Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for July, 2007

Support our troops?

Posted by digglahhh on 28 July 2007

Recently, I’ve read numerous pieces about what it means to support our troops. The GOP fringe likes to make the argument that one can’t support the troops while being against the war. Their contention is that the troops are fighting to win and supporting legislation that would undercut their mission is, by definition, non-supportive of the troops. The anti-war crowd is quick to point out that approval of a mission is not a necessary precondition of supporting those who undertake that mission – a hate the sin, love the sinner type of argument. They also claim that truly supporting our troops would mean working to prevent them from dying needlessly in a war of choice.

I think it is time that we lefties confronted some very difficult realities that are associated with our position. There is a sense of validity to the fringe righty argument here. But, I’d like to flip it on its head and note that, on a certain level, supporting the engaged troops is supporting the war. Truly supporting the troops begins before enlistment, before our “support” puts us in a difficult position in which we have to support those who are fighting wars of choice that line the pockets of our ruling class and spill the blood of innocent civilians in the name of “freedom” and “anti-terrorism.” The troops are the soldiers of neo-colonialism and economic imperialism. Yet, because we view them as pawns who don’t control their own destinies we are driven by empathy to support them.

Wars are carried out by troops. Troops don’t have the authority to make decisions regarding entry and they don’t choose their missions or their means, but they do perform the grunt work of war. If we believe that Iraq did not deserve to be attacked, that we are involved in a colonialist/imperialist occupation, and that we are slaughtering Iraqi soldiers, women, and children needlessly and in startling numbers, then we have to confront the fact that it is the soldiers who are attacking, occupying, and killing.

To be sure, such an operation is not what those who enlisted in the military signed up for. But the fact that they might be called upon in this way should not come as a surprise. The United States has a long and ugly history of using its military for unethical, selfish, and destructive purposes – both in terms of “public” ops – like this one, as well as countless documented black-ops missions. For anyone who knows even a little bit about the military history of the United States—and if you’re going to devote two or five years of your life to it, it’s worth 10 minutes with your friend Google—the current occupation of Iraq would be just the type of thing that one would realize he or she is signing up for when joining the military.

Our military is disproportionately young, poor, and brown. Our poor and disenfranchised are sent off to sacrifice, and potentially die, to preserve the entitlements of wealth for a select few of our American aristocrat class. Those poor, young soldiers who put their lives on the line do so for reasons for reasons dictated by circumstance. Simply, they are not given many other options. They have been failed financially, and socially – sometimes by coincidence and others by malevolence. They have been systematically failed by our educational system, so jingoistic rhetoric resonates with them and a comprehensive, international perspective of our country’s history never has the opportunity to prompt tough moral questions about “what they are enlisting for.”

I don’t support the troops as much as I empathize with them. They have been manipulated to do the bidding of those who care not whether they live or die.

The military offers many of our soldiers the best health care they can get, the best salaries, the best job training. If we want to support our troops, the first thing we need to do is make sure there are comparable civilian jobs, universal health care, education, and training available to them. If they then still want to trade their blood for oil for all of us, at least it will have been an honest choice, independent of pressing economic need.

In terms of supporting troops, the Iraqi troops have the higher moral ground. They truly can believe they are fighting for patriotic freedom. Granting our troops ignorance or naïveté to the true pretenses that precipitate their situation does not change the moral standing of the pretenses themselves or the acts carried out in pursuit thereof. We can offer only explanations, not excuses.

I “support” all parties thrust into this nightmare against their will; that includes soldiers on both sides, Iraqi civilians, families of the troops, anti-war protestors, and international diplomats. I have nothing but ill will for those who knowingly escalated this situation, disingenuously, for their own purposes or those who jumped into the fray out of hate or fear.

As long as our troops take orders from selfish, immoral cowards who don’t value domestic or foreign life as much as the accoutrements of wealth and power, they will continue to be called on to commit atrocities on their behalf. Pleading ignorance or trickery will never reverse any of them. The actions of our troops, even their victories—especially their victories—further embolden our ruling class. They pave the way for further exploitation in the name of “freedom.”

So let’s truly support our troops so that they don’t have to become troops. Let the rulers of this country go out there on the battlefield and put their own asses on the line for the government contracts, manipulated markets, and installation of governments that they need to continue living their MTV Cribs lifestyles. If the ranks of the military was filled with the Bill Kristols and Rush Limbaughs of the world, or at least their children, then we could sit back and root for the good guys with a clear conscience.

