Archive for the ‘Schadenfreude’ category

Bitcoin Schadenfreude Break

December 3, 2013

OK, this is fun (via the blog’s brother).  Follow a Bitcoin thief in real time:

The thief’s problem is that the angry Bitcoin account holders whose money has gone are following the thief through the tumbler, by sending him small amounts of cash that are appended to the larger amount as it is split up and moved on. Each Bitcoin transaction generates a “blockchain” record showing its history, and the appended loose change thus identifies where the bulk of the money is going. The theft victims are hoping that eventually the thief will be prevented from cashing out his accounts because doing so would lead to him being identified in real life.

So far, Reddit user sheepreleoaded2 believes he has identified 96,000 Bitcoins (about $100 million) being exchanged by the thief

The blockchain record is here. The last transaction was just a few minutes ago. The thief appears to have split the 96,000 coins into packets of ~1,000 each, sending each one on a different route.

Lais_of_Corinth,_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger

So, great, right? Follow the money; catch the thief; restore their lost property to the fine upstanding citizens trading in Bitcoins in the first place….

Errr, no:

Unfortunately for those who have been ripped off, the chances of them getting any money back are slim: Once a Bitcoin transaction has been made, it cannot be reversed without the consent of the recipient.

Other than weeping for the glibertarian dudebros and/or criminal masterminds who’ve been ripped off, what’s on your mind?

Image:  Hans Holbein the Younger, Lais of Corinth, 1526.

Don’t Need To Quit You (Cheney Follies, Contd.)

November 18, 2013

Following on the schadenfreude of this morning, a couple of larger points about the Cheney clown car ride in the Wyoming senate race.

The first is that I don’t buy the reflex assumption of many here — and, I think, Liz Cheney’s camp — that Wyoming is fertile ground for gay-baiting and a bolted-horse-barn-door take on same-sex marriage.

It’s not.

In a poll from last summer with a sample that identified itself as 55% somewhat or very conservative, 62% Republican vs. 22% Democrat (and, in a marked display of either bravery or foolhardiness, in which 54% of respondents would accept an invitation to go hunting with Dick Cheney), 28% of Wyoming-ites support gay marriage, while 36% support civil unions.  Only 32% opposed any recognition of same-sex relationships.

Mull on that for a moment:  politically Wyoming is just about as red as it gets.  Hilary Clinton doesn’t get with 20 points of any Republican in 2016 matchups.  There’s nothing of Montana’s purple hue spreading over the Grand Tetons (except when sunset hits just right).  But still 64% of that very conservative electorate isn’t bothered about the idea of gay folks forming legally recognized households.  I get that civil unions are either a fig-leaf for and/or an unacceptable diminution of same-sex marriage…but I don’t see how you can look at those numbers and not see the fact that increasingly, most folks in Wyoming seem to have figured out that gay couples and families are here, they’re ordinary, they’re not going anywhere, and their legal status will in short order match that of opposite sex relationships and families.

Li_Kung-lin_001

I give it a year before the “opposed” group hits 27%

More, the trend in Wyoming is exactly what it is everywhere else.  A group doing a poll analysis has both attempted to determine the level of support for gay marriage state by state as of 2012 — and to look back at 2004, to see how things have moved.  By their method, Wyoming support for same-sex marriage hit 41% year ago, up fifteen points since 2004.

Also of note:  the real hold-outs on gay civil rights live (no surprise here) in the deeper-south neighborhoods of the old Confederacy. Even there, though, the trends tell the story, with double digit moves in favor over eight years.To the point of the Cheney race, Wyoming is only the 30th state out of fifty in same-sex marriage support.  It leans against the tide of history on this one, but not with much conviction.

Which is what makes the Cheney family fight so damn odd, as well as hateful.  Increasingly, it appears that outside of the hard core religious right redoubts of the south, the zest for the fight on this one is waning, even if there is still some unease (that 36% civil union number) with invoking the word “marriage” in this context.  What I take out of all this is that the Cheney family record of fail is in no danger of breaking here:  Liz C. has chosen an issue to break up her family over about which her (alleged) state seems not to be terribly bothered.

Hence my other take-away:  I’ve read the murmurings of a rat f**k here, the notion that this is all a put-up job, that the Cheney sisters have agreed to a public feud to bolster Liz’s capital with the bigot wing of the Wyoming GOP.

