Google, Haiti, and Taxachusetts

Saturday, January 23, 2010

There have been so many juicy topics to cover, it’s been difficult to keep away. Every time I’m moved to write, though, I really have something else to do or simply don’t want to devote the time to it. That said, here is, in summary, how to think about the following issues:

Google/China: Yes, if Google was #1 in China this wouldn’t have happened, but they’re not and it did. As a result, this is one of the great humanitarian corporate moves of all time. Perhaps the greatest (there’s not a lot of competition, I’m guessing). Google should follow through and close their business there. As arguably the most important corporation in the world, the move will properly shame China and the many companies that remain in that authoritarian country. Here’s a question that any one doing business there should ask: Would I want to live here?

Haiti: Nothing to do in the aftermath but help. In the long term, I’m with David Brooks and Bret Stephenson. Let’s stop giving money to countries “in need.” It does nothing, and may actively do harm. It’s difficult, because it is human nature to try to help fellow humans in need, but it’s also the right thing to do. Certainly, what the first world has been doing for decades has not worked.

Taxachusetts: I would have voted for Scott Brown too. Seriously. I would have voted for a cardboard cutout against Coakley. Although she was inept, I would have done it to send the message. I have said, many times, that if Obama and this Congress can’t get it done, then there is no hope for us. Year one has been an epic, unmitigated failure. Iraq, Afghanistan, secrecy, deficit spending, bank coddling, and worst of all, the healthcare nightmare. I blame Obama for not using his robust post-election strength to strong arm Pelosi (failure) and Reid (failure) immediately. Weak, poorly managed, pathetic. Obama, where are your balls? It’s time to lead.

And, btw, why do you need the 60 votes? Make an exceptional bill and let the GOP filibuster. Call their bluff. If they do it, and the bill dies, you hang it around their neck. Now, the bill dies, and it’s a Dem failure. Disgraceful.

(But then there would be no healthcare bill, someone wails. So fucking what? Paul Krugman can cry to his cats. This is not the most pressing issue in America. Budget restraint, financial reform, and confiscatory, punitive taxes on very wealth bankers, should be the priority. Followed by a 10% spending cut across the entire government, no exceptions.

We are going to have to suffer, period. Let us start suffering already so we have a shot at not fucking our children.)

The bottom line for me, in all this, is that I have really given up hope. I don’t believe our Congress (and the state legislatures) are capable of introducing the change (ethics, responsible spending) that is necessary.

Something very, very bad is going to happen in the next ten or twenty years. War with China, epic depression/inflation/default, or, in the best case scenario, a benevolent military coup (and a draft) that reforms the government in a way that makes it possible for America to function properly.

David Petraeus, are you out there? Rome needs you. Cross the Rubicon. Cast the die!

P.S. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Nevertheless, letting it stand.

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Pre-Powell Endorsement Smear

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Drudge Report, a sleazy website that has officially jumped the shark this campaign season (by relentless posting often spurious pro-McCain, anti-Obama links and/or omitting links to pro-Obama news), started what will be a relentless smear job against Colin Powell if, and I stress if, he endorses Obama on Meet the Press tomorrow.

The picture I’m referring to is down now, perhaps because Drudge realized no one knows what Powell will do and thought he might find it offensive. The picture in question showed Powell dancing with a couple of black singers or rappers. The implication?

The endorsement, if it comes, is racial.

And Colin Powell, the respected general and former Secretary of State is, just another n****r.

Too harsh?

Not for that sleaze ball. Matt Drudge is a partisan hack of vicious and evil intent no better than Karl Rove. No one is willing to cross him and many pander, but his site, surging traffic aside, is a dying animal. It is merely a propaganda organ for a soon to be discredited niche party called the GOP.

As a symbolic act of protest, I am removing Drudge permanently from my blogroll. I encourage everyone with a conscience to do the same. This kind of brutish extremism must be marginalized.


Sarah Palin and the Death of Cheese

Monday, September 22, 2008

When I was a teenager, the things that we deemed fake and/or trying too hard were called cheesy. By deriding a cultural entity (a person or a TV show or similar) in such a way was to reduce it instantly to the marginal status it rightfully deserved.

For example, the syndicated ur-American Idol, Star Search (hosted by Ed McMahon), was cheesy. It was filled with lesser talents desperate in their ambition to become stars.

Then came the Fox Network, which elevated cheese to a theretofore unattainable status. News and entertainment of dubious quality and substandard values achieved prime time network eminence. Cable television, of course, had already begun to chip away at the invisible wall of cultural standards, but Fox, with it’s much broader reach, moved the ball irrevocably forward. I point to the TV show Married with Children as an example.

Next came the Internet, which is the great leveler of Democracy. With the means for any person to reach anyone, any time, the Internet sounded the final death knell of cheese. This democratization has been both a great boon for society and a shameful leveling of the cultural standards that were once an implicit part of our social contract. Paris Hilton being a prime example.

