February 27, 2015

I know that I'm supposed to talk about the llamas and the dress, or at least talk about the phenomena of everyone talking about the llamas and the dress, but this is just so good that it takes precedence.

So maybe amid all the hoopla you heard that three men from Brooklyn were arrested for attempting to fly to Syria and join ISIS?  Well I had heard that they were Uzbeki or Kazak, and my personal neighborhood in Brooklyn is one of those everyone likes to describe as the Most Diverse Zip Code In America, so I was mildly curious if maybe any of these guys were from around the way.

So then the NYT runs its deep dive into the three would-be Islamic extremists, and I trip across this passage:

But before he could go off to wage war, he needed to get his passport back from his mother.

He worried about this, confiding in his friend Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev.

Week after week, Mr. Juraboev, 24, had worked alone in a dank basement beneath the Gyro King on Foster Avenue in Brooklyn, chopping vegetables for 10 hours a day, six days a week.

And that is the part where the little tiny invisible hat jumped straight up off my head of its own volition.

This specific Gyro King is around the corner and down the street from my apartment building.  That Gyro King is a place I go at least once a week to pick up a lamb on rice.  In fact, they know me well enough that they're heavy on the veggies that they load on top.

That Gyro King is delicious and awesome.  And employed a dude that wanted to go fly off and behead some infidels.

If that is not a perfect snapshot of Life In These Modern Times, it is at least a very good one.  Business as usual, a busy corner in a vibrant tapestry of a Kings County neighborhood, and then an Oh My God What Just Happened?

Please none of you tell my mom.  She would freak out.

Posted at 10:26 AM

February 24, 2015

Funny enough I'm working on a longer Goodbye To All That piece on how Gotcha blogging is so so 2005, and then here comes Bill O'Reilly, determined not just to autodefenestrate, but also not THAT window here let him build a very special window with his working class buddies from Long Island and then get a nice running start.

So then before I say Goodbye To All That let's talk about Bill O'Reilly.

This event is of course being compared (or in some circles framed as revenge for) Brian Williams being less than honest about his time on a helicopter in a war zone, as O'Reilly is being hounded because he made some claims about being in a "war zone" during the Falklands War, which claims have been widely mocked and derided by his colleagues at the time.  Some have made the point that Brian Williams matters because he is actually trusted.  But I'm going to flip it around and say that the O'Reilly issue is also important because he is NOT trusted and can we just all agree on that in some public manner as to dissuade O'Reilly's fans from citing any "fact" brought to bear by O'Reilly as anything other than third-rate fiction.

For some reason the right has cornered the market on ethics in journalism.  I'm actually fine with that, in the sense that I want journalists, all journalists, to be held to high standards.  However, if the perp happens to be in the employ of Fox News, generally the perp skates.  This may be because no one really thinks that the types of Fox Newsers making these flubs are actually journalists, and I can't recall any of the old TV news types, like say Brit Hume or Chris Wallace, ever getting their heads stuck in the banister in such a fashion.  So possibly the initial motivation of David Corn (who stirred this O'Reilly issue up) was an attempt for equivalency.

But heck with that I say.  O'Reilly is coming unhinged over some perceived insult to a credibility that exists only in his mind.  (Perhaps Corn's intention.)  But you don't have to read very close to see a motive for the old colleagues to come out of the woodwork: O'Reilly was a contentious, bullying, self-regarding blowhard, just a big old garden variety asshole.

So what O'Reilly is missing is that this is not about journalism, this is about O'Reilly being a dick.  And the more he goes off the reservation, the more he proves the point.

Which is why I approve of wasting ink on this: couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

This post was written in its entirety without mentioning a loofah.  You're welcome.

Posted at 11:22 AM

February 20, 2015

It staggers me that, after nearly fifteen years, conservatives still fundamentally do not get the current modish flavor of terrorism.  At the heart of this burgeoning Do You Love America litmus test is criticism of President Obama for being reluctant to characterize Al Qaida, ISIS, etc. as faith-based zealots bent on a global war of faiths.  Obama is of the opinion that these terrorist organizations are masquerading as Jihadists, and have concrete goals that have nothing to do with the Koran or any tenet of faith.  But, in order to (i) successfully recruit soldiers with sufficient motivation, and (ii) goad the West into behaving such ways as to achieve such concrete goals and goose recruitment, these terrorist organizations claim and publicize a religious motivation and purpose.

