Google Doesn’t Pretend That All of 2012 Has Been Awesome

Kylie just posted Google’s “Zeitgeist” year-in-review video, and I was intrigued. Obviously, its content is loosely based on what people searched for on Google during 2012, and yes, it has a hopeful and inspirational bent, as one would expect, but I was struck by how, well, realistic it was about what actually went down this year. Look:

Storms, disaster, protests, conflict, suffering, war, it was all there interspersed with the achievements, milestones, and derring-do. Usually these kinds of things are so pollyanna, so maudlin, that you can barely stomach them. This felt more like a genuine look at what the hell actually happened, and what people gave a damn about, this year. I think I even saw Malala in there for a split second.

So, I know it’s an ad, really, a piece of branding, but it’s a good one. Kudos.

(Also, I can’t help but notice a none-too-subtle grab at the Apple “crazy ones” mantle with the “here’s to the curious” line. Gutsy, Google.)

The Earth Will Be Peopled by Entirely Another Generation

Yes, they cared about this a hundred years ago, too. From the New York Times, December 12, 1912:

For those who delight in that sort of amusement to-day is a day to celebrate by writing a great many letters and dating them, each and every one, 12–12–12. The sequence of the twelves makes positively a one-day stand and no more. Those who put off their writing after to-day will never again while they live have this opportunity! When again a person takes pen in hand to indite a letter with the figures 12-12-12 in the dateline, an entire century will have passed, and the earth will be peopled by quite entirely another generation. Last year there was 11-11-11, but, alas there never can be a 13-13-13, unless they change the calendar a great deal.

Found via the indispensable Twitter account, The Times Is On It.

Cowards at Yahoo News Give Wingnut Hacks a Scalp

David Chalian was fired by Yahoo News yesterday because he was caught saying something unflattering about the Romneys and their pals by NewsBusters.

This is absolute bullshit.

David was my direct supervisor when I interned at the ABC News political unit, where he was first deputy political director, and then promoted to director. He then worked for the NewsHour at PBS and then later Yahoo. He is a great journalist, with more intelligence and savvy than almost anyone I’ve seen, as well as being utterly fair, rigorous, and an exemplar of integrity. Everyone in the press and in the Beltway universe knows this to be true.

But then that festering swamp of self-important hacks, NewsBusters (a right-wing media “watchdog”) caught David saying this about the Romneys as they partied with fellow rich people, when he thought he was off-air:

They’re not concerned at all. They’re happy to have a party with black people drowning. 

While it may not be fair to presume that the Romneys personally are “not concerned at all” about the suffering of black storm victims (David nor anyone else is capable of reading their minds), it’s certainly true that concern is not at all evident in anything the Romneys or their party does, ever. Everything their party stands for, especially recently, is devoted to obstructing African-Americans’ ability to vote and worsening their economic conditions in order to further enrich the already-wealthy. But this truth is something that cannot be grasped by conservatives today, and certainly not by the knee-jerk, offense-seeking bottom-dwellers at NewsBusters. 

And Yahoo reacted in a sadly-predictable, yet utterly cowardly way. They fired David.

David Chalian (who immediately gave an extremely classy and heartfelt apology) is far too good for an outfit like Yahoo, and they just proved it. They buckled immediately, tossed a good man overboard like he had some kind of virus, and gave NewsBusters their scalp.

What a wretched day for journalism. I hope you will join me in telling Yahoo what a spineless, shameful move they’ve made, and avoid their coverage. 

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.

Those Delightful Social Media Squirts

Michael Erard tells the tale of his avoidance of indulging in the trope he calls the Social Media Exile Essay, a report never written of his exit from Facebook: 

… I wrote a draft of an essay about writing about why I quit Facebook, which was clever but did not contain any of the things I have already said I didn’t write about. Plus, as the editor pointed out, I didn’t actually explain why I had quit. I hadn’t written about feeling like Facebook was a job. Like I was running on a digital hamster wheel. But a wheel that someone else has rigged up. And a wheel that’s actually a turbine that’s generating electricity for somebody else. That’s how I felt, which is what I should have written.

Now, first, I will say that I completely agree with him in one aspect; Erard returns to Facebook for one of the larger reasons I cannot seem to extricate myself: everyone’s there. It’s become a primary mode of communication with people who are important to me (or people who have become important to me, via Facebook).

But in contrast to Erard, to me, Facebook feels less like a job and more like — I’m ashamed to say — an addiction. Now, do me a favor and don’t overblow that word. Think addiction less in terms of, say, heroine, and more like, maybe, caffeine — not something that sends one to delirious highs, but helps keep one off the floor. You see, I’m talking about that dopamine squirt our brains get when we hear a new email notification or, more relevantly, see the little red notification balloon at the top of our Facebook page, indicating that someone reacted to something we’ve done. (By the way, here’s a good On the Media piece on the aforementioned cranial stimulant.)

As an actor and writer, I’m an incorrigible whore for attention, despite my real-world paralyzing social anxiety, and the Internet enables my tenancies. I blog, I make music, I make pithy comments, I take cute photos of my kid, and — I suspect like most folks — I eagerly anticipate positive reinforcement for my efforts.

So for me, Facebook is not like clocking in to load my 16 tons, as it were. It’s more like the living room where a 6-year-old Paul dons his old training potty as a hat, and pretends to be a magician for his parents’ amusement. Did  they react? Did they smile? Did they tell me how funny I am?



In Defense of Mark Halperin

I’ve been metaphorically bashing my skull into a brick wall as I’ve read all the commentary surrounding Mark Halperin’s “dick” comment this morning. The reaction to this has been absurd on so many levels, and as someone who once worked under his supervision, I very much want to say a few things about this — which of course will only put me more firmly in the doghouse with my liberal brethren.

