Friday, September 14, 2012

Nobody Asked Me, But...

The subject of Duchess Kate's rumoured topless photos raises a whole raft of questions that I've been meaning to address with respect to privacy, celebrity and of course, the rights of public people to protection from hoi polloi.
First, you'd think the media, in light of the still-sad death of the Princess of Wales, would be extra cautious in dealing with members of the British royal family. And you'd be wrong. And I think, if anything, Kate will have it harder than Diana ever did.
Diana didn't have to deal with the pervasiveness and immediacy of the Internet, for one thing, at least not to the degree this generation will have to. The 24 hour news cycle of cable TV news has been replaced by the 86,400 second news cycle of the Internet, and the person who gets their first, wins.
That's just a fact. It's also a fact that any laws or edicts that were passed in the wake of the death of Diana are woefully out of date: it's going to be very hard to close the barn door after the horse has sprinted out, as those photos are copied and distributed globally in the blink of an eye. Those photos of Kate probably earned the photographer a million bucks a piece. The magazine will make that many times over in sales and licensing fees.
I do not think there is a conceivable law that would prevent that kind of money from exchanging hands. Indeed, cracking down legally will only raise the stakes, as photographers will demand more money for greater risks and the supply of candid photos dries up, forcing demand up when they do appear. There really is an appeal for photos that are not staged and posed.
I'm afraid privacy will be a quaint concept for public figures from here on in, especially as we wrestle with balancing that right with the overriding right to freedom of the press and other First Amendment rights. But it gets worse.
With the rise of reality television, we now have an open window into anyone's life, or at least, feel we do. This frees us to snoop on our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers. Don't believe me? Ever Google a boy/girlfriend? That's a form of cyberstalking.
This facet, I think, is the key element to solving the problem. It's not about the paparazzi. They feed a market.
Ultimately, we are the problem and the solution. I think we're heading towards a boiling point, where individually we have to decide we don't care about the problems of the rich, the celebrated, and other people around us. It makes us feel better to see Snooki staggering around drunk, but why? What guilty pleasure could we possibly get?
More, why would we want to watch? It means we care, right? Why do we care about someone like that, or anyone else on reality TV? They're trying to earn a buck, so they're making shit up as they go. They're just not labelling it "fiction."
By watching, we each of us have lost some of the rationale for the defense of privacy in our own lives. If you say, "My private life is my own," then tune into watch the Kardashians under the guise that you're getting a glimpse into their private life....well, that's a little hypocritical, don't you agree?
This is not to say that either you or I will become a full-screen spread on some tittilating website, far from it, but our activities online expose us to the world: not just our friends and families, but our foes and adversaries, and even completely uninterested parties.
Exhibit A? The viral video. Many, if not most, are posted with the idea that they'll be viewed by as many people as possible, like that one about the history of dance in 60 seconds. But others, like the Numa Numa Guy, were probably intended as a goof among friends, but took over because someone looked over someone else's shoulder, either literally or figuratively.
Invaded privacy, in other words. In this case, benignly. This is not, and will not, always be the case.
The faster we hoi polloi get that, the faster celebrities can begin to reclaim their own privacy, what shards they may.
See, here's the bottom line: the rationale for photos of Kate, or Kim or Snooki or whomever, is that the more they ask for publicity, the more open they are to exploitation. You could make a couple of cases that the Duchess did not ask for publicity, but in fact by marrying into the royal family she has, since the royals themselves are essentially public creatures.
You cannot claim that she was an innocent, that her eyes were closed going in. The royals' case is a special kind of "public figure," to be sure, and I'm sure British law will find someway to try and protect them better, but they will never prevent this from happening again.
Until we decide we no longer need to see the breasts of a beautiful famous woman, until we decide we no longer need to exploit other people and objectify them, we will see this kind of offense, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Denouement

It may be a bit premature to talk about what comes next, but since Mitt's candidacy effectively ended yesterday with his response to the Islamist uprisings against American embassies in the Middle East and North Africa, I thought it might be fun to riff off a little-noticed news item yesterday.
(side note: This "Bacile" character, who really appears to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, ought to be thrown in Gitmo and the key heaved deep into the Caribbean for essentially shouting "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre.)
The item? This:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has chosen Jesse Benton, the chief strategist behind Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, to lead his own reelection bid.

“We’re committed to running a presidential-level campaign in Kentucky, and that starts with a presidential campaign manager,” McConnell said in a statement. “Jesse is literally the best in the business at building and organizing conservative grassroots movements, and I’m thrilled he’s chosen to return to Kentucky to lead my campaign.”