Posted in digglahhh, politics | 7 Comments »

More on race and sports

Posted by digglahhh on 21 July 2007

During a recent discussion about race and the perceptions of athletic success, my friend Tony over at Baseball-fever reminded me of this 2003 poll of 550 Major Leaguers, taken by Sports Illustrated.

The two questions that I found most intriguing were the following:

5. Who gets the most from the least talent?

David Eckstein, Angels 62.2%
Craig Counsell, Diamondbacks 6.7%
Jamie Moyer, Mariners 4.8%
Joe McEwing, Mets 2.7%
Kevin Millar, Red Sox 1.7%
Juan Pierre, Marlins 1.2%
Albert Pujols, Cardinals 1.0%
Brad Ausmus, Astros 1.0%
Eric Byrnes, Athletics 0.7%
Greg Maddux, Braves 0.7%
Mike Sweeney, Royals 0.7%

6. Who gets the least from the most talent?

Ruben Rivera, Giants 29.3%
Raul Mondesi, Yankees 6.9%
Frank Thomas, White Sox 3.1%
Mo Vaughn, Mets 3.1%
Adrian Beltre, Dodgers 2.8%
Kyle Farnsworth, Cubs 2.8%
Ken Griffey, Reds 2.4%
Aramis Ramirez, Pirates 2.1%
Esteban Loaiza, White Sox 2.1%
Juan Gonzalez, Rangers 2.1%
Jose Guillen, Reds 2.1%

*If you are interested in reading a little more about the players, and my attempt at an objective evaluation of whether the players were good choices for the respective lists, see the comments section.

Eight of the top ten responses to the first question, including the overwhelming first choice, are white players. Minority players account for nine out of ten of the top vote-getters in the second, including the top choice.

Other observations:

· Six of the players on the top list are not only white, but blond.

· Skinny guys always hustle? The average height and weight of the top list is certainly lower than that of the bottom list.

· Most fans would agree that the players on the top list, on a whole, show more “enthusiasm” when playing the game than those on the bottom list.

· As of the time of the poll, three players on the bottom list were former MVPs (Griffey, Gonzalez [2x], Thomas [2x]). Players on the top list had won none, though Maddux has won four Cy Youngs.

· As of the time of the poll, players on the second list had nearly twice as many All Star appearances, 23 to 12.

I could write about how different skills are perceived as bearing a greater relationship to natural abilities while others are understood as being the products of hard work and study. But, that skirts the issue and distracts from the point.

Such a proposition is a chicken and egg argument as it passes through a racial filter. Virtually all events on a baseball field require a mix of athleticism and natural talents and abilities. Athleticism plays the smallest role in baseball of any of the major sports. In fact, the core component of the game, hitting, is largely a function of hand-eye coordination. All players who play the game are naturally gifted and methodically trained. Whether skills are considered “natural” or “developed” is a false dichotomy that has as much to do with who possesses specific skills as it does with some sort of theoretical essence of that skill.

Years ago, future NBA Hall of Famer and gangsta-rapper look-alike Allen Iverson was chastised for taking practice too lightly. His original press conference tirade was memorable, because it is played over and over. The line that he repeats repeatedly is, “Practice, we talking about practice – not a game, not a game – practice.” That remark made people think of him as lazy and undedicated. The caveat to that remark is not replayed ad nauseam. Iverson went on to ask if it is logical to assume that a player of his caliber could achieve such a level of play without being intensely dedicated to practice. A perfectly reasonable question and self-evident truism. It is well known that Allen Iverson played as hard as anybody in league – many said he played harder than any other player. He is undersized, underweight; his body took more punishment than any other player’s. He is one of the best scorers in the history of the NBA, a former MVP – an immortal. To assert that he didn’t value practice, or was lazy, was absolutely ludicrous in the face of his game and his accomplishments.

These pronouncements are often based on personality, on disposition and appearance. We are talking about quantifying the difference between a group of people who are all anomalies on an individual basis – both in terms of their gifts and their dedication. Iverson did lead the league in tattoos, and was one of, if not the first NBA player to sport cornrows. He also dabbled in a second career as a rapper, projecting a general thug-like image.

