Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'


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I’ve rather considered myself a fervent traditionalist, for somebody who was born into the computer age, despite the glow of electronic devices pretty much dominating my time: I work IT. I’m a consummate forum troll. I’m rarely more than two hours away from a computer if I’m awake.

But I only just now got a cell phone, eschew the 3G network, maintain a personal library of more than two thousand books – as in the physical objects, not the digital feeds – and hate Web 2.0 with every fiber of my being. I’m friends with people who prefer personal contact and live performances to networking and recordings, and who keep LPs not just for the fidelity but for the social protocol as well.

The reason for this is as simple as it is distressing: I feel that we’re replacing a medium with new one that does not offer everything the former one did. We’re losing something. And not just the displaced jobs – else I’d be a neo-luddite – but something far more intrinsic; fundamental: We’re losing intellectualism.

I mean, sure, there’s already a lot written out there about how, with the decline of newspapers being able to afford foreign offices and investigative reporters, we’re deluged in a wave of amateurs, but that was always the case with the internet. This is a blog. This isn’t my first blog. I know the score. But perhaps I’m a skylarking idealist whose hope that the original precepts of the internet – a frank and open exchange of ideas – would be born out.

I remember in college lauding the internet for being what is essentially a printing press in every living room. The flip side to that is, when printing presses came out, what kept the presses running were not peer-reviewed periodicals and papers of record, but handbills and tawdry literature: The equivalent of “Obama is a Secret Radical Muslim” and Dan Brown potboilers.

How the concept of journalistic integrity came out of this cauldron, I don’t know, but we appear to be, with this shift in dynamics, losing it. It was inevitable, to be sure: What was the wild west of the electronic frontier would be tamed and, eventually, monetized, but short of that right now what we get is not exactly WalMart and not exactly anarchy but instead Abu Dhabi: Two or three big players with their own spurious agendas and a lotta unpaid laborers.

And in the fray we’re reading less (yet owning more “books”), not paying attention to what we read, and care not for the truth but the domination of the message. What matters is not what happened but who’s shouting loudest – in school we denigrate the Soviet Union for their reliance on propaganda to opiate the masses, but our current system of dueling propaganda isn’t exactly better.

Fox excuses itself by saying the NYTimes is a liberal rag and thus we need “balance.” Democrats lament that Republicans are pulling the debate to the right by catering to their extreme, and then turn around and suggest the solution to that is to do the same, reversed. The news is only too happy to “report” on both, which is to say they’ll take quotes ad verbatim and play on the salacious and scandalous attention rather than the veracity of the claims.

What matters is not whether a statistic quoted is correct, but how soon that statistic will become a meme before it is corrected. The Islamic Cultural Center on Park Place lost the media battle the moment Sarah Palin called it a “Ground Zero Mosque,” which it is of course neither, and only in the op ed pages do columnists report on the “error.”

Stephen Colbert reported on the “truthiness” of the current cultural zeitgeist: Nobody reads into anything, so everybody is duped by any ruse that plays to their pre- and mis-conceptions. I think the internet must take its fair share of blame, here. Rather than being the great egalitarian library – the forum (in the original sense of the term) of a new age – it’s instead done the exact opposite: Reinforced ignorance, hyperbolized public sentiment, and self-served prophecy.

We’re looking at ourselves through a funhouse mirror and calling it the world. We’ve become lumpen-sophists, in the ugliest form of the word. Perhaps we should take a step back and figure out what parts of this new electronic age really work and what clearly do not.


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I’ve always pretty much worked under the assumption that Republican party was the party of the rich, maintained largely through the manipulation of the heartstrings of the non-rich in order for them to vote against their economic interests.

As it turns out, this describes the Tea Party “movement” perfectly: People who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about being cynically manipulated by people who wish to hold on to their vast wealth. In fact, I think this is the closest I’ve ever seen the New York Times get to running a Daily Show skit.

