Monday, May 30, 2011

Technology and Intimacy: The Right to a Closet

Is technology eroding the foundations of our society?  Two recent warnings suggest users better consider the costs of spending every waking minute with their favorite machines. 

First, Jonathan Franzen pits technology against nature in “Liking is for Cowards.  Go for What Hurts,” for The New York Times. 
Second, Nicholas Carr repeatedly warns that the latest technology is impacting the very way we process information—or find our brains breaking down completely. 
In both “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and his recent book The Shallows, according to The Straits Times, Carr confesses that he observed himself like a lab rat, unable to concentrate, after technology became the driver in his life. 
Both writers testify, in effect, that these modern wonders have become the Trojan Horse, which we have dragged inside our dwellings, only to find their viruses spreading to our own inner workings. 
Both need to emphasize, too, that, if we commit this atrocity on ourselves, we can also undo it.  Is this the great divorce which our society needs—to keep itself intact? 
Married couples can agree to spend more time with each other than with their net-books and laptops—but does their new calendar include sneaking off to work to get right back on the forbidden hook?
Parents can also agree to forbid the playing of video games by their children in THEIR house—a very old argument, sure to set off rebellions and runaways, even to public libraries, which offer FREE Internet access, thanks to the public funding provided by Congress in 1996.
These challenges begin in the cradle now, where the littlest tykes can observe Mom and Pop yakking away as they complain to their friends that children should be more respectful of their elders—who love their constant companions, their cell phones, like nothing else.
Perhaps that phrase—“constant companions”—supplies the key to the problem which we must not overlook.  Didn’t God warn Adam and Eve that they must stick together in the book of Genesis?  Does this solution have to come as a red alert on our TVs to get our attention?
Setting religious differences aside, wasn’t the CEO of Heaven right?  The simplest slogans from past traditions also warn that, if our love goes missing, we will love the one we find on hand?  But, what if our true love is always in our hand—yakking away and whispering nonsense?
Maybe what we always yearned for was proximity?  Now that we’ve got it, how will we ever give it up?  And nonsense comes with this yearning, for better AND worse.  Companionable speech comes at us from every direction now—not that high-flown rhetoric of unreliable politicians.
From Wendy Williams to Jerry Springer, we have opened our homes to the most intimate topics.  From Tampax to Viagra, we share every stupid bit of trivia from our bathroom closets with total strangers.  Technology did not accomplish a social revolution all by its remorseless self.
It had a lot of help from Americans with the very best of intentions, who would not relent until Freedom of Speech meant spreading gossip and suspicions better left unsaid.  Since when does Freedom mean screaming across a stage—and bumping boobs with crocked starlets?
So, blame the social revolution on technology, if you must.  Blame it on surly teenagers, if you’ve got some.  But, please, recall:  We took all this stuff out of the closet.  We can put it back into the closet anytime we choose—including those little phones which WILL NOT let us alone.   