While this leveling has given millions – myself included – a means to express themselves and reach a broader audience, it has also destroyed the hierarchy that maintained standards of prudence and decency. Genuine talent is no longer necessary to achieve acclaim. Just good looks and a good publicist, if that. Ambition, which formerly needed to be framed by legitimate qualifications, became a talent in-and-of itself.

This death of cheese has so permeated the culture that no sector is left untainted. The genius of Karl Rove was in recognizing this cultural shift and exploiting it in politics to advance the extreme right-wing agenda of his boss George W. Bush. Of course, the agenda wasn’t really Bush’s. He, we all know now, barely has a thought in head. But he was the imperfect vehicle (rhetorically challenged, incurious, arrogant, though secretly insecure) which Rove utilized in this time to ensure that the ambition of the GOP was fulfilled. Bush won two terms. The first, barely, because he was someone you wanted to have a beer with. The second because 9/11 scrambled the brains of Americans.

I, like many of you, have always held a deep suspicion that this cultural change portended bad things for America and the world. I’ve watched as Americans have become stupider, more manipulatable, less interested in the world around them. We are all too busy dancing in the mirror.

And now, with Sarah Palin, my fears have been justified. She is the Reality TV/American Idol candidate for the most powerful office in the world. Without legitimate qualifications and the necessary interest and judgment to hold the office she seeks, she has risen like a phoenix to become an uber-celebrity and, somehow, beyond all reason, a genuine possibility to be president of the United States.

Cheese thy name is Sarah.

This is what we always feared. The great democratization of society has put intelligence on the same level as stupidity. Education on the same level as ignorance. Character on the same level as good looks. Judgment on the same level as “gut” reaction.

Nothing is cheesy anymore. And, as a result, what finally happens when a society abandons it’s standards is that Sarah Palin can have her manicured finger on the button.

I want my cheese back.


Russian Cyberattack on Georgia

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Apparently, the Russians launched a cyberattack concurrently and in coordination with their military attack on Georgia. It is, according to the New York Times, a first.

This kind of attack seems destined to be a permanent feature of future wars. The story, by John Markoff, is here.


Is Google Making Us Stoopid?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nicholas Carr’s article in the Atlantic Monthly has got a lot of people talking about the changes Google, or, more accurately, the Internet (they’re practically synonymous), is making to the way we think. There is the usual hand-wringing that accompanies any new technology or medium, and worries that some part of our basic makeup will be lost forever. Others dismiss these concerns and cite the existence of this kind of worrying whenever society changes.

In truth, they’re both right. The Internet has and will continue to change the way we live, work, and think. And as a result, some part of the way we’ve done things in the past has changed. Biologically speaking, it is certain that routine use of the Internet will shape our neural circuitry and continually reinforce those pathways. Short attention spans, browsing, and what-have-you might be a natural result, if, in fact, the Internet is the prevailing medium through which you extend your brain.

But wherever you fall in this debate, there is an important point that should not be overlooked. Humans (and life, in general) are amazingly adaptable. It has only been a dozen years or so since the Internet really became deeply entrenched in our lives. In that time, many people have gone from the old way of doing things to so pervasive a new way of doing things that articles can appear that question the new way. 12 years!

This ability to adapt ensures that nothing is really lost forever. These abilities are just dormant. The human brain is constantly pruning old and reinforcing new neural pathways. If all the electricity disappeared tomorrow, I exaggerate only slightly by writing that within a few years we’d see a renaissance of long-form journalism and the return of the 19th century novel.

In the meantime, the use of Google and the brain functioning that it encourages are simply a new form of intelligence. Is it an advance? Sure. Like the first monkey to pick up a rock and smash a nut, it will likely be built upon and new modes of thinking and communication will come into existence. Is it ultimately good?

My guess is yes. But one thing is for sure, Google (and the Internet) is not making us stoopid. It is simply making us different than before. And that’s what evolution is all about.

Here’s a number of thinkers on this topic from Edge.org


Ranking the New York Times Columnists

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The editorial page of the New York Times is arguably the most influential in the world. Lately, I’ve begun to feel that the page has grown a little stale. In an attempt to understand why, I decided to rank the columnists who regularly appear there. This ranking system is presented beginning with the worst columnist (#11) and continues to the best (#1), and is measured on a purely subjective qualitative scale.

So, without further ado:

11. Irving Kristol’s son. This smug, lizard-faced, son-of-privilege delights in writing columns that he believes tweak the noses of the Times liberal readership. This is, as far as I can tell, his only goal. When he signed on, he was already way overexposed writing and editing for the Weekly Standard, appearing on Fox News, etc. It still remains a mystery why the NY Times felt this “useful idiot” needed another platform. A disastrous addition, expect him to be gone in one year.

