24 March 2009

Risk: The Modern Windmill At Which Obama’s A-Tilting?

Wait. What’s that coming over the horizon? Oh. My. God. It’s RISK!!!!!



Good, because if its one thing the market has never tolerated, it’s risk.*


*Sorta wonky stuff, but the key is remembering that the “Risk-Reward” relationship has not changed. You want a safe investment? Fine, you just won’t get paid as much as a riskier investment. Hell, this is what Vegas is based on: you bet on red/black, you get 2:1 odds on your money. You bet on a specific number, your get something like 20:1 odds. I mean, really: Duh.

23 March 2009

Thoughts On The Web, Politics, and Fads: Two Months Of Obama Edition

I don’t want to be the one who always trumpets my “I Told You So” moments. In fact, if someone can find a ear-clangingly awful prediction of mine somewhere on the intarwebz, please point it out to me. I’d love to be chastened.

Enough modesty.

Back on December 8th of last year, I wrote a post called “The Obama Techno-Cool Bubble”. I wrote it in response to all the old establishment geezers wheezing rhapsodically about the large “base” of supporters Obama had managed to accrue on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. These Eastern Seaboard/Beltway lefties saw a future of Total Progressive Techno-Domination, where every social networking and Web 2.0 site was used in the most ingenious way by the web savvy Obama and his coterie of techno-hipster Apple Store employees. At the time, my spidey-sense was tingling, and I said so:

Now, I know this spits in the face of all the hope we've been brewin' over these past few months, but can I ask: Can anyone prove to me that the entire Obama-netroots organism is different from other Web 2.0 phenomenons?
Show me one sustained web-event. Nearly all of them have a brief tizzy of wild popularity followed by a dramatic dowsing…

…There's a cruelly funny quality to this situation, where all these D.C./political types are giddy over the prospects of politics being permanently cool. I don't buy it. There's just gotta be a decline in political awareness…

…We millenials are a proud people, lazy and slack. We practically invented the digital poseur. Why should that change now?

And then, what do I see in this The Nation blog post from earlier today?

For a change of scenery [they had managed 26 whole signatures at the Brooklyn Ikea –ed.] we headed over to the nearby grocery store Fairway, where the three encountered considerably less enthusiasm. The customers were mostly Obama supporters, but few wanted to sign the budget pledge. Among the responses:

"Obama personally knows I support him. Trust me. I could call him right now."

"I voted for him, I gave him money, I'm a supporter. But I don't want to give out my email address."

"A this stage, I'm really disappointed with him. He loaded up the budget with earmarks and blamed it all on the Republicans!"

After thirty minutes, Erica had collected ten forms and Shanice only six. They were ready to head back. "I thought people would be more enthusiastic about Obama," Erica said. "They're suffering from Obama fatigue," Tremis responded. "The side effect is they don't want to hear about it anymore."

What?! You mean that a bunch of high-school kids, college students, and mindless Jon Stewart followers aren’t interested in becoming full-on political stooge—I mean, activists?

Here’s my theory on the whiplash: Obama (who is, relatively speaking*, a technologically proficient pol) ran a first-of-its-kind campaign. He used the internet as no one had done before: his people organized MeetUps, posted YouTube videos, ran a Twitter profile – it was pioneering in the most literal sense of the word. No one knew if all this digitizing would turn into success at the polls. Some people predicted it would be a success, but there was hardly a guarantee. It’s safe to say that every campaign from here on out will have a large tech contingent to it (whether these politicians/campaigns learn enough to avoid becoming a tone-deaf parody of an Old Person Attempting To Be Web Savvy Even Though They Were Born Before There Were Three Network Stations, well that remains to be seen), and Obama’s campaign was the first to do it.

But then they went and screwed it all up.

One of the Rules of the Internet is that “Anonymous can be a horrible, senseless, uncaring monster.” A few rules that are more pertinent to my post, however, are:

17. Every win fails eventually.

20. Nothing is to be taken seriously.

21. Original content is original only for a few seconds before getting old.

Notice the theme? The world of the internet is incredibly ephemeral. This is the land where Tay Zonday was huge for a day, where random collections of letters become fully-accepted OED quality words (ROTFLMAO, WTF, FTW, etc.).

There are pieces of quality on the internet (insert chance to pimp Michael Yon heeyah), there are stunningly stupid/beautiful/tragic/uproarious/angering pieces of writing out here. But do you know what sites are guaranteed to have absolutely nothing permanent, nothing redeeming, nothing I’d like to show my grandkids one day?