Once again, we see implicit racial associations at play. And, once again, we deny their existence by propagating false dichotomies and overstating our abilities to perceive differences in immeasurable, yet largely similar, quantities of vague and arbitrary ideas, like “natural talent” and “dedication.” Furthermore, it is likely that the arbitrary definitions are tainted by inherently racialized perceptions and thought patterns.

Posted in digglahhh, language, sports | 3 Comments »

Shake, rattle, Osama?

Posted by metaphorical on 18 July 2007

The fire in Manhattan today (CNN.com story here) was a little disconcerting to those of still in the office, a mere seven blocks away.

Though it turned out to be a steam explosion leading to a transformer fire (with at least three people injuredUpdate: One death), our thoughts immediately turned to past disasters, especially given the obvious proximity to Grand Central Station and the Chrysler Building, two obvious potential targets.

A little after 6:00pm EDT, I heard a rumbling, which I took to be thunder, since it had rained in the morning, heavily enough for several trains between Queens and Manhattan to be out of service from flooding. The rumbling continued, though, and eventually I looked out my window to see smoke billowing from what looked to be Grand Central. A minute later, the sounds of firetrucks and then police cars could be heard, and they I can still hear them every few minutes as I write this, about 8:00pm.

The view from my office was excellent:


and that from my editor’s office even better. Our photo editor took a shot from there and sent it to CNN before heading home to Brooklyn, as best she can. By 7:20 or so, it was up on cnn.com as the third of three pictures of the event.


Commuting is going to be quite a nightmare tonight and, surely, tomorrow. My own train lines uptown have been re-routed, so I’ll end up on a bus, in a taxi, or just walking (60 blocks). It’s the people in Queens who have the big problems though. The 7 train runs through Grand Central and has been re-routed as well, so Queens people have very few options, given the flooding problems of the day. My mother drives in most days and at 6:10 was stuck in terrible traffic near the 59th Street Bridge. I’m sure the local news will have shots tonight of people walking across the bridge.

It looked bad for a while, but it turned out to be just another day in the Big Apple.

Posted in journalism, language, technology | 4 Comments »

Elizabeth III – American style

Posted by metaphorical on 18 July 2007

Does it seem as if Elizabeth Edwards is campaigning harder than some of the candidates?

First there was her call into the Chris Matthews interview with Ann Coulter (YouTube, here), then there was yesterday’s Salon.com interview in which she goes after Hillary, calling her “”not as vocal a women’s advocate as I want to see.” It got reported in many other outlets, including the NY Times.

Finally, she has a new 30-second ad that will be running in New Hampshire.

The Salon interview is pretty interesting in its own right. The angle that’s being picked up is the attack on Hillary. Newsday’s coverage was about the same as the Times, for example, saying, under a headline “Edwards’ wife takes aim on Clinton”:

She went on to question Clinton’s commitment to defending abortion rights, making a veiled reference to the former first lady’s recent claim that abortions are tragedies.

But the interview includes a lot more, including some great details about the decision to go after Coulter to her face.

well, I knew she was doing “Hardball,” and I knew it was a call-in show. So I called the [Edwards] campaign about getting the number, and they were like, Oh, that’s a good idea. And then I mentioned the 2003 column [where Coulter mocked John Edwards’ discussion of their son Wade’s death in a car crash] and you could see them get worried, like “Oh, my God, she’s carrying around in her mind a 2003 column? Maybe we don’t want her calling …”

She says she got some direct advice not to do it.

I understand the advice — if you were advising somebody you might say that — but that exact attitude is what protects somebody like Ann Coulter. Nobody wants to jump in the mud puddle with her.

Among the interviews wide range of topics, I particularly liked this bombshell nugget:

I have blogged using other screen names before. Before the Whole Foods guy got in trouble [the Wall Street Journal revealed last week that CEO John Mackey used pseudonyms to deride competitors online] I decided that that wasn’t such a good idea.

She seems also to acknowledge that husband John is having trouble getting his message out:

But what I said was, what John said was, there is a need to get the debates more serious. You have these formats with 60-second answers, and in 60 seconds, John’s position on healthcare sounds just like Hillary’s answer, when it couldn’t be farther apart. So we need to find a way to have serious debates, that’s all John is saying. Maybe it’s two candidates at a time. Maybe it’s three hours, but nobody would go for that.

