Category Archives: In Our Time

In The Atlantic: ‘Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?’

dive into phone

Yeah, I know. That sounds like something you’d hear from Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man: “In my day our phones were dumber’n a stump, and we liked it!”

And since I love my iPhone and its big brother my iPad, I was prepared to be dismissive when Ross Douthat recommended the piece on Twitter: I would reject it, and then I would hide it from my wife, who makes a stubborn virtue of only carrying a flip phone.

But it’s actually pretty interesting. And a bit scary.

It’s by a psychologist who has been studying generational differences for 25 years, and who is a bit freaked out by the latest group she’s been investigating: “iGen,” the group born between 1995 and 2012, is more radically different from its elders than anything she’s seen before:

Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.

At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them….

So what was it that caused this shift in 2012? Well, that was the year “when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.”

How are these kids different? Well, they don’t date or hang out with friends. They don’t drive, and are happy to be taken places — if they go anywhere — by their parents. They don’t drink. They don’t have sex.

So, in some ways, they’re a helicopter parents’ dream. Until you think hard about what they are doing: Lying around in their bedrooms staring at their phones. “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” one kid says. “My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.”

Another excerpt:

Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.

Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.

Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy….

Anyway, it’s a long piece, but I recommend you read it.

When I was young, we imagined that future technology — flying cars, starships — would help us dominate the physical universe around us. We didn’t think about it changing our brains, and causing us to turn inward, away from that physical universe.

I see how my own brain has been altered by these devices. I don’t have to remember anything anymore. I don’t have to wonder about anything any more. As quickly as I can say, “I wonder…,” I’m already looking it up. I’ve come to take for granted the fact that I can reach out to anyone and everyone on the planet and express my thoughts, instantaneously. That’s perhaps even more remarkable to me, as someone who did that for a living with older forms, than it is to you. And of course it plays to the kinds of activity that my mind gets off on.

But I’ve known other modes of being. And I shudder a bit to think what it must be like to know no other reality…

Today, all celebrities are more than 50 years old

AARP 1

Harry Harris brought up AARP, which reminded me of something I noticed on the way out the door this morning.

All of a sudden, all truly famous celebrities, all the big names, are over 50.

That hit me when I noticed the latest AARP magazine on our kitchen table, with Steve Martin on the cover. Of course, we all knew Steve Martin was old — he was white-headed when all the world was young.

But the more I’m exposed to this magazine — I never pick it up, but I do notice the covers — the more I’m convinced that everyone famous is now older than 50.

Look at the recent covers above and below.

  • Dustin Hoffman — We boomers think of him as the ultimate exemplar of youthful angst. If he made a move on someone Mrs. Robinson’s age now, she wouldn’t give him a second glance.
  • Bruce Springsteen — OK, I get it: Everyone called “boss” is a white guy over 50, right? Except in this case, he’s more than 60.
  • Michael J. Fox — Yep. This time Marty McFly has traveled way, WAY into the future.
  • Diane Keaton — OK, we saw this happening over the years. What can be said about it? That’s life. La-dee-dah, la-dee-dah
  • Kevin Spacey — Again, not surprising.
  • Dennis Quaid — I remember when “The Big Easy” came out, and a review called him something like “our best breezy young actor.” I’ll always picture him with that crewcut, playing the brash young Gordon Cooper in “The Right Stuff.”
  • Brad Pitt — OK, I’m not sure this was actually a cover. I think this was something AARP does when they’re calling out a celebrity for crossing the line. Anyway, I read something recently about him and other big-name actors not getting the great roles any more, as Hollywood turns away from big names and relies on interchangeable young actors named “Chris.” I’d link to the story, but I can’t find it now.
  • Kevin Costner — Remember the goofy, gawky gunslinger in “Silverado?” Now he might have to turn to playing the crotchety, grizzled prospector, à la Gabby Hayes.
  • Ron Howard — Opie! I see Opie on those reruns now and I think of my grandson — not someone old enough to be a grandfather himself.
  • Denzel Washington — We’ve watched him get gray, but did you know he’s 62?
  • Cyndi Lauper — Now you know why she keeps dyeing her hair those crazy colors. It’s not just to have fun.
  • Sharon Stone — Which, of course, is why you don’t hear about her any more.

Sure, there are some recognizable celebrities who are under 50. There’s um, Taylor Swift! And that little Bruno Mars guy. And maybe one or two others. Dave Matthews? Nope — he’s 50. All those superhero actors named “Chris” don’t count, by the way. A celebrity needs to stand out distinctively.

When I was young, not even the OLD stars my parents liked were over 50. Take 1965, which I have written about in the past as the most fevered time American popular culture (it was for me because I had just returned from years in South America without TV, and soaking up pop culture was like overdosing on a powerful drug — but I don’t think it was just me).

Dean Martin was 48. Frank Sinatra didn’t turn 50 until the end of that year, and he seemed ancient! Kirk Douglas, father of the now 72-year-old Michael, was only 49. James Garner, who was born looking like somebody’s dad, was 37. Nat King Cole, who died that year and whose daughter now graces the cover of AARP, was only 45.