For example, bin Laden's stated goal was to rid the Arabian peninsula of Western influence.  But what if his actual, unstated goal was to destabilize the Arabian peninsula to the point that Sunni interests could grab some regional power?  And, with the invasion and long occupation of Iraq, did the U.S. not do a firecracker job of destabilizing the region?

You know, Bill O'Reilly might insist that this is some sort of Holy War, and that's exactly what ISIS wants us to think.  So there's that.

I mention this only to set up this epic burn on ISIS types contained in this article, concerning the efforts of Muslim leaders in the U.S. to combat the appeal of ISIS recruiters.  Says D.C. Imam Suhaib Webb:

He said that in more than 15 years as an imam, he had encountered only five Muslims considering whether they should join violent militant groups, and that none of them had actually left the United States to fight. "They were all males," said Imam Webb, and "they all had daddy issues." He added, "They were not really drawn to this on theological grounds."

And that is how you combat the appeal of ISIS, and this sort of terrorism in general — you deny their stated goals and you disrespect them.  After all, all they are is a bunch of sociopaths with daddy issues.

I mean, come on, it's only common sense: how do you stop a terrorist?  By refusing to be terrorized.

Posted at 10:30 AM

February 18, 2015

There's a pernicious little meme that's starting to make the rounds, and I predict by the weekend it will have hardened into an Agreed Truth.  This will be a bad thing, because this meme is a truly twisted bit of tortured logic and data-picking and false equivalencies.  I first encountered it yesterday, in this gullible little bit of writing with the headline "Inequality Has Actually Not Risen Since the Financial Crisis."  Well super news for the oligarchy, innit?

This is all premised on one think tank (widely thought of to be assiduously non-partisan) study, which shows that the wealthy took a bigger proportionate hit than everyone else, and are recovering from such hit at a slower rate.

Let's assume that this is true; I am not an economist nor have I been invited to a think tank ever.  Let's look at the numbers quoted:

The average pretax incomes for the top 1/10,000th of earners peaked at $39.4 million in 2007, according to Mr. Saez's data, which is adjusted for inflation. It then plummeted to $21 million in 2009 - partly because the stock market crash reduced gains from stock sales - before rising back to an average of $29.2 million in 2012 and 2013.

(Why am I using an average for 2012 and 2013? It's more meaningful than the data for only 2013, because changes in the tax law accelerated some stock sales into 2012. So looking at the data for 2013 alone makes the decline in inequality look even larger than it truly is.)

Needless to say, $29.2 million is a whole lot of money, but it represents a major decline - 26 percent - from the 2007 level. No other income group has experienced such a large decline.

Couple thoughts on that.  First of all, "Why am I using an average for 2012 and 2013?" is the wrong question.  The better question is, why are you using the top .0001% of earners?  That is not a percentage usually cited (the "one percent" is quite popular, as I've sure you've heard), and its randomness gives the impression of data-picking to some extent, as if in order to best demonstrate the point being made, such a tiny tranche was required.  A quibble.

More importantly, if you want to claim some sort of systemic solution to inequality because really rich people made a couple million dollars less than they did last year or the year before, then you are making quite a leap, a leap that could be mistaken for something monstrous like stupidity.  "No other income group has experienced such a large decline."  OK, swell.  But some of these other income groups experience things like living paycheck to paycheck and food insecurity that make that large decline like a ploy of someone desperate to victimize the wealthy.  The narrative of the inequality issue is that since the Reagan administration the robust growth of the lower and middle classes stopped, while the top percentiles of the scale have experienced unprecedented and, until 2007, unabated growth.  It may be factually correct to assert that inequality has stopped or something, but the fact of the matter is that it's the answer to the wrong question.  A blip in the one percent's march to world domination does not restore us to an equitable place in society. 

