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Here’s my prediction on domestic drilling: Republicans will equate support for the idea with patriotism. Any deviation from the line (such as that coming from Barack Obama) will be portrayed as unpatriotic, thereby sparing us from any sort of rational debate.

The sexual overtones probably don’t hurt either. What true American man isn’t in favor of drilling! Here! Now! So not only is it a test of patriotism. It’s also a test of virility, what every great presidential campaign should be about!

At any rate, you can already see this line of attack coming together if you pay attention to the talking heads. I also noticed this comment from a woman quoted in the Harrisburg Patriot-News:

“I’m a red-blooded American,” Newton said. “I say drill away.”

Just wait. Someone will start selling American-flag lapel pins shaped like oil derricks with little gushers spewing out the top. Here’s the 14-karat gold version:

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Is it possible that the Internet is changing politics? You’d be foolish to think otherwise. But you’d also be foolish if you thought the Internet laid the foundation for some utopian break.

What if the Internet served mainly as a funnel for the village cranks who, in the past, bored their family, friends and neighbors with their rants, sent angry letters to newspaper editors and generally made a habit of being self-righteous, indignant and quick to jump on everyone else’s hypocrisy but their own? Sounds like the political Internet, eh? The funnel has turned into a megaphone that’s harder and harder for the rest of us to dismiss politely, as we would the neighborhood crank. All the cranks are linked together now — and plugged directly into the media.

Consider the tempest-in-a-T-1-cable over comments by John McCain’s Internet adviser. He said something to the effect that McCain doesn’t need to know how to use a computer to govern effectively. The people bemoaning this sound a bit like someone complaining about a city council member who doesn’t know what it’s like to live on their street because s/he lives in some other, better-protected neighborhood.

Ultimately, Americans don’t need a leader who understands the Internet. They need a leader who can help them get affordable health care, sensible energy choices and perhaps an end to the war in Iraq. But just as the issues are eclipsed by the likes of Chris Matthews’ analyzing the interior and ulterior motives of Bill Clinton, they’ll be eclipsed by judgments concerning politicians’ use of, and attitude towards, new technology.

The good news for American democracy online is that there will always be some new toy for the insiders to twitter about.

In a surprise announcement, Barack Obama and John McCain jointly said they would let the one who really wanted to be president go ahead and take the job and spare the American people the agony of five more months of listening to stories about which adviser said what and whose preacher preached what.

They also hoped their announcement would end speculation about Bill Clinton’s potential role in the campaign, armchair psychologizing over his motives and endless rehashing of any stray comments he might make between now and November

I don’t think Americans would be able to tolerate — let alone organize — this kind of roadway chaos, no matter how strongly they feel about fuel prices:

I’ve solved the energy crisis, at least the political one. Republicans want more drilling and refineries and Dems want more conservation and cars with better fuel efficiency. Why not have both?

If cars and SUVs and pickups really do end up traveling more miles per gallon, we won’t need more refineries or more drilling — but at least oil companies will have the option. Everyone gets what they want and gas can fall back to $1.30/gallon (I remember one colleague complaining when it hit that mark nine short years ago),

But, of course, Washington doesn’t work that way, at least for the moment. It’s more fun to yell and scream and block the other side from getting what it wants than it is taking a risk and figuring out how to satisfy everyone. And it is a risk.

But some country singer appearing on Glenn Beck’s show had a good metaphor for why we need more domestic drilling — he compared it to surgery (and no, I don’t think this particular singer had much background in energy policy, but so what?). Sure it might hurt, but you gotta do it.

The analogy worked for me, and then I figured it was worth approaching conservation and fuel efficiency in a similar vein. That’s like the special diet you have to go on after, say, a gastric bypass operation. In many cases, surgery alone won’t cure you. It just postpones the agony.

Is it just me or is anyone else noticing a greater amount of pedestrians on roadsides these days? Maybe they’ve always been there and I’m only now noticing them, but that’s unlikely. People walking in Central Pennsylvania tend to stick out, even in our urbanized areas. But I’m seeing them in suburban and rural stretches.

I saw a middle-aged couple today pushing a shopping cart full of groceries. They were going against traffic in a right-turn lane along Route 30 at the intersection with Memory Lane, not exactly a pedestrian-friendly zone. (hint: there’s no sidewalk within several hundred yards and it’s right before Route 30 turns into a high-speed autobahn between York and Lancaster. In this photo, they would have been up ahead along the guardrail where you can see the arm of the traffic light sticking out. They were heading towards the camera.)