10. Thomas Friedman. This self-important Iraq War supporter is responsible for foisting the worst metaphor in the history of metaphors upon an unsuspecting public with “The World is Flat.” A globalist lapdog, he is beloved by a middle-brow audience for his “Aftab Meets the Future” columns and equivocal analyses of complex situations. Rarely worth the read (now he’s going green, ugh), somehow he’s the star of the paper. He’ll be there for as long as he wants.

9. Roger Cohen. The Parisian Partisan. Combines a love of France with oddly unsexy writing. He is a longtime foreign correspondent who originally appeared as a columnist in the International Herald Tribune. His opinions reflect a bien-pensant benignity that would be right at home during cocktails at Bernard Kouchner’s. His columns are eminently skippable. Seems like a decent fellow, though.

8. Nicholas Kristof. In a word? Borrrrring. He bleeds for the world and wants you to bleed, too. Darfur, sex trafficking, the occasional toe dipped into the Middle East. Somehow he makes these topics seem even more wonkishly mind-numbing than they actually are. I appreciate the effort, I really do, but I don’t read him very often. If I’m ever feeling too pleased with life, I’ll give him a shot, but otherwise I’d sooner read the letters to the editor.

7. Charles Blow. Haven’t the faintest idea who this is. He’s listed on the website as publishing every other Saturday. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything he’s written.

6. David Brooks. Brooks is still capable of a broad social insight and a truly thought-provoking piece, but he might be overtaxed by the demands of the paper. He seems to want to come up with a fresh idea for every column and some of them are hurting (did you read that weird, dorky one about the magic of the Middle Ages?). That said, Brooks is a good writer and a smart guy and he should stay. Maybe just one column a week?

5. Paul Krugman. It pains me to put him here because he was, easily, the best columnist they had during the Bush years. His scalding attacks left you breathless with their intelligence, research, and evocative writing. But Krugman might be like Churchill; without a war, he’s just an irritating eccentric. Now that Bush is winding down, Krugman’s political columns have become flat and, often, misguided. Despite that, he’s got to stay, if only for his brilliant and clear writing on economics and related topics.

4. Bob Herbert. Even when he’s writing about something dull or obvious, which is fairly often, Herbert draws me in. His prose style makes convincing points without unnecessary flair and he’s capable of tugging on the heart strings. When Herbert writes about sex trafficking, you read it. He is a powerful, populist force on a sometimes sadly removed opinion page. He’s there to stay.

3. Maureen Dowd. The paper’s other big star, she’s clever as all hell and loves to show it. Plus, she’s kind of hot for an older broad. I don’t have much to complain about with Dowd, except that she’s a little bitter about men. She’s got a bead on Washington and a sense of fairness and common sense backed up by a wicked vocabulary and the tools to wield it like a knife.

2. Gail Collins. I’m surprised by this one myself. Collins used to run the page and now writes on Mondays and Thursdays. I’ve been reading her columns on the campaign and they are laugh-out-loud funny. I swear I’m on the subway snorting into my shirt. She happily deflates any political pretension and serves up a serious dose of real world perspective. She has quickly supplanted Dowd as the best (Irish-American?) woman on the page.

And, the winner is:

1. Frank Rich. Rich is always on-point, always ahead of the game, always capable of a new, interesting idea or a startling insight. His prose is accessible, but nuanced. He brings gravity and seriousness to his columns while sacrificing nothing in terms of, yes, pleasure in reading. Rich writes once a week on Sundays and this is a good perch for him. His column is the first one I check in the Week in Review.

So there you have it. My suggestion is that Andrew Rosenthal gets rid of the last five (or keep Blow, but give him real shot) and adds some fresh blood to the page. Here, as an added bonus, are my suggestions for the additions:

To fill the foreign policy hole: Tony Judt and Fareed Zakaria

To supplement internally: Michiko Kakutani (with guns blazing), Natalie Angier (they definitely need more science writing on the editorial page), Gretchen Morgenson (and good business writing too), and, if she isn’t taking a buyout and retiring forever, Linda Greenhouse.

To add a little youthful point-counterpoint: Matt Taibbi and Jonah Goldberg.

That’s it.


Obama Disappoints on Public Financing

Friday, June 20, 2008

You knew it was going to happen, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. Opting out of public financing enables him to continue to rake in huge sums by small donors. This is a double whammy for many people because not only is he completely reversing course, but we’ve also helped contribute to the financial groundswell that enables him to do it.

According to Michael Luo and Jeff Zeleny in the New York Times, “when asked in a questionnaire whether he would participate in the system if his opponent did the same, Mr. Obama wrote, “yes,” adding, “If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.”

Um, you can’t get much flip-floppier than that. And on an issue that is the fundamental corrupting influence in politics – money. Ugh.

It is important, in this case, and with the other disappointments that are sure to come, that we keep our eyes on the prize. But I’ll make a prediction: if Obama and the Dems don’t rise to the occasion once in office, a legitimate third party will rise in this country. This is their shot. The ends had better justify the means.