While all the celebs we kids were interested in were in their 20s, if not teens.

Anyway, that’s the way I remember it. Your mileage may, you know…

AARP 2

About that question: Can words kill people?

girl

I generally stay away from “people being beastly on the internet” stories because I’m just too busy with politics, policy and pop culture.

But this past week there were two horror stories that totally boggled what little mind I allowed to get distracted by them. Ironically, we had just had a discussion about cruel and unusual punishment when a prime candidate for such treatment was in the news: The monster who dangled his baby out a 15th-story window in a bid for Facebook “likes.” (Note that my link is to the Daily Mail, which seems the perfect setting for such a story.) You know how FB recently added those alternatives to “like”? For this guy, they need to add an “If I ever meet you in person, I’m breaking both of your arms so you can’t do that again” button.

Then there was the case Kathleen Parker wrote about under the headline, “Can words kill people?” It’s about “Michelle Carter’s conviction last week on involuntary-manslaughter charges in the 2014 suicide of her 18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III.” Excerpt:

At the time of the suicide, Carter was a 17-year-old whose boyfriend spoke frequently of taking his own life. He finally did by filling his parked truck with carbon monoxide. Mind you, Carter was nowhere near. She had no physical hand in the death, although she did text and call Roy, urging him to go ahead and do it. When he had second thoughts and got out of his vehicle, she instructed him to get back in.

Manslaughter? Evil? Or just dumb?

If Carter’s words were Roy’s death sentence, then his death was hers, if not literally, then, indeed, virtually. For her clearly tangential role, which one could as easily interpret as drama-queen excess, Carter faces up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 3.

It is easy to feel outrage at what transpired. Prosecutors introduced hundreds of text messages between Roy and Carter in which she encouraged him to end his life and sometimes taunted him for his lack of courage. In one, she wrote: “You’re ready and prepared. All you have to do is turn the generator on and you will be free and happy. No more pushing it off. No more waiting.”

This alone is enough to make one dislike or even despise Carter. But is it enough to blame Carter for Roy’s death?…

Kathleen concluded that no, it isn’t. I was unsatisfied with that conclusion.

The columnist asks, “Manslaughter? Evil? Or just dumb?” The best of the three would seem to be evil. You read the words she wrote to this boy on the edge, and your blood runs cold. Mine does, anyway.

In terms of how to approach such a thing in the criminal justice system, manslaughter seems inaccurate. And I’m not sure how the law works on aiding and abetting. What should be the charge for being a cheerleader at a boy’s death?

There is evidently something essential missing in this girl, and at the very least it seems she should be confined somewhere until experts can figure out what it is, and whether it’s possible to fill that void.

Because anyone who will do what she did — repeatedly, insistently, matter-of-factly — is dangerous….

Raging hormones. Or something…

This kind of cracked me up, and I can’t say exactly why…

If you’re a blogger, you frequently get emails such as this one from folks promoting their own content:

Hi Brad,

My name is Zoey Miller, and I am the Editor-in-Chief at The Babble Out (http://www.thebabbleout.com/). We recently released a comprehensive blog post about testosterone. Since we published it on our site, we have received over 400 social shares on this article.
While browsing your site, I noticed that you linked to a piece from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testosterone on the same topic from this page: http://www.bradwarthen.com/category/transportation/ .I believe our piece is more practical and more comprehensible to ordinary people, and I think it would be an excellent addition to your page.

If you are willing to add our link to that page, I would be happy to share it with the tens of thousands of people who follow us via social media, in order to help you gain some visibility.Here is the link for your review:

https://www.thebabbleout.com/health/testosterone/

Please let me know what you think. Thank you for your consideration!

Cheers,

Zoey Miller

Cheers back atcha, Zoey.

These messages tend to assume that I’m way more interested than I am in the subject that I touched on one time a month, or a year, or 10 years ago. Nevertheless, I sometimes click on the link to see what’s being offered, and I did so this time.

And I couldn’t get past the photo used to illustrate the concept of “testosterone:”

testosterone

Oh, my! Protect me from the scary man, Mama!

Perhaps that’s how I’m supposed to react to this… what shall I call him… raging savage hipster? But it cracked me up. I couldn’t help thinking of the “If Millennials Were Lumberjacks” video I shared recently.

I think he’s going for what The Band was singing about in “Jemima Surrender:”

Jemima Surrender, I’m gonna give it to you,
Ain’t no pretender, gonna ride in my canoe
If I were a barker in a girly show,
Tell ya what I’d do, I’d lock the door, tear my shirt and let my river flow…

But it just doesn’t quite come across that way…

Too many microbrews are just TOO MUCH

beers-1283566_960_720

On the whole, I like the idea of microbrew beer. Anything that helps America break the hegemony of Bud Light seems to me a good thing in general.

But I have a complaint. Something crystallized for me last night. I was at an event at which several microbreweries were sharing their wares. And I started thinking a thought that had not fully formed for me before…

Whatever they call their specialized brews, and however they describe their qualities, these uberserious brewers tend to have one thing in common: The taste is just TOO MUCH. There’s a complete lack of nuance, subtlety or restraint.