Maybe I’m just too old-fashioned to get how things get done these days, but I can’t see any upside to that.  This seems more an evil-stupid thang here, and rather than anything Machiavelli would have nodded at in approval.  It takes a particularly honed toned deafness to think this would play well to non-insane people:

“Liz has always believed in the traditional definition of marriage,” the vice president and his wife said in a statement on Monday according to The Hill. “She has also always treated her sister and her sister’s family with love and respect, exactly as she should have done. Compassion is called for, even when there is disagreement about such a fundamental matter and Liz’s many kindnesses shouldn’t be used to distort her position.”

“Compassion?” “Kindnesses?” Is Mary Cheney some kind of whipped mule for which her sister must care?  Not quite human, but still worthy of Liz’s to-be-granted-or-withheld kindness?

Again: however “culturally conservative” (“conventional” in Richard-Cohen-speak) one may be, I just don’t see how one sister on the make referring to her hale and seemingly happy sister as in need of compassion sits well.

Mary, it seems, agrees:

Mary Cheney later told the New York Times that she would not be seeing Liz Cheney at Christmas.

Yup, nothing says family values like making sure on sibling and her kids don’t feel welcome at the holidays.

Thanksgiving is around the corner. One thing we can all be thankfull for (while offering Mary our compassion on this one point alone):  We’re not related to Dick, Lynn, or Liz.  Hoseannas!

Image Li Gonglin, Beauties on an Outingbefore 1106, after an 8th century handscroll painted by Zhang Xuan.

Cue the World’s Tiniest Violin, Ted Cruz (Office) Style

October 16, 2013

Ambrogio_de_Predis_007

Via Brad Friedman, we learn that Sen. Ted Cruz’ speech writer and senior communications adviser Amanda Carpenter put this up on the Twitter machine:

It’s almost November and I have no idea what my health plan will be or what it will cost in January. This. Is. Awful.

Well, maybe if you hadn’t spent the last whatever helping your boss help the GOP conspire to take away your congressional staff health benefits…

…Aww.  Fekkit.  Not even going to try to argue the logic.  Just — if you don’t want gov’t. to help you, don’t kvetch when it doesn’t.

Or, to put it another way:

BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!

Image:  Associate of Leonardo da Vinci (Francesco Napoletano?), Angel with violin / Panels from the S. Francesco Altarpiece, Milan, between 1490 and 1499.

This Is Getting … Painful?…Delicious?…Would Be Funny If It Weren’t So Damn Serious?

October 4, 2013

No, Sen. Reid.  Tell me what you really think [Politico link]:

“He’s a coward,” Reid angrily said, referring to Boehner’s private push for federal health care contributions for lawmakers and their staff. Boehner later backed legislation to end those subsidies in order to win points with House GOP conservatives. “He’s a coward!” Reid exclaimed. [via]

Challenge to the commentariat:  design the holiday cards those two will exchange.

And then there’s everyone’s least favorite Texan.  And I do mean everyone:

And on Wednesday at a private luncheon, several Senate Republicans — Dan Coats of Indiana, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire — assailed Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has led the movement to block funding for the health law.

Ms. Ayotte was especially furious, according to two people present, and waved a printout from a conservative group friendly to Mr. Cruz attacking 25 of his fellow Republican senators for supporting a procedural vote that the group counted as support of the health law.

Ms. Ayotte asked Mr. Cruz to disavow the group’s effort and demanded he explain his strategy. When he did not, several other senators — including Mr. Johnson, Mr. Coats and even Mitch McConnell, the minority leader — joined in the criticism of Mr. Cruz.

“It just started a lynch mob,” said a senator who was present.

Put that last in the latest in Republican misappropriations of history…but I’m loving imagining that lunch.

Even better?  The next line in the NYT piece:

Despite the uproar, Mr. Cruz did not offer a plan for how his party could prevail in the shutdown battle and suggested his colleagues were defeatists.

Increasingly, it seems to me, Tailgunner Ted (R-TexCanada), resembles no one so much as this guy:

James_Thomas_Brudenell,_7th_Earl_of_Cardigan_by_Sir_Francis_Grant

Or at least, so I devoutly hope.*¹

*Indulging in a little historical hyperbole of my own, I guess.  Sue me.

¹In fact, Cardigan would be a step up from Our Ted:

“His progression through the Army was marked by many episodes of extraordinary incompetence, but this can be measured against his generosity to the men under his command and genuine bravery. As a member of the landed aristocracy he had actively and steadfastly opposed any political reform in Britain, but in the last year of his life he relented and came to acknowledge that such reform would bring benefit to all classes of society.”