So it’s a little ironic that she would turn around and make a 30-second tv spot (YouTube here).

And to tell you the truth, the commercial itself is a little creepy. Elizabeth looks good—that is, healthy, particularly for a woman with terminal cancer—but it begins with her saying, “I’ve been blessed for the last 30 years, to be married to … ” There’s something about the particular past tense phrasing, and the music, that makes her seem to be talking with one foot in the grave.

Some have criticized her decision to support the campaign despite her illness. It would be interesting if she can actually make it work to the campaign’s benefit. But in the meantime, she’s a campaign dynamo, currently generating more attention than some of the Democratic candidates and just about all of the Republican ones. Good for her.

Posted in language, politics | Leave a Comment »

Nathan could be worse

Posted by digglahhh on 14 July 2007

I’m not often at a loss for words, but certain things set off so many sociological censors at once that I get sent into overload and find it difficult to process and document my interpretation of what exactly is going on. I most recently had one of those moments on July 4th, watching the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. I can’t guarantee coherence as I try to express my feelings here, but I shall try my best.

First of all, it is aired on ESPN. What the fuck is that? I guess that’s the “E” for “Entertainment” portion of its abbreviation. If so, whatever. But then, somebody should tell the Sportscenter anchors that the network’s feeble entertainment attempts have been covered and they can kill the Last Comic Standing auditions and just let me know if J.J. Hardy is going to turn back into a pumpkin anytime soon. Still, even the “entertainment” must be required to be at least as close to a sport as poker is, right? How far removed is a hot dog eating contest from a farting contest? Would they air one of those on ESPN as well? The participants actually view themselves as athletes, as I understand. I’m really trying to limit how many times I say, “what the fuck?” in this piece, but that is asking a lot of restraint given this topic.

Okay, whew, that’s one rant down – the least important one. The subject of what is a sport, what is a game, and what is just a competition is an incredibly interesting discussion, but it’s not all that important sociologically. Let’s get to the more disturbing aspects of this event.

The hour of coverage began with an aerial shot of the crowd. There were thousands of people there. It was absolutely ridiculous. Why would somebody spend one of the few Federal holidays standing under the brutally hot sun, squinting to watch a crew of gastrointestinal anomalies cram their faces with cylindrical beef byproducts from two and a half blocks away?

Onto the depressing symbolism and deconstruction of the event. First, I want to preface this by saying that I’ve always found displays of decadence that use food to be particularly egregious, and, on a certain level, very offensive. Food is the basic unit of sustenance. I often think about how we use food as decorative garnish for other foods and find it quite curious. Last time Meta and I went for dinner, I posed the question of whether it is ethical, apart from being socially acceptable, to bring a child to a nice restaurant.

The hot dog eating contest on July 4th is ironic, or disturbingly a propos on many levels. For starters, according to the CDC, 65% of our population is overweight or obese. Our country clearly has a problem in this regard, and on a day on which we are supposed to be honoring our nation, we are indulging in its problems – in a far more grandiose and blatant fashion than simply stuffing yourself at a barbeque, which at least doesn’t have thousands of onlookers.

In a broader sense, this competition is reflective of so many more of our ugly values. Our disease of conspicuous consumption applies as much to dollar sign as to the waistline. The general international interpretation of American displays of wealth, power, and machismo is that they are crass and childish – two words that aptly describe a nationally televised hot dog eating contest, and a nation that watches it.

Absurd gender identities are at play as well. There is no doubt that a contributing factor to our ballooning of men’s waistlines is the conflation of a (destructively) large appetite with “manliness.” This unrefined image of savage, pseudo-manhood is celebrated as the competitors (all male, except one) gorge themselves.

This event is the apotheosis of our reverence for tasteless and destructive celebrations of excess. The fact that an event like this can gain the traction to solidify itself as an Independence Day tradition is disgusting and disappointing.

I’m hoping that the readership can advance these ideas, or contribute their own, as I find it difficult to fully express why the relationship between Independence Day and the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is so disturbing. Am I the only one who feels this way?

Before I officially solicit any responses, allow me to make two disclaimers. One, I am not a vegan or vegetarian. Admittedly, a fruit salad eating contest would be less disgusting to me, but much of that is due to how much less symbolic value it has than the malt liquor of meat, the hot dog.

