Near Earth Archive

A backup of Near Earth Object by Paul Fidalgo

Month: December, 2011

Ron Paul, Stopped Clock

"I have not yet BEGUN to crazy!"

If you’re in the spheres of my online social networks, you may have noticed that I’ve had a certain fixation on the more insane or upsetting aspects of the Ron Paul candidacy. Call it schadenfreude if you like, or malicious cherry-picking, but I’ve felt compelled to highlight things about Paul that show his more hard-right or bizarrely conspiratorial musings. (I’ve had some thoughts about him on this blog as well.)

I’ve only now realized why this is so. It’s not the same motivation I have for, say, mocking Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann — they’re more pure comedy. Well, not pure, because there’s a hefty dose of revulsion in there. But you get my point. It’s motivated instead by what I perceive to be liberals’ sympathy for Ron Paul. He seems to keep being blessed by folks all over the progressive spectrum as “the Republican who we trust.”

Why is this? Ron Paul is by no means a sympathetic character for liberals: he’s by most accounts a rock-solid, hard-line cultural conservative. Though he may not always want the federal government to legislate on behalf of cultural conservatism, he seems to have no qualms about states doing so. He’s fully committed to opposition to the cornerstone of contemporary liberalism: the welfare state. Liberals as we know them today are descended directly from the policies of the New Deal, the basis of which was government aggressively imposing itself on the economy in order to triage a collapsed economy. But any government-based program that in any way lends support to those who need a small assist is anathema to Paul’s ideology.

What liberals really seem to like about Ron Paul are his support for ending the drug war and, most importantly, his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the last election cycle, when the Iraq War was among the most salient of all issues, Paul stood out among the GOP field for opposing the party line. Democrats and liberals, frantic with their opposition to the war and to the president that birthed it, deified Paul as the sensible Republican almost solely because of his position on one particular war.

But liberals, I think, would be hard-pressed to take Paul’s larger foreign policy vision seriously, a vision that involves loopy scare theories about the UN taking over the country and other such nonsense. And none of this even takes into account those horrible newsletters, which I think should make the entire mainstream political world shudder. Whether Paul penned those screeds himself is almost immaterial, as he allowed his name to be attached to, and then profit from, their vileness.

In other words, liberals need to stop thinking of Ron Paul as the adorable old uncle who, while he holds some antiquated views, has the right idea at heart. No, sorry. With opposition to the Iraq invasion and his opposition to our absurd drug laws, Ron Paul is almost the definition of the proverbial stopped clock; he’s been right essentially twice. Ever. But his support for Christianist social conservatism, his belief that the government should leave its people to suffer merely on a haughty principle, and his batty ideas about supervillain conspiracies trump all of that.

So stop admiring him. If nothing else, liberals should be heartily relieved that Paul has no chance of becoming president.

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Somehow, I Don’t Think Best Buy is Devoted to Our Product

If I were the maker of e-readers that aren’t Kindles, I’d be a little disheartened over the attention being given to my product by this particular electronics retailer. Behold:


That’s right, Best Buy didn’t even see fit to give these Kobo, Nook, and Sony devices electricity. And these are gadgets that have batteries that last something like a month, so who knows how long they’ve been sitting here, unconscious, unusable, and, probably most importantly to their manufacturers, unappealing.

A Species That Isn’t So Good at Innovation

With the Internet-spawned capability for great ideas to disperse themselves in mere moments throughout civilization, it may be that we don’t need as many geniuses as we once did. So says evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel:

As our societies get larger and larger, there’s no need, in fact, there’s even less of a need for any one of us to be an innovator, whereas there is a great advantage for most of us to be copiers, or followers. And so, a real worry is that our capacity for social learning, which is responsible for all of our cumulative cultural adaptation, all of the things we see around us in our everyday lives, has actually promoted a species that isn’t so good at innovation. It allows us to reflect on ourselves a little bit and say, maybe we’re not as creative and as imaginative and as innovative as we thought we were, but extraordinarily good at copying and following.

We may be, by memetic versus genetic evolution, weeding ourselves out of brilliant people. It’s already the case that only a tiny fraction of us can, say, program a computer or fix a car. Will they also become a smaller and smaller minority? I really don’t want to have to learn to do either of those things.

Then Vonnegut Asked Caro, “Are We in the Same Trade?”

I’ve not yet read any of Robert Caro’s enormous Lyndon Johnson biographical series, even as he readies to release the latest volume that takes the subject up to his ascension to the presidency. I intend to read them, and the political world has a minor buzz to it because of this imminent release.

In another world, I was alerted to the fact that well before he tackled Johnson all those decades ago, Caro had written a biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker. I found this out thanks to John Siracusa’s use of this book as an example a biography against which all others could be judged (in the context of lambasting the Steve Jobs biography on his podcast Hypercritical).