They’re all so concerned with differentiating themselves from the popular American mass-produced beers, so worried about not being tasteless dishwater, that they go overboard with the flavoring. Too much hops. Too much maltiness. Too much everything. It’s as though a cook dumped every spice in his cabinet into a stew to keep it from being bland, and the result was disastrous.

The taste tends to stick with you the rest of the evening, whatever else you eat or drink.

I tasted a stout last night, grimaced and told the guy from the microbrewery that it tasted like an IPA. And by that I meant an American IPA, which is to say something overpowering. An India Pale Ale, properly understood, should be <em>refreshing</em>, like the Fuller’s Bengal Lancer IPA I had in England, inspired by the ales formulated in the 19th century specifically to refresh the troops in India. And it got the job done, going by my experience with it.

Last night, I tried a porter from the same brewery, and it tasted like the stout, which as I said tasted like an American IPA — a truckload of hops dumped in with other overbearing flavors. I put the small glass down as soon as I had walked out of sight.

Occasionally I really like something from a microbrewery, such as an ESB I had not long ago at Hunter-Gatherer. But too often they’re trying too hard to impress, and it’s just too much

Can anyone tell what Google’s problem with me is?

download

I got this email four days ago, but didn’t see it until today. The headline was, “Google AdSense: Action required to comply with AdSense program policies.”

OK, so I opened it, intending to deal with whatever the problem might be.

Trouble is, based on this, I have no idea what the problem is:

Hello,

This is a warning message to alert you that there is action required to bring your AdSense account into compliance with our AdSense program policies. We’ve provided additional details below, along with the actions to be taken on your part.

Affected website: bradwarthen.com

Example page where violation occurred: http://www.bradwarthen.com/category/sex/

Action required: Please make changes immediately to your site to follow AdSense program policies.

Current account status: Active

Violation explanation

As stated in our program policies, sites displaying Google ads should provide substantial and useful information to the user. Users should be able to easily navigate through the site to find what products, goods, or services are promised. Examples of misguided navigation include, but are not limited to:

  • False claims of downloadable or streaming content
  • Linking to content that does not exist
  • Redirecting users to irrelevant and/or misleading webpages
  • Text on a page unrelated to the topic and/or business model of the website.

For more information, please review Google’s Webmaster quality guidelines and the AdSense program policies.

How to resolve:

  • If you received a notification in regard to page content, we request that you immediately remove Google ads from the violating pages. If you are unable to, or unsure of how to remove the ads from these pages, or would like to continue monetizing the page with Google ads, please modify or remove the violating content to meet our AdSense policies.
  • If you received a notification in regards to the way ads are implemented on your site, please make the necessary changes to your implementation.

You do not need to contact us if you make changes. Please be aware that if additional violations are accrued, ad serving may be disabled to the website listed above. You should immediately take time to review your pages with Google ads to ensure that they comply with our policies.

Additionally, please be aware that the URL above is just an example and that the same violations may exist on other pages of this website or other sites that you own. To reduce the likelihood of future warnings from us, we suggest that you review all your sites for compliance. Here are some useful resources you might be interested in.

For more information regarding our policy warning notifications, visit our Help Center.

We thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Sincerely,

The Google AdSense Team

Of course, of course, of COURSE it’s from a “noreply” address, so I can’t ask questions.

And of course, when you click on the Help Center link, you get more words, and links to other words, none of which start out, “Our problem with your post is…”

They did allow me to vent a bit. When I clicked the “no” button at the bottom asking whether the article was helpful, I got a box to type in, under the invitation, “How can we improve it?” I wrote:

You can give me someone to talk to. The warning I received was completely unintelligible. I cannot begin to intuit what the problem is. If you have a problem with something on my blog, come out and tell me exactly what the problem is. From what you sent, I don’t have a clue….

But maybe I’m being obtuse. Can y’all see what it is, and tell me how to fix it?

The only thing I see on that post that might conceivably be troubling would be a copyright issue. But I’m pretty sure that my use of the photo from “Breaking Bad” and the Jimmy Carter one from Playboy, I’m in Fair Use territory. And I don’t think that’s what they’re talking about.

So what do you think it is?

If Millennials Were Lumberjacks (take THAT, Bruce Gibney)

Bruce_GibneyThere’s this obnoxious kid named Bruce Gibney — I haven’t found his age anywhere, but there’s a picture of him at right, so I think you’ll see my characterization is pretty much spot-on, especially the “obnoxious” part — who has written this book (and good for him! what a big-boy thing to do!) that just really rips into my generation.

It’s called A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America. He goes on and on about it apparently, else it would not be a book.

My wife says she heard him being interviewed on the radio, and was struck by how much he seems to really, really hate us.

Oh, yeah? Well, take a look at this, ya little punk. Here’s what we think of you…

Kathleen Parker on the Marine nude-photos scandal

Defense.gov_News_Photo_090703-M-6159T-116

Marines in combat in Afghanistan in 2009.

Kathleen Parker, in her reaction to the Marine nude-pictures scandal, takes an iconoclastic approach, as she tends to do in her best work.