Also, the article is speaking of income, not wealth (or, better yet, income and wealth combined.  To deliberately obfuscate the role of wealth in inequality is the act of someone trying to have a dishonest conversation.  Hamilton Nolan addresses this issue quite nicely.

And then you get a real beaut of a paragraph, like this one:

If anything, these pretax data exaggerate the level of inequality, as Mr. Rose notes in his paper, published by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a Washington research group. The rich pay a higher average federal tax rate than the middle class and the poor. (The stories you hear about wealthy investors paying little in taxes are real but not the norm.) And unemployment-insurance payments and other federal benefits help the middle class and poor more than the rich.

Emphasis mine, naturally.  Because I'm not sure how you can say something like, "The Social Safety Net benefits those who need it more than those who don't," and then not perish of terminal assholery.  But that casual dick-move aside, to slip a little the-inequality-wasn't-that-bad-anyway into you the-inequality-is-over article goes a long way to revealing the motive of the author.

So I guess take a second and feel bad for the riches, I guess, since they so desperately want to be pitied (as long as it does not interfere with the virtue bestowed upon them by their wealth, of course), but when you encounter this pushback against inequality out in the wild, be armed with the knowledge that such pushback is a pile of hooey.

Posted at 10:48 AM

February 13, 2015

I've lately been mired in a little existential quandary, relating to the putting of words to paper.  (Or ones and zeroes, if you will.)  No biggie!  Everyone does at some point, right?

So just as it seemed that I was arriving at some conclusion to this process, Balk dropped this, and it gave me pause.

Yeah, about that: Nobody needs to be a writer. Nobody. I can certainly understand the appeal of not doing physical labor or toiling in a field in which your brain is not fully engaged but there is no human need to be a writer. I get it, you have thoughts, you feel the world should share them, you like attention, you don't want to do something else that is probably harder and less affirming of how special your sensitivities are, but you know what? The world will somehow get along without your deep and knowing interpretations of what we mean when we say something or what is conveyed when we stare into the middle distance or how our titanic struggles with existence are often played out in the smallest and most quotidian of ways. Someone else will eventually say it, and probably better.

Oh God I totally freaking agree, and not because any doubt in my own ability or motives.  But the world is just filled with so many words, words everywhere, waiting to be quickly read and (usually) nearly as quickly forgotten.  Just in my own personal reading life, and I am nowhere near as voracious a reader as some of my friends, I am backlogged by weeks if not months, and the deficit is only growing.  At a certain point you HAVE to run up against the wall of Why Are You Doing This?  This feeling goes all the way back to college, at which time I was under the impression that I was going to be an actor/comedian.  Colleagues would testify to the importance of their craft, how they were chosen and compelled to pretend for a living, and I would respond with the hypothetical: Would the world be worse off if all the actors suddenly disappeared, or all the plumbers suddenly disappeared?

Not that I was flirting with quitting, but I was getting twisted into this recursive loop of self-questioning.

And then David Carr died suddenly last night.

You are all in varying degrees familiar with Carr — part of his job was making sure of that, in subtle ways.  But he was a great one.  In fact, as far as the tradition of old-school reporting goes, shoe leather, impertinent questions, icepick-prose on deadline, he was pretty much the last of them.  (There is one left, who I will not embarrass with mentioning.)  There's a lot of ink spilled last night and today, and I haven't read one yet that didn't make my heart swell with admiration and bring (another) tear to my eye.

But for the purposes of my train of thought right here, what Carr was was relentless.  You will never read all of what he wrote, because he wrote for so long and so frequently.  And he was not myopic and he was not meta.  He had his profession boiled down: he found stories, he researched and reported them, and then he told them to other people.  Oh, his opinion was sometimes implicit (see his famous takedown of Shane Smith), but he figured out what his purpose was and went from there.

I'm not saying that I want to be another David Carr, or even another reporter.  Just pointing out some things that happened this week.  I still got some thinkin' to do.

Thank you Balk; rest in peace Carr.  And the rest of you, let's try to stay warm.