It was only serendipitous, then, that I stumbled upon this gem, a literary magazine piece from 1999 in which Caro is interviewed by perhaps my favorite novelist, the late Kurt Vonnegut. It’s wonderful, and I thought I’d at least share a snippet to give you a taste of its overall flow:

High-level shit-shooting

VONNEGUT

Let me ask you a question, Bob. I was on a panel with Joe Heller down in Florida. We were talking about the war mostly because that’s what we wanted to talk about, but I asked him at one point if he was disappointed about what the country has become. Because I am deeply disappointed. I was a prisoner of war with the Brits and the French and listened to all their plans for after the war, wanting justice and distribution of power in the world and that sort of thing, and Heller said that he was not disappointed-that he was unsurprised that the nation had turned out this way. Are you disappointed?

CARO 

I guess, in a way, I am. I think with all our riches and wealth and the fact that  we don’t have an enemy now who can threaten us, we ought to be doing a lot more now with the dispossessed of the world and the Blacks and Hispanics in our own country. I don’t think we’re doing very much compared with what we could do.

VONNEGUT 

Well, what about your basic trade of journalism…What are you, sixty, now?

CARO 

Sixty-one.

VONNEGUT 

All right, so in the past thirty years, how has journalism done?

CARO 

Yeah, I’m very disappointed in that. Aren’t you?

The interview opens with Vonnegut, a novelist, asking Caro, a biographer, whether the two of them are “in the same trade.” Fantastic. Read the whole thing.

Unnecessary Nostalgia for the Idiot Box

Almost a year ago, the New Yorker published a piece by Adam Gropnik digesting various tomes about what the Internet was doing to us as a culture, ranging from the folks who saw it as the coming of paradise to the coming of the end times. One recurring theme with those who saw the Internet as a net negative, and indeed with historical treatises that feared the emergence of any new technology (polemics against the radio, the printing press, etc.), was how whatever technology that immediately preceded the one in question was always the benign, rightful one to which we owed our allegiance.

And what’s shocking to me about that is how some in Gropnik’s survey of the literature have bestowed this current honor on the television set. He writes, with an implied shake of the head:

Now television is the harmless little fireplace over in the corner, where the family gathers to watch “Entourage.” TV isn’t just docile; it’s positively benevolent. This makes you think that what made television so evil back when it was evil was not its essence but its omnipresence. Once it is not everything, it can be merely something. The real demon in the machine is the tirelessness of the user.

I say that this is shocking because not only is this view somewhat risible (as indeed Gropnik find it), but that it ignores the enormous sway television still has. The implication of this neo-Luddite view is that these days television is the wholesome-yet-forgotten technology versus the Internet, which is the wicked-and-ever-present one. Yes, our attentions are more fragmented, but the TV has hardly been removed from its central location in family life. Indeed, if anything, TV is as fragmented as other “screens,” what with the avalanche of channel and on-demand selections and the fact that most families have several sets with very few watching the same set at the same time.

And this sway the TV retains is also, I think, far worse than whatever defects are engendered by the Internet. Think first of the poor quality of almost all televised content, think of the low common denominators to which it must aspire to reach maximum potential audience sizes. Then, remember that TV is passive. It is something one consumes, something that washes over the viewer, while the computer, the Internet, at least has the capability of being participatory. It isn’t always, and maybe it isn’t usually, but the potential is there. With television, one can only watch.

So earlier tirades about how TV was ruining what was good about radio and how radio was ruining what was good about books, etc., at least had a grain of truth to them, whether or not they were overblown. But today, citing the television as the superior and more culturally benign medium over the Internet is absurd. The sooner what we now know as TV is killed by the Web or Apple or whomever, the better.

“Once it is not everything, it can be merely something,” Gropnik writes, but so far, TV is still close enough to “everything” that it need not be mourned.

Constructive versus Destructive Atheist Activism

Chris Stedman gives voice to a concern I’ve had of late (and unfortunately does so in the Huffington Post, but we’ll let that go):

I maintain significant disagreement with many religious beliefs, but I do not wish to be associated with narrow-minded, dehumanizing generalizations about religious people. I am disappointed that such positions represent atheist activism not only to the majority of our society, but to many of my fellow atheist activists as well.

I have been guilty of this myself, and like Stedman, I have no qualms about actively questioning all forms of irrational, baseless belief, but I also have in recent years come to feel less adamant about casting all forms of spiritual seeking into the same ditch as fundamentalism.

Stedman’s prime example of the ugly confusion about what it is nonbelievers ought to be doing with their energies and activism is the embarrassing and grossly wrongheaded campaign by American Atheists to remove the “World Trade Center Cross” from the 9/11 Museum, something I also noted as a wrongheaded move because it focused to stopping religion willy-nilly, rather than acknowledging the object’s place in history. I wrote then:

I don’t have to like it. The World Trade Center cross was there [in the aftermath of the attack], and the people of New York divested it with meaning, and thus it became a character in the story of the 9/11 attacks. Its placement in the museum is not an endorsement of Christianity, it’s a page in that story. Whether I like that part of the story or not.

Suing to have it removed was vindictive rather than productive or consciousness-raising. Perhaps that’s the key difference: what can we do that is improves people’s awareness and sensitivities versus waging merely a zero-sum game of conflict?