Of course she condemns the actions of the Marines, as anyone should, and links it to our tawdry, “narcissistic, show-and-tell-all culture,” to which neither male nor female Marines are immune.

But she also brings to bear a couple of themes of her past work, such as her dim view of sending women into combat, and our society’s recent failure to value males qua males.

You won’t see many leading columnists make such points, especially the male ones; they wouldn’t dare:

Must men be treated as women? That is, should they be trained to be more “sensitive”? If so, Kathleen Parkercan you simultaneously create sensitivity in the desensitizing, killing culture that breaks down an 18-year-old’s humanity and instills in him an instinct for extreme brutality?

Put another way, how stupid are we?

There’s a reason we say in times of great peril, “Send in the Marines,” and it’s not because of the few brave, committed women among them. But try to find someone in today’s military willing to say so….

Then at the end, she quotes a retired Methodist minister who counsels veterans navigating post-traumatic stress disorder:

“Marines embrace the warrior archetype more than other branches. The shadow of this is patriarchy, misogyny and brutality. We are trained to be killing machines, deadening all emotion except anger. We’re told we don’t have the luxury of sensitivity, so we objectify everything, including women.”

Still, he’s optimistic, saying that we need to return to “the embodiment of the hero archetype in the medieval knight. Aggressiveness can be coupled with honor, nobility and compassion.”

Maybe so. But knights typically didn’t joust with women, which may be the most salient inference. That said, chivalry has a place here. An apology to the women who exposed themselves to the few, not the proud, would be appropriate — both as gesture and punishment.

Enough with these ridiculous come-ons, OK?

We must never forget that Donald Trump is not the only element dumbing down our country, making it tackier by the hour.

There are many, many other factors. For instance, Reality TV, which of course has a huge overlap with Donald Trump. And such things as this:

Normally, I get that sort of thing in a block of such come-ons at the bottom of an article I’ve been reading — sometimes on sites run by reputable publications. That “What they look like now will leave you agog!” formulation is very common. Other clickbait favorites include “She didn’t know why everyone was applauding” (which is closely related to “17 epic wardrobe fails in sports”), and “Eating this gross-looking thing will make you live to 100.”

If you click on that one above, it takes you to a page with the headline, “Famous Celebrity’s Kids: All Grown Up!” As opposed to “Unknown Celebrity’s Kids,” I suppose. The first item you get is Jamie Lee Curtis and her daughter. Which was an interesting choice, since to me Jamie Lee Curtis is a “famous celebrities’ kid.” To see more, of course, you must click and click and click some more. And no, I wasn’t curious enough.

Bottom line I’d gotten use to these things appearing at the bottom of stories I was reading. Having them crop up frequently as “promoted”  content on Twitter is a relatively new irritation…

Oh, another thing: The feed that put that up is called “Greeningz,” which “was started in order to bring two of our favorite topics together – Eco friendliness and Entertainment.” Which seems among the odder reasons for being I’ve encountered. Do you suppose “Greenzo” is their mascot?

Greeningz

Yo, this is the news we GOT, so quit yer bellyachin’…

Increasingly, folks from various walks of life — but particularly those in various areas of media and communications — feel a need to apologize or at least commiserate with their audiences, to do what they can to soften the pain of living in the post-Nov. 8 world.

So a certain tone has crept into the unlikeliest places. Check this, from an email message seeking entries for a photographic retrospective on 2016:

american-photography

Basically, We acknowledge your trauma (your “trepidation and uncertainty”), but do us a favor and see it you can pull it together long enough to send us some content, however unpleasant the subject matter

But that wasn’t nearly as blunt or to the point as an ad I got on my iPad recently, promoting a Reuters TV app. See below. (Hey, we know this news sucks, but it’s what we got. We wish he had better but we don’t, so quit yer bellyachin’, sit still and watch it…)

Hey, folks, don’t worry. Donald Trump is a really smart guy, and is already telling our intelligence experts things they were clueless about… oh, wait — that wasn’t actual news. That was The Onion

reuters

What am I, if I’m not a reader of books?

A few of the books I have either bought for myself, or received as gifts (most of those being ones I ASKED for), but have not finished reading.

A few of the books I have either bought for myself, or received as gifts (most of those being ones I ASKED for), but have not finished reading.

Back when we were first married, my wife gave me a coffee mug that I deeply appreciated, to the extent that I never drank out of it, wanting to preserve it. It had a picture on it of a young boy sitting with his back against a tree and his nose in a book, with the caption, “The sky above and a book to love.”

That really described me as a kid, which I was touched by because she hadn’t known me then — she could just tell. That’s who I was.

But lately… I feel like I’m less myself.

Recently, I Tweeted out (with unintentional irony) an essay in the WSJ about how we all need badly to turn back to reading books:

We need to read and to be readers now more than ever.

We overschedule our days and complain constantly about being too busy. We shop endlessly for stuff we don’t need and then feel oppressed by the clutter that surrounds us. We rarely sleep well or enough. We compare our bodies to the artificial ones we see in magazines and our lives to the exaggerated ones we see on television. We watch cooking shows and then eat fast food. We worry ourselves sick and join gyms we don’t visit. We keep up with hundreds of acquaintances but rarely see our best friends. We bombard ourselves with video clips and emails and instant messages. We even interrupt our interruptions….

Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity. We can’t interrupt books; we can only interrupt ourselves while reading them. They are the expression of an individual or a group of individuals, not of a hive mind or collective consciousness. They speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time. They demand our attention. And they demand that we briefly put aside our own beliefs and prejudices and listen to someone else’s. You can rant against a book, scribble in the margin or even chuck it out the window. Still, you won’t change the words on the page….

This brought to the fore one of the many perpetual guilt trips I live with: All the wonderful books I already possess — as a result of telling people I wanted them as gifts, and my loved ones acting upon that stated desire — and have not read.

Recently, I confessed that I still hadn’t read Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow — although I’d had it ever since Fritz Hollings insisted I must read it 12 years ago, and I put it on my wish list and received it soon after, and put it on the shelf.

Well, I’ve started it now, and have been reading it for several weeks, and it has all the ingredients of the kind of book I love — I keep stopping to read aloud good bits to my wife — and I’m all the way up to… Chapter 5. Hamilton has just joined Washington’s staff in the midst of the revolution.

Obviously, as fascinating as it is, I can put it down.

Awhile back — more than 18 months ago, I see — I confessed to y’all that while the First World War is one of those areas I really, really feel that I should learn more about, and I had started on it several months earlier and written about how awesome it was (especially that first chapter, which sets the scene), I still hadn’t finished The Guns of August.

Well, I still haven’t. I bogged down somewhere around the time that it shifted to the Eastern front (although I read enough of that to conclude that Tsar Nicholas’ government was too incompetent to run a lemonade stand, much less such a vast country).

When I mentioned that and several other things I needed to read more about at the time, some of y’all very kindly suggested some books to check out. And I was grateful, but at the back of my mind was this awful, nagging doubt that I’ll have the discipline to get around to reading them. The shelves of unread books that I really, really wanted and already possessed groaned with the combined weight of the books themselves… and my guilt.

And I was right. I still haven’t read them.

Sitting around my house and on my iPad, begun but not finished, are the Hamilton book and The Guns of August; The Art of Betrayal: The Secret History of M16 — Life and Death In the British Secret Service, by Gordon Corera; The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914, by David McCullough; The War for All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo, by Roy Adkins; Trotsky: Downfall Of A Revolutionary, by Bertrand M. Patenaude; A Tale of Two Cities; The Grapes of Wrath; and Moby Dick. That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more.

All of them, with the possible exception of the Trotsky book (I’ve officially given up on that one), started with great promise.

It’s not that I don’t read. I read — or at least skim and dig into the stories that interest me — at least three newspapers a day, plus all the many items that social media draw me to. I suspect I read more news and commentary each day than at any time during my long newspaper career — because so much is immediately available.

And it’s not that I don’t read books. I obsessively reread Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels, and occasionally some of my favorites by Nick Hornby, John le Carre (his early stuff, from The Night Manager back), Martin Cruz Smith and, yes, Tom Clancy. I can pass a pleasant moment with them and put them down, because I know that happens next. Ditto with faddish stuff from my youth, such as Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land.

And I occasionally finish a new book, the most recent being, let’s see… Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge, by Anthony Beevor. Months and months ago, I now realize.

Why can’t I seem to commit to a new book, and see it through? I suspect it’s because of a number of factors, starting with all that time spent with ephemeral stuff via iPad.

It’s other things, too. I’ve gotten so obsessed with genealogy that I actually spend huge amounts of time on the weekends building my family tree. Several months ago, I had fewer than 1,000 people on it, now I’ve more than 2,600. And just this weekend, I’ve made some surprising discoveries: For instance, one of my apparent ancestors — who rebelled against King John and was declared an outlaw — may have been one of the inspirations for the Robin Hood legend. Really. So I find it hard to tear myself away from that stuff. I’ve learned a lot about dim corners of history I did not know before, just reading context on ancestors. But that reading, so far, has seldom gone deeper than Wikipedia.

The most humiliating reason of all is that, well, there is so much compelling television these days, sucking up my leisure hours. That is something I thought I would never write, especially as a reason for neglecting books, my lifelong love. But while broadcast television (with the exception of ETV and PBS) is a more wasteful wasteland than ever (with some exceptions — I enjoy “Bluebloods,” and don’t forget “The West Wing” was on broadcast), Netflix and Amazon Prime have almost enough offerings to occupy my evenings completely. And I just can’t seem to get around to canceling HBO NOW, despite my best intentions.

Still, I’m almost sure I watch less than most people. Nielsen reported a few months ago that the average adult American consumes media — using tablets, smartphones, personal computers, multimedia devices, video games, radios, DVDs, DVRs and TVs — a total of 10 hours and 39 minutes each day.

Read that figure again, and think about it. It’s not a typo.