Image:  Francis Grant, James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, c.1841 — or about 13 years before his most infamous exploit.

Least Surprising News Ever, Media Edition

September 11, 2013

Via  Peter Lauria at Buzzfeed, Tina Brown and the Daily Beast are parting ways:

According to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, The Daily Beast parent company IAC, owned by media mogul Barry Diller, does not plan to renew [Tina] Brown’s contract when it expires in January.

What might be driving this (not very) unexpected news?  The obvious, as reported in The Atlantic Wire:

At the end of August, AdWeek said The Daily Beast was on track to lose $12 million this year in a report that strongly foreshadowed today’s news….as AdWeek put it, Diller’s “goodwill may be running out.” Diller lost a fortune when IAC bought Newsweek, merged it with the Beast, and then sold it off again. He recently admitted that buying the newsweekly was a “mistake.”

Henri_Rousseau_-_The_Merry_Jesters

I’ve met Barry Diller all of exactly once, making a presentation to him for a very ill-starred media venture sponsored by another mogul.  He was polite beyond his reputation, perfectly attentive to a project in which he had no interest, and left me with just one impression:  not a man for whom you’d like to lose a pile of bucks.

One thing though — given the record of Tina Brown’s Beast before Diller bought it — what the hell did he expect?  Someday I may rouse myself to write at my usual logorrheaic length about how the failure of the Beast/Newsweek experiment — truly the least surprising possible outcome of that endeavor — is another demonstration (if any were needed) that elite media grasp of modern audiences and the shifting ownership of cultural capital falls somewhere between disastrous and catastrophic.  But today’s not that day (I hear you saying “for which the FSM make us truly grateful” — yah bastids).

But as long as you’re sticking around: one more thing.  My standard first half of a title on a Megan McArdle post is “MM is always wrong part (n).  And that’s true, of course, when it comes to matters pollitical, economic, intellectual, culinary, and pretty much anything to do with the actual stuff of what she writes.  But I have to concede that she has not-terrible career judgment.  I thought she was making a profoundly dumb move when she left the Atlantic for the Beast (unless she was pushed, which would make Tina the more of a sap for offering a damaged brand a soft landing).  But even if it was purely an error for MM to bail on The Atlantic, she was on top of her game when she abandoned the good ship Beast for her current Bloomberg News gig – as I kind of wondered in this post :*

I’m wondering if McArdle’s finely honed survival skills are in play, in which case we may be getting a leading indicator on the prospects for our Beastly friends.

Bye, bye, Tina. You’ll not be missed, but please go away.

*Andrew Sullivan’s turn to self-publishing doesn’t look that bad a move either, even if he hasn’t yet met his numbers.

Image:  Henri Rousseau, The Merry Jesters 1906.

I’m Still Loving The Smell Of Schadenfreude In The Morning: Geek Edition

November 8, 2012

A tale of two campaigns:

First, Obama, as reported in a fascinating and tantalizingly brief piece by Michael Scherer over at Time.com:

For all the praise Obama’s team won in 2008 for its high-tech wizardry, its success masked a huge weakness: too many databases. Back then, volunteers making phone calls through the Obama website were working off lists that differed from the lists used by callers in the campaign office. Get-out-the-vote lists were never reconciled with fundraising lists. It was like the FBI and the CIA before 9/11: the two camps never shared data. “We analyzed very early that the problem in Democratic politics was you had databases all over the place,” said one of the officials. “None of them talked to each other.” So over the first 18 months, the campaign started over, creating a single massive system that could merge the information collected from pollsters, fundraisers, field workers and consumer databases as well as social-media and mobile contacts with the main Democratic voter files in the swing states.

The new megafile didn’t just tell the campaign how to find voters and get their attention; it also allowed the number crunchers to run tests predicting which types of people would be persuaded by certain kinds of appeals. Call lists in field offices, for instance, didn’t just list names and numbers; they also ranked names in order of their persuadability, with the campaign’s most important priorities first. About 75% of the determining factors were basics like age, sex, race, neighborhood and voting record. Consumer data about voters helped round out the picture. “We could [predict] people who were going to give online. We could model people who were going to give through mail. We could model volunteers,” said one of the senior advisers about the predictive profiles built by the data. “In the end, modeling became something way bigger for us in ’12 than in ’08 because it made our time more efficient.”….

