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Goodbye Borders- Mixed Feelings about the Death of the Book

September 15, 2011 4 comments

Someday we’ll tell our grandkids that people used to read books that were comprised of paper, binding, a front cover and a back cover. Books you actually held and required you to physically turn the pages by hand.

I love the two remaining book cases I have in my apartment. They’re all sorted in categories; Biographies, Science Fiction, Politics, Science, the American Civil War, Baseball, Reference, even a section on Chess. I’ve read every one of them and I keep them because of the fond memories I had experiencing them. And they tell your guests something about who you are; what you care about, what interests you. It’s a peak into the soul, really.

I noticed the other day that with a few exceptions they’re all five years old or way older. I don’t really buy books anymore. They are now transmitted into my Kindle through thin air and appear magically seconds after I purchase them with hardly any effort at all. I can change the font sizes too, so my 54-year old eyes can comfortably read the print without strain. I can bookmark and make notes and highlight passages. And, yes, I can curl up with the Kindle on my couch just as I used to do with a real book.

So blame me for the closing of the local Borders book store. It was supremely sad. For a month they had their close-out sales. Each day, it seemed, the sales got bigger and bigger until by the end, the scavenged book cases had nothing left except the last thing anyone wanted to read. But you could buy it for 50 cents. And soon the store was empty and stripped bare, and today it sits vacant and barren and lonely-looking- a ghost of a retail space and yet another victim of the digital age.

Books take space and they’re heavy. If you move a lot, as I have, they’re a bit of a pain. And I’ve gotten rid of hundreds of them through the years so I have distilled the collection down to the bare basics of who I am and what I once read. I will always keep them, though. Because you could buy one case with one shelf and just put the Kindle on a stand- but it’s not the same effect.

And what of human history? A thousand years from now, after the great apocalypse that forever takes down the electrical grid; will anyone remember us without physical books? Will there be manuscripts and parchment from 100 A.D. but nothing from 2008 on? Will people think we just stopped reading and writing because without the electrical grid and wireless networks and credit cards- there’s no way to actually access the books of the early 21st century?

I wonder sometimes that if our entire existence ends up getting stored in some huge Digital Cloud designed by Apple- if we run the risk that someday no one will ever be able to ascertain that we even walked the earth. No connectivity-no history.

That’s the thing about clouds. They’re just vapor. Maybe we should keep a few real books around- just in case.

Viral Curiosity: Who ARE you?

September 6, 2011 1 comment

A couple of articles I posted months ago are suddenly being read again, and in fairly large numbers for a humble little blog such as this. So help me figure this out! Use the comment section if you’re so inclined.

Exhibit #1: Navy SEALs and Surgical Strikes

This post was published shortly after the killing of Osama bin Laden and was a love tome to our Navy SEAL community that came along with a suggestion that maybe we ought to use the concept of surgical military strikes in a more effective way to cut down on the terrible loss of lives we have suffered in recent conflicts that have been fought in more conventional fashion.

I know at least one SEAL family member read it because there’s a post on the comment section that the picture I used to illustrate the article was a photo that included an image of his uncle, Ken Myers. Are Navy SEALs and/or their family members and friends passing this post along to each other?

If so…I am incredibly honored. And I want to express my deeply heartfelt condolences to all of the families of our heroes who gave their lives in the helicopter crash near the Taliban stronghold in Wardak province, Afghanistan on August 6th. A stronger statement could not be made about their courage and commitment and love for their country that they would give their lives for us all. Thank you, SEALs.

I wrote on May 4th that the more I learn about the SEALs, the better I sleep at night knowing these brave folks are fighting for us out there in the world’s most dangerous places. And we are all still sleeping well- because of you and the wonderful families that support you.

Exhibit #2: New Year’s Conversation With An Alien

Another example of the strange viral thing that seems to be happening this week involves a ridiculous article I posted on New Year’s Day that involved an imaginary conversation with an Alien regarding the silly rituals we humans partake in every New Year. Over the past few days, like a hundred people have suddenly found this post. Who ARE you?