This is embarrassing. It’s actually worse than that. It’s an identity crisis. Who AM I, if I’m not reading books? Maybe the Internet has retrained my brain, making it less patient. For whatever reason, an occasional long-form magazine piece, in The New Yorker or some similar venue, is about as long as I go. And most of what I read is no longer than a newspaper column.

I don’t know what’s happened to me. But it’s disorienting. And I need to do something about it…

Some of the books I've lazily read and reread over the years, rather than read something new.

Some of the books I’ve lazily read and reread over the years, rather than read something new.

Enough with the materialism orgy, already!

materialism-orgy

Maybe it’s envy. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have money to buy expensive gifts. Or maybe it’s that I wouldn’t buy these kinds of gifts even if I could. I’d give people something more practical. Or burn the money.

But it seems to me that each Christmas, the materialism orgy gets several degrees more offensive.

Get a load of the guy in the screengrab above. Excuse my imagery, but he looks for all the world like he’s about to have an orgasm from sticking his nose into a wineglass.

This is from a pop-up video act that forced itself upon me when I tried to read a story on the New York Times website. The video went on and on like this, in slow motion. With “Ode to Joy” as the background music, just in case the images didn’t lay it on thick enough. It all just seemed to embody perfectly everything that bugs me about the ads for jewelry and perfume and watches that cost more than my house (and what’s more pointlessly ostentatious than an expensive watch, in an age when we all carry phones that keep perfect time?) with which we are inundated this time of year.

Part of this is that I’m kind of jaded about foodie stuff. (And may that’s because I have such a limited diet, and tend to think good food is anything I can use for fuel that won’t kill me.) People make WAY too big a deal over how good a bite of food or a sip of a drink — or in this case, the smell of a drink — can be. Face it — if there’s a cake recipe that you think is better than sex, you’ve got a problem.

But there’s much, much more than that going on here. A lot of effort was put into making this guy look posh, upper-class, refined, better than you, and something to aspire to — if only you can afford and appreciate this product, you, too will be a superior being. It’s so extreme, it’s laughable. Like a Thurston Howell caricature of wealth and snobbery, only with better production values. The makers of the ad were going for the same effect I was going for in my own cheesy way with this selfie, except they weren’t kidding.

This is actually expected to appeal to… somebody. Donald Trump, maybe. He probably thinks it’s classy.

This holiday started with celebrating a poor child born in a stable. And now this.

Do y’all know what I’m saying here? If so, what’s the materialism-deifying ad you hate the most? Share, so we can heap scorn upon it.

Adsense ‘comments’ on Clinton endorsement

As y’all have no doubt noticed, aside from the local ads I have in the rail at right — and as you see, I’ve recently added several from candidates running in next week’s election — Google inserts ads here and there on the blog, based on what it has gleaned about the individual reader’s interests.

Some of items Adsense offers can be a bit startling, and the juxtapositions with content odd.

Burl Burlingame sent me this screenshot via text this week:

img_1198

There are just… so many levels on which to perceive that, most of them quite low. Looks to me like they’ve just noticed something is missing.

I asked Burl what kind of searches he had been doing lately. He insisted:

Not steroids! Or bellies!

Anyway, I always appreciate y’all sharing these occasionally odd apparitions…

My DNA is being subjected to a really ‘snazzy test’!

ancestry

Ever since I sent my spit off to Ancestry, I’ve been like a little kid who has sent in his cereal box tops, waiting for my secret decoder ring.

And the time frame involved is reminiscent of the days when I was a little kid — they say it can take 6-8 weeks for delivery!

For their part, Ancestry is making sure I know they haven’t forgotten me, or lost my DNA. I got an email from them today giving me a link to a page letting me track the process. Apparently, they’re working on it now. Surprisingly, this is something that actually takes time. I had figured it would be like when they test my iron level before I give platelets at the Red Cross — zip, and you’re done.

Nope. It’s way more complicated, tracking hundreds of thousands of… what do they call them?… single nucleotide polymorphisms. To put it in technical terms, the lady on this video says my DNA is being subjected to a “pretty complicated and really snazzy test.”

So now I understand.

Anyway, I can hardly wait…

A little Ragnar to balance out Adaline: That’s fair, right?

I didn’t watch “The Age of Adaline,” but since the Amazon Prime account is in my name (it was a Christmas gift), Jeff Bezos et al. asked me to rate it.51jk64xwsjl-_ss300_

So I asked my wife, and she suggested 4 stars. I considered protesting — you’re sure that’s not overly generous? In my book, 4 stars is semi-awesome, like “Vertigo” or “Conan the Barbarian” or “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (the movie version — the Alec Guinness TV version is 5 stars).

After all, I only gave the first season of “Vikingsthree stars.

I don’t really know anything about “The Age of Adaline,” but the image with it scares me a bit. Starry-eyed young woman in extreme closeup with handsome young man with neatly trimmed beard? It’s got Hallmark-channel romance written all over it. Even with the sci-fi premise, do I want Amazon throwing a whole lot of these at me?51yatcl-w3l-_ss300_

But I want my wife to find movies she wants to see, too — I’m not a selfish monster, or at least not that much of a selfish monster — so I went ahead and gave it 4 stars.