The magic tricks that opened wallets were then repurposed to turn out votes. The analytics team used four streams of polling data to build a detailed picture of voters in key states. In the past month, said one official, the analytics team had polling data from about 29,000 people in Ohio alone — a whopping sample that composed nearly half of 1% of all voters there — allowing for deep dives into exactly where each demographic and regional group was trending at any given moment. This was a huge advantage: when polls started to slip after the first debate, they could check to see which voters were changing sides and which were not….

“We ran the election 66,000 times every night,” said a senior official, describing the computer simulations the campaign ran to figure out Obama’s odds of winning each swing state. “And every morning we got the spit-out — here are your chances of winning these states. And that is how we allocated resources.”

…The numbers also led the campaign to escort their man down roads not usually taken in the late stages of a presidential campaign. In August, Obama decided to answer questions on the social news website Reddit, which many of the President’s senior aides did not know about. “Why did we put Barack Obama on Reddit?” an official asked rhetorically. “Because a whole bunch of our turnout targets were on Reddit.”

And now the Romney approach, from reporting at Politico:

A much-touted mobile app used by Romney campaign poll watchers to track voters faced hiccups across the country Tuesday that left one prominent conservative Romney critic declaring it on Twitter “nothing short of a failure.”The system, known as the ORCA Project, was intended to give the Republican challenger’s team real-time information so campaign workers could call, text or visit people who hadn’t yet voted in attempts to corral them before polls closed.

Yet dozens of Romney poll workers across the country took to Twitter throughout the day to gripe that they were unable to log in, lost data they had inputted or found it moving slower than they needed to keep up with poll traffic.

Jeffrey Cook, a Romney poll worker from Fort Dodge, Iowa, gave up after eight hours of being unable to log in and tried to provide his data over the phone after the campaign sent out information about a telephone helpline….

“This looks like hundreds and hundreds of people,” said Akbar, whose popular Twitter handle @ali became a central repository for ORCA complaints. “Something’s going wrong. More people are experiencing problems than are saying it’s working.”

That’s damning for a feature of Romney’s digital campaign that was expected to be a blockbuster. Earlier this month, in fact, Romney deputy political director Dan Centinello was quoted by the Huffington Post as saying of ORCA, “There’s nothing that the Obama data team, there’s nothing that the Obama campaign, there’s nothing that President [Barack] Obama himself can do to even come close to what we are putting together here.”

The Obama campaign has a similar app, Mobile Pollwatcher, which had no reported problems on Tuesday

Ahhhh. This isn’t getting old, is it.

One more thing.  As ever, it’s never their fault.  Conservatism cannot fail. It can only be failed — or betrayed:

In the heat of the election, some pro-Romney tweeters blamed the press for suggestions that ORCA wasn’t working quite right.“Media stories reporting ORCA efforts shut down by hackers are false,” wrote Tommy Duggan, publisher of The Valley Patriot newspaper in Massachusetts. “We just got first-hand confirm[ation] that system worked brilliantly.”

As we might say in the framing familiar to this blog:  Continue acquiring intimate knowledge of Colonel Sander’s best friend.
Images:  Vincent van Gogh, The Blue Train (The Viaduct in Arles), 1888.
Hendrik Gerritsz. Pot, Flora’s mallewagen. (Allegory of the Tulip Mania.) 1640.

November 7, 2012

I’m still grinning ear to ear.

My voice is hoarse from all last night’s howling at the moon with 1000+ of my suddenly dearest friends (MA Democrats do know how to party….).  All day I’ve failed to recover (old man!) from the resulting 3:30 a.m. bedtime, followed by that all-to-familiar 6:45 alarm that begins the process of getting Blessed Increase off to school.

But by damn, I’m still smiling huge.

What’s more, sometime last night — after the fourth scotch I think, or maybe the first bourbon I had to follow those wee drams — it came to me:  years of GOP obstruction had one limpidly clear consequence last night.

A while back, the Senate had a choice:  entertain the nomination of a grandmotherly law professor to serve as the first head of a novel Consumer Finance Protection Bureau — or to send Elizabeth Warren packing as part of a larger campaign to prevent that new body ever taking action.

We all know what happened:  the Senate’s Republicans told President Obama they would never confirm Warren (or anyone) for the job.  The recess appointment that followed provoked controversy enough, and whether by her choice or Obama’s, the administration decided not to toss gasoline on the flames by placing Warren at the head of the agency she had (with others) built.