It would be interesting if it was a community of aliens from the planet Firbu who just happened to intercept some random earthling blog posts. But my finely honed instincts tell me the readers of New Year’s Conversation with an Alien are actually from the blue planet. But from WHERE on the blue planet?

Well, thanks for reading that little piece of satire and I trust you are having the “good and cautious year” that our fictional alien wished us all 8 months ago.

Thank You

When an actor on stage suddenly goes out of character and directly addresses the audience, it’s called breaking the 4th wall. When it comes to my blogging, I don’t often write about this blog, the digital version of breaking the 4th wall. But my viral curiosity got the best of me.

Plus every now and again, it seems only right to thank those of you who take the time to read this stuff. Over about two years of engaging in this labor of love, people have turned to this blog over 41,000 times. That both amazes and humbles me

Thank you, dear readers. I hope I can deserve your continued interest.

Reading the Constitution

January 5, 2011 4 comments

Representatives of the Tea Party movement will be reading the Constitution into the Congressional Record on the first day of the new legislative session and I heartily concur that more people need to know about this remarkable document.

For the record, I am not a member of any organized party or movement, and I too revere the American Constitution. We have our freedoms because of it. We have fought wars and spilled blood to protect it. I got a Kindle for Christmas, by the way, and one of the first things I downloaded were the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. I have actually read them. Recently.

Times were different then and some of it is a little anachronistic- especially the parts dealing with the tricky issue of slavery.

I am curious as to which version of the Constitution will be read into the record. For example, there is a sentence in Article 1, Section 2 about how to determine the make-up of the House of Representatives and apportionment of taxes.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons.

In other words, you count free white citizens plus indentured servants, no un-taxed Indians, and slaves count as three-fifths of a person. In retrospect- not one of our prouder moments.

You don’t have to actually read that sentence, though, because it was technically eliminated by the 14th amendment. We fought a really horrible and bloody war that settled all this and so it was that on July 9th, 1868, we took out the part about indentured servitude and “three-fifths of all other Persons” since, by then, slavery had ceased to exist (see the 13th amendment passed three years earlier).

So if you leave out the reading of the “three-fifths” sentence then you have to read the entire 14th amendment that replaced it and which enumerated the following right- in the very first sentence:

All persons born or naturalized in the Unites States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

This could be a little awkward as there is a burgeoning movement within some elements of the Tea Party to repeal the 14th amendment which would end automatic citizenship for, say, the children of immigrants just because they were born on American soil.

Now I understand the frustrations posed by illegal immigration and amending the Constitution is a totally constitutional act. But the reason the Constitution has been embraced as the guiding philosophy of the Tea Party movement is because of the belief that strict interpretation of the document should be adhered to and has been continually violated through the years.

If you believe in strict interpretation of the Constitution, then why would you want to amend it? Unless you want strict adherance to the Constitution, except for the parts you don’t like. In any event, I suspect some lawmakers will be reading the 1st sentence of the 14th amendment through gritted teeth, though it will go by quickly.

In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit I have a personal though indirect stake in this debate. As a 1st generation American born in New York City, if the 14th amendment had not existed, I would never have been granted automatic citizenship.

And there’s a good chance there would have been one less American carrying the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence in their Kindle.

A State of Cyber War Exists

December 8, 2010 1 comment

WikiLeaks supporters in the hacking community are fighting back. They’re now trying to cripple the websites of companies that have chosen not to assist in what some are calling an internet grassroots rebellion and others call anarchy. Whatever you call it, the World Wide Web has now become a battleground.

The phrase, “one man’s freedom-fighter is another man’s terrorist,” has never been more apt. Using the technology of the modern age of communications, Julian Assange has revolutionized the impact of the internet, using its reach and its many hiding places to wage guerilla combat against the governments of the world. The attempts to stop the WikiLeaks movement have been almost laughable as governments and others- the establishment, if you will- try to figure out how to stop these folks from doing deadly damage.

Particularly alarming to U.S. authorities this week was the leak of a State Department cable that listed sites around the world whose loss could “critically impact” the communications, economy and security of the United States. We are now beyond guessing motives and looking for journalistic logic to explain the content of these leaks. With this particular release, it’s tempting to conclude that we are in a state of cyber-war and the rebellion just might actually mean to cause us real harm.