Posted at 10:31 AM

February 12, 2015

This is how far behind I am.  So I see that RadioShack has asked for permission from its bankruptcy court to set aside $3,000,000 for "retention bonuses" for its executives.  My gosh that's an outrage!  (It's not an outrage.  See below.)

And then, oh yeah!  I scan the tabs, half of which I keep open until I remember what I'm supposed to do, and then I find the one I'm looking for.  It's a story about how companies are permitted under tax code to write off certain portions of punitive damages that they are forced to pay in adverse outcome of lawsuits and settlements with government authorities and the like.  To wit:

But even if Hyundai is eventually forced to pay the full amount of the damages, the punishment could be substantially reduced through a tax loophole that permits the company to save millions of dollars by deducting any court-ordered punitive damages as an ordinary business expense. The result, critics say, is that taxpayers are in effect subsidizing corporate misconduct.

Also an outrage!  (Actually an outrage.)  But the think of it is, the story is from exactly a week ago.  It doesn't make it any less outrageous, but it does make me a shambling geezer bumping around trying to find his reading glasses.

Enough about me.  The retention bonuses?  Not such an outrage, as business require employees to see them through the bankruptcy process, while when we mere mortals go through the process, we're on our damn own.  Not an outrage, just another unseemly characteristic of late market capitalism.

The tax loophole?  That's a fucking outrage, and just another reminder that the deck is increasingly stacked against us.  And remediable!  But ask yourself how many times you heard/read about this in the past week, and that's the answer to the likelihood of it happening.

Posted at 10:38 AM

February 5, 2015

You are all literary folk, and as such have no doubt treated yourself to an opinion one way or the other concerning the sudden publishing of Harper Lee's second novel.  I myself have an opinion: I would like to see evidence of the clear consent of Harper Lee before her publisher and her lawyer make one red penny off this book.  (Oh hey look it's Bookslut in the NYT!)

But if there's any upside to this, it is that we have all come together and reaffirmed our fondness for "To Kill a Mockingbird," which may well be the most beloved novel of the Twentieth Century.  And it is in that spirit that I share with you perhaps the most moving "To Kill a Mockingbird" anecdote ever.

I have a friend, who is perhaps the most righteous person I know.  She is a longtime legal aid attorney, specializing in protecting tenants who cannot afford legal services in Brooklyn.  She is a bad-ass, and this is not her job but rather her life.  Whenever we run into each other, we chat local and state politics, she fills me in on her latest cases, etc.  I ran into her last night.  Harper Lee came up, and she was much more animated than I'd expect on the topic.  Big Harper Lee fan, I asked.

"It is the only book I read once a year, every year."

Boom.

Posted at 10:29 AM

February 4, 2015

Yes this site has not been updated in a week and a half.  No, it is not because I read this and then had myself a big old Goodbye Cruel World party.

No, what happened is that there was I was getting an error message when I tried to log into the "CMS" (as they call it), so I had a techie friend take a look, and he replied that he couldn't actually fix it, but that there was something up with the MySQL database and to drop a line to my host.

Which I did!  But I did it a week later, because I distract easily and even though it feels like I am doing nothing at all I also am impossibly busy.  (Plus there was also the Super Bowl, which should just be renamed the Weekend of Getting Nothing Done.)

And it was really cold!  Did I mention that?

So yeah I emailed the host yesterday and they fixed it in literally (as in "for real" and not as in however it's used today) five minutes.  Emailed as I was wrapping up to leave the office, put on my boots, put stuff in my messenger bag, and there's the email: "All fixed."  It is very dizzying in this world when a customer service event not only proceeds without complication but also exceeds expectations.  (Total Choice Hosting is the host, I should add.)

What'd I miss?

Posted at 10:50 AM

January 26, 2015

This is going to slip through the cracks, on account of the country's Major Media Center, and a bunch of other East Coast cities, staring down what seems to be a sizable blizzard which will be crippling the city shortly.  Don't forget to stock up on snacks!  Can't bingewatch without snacks.