Instead, she was told to pack up her marbles and go home, with the GOP celebrating her return to the safely (they thought) isolated groves of academe.   As it happens, Warren made her way back to the  Massachusetts just as our accidental senator, Scott Brown was showing all the signs of being a lock to extend the wild ride he’d begun by defeating the single worst political candidate for whom it’s been my misfortune to volunteer.*

Sure, there were other Democrats already aiming at Brown, at least a some of them good people who, I’m sure, would make solid legislators.  But to be blunt:  they were second and third tier candidates.  Brown had a ton of money, and — as the actual race that followed demonstrated — no worries at all about being able to attract much, much more.  He had the image stuff down:  he was a good guy with the truck who managed to (seem to) be as independent of his party as every Massachusetts Republican needs to be.  He was nice looking (if you like that sort of look), well known and mostly liked state-wide, with a campaign organization already in place that non of the Democrats in the race could begin to match.

Yes, this is a Democratic state, and yes, it was a Presidential year — but no one with a finger in the wind thought that Brown was seriously at risk.  The tell:  not one of the ten Democrats from Massachusetts serving in the House  chose to risk their safe seats for a run at the upper chamber.

Enter Elizabeth Warren.  She arrived preceded by at least some fame.  She proved able to draw money as no other MA Democrat this year could have.  And she turned out to be a genuinely talented campaigner.  She wasn’t perfect — but as a rookie from out of town in a state that has historically been deeply unfriendly to women chasing the top jobs, she started out good, learned fast, and became truly impressive by the end of the race.  She hit all the notes, playing beautifully to the better angels of our natures, while, as her  scorched earth counterattack on Brown’s unbelievably feckless asbestos attacks demonstrated — she managed to  master all the necessary lessons of the gut-punch school of Massachusetts politics.

And yesterday, she won.  Decisively.  The invincible Senator Brown ended the night as roadkill squashed by a juggernaut no mere pickup could dodge.

Counterfactuals are never certain — but I can’t come up with a scenario that has Brown falling to anyone in the original list of Democrats seeking to oppose him.

I can’t see Elizabeth Warren running if she were in her first year or so shepherding a new agency she’d worked so long and so hard to establish.

If the minority in the Senate had merely behaved as virtually every prior caucus of both parties had done, allowing the confirmation relatively routinely of a qualified executive branch nominee, I can’t see anything but re-election and a full six year term for the Republican who took Ted Kennedy’s seat.

And yet, on the 50th anniversary of Ted’s first senatorial election victory Warren and not the incumbent  will be heading back to Washington.

All because the Republicans made a decision to oppose literally everything the President proposed.  I’m not saying that they could have anticipated the consequences that flowed from the decision to try to end every Obama initiative in failure…but there are indeed outcomes that flow from their actions.  What caused once  sure-things like Akin and Mourdock to fall was more explicit, more obvious, clearly the result of the long process of radicalization that has wrecked the Republican party.  But don’t let the self-destruction of the crazies fool you.  They and Brown all lost for overlapping reasons — and the biggest of them is that the GOP has doubled down on the belief that if they wreck the country they will be rewarded with power.  Brown can be seen as collateral damage — or perhaps a victim of Republican friendly fire.

He won’t be the last one.

In the meantime, I get pleasure every time remember this: all those GOP senators who swore never to permit Warren anywhere near actual power have got a problem.

Q:  What do you call that nice lady from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?

A:  Senator.

May they choke on the lesson.

*Losing is no fun, and those last few days of working when you know that the face of the campaign simply never grasped the basics of the job — those final shifts really, really suck.

Image:  Francisco de Goya, Incendio, fuego de noche, 1793.

Dear Mr. Romney…

October 5, 2012

I write to tell you how much I value your bold, principled stand on the scourge of minds and drain on the treasury that is…a puppet.  May I encourage you, please, to stand fast on this; it is long past time that brave voices like yours made sure such travesties receive no support from right thinking Americans and their leaders….

…which is to say, dear Balloon-Juicers, that I deeply enjoyed this morning’s pundit roundup at the Great Orange Satan, in which was documented what seems to have been the only truly memorable moment from Wednesday’s debate. The shorter: in a venue in which the forces of darkness planned to unveil the RomneyBot v. 4.0, now with empathy module implemented, the programming turned out to be, well, not quite bug-free.

For all the alpha male stuff, and the energy level, and the spectacular and at least temporarily successful rewriting of the Romney plan and platform, what regular people and a fair subset of the punditocracy seem to recall was that awkward bit where the man who likes to fire people told everyone he was going to kill off a large, cuddly, yellow bird.