I imagine at least a few people are choosing to walk rather than drive, what with gas prices being, uh, high. I wonder if we’ll soon be seeing news stories about higher-than-normal deaths among walkers.

To continue the Google is making us stupid thread (see below)…perhaps the Internet is doing to information what the assembly line did to cars and toys and air conditioners and televisions. It made them into endlessly proliferating commodities outsourced to the lowest bidder. Writers who want to make more than a pittance will have to unionize, become celebrities or rebrand their output as a luxury product worth a steep premium.

So I was thinking more about this Google makes us stupid article, and I realized the author was too quick to blame technology for shortening attention spans. What if the main culprit was the relentless push for higher productivity?

Interestingly enough, the author (Nicholas Carr) mentions Frederick Taylor, who used a stop-watch to boost productivity among factory workers starting in the early 20th century. And he goes on to talk about how productivity is now more easily measured among “knowledge workers” (you can see the impact in attempts to measure journalistic output and “rightsize” newsrooms) But I don’t think Carr went far enough in analyzing economic forces. He was content to look mostly at the tools.

You could blame the assembly line for killing craftsmanship and ramping up productivity, just as you can blame the hammer for making us weaker — our ancestors drove nails with their teeth. But people had to invent the assembly line and convince and/or force other people to use it, regardless of its long-term impact on their lives. The same could be said about the Internet.

Warning: any further reading online could make you stoopid.

That’s the gist of an argument in this month’s Atlantic Monthly about Google, the Internet and its effect on our brains. It’s an interesting read, but a bit light on context. The “us” the author discusses is a relatively small cohort of self-described “knowledge workers” — writers, researchers, professors, artists, critics, who now sit in front of computers for a living. They fear they’re losing their attention spans and depth of thought as they skip from one hyperlink to another, surrounded by blinking ads, scrolling text and a thousand other distractions.

I suppose it’s possible, and likely. But it makes you wonder how powerfully they were able to concentrate in the first place and how deep their thoughts really were if their hard-won discipline is so easily undermined. Few people in history ever have had the patience to read thousands of pages per week. (Reading itself can be a bit of a pathology — substitute the act of reading for watching TV when you skim this particular diatribe about the boob tube. Somewhere on a shelf in a Virginia sits a copy of this book, my feverish notes covering many of its pages.)

The author of the Atlantic article, Nicholas Carr, offers a perceptive quote from Socrates, who was concerned about the invention of writing — there’s always someone to lament the advent of new technology. Socrates’ gripe was that writing offered a shortcut to knowledge. People would gain the conceit of wisdom without achieving true wisdom. However, Carr argues, Socrates failed to foresee the great improvements in the human condition that would come about because of writing.

Socrates’ greater point about wisdom still holds up. I doubt technology has ever been an impediment — or a facilitator — on the road to wisdom. People get it or they don’t, no matter how many speeches they hear, books they read or web sites they visit. Technology just makes it easier to seem less dumb.

It looks like poor Harrisburg, Pa. is a major contributor to climate change, according to this Brookings Institution report. Each of us belches more than three tons of carbon a year. It’s true that, per the report’s findings, we live in big houses powered by coal and drive a lot. But I’m a bit skeptical, since those are only part of what it means to be an American these days. And I wanted to deal with the report since, earlier, I decided big cities are like big coal plants — relics of a centralized, industrial past.

Brookings says people in big cities emit less carbon than us non-urbanites, at least some of us anyway. However, I’m guessing that people in places like Honolulu, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles (all cities with relatively small per capita carbon footprints according to Brookings) wear clothes and eat food. And I’m guessing that only some of the food is grown in their own kitchens and that only some of the clothes are made at dining-room tables.

Even food at a city farmer’s market has to get to its destination somehow, and I don’t think Ford is making any hybrid box trucks.

Stuff doesn’t come from nowhere. It takes factories and planes and ships and trucks to produce and deliver this stuff, all of which produces carbon. I wonder what the carbon footprint is of the average sushi restaurant in midtown Manhattan or the average department store in Los Angeles.

It’s this kind of analysis that’s missing from the Brookings report. And as long as it’s missing, we can’t hope to get a realistic grasp on climate change that empowers people instead of alienating them.