Sarah Palin: The Carmen Sandiego Candidate

Try it for yourself.  Just type in the key words:  “Sarah Palin Memorial Day Appearances.”  At 11:13 am on May 30, 2011, 964,000 hits appeared on this writer’s computer screen.
In one fell swoop, Sarah Palin has launched her Carmen Sandiego candidacy for President of the United States. 
Critics who know nothing—and want to know even less—about Alaska may criticize her savvy in the realm of foreign affairs.  They may play tag with her on talk shows for the next 30 years.
She will still outfox them every time with her mastery of publicity, the kind of publicity which makes a name a household item more familiar than a colander or a Tea Party tea bag strainer.
According to Wikipedia, the purpose of the Carmen Sandiego game is educational.  Its true nature appears in the term "edutainment."  Enter foxy Sarah, dressed as a motorcycle babe.
Timing is all for candidates—likewise for the Carmen Sandiego game.  On the day BEFORE Memorial Day, 2011, Palin set the news media guessing where she would be—when everybody else is barbecuing.   
Every journalist wannabe knows the 5 W’s and the critical H:  Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?  Every movie fan also knows the critical scene in action films:  The Chase Scene.
So, she’s got the media—and the public—chasing her from the Rolling Thunder at the Pentagon (May 29, 2011) to Gettysburg (?) and beyond.  Her website gives out no anticipated specific dates, places, or times.   
Videos dominate  Information does not.  Jon Ward, reporting in “Sarah Palin Bus Tour Launching This Weekend On East Coast,” admitted:  “The details of where the 2008 vice presidential nominee will go remain fluid and have been closely held within Palin’s small world of trusted advisors.” 
The latest check on that website reveals only Where her tour bus has been, not Where it’s going. 
She appears to insist on being one step ahead of the media, as well as the other candidates in a strategy which takes full advantage of the public’s hunger for evolving stories.  And her game?  Every media zombie knows the answer to the first W: Who?  It’s Sarah Palin.  Once her audience sees her in one place, she’s got them hooked on the other W’s, which remain her secret. 
There's more than one game going on here, however.  Palin holds all the cards for the Why.  Is she a candidate, a publicity hound, or a hefty power broker? 
Who in the World does Sarah Palin think she is, anyway?  She just may be the only candidate in either party who realizes that video games are one of the drivers among the fastest growing industries in America.
And Who is its customer base?  The youth crowd, Obama’s former forte. 
But keep seeking the updates. Check out “IBISWorld Names Top 10 Fastest Growing Industries May 19, 2011.”  As reported on IP Communications, linked to Global Community’s Homepage: 
“Evolving Technology Biotechnology and video games are an unlikely duo, but both industries are benefiting from constantly evolving technology and product developments, like genetic engineering and 3D video games. Although each industry has taken considerable steps to cut costs in the past few years, diversified product lines and increased demand from an aging population (video games are seeing more female and older players) are key revenue drivers for both industries. Companies that stand to benefit include Syngenta (SYT), Monsanto (MON), Genentech (RHHBY) and Activision (ATVI)."
Go ahead, Democrats.  Call Sarah Palin ignorant now.  Say she isn’t a well-informed reader, too.  Why should she give you her reading list, which may supply her campaign strategy? 
Sarah Palin keeps the nation under her thumb so long as we follow her escapades.  This is the lesson she's learned from Reality TV and social media and even celebrity rags. Simultaneously, questing games channel the younger generation's attention and energy—and are expanding into women and the Baby Boomers as well. 
By 2:26 pm on Memorial Day, May 30, 2011, the number of results for entering the key words "Sarah Palin Memorial Day Appearances" had risen to 1,160,000--and counting. 

Is Sarah Palin making a play for first-time voters?  Seems so, for this was Obama's strength in the last election--but not now?  No, not now.  NOW, Sarah Palin IS THE GROWTH INDUSTRY. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tornadoes and Politicians

Movie fans miss the most important point of the Wizard of Oz.  The film's plot depends on a tornado, the quintessential American experience.  The truth remains, as this country's politics proves to every neophite:  You can take the boy (or girl) out of the tornado, but you can never take the tornado out of that human being who has whirled into the heavens.

America suffers more tornadoes than any other nation on earth.  Who needs to tell that truth to American voters?  Even if they come from every state but Kansas, they quickly learn to fear the sky turning rancid blue or shimmering pink.  Faithfully, the American sky turns exactly those colors as confetti rains down at national conventions--at Hollywood Bowl dramas, too.

And now the two--the movie and the weather--are wed forever in voters' minds.  First, FEMA must clean up after national catastrophers like the twister which destroyed Joplin, Missouri.  Next, the president must answer to the voters in the next national election:  Did his crew arrive on time--or only after all the corpses were found, identified, and buried.

This alliance could not be clearer than it was for this writer when a tornado wound into Charleston, West Virginia, as she once stood on a look-out point over the city.  Incredibly, she was still at work, but anxious, and peering out from her place of employment with co-workers at her side.  That tornado did not belong in the mountains, yet on it came, with a will of its own, like a vision out of a photograph, imposed on a gray scene, still yet thunderous.

As these individuals stood fixated by photographic memories, one co-worker turned to this writer and said:  "If this were Kansas, I'd be worried."  So powerful does that movie remain that its setting trumped the speaker's recognition of where she was--and what was happening.  Yet not for one moment did any of those gathered to observe hell coming at them wonder where this event was occurring on the Earth:  America, home of tornadoes.

Those gathered soon returned to their desks and resumed their online employment.  Their callers could hear the storm striking:  Baseball-size hail pelted the windows all around them.  Still they continued with their assignments as callers asked innocently:  "What is that terrible noise I hear around you?"  The answer came innocently, too:  "Oh, it is a tornado."  The electricity stayed on, and the machines before the workers kept functioning because, perhaps, the hail only sounded like their chains clanking.