Hence, stuff like this from Mary Elizabeth Wallace at Salon:

[D]espite coming out of the evening looking stronger than he has in weeks — Romney made the error of looking like a man who is not on the side of innocence, whimsy, learning or childhood. Nor did he seem to grasp that Big Bird is an integral part of a show that was created for and remains at its core about community and diversity, one that has for decades been an essential tool in helping low-income children prepare for school. Going after Big Bird is like putting down baseball and rainbows and YouTube videos of otter pups. You just don’t.

Also, these metrics caught my eye:

The phrase “Big Bird” was appearing 17,000 times every minute on Twitter. At midnight, CNN reported that mentions of Big Bird on Facebook were up an astronomical 800,000%.  Facebook later said Big Bird was the fourth most-mentioned topic on Facebook during the debate, getting more attention than topics like jobs, taxes, Jim Lehrer and Obamacare.

(Both quotes via the original DKos roundup, btw.)

I remain amazed at the Romney campaign’s ability to spin lead out of gold.  Really: he had a good debate, just about as good as it was possible to imagine, given his own strong performance and President Obama’s seemingly tired and distracted one.  Leave aside for a moment the medium-to-long game of taking apart all the BS that he spewed, which is already putting in play the issues of trust and character that will IMHO flow to the President’s benefit.  The debate itself was clearly the best 90 minutes the Romney folks have had for a very long time.

Yet and yet and yet…Big Bird!

The line had all the sound of a prepared zinger, which, if true, means that someone with access to RomneyBot source code actually thought it was a good idea to personalize their device’s budget seriousness by cutting the throat of a fictional character beloved by millions.  And if it wasn’t rehearsed, that’s in some ways worse.  It means Romney revealed just a bit of himself, that gay-bashing bully-mean guy character that Ann keeps assuring us doesn’t exist.  If offing Big Bird just burbled out of his head and mouth on the spot?  Not a pretty window into the notional soul of a man who would be president.

Either way, of course, I’m grateful. Way to douse the glow of your big night, big fella.

Oh…and one more thing.  Mitt? Yo! Mr. Romney?

Can I ask a favor.  Really, not a big one.  OK?

Here goes:

Would you, oh could you, please, please, pleeeeeeze…

…..persist in your blanket hornpipe with that oversize fictive fowl?

Image: Peter Jakon Horemans, Still Life with Plucked Chicken, Apples and Beets, 1768.

Deval Is My Guy

September 4, 2012

Via the invaluable Charlie Pierce, we learn that Deval Patrick, Mitt Romney’s successor as governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (channeling CP: God Save It!), has very helpfully stepped in and filled out that bit of Mitt’s resume that his predecessor somehow neglected to mention last week in Tampa:

“I guess the main observation I would make is that (Romney) was a lot more interested in having the job than in doing the job,” Patrick said. “We were forty-seventh in the nation in job-creation. Real wages were declining. Our roads and bridges were crumbling. We had a structural deficit that he left behind. Business taxes went up.

“He did one profoundly important thing — really profoundly important, and I say that sincerely — and that’s health-care reform, and he makes no mention of that. I can’t understand that as anything but some kind of political calculation. The presentation he’s making right now is that he was Mr. Fix-it, and I’m telling you, he didn’t fix much.

“People ask me all the time what is the real Mitt Romney? Is he a conservative? Is he a moderate? Is he a pragmatist? I think he’s an opportunist. I think he does and says things he needs to do and say to win elections and to appeal to the people in front of him.”

I love it.  Perfect. Kills Romney with his friends, because heaven forfend they should dwell on the fact that his greatest accomplishment was to enact a socialist-fascist-will-sapping-dependency-inducing-anti-American-wholesale-seizing-of-the-health-care-sector-big-government-tyranny private-sector focused health care bill just like Obama’s – except for  its superior women’s reproductive health provisions.  And it does him no favors with everyone else, given that he did, as Deval says, botch the rest of his job.

That line “more interested in having the job than in doing the job” is going to sting too, or should — because it pretty much describes what he’d bring to the presidency.  Does anyone here recall any real act Romney has persuaded you he really wants to complete as President?

Sure — he’ll loot the place, shifting the tax code in his favor; he’ll shower goodies on his friends too. That’s how he rolls.  But he refuses to say anything detailed about anything he wishes to do — and by detailed I mean anything even a hint more concrete than “We’ll create the same number of jobs over the next four years a normal economy would.”  (via)

And so we get the delightful prospect of seeing Romney portrayed for all to see as the man who nonchalanted his last crack at being a political CEO — and is getting hammererd for it by another guy who has had to pick up after a GOP mess — speaking sometime after 9 tonight, in case you’re keeping score at home.