The list WikiLeaks published includes our bridges, mines and dams; critical underwater communication cables and oil pipelines; specific factories that make vaccines and weapons parts. The State Department calls it an Al Qaeda targeting list.

And so the establishment is trying to fight back. Somebody- we don’t who- has waged sophisticated denial-of-service attacks on WikiLeaks web sites. Governments have succeeded in getting many companies whose servers were being used by WikiLeaks, to kick them off their platforms. Credit card companies and PayPal are now refusing to process donations to the rebellion. Assange himself sits in a British prison as Swedish authorities seek his extradition on what may or may not be legitimate charges of rape against two women, allegedly committed last August.

And now the rebellion is responding. From this morning’s Washington Post:

LONDON — WikiLeaks supporters struck back Wednesday at perceived enemies of founder Julian Assange, attacking the websites of Swedish prosecutors, the Swedish lawyer whose clients have accused Assange of sexual crimes and the Swiss authority that froze Assange’s bank account.

MasterCard, which pulled the plug on its relationship with WikiLeaks on Tuesday, also seemed to be having severe technological problems.

The online vengeance campaign appeared to be taking the form of denial of service attacks in which computers across the Internet are harnessed – sometimes surreptitiously – to jam target sites with mountains of requests for data, knocking them out of commission.

The online attacks are part of a wave of online support for WikiLeaks that is sweeping the Internet. Twitter was choked with messages of solidarity Wednesday, while the site’s Facebook page hit 1 million fans.

The establishment’s attempts to silence WikiLeaks have, so far, been ineffective. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of mirror web sites that have sprouted across the globe that are keeping the site up. The list of these web sites is easy to find and WikiLeaks is not hard to get to on your office or home computer.

Where all this ends is anyone’s guess. This really does seem to be right out of some edgy science-fiction book. A novelist, I think, could surmise how this story will unfold as well as any security expert or CIA analysis team.

Ultimately, one would think human nature will run its course. Heady with excitement with their cause and their impact, and now counter-attacking against the establishment with cyber warfare- how far will the rebellion go? Will they start taking down web sites of bloggers who disagree with Assange? Why not? They have no qualms attacking the web sites of companies who have every right to conduct business with whomever they want.

One thing becoming clearer in my mind, is that when WikiLeaks releases documents revealing America’s security soft-spots and Assange’s supporters start taking down the web sites of those who they perceive as disagreeing with them- this movement seems to become increasingly less about free expression and more about creating chaos in the name of truth.

Thanksgiving: Grateful For You

November 24, 2010 2 comments

These are sad times for many people but many of them will, nevertheless, still give thanks on Thursday. Thanks for their families and friends and the food on the table. That’s something those of us who are fortunate should keep in mind.

Among millions of American families there are moms and dads who used to bring home a regular paycheck but only have a few weeks left of unemployment benefits coming in. They are thankful they’re a family and have an address. Some sit beneath a roof and are grateful they have something over their heads this Thanksgiving while banks and regulators figure out if they’re going to take away their home. They’re thankful to be dry and warm. There are soldiers and journalists missing limbs or otherwise terribly scarred by war. They are thankful for life itself.

Many of us have learned lessons from these hard times. Good lessons. Many of us are scaling back and downsizing and are learning to appreciate honest things more than material things. Hard times can bring people together. Helping hands are more common than you ever dare dream.

So for those of us who are privileged enough to sit around a table this Thanksgiving, it is a good thing to appreciate those things we have left. The things we have lost, I suspect, we will either gain back or will come to realize we didn’t need at all.

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This is my 200th column for Garciamedialife. I started this little blog about a year ago. Some 20,000 times over the past year, without any marketing besides Facebook and Twitter, people have taken the time to read the words I have written about our culture, media, politics, sports and just the plain silly things in life.

One time I went viral, picked up by two major web sites and it was kind of cool. And I’ve noticed that my indexing is getting better because this thing is actually showing up in search engines within the first couple of pages on some topics.