During that event, those American workers never left their positions, except to verify what was bearing down upon them.  Now, years later, the full fury of employment hazards seem to have arrived on the American landscape while citizens loyal to the American dream wonder:  Is it my imagination, or has another dream-vision come to pass? 

Yes, the US labor force would still work through tornadoes, if the work was to be had.  And the next president will have to pass the tornado test:  Where were you when the tornadoes tore our jobs away, and our homes went with them?  What were you doing the day the tornado struck us down like lost dogs?  Were you behind the screen with the Wizard, or were you out touring for photo ops?  Don't visit us when our towns are in shambles.  Come for supper when we have some, please.

These sad words occur to those who see their representatives turn up just when they themselves are most unready to welcome them--when politicos come with cameras to record their own compassion, when they come dragging paparazzi with them.  Instead, let them appear in the hollows when the lights go dark, for, with nothing but darkness around them for years, Appalachia's miners and Mountain Mamas still survive.

Tornadoes first appear in the mountains as snapping air--live currents crackling everywhere.  Residents rush to close windows, for fear of implosions--and realize nothing can stop the air from doing what it will.  To live in the mountains and find tornadoes still chasing after the poor--for that is the feeling--brings the realization that the powerful live, somehow, where tornadoes do not come.  How do they manage that burst of luck?

In the United States, the media cover Appalachia the way they cover Indonesia:  It could be on the other side of the world for all Washington cares or knows.  But, when the powerful want to recruit soldiers for a war, where do they find the needy, those so needy that they will trade their lives for their families' futures?  When congresspersons want to find a cause which will convince voters that their hearts throb for humanity, where do they come?  To some place where they can pose hautily facing smiles revealing poor dental care.

And those they seek out for posed pictures smile in welcome.  They agree that the outsiders have found such wonderful people--the best friends in the world, the hardest workers, the kindest souls.  Then, when they are done posing, the outsiders pack up, forget the poor dental care, repeated floods, and families begging for better education.  Appalachia makes a good set.  It's a place easily forgotten--unless one lives there.  Then one sees Washington's hurly-burlies as too busy making tough decisions to do anything but shun them.

Looking for a President: Looks Lead the Way to 2012

Does the phrase "President Perry" light up your day?  Fox News championed this candidate by featuring his photo on May 27, 2011.  In this way, they enter the media wars on behalf of Texas, which appears to take the lead with a photogenic candidate. 

Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, just looks more mature than Sarah Palin.  He is also discreet enough not to pose with a moose--so far.  Nevertheless, he hasn't angered the NRA with his stand on gun-rights, either--yet. 

Governor Perry also looks a tad younger than Mitt Romney.  He has not worn out his welcome mat with the American people by running so many times that the voters assume they know him--not.

His biggest challenge may be his forerunners, who became synonomous with the Lone Star State in recent years.  If the memory of the American public proves as shakey as reported, however, Perry may just cruise to celebrity status, like our present president.

Face it:  Rick Perry could be an alderman, an oilman, or a nincompoop.  His face still belongs on the cover of Star Magazine.  His smile beams brightly; it does not gloat.  His eyes twinkle suggestively.  They could be recognizing you, even in a crowd.

Neither does he bear the burden of Obama's ears.  Cartoonists will have a hard time turning him into the icon of Mad Magazine.  They will try, of course, but Perry's size and manner will undercut their efforts.  His stance says, "I decide." 

And his lack of wrinkles adds:  "I was right.  See?  I didn't suffer for my decisions.  In fact, I never had to say, 'I make tough decisions,'" because the character before us on that screen appears to make no other kind. 

If Perry can brush past any link with George W. Bush, he may be home free.  If he can erase any link with Lyndon Johnson, he may just be the miracle worker this nation needs. But his biggest test remains:  Can he lead a celebrity culture where no such culture has gone before?

Can he outdo Hollywood without turning gray or suffering the need to make public confessions?  Can his family and voters stand beside him without wincing?  Can he walk the walk and talk the talk the way Texans do without annoying the heck out of this country?

If Rick Perry can be both Texan and American simultaneously, he will win the battle for the presidency.  Just don't pull hound-dogs' ears, and don't lope around like a basketball player, and the democrats will expire of pure pea-green envy.