Facebook. MySpace. YouTube. Twitter.

Any and every form of communication the Obama team used, that’s the gossipy side of the web. It’s the place where people place drunk photos, send lewd messages, express outrage over their favorite team being upset. It’s not where you go to form beliefs or think through life’s problems – it’s where you go to find out how fat your ex has gotten. It’s where you write something on your own wall while drunk, and then quickly take down the next day, hoping no one saw it (they did).

So into this nihilistic social void did Obama stride, asking for FacebookFriends and TwitterFollowers. He found them. There were plenty of people who were sick and tired of everything Bush, and this man came along and talked to them on the internet. They were smitten. They forwarded emails to friends, a few went door-to-door and recruited other followers. Most just looked at their Obama app every time they loaded up their Facebook homepage and felt like they were all warm-and-aware inside.

The election came, the results poured in: Our New Lord of Time, Space, and Internet had won. R0x0rz my s0x0rz. Then came the “I’m So Proud of my country.” Obama had millions of people on his rosters, millions of email addresses and websites at his hand. What couldn’t he do?

But then came the auto bailouts. The Israeli-Gaza War. The further collapse of the banks. Josef Fritzl, the Austrian Creepster Dad. Slumdog Millionaire and subsequent Oscars craze. Octomom. In comparison, Obama seems so October 2008, so immediately attached to a different time than what we are living.

There are, and there will be, cries of “foul” from the intelligentsia. They’ll cry that the man who is Leader of The Free World deserves more attention and higher respect than Slumdog Millionaire. I’m sure he does. But when you build a consensus on the back of the Land Of No Commitments, the Internet, you need to appropriately discount those numbers of support. Sure, millions of people followed you on MySpace and Facebook. But there’s a million people who kvetched about the de-planetization of Pluto.

Ignoring this, the President came out with an agenda that was worthy of a man who enjoyed Reagan-esque numbers in victory. Contra the press’s efforts, however, President Obama did not have nearly the amount of support he supposed he did. Part of his hubris, I have to believe, came from his internet numbers. He envisioned a budget-support movement where teens and grandparents alike would stand on street corners with signs that said “A Trillion Dollars of Growth We Can Believe In”. He thought that there would be millions of phone calls made by patriotic supporters to their loved ones, encouraging the passage of the stimulus. The problem? The people he relied on to carry the heavy load of political work had in reality only worked as hard as clicking a “Join” button on a website and taken an hour off from work or school to do the “cool” thing and vote for Obama. ACORN activists these people ain’t.

Your numbers mean something, President Obama, but not nearly what you think.


* That “relatively speaking” is a HUGE qualifier. I doubt Obama himself actually knows very much about the Web 2.0-and-later stuff. I’m pretty sure he’s like most men his age: knows how to check his email on his Blackberry, has got his fav sites bookmarked (Espn.com, NBA.com, Fantasy Sports, Etc.), and perhaps is familiar with the idea of Facebook but sees no reason to actually post a profile pic. Good for him – he’s in his forties, after all. But to think that he’s some Digg moderator or has an RSS feed in the hundreds is the height of asininity.

18 March 2009

The State: “If Something’s Fixed, Break It!”

One of the biggest problems facing America today is the practice of commercial pilots carrying firearms. The idea that these men and women are wielding weapons at 30,000 feet, with hundreds of lives on the line, it’s infuriating.

I haven’t even mentioned the dozens of times where a pilot abused his firearms-privileges off the plane or the 10-12 times where the pilot used his gun to threaten and berate either his stewards or his passengers.

Have you guys heard about this?

What, you haven’t?

Wonder why?

Because nothing’s ever happened, that’s why.

But don’t worry: the truth never stopped the State from doing something stupid.

In Defense of Distrust in Government

Cato, as is their wont, has been churning out some goooood stuff in the face of all this rising statism. To wit, Gene Healy has this great piece explaining that a loss of faith in their leaders is a good thing for Americans:

When political trust declines, the D.C. cognoscenti typically wring their hands and hold earnest conferences at the Brookings Institution, exploring how best to restore the people's faith in their rulers.

But, as usual, the political elites have it precisely backwards. Declining trust in government is a good thing, something that Americans of every political stripe ought to celebrate.

I’d tweak him on that, though: I’m pretty sure that the D.C. cognoscenti only wring their hands when Democrats are the subject of the scorn. For GOP hatred, Dissent Is the Highest Form of Patriotism.

Tales of the British Nanny State, Part MCCLXXIV

The Orwellian-sounding Advertising Standards Authority banned the trailer for Wanted because it glamorized violence.