Two, I am not opposed to low culture, or even to unhealthy behavior in a competitive form. Most of my friends are in their late twenties to early thirties, well removed from college, and we still routinely play drinking games. Full disclosure: about three months ago, a long night of drinking and cards turned into a three-way White Castle eat-off. (I was not involved in the contest.) My offense is taken at the nexus of the hot dog eating contest, Fourth of July, avid bystanders, and a national television network. This is not a homemade video of a keg stand posted on You Tube. This is competitive artery clogging, recognized and promoted as sport, broadcast on ESPN and marketed as all-American.

Posted in digglahhh, food, pop culture, sports | 8 Comments »

China vs the good life

Posted by metaphorical on 14 July 2007


In an e-mail note, longtime reader and commenter ClaireDePlume takes me to task for my high tolerance for China’s leaders and their economic and political policies. (See for example my travel memo here, but more formally, in a recent article about China and sustainability here, and one two years that explicitly discusses Chinese censorship here.)

Ms DePlume has graciously permitted me to turn our private exchange into fodder for this blog. She gets the first and last words.


As we discussed, here is the clip (YouTube, here) of auto workers actually inside a press. China vies for global economic status at a great cost—”modern”manufacturing in a country with a highly expendable workforce and inadequate labour laws. Meanwhile, Western capitalists salivate dollar bills as they court their newest potential money mate.

I did a brief search for statistics and fatalities but information is not as quick to find as hoped. China controls it’s stats and appears not to share this data, at least not in the obvious places. Most of their data is provided to lure business, not shock Western labour lobbyists & human rights groups.

Thank you for the link. I’m of two minds on China, though one of them is not a very popular view.

The Chinese economy started in 1980 from almost zero. That year, the first Special Economic Zone, the fishing village of Shenzhen had a population in the hundreds. Less than 30 years later, it is one of the largest and most vibrant cities in the world. The second economic zone, Pudong, now has a skyline more beautiful than New York’s, a huge and spectacular airport, and the world’s only functioning Maglev train. Pudong’s success is one of the things making Shanghai twice the size of New York, soon to be the largest seaport in the world, and the world’s largest shipbuilder as well. Shanghai gets much of its power from the Three Gorges Dam, one of the most ambitious engineering projects of the past 100 years. Yet, as successful as they are, these projects are one side of a coin that has economic and cultural disaster depicted on the other. The cultural genocide of Tibet of course is disaster #1. Three Gorges displaced several million peasants into almost completely dysfunctional new and artificial cities. The Forbidden City and the Great Wall are cheap theme parks now. The list goes on.

The conditions of the factory workers are horrific, both for working and for living. And yet they come from the countryside, many probably expecting a better life, many surely knowing, from friends and relatives, exactly what to expect. And they keep coming.

They keep coming despite the fact that the first thing the post-Mao governments did in the 1980s was stabilize the rural economy, the agrarian sector, so that no one would starve. These people do not have to leave the farms in the west for the cities in the east. They choose to come, looking for a better life. The conditions they live and work under are the same – the very same – as those my grandmother and grandfather, who chose, separately, to come to the U.S. 100 years ago. And today they still come. The faces are different – they are browner, and yellower, and the jobs are different – perhaps a meatpacking plant in Iowa, instead of a sewing shop in New York City or an auto assembly line in Flint, but still they come.

We in the U.S. so easily condemn the Turks for the Armenian genocide, when in the early 20th century the blood had barely stopped flowing from our own Native American genocide. So too, our immigrants chose to sacrifice themselves for a generation to make a better life for their children and their grandchildren, and yet we so quickly condemn the Chinese for making the same choice. (And the blood had just started flowing on the killing fields of Europe. We are so quick to allow 30 or 30,000 to die in battle for nothing, but not 30 to build an economy. But that is too callous a calculation for even me.)

We are like the California immigrants who move to Seattle and then five years later complain about all the Californians still coming. “I’ve got mine, now close the door.” We built an economic engine that can now comfortably keep us in food and iPods even in second gear, and we want to close the door and say, “From now on, everyone has to get here without 14-hour days and sleeping 14 to an apartment.” Even though that’s what it took for us to get here.

