Posts from November 2003

A deft touch

A deft touch
: I never cease to be amused at the utter lack of humor, subtlety, and irony in Larry Lessig’s “work.” The mere title of his latest book says it all: “Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity.” I’m working on my biography: “Lawrence Lessig: How a Professor Manages to Use a Sledgehammer To Keep Beating Home The Point That He Just Hates Media and Will Not Stop Until The Horse Is Dead, I Tell You, Dead, Really Dead.”

Through dung-colored glasses

Through dung-colored glasses
: It has come to this: Atrios quoting Juan Cole. I have made a sport of reading Cole. There is not other weblog or news source anywhere this side of Pyongyang that is more one-sided. Cole does nothing but nothing all day but find every negative thing he can find that happened in Iraq today. A soldier killed. A pothole opened. Whatever. He made his point months ago. But like the most boring soul on earth, like a man condemned to his own hell of tedium, he keeps on finding every possible negative link. You can guess his analysis of the Bush trip to Iraq:

Instead, the President had to sneak in and out of Iraq for a quick and dirty photo op, clearly in fear of his life if the news of his visit had leaked. He did not even get time to eat a meal with the troops. He was there for two hours. He did not dare meet with ordinary Iraqis, with the people he had conquered (liberated).

Damned astute, Prof. Cole.

I just can’t tell you how happy I am that I don’t live in Michigan and my tax dollars don’t go to paying for your tenure, you laughable fraud.

Dating myself

Dating myself
: Kind of a sad night. Well, poignant. Yes, poignant, that’s it. I turned on the local PBS station and there we had This Land Is Your Land: Trini Lopez with back-up singers who each weighed as much as any three backup singers in their heyday.

On the drive back from Hershey, I saw one guy with an anti-Bush bumpersticker and as I passed him (going slowly in his van), I saw he had a beard the size of a bush. Cliche, I said. Then I passed another car with another such bumpersticker. This guy had on a fisherman’s cap. Gawd, don’t they know they’re breathing cliches, I thought. Were we all like that?

And then I turned on PBS again and here is the Grateful Dead from the closing of Winterland in 1978.

I was there.

Yes, my children, I was there.

I covered the event for my column in The Examiner. I pissed off Bill Graham when I asked readers for the memories of the place and I dared to include drug-induced vomiting.

I seem to remember cosmic brownies that night.

I do remember legend Herb Caen pulling out a silver cigarette case stuffed with joints.

Mellow. Damn, I miss mellow.

Pet peeve

Pet peeve
: Hey, bloggers: PUT YOUR DAMNED NAME ON YOUR HOME PAGES! I want to mention you by name not by blog or address when I link to you but I also don’t want to make a damned fool of myself and misspell your name. Too many of you forget to mention your names on your own pages. Silly, you. New readers come all the time. Have an ego. Be famous. Mention YOUR OWN DAMNED NAME! You know who you are. (But we don’t.)

Vlogging

Vlogging
: The amazing and, unfortunately, one-legged correspondent Stuart Hughes creates a vlog from Cambodia.

Rust and dust

Rust and dust
: On the way back to New Jersey, we passed through Bethlehem, Pa., to get some Christmas ornaments and lunch and, of course, we drove by the five-mile-long rotting hulk of American industrialization, the Bethelehem Steel plant. It’s as sad as it is impressive (I am eager to see it become a National Museum of Industrial History). It is also the biggest, meanest economic reality check you’d ever want to find: Industrialization is over. Technology and information are our future if we’re wise enough to invest in that. But then, we knew that. We are returning to an age of cottage industries, rather than factories. We can only hope that the cottages are here.

See Om Malik’s piece on the cult of lone coders.

Broadband is a great enabler which has allowed many of the lone-coders to get into business for themselves. Thanks to a high speed connection and cheap hosting services, a programmer in Oregon can set-up shop without as much as idling the engine on his decade old Honda. Today, when outsourcing and off-shoring are threatening the American way of business, the lone coders are perfect example of how technology and broadband can counter those macro economic forces.

The Internet boom has proved to be a boon for programmers who refuse to climb the corporate ladder; or kowtow to the whims and fancies of venture capitalists. An increasing number of talented coders are setting up shop on their own, developing niche products for under served markets and making a decent living. Rick Ellis, a musician turned programmer. It is a counter-culture movement and has gaining strength especially with the scarcity of jobs. Mena and Ben Trott were dot.com road kill when they wrote blogging software, Moveable-Type just on a lark when unemployed.

See also Mike Wendland on Detroit churches installing cheap wireless broadband for poor neighborhoods.

The river ran through Bethlehem, bringing industry there.

Broadband can run wherever we want, bringing industry with it, too.

Chocolate, kid?

Chocolate, kid?

hershey.bmp: Having just returned from Hershey, I’ve been thinking of the power of that American brand. So far as I know, it doesn’t carry with it any of the globaliztion-goblinization of Coke, McDonald’s, American Express, or Disney. Hershey is still a smiling brand. Hershey is what American G.I.s gave out to grateful little German and French urchins after World War II. Hershey was and perhaps still is a symbol of American success, goodness, and generosity.