My theory about this little labor of love is that if you write it and it’s any damned good- they will come. I’m proudest of Ode to New York. It’s love prose to the grandest city of all. Somehow, someway, a dozen more people read it every single week, even though it was posted over a year ago. People- strangers- just keep finding it. Mostly they get it when querying a search engine for “New York” and its many iterations. It is by 4 times, the most widely read piece I’ve written (other than the one that went viral- LaBron Bores the Nation).

I apologize if I sound a little self-indulgent about all of this. It’s just that I’m grateful. I’m grateful that this stupid little blog born in the midst of my own bout with unemployment, helped me find my voice.

I’m grateful for your time and your interest and your outrage and your kindness. I think mostly, I want to find some truth in things. I sincerely thank you for being along for the journey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

21st Century Camping

October 12, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s a good thing I get lots of press releases from PR flaks across America, or I’d never know about some of the most important trends sweeping the nation. I just learned, for example, about something called “Glamping.” This is reputedly the “hottest” trend in the world of travel and blends the words “glamour’ and “camping.”

Now, I’ve never been much of a camper. My recollection of camping is rather old school. This is where you pitch a couple of tents, the larger one for the parental units, the smaller one (s) for the kids. You pray it doesn’t rain because, really, there is nothing worse in this world than a leaky tent and soggy camping. And, of course, I’ve always been especially fond of large insects.

I will admit enjoying breakfasts cooked over a campfire, especially fried eggs and bacon served with coffee spiked with Kahlua or Courvoisier.

Going to the bathroom was always interesting. For the ladies in particular. Usually, it would involve a bit of a hike, sometimes in the middle of the night, to some concrete-brick, campground restroom facility- hoping against hope some serial killer was not lurking in the really, really dark woods.

But camping has changed. The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association recently informed me all about this. RV’s (which, frankly, I never considered real camping) have been considerably upgraded. Some now come with fireplaces, wine refrigerators, Italian tile, washer/dryers, home entertainment centers, leather furniture and great big, huge beds. All on wheels! Plus camp sites now offer Wi-Fi access. Always nice to know that when you really want to get away from it all, Facebook, Twitter, 4-Square and Tumblr are always nearby.

“Being stalked by serial killer on way to bathroom”- is that 140 characters or less?

Yes, camping has modernized beyond recognition. Or as the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association describes it- “Retailers are getting on the glamping bandwagon.” Note: It’s not just a trend- it’s a “bandwagon.”

You can now buy battery-operated insect repellant systems. Air Mattresses with built-in speakers for portable MP3 players. There are rental outlets that offer “butler service” that will “stock a rented RV with anything the customer requests and deliver it to any location, whether it’s a national park or a tailgating party.”

Ok, here’s my question and I ask it honestly. If you can get Italian tile, a fireplace and a king-sized bed in an RV- why go “camping?” Why not just rent a suite at the Ritz-Carlton? If you can get a butler to show up at your campfire with caviar and scallops wrapped in bacon- well, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of “roughing it?”

Am I wrong here? Wasn’t that the whole romantic notion of “camping?” Wasn’t the point of it to sort of pretend you were in George Washington’s army at Valley Forge or that you were a member of Geronimo’s tribe? Davey Crockett…hello? Fur caps…hunting varmin’….howling with the coyotes, peeing in the woods?

No…what we have here is the kind of camping Gilligan’s Island’s Thurston Howell III would have done.

“Oh Luvee, darling- turn off the fireplace and the home entertainment center and bring us a couple of glasses of Riesling ’92 from the wine fridge, would you darling? This outdoors experience is positively draining.”

When Facebook Fails

September 24, 2010 Leave a comment

The folks running Facebook have had a difficult week. Intermittent outages Wednesday and Thursday appear to have caused great angst and activated fears of social disconnection among millions of otherwise normal people.

I don’t know if it’s true but legend has it that the operators of Facebook, when confronted by angry mobs after one connection problem or another, responded that people should just chill because, “you get what you pay for.” This, of course, is true. Facebook is free.

