Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Win Ben Stein's Country

Ben Stein recently wrote an incredibly sharp column describing "How to Ruin American Enterprise." The key points were:

  1. Allow schools to fall into useless decay

  2. Encourage the making of laws and rules by trial lawyers and sympathetic judges, especially through class actions.

  3. Create a culture that blames the other guy for everything and discourages any form of individual self-restraint or self-control.

  4. Sneer at hard work and thrift.

  5. Hold the managers of corporations to extremely lax standards of conduct and allow them to get off with a slap on the wrist when they betray the trust of shareholders.

  6. While you're at it, discourage respect for law in every possible way. This will dissolve the glue that holds the nation together, and dissuade any long-term thinking.

  7. Encourage a mass culture that spits on intelligence and study and instead elevates drug use, coolness through sex and violence, and contempt for school.

  8. Mock and belittle the family.

  9. Develop a suicidal immigration policy that keeps out educated, hardworking men and women from friendly nations and, instead, takes in vast numbers of angry, uneducated immigrants from nations that hate us.

  10. Enact a tax system that encourages class antagonism and punishes saving, while rewarding indebtedness, frivolity and consumption.

  11. Have a socialized medical system that scrimps on badly needed drugs and procedures, resorts to only the cheapest practices and discourages drug companies from developing new drugs by not paying them enough to cover their costs of experimentation, trial and error.

  12. Elevate mysticism, tribalism, shamanism and fundamentalism--and be sure to exclude educated, hardworking men and women--to an equal status with technology in the public mind.

While I don't agree with every point he makes, many of the arguments are quite timley. The complaint about litigiousness is particularly noteworthy given the recent lawsuit against McDonald's and the New York Times Magazine article about the unequitable litigiousness-inspired Victim Compensation Fund.

A lot of the arguments also sound like the complaints my parents have about America. Based on my reading of Portnoy's Complaint and White Teeth this summer, such immigrant experiences are not unusual. And while their ethic is certainly not always right and their characterizations not always accurate, there are many social ills unique to America or the West that undermine the successes of our way of life. I'm not particularly conservative, but it is sad to witness how divorce runs rampant, how credit card debt piles up, and how high schoolers keep dropping out.

Sunday, December 15, 2002


As I get ready to fly to San Diego only a month after being home for Thanksgiving, I once again am wondering why these holidays are so close together. It seems fairly silly to me. Richard's mother told me that Roosevelt had tried to change it once. Although the justification - lengthening the shopping season - seems a bit suspect, the way people clung to the arbitrary tradition is depressing, and typical.

If we can't change Thanksgiving, I suppose my dreams of a 25-hour day will never be realized. Or people's hopes of making all holidays Mondays, making the week 8 days long, changing the calendar, or shifting the way time works.

Monday, December 9, 2002

Perceptions of safety

When I traveled to New York this weekend, I put some effort into finding a place to put my bag so I wouldn't have to leave it at somebody's apartment. Luckily, Madison Square Garden let me bring it in after all. But I discovered that in wake of September 11th, both Greyhound and Amtrak were not letting passengers check bags for the day (despite the misinformed opinions of some operators at Amtrak), and there were no lockers at Penn Station. When I called the New York tourism folks, they said that there was absolutely nowhere to leave a bag in Manhattan, not even at a storage company.

All of this is absurd. If you want to encourage tourism, you should at least give tourists a place to stash their stuff. Did everybody forget that 9/11 was caused by suicide bombers? We are trading convenience for the illusion of security. Just as we do at the airport. A ticket confirmation printout could be faked by a 5-year-old with a modicum of computer knowledge, yet somehow we consider this adequate for keeping unauthorized individuals from passing into airport terminals. On a recent flight that was running late, they did not even check identification at the gate. Similarly, at Penn Station, nobody should feel any safer because bag checking has been disallowed. A suicide bomber could quite easily walk in and wreak havoc. Or anyone could just leave a bag on the ground and walk out. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in the New Yorker, when we impose more stringent security rules, we may just escalate the nature of the violence.

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Hypocrisy: America's anti-drug

Sure, the ads linking drugs to terrorism were exploitative and silly, as has been ridiculed by Arianna Huffington.

But the newest anti-marijuana advertising campaign is even more absurd. The press release proudly explains how it plays on teenagers' fears:

The contents of the ads are a direct result of research conducted with teens of various ages and ethnic backgrounds across America. This research indicated that there is much ambiguity surrounding marijuana and its effects, and teens openly admitted a lack of knowledge about the drug. In focus groups, teens identified two major reasons to avoid marijuana: it can lead to stupid, sometimes tragic mistakes (such as driving with someone who is high, or having unplanned, unprotected sex), and it can get you into trouble with the law.

Never mind that alcohol produces the same consequences just as frequently, and often more tragically, than marijuana amongst teenagers.

Meanwhile, recent reports suggest that the gateway effects of marijuana and the growing potency of the drug have been exaggerated. Andrew Morral of RAND told Reuters, "If our model is correct, to a certain extent we are diverting resources away from hard drug problems....Spending money on marijuana control may not be having downstream consequences on the use of hard drugs."

The continued, unfounded, disproportionate vilification of marijuna by our government is well-documented. It is eerily similar to the fraud of the food pyramid. The government's credibility keeps slipping away.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002


One thing I find interesting is our fascination with "reality."

Recently, The Sims has been attracting media attention because of the insights it purportedly provides into our own society. Most notably, everyone's favorite over-generalizer, David Brooks, had a piece in the New York Times Magazine. He writes, in part,

I confess I sometimes don't know whether to be happy or depressed when I dip into Sims world. Sometimes you get the sense that these Sims fanatics are compensating online for the needs that aren't met in their real lives...But the other and more positive sensation you get in Sims world is that some mass creative process is going on, like the writing of a joint novel with millions of collaborative and competitive authors.

Time also searched for deeper meaning. "The Sims Online might be exactly what America needs right now: a virtual sandbox where we can play out our fantasies and confront our fears about what America might become."

The paradox is that people are fleeing reality for virtuality at the same time that they are embracing reality television. Even more confusingly, movies like The Truman Show, eXistenZ, Dark City, The Matrix, Star Trek: Insurrection, Vanilla Sky, and The Thirteenth Floor all dealt with the concept of reality, mostly suggesting that real reality was preferable to any conjured virtual reality, no matter how much better the latter might be.

Raison d'Etre

So, I'm starting a blog. Call me a sheep. But I have good reasons, I swear.

  1. Learning I am very interested in the Internet's power to transform social discourse, and blogs are a critical component in that. The best way to learn about something is to try it. Yes, I will be throwing my own thoughts into a growing sea of blog reflexiveness, but some of it is quite good. Of particular interest are efforts to tie blogs together, like Daypop, Blogdex, Metalinker, and TrackBack. These play a role in a project I call Metabuzz
  2. Voting Because so many sites (most notably Google) rely on incoming links to determine a site's popularity, I consider this a way of voting for my favorites.
  3. Memory To help me out when I go senile.
  4. Outlet I have things to say and no longer have a college paper to take it out on. It will be nice to say things with permanence and structure and put them somewhere other than e-mail and away messages. In fact, one of things I want to find out is if I can attract an...
  5. Audience Who reads these things? Does anybody comment on them? Only one way to find out.