This coming from the land that doesn’t blink an eye at a Muslim girl getting raped and beaten by her father, getting chased by a 40-strong mob for converting to Christianity, and still isn’t able to show her face publicly.

17 March 2009

Bloggers Who I Read: Reihan Salam: A Volcano Of Dance-Passion and Energy

As the sultry be-mustached tones of Thomas Friedman on Talk Of The Nation waft towards my ears, I write to you of a far more prescient and less darling-of-the-Upper-East-Side “moderate” tilt, Reihan Salam.

The first place you need to go is to The American Scene, where Salam blogs. One of the best conservative/libertarian blogs out there (and I’m not alone in saying that), Reihan’s always good for a pop-culture post sprinkled amongst really acute analysis of conservative thought and political action.

His latest column, and one that is straight lock-down awesome, is titled “Why Mark Sanford Matters.” Some healthy blurbs? Blurb away:

When Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964, conservatism was a rigorous and demanding creed. Rather than promise tax cuts, Goldwater insisted on balanced budgets and sound money. After promising to get rid of any number of New Deal social programs, and after pledging to privatize the Tennessee Value Authority and other cherished infrastructure projects, Goldwater didn't promise anything material in return. No manna would fall from the sky in Goldwater's America. He simply argued that shrinking the federal government and reducing its power would encourage self-reliance, and that self-reliance would encourage the virtues of thrift and industry…

…My sense is that this is not a move that will help Republicans win elections. Just as LBJ crushed Goldwater in 1964 by highlighting the many middle-class benefits he put in place, Obama will certainly try to do the same thing to an aggressive budget cutter like Sanford.

Yet this might be the political argument we need. At some point in the near future, we will come to the sudden, sharp realization that we're not as wealthy as we thought we'd be. And while no one wants to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, an evocative phrase that George W. Bush once deployed against congressional Republicans, we might eventually be forced to trim the benefits we provide to middle-class taxpayers, particularly ones provided through the tax system. Sanford seems like the only politician, Republican or Democrat, with the guts to make that case.

Please, I’ve stolen too much. RTWT.

Reihan, though I’ve never had the good fortune to even techno-meet the man, also seems to be a hell of a guy to hang out with. Anyone who can hustle like this:


and give lessons like this:

And remix great 80’s movies themes like this:

Is worth my time.

St. Patrick, His Day in the Sun

As it is St. Patty’s Day, and as it is that my identity has a healthy dose of the Irish (my father is the child of a German immigrant and an Irishwoman named Constance Dermody Daniels, my mother is a UK-mutt paired with a Choctaw*), today is most decidedly a day for drinking and carousing. But fear not, dear reader, I will not forget ye!

16 March 2009

Top of Snowden: The Red Tops Edition

(Explanation for post title right heeyah)

I don’t really know how I got hooked on it, but I somehow found a story from the Daily Mail of the United Kingdom. The format on their stories is such that they advertise a number of their other unrelated articles in the right-side bar. It’s at a level of addictionage almost like the Public Timeline on Twitter or Wikipedia. An example: these are the editor’s picks currently on the screen at the time of post-writing, unedited from the home page to my page:

- “A cyber sensation for the catwalk: World’ first robotic model to star at fashion show”

- “Hundreds of mourners turn out for funeral of 14th Century teenage witch whose headless body was discovered by archaeologists”

- “Spotted on Google Earth: Giant fish trap built off coast of Britain 1,000 years ago”

- “Pictured: Spud the hedgehog with a prickly problem – he’s gone bald!”

Like I said: 100% Grade-A Jumbo-Sized Awesome Sauce.

All ADD-addled internet-browsing aside, there were some fascinating stories worth passing on.

- A Pakistani Christian pastor gets his face bashed against his steering wheel by some Muslims…in West London. Britain responds in a classic neo-Orwellian way, calling the attack a “faith hate” assault. Look closely, America, it’s our future…

- One of the prominent “Bring Sharia To the UK” leaders is a man named Anjem Choudary. He’s an advocate of all the standard Islamist ideas: stone adulterers, all women in burkas, lashes to the drunks, etc. The Daily Mail managed to find some Facebook-quality photos of Mr. Choudary back in his college days. He went by “Andy”, smoked weed, drank Fosters, and enjoyed Mayfair magazine (WARNING: NUCLEAR-LEVEL NSFW), the British version of Playboy (Come for the nudity, stay for the straight teeth!). I’m skeptical as to this actually changing anyone’s mind, but hopefully it will pull back the curtain on the Islamist culture for some modern leftists. These guys aren’t religious zealots who yearn for their own Paradise—they’re identity-movement supremacists.