This appointment is intriguing. After all, McConnell backed Paul's opponent in the 2010 primary and while they've managed to work together in Kentucky, why is McConnell dumping his in-place team for an outsider from what could be termed a hostile camp?

The key, I think, lies in the characterization "presidential-level campaign."

McConnell doesn't have serious Democratic opponents in the state, unless Governor steve Beshear decides to challenge McConnell. Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson could run, but would have a hard time overcoming his support of gun control laws.

Yes, liberals exist in Kentucky.

Most likely, AG Jack Conway would toss his hat into the ring. He can't run for Attorney General again, and his term expires in 2015, but he lost to Paul in 2010 quite handily.

I'm thinking, however, that McConnell could face a primary inside his own party, and that's why he's decided to hire Paul's buddy. With a long record in the Senate, it's easy to cherry pick votes where he compromised with Democrats and present them as an agenda.

From a state that elected Aqua Buddha to Senate, this would not sit well with an obviously rabid electorate, particularly when Mitt Romney loses badly this November.

Which is what I think McConnell is counting on as well, which brings up the topic of this post.

Whither Republicanism? Or perhaps, "wither Republicanism" is a better choice.

The argument will be made, when Romney loses, that the primaries ended up choosing a mushy, mealy-mouthed moderate and that if a comparison is made between the relative success of the 2010 midterms and the 2012 Presidential elections, hard-core conservatives appear to be an attractive choice in the nation.

Nevermind that midterm elections usually have about half the electorate of the Presidency, and the half that do vote tend to be more ideological than the ones that only vote for the Big O(ffice), which winnows down the moderate vote in midterms.

It's a stupid argument but an easy one to make, especially as the prima facie evidence supports it. And in the end, isn't that precisely how conservatives view the world? Scratch the surface? Never.

I suspect what may end up happening is that the party itself will splinter and hard. I suspect the name "Republican" will remain with the hard-core nutbag conservative Teabaggers, while the more moderate Republicans will either end up in the Democratic fold-- not many, I'm sure-- or lost at sea.

About the only real advantage the moderates might have is a Rolodex and access to big bank accounts, but from what we've seen in this election cycle, that's not a guarantee. When Sheldon Adelson can single-handedly bankroll Newt Gingrich's insurgent candidacy, and the Koch brothers all but pay a salary to Herman Cain, you can bet they'll want a shake up in the ranks.

Indeed, we've already seen this happen in Kansas.

Here's the "logic," such as it is: By ridding the party of any dissidents to the hard conservative line, the Koch brothers and others have guaranteed themselves an assembly line of soldiers to march out into elections. Then, backed by nearly unlimited monetary resources, reinforced by the abhorrent Citizens United verdict, they can pick and choose key races to win and create a conservative infrastructure.

Nice dream. I wish I had that kind of sleep aid available to me. Too bad it simply won't work.

It's conceivable the Kochs et al could purchase the government for a term or two, but then what? When it all falls apart, it will fall apart hard, as any movement based on an external infrastructure does. Look at the Teabaggers. After 2010, they've suffered a series of catastrophic defeats, culminating in the selection of Mitt Romney as the GOP candidate this year.

Admittedly, he had enough money to counter the money being poured in, but the money being poured in was not a fully opened spigot: some of it went to preparing for the general election, and we'll start seeing the fruits of those labors popping up any day now that September 11 is behind us.

Indeed, a really paranoid person would claim that the Islamist attacks overseas were put on to try and create a situation where Obama would be immune to defeat, a war president and all that. Evidence suggests otherwise, however.

Still, if I was you, I'd start stocking up on popcorn, because once Mitt loses, it's going to be fun around the GOP.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Vlad The Impaler


October Surprise, Anyone?

I don't think this is what Obama had planned to lay in front of Mitt Romney, but I'm thinking he'll accept the gift graciously.
Two items:

The US ambassador in Libya and three other embassy staff were killed in a rocket attack after the diplomat's car was targeted in the eastern city of Benghazi, it was confirmed on Wednesday.

A statement from President Obama "condemned the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens".

[...] The assault followed a protest in neighbouring Egypt where demonstrates scaled the walls of the US embassy, tore down the US flag, and burned it during a protest over the same film which they said insulted the prophet Muhammad.

