Archive for May, 2010

The lesser of two evils: still evil

So I get an email from my credit union the other day asking me to “support credit unions” by writing letters through their lobbying arm to oppose Senator Dick Durbin’s amendment on debit card interchange. Interchange is the fee that banks charge merchants in exchange for processing transactions for customers who hold their debit cards. Long story short, Visa and Mastercard run the networks that make this all possible, give a big kickback to the banks that issue debit cards, and gouge merchants with the fees. It costs virtually nothing to run a transaction network and thus interchange is a money-making machine for the banks that get the kickbacks.

I hate corporate attempts to mobilize customers on a company’s behalf even in the best of times. But this campaign is a new low – Durbin’s reforms are milder than European laws regulating interchange, and it’s astonishing to see Visa and Mastercard strong-arming credit unions (as Kevin Drum details here) into this after the role easy credit played in causing our current financial crisis. And all this after I specifically went with a credit union because I can’t stand dealing with behemoths like Bank of America or Wells Fargo.

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The Dems’ own goal in IN-5

Shorter teabagger-turned-Democratic House candidate Tim Crawford: Sure, I may be a complete idiot and not believe in a single Democratic Party position, but I’m not dropping out of the race because my mom has cancer and she wouldn’t like it if I quit. Did I mention my mom has cancer?

The really troubling thing about this, of course, is that someone like Crawford could win a Democratic primary at all. (Caveat: Dan Burton is almost certainly not going to lose in the general election no matter who runs against him.) The following explanations seem likeliest to explain what the hell happened here:

1. Indiana has open primaries, making it easier for hardcore Republicans to sway Democratic primary elections and vice versa. So a lot of Crawford’s win could have come from GOPers crossing the aisle to deliberately sabotage the Democrats in this district by picking the most conservative candidate. Indeed, this practice is common enough that Democratic leaders in IN-05 specifically asked local Democrats not to request GOP primary ballots like they often do, so they could vote against Crawford.

2. Voters are morons and the local media fell down on the job in an election that only saw about 16000 total votes cast.

3. It probably didn’t help that Crawford’s opponent was a guy named Nasser Hanna.

4. Could the whole Crawford candidacy have been a GOP dirty trick? For a guy who seems, well, incredibly dumb, Crawford’s website isn’t bad looking. Not wholly professional, but not totally amateurish either. I’d like to see someone report on where this guy came from and who may be funding him (he claims to be entirely self-funded). In a tight midterm year like this one, this kind of thing is something to watch out for in states with open primaries.

The questions we haven’t asked

Via Lisa, here’s Rachel Maddow’s discussion of the Rand Paul appearance on her show from last week (sorry I can’t embed it properly in WordPress).

One thing that I think has only barely been touched on (though Krugman alludes to it here) is that the substance of Rand Paul’s crazy ideas is not out of the mainstream of current Republican beliefs. The only thing that puts him at odds with the rest of the GOP is that Rand Paul is one of the few Republicans who’s stupid enough to proudly admit he holds those beliefs. The rest of them learned that you can believe in all kinds of extremist ideas – as long as you pretend you don’t. Most of the time, they don’t even have to lie; they just know that they can quickly change the subject on the rare occasions when they’re even asked about these positions.

Seriously – do we really believe that the likes of Haley Barbour and Jeff Sessions and plenty of non-Southerners like Chuck DeVore  and Orrin Hatch don’t privately sympathize with Rand Paul’s nutty position that government can’t prohibit discrimination by public accommodations? Of course their beliefs on all this stuff are very close together. These men are the children of Barry Goldwater. These kinds of beliefs are the backbone of their movement. It’s just that they know that the only way to get anywhere in politics while holding these beliefs is through subterfuge. You practice dog-whistle politics so the voters who are as nuts as you know you are one of them, and then do the captain-of-the-football-team act to woo the regular people who don’t pay much attention. This has been their playbook for the last 30 years. The only thing that’s shocking is that the media has let them run the same plays for this long.

The underrated six

Inexpensive SF Restaurants that barely anyone talks about, yet everyone owes it to themselves to try:

1. Pastores. Mexico City-style Mexican, a rarity in a town defined by the burrito. Irma, the owner, is a godsend, having once served me one of the most delicious lunches of my life when I turned up to find the place closed for a private party.

