lot of it is really good, so I just want to isolate this one little thing, possibly the proximate cause. So some fellow, presumably a self-identified gamer, wrote was is intended as a sort of a please stop the madness piece, an exhortation to fellow travelers to stop being fucking sexist assholes. A commendable intention. But, in the same breath, there's this section:
Over the last decade, that's changed. Comic book adaptations are the safest bet in Hollywood. Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones have made fantasy something anyone can enjoy without embarrassment. Perhaps most importantly, nerds now have money, power, and status. The biggest, fastest-growing companies in the world are run and staffed by us, and mainstream culture has shifted from mocking us to respecting us.
Startups are sexy. We've won.
Actually, commendable young man, this is not only not the case, but this is the root of the problem. Life? Not a game. There was no one oppressing you. And this paranoid fantasy that our world is some sort of race between you and your affinity group and the jocks or the bros (dare I say girls?) or whoever else it was that you were terrified/jealous of, and the attendant triumphalism because holy shit you have a job is what enables the sad embarrassments that are your pals to criminally harass women and threaten mass murder in the name of fucking ethics.
The world is not the problem. Your self-regard is the problem. Startups are irrelevant.
Right then! And if you loyal readers wanna get really thinky about the whole thing, I recommend this by Kyle Wagner.
Posted at 11:30 AM
October 15, 2014From the start, let me be clear that I am referring to American and European efforts to combat the creeping menace of Ebola, and not Western Africa — Western Africa is an entirely different situation, from the horrorshow of Sierra Leone, where they've basically given up, to Nigeria, which has largely contained the outbreak.
But what I'm taking away from the slow march of this story across the front page (other than our paranoid morbid ability to freak out) is that it's not the Ebola that's so scary, but rather our collective incompetence.
By my count, there have been three infections outside of Africa: one in Spain, and (now) two in Dallas. And the really really alarming thing is that all three infections are health care professionals that were treating Ebola patients who contracted the virus in western Africa. This is not to say that Ebola is some supervillain virus that outsmarted the authorities. No. This is to say that the authorities, very specifically Texas Presbyterian in Dallas, are clumsy oafs who mucked this up pretty well. I mean, fer crying out loud, the most recent infection was on a freaking commercial flight the day before they were diagnosed. Technically they were not symptomatic on the flight so there should be little concern, but are there grown-ups in charge at Texas Presbyterian (which also sent the first victim home the first time he tried to admit himself.
And it's not just poor performance on the job that's making Ebola (which really should not be scaring us at all) more and more of an actual threat each day. More complicating is that we as a people are so freaking stupid that we will hamper any response to Ebola with superstition and fear and plain old American ignorance. Take this paragraph from a story on hospital preparations referring to what Emory University Hospital had to deal with when the first two patients were transported back in August:
As doctors and nurses there worked to keep desperately ill patients alive in August, the county threatened to disconnect Emory from sewer lines if Ebola wastes went down the drain. The company that hauled medical trash to the incinerator refused to take anything used on an Ebola patient unless it was sterilized first. Couriers would not drive the patients' blood samples a few blocks away for testing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And pizza places would not deliver to staff members in any part of the hospital.
I'm personally not frightened by Ebola, don't think it's going to be a long-term problem here in the States, etc., but I'm very concerned about our abilities in the event an actual pandemic did hit here.
We've met the enemy and it is us.
Posted at 9:46 AM