2) Obama Calls Netanyahu on Iran Nuclear Threat Amid Tensions

The two leaders spoke by phone last night for an hour, the White House said. While providing no further details, the White House said in a statement that Obama and Netanyahu “reaffirmed that they are united in their determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Netanyahu declared earlier yesterday that the Obama administration has no “moral right” to keep Israel from attacking as long as the U.S. doesn’t set its own “red lines” for Iran. His remarks reflect differences within his government about an Israeli attack on Iran and a bid to pressure Obama less than two months before the U.S. election. The call came after Israeli media reports, denied by the White House, that Netanyahu’s request to meet Obama later this month was snubbed.

(How is that last one a gift? We were reminded yesterday of Netanyahu's initial reaction to 9/11: "It’s very good." Then he edited himself: "Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.")
The Islamic world is in flames, the Israelis are acting like douchebags again, and Obama, just ahead of his re-election, gets the opportunity to make a real-world demonstration of the differences between him and Mitt Romney's foreign policy shortfalls. And he gets to raise the spectre of a nuclear Iran for free. That's a three-bagger.
Romney, by the way, had this to say about the Egyptian protest: " 'It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,' Romney said in a statement released late Tuesday."
It's disgraceful that the Romney campaign's first response was not to support the administration in finding a peaceful solution to a mostly preaceful protest incited by someone who could be one of his campaign's biggest supporters (Israeli-American real estate developer Sam Bacile,) perhaps through a superPAC, but to inflame passions against those who perpetrated this abuse of our First Amendment rights.
That this all happened on September 11 is no coincidence, I'm sure. Egyptians rallied around us, just as nearly every other nation on the planet did, including Libya. There's a deliberate syncopatic response in yesterday's actions in Egypt and today's in Libya.
So while Romney is left flailing about for a response and allowing Reince Priebus to cheerlead the death of Americans and failure of the current administration, President Obama gets to appear presidential and og by the way, behave precisely the way an administration should behave in the face of aggression by nebulous and angry mobs.
Unlike, say, eleven years ago...


