Category Archives: In Our Time

Overdramatizing to make celebrities seem interesting

Lewis as Lt. Dick Winters.

Lewis as Lt. Dick Winters.

I started reading this with some interest yesterday, at the recommendation of Michael McKean:

The United States, locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires, is a country entranced by illusions. It spends its emotional and intellectual energy on the trivial and the absurd. It is captivated by the hollow stagecraft of celebrity culture as the walls crumble. This celebrity culture giddily licenses a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Day after day, one lurid saga after another, whether it is Michael Jackson, Britney Spears [or Miley Cyrus], enthralls the country …

Until I saw it was turning into an Occupy-style rant (which “locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires” should have hipped me to, but I had skimmed over it)…

…despite bank collapses, wars, mounting poverty or the criminality of its financial class.

In any case, I shared the concern over celebrity obsession. We really shouldn’t be fixated on celebs, unless they happen to be Christina Hendricks.

But you know, if a significant proportion of the few remaining journalists who are paid to do their thing must focus on celebrities, at least they should do so honestly and well. You don’t have to be writing about war or famine or the fates of nations to do a good job with it. Look at the great tradition of fine sports writing, from Ring Lardner through Sports Illustrated. And let’s not forget that Renaissance man George Plimpton.

Admittedly, there are grace and nobility in sport, while what actors and singers and people-who-are-famous-for-being-on-TV do can be relatively lacking in poetry. But if you must write about them, at least do so honestly, instead of making lame attempts to make them seem more interesting than they are.

I had been delving in triviality myself — looking for most popular Christmas songs — when I saw a link to some apparent controversy regarding something Damian Lewis had said. Being a fan of his work in “Band of Brothers” (and to some extent in “Homeland”), I clicked on it:

Sir Ian McKellen has a bone to pick with Damian Lewis…

Lewis recently commented that when he was in his 20s, he became concerned that if he didn’t break out of the theatre in time, he “would be one of these slightly over-the-top, fruity actors who would have an illustrious career on stage, but wouldn’t start getting any kind of film work until I was 50 and then start playing wizards.”…

Oh, gee — let’s see what sort of verbal artillery McKellen unleashed on Lewis:

The X-Men actor went on to describe Lewis’ statement as “a fair comment”, before adding: “To rebut it: I wouldn’t like to have been one of those actors who hit stardom quite early on and expected it to continue and was stuck doing scripts that I didn’t particularly like just to keep the income up.

“I’ve always wanted to get better as an actor. And I have got better. You’ve only got to see my early work to see that.

“As for a fruity voice? Well, it may be a voice that is trained like an opera singer’s voice: to fill a large space. It is unnatural. Actors have to be heard and their voice may therefore develop a sonorous quality that they can’t quite get rid of, so you think actors are as pompous as their voice is large. I suppose Damian was thinking of that a little bit, too.”…

So… McKellen was fairer, and more thoughtful, about what Lewis said (which, by the way, could as easily be applied to Richard Harris), than this story was.

Where was he “reeling”? Where did he pick a bone?

Sorry, folks — no slugfest here. Move along…

McKellen as Gandalf.

McKellen as Gandalf.

The Thing I Hate Most About Facebook (at the moment)

And now that my temper is up, I may as well go on and abuse every body I can think of.
– Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Still grumbling about strong-mayor, and irritated by bad Christmas music everywhere (I’m going to do a Top Five List on that sometime in the next few days), I might as well abuse Facebook.

There are a lot of things I don’t like about Facebook, but this tops them all…

I always leave it running on a tab on my browser, alongside Twitter and a couple of different views of my blog’s dashboard, my email, my calendar and the public face of the blog itself. Those are all things I click and alt-tab back and forth among a lot, and it’s far more convenient to have them all running simultaneously than to have to call each one up when I need it.

Almost invariably, when I click back to the Facebook tab, at the very top of my screen will be something interesting that I had meant to click on and read earlier, but hadn’t had the time, and left sitting there for when I did have time.

Only now, when I click on the FB tab, and I see that interesting thing in front of me for ONE SECOND, I yell “No! Don’t!” as the page automatically refreshes and brings up whatever is the most recent thing on my feed, which invariably will be something not interesting at all — thereby burying what I wanted to read under an avalanche of irrelevant material.

So I have to go hunting for the interesting thing.