First off, on the incident itself: It was a snicker-snicker comment on Morning Joe, for christs’s sake. Morning Joe! This is a show in which three painful hours must be filled with “analysis” and other banter in an informal, “hey we’re all just shooting the shit here” format. This is not The News Hour. Yeah, saying the president is being kind of dickish is probably a little too locker-roomy even for this show, but it’s hardly a bridge too far.

In other words, this is the furthest thing from anything resembling an actual big deal. For MSNBC to suspend Halperin — indefinitely, no less — is moronic. Let me quote one of my own earlier tweets from today: “Jesus, @MSNBC, get your Puritan head out of your corporate ass.” The network doesn’t care so much whether people tell the truth or put out a quality product (it did employ Tucker Carlson for an awfully long time, after all), but if they utter the mildest of all explicatives, they must be stomped. Halperin didn’t assault the president, he didn’t threaten him, he didn’t even say the president was, himself, as a person, a dick. He characterized the president’s demeanor during one event in a slightly — slightly! — off-color way. Come on.

And Halperin couldn’t have handled it with more class. Right away, he said, “I want to offer a heartfelt and profound apology to the President, to my TIME and MSNBC colleagues, and to the viewers. My remark was unacceptable, and I deeply regret it.” And on his suspension, he called the punishment “totally appropriate.”

But the part that really has me steamed is how folks in the mainly-web-based political class have taken this opportunity to pile on Halperin, claiming that while this remark was not itself suspension-worthy, that somehow Halperin is himself unworthy of his position in the punditocracy. He is written about even by those I greatly respect as though he is some kind of cancer on political journalism. Spare me. What exactly is the rap against Halperin? Based on what I’ve been exposed to over the past 12 hours or so, let’s look at the charges:

His predictions and analysis sometimes turn out to be wrong: Well, stop the fucking presses, folks! Lord knows that Mark Halperin is the only human being who ever misreads political tea leaves.

He worships Matt Drudge: Anyone who really thinks this is deluded. What Halperin actually does is recognize Drudge’s profound influence on politics and journalism, like it or not. He’s obviously also learned some lessons from Drudge in terms of having an Internet presence, and the format of The Page shows that. But this is not the same as ideological sympathy or the sharing or journalistic ethics.

He’s overly concerned with inside-the-beltway meta-stories, not enough about policy: That’s his beat, everybody. Some folks cover wars in the Middle East. Some folks cover environmental policy. Mark Halperin covers the zeitgeist of the “Gang of 500.” (Oddly, and coincidentally, last week even my favorite radio show, On the Mediasneered a little at Halperin’s tenure producing ABC’s old daily email political digest The Note, in a piece on “conventional wisdom.”) If you don’t give a shit about that subject, don’t read Mark Halperin. Halperin isn’t a champion for beltway conventional wisdom, he reports on it, analyses it, and tries to discern its impact.

And what’s hilarious about that last rap against Halperin is that it’s made or implied by the very same publications, bloggers, and websites that have been splashing Halperin’s gaffe all over their pages. And could there be a more meta, process-centric, insidery story than one about a political reporter getting suspended from a cable morning show?

I worked under Mark as an intern at ABC News’ Political Unit back in 2007 when he was political director for the network. He worked out of New York, and we were in DC, so I only saw him in person once or twice, but I was in regular correspondence with him as I helped put The Note together every morning and did other tasks. Before I’d even started there, I already saw Mark as something of a sage, and after working under him and his team, and seeing how The Note was constructed, I only grew to respect him more. He is a serious journalist, whip-smart, and able to formulate an understandable narrative in the midst of beltway noise. Of course he’s not always right, and of course I will not always like what he has to say, and neither will anyone else. But he knows his beat — I don’t think anyone knows it better. I’m proud to have worked for him, and I think that in terms of this morning show gaffe, people need to get a little perspective, ease up a little, and realize that whoever their enemy is, it’s not Mark. In fact, maybe if these folks listened to him a little more, they’d learn something.

I’m More Interested in Whether Being a Douche is a Choice

Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado, Ken Buck, made a little news today saying on Meet the Press that he believes that being gay is “a choice,” and that homosexuality may be akin to alcoholism in that some can be predisposed to it from birth. His opponent, incumbent (and appointed) senator Michael Bennett, asserted this placed Buck outside the “mainstream” of opinion.

There’s a lot wrong with this beyond the obvious. First, I’ll tackle the lesser infraction. The question of whether homosexuality is a “choice” is not a question of political opinion — it’s a scientific claim; whether or not being gay is innate. So whether or not one’s belief about that claim is “mainstream” is irrelevant. Evolution by natural selection is a fact, but the majority of Americans don’t accept it. But its veracity has nothing to do with whether or not it is a mainstream view.

Now the bigger problem, which has bothered me for years. The question put to Ken Buck, whether or not homosexuality is a choice, implies that if it were merely a choice then it would somehow be okay to be anti-gay, and also implies that homosexuality is some kind of affliction or moral stain that is better avoided prima facia. This is hogwash.

For the record: It doesn’t matter if you wound up gay through by accident of birth, whether you decided out of whole cloth to be gay all on your own, or whether you’re gay or straight depending on the time of day or phases of the Moon. The point is that it’s only the business of the person in question. The only subjective, moral question is how one person treats another, not whether or how one person loves another.

So let’s stop asking whether or not homosexuality is a choice, because it doesn’t matter. What matters is how we behave toward each other. Instead, someone should ask folks like Ken Buck and the other Tea Partiers and theocrats whether their bigotry toward people different from them is a choice, or whether they’re just born that way.