It’s too bad that under their collective shrill tantrums – people collecting unemployment insurance, Social Security and Medicaid complaining about government size and spending, during a time when taxes went down for practically everybody – meticulously directed and publicized for ulterior motives (on Fox! And now: CNN!) drown out the voice of reason.

Makes You Wonder

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BR Interviewing (Phone surveyor) call from 609-279-0110:

  • How would you rate the job market? I’m laid off.
  • How would you rate the economy? I’m laid off.
  • Has your income increased or decreased from a year ago? I’m laid off.
  • Has your personal savings increased or decreased? I’m laid off.
  • Have you made any financial mistakes in the past five years? What the fuck question is that?
  • Are you planning to make any major purchases in the near future? I’m laid off.
  • Are you planning to undertake any construction projects? This is Manhattan. I rent.
  • What is your ethnicity? Huh?
  • What is your political affiliation? How does that change the economy?

Yeah. Surveys are total bullshit. Consider that every time Fox or whomever spouts “statistics.”

The Damage Has Been Done

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Brooklyn prosecutors have found no criminal activity in the actions of the Brooklyn ACORN offices that were video-taped by James O’Keefe and his slutty girlfriend. “They edited the tape to meet their agenda,” say the police, exonerating the advocacy group.

Now all we need is for network TV news to blare that message nonstop across the nation for two months. I mean, fair’s fair, right? How fast do you think Fox News will pick up the story, eh?

In other news, Harold Ford wrote an op-ed in the Times as to why he’s no longer running for Senate. Of course, nowhere in it does he mention that he wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning.

On What Planet Do You Spend Most of Your Time?

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A protester calls a gay Jewish man a Nazi. Godwin’s Law having been invoked, the discussion ends and Barney Frank proceeds to lay the smackdown.

One perspective that might be rather more apt, however, now that we’re talking about Weimar Republics, is that of Walter Rathenau. He was a German Jewish industrialist who was given the job of cleaning up the mess after the Kaiser’s government bungled World War I. The German right wing promptly used Rathenau as a scapegoat for the state Germany was in, and blamed it on a Jewish conspiracy of which Rathenau was presumably the visible representative. As such, he was the target for vitriol of an order not too dissimilar to what Obama is getting from Fox and friends.

Rathenau was ultimately assassinated. And now, of course, folks are showing up at presidential appearances bearing assault rifles. Just sayin’.

I Spit at You

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The narrative for Obama’s Tuesday press conference has been split between him being an irritable dick and a spineless pussy… like the narrative has been for everything he’s done since entering office.

But either aside, I took issue with Krugman’s interpretation of Obama’s answers as there could be no right answer – and the reason for such is this: Both he and the pundits at the conference were trying to spin Obama’s words instead of listening to his policies.

I watched the thing on Youtube (the only full video transcript being some “watchdog” group called Earth2Obama that recorded C-SPAN) and what struck me was not his answers – he just explained his position four times over the course of an hour with enough dropped hints to drown the room – but the smarmy, baiting questions asked of him.

Asks Fox News and again by CBS, did John McCain influence his words today? “Only I’m the President.” Hint. And both had the audacity to make a snide comment afterwards, too; Fox with the “will you invite Iranian diplomats to the embassy on the Fourth of July?” and CBS with, “aren’t you giving them fodder to blame us for meddling today?” Damned if you do…

Asks AP and again by NBC, will he draw a line in the sand against Iran? “This is the Iranian people’s fight.” Hint – drawing a line is how we got into some other problems.

Asks USA Today and again by ABC, is the health insurance public option non-negotiable? “Who would it harm?” Hint. Retorts USA Today, “won’t that drive private insurers out of business?” “I thought private companies were more efficient than government bureaucracies.” Hint.

Every question was directed towards pinning him to a policy or a number: What’s the upper cap on unemployment? What’s the most we can take before we intervene in Iran? Is the public option sacrosanct? The political fallout from being held to one of those is far more severe than the steady hand at the till of policy-making and diplomacy. There is a time for hard lines, sure, but the questions were not made in good faith.

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