I wonder why the elephant has a sad?

A personal note:  I know Deval a bit.  We overlapped in college and became friends after we both had the great good fortune to travel abroad on the university’s dime after graduating in a program that made sure that outgoing fellows (me) got advice and counsel from returning ones (Deval).  I’m not in anything like regular contact with him now — I see him very occasionally at political events, and we hug, and that’s it — but in our twenties and early thirties I got to know him reasonably well.  He’s the real deal:  as smart as they come, very tough, and a good guy.  I’m  really looking forward to the speech tonight — when he’s on, he’s as good or better than Obama himself.

All of which is to say:  this election is going to be bitter indeed.  I’m scared of all the money the bad guys will throw at it.  I despair on a daily basis of a media to which I once belonged with so many members that seem committed to not doing their jobs.  But I look at the lineup coming this convention and I am relieved to see that a lineup the Yankees of the ’20s would have feared.  We’ve got the big boppers, and they don’t.

Image: Franz Marc, Elephant 1907

 

David Brooks Is Always Wrong, Again–Both Sides Do It Edition/Tricky Dick Bonus Feature.

May 2, 2012

If I wrote for The New York Times it would piss me off beyond measure that I had to share type with David Brooks. I know from direct, personal conversation that actual Timesmen (or at least one of them) don’t feel that way — there’s a pervasive issue there with the self-conceit of a newsroom papacy with concommitant infallibility.  But still, it must gall on some deep level to know that all the hard work of doing actual journalism could get lumped in with the sloth and intellectual dishonesty of the newspaper business’s best two minute man.

Case in point: today’s Brooks keening that is almost a type specimen of the hackery.  It’s a perfect more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger column about the terrible nastiness of politics today (it wasn’t like that when honorable men walked the land!) that somehow manages to land on precisely the talking point the Romney campaign hopes will offer some cover for their candidate’s foreign policy and security weakness.

Let’s go to the videotape! (h/t Warner Wolf).  Brooks starts out by trotting out what appear to be casual, but are in fact carefully crafted assertions:

Maybe a campaign is like a courtship…Maybe a campaign is like a big version of “American Idol.”….Maybe, on the other hand, hiring a president is like hiring a plumber….You could make a case that most campaigns are a little of all three, though the proportions vary from year to year.

Study those phrases well, grasshoppers, for here you see one of Brooks’ standard tropes, and a measure of the skill he wields to much greater effect than lesser hacks like McArdle or his mini-me, Douthat.  What he’s written is mostly piffle, of course — but he has, as he usually does, inserted the crucial weasel words: “maybe…maybe…you could…are a little of…” Push him on any part of his claim here, and he can just pillsbury doughboy back into the “maybe nots” or the “perhaps you could make a different case…” and wobble on.

More important for his rhetorical aims, Brooks cleverly poses what appears to be an open ended list, which he then slams shut by declaring that “most [weasel again] campaigns are a little of all three.” What was a chain of musing suddenly becomes the ground of all that follows. He’s transformed assumptions into facts — his single most common stupid pundit trick — and we’re off to the races.

Up next, the pearl clutching:

So far, though, the 2012 presidential campaign is fitting into none of these categories. It’s being organized according to a different metaphor.

As an aside: Dear David:  Out here where most of us live, campaigns are organized in the material world, and this one now confronts corporations, metamorphosized into  people, along with crazed billionaires, dumping unlimited boluses of cash into the race.  The framing of political dispute in that context is not built on a metaphor; it is a direct response to an actual present, in-the-world circumstance. Just saying, you pretentious sack of wind.

But I digress…

This year, both organizations seem to visualize the campaign as a boxing match or a gang fight. Whichever side can hit the other side harder will somehow get awarded the champion’s belt.

So far this year, both President Obama and Mitt Romney seem more passionate about denying the other side victory than about any plank in their own agendas.

Another sidetrack:  Dear David:  I know that this will cause you pain, but I have to break it to you that campaign politics at this (or really any) level is actually about winning.  Denying your opponent victory is not an aesthetic choice.  It’s the goal.  Sorry, old tool.

But I digress…

Both campaigns have developed contempt for their opponent, justifying their belief that everything, then, is permitted.

Oh my! Mabel get my nitroglycerin! I do declare that I feel palpitations!

Both sides do it.  Of course!  How could I have been so blind?