- In that same vein, this is just… awkward.

A Muslim who advised the Government following the July 7 London bombings has been arrested after an alleged stabbing.

You read further and see that it’s such a classic bureaucratic State screwup story. This was a man who was on the chief council that advised (read: browbeat) the Prime Minister’s office on counter-terrorism, and he’s writing letters to the BBC complaining that Abu Qatada was being unfairly portrayed. Yet no alarms were being set off? Gee, I’m sure glad The State is protecting us!

- The photo in this next story makes me so fuzzily happy all over. To balance out the real-stuff with the funny (I call it “humor yoga”), here’s an awesome case of the Culture of Paparazzi running into a man who Doesn’t Give a Crap About Popularity. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you… Alan Moore!


He's out tracing the perimeter of his Anti-Planar Gravity Hex Field with his Stick of Unrepentant WarGod Tears. JUST LIKE US!!! He’s doing it all out of obedience to his Lord and Savior, Glycon, JUST LIKE US!!!

- And, to devolve, of course, to the scatalogical once again, I leave you with this headline:

Will anyone sleep with my Down's syndrome son, asks mother trying to help 21-year-old lose his virginity.

Godspeed, dear Britain, as thee whisks thyself away to the verily bottomest of Hell.

Unwanted Publicity

A small moment where the bizarre meets the personal:

That’s Josef Fritzl, the disgusting child-rapist-cum-kidnapper of Austria. I don’t care about that. That folder he’s unsuccessfully hiding behind, that’s what I noticed. It’s a Bindertek. Why does that matter? Because my father was near-obsessed with them. He had hundreds of them in his office Before The Internet, and the trickle-down effect of our household meant that my middle-school years were also defined by those bright-blue organizin’ fools.

Josef Fritzl having one made me giggle aloud.

That’s all.

More Photos O’ The Dead

A propos of my Detroit post, I just found this collection from two French photogs of the Motor City. Time has a selection of them as well.

Let me say this: I think there’s a morbid fascination with Detroit that is allowed to breathe because of the “thank God that’s not us, but it’s still sorta fascinating, isn’t it?” quality to it. Once it hits the rest of us, y’all, let me warn you: it’s not Beautiful. It’s not Tragic. It Sucks.

14 March 2009

20/20’s Bailouts and Bull----

I must pass on the link to the John Stossel opus from last night. Since it’s from broadcast-dinosaur-television land, hopefully it speaks in those mythical geezer tones that register on the old-person bandwidth, and maybe we can gain some real political traction for liberty.

He touched on the bailouts, road privatization, universal pre-k education, the border dispute, medical marijuana, and the “land of opportunity”, all based on Reason’s own vids. In fact, Reason gets pretty heavily blurbed and referenced throughout the whole thing.

GOP and Big Business: Too Late to Quit

It’s gotta be too late for this kind of stuff. You ruined your liberty-narrative GOP, when you passed a trilli to Big Pharma in your own congress.

A Tale of Two States

A man who I greatly respect (and will remain nameless at this point in time) saw the writing on the wall. His state was going down. Unsustainable governmental fiscal policy, racial strife, a growing government bureaucracy-- these are the kinds of wounds and burdens a state can’t easily shrug off. Unlike most men in this world, this man had the principles to act on his thoughts. He took his family and moved to Colorado.

But why not stick it out and try and change things, I asked him once. Surely a man of your mind and instincts would be vital to the recovery of your beloved home?

His response? He didn’t think anyone in government “got it”. Namely, he wanted to see someone in government admit that there had to be big changes in the way the government would work in the future. He wanted to see an effort to return to first principles, to fundamental values. He wanted to see a Dave Ramsey in office: someone who basically said:

“Guys, I know we’ve had a lot of really nice programs and policies over the past 20 years. But we can’t afford it. Government is no different from your household: we simply can’t keep spending money that we don’t have. You can’t be making $40,000 a year and have $16,000 credit card bills. If you were in debt, you’d have to sell the new Jetta and buy a used Honda. You’d have to stop going to concerts and movies. You’d buy bulk food and mainly eat in rather than eat out. Again, we’re no different. So here’s what we’ll do. We’ll cut out 50% of our unemployment funds and 75% of our farm subsidies. We’ll fire 15% of our teachers. We’ll cut a quarter of our health-care obligations. We’ll cut a percentage of our sales tax too. I know it hurts. Those are important programs and people. They do a lot for our world*, but we simply cannot afford them. I wish we could keep them. Hell, I wish every one of you could have a new F-250 truck, a lake house, and money for private colleges. I’d want that life. But guess what-- you and I can’t afford that life. The only way you can afford it is if you MAKE A LOT OF MONEY. You want that life? Go produce something of value (here’s an idea), sell it, and buy all that dream stuff with the profits. Otherwise, suck it up and make do with what you got. And trust me when I say that our state government will do the same.”