Yet for 500 million users around the globe, the utility has become an ingrained part of their lives. So whether they’re using it to declare their undying love for their cat or pet lemur, or as a marketing tool to invite people to events or to point individuals to their blogs (that would be me), this free service has become important and in some ways, essential to their lives or businesses. But the Facebook people have a point. We are not paying for this thing. If it malfunctions, there is simply no way to get your money back.

A couple of things became very, very evident during the Facebook outages this week. After the site came back up, I saw numerous posts echoing the theme that American productivity very likely increased ten-fold during the outages. Every March of every year, you see the media breathlessly reporting that people tuning into the NCAA College basketball tournament are costing American businesses X amount of billions of dollars in lost productivity. Well, Facebook is apparently like March Madness every single weekday of the year.

The other theme that grew out of the Facebook outages was the tremendous boon it was for Twitter. This is a portion of a report Thursday from NPR’s Laura Sydell:

“Facebook isn’t working” was one of the top trending topics on Twitter. There were thousands of ironically tinged tweets such as, “Facebook isn’t working, oh no, we will all have to get back to real life.” Or…”Facebook isn’t working, OMG, children are playing outside! Mommies are reading books.” And no one missed the irony that Facebook itself released a statement about the problem on Twitter.

One tweet said, “Breaking news…500 million people set to join Twitter just to find out why Facebook isn’t working.”

So let’s recap. Millions of hours of American productivity were gained when Facebook went dark. Millions of hours of American productivity were lost again when it returned. Frustrated Facebook users readily admitted they were having to reluctantly return to life. Children and their mothers sadly left their homes and computers to go outside and breath fresh air and do stuff, like…play.

I’m thinking, much as I love this stupid free service, that once a month, maybe it would be a good idea if Facebook purposely unplugged its servers and gave us all the occasional “Facebook-free Day.” Families would get reacquainted, people would read books, the American economy would get a shot in the arm and we’d have to do old-fashioned stuff like call our friends on the phone.

Hmmm.

Nah. Too much effort.

Love at 1st Suction

September 5, 2010 1 comment

I fell in love over the Labor Day weekend. Her name is Roomba and though a little pricey at over $300, she does carpets and floors and we communicate well with one another. I pledge to take care of her, clean her brushes, and give her a good home.

It all started when I was vacuuming the apartment on Saturday and my Hoover Wind-Tunnel something-or-other just stopped working. It was like I accidently pulled the cord out of the wall, only it was still plugged in. Dead. Nothing.

So I googled “Hoover vacuum cleaner complaints.” Would have been nice if I’d done this before I bought the damned thing last February- but no. And there they were. Dozens and dozens of reverse-testimonials. Blown motors, emits strange odors, goes through belts at an alarming rate. And all these problems within the first 6 to 12 months of ownership. So it’s probably a belt but I have no documentation, instructions, zero motivation to find the part or any desire whatsoever to become a vacuum cleaner repairman.

Ever since I started apartment living about a decade ago, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with vacuum cleaners. I had my Swivel-Sweeper phase. No motors, terrific TV ads and ultimately, a piece of crap. I went through my Red Dirt-Devil phase. Seemingly powerful suction but at $70- you get what you pay for. It worked ok if you kept it in place over a piece of lint for ten minutes or so.

I graduated to the Hoover when I moved to Washington earlier this year, enamored with all the promises of what it would do to take care of pet hair. This is a common theme in the world of vacuum cleaner marketing these days. Apparently there are a lot of people out there at wit’s end with Fido and Bunky’s shedding issues.

So while I was researching what an idiot I had been for buying a Hoover “wind-tunnel” lemon, I ran into iRobot. I thought it was a pretty cool movie, actually, but I did not know about the iRobot company. They believe in better living through robots. They’re starting with cleaning robots. They have great customer service and a cute, funny edge to them- totally appropriate for a company touting the first really effective household use for robots.

Roomba comes in varying degrees of sophistication and I took it as a sign from God that my local Bed, Bath and Beyond had only one left. It clearly had my name on it. It’s about the size of a bathroom scale only round and on wheels. After you charge her up, you hit a button that says “clean” and she starts vacuuming your carpets and floors. All by herself. She has sensors and a bumper so she slows down before running into objects, touches gently against them, turns around and moves on.