And so it occurs me to that what we need today in Iraq is more Hersheys. No, I don’t mean that we should go into the streets handing out condescending candy and thinking that would solve a thing: “Hey, you foreign fanatic murderer, put away that explosive belt; have some chocolate and it’ll make you feel all warm inside.”

No, what I mean is that we need to reinvigorate that sense of American generosity.

I wasn’t around when the Marshall plan was proposed but I’m sure there was plenty of carping at the time: “Why should we American taxpayers send anything to those murderous Krauts?” But that attitude neither prevailed nor remained. Instead, we look upon Marshall like a giant Hershey bar, a gift gladly given, and a wise investment.

Now unlike the Iraqis, the Germans as a people massed to kill our sons. They murdered six million Jews. They brought the world into a terrible war.

Yet we were more generous to the Germans than we are to the Iraqis.

Is it because they are more alien? Is an Iraqi victim any stranger to us than a European perpetrator?

Is it because we have changed? Have we lost that essential generosity?

Is it because even charity is seen as a sign of globalization and for reasons still quite unclear to me, globalization is presumed to be a sin?

Or is it because the anti-war crowd has managed to demonize anything having to do with Iraq? First, they condemn the humanitarian rescue of the Iraqi people from a despot. Next, they back away even from humanitarian aid and support for the people. They tell us just to leave.

No matter. The answer remains the same: We need to give away Hershey bars — in the form of support, investment, education, exchange. To be able to do that, we first need to make the place secure (using an iron hand to accomplish that) so that it will be safe to give aid. And just as important, we must humanize the Iraqi people in the eyes of Americans.

Look at how Iraqis are portrayed now in our media: They are either “insurgents” and “guerillas” or they are grousers who allegedly complain that George Bush didn’t come to fix their sewers while he was in town.

The Iraqis I know are nothing like that. The Iraqis I know today are intelligent, insightful, freedom-loving, reasonable, grateful to be rid of their opressor, and grateful for whatever will help them get their lives and their nation on the right track. The Iraqis I know are webloggers with names: Zeyad, Omar, Ays, Alaa, and Nabil.

We need to find ways to introduce these people to our neighbors. American media should be writing stories about what they are saying. We need to support them in small ways (there are many American bloggers trying to figure out how to help pay for their access). And we need to hope that more and more of them raise their voices and tell us what real Iraqis think and say. Hell, why shouldn’t we have a tour of the Iraqi bloggers? Why shouldn’t a few of them get scholarships to American journalism schools? (Apart from the fact that they’d have trouble getting visas.)

You see, that’s what Hershey really symbolized. It wasn’t a condescending hand-out. It was a gift joyfully given, a moment of friendship, a human connection. We need more of that between the Iraqi and the American people.

: UPDATE: When I wrote this, I was afraid that someone on the other side of the water would make fun of me for suggesting we should hand out chocolate; that’s why I laced the post with references to not being condescending.

To my complete delight, the tough Harry Hachet posts from the other of the water that, yes, indeed, what we do need is more people-to-people solidarity.

I remember as a kid my Dad telling me about the parcels that used to arrive during the war from a family in the States who weren’t related at all but were part of some kind of a pen-friend/solidarity initiative in the US. I don’t know how widespread this sort of activity was but as a kid I was surprised at the idea that English families were once on the receiving end of charity like that.

Jeff’s post prompted me to ask my Dad about those parcels and he remember the contents of the gifts: Libby’s tinned fruit cocktail, tinned milk, Armour tinned corned beef hash, Royal powdered puddings, Chiclets chewing gum, Mary Baker cake mix. All treats in the days of rations and powdered eggs.

Around 1980 the man who sent those parcels turned up at our house in Lancashire. It was almost a comic scene – a bloke in a stetson wandering up the street of terrace houses in a milltown to meet the boy to whom had sent those parcels to forty years earlier.

I know charities are busy doing their best for people in Iraq and elsewhere but it is a shame that this kind of direct people-to-people solidarity seems to have disappeared….

Harry wonders whether such programs exist today. The only one I can point to is Chief Wiggles’ toy drive — a tremendous effort but still one man, not a nation.

Thanks, Harry.

: I’m sometimes surprised what resonates. AdRants also comments on chocolate.

I’m back

I’m back
: And you didn’t even know I was gone. I get a little paranoid telling the world we’re away. And thanks to my handy, dandy Treo 600, I was able to use it as a modem (at 145 kps), avoiding the usurious hotel access fees.

We went to Hershey, which seemed like a good idea. It’s a bit of a rip-off and they are surprisingly clueless about children, for a brand built on decaying children’s teeth. The reputed children’s menu at the we’re-too-fancy-we-know-it’s-not-New-York-but-we-can-act-like-it-restaurant had goat-cheese risotto. Show me one kid on earth who’ll eat goat-cheese risotto (French excepted). The amusement park is empty but they still charge you $6 for parking.

We still prefer Skytop.

Well, actually, we just prefer being home.

: Oh, yes, and I forgot to mention how silly it was seeing little kids hug a walking York Peppermint Patty.

I was holding out to hug a Reese’s Piece.