That’s what I hate most about Facebook. At the moment.

Jeff Bezos tantalizes us with drone delivery


I meant to mention this yesterday, but didn’t get to it.

The first thing I saw about Amazon’s tantalizing “unveiling” of drone delivery of packages — within half an hour, we’re told! — was a piece on Slate pooh-poohing it:

In an infomercial hosted by Charlie Rose on CBS’s 60 Minutes this weekend, Amazon announced that it plans to deliver small packages via drone in the near future. Many media outlets have credulously repeated this claim, just like they did with the beer-delivering drone and the taco-delivering drone.

However, the technical, regulatory, and logistical challenges of autonomous flight in crowded American urban airspace are far more profound than Bezos allowed on TV. As he said, the FAA is now revising its rules regarding autonomous flight. The FAA roadmap is complex. But it bluntly states (on Page 33): “Autonomous operations are not permitted.” There is an exception for line-of-sight operations for small UAVs. But Bezos’ vision of autonomous delivery in a city is not, according to the FAA roadmap, in the cards in the next few years….

Well, to be fair, Bezos did tell Charlie Rose it would be a few years. (But if the writer had Slate had really wanted to mock the media’s gee-whiz, boosterish reaction, he should have commented on the breathless “making of” feature about their Amazon scoop.)

In the spirit of scoffing, I thought about writing a post headlined something like, “Why doesn’t Bezos promise us teleportation while he’s at it?”

But truly, this is pretty much of a gee-whiz idea — little flying robots gently dropping stuff off at our front doors, and NOT taking the stuff back because we’re not there to sign for it? Who couldn’t love that.

Of course, I hope my libertarian friends will now stop insisting that the private sector is the place where innovations that make our lives better originate. I mean, the government’s been using drones for years, with deadly effect. And delivering payloads WAY bigger than five pounds, baby. It just shows how lame the private sector really is that we get excited over something that’s such a “been-there, done-that” to government.

Sorry, Doug. Couldn’t resist.

Seriously, folks, this is exciting. And we communitarians must admit that the one barrier to doing this is government — that is, the FAA. On the other hand, count me among those grateful that the FAA won’t automatically approve thousands of mini-helicopters buzzing around the yards where our kids play.

Someday, we’ll have this. Just as someday, we’ll have self-driving cars — once the liability issues are worked out.

And I like that Bezos is straining at the limits, getting out there, breaking molds, challenging assumptions, yadda-yadda.

It’s stuff like this that makes me hopeful that he’ll come up with mold-breaking ideas that save the newspaper industry, now that he’s in that business. I’d love a chance to help him do it. It would be wonderful (not to mention tremendous fun) to be on the technological frontier as a part of forging the salvation of the Fourth Estate.

Maybe we could even work drones into it…

The Word of the Year, and a picture to go with it

I learned this from listening to NPR this morning:

Good morning. I’m Renee Montagne announcing the word of the year: Selfie. The Smartphone self-portrait. The Oxford Dictionary says it perfectly captures 2013. Selfies lit up social media and dirty ones derailed political careers. Teens even took one with the Pope. The word’s come a long way since popping up on an Australian message board a decade ago. It beat out binge watch, meaning marathon TV watching, and twerk. You can look that one up.

But what really made me enjoy the news was this Tweet from NASA’s Curiosity Rover:

selfie

By the way, as a guy who has had occasion to shoot a number of pictures of himself over the years, what with blogging and the avatars needed for social media, I really don’t like the way that word sounds.

It’s beginning to look a lot like pushing the season

holiday cups

Above is a cropped shot taken of three of my kids in Central Park in NYC on Nov. 23, 2007. It was the day after Thanksgiving, the day merchandisers call “Black Friday.” It was bitterly cold, and those cups of hot coffee were welcome.

I show you this in order to note that, to the best of my recollection, that was the first time I ever saw the red Starbucks “holiday cups.” Ever since then, I’ve been happy to see them come out again each year, because I have pleasant associations with that trip to New York.

I was a bit less delighted than usual to see them come out this year on Nov. 1, All Saints Day. Yes, when kids had hardly dented their candy hauls from Halloween.

That, to me, is going too far.