Leave the comparisons between the Somme and the sweatshops to others more cynical than us. But can we ask ourselves whether we could have the North American economy we do without allowing 43,000 to die annually on highways? We want the economy we have, which would be impossible without the mobility we have. And so we each enter a lottery with our bodies as the stakes every time we open the car door, and every year, 43,000 people lose that lottery. (We could, for example, close the highways from midnight to 6:00am and save half those lives.) The Chinese workers in their car plants know that their fingers and arms and entire bodies are the stakes in their lottery.

Would we prefer not to have these games of chance? That every factory be safe? That our roads be safer? Of course. Will be accept that cars be more expensive, that the meat from the meatpacking plant cost more, that we must drive slower and less often? Apparently not.

I hate what the Chinese are doing. And I hate our hypocrisy in condemning it. And so I say let us clean up our own house. And let us let them come to the city, to the factory, to a modern economy. If they themselves find it to be a better life, let them come into it.


I’ve read your letter about China 3 times—trying to wrap my mind around this situation without taking a personal stance. I appreciate the background—it helps me to see more clearly (I hope). and Yes, I’ve thought much on your observations in order to understand – understand why people play the life lottery with odds most often stacked in favour of the house, not the players.

China has been cocooned from the west and capitalism for ages, but the visual age of communication is dawning there too, and their politics can no longer “protect” them, and maybe there is no wish to protect any longer. The apple has been bitten once again.

No doubt, when others “see” what they perceive as life in a capitalistic society, they see only the best. They do not know of the soul sucking and life robbing price people pay for this, now or in the past. Nor do they care. They do not see the earth littered with the bones of others; they see only fertile soil for growing all of their dreams. Whether these dreams are visions of their own creation or ones of desire planted from other pollinating sources is immaterial. All they know is that they want a better life, and they are oblivious to the cost. Like all brave new wanderers in a new land, they are cavalier when they must answer the question, “at what cost?”.

When I sent this clip to you, I was the 5 or 6th recipient in an e-mail chain. Most of the comments to introduce this clip were glib and mocking and derisive—made by the more worldly apes of the west more seasoned and knowing than the naive players new to the game of working off one’s ass. Then there was some discussion in the office by those I work with, equally callous and condescending. Those brief, careless words coloured my opinion of the role we play as “older students of capitalism.”

While we are no more able to change the world than we are able to circumnavigate the universe or explain the meaning of life, it doesn’t give us permission to turn our backs on exploitations such as this. If Columbus had been operating under the watchful eye of his own society, would he have plundered the New World so easily and freely? If the British had managed only a tacit peace with other nations to master the Americas, would they have exploited the settlers and the Native peoples as they did?

To know oneself, is to know your own behaviour when you think no one is looking… and as we are evolving more and more into a visual society more than an auditory one, then when we “see” the apple being bitten into, perhaps it’s time to raise a red flag – one high enough, and bold enough it cannot be ignored?

Posted in journalism, language, Orwell, politics, technology, travel | 2 Comments »


Posted by metaphorical on 10 July 2007

My graduation in May was attended by my mother, my wife, and my stepdaughter. Last night, I switched the third and last of them: my mother.

Remember Apple’s “Switched” ad campaign?

It was only 5 years ago, but I barely remember it myself. Occasionally, it included the famous (Yo Yo Ma) and the semi-famous (the surfer Kelly Slater). More common, though were the ads with unknown people, including one that the commercials themselves made famous, at least for 15 minutes. The campaign even inspired some great parodies, such as the Switch Gates.

Anyway, none of these ads had the slightest impact on my mom, or Rachel, or Juliane. They blithely continued their PC ways, even if they thought the ads themselves were cute.

In early 2003, Rachel decided to get herself a new laptop, and did finally consider a Mac. But it seemed pretty unlikely, and I spec’d out the Sony Viao that I was sure she’d end up with. As it happens, I was going on a climbing vacation and invited her to use my Mac for the week. By the second day she was hooked and couldn’t wait for me to get home and help her buy one.

By late 2006, Rachel had just gotten her second Mac when we got a call from Juliane, who was at college, happily using her (of course) Sony Viao laptop. Until she tripped over the power cord and sent it flying across the room. (Has the Will It Blend guy ever done a Viao? If so, his Viao would look a lot worse than Juliane’s. Hers was pretty disfunctional though.) Since the Viao was going to be out for repair, Rachel drove down to Princeton and lent her the first laptop, an iBook. To make a story short, the Viao never went for repair, Juliane’s dad generously bought her a new computer, and she chose a 17-inch MacBook Pro.