But this story ran this morning, and it should be on all of our radars, because it's something that's going to affect all of us, whether personally or in the care of our parents/loved ones.  What has happened is that nursing homes have found an exciting new way to make the lives of our elders miserable, as they petition for guardianship of clients late on payment:

Brett D. Nussbaum, a lawyer who represents Mary Manning Walsh and many other nursing homes, said Mr. Palermo's devotion to his wife was irrelevant to the decision to seek a court-appointed guardian in July, when the billing dispute over his wife's care reached a stalemate, with an outstanding balance approaching $68,000.

"The Palermo case is no different than any other nursing home bill that they had difficulty collecting," Mr. Nussbaum said, estimating that he had brought 5,000 guardianship cases himself in 21 years of practice. "When you have families that do not cooperate and an incapacitated person, guardianship is a legitimate means to get the nursing home paid."

The case in point, that of the Palermos, is one where the wife is incapacitated, the husband disputes a sudden increase in co-pays, and the nursing home, Mary Manning Walsh, tries to intimidate the husband by suing for guardianship of the wife.

Which is as fucking heinous as it sounds.

Anecdotally, I know that the elder care industry is insidious and makes the health care/insurance industry look like a bunch of freaking angels.  I've heard many a story in which in order to enroll a loved one into certain facilities you'd have to grant a lien on the family home.  Which sounds pretty draconian?

Unless of course you compare that to suing for guardianship of your grandma.

Posted at 10:24 AM

January 21, 2015

Gosh remember way back in the good old days when we all had our own websites and we'd sit there and live-blog the State of the Union speech, all snark and glamor?  Well those days may be long gone, but I did make a point to catch it last night, maybe out of nostalgia.

Clearly the biggest takeaway is encapsulated in this epic burn — the classic "I know, I won both of 'em" moment.  The president did not go into this giant (meaningless?) media moment looking to signal compromise or weakness or contrition.  If anything, he was flexing territorially, something along the lines, "You guys can talk about your Republican Congress all you want, but I still got this podium and I still got this office, and most of all, I got my veto."

Speaking of which, the other noteworthy thing I came away from these proceedings was that the GOP response to the SOTU, for the past six years, has been a spectacular showcase of just how venal and small-thinking and, ultimately, clumsy the GOP is.  First of all, they have made a big show of bending over backwards to allow some non-white male up-n-comer to be the public face for the night, which is a ploy so transparent that it is an embarrassment to honest devious people everywhere.  And, I don't know whether its nerves or bad luck or just a God with a sense of humor, but these speakers, in the one night they are allowed in front of the cameras, never fail to come off as anything but wooden and sometimes downright not-very-skilled-at-public-speaking.  Marco Rubio nervously sipping water, Bobby Jindal doing his Nathan Thurm impression, Michele Bachmann (speaking for the Tea Party and not the GOP FWIW) strangely focusing at some point to the right of the camera.  These are not oratorial high marks.

This time around the speaker, Joni Ernst, senator from Iowa, managed not to get her foot stuck in the mop bucket or anything, but the speech she bloodlessly read weirdly kept making continuing reference to the "Republican Congress," and once even went so far as to refer to (I'm paraphrasing) the American people choosing a Republican Congress.

OK.  This is technically not untrue, even though it's clearly not how that works, duh.  And maybe the instinct here is to diminish the presidency by attributing the entirety of the legislative branch of the U.S. government as unilaterally Republican, and therefore co-equal to the executive branch?  But, between you and me, why on earth would you take credit for an entity that polls in the low teens approval-wise, has accomplished nothing in four years, and will clearly accomplish nothing in the next two?

I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time?

But overall the president came out swinging, choosing to negotiate from strength and not weakness, and now the GOP has a whole lot of lookin'-busy to do before they are found to be all hat and no cattle.

Posted at 10:49 AM

January 15, 2015

I was reading this David Leonhardt piece on what we're now calling the great wage slowdown (and how to solve it), and a thought came to mind.  (Which was neat!)

It was triggered by this passage:

Already, Democrats and Republicans have signaled that the wage slowdown will be at the center of their campaigns. Hillary Clinton often says, "It feels harder and harder to get ahead," while Jeb Bush, in a nod to upward mobility, has named his fund-raising operation "Right to Rise." [Emphasis mine.]