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How Fragile We Are

And so it goes...eleven years on. I'm going to try to keep politics out of this post, but it will be impossible. Please bear with me.
September 11 was a pivotal moment in your life. It was in mine, it was in hers and his, it was in all of ours. The trite saying, the trite excuse, is "everything changed on September 11."
But it did. Nearly everything was altered. Some things were immediately clear. Some things took a while to unfold. Some things are still unfolding. And some things will not change, but those are things that couldn't change if the world ended. Time still marches on, the sun burns, the planets turn in their orbits.
I can still hear the high whine of the engines of Flight 11 storming past my office. It sounded so foreign, so miniscule. I've had jets shoot up Fifth Avenue before on Veterans' Day and you knew it was a massive plane. When Flight 11 slipped down Manhattan island, it sounded like a small Cessna as it whined past. Even the wound to the North Tower looked insignificant, but then I was ignoring the scale of my knowledge...the floors were vast...and focusing on the data my ears had given my brain: small plane.
On September 11, we saw the entire range of humanity on display in one brief unforgettable moment. We saw the rage of a group of men so profound to exercise power over people less powerful than themselves. We saw the abject terror of first a neighborhood, then a city, then a nation, and finally, a world. We saw the courage and heroism of the first responders and the civilians who pitched in to help people get out of harm's way and to try to prevent the unpreventable.
We saw the chilling wake of the empty hospitals, emergency staff standing outside the doors during the blackest night in American history, waiting...waiting...waiting...
And no one came. No flashing lights scurrying up the block to drop off a patient in need of care, then flying back down the block, doors barely closed, to pick up another casualty. We only saw silence. We only heard blackness. We only felt the deepest sadness any of us could feel.
Mostly, we saw the confusion of a people who grasped to comprehend what had happened. We hadn't moved onto the "why" yet. We hadn't even really gotten our minds around the "how." We wanted desperately to understand.
September 11 changed you. It changed me. It changed him and her. It changed all of us.
On September 10, 2001, we all of us lived secure in the knowledge-- some would say "smugly"-- that America was nearly invincible. Sure, we'd had terror attacks on our soil before. Hell, even Wall Street was bombed at one time. But they were minor, slivers in the fingertips of the American soul.
Even the 1993 bombing barely stopped traffic for a day, despite the deaths and destruction it did cause.
We lived with the notion that an ocean protected us from the horrors of war, even if Japan had put paid to the invincibility idea. Even there, we played the "outside the 48, doesn't count" card. Besides, Hawaii wasn't even a state yet.
We lived with the notion that America was the strongest nation in the history of the world, and truth is, it was, and may still be. But our naivete is vanished.
Starting at 8:46AM on the morning of September 11, 2001, we endured what President Obama might have called a "teachable moment." Certainly it was a humbling event.
Some of us chose to take it as such, to acknowledge our lives had been changed and to move forward. To make our lives meaningful, and to realize that our petty concerns with respect to what had been important vanished in the roaring explosion of a plane crash. Sure, we still go to work or to school, and love our families (perhaps that became even more important that day), and watch the ball game on TV, but always in the backdrop are reminders of that day, tugging at our hearts and minds.
Singing "God Bless America" at the seventh inning stretch leaps to mind. Which brings me to my next comparison.
Some of us refused to take the note. Some of us clambered to get our lives back to normal, to act as if nothing had happened. Some of us wanted to ignore the amputation the nation had suffered in those four villianous acts, and to go on as if we still had four good limbs, two good eyes and ears.
And some of us even want to take the nation further back, to a time when we all rode bikes with baseball cards in the spokes to the park.
We can't go back. We can't even stand still. We have to move forward.
On September 11, we saw the best of American values on display: community, charity, compassion, the knowledge that each of us is equal to everyone else, that everyone is valuable and that no one is disposable. We could have advanced from there, grown up as a nation, and shown the world our most cherished value: resilience.
We could have straightened up, dusted off, and told the world we want this to end. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't have brought the fiends to justice, we should have, and we should have sooner. But we could have joined hands with those who reached out to comfort us in a bleak hour. We could have added our most powerful voice to the rising chorus of those for whom terror and violence is a daily occurence. We could have moved a world.
Sadly, those who were in charge saw things differently. They took their fear, and amplified it, and passed it on like crack cocaine.
I'm not just talking about the Bush administration, altho they share a large part of this responsibility. I'm talking about the loyal opposition who almost unanimously capitulated to anything the administration asked for out of fear of being deemed traitorous. I'm talking about the media who dropped in line with the administration rather than take the patriotic stance of asking "why?"
"Why?" may be the most patriotic thing any citizen can ask of its government. Information is the blood that flows through the veins of any democracy. An informed citizenry is one that can make rational decisions.
I'm even talking down to the level of individual citizens who questioned the loyalty and patriotism of anyone who felt any concern about perhaps, you know, savaging innocent people who did us no harm in the pursuit of...what? A terror organization? An agenda? Both?
Instead of showing our strength, we flexed our muscles, and anyone who's been in a street fight will tell you, balling up a fist is the first sign of weakness.
Consequently, the great debate this nation needed to have, what to do next, became "we're not marching to war fast enough." And each of us to some degree or other bought into that.
Personally, I remember what I felt that day and subsequently. I watched the towers burn and became angry. I was angry at Al Qaeda. I was angry at the administration, possibly because I knew in my subconscious that they somehow had to know this was being planned and did nothing.
Mostly, I was angry it came down to this: a desperate act of attention-getting by a group that rightly should have been ignored from the get-go, but for some really asinine trails of logic down through the years, starting with funding the bastards to fight the Soviets.
Anger is fear in motion. You can flee. Or you can fight. Anger is the latter. So I recognized I was afraid. I was not afraid of the attacks themselves, or even that Al Qaeda might have had a more cunning plan in store that day.
I was afraid of what came next.
My biggest fear was also my fondest wish in the immediate aftermath of the attacks: clear a thousand square miles out in the Afghani desert, drop the biggest fucking nuke in our arsenal and turn to Al Qaeda and say "Any questions?"
There's an old joke about the drunk looking for his car keys in the gutter under a streetlamp. A cop walks over and asks him, "where did you lose them?"
"Over there, across the street."
"Why are you looking here, for heaven's sake?"
"Because the light's better."
Had I known the alternative being contemplated was that we'd open a second war against a people and a tyrant who had nothing to do with the attacks on our soil and bankrupt our economy and our global credibility, all for want of "better lighting," I'm not sure my first instinct of a massive A-bomb would not be the better one.
Not the best solution, I want to be clear, but a war with Iraq was a solution in search of a problem.
Gradually, it dawned on me that not only had the macro world changed profoundly, but each of us had as well. Our cocoons had been stripped away, and damn if that isn't the scariest proposition for any human. Things you had come to rely on, to be background noise, now took front and center. Airport security, once a pass at keeping guns off planes, now searched for shampoo and sneakers. Bridges we monitored by cameras, and trucks kept on the upper levels to minimize damage in the event of. Trains became a constant scan of backpacks and jackets too bulky for the weather outside.
People stopped flying. People stopped traveling. Rather than defy the tyranny of terror, we gave into the apprehension and literally, the terrorists won, albeit a Pyrrhic victory.
But "Pyrrhic" has a cultural definition. It measures wins and losses on a different scale than a society or culture that measures in absolutes: "Did I draw blood? Then I won. It doesn't matter that I died trying. Someone else will step in."
We, the People gave Al Qaeda an even bigger victory. We gave up our liberties, the one thing that defines us as Americans. We proved that those liberties are a sham. Even today, in the wake of the Teabagger movement--ostensibly bragging that they are recapturing our liberties, only to give up many more in the bargain-- we cower and whimper behind those security measures, rather than find ways to reclaim our freedom.
Rather than stand up in the gale force winds of the terror attacks, we crouched behind a rock, even when those winds blew themselves out, and we fired spitballs and paper clips when what we could have done-- should have done-- was stand up and let them try to do their worst, then work to make our nation stronger. We could have led rather than react.
In many ways, the decade following September 11 parallel the decade following the Kennedy assassination: we had the rise of populist movements for civil rights (in the 60s, racial; in the 00s, sexual orientation) and we've seen unpopular wars fought and abandoned as "won" when in truth, nothing really was won. We're still as secure today as we were on September 12, based on just the war footing.
Even the killing of Osama bin Laden might not have made us more secure. Al Qaeda could have been exhausted on September 12 anyway.
Indeed, the rise of a Democratic administration promising an almost idyllic liberal landscape (still-born, to be fair) could have been ripped out of the pages of the RFK campaign in 1968 or the McGovern campaign of 1972. It's not a perfect parallel but the comparison is striking.
Most important, the lessons of September 11 feature as a frontispiece the simple fact of humanity: we are fragile. We are connected to this planet and this existence for only a brief time, and to try to hoard ourselves in that moment is foolish, for how fragile we are.
On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star, like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are
If I was President, I would declare September 11 a day commemorating peace. We have a few days that commemorate or memorialize war: The Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, but only one that commemorates peace and even that is in the abstract and not universally recognized: Martin Luther King's birthday. How wonderful would it be, how great a show of American values, if we decided for one day that you could not work and instead live a day in peace?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stimulus Works