Then, I went back and upgraded “Vikings” to 4 stars, too. Just to balance things out, make sure Amazon suggests stuff I like as well. “Vikings” has young men with beards, too, but the beards are wild and weird and blood-encrusted and tied into bunches for scaring those wimpy Saxons. Proper beards.

So more Ages of Adalines will come our way, but there will be leavening — with battleaxes!

Cruz lost the nomination, but he’s running against Hillary anyway

You know, it would be hard to explain to an intelligent alien why Ted Cruz — who decidedly lost his bid to oppose Hillary Clinton this fall — is sending out email appeals that are essentially aimed at getting voters to join him in … opposing Hillary Clinton.

Yeah, we know that politicians are always raising money, and their preferred way to do that is to generate rage in their base, and the best way to do that if you dwell on the right fringe is to mention Hillary or Obamacare… but there’s no way to explain all that to a neutral, rational observer who hasn’t live with it for decades.

Anyway, this came into my In box six days ago, and I’m just now looking at it:

Cruz For
Senate
Brad,

While the Clinton campaign and the Obama Administration may have wanted to bury the revelations from Hillary Clinton’s FBI interview over the holiday weekend, the story is even worse than any of us could have imagined.

Back during the presidential campaign, our team released a parody video about the lengths Hillary Clinton would go to hide her corruption and reckless handling of classified information. Little did we know at the time, how true this reenactment would turn out to be.

SIGN THE PETITION —–> STAND AGAINST HILLARY!

We wanted to share a recent headline with you from The Right Scoop:

REMINDER: This is how RIGHT Ted Cruz was about Hillary Clinton

What Senator Cruz said then and continues to believe now is that Hillary Clinton plays by a different set of rules than you or me, and she knows it.

< —– WATCH —–>

Even a CNN anchor reporting on the story could not hide her stunned reaction to the confirmation that Hillary Clinton aides destroyed Clinton’s old mobile phones by breaking them in half or hitting them with a hammer.

Unfortunately for you and me, Hillary knows it’s “Good to be a Clinton”, which is why we must all stand together against this shameful double standard and for the rule of law — equally applied to everyone!

SIGN THE PETITION —–> STAND AGAINST HILLARY!

For liberty,

Team Cruz

P.S. – Despite the FBI calling her “extremely careless” Hillary Clinton has faced no consequences for mishandling classified information; please sign the petition today to send a message that the American people STAND AGAINST HILLARY!

Of course, there was a green DONATE button at the bottom.

Note that there’s no indication of how Ted plans to “stand against Hillary” with our help. There’s no indication of where this “petition” is headed, or what it is intended to accomplish, exactly — or even vaguely, for that matter.

It’s just about OPPOSING. And there you have American politics in the 21st century in a nutshell.

And no, there’s nothing remarkable or newsworthy about this email. I just think it’s important to stop now and then and note how absurd the routine has become…

No vertical video! Not now, not ever! It’s WRONG!

Ride of the Valkyrie. Think how disappointing 'Apocalypse Now' would have been if Coppola had shown just one Huey.

Ride of the Valkyrie: Think how disappointing ‘Apocalypse Now’ would have been if Coppola had shown just one Huey.

It’s bad enough that amateurs are providing video content to news organizations shot with their stupid smartphones in a vertical position — thereby causing us to miss most of what is going on, and having to look at those irritating black bars where we should be seeing something that provides us with additional perspective.

Now, we have professionals telling them not only that it’s OK to do that, but it’s the right way!

And their only excuse for doing that seems to be, Everybody’s screwing up this way, so let’s just say that’s the way to do it.

Here’s the latest apologia for shooting video the wrong way, from The Wall Street Journal:

It’s more comfortable to read things when the phone is standing up. Smartphones and their software were designed to fit in our hands. So why do we turn our phones to shoot and watch video? We shouldn’t. Those of us who used to scream, “You’re holding it wrong!”—we were really the ones who were wrong.

No, we were the ones who were right. We still are. We always will be. And everything you say, every example you provide, convinces me more of that.

The WSJ piece goes on:

Mobile video is exploding. Fifty-five percent of the world’s mobile traffic is now video, according to Cisco. And U.S. adults now spend 29 minutes a day watching video on their mobile devices, says eMarketer…

Yep, I’m one of those people. Although when I do watch video on my phone, I turn it sideways to see everything that’s going on. And of course if I’m near my Apple TV at home, I project it onto the TV screen — which is way more horizontal than TVs used to be, because the TV industry finally developed a rudimentary aesthetic sense. Because horizontal is the best way to present practically anything.

Notice how much better TV is now? I don’t think it’s an accident that it got better when it went horizontal. Who wants a closeup of Walter White standing there in his silly underpants? We need to see the RV and the desert spread out around him.

breaking-bad-marithon

Vertical video is the unmistakable mark of the clueless — or of someone who’s hiding something, trying to make you look at this one thing rather than see the context in which that one thing is occurring.

Look, I can see being sympathetic. I could see writing a piece such as this one: “Defending vertical videos: They’re stupid, but it’s not your fault.