He saw none of that. What he saw instead was partisan bickering over meaninglessly small debates when the tsunami-wave was bending over the city skyline. He saw the current leadership whinging about how the prior administration was really at fault, so none of the blame really resides with the avowed leader. He saw the eventual collapse, something that surprised many people but was quite obvious in retrospect.

I’ve delayed revealing where this man was, but I’m afraid its become obvious. This man moved his family out of the suburbs of Detroit in 1991. Over the past few years, passing in conversation, we’ve both noted how the attitudes and views of the Mitten State have broken past the state’s borders and bleed to the rest of America.

Welcome to the Michiganization of America. As residents of the state will tell you, it’s depressing and deadening and awful and lonely and wistful.

But it’s home, right?


*Debatable, but it fits with the rhetoric of a politician, no?

13 March 2009

Friday Links: Eff The Police Edition

Aaaand, here’s where I get my Friday depression-inducement posts out before the weekend. Today’s first topic: Police Brutality!

- So, I’m assuming most of you have seen the video of the Seattle cop “defending” himself against a 15-year old girl (WARNING: Graphic State Violence Y’all):

Well, Norm Stamper, retired police chief of Seattle, has a great take on the phenomenon of police violence. His bottom line?

So, why did I abuse the very people I'd been hired to serve?

Not to get too psychological, I did it because the power of my position went straight to my head; because other cops I'd come to admire did it; and because I thought I could get away with it. Which I did--until a principled prosecutor slapped me upside the head and demanded to know whether the U.S. Constitution meant anything to me.

It comes down to this: real cops, those with a conscience, those who honor the law, must step up and take control of the cop culture.

Amen and amen. My only quibble is that he thinks it has to be cop-driven change. I think the increasing prevalence of video cameras and YouTube will be the ultimate driver of change. I don’t see cops changing too much on their own. What will happen, though, is that the amount of brutality-videos will rise and public sentiment against the cops will grow to the point where even their thick-headed unions will recognize they have to self-police (groanpun) if they wish to have any public trust. At least I hope this happens.

- This is a fresh story, hot off the presses, and local! A Denver cop accused of jumping on the back of a handcuffed teen, was acquitted today. I don’t mean “jumping" as in piggy-back either: the teen was handcuffed, on his stomach, and the cop, allegedly, just up and jumped on his back like it was an Urban Rebounder. The kid got broken ribs and killed his kidney. He still has to piss into a bag today. His crime? Drinking a beer.

The part that irks me is that the cop was acquitted because the defense proved that the other two cops who testified against Officer Porter were colluding in a lie to cover up their own brutality. Okay, great. The kid’s still got a busted kidney and, lest we forget, GOT JUMPED ON BY @#%@! SOMEBODY! Someone did it. There is blood that needs to be forfeited for this beating, and we’ve just eliminated one of the suspects. Don’t stop searching though.

I hope the family soaks the city of Denver for every penny they can get.

- And finally, from our New York bureau, a man was acquitted of gun charges because the defense luckily found out that the arresting cop was on steroids, took crib notes from Training Day, and dispense advice to cops on how to commit maximum citizen beatage*…on MySpace. Internet: the backlash begins.

Stay tuned for more! We here at Top Of Snowden know you have a choice in Depressing Stories About the State and Its Violent Excesses, and appreciate that you chose us! We hope that you will keep us in mind the next time you need a heart to be broken or an attitude depressed.


*Maximum Citizen Beatage is one of the best band/album titles I’ve ever unintentionally written.

Glenn Loury: Stop With The Prisons

Glenn Loury has a killer rant on the prisonification of America. No, that’s not right. It’s not a rant-- it’s a clear-headed stone-cold assessment of a national disgrace. If I were writing this, it would have turned into a rant. Loury’s a better man than I. He weaves in personal experience alongside Tolstoy in his plea to stop. putting. people. in. prison.

I actually welled up a little while reading it. It’s that good, it’s that damning of something (almost) no one in the middle or upper classes thinks about.