Finally, we may be seeing the renewable energy debate ending, and the renewable energy era beginning:

U.S. solar-panel installations more than doubled in the second quarter from a year earlier led by demand in California, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Installations totaled 742 megawatts in the quarter, up 45 percent since the first quarter, and may reach 3.2 gigawatts by year end, the Washington-based trade group said today in its quarterly market report. California led installations with 217 megawatts, followed by Arizona with 173 megawatts.

The U.S. now has 5.7 gigawatts of installed solar capacity, enough to power 1 million homes, according to GTM Research, a Boston-based consulting company that prepared the report with SEIA.

The boom was driven by large projects that sell power to utilities, with little growth in residential installations and declines in non-residential projects, Shayle Kann, vice president at GTM, said in an interview Sept. 7. “It’s an indicator that the utility market will be the main story this year and probably for the next few years.”

What does this all mean? It means that commercial developers are finally hooked on being both energy independent and turning what had been a cost into a profit center. It means that the cost per megawatt to install solar panels is going to start coming down. The 3.2 gigawatts installed this year is the tip of the iceberg, as the US has about 13 gigawatts in planned solar installations under contract, with 3.4 gigawatts slated to go online in 2013.

Developers are the mission-critical market in terms of getting acceptance of solar energy in the United States. By deploying solar energy in office buildings, retail spaces and condo complexes, word of mouth at the consumer level will begin to build, and soon, you and I will be at The Home Depot, augmenting or even replacing our worn-out furnaces.

And we have President Obama to thank for all this. If he hadn't made a firm commitment to weaning the nation off foreign oil and backed that up with stimulus funding for the renewable energy industry (which has been growing in a nation where industries have taken a hard hit over the past thirty years), this would not be happening.


I See This Man's Future


There Is Hope


Workers at a Queens car wash became the first in the city to unionize this weekend, hoping to combat what they say are low pay and poor working conditions.

Immigrant “carwasheros” at Hi-Tek Car Wash & Lube Inc. in Elmhurst voted 21 to 5 Saturday to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

“This is a huge victory for us,” said Tara Martin, a spokesperson for the labor group.

Workers who voted for the union said they want better wages and steady hours in an industry where car wash managers often send them home without pay on slow days.

How socialist, to expect a day's wages for being available to work but not needed.

Employers could consider this a reservation fee: workers forgo other opportunities to accept employment with a firm. That firm can, as indicated above, simply refuse to let workers work, thus saving the money without appropriately compensating the workers for merely beign available to work.

Union now, union forever.