In both campaigns, you can see the war-room mentality developing early. Attention spans shrink to a point. Gone is much awareness of the world outside the campaign. All focus is on the news blip of the moment — answering volley for volley.  If they bring a knife, you bring a gun. If they throw a bomb, you throw two.

Really?  First, again, it’s not exactly news to anyone who actual does politics that you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.  But anyone watching the actual Obama campaign claiming that they aren’t playing a long game as well as a short one isn’t paying attention.  In Brooks’ case, that means he’s willfully not doing so; he’s actively not-knowing anything that would confound his ability to depict his fantasy world. That’s what, in real journalism, we call failure. As for awareness of the world outside the campaign…let’s try to finish this screed before 0-dark-hundred and simply say that I haven’t noticed Obama ceasing to do his presidenting whilst kneecapping his eminently target-rich opponent.  Last I heard, walking whilst chewing gum is a requirement of the job.

Both sides are extraordinarily willing to flout respectability to show that they are tough enough to bare the knuckles.

Oh, Thank You Lord.

He actually just says it.  “Both sides…” do it.  It’s the one sure sign that points to the howler to come. For we know that in just about any dyadic relationship, both sides don’t do it in the same way, whatever it may be.  Given that it’s Brooks, we know that what’s about to come is a beauty of false equivalence.  Let’s see…

In November, the Romney campaign ran a blatantly dishonest ad in which President Obama purportedly admits that if the election is fought on the economy, he will lose. The quote was a distortion, but the effectiveness of the ad was in showing Republican professionals and primary voters that Romney was going to play by gangland rules, that he was tough enough and dishonest enough to do so, too.

Note two things:  Romney is. by Brooks own statement, a blatant liar.

See also that Brooks is a rather more subtle corrupter of the truth:  he claims that the point of the ad was to persuade Republicans that Romney is enough of a thug to be president.  I’ll grant him that, but this was hardly the only point of the Romney spot; rather, this ad is one of a series, still ongoing, trying to paint Obama as a failure as a steward of the economy.  To suggest that this was mere inside GOP baseball and hence, by dogwhistle implication, not quite a real lie, is itself a material distortion.

But remember:  Both Sides Do It!  So what was the Obama sin, equivalent to Romney’s out-and-out lie?

Last week, the Obama campaign ran a cheap-shot ad on the death of Osama bin Laden. Part of the ad was Bill Clinton effectively talking about the decision to kill the terrorist. But, in the middle, the Obama people threw in a low-minded attack on Romney.

That would have been this ad:

This,  Mr. Brooks, is what Harry Truman meant when he said that he didn’t give the Republicans hell, he  just told the truth and they think it’s hell.

It is a fact that Obama made the final decision and gave the order to attack bin Laden.  It is true, as President Clinton says in the piece, that we hire our presidents to make exactly this kind of hard choice. It is true that Romney publicly suggested that this was not a high priority goal of his, and that it was not something he would necessarily do.  The record isn’t obscure or controversial here.

And it is just as true that this is a campaign.  We’re in the midst of making a choice presented to American voters as to which of two men we wish to take on such difficult tasks.  Directly comparing one record to another is not just an ordinary feature of any campaign; it’s essential. There’ nothing “low-minded” about pointing out that Obama did one thing, while Romney had indicated he would not.

Plus, of course, there’s that deeper problem:

Brooks himself admits Romney is a liar. Brooks himself acknowledges, in effect, that the Obama piece is accurate.  He just doesn’t like it.  So he lies himself, and says the two acts — lying, and presenting a  factually supported argument that caused Brooks pain — are the same.

It’s just a coincidence, of course, that this false equivalence falls directly into line with what has become the chorus-line GOP response to the embarrassing truth that Obama pursued and caught  bin Laden where Bush did not and Romney — taking W. Mitt at his word* — would not have done.

I admit that there isn’t much else available to the political hacks trying to prop up the kind of mendacious and unqualified candidate presented to them in the person of the failed one-term governor of Massachusetts.  But Brooks’ problem, and that of everyone who gets a byline at his shop, is that if you lie down too often with the hogs, it becomes harder and harder to tell the difference in between one mammal and the next in the wallow.

PS:  I realize I never actually got to the Nixon howler up top of the column.  Basically, Brooks claims that Nixon ran as a plumber (and yes, he made that joke) … the guy who would come in and fix stuff.  I guess Brooks has forgotten about the Southern Strategy and the “secret plan to end the war.”  Ah well.

*A high risk proposition, I’ll concede.

Image:  Leonardo da Vinci, Lady With an Ermine, c. 1490

 

 


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