Recently, Andrew Sullivan did a video post explaining his approach to prayer, and it was about the least objectionable explanation of what prayer is or can be that I’ve ever heard. I obviously don’t subscribe to his position or believe there is any mystical force listening to one’s prayer, but if Sullivan’s version of belief and prayer were the dominant one, there’d be little need for the anti-religious movement that Stedman sites.

Food for thought as we approach December 31, at this socially-constructed-yet-somehow-poignant time of reflection.

Unsubscribed

Just as I don’t actually have meaningful relationships or friendships with my 700+ “friends” on Facebook, I also don’t need to feel obliged to give equal value to each of their postings, nor to I need to seek their approval of my own.

One’s time and capacity of attention are short, and in regards to Twitter, the fact that I have been “followed” does not necessarily mean that I owe them my subscription to their own activity. It’s more valuable to allow those into one’s feed that engender genuine interest.

There are innumerable quality blogs and web publications, but I won’t become an ill-informed dolt if I don’t keep track of every passing post from each outlet.

Think of the emails you don’t want, even if from organizations or companies you feel a passion for. Surely you don’t need reminding of your allegiance to them several times a week. It’s okay not to want any more emails from the champions of your favorite cause.

My word to live by going into 2012 is “unsubscribe.”

I don’t mean shutting one’s eyes and ears. In a media and cultural environment with an avalanche of content and interaction, I’m talking about being selective about what I spend my time and attention on.

I’m going to pare down social networks to those with whom I actually want to network socially. I’m going to whittle down my RSS reader to those posts I will actually want to regularly read. I’m going to get off email lists in general, as I never read anything that wasn’t written to me specifically. I’m going to worry less about cultivating an audience by way of pretending to have relationships I in fact do not.

I hope it leaves me more space. I hope it leaves me less stressed. I hope it leaves me a little wiser.

Of course, I hope you don’t unsubscribe from this blog. But if you do, you know, I won’t like it, but I dig.

Ron Paul’s Incredibly Effective (and Highly Misleading) Ad

Ron Paul’s new web ad has everything: kinetic text, dramatic music, impassioned narration, and most importantly, a compelling and evocative message about the horrors of military occupation. Have a watch.

Hey, I can make shit up too!

I have one enormous problem with it, however. The ad claims that President Obama (without naming him, but obviously referring to him, what with the campaign’s “O” logo and whatnot) “changed his mind” about a promise to bring all the troops home. This is simply false.

In his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama promised, yes, to end the Iraq War, which (and the Paul campaign may have missed it) in fact just ended. Obama never promised to end the war in Afghanistan. Indeed, part of his entire national security platform was to increase the military focus on Afghanistan. While the president has since made clear he intends to wind down the Afghanistan War, as a candidate he made no noises about doing so, and such was never a premise of his campaign.

But Paul’s ad implies that Obama misled the public about his intentions, or that he reneged on them once in office. That’s horseshit, and the Paul campaign knows this. While the central message of the ad is one that probably needs to be aired, the attack on Obama is deceitful and beneath the candidate it represents.

Hopelessness Watch: Dismal Quote of the Year

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a clearer, more precisely-worded summation of the boondoggle that Republicans are trying to sell the American people than this bit of rhetoric said by Sen. Marco Rubio from the Senate floor a few days ago.

We have never been a nation of haves and have-nots. We are a nation of haves and soon-to-haves, of people who have made it and people who will make it.

Tell that to the millions upon millions who will never “make it.” The millions who have the deck utterly stacked against them, even as the Republicans want to stack it even more.

Of course, he is telling them that. It’s exactly what he and his ilk want us all to believe.

If this is how you see the state of the country today, you’re deluded. Otherwise, you’re just shamefully cynical.

Thorough versus Excessive News Coverage

Seth Godin bemoans what he sees as the lazy state of journalism:

We don’t need paid professionals to do retweeting for us. They’re slicing up the attention pie thinner and thinner, giving us retreaded rehashes of warmed over news, all hoping for a bit of attention because the issue is trending. We can leave that to the unpaid, I think.

The hard part of professional journalism going forward is writing about what hasn’t been written about, directing attention where it hasn’t been, and saying something new.

I sympathize with this complaint, but I also don’t know where to draw the line between thorough coverage of a topic from multiple angles and over-coverage for the sake of getting page views or what have you. In a time when one’s local paper is no longer geographically restricted, I’m not so sure it’s necessary for every publication to, say, have its own Washington bureau.

At the same time, I worry about over-consolidation, where only a small handful of mega-outlets do any actual reporting, and everything else is mere reaction. Unfortunately, it is this very beat, beltway/DC politics, that is perhaps the source of the worst offenders. My Twitter feed is littered with DC journos who, while occasionally clever, essentially tell us the same things over and over again.

And a side complaint: I really hate it when folks I follow on Twitter for their political cred fill up their feeds with tweets about sports. Ugh.