She finds concentrations of dirt and does circles over them until the situation is corrected. She knows the thickness of the carpets or floors she’s on and adjusts accordingly. When she needs something- she tells me. When the whirring suddenly stops, a female voice tells you to do stuff like clean the brushes.

You control the area of the room she vacuums by placing flask-sized “virtual walls” at a couple of strategic places in the apartment. Roomba senses their presence and it works like an electric fence and when she nears them, she turns around and goes back into the room. I don’t have stairs, but if I did, she has sensors that pick them up too so she doesn’t go stumbling blindly into the abyss.

And when she’s done, she finds her little charger, goes to it obediently and settles in for a rest and a recharge. I’m going to buy some sliced bread now so I will officially have two of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind.

500 Channels and Nothing to Watch

August 24, 2010 1 comment

 

Is Pay-TV going the way of the dinosaurs?  High unemployment, rising costs, poor service and increasing on-line viewer choices have officially begun to put a dent into the Pay-Television business.  For the 1st time ever, the numbers of subscribers to cable TV, satellite and telecom services are down.

It’s not all economic, but this lingering recession may have been the match that started the forest fire.  It’s not hard to figure out.  When you get home after HR has just handed you your walking papers and you sit down to do your new jobless budget- what’s one of the first things to go?  Cable.  Satellite.  Fios.  

But everybody manages a way to keep their internet access.  Hello Hulu. Hello Netflix.  Play Stations, Wii’s and X-Box’s put the shows and movies you want to watch on the big TV; the lap-top does the same and also serves as the portable alternative.  

I say it’s only partly economic because it isn’t just the ever-increasing monthly bills for Pay-TV services that rub people the wrong way.  Folks with dishes are fed up with losing their service every time it rains or the wind blows.  And the only time anyone actually wants to watch a commercial is when the Super Bowl’s on.  The old lament of 500 channels and nothing to watch is truer than ever; it is amazing the amount of drivel on cable/satellite/fios these days.

I would expect battles, particularly between cable companies and content-providers to escalate into full-blown wars.   Pay TV is not in a position to keep pricing customers into oblivion.  They are going to have to reduce the costs of their services to consumers if they’re to remain viable.  More and more they will have no choice but to stand up to TV and Cable networks and their increasingly exorbitant demands for increases in their percentage of cable subscriber fees.  As their game of chicken continues, inevitably, one or two or three networks just won’t be available on some cable systems anymore.

Somebody is going to have to figure out how to innovate their way out of this spiral, but I think it has definitely begun and you can mark the 2nd quarter of the year, 2010 as the moment Pay TV began its descent.   The full implications of it all are mind boggling. 

But if someday CNN, Fox and MSNBC disappear- somebody’s going to have to tell me about it because it will have been years since I watched that crap.

Luddite-in-Chief

May 11, 2010 1 comment

Leader of the Luddites (left); Leader of the Free World (right)

President Obama delivered the commencement address at historically black Hampton University on Sunday where he launched an assault on technology and media. This crazy, new-fangled digital world, he said, is turning information into entertainment instead of a tool for enlightenment.

While in some contexts there is a certain amount of truth to that, it seems to me the President’s words show a startling lack of understanding of information technology and a very Luddite-like attitude I didn’t expect from our first post baby-boom President. After all, it was his innovative and modern campaign that communicated and raised hundreds of millions of dollars by leveraging many of the digital tools the President now disparages.

Luddites

The term “Luddite” originates from a movement born in England’s textile industry in the early 1800’s in which workers sabotaged new, wide-framed automated looms out of fear they could be operated by unskilled labor and, therefore, put skilled workers out of jobs.

Ned Ludd is the name of the fellow who literally destroyed some then “modern” equipment back in 1779.  As this even more modern textile technology came on line in the 1800’s, protestors took his name as a symbol of their resistance.

Today, the term has come to mean general rejection of new technology and it would appear our President is among those who could be described as “Luddites.”  Here’s a key excerpt from the commencement speech:

You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter,” he told the students. “And with iPods and iPads, and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.