So we all know that real wages have basically been frozen since the Reagan administration.  We're all working harder for less, and meanwhile the earnings at the top (the one percent, if you will) have exploded.  Presto!  No more middle class.

What needs to happen is that wages need to increase, for the bottom and middle tiers.  And while it's fun to listen to smart people talk about how the government can fix this, I'm coming to realize that the entire concept of upward mobility is... pernicious?

What we need is an increase across the board.  And what upward mobility is predicated on is the idea that there will always be a bottom, there will always be this untouchable class to escape from.  It's essential to the whole bootstrap mythos of the Republican Party.  To seek upward mobility is to validate the Republican self-regard as the Salvaged Remnant.

I'm just bringing this up because I think that in my head I had been conflating upward mobility with that bigger income redistribution that is required, when what I should have been doing is thinking that upward mobility is icky.  Well, it is until it is redefined as entire communities moving upward, and not just isolated individuals.

But anyhow, the article was written because the Center For American Progress today released their Report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity, which I am adding to my reading list.  You should too!

Posted at 10:26 AM

January 14, 2015

Oh hey look the NYC City Council had a little hearing that would cap "surge pricing" in the taxi pimp industry at 100%, and Uber sent someone to say thee nay:
Uber said in a statement: "Dynamic pricing ensures Uber remains a reliable ride in communities during times of peak demand. Our in-app features are designed to communicate the pricing repeatedly and require approval by the user before any trip is requested."

Okay, we could probably spend the rest of our natural lives unpacking the doublespeak of the New Disrupters or the Silicon Alley Robber Barons or whatever we're calling them, but I really intensely dislike Uber and their dingbat Objectivism, so let's give this one a shot.

Let's start with an easy one: "dynamic pricing" is doublespeak for "price gouging," or, as others call it, "profiteering."  Yeah sure we live in a late capitalism world, no getting around it, but even in this relaxed free market we have price controls.  We forbid monopolies, and we frown on cornering the market.  And when it comes to certain transportation concerns, we regulate the hell out of them, up to and including how they can determine their price.  This is why Uber is bad: Uber skips all these regulations and then pretends that sunshine is streaming from its ass.  You say dynamic pricing, I say we have always been at war with Eastasia.

Moving on.  Use of the verb "ensures" is a deft little slight of hand — Uber's profit motive is not behind their naked price gouging, oh no!  Actually it ensures that Uber is able to provide a service and improve the quality of life to its happy endusers!  The sad thing is not that Uber feels compelled to deploy this sort of rhetoric, but rather that they actually think it true.  But this whole sentence hinges on the presupposition that Uber is currently a "reliable ride in communities."  Neat!  Not, a service available to potential customers, but rather reliable ride in communities.  So I guess that if you're looking for either one of those unreliable rides, or if you don't live in a community, Uber is not for you.

You know what's really reliable and really serving a community where I live?  Public transportation.  But that is a whole 'nuther I guess.

And then the final sentence, which is a shifty little The devil made me wear this dress!  Call it price gouging, call it the unmitigated charitable munificence of Uber, whichever: it ain't Uber's fault because the user (which is what we know call a mark instead of a customer) knew about it and agreed to it and paid for it.  So there.  Blaming the market demo — subterfuge!  But Uber is not being accused of fraud; it's being accused of price gouging.  Which charge stands whether the umbrellas sell during the downpour or not.

This is obviously the latest iteration of the newspeak that grew out of the age when people not only ran corporations but then started writing books about how to run corporations to the point that thinking about running a corporation is acceptable family dinner table conversation.  Certainly it will evolve further.  But there is a messianic streak that underlies these assertions, be it the protestations of Uber or Airbnb calling normal people like you and me to defend it from the depredations of the Attorney General.  These new own-nothing-but-code companies, valuated in the tens of billions, are not satisfied just to pretend like they don't care about making money — they insist on suffering the delusion that what they are doing is important, and they are making a difference.