But defending them as the right way to do it? No. Never. That would be like saying reality TV is a good thing because lots of people watch it. Absolutely not.

Where am I? What's going on? Where's the rest of the picture?

Where am I? What’s going on? Where’s the rest of the picture?

We’ve come to this — a ‘reporter’ delivering an editorial

There’s nothing special about this example I’m sharing with you. It’s just a fairly clear-cut one of the blurring of news and editorial functions in the New Normal.

In today’s Open Thread, I shared this item about where we stand 20 years after the End of Welfare as We Knew It.

Later, I glanced at the above video that appeared on the same page with it.

Most of the way through it, I didn’t think much of it until the very end, when the young woman on camera says, “I’m Emily Badger, reporter for Wonkblog.”

Did she really just say “reporter?” I ask because if you take every word she just said and put it on an opinion page, you have an editorial. Or an op-ed column, but it was largely spoken in the truth-from-above, ex cathedra tones of an editorial. Only by an engaging young woman, rather than some gray, disembodied, royal “we.”

Which I expect from a blog. I mean, really, how many blogs do you go to for straight news? And as I say over and over to any who remain confused, this is an opinion blog. I don’t have the resources — reporters, and editors to guide and read behind them — to publish a news blog. All I can do here is comment on the information provided to us by organizations that still do have such resources. (Sure, there are exceptions — I occasionally attend some news event and share what I saw and heard — but generally I’m not set up to inform so much as to engage with information obtained elsewhere.

And I certainly don’t call myself a reporter. I haven’t been a reporter since the spring of 1980.

That’s what grabbed me — her title.

I have no problem with blogs offering opinion. That would indeed be the height of hypocrisy

But it’s an adjustment for me seeing and hearing it coming from a “reporter.”

Reporters who unapologetically spout editorials. O brave new world, That has such people in ’t!

Badger

A thumbs-up from Chuck Yeager!

Chuck Yeager X-1

OK, technically it was Mike Fitts whose Tweet got a “like” from the Man at the Top of that ol’ Pyramid. Not me.

But my name was mentioned!

Mike sent this to my attention this morning:

Which I of course immediately reTweeted. After which I saw this, to my delight:

yeager tweet

All right! I have been in contact, however indirectly, with the man with the most righteous stuff in the Twitterverse

Yeager Twitter

‘Survey says…!’ My opinion continues to be in great demand

"Survey says..!"

“Survey says..!”

At the moment, in my Inbox, I have messages asking me to fill out surveys giving feedback about:

  1. The last time I gave platelets at the Red Cross.
  2. A recent lunch at the Capital City Club.
  3. My dealings with the service department at Canon regarding a malfunctioning printer.
  4. My dealings with the AT&T service department regarding a faulty router.
  5. My recent six-month checkup with my internist.

Two of them came in on the 11th, two on Monday and the other today, and I haven’t gotten to any of them.

And while I appreciate that they all care so much about what I think of the service, the cumulative effect is a bit overwhelming. Reminds me of school, when every teacher assumed she or he was the only class giving you homework. They meant well, too.

The one I definitely want to respond to is the Canon one, but not yet — because, unbeknownst to Canon, we’re not done yet.

I have this wonderful ImageClass MF6160 dw printer that I got for Christmas, and it’s given me great service ever since. Until a couple of weeks back, that is.

There are two things about it I particularly love — the multiple-page-document feeder on the top for copying and scanning, which saves a lot of tedious standing there to feed it; and the fact that I can immediately print out anything I see on my iPad or phone from anywhere in the house.

But then I came back from vacation, turned it on, and got an error message and a complete refusal to do anything — copy, scan, print, whatever.

I spent several evenings trying to call Canon before realizing they shut down the phone lines at 8 p.m. (the recording would tell me they were closed, but would NOT tell me what the hours were). So I sent them a long email, with all the particulars, and received a response telling me to call. By 8, of course.

So I called. And the guy who answered was unable to call up my email, so I started from scratch with him. He concluded that I needed to download some new firmware. But my printer had not come with a USB cable, so he said he’d just send me a new printer.

Which is great, right? It came yesterday — earlier than I expected, so great again. But my new AT&T router came the same day, so I installed that first and got all my devices up and working on the home network before dealing with the printer. (Everything went as advertised with the new modem/router, so yay, AT&T! A loyal advertiser on bradwarthen.com, by the way…)

I finally got it all unpacked, and carefully put all the pieces of orange tape that came on it onto the old printer that I have to ship back to them, and turned it on. No error message! And it copies fine.

But it won’t print or scan because I can’t get it to connect to my devices via wifi. Even though I’ve been through the ritual of making the connection several times, and each time it says it’s connected.

And of course, by this time it was well after 8 p.m.

So tonight I’ll call them, and see if we can get all this straightened out. And after that, I’ll fill out their survey. And I’ll be happy then, because I love my printer, and I just want it back.

And then maybe I’ll get to the other ones as well.

I mean, it’s nice that they care what I think….

Hey, I know! Since they value what I think so much, maybe they’d all like to get together and pay me what I used to get paid at the paper to express what I think! If they’d do that, I’d fill out surveys all day….