Too Many Lies

In his first sentence, the President argues there’s a lot of information out there that doesn’t rank high on the “truth meter.” This is new? This wasn’t also happening at the dawn of the Republic? When pamphleteers published scathing lies, rumors and innuendo during election campaigns in the 1700’s and 1800’s?

If he’s referring to those who disparage him on everything from his birth certificate to his “socialistic” leanings; he’s right- they are lies. He is not a socialist; more of a moderate-left pragmatist. The “birthers” are more about hatred of his policies and possibly the man. But there’s absolutely nothing new about the lines of attack. Americans have always been exposed to these extreme types of rhetorical assaults. They are absolutely par for the course in American politics.

Deconstructing the Obama Argument- Cable TV and Talk Radio

If he’s referring to the Fox News’ and Rush Limbaugh’s of the world that some argue espouse right-wing political ideology- well now we also have MSNBC which regularly weighs in from the left- and here, the President is right. Mass media today offers obsessive partisans the precise opinions they want mirrored back to them. But that’s not the media’s fault. There are still objective sources of information out there and because of the digital age we live in- those sources are more available than ever before- at the touch of a keyboard. Is it the media’s fault many people do not avail themselves of objective sources of information?

The President is blaming technology when the real problem is people. They line up like lemmings on the left and the right, rooting for their respective ideologies like they might root for the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys or some other sports team. There are lots of sociological studies on political partisanship and its roots. They show parental influence, environment, upbringing and regionalism are more responsible than the media for cementing a person’s political views.

The Evil Tools of the Digital Age

But it was the list of technological devices the President enumerated that left me wondering if the White House bubble has now captured, isolated and imprisoned him. Tell me how these fit into his arguments about distorted information overload:

And with iPods and iPads, and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.

The I-Pod: Revolutionized the world of customized music and yes, it’s used for the spoken word as well, but for the minority who use it for information, opinion or talk, all I can tell you is that some of the most downloaded material on I-Tunes is content from National Public Radio. How is the I-Pod to blame for the dissemination of irresponsible lies?

The I-Pad: While its ultimate fit in our lives is still a work in progress, I believe this device plays only a few basic roles at the moment; easy, touch-screen access to the internet, beautiful graphics for downloadable video and as a reading device that will probably put the Kindle out of business someday. How is the I-Pad to blame for the dissemination of irresponsible lies?

X-Box: I have one. This is the device I use to watch movies from Netflix. My son sometimes uses it to kill bad guys in war game scenarios. I’ll admit I’ve spent a few hours using it to play Tiger Woods Golf. How is the X-Box to blame for the dissemination of irresponsible lies?

Play Station: Ask George W. Bush about this one. Rumor has it he was pretty good with Play Station during those long off days at the Texas ranch and at Camp David. But I don’t see Play Station as in any way to blame for the dissemination of irresponsible lies.

Perhaps most telling is the laugh-line he delivered with a certain sense of perverse pride:

And with iPods and iPads, and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work….

It appears the one technological device he does know how to work is the Blackberry, which, interestingly enough, did not make it onto his list of evil modern technologies. But really, Mr. President- get with it, man!

Check out the I-Pad- it’s an amazing and beautiful device that when cheap and refined enough, could be the next line of personal computers that overtake the world.

I am positive your own daughters can teach you how to use an I-Pod and an X-Box. And check your oval office desk again. I know Bush-43 left you a private note when you first arrived. Check in one of the drawers; he may have left you instructions for the Play Station too.

Yes, we live in an age of potential information overload. Yes, there is a lot of both Right-wing and Leftist propaganda. But the examples he uses to back his case are non sequiturs. And the real problem is that he’s blaming the messenger. This would be like John Adams denouncing the evils of the printing press because a pamphleteer was critical of the Alien and Sedition acts.

If you’re looking for the causes of extreme partisanship and political zealotry- bloggers and talkers and wingers are a bit like gasoline on the fire. But the original blaze itself comes from some other place. Where does partisanship come from? And how does that prism affect your view of what is truth? Those are questions with no easy answers and certainly not simple ones like “blame media.”

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