Which is a load of hooey.

Posted at 10:50 AM

January 12, 2015

This op-ed from last week was perhaps the low point in public cop discourse.

Public cop discourse?  Well, here in NYC we have a little problem as every cop other than Chief William Bratton hates our mayor, Bill de Blasio.  Now, cops have historically shown distrust/disdain for Hizzoner, even to Rudy Giuliani, who is now Cop Apologist Number One.  But Bill de Blasio is a big old flaming liberal, so... well actually the op-ed is titled "Why We're So Mad at de Blasio" and it is written by a retired cop.  So, according to this retired cop, the reason cops don't like de Blasio so much is because, well, he hurt their feelings.

No, really!  He pals around with Al Sharpton, whom the cops hate, and after the Eric Garner non-indictment, the mayor mentioned how he's told his son, who is bi-racial, to be careful around the cops.  And every cop knows that's a fact of everyday life here in the five boroughs, but they're mad because, yes, the mayor sad it out loud.

To paraphrase, "Policing is hard, our wives worry about us, the mayor is mean to us and we're going to hold our breaths until we turn not-blue."  Yes, that is an intentionally snarky paraphrase.  But it is not off the mark.

The author, sounding like a character that walked out of a Mike McAlary column, also creates this fabulous straw man who is accusing the de Blasio haters of being self-pitying, and then takes a deep-ass dive into an Olympic-sized pool filled with actual self-pity:

The gestures of protest by many officers toward Mayor Bill de Blasio -- including turning their backs to him when he appeared at both officers' funerals -- have been characterized in some quarters as squandering the credibility of the department and reeking of self-pity.

When I hear this sort of thing, my blood pressure goes through the roof. Mr. de Blasio is more than any other public figure in this city responsible for feelings of demoralization among the police. It did not help to tell the world about instructing his son, Dante, who is biracial, to be wary of the police, or to publicly signal support of anti-police protesters (for instance, by standing alongside the Rev. Al Sharpton, a staunch backer of the protests). If there is any self-pity involved, which I doubt, it is only because we lack respect from our elected officials and parts of the media. It has taken two dead cops for some people to take a step back and realize what a difficult job cops have.

Look, let's all agree that being a cop is hard.  Even Andy Griffith had to make a tough decision now and again, and there was no telling when Otis was finally going to lose it and suicide-by-Barney.  But there ain't nothing written that cops have to be respected.  Oh wait there is!  From stop and identify statues to "interfering with a police officer" there are all sorts of codified respect for cops.  And as to that other sort of respect, well, that shit is earned, whether from the general public or from elected officials.  As far as the general public goes, NYPD may have Staten Island and white Brooklyn all wrapped up, but the rest of us go on results and not some "law and order" instinct carried over from the 1970s.

And as to the mayor, well the NYPD has been carrying on a sub rosa anti-de Blasio campaign since before the election.  The idea (conveyed in the op ed) that nothing changes until de Blasio makes some sort of gesture is ridiculous — PBA needs to stop spreading rumors about Bill's daughter.

I have no problems with cops.  I have friends who are cops, and whatever racist cadre of the PBA that thinks this is still Fort Apache The Bronx will hopefully retire and die off soon enough.  (A great New Yorker's perspective on awesome cops?  John Lurie's.)  But the source of this flap is this weird, kinda unmanly cop privilege, expecting hero worship for a (sometimes dangerous) day's work.  Think is, heroes don't demand respect.  Only bullies do.

Posted at 10:29 AM

January 8, 2015

Remember a little more than a week ago, when we were all cheering on the looming new year, happy to put a stake through the heart of 2014?  Well hello, 2015.

No need to link anything concerning the murders in the offices of "Charlie Hebdo" as if you've not heard of them then you are deliberately avoiding the news.  Just horrible horrible news to wake up to, first for the meaninglessness of the loss, and second for the implications.