2. To Hyang. Korean. With the best dishes I’ve tried here (which is most of them), I inevitably find myself thinking “whoever made this food made it with an immense amount of love.” Hwa Soon Im’s cooking somehow reminds me of great meals my Jewish grandmother made. You knew that you weren’t getting anything particularly fancy, but the comfort factor made the experience perfect nonetheless.

3. Lavash, Persian. Like the top two on this list, the gracious personalities of the owners give the restaurant a special place in my heart. You feel like you are an honored guest in these people’s home.

4. Little Yangon, Burmese. Technically over the Daly City line, but I say close enough. One taste of the Shan noodles was enough to land it in the top six.

5. The Lime Tree, Singaporean. Dynamite quality-to-price ratio. They make a mean roast chicken here, perfectly seasoned.

6. Haltun, Mayan. I am a sucker for all things Oaxacan, Yucatecan, and Guatemalan. This brand new Yucatecan joint I only tried for the first time yesterday, but can tell it will be a regular stop. Great thick tortillas and delicious salsa.

It’s all about the ball…

Have been following the crackdown on the Bangkok protests fairly closely. Frankly, the situation sounds awful and it’s very depressing to contemplate what comes next. Hungry for a post in which I prognosticate about where Thailand’s northern and northeastern provinces go from here? Unfortunately, this is not that post.

Instead, this post is about this poster for a Japanese movie, which appears on the BBC slideshow of the wreckage left in the protests’ wake:

and what?

Now, I guess maybe the BBC thought the girl’s expression in this photo appropriately captured the anguish many in Thailand feel at how the protests were “resolved.” But then I saw the English tag line (I’ve circled it in light blue) and had an instant WTF.

Was it some kind of wacky Japanese pun? Or just a particularly hilarious and bizarre example of Engrish? A little more research showed that neither is the case. Rather, the film Oppai Volleyball is sort of a Japanese version of the Bad News Bears with volleyball, except the sad-sack team is coached by a female junior high school teacher. A female junior high school teacher who…

…to give them an incentive to try hard, she promises them that she will show them her boobs if they win a game! Since then, the boys start practicing extremely hard.

Mystery solved!

Remarketing

I’m getting annoyed by the increasing prevalence of online remarketing. Here’s more-or-less how it works: most of the sites you visit collect data on you with cookies. When you view something from an advertiser’s site, if they participate in remarketing and similar programs they’ll tag you with a cookie on your browser, which then essentially gets passed back to the ad networks that they pay to distribute online ads for their sites. Practical upshot: if you checked out the Google Nexus One a la Paul Waldmann or bought a coupon from Groupon like I did the other day, you’re going to be bombed for weeks or months with tons and tons of ads from Google or Groupon, at least until you wipe your cookies from your browser. This technology has been around for awhile, but as Google has integrated Doubleclick into its advertising products it’s gotten much, much more noticeable for the average consumer.

Beyond the obvious creepiness factor, I’m struggling a bit to explain exactly why I don’t like this trend. I think it boils down to something like this: the ad networks pitch remarketing to advertisers as just a way to serve their customers with extremely relevant, highly targeted advertising. And that’s true, as far as it goes: I bought a Groupon, so I’m much more likely to be a continued Groupon customer than someone who’s never even heard of Groupon. The problem stems from the fact that, as it turns out, I’ve already taken pains to define my engagement with Groupon very precisely: I subscribe to their RSS feed and get all my local Groupon offers delivered to my newsreader, thus ensuring that any additional contact from Groupon about those offers is going to be superfluous, and thus annoying. It’s a little bit of a paradox in that the old, dumb world of online display advertising was less relevant and less likely to be something I was interested in. That made those old ads very easy to reflexively ignore. But the new world of remarketing isn’t like that. I’m still not interested in most of these goods and services, but now I can’t stop the ads from becoming mental clutter.

So what to do? Well, one thing that would decisively change my opinion on this stuff is greater sophistication. If Google shows me 1000 Nexus One ads over the course of two months and I still haven’t purchased a Nexus One, perhaps Google should take that as a hint that their price is too high for me to want to buy their phone, even though it was interesting enough to me to check it out on their site. A well-targeted ad offering a substantial discount would go much further to turn me into a customer than continuing to bombard me with the same stupid ads.