I myself was a reluctant Switcher, back in 1999. I was really entrenched, having written my first Autoexec.bat file in 1982. That’s 17 years of DOS and Windows power-use. In 1999, at a new position at work, I was given a G4 PowerBook. I managed to break the little latch on the first day. It took me a week to grudgingly like OS 9, and at least another week to finally love it.

My mother, though, seemed an even less likely candidate for Switchdom. It’s not that she’s resistant to change, or to technology. Back in the late 1980s, she dove into pre-Windows DOS with style. She was working part-time, and when she needed to create and use a database and I set her up with Paradox, and she ended up learning it better than I ever did. She moved through WordPerfect to Word, DOS to Windows. She uses cellphones, DVRs, and anything else the world, me, or her grandsons throw at her. (Digglahhh is the one who made her get a DVR.)

Still, that was a history of 20 years of familiarity, if not exactly comfort, with Microsoft. So when she decided to give herself a new computer and her old one to Digglahhh’s brother, she could have gotten a nice ThinkPad or another Dell. I’m still not sure what the turning point was toward the Mac, but it might have been viruses and worms. She’s just beside herself that it just isn’t much of a problem at all for a Mac. (Yes, I know, someday it will be precisely because so many 71 year old grandmothers are switching.)

She got last year’s black 2.0 GHz MacBook at a close-out sale price, adding a second gig of RAM. We went back to her apartment to get her set up – online with her router, Office installed, a .mac account, and so on. I just called her to see if she loves it yet. “I haven’t had much time with it today,” she said. “But I’m liking a lot already.”

She has a couple of learning curves. I had suggested she try getting used to the trackpad and only get a mouse if she can’t. But she, a southpaw, isn’t very dextrous with her right hand. And she’ll probably cling to AOL for a while. There’s also the whole similar-menus-across-the-top, the Finder, and getting used to the idea that just clicking something that should do something will, 9 times out of 10, actually do it. All the things all of us who were switched have had to get used to, much to our delight.

Posted in pop culture, technology | 1 Comment »

Summer reading

Posted by digglahhh on 7 July 2007

This week, I want to take some time to talk about two great books I’ve recently read. The first is about hip-hop, the second about sports.

Over the last few years, documenting the rise of hip-hop culture has become an increasingly popular subject to write about. I’ve read bits and pieces of many of books similar to this one, and I’ve dismissed even more by scanning the indexes and noticing the omissions of seminal figures. Remarkably, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation (2005) by Jeff Chang avoids such limitations.

Chang’s book, a study in cultural anthropology, domestic and foreign policy and sociology, documents the origin and evolution of the hip-hop lifestyle, aesthetic, and music, all in context. He considers the political and cultural movements in Jamaica, the landscape of the Bronx gangs in the 1970’s, the growth and fracturing of the Black Panther party (through COINTELPRO) and the resulting emergence of the West Coast gang scene. He even describes the economic and geospatial ramifications of Robert Moses’s highway projects. These events and many others are discussed in terms of their role in the emergence and direction of hip-hop.

Chang also does a great job of framing some of the most important frictions within the culture. Although hip-hop is widespread and diverse, there have always been identity crises about what is actually encompassed in the culture, and what is the purpose of the movement. Does Basquiat count as a graffiti artist, since he never hit a subway train (even as “SAMO”)? Is graffiti even an element of the hip-hop culture? Many early generation writers were partial to rock music. Are rappers agents of social change, themselves? Should they, and can they, lead movements? Or, is their primary purpose to simply “report” about their experience? What sort of boundaries are there, and should there be regarding “belonging” to the culture? Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop addresses these issues and illustrates the way shifting perspectives led the culture in different directions, expanding its ranks at some points, and severing them at others. Perhaps, one can argue that the book glorifies the culture as an entity, but it does not gloss over the struggles within the movement.

One of the blurbs on the back of the book refers to Chang as Hip-Hop’s Howard Zinn. That’s not really a bad comparison. Compared to a VH1 documentary on early hip-hop (which often aren’t terrible) this is a book on written on a post-graduate level. It should be required reading for all kids who profess to like hip-hop music and culture, as well as for their parents.