And then we had a day of social media, and it was bewildering, even as it settled into camps.  There were those that took the murders to be yet another incidence of some world conflict between faiths, and there were those who, out of excusable outrage, took to mocking of the faith of the murderers, and then there those who made self-serving stands for alternately freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.  I have differing levels of problems with all of those, but, as they say, who cares?  The most poignant, perhaps, were the scores who posted simply, "Je suis Charlie", which is about as simple a declaration of support and sympathy as you can imagine, and used in the public vigils in cities across the globe.  Of course the cynic in you can argue that, actually, no, you are decidedly not Charlie, but nice job making it all about you, but intentions being what they are, etc.

And I'm not even talking about the trolls, who have settled into the discourse like shabby furniture, predictably lumpy and smelling of cat piss.  I mean, technically, Chuck Johnson actually is Charlie, and yes, France has a troubling history/present concerning the freedom of religion (i.e., anti-semitism is banned, but so is wearing a burqa), but maybe the time to bring that up is not while families are still IDing the corpses.  But even everyone else, the saddened, the earnestly upset, and ultimately, the vocal, are hobbled by the constraints of their own personal hiveminds.  It's a tapestry of confusion and self-righteousness, with small chairfights breaking out in the interstices.  You want desperately to gaze upon this and be filled with a swelling love of humanity and its resilience and compassion and that's all kind of in there somewhere.  You keep telling yourself.  As you stare down a road paved with best intentions.

And it's not just intentions just contribute to this, but rather the tenor of our age.  Let's accept that the world we live in now requires us to first have an opinion, and then immediately find the affinity group to join in solidarity over this opinion, and then fav each other to death.  It's almost as if no tragic event with enough resonance to circle the planet can be said to have happened unless enough people feel the need to take to the streets over it.

But ultimately, it was a terrible day to be on the Internet, as the majority of users inspired to comment on the tragedy were hammers mistaking a variety of things as nails.  Personally I think that terrorists have exactly as much power as you give them, which is why I choose to call them murderers, because they ain't nothing but.

It was a day of bringing out the worst in the best of us.  And ultimately, the murderers got what what they wanted: to catch the attention of the world, and to be thought of as something bigger, something greater, than murderers.

Posted at 10:49 AM

January 5, 2015

This entire piece is worth a read (if a bit stingy with the details) about this modern-day disruptor of the art world.  It is morbidly fascinating to see members of my generation take the Move Fast and Break Shit credo to its logical and vulgar conclusion.  In this case, one idiosyncratic and voluble person is trying to upend the fine art market by cornering the market in young talent.  How so?  Well, identify hot, social media friendly Millennial artist, buy their entire inventory, and then snag them in a 21st Century version of patronage — dude pays for materials, overhead, living expenses, etc., and dude owns future output.

(This is where the story gets a bit hazy.  There is much winking and nodding to this patronage relationship, but there is not much in the way of reported facts.  We are left to surmise, which may be a mistake.)

But mostly I'm sharing this because, in it, I learned of what is being called "post-Internet art," which I'll just let the speculator/patron in question, Stefan Simchowitz, explain himself:

Simchowitz uses the term as a generational marker to describe how art history has been "flattened" for artists of a certain age. "When they typed in 'tree'‚ÄČ" in a search engine, Simchowitz explained, "they got a thousand pictures of a tree: a picture of a tree made in the 18th century, a tree made last year, a cartoon of a tree. You have this flattening of time." To the extent that "post-Internet" sometimes defines a sensibility, you could say that it's characterized by positivity, the melding of satire and admiration, an emphasis on popularity over exclusivity and an uncomplicated reverence for fame and success.

Now I know that this sounds silly to you and me — describing an artistic movement on the terms of the availability of reference — but then again we all remember post-Encyclopedia-Britannica art, in which all the art was of things from foreign countries, and in alphabetical order.

Plus also this concept of post-Internet art is as lazy and muddle-headed as every single other little dingleberry of jargon that has found shelter in the mouth of someone disrupting something or otherwise begging a bro-VC for some seed capital that I thought I'd dump it out on the carpet here so we call all stare at it in awe.

I mean, it's not even a mild misuse of an existing word or phrase, like innovation or inflection point.  It's like they're not even trying.

Posted at 10:56 AM