The other book I’ve had the good fortune to read is, Veeck as in Wreck (1962), the autobiography of nutty baseball owner, Bill Veeck. This book has actually been recommended to me on numerous occasions in the past, and I’m sorry I didn’t read it earlier.

The sheer enjoyment factor of this book stacks up with just about anything I can remember reading.

Veeck grew up in a baseball family, he joined the military, sustained combat injuries before becoming embarking on a career as an owner of Minor League, and then Major League baseball teams. Eventually, he needed a wooden leg. He never sat in the owner’s box, preferring to sit alongside the fans. He was a man about town and a charitable soul who slept ,by his own account, about two hours a night. He converted part of one of his ballparks into an apartment and moved in. Bill Veeck is simply one of those people who, if was presented as fictional character for a film, would be dismissed as unbelievable and ordered to be rewritten.

He planted the ivy on Wrigley Field’s outfield walls, gave away livestock to random fans, and buried the previous season’s pennant in a mock funeral service when his Cleveland Indians failed to repeat as American League Champions. He invented the exploding scoreboard, threw the infamous “Disco Demolition Night” promotion, and rigged fences to different depths depending on the amount of power on the opposition’s team. He is probably best known for sending a midget up to hit in a Major League game (and threatening to pick him off with a sniper rifle from atop the stadium if he took a swing). But that feat was far from Veeck’s zaniest. One can only estimate how many rules have been instituted solely to disallow the wild schemes dreamed up and implemented by Veeck.

More importantly, Veeck rallied for integration years before Jackie Robinson. He proposed reforms to the reserve clause, and pleaded for interleague play over fifty years ago. He was a visionary who was branded a side show.

Bill Veeck was reviled by his fellow owners. He, of course, felt they all had their collars too tight. Veeck’s antics were characterized as unprofessional, yet Veeck set attendance records everywhere he went and won a World Series in Cleveland in 1948.

Like the man, the style of the book is offbeat and drily witty. He weaves in and out of topics and gives a candid view of his era and the characters in his life. He quite probably takes plenty of liberties with embellishment, but he is a unique and colorful character, so you really don’t know where and when. There is nothing that he says he did that beyond imagining, given what we know historically to be true.

This book works for sports fans and non-fans; in fact, it would make a great summer read for a book club that has both. Obviously, your enjoyment of the book is even greater if you’re a baseball history buff, but you needn’t enjoy or know about sports to appreciate this book. Lots and lots of people have written autobiographies; many are self-indulgent and few needed to be written. Neither of those criticisms apply to this book.

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Posted by metaphorical on 6 July 2007

In a comment, Kevin asks,

[My new phone] number was awful. It was so bad I’m not even going to list it here, except the area code, 646, with its ugly and unlucky 4 right in the middle. There were other 4s, and no 8s. Awful. And very unlucky.”

What the hell are you babbling about?

I can’t put a picture into a comment response, so this is a separate posting.

In China, and perhaps elsewhere in Asia, 4s are unlucky (they represent death, in fact) and 8s are lucky. Specifically for cellphones, on Chongming Island all the phone stores had whiteboards with their best available cellphone numbers. “Come and get one of these numbers filled with good luck,” the signs in effect say, “before they’re taken by someone else.”

Here’s a photo from one such store, taken back in January.

Lucky phone numbers on Chongming Island, Shanghai

While I live a superstition-free life, and don’t even have much respect for those of others, I do like having a number that others consider lucky, or at least not unlucky. More importantly, I do like area codes that follow the original rules for them, and I like phone numbers where all the numbers touch. They’re easily dialed and even though phones light up these days, they can be dialed in the dark.

Posted in language | 1 Comment »


Posted by metaphorical on 5 July 2007

I’ve been on a little hiatus, a 5-day weekend spent mostly rock climbing in the Adirondacks. Before heading out though, I picked up the greatest artifact in human history since the lightbulb, and finally, today, blogged at work about taking the iPhone to that land of trout streams, mountains, meadows, and minimal cellular coverage.

One of our interns and I spent Friday afternoon waiting together on line at the Times Square AT&T store, customers #13 and #14. His terrific blog entry, describing his day, is here. If you don’t read my entry, at least read his.

Posted in pop culture, technology, travel | 3 Comments »