Nor was I thrilled to receive the below promotion on Veterans Day. The text with it said:

One Cyber Monday a year just isn’t enough. That’s why it’s a month-long event here at Musician’s Friend…

No, actually, one is quite sufficient, thanks. Or if you must have two, have the second after the usual one. Have three or four, if you like. I’m all for everybody making a living. But wait, please…

cyber

TIME: ‘The 140 Moments That Made Twitter Matter’

collage1

TIME must have had a lot of fun putting this together.

Maybe you don’t think Twitter matters at all. Maybe you think I’ve been wasting my time posting those 10,000 Tweets. Well, you’re wrong.

But don’t listen to me. Just peruse this collection of moments — with separate lists of #Fails, #Feuds, #Scoops, #Stunts, #Backtracks, #Rants, #Raves, #LOLz, #Debuts and #GameChangers — when Twitter really did matter.

Yeah, a lot of those are just fun, but many are serious. No one can doubt any more the power of Twitter as a medium that means business.

You can’t deny the power when…

Yeah, it’s a little less earth-shaking when a Hollywood star finds a fresh way to make a public fool of himself. Yeah, Alec Baldwin, I’m talking about you.

But there’s no question that Twitter matters now. And you don’t even need 140 characters to say that, to mean it — or too prove it.

Yes, that's Patrick Stewart posing in front of a sign that says "Picard." You sort of have to know about "Star Trek" to get this...
Yes, that’s Patrick Stewart posing in front of a sign that says “Picard.” You sort of have to know about “Star Trek” to get this. This is from the #LOLz category…

I just passed the 10,000-Tweet threshold! Is there a prize?

10000

It happened when my last blog post automatically went out on Twitter.

Ta-Da!

It is perhaps fitting that the landmark Tweet was an instance of me asking you, the reader, what was going on. In the olden days — gather ’round, children, while Big Daddy tells you how it was — we, the journalists, told you, the great, passive, unwashed out there, what was going on.closeup

Not so in this era. Oh, sometimes I go cover something and tell y’all about it, but since this blog is not limited to things I’ve personally investigated and experienced, crowd-sourcing can often be the way to go. I mean, if you had to wait for me to go out physically and find 10,000 things to write about, you might have to wait longer than you’d like.

I’m excited about this milestone, and really feel like I’m entitled to some sort of prize for getting here. But I think I’m to be as disappointed as Calvin. Remember this strip?

Calvin (running in circles, throwing his arms up and exclaiming in delighted triumph: “Mom! Mom! I just saw the first robin of spring! Call the newspaper quick! Ha ha! A front page write-up! A commemorative plaque! A civic ceremony! All for me! Hooray! Hooray! Oh boy! Should I put the prize money in a trust fund or blow it all at once? Ha ha! I can’t believe I did it!”

Mom’s voice, from out of frame: “Calvin…”

A dejected Calvin, to Hobbes: “It’s a hard, bitter, cruel world to have to grow up in, Hobbes.”

Hobbes: “Cheer up! Did I tell you I saw a robin yesterday?”

Have YOU been harmed by the DOR hacking?

Or do you know anyone who has?

I raised this question, sort of indirectly, earlier — I was questioning the value of Vincent Sheheen trying to get everybody outraged over the hacking, which broke a year ago, when we don’t know whether anyone has been harmed. I was reacting to this passage in an AP story:

It’s unknown if anyone’s identity has been stolen because of the hacking. A Federal Trade Commission attorney has said the selling and trading of stolen information makes it virtually impossible to trace an identity theft case to any particular security breach.

But since that was Friday afternoon, and things I post on Friday afternoons tend to drift off into a vague place, only a few comments were offered, none of them answering the question above.

So, let me know, straight up — do you know of anyone who has good reason to believe he or she was in any way harmed by the breach?

I know someone who has had a terrible time from having her identity stolen, although it happened well before any of this, so I don’t think it’s related.

Someone filed false tax returns for 2011 using my next-to-youngest daughter’s Social Security number and other info. It was a huge hassle getting it all straightened out.

Then, just over a week ago, she got this seriously threatening letter from the IRS saying that she had ignored their previous notices (she had received no previous notices) and that if she didn’t pay more than $7,000 RIGHT NOW her property was going to be seized.

There was no way she had at any time owed the IRS $7,000.

Supposedly, that is now straightened out, also. A guy at the IRS named “Mike” — no surname that I know of — said just to tear up that letter; it was all a mistake. OK, so we’re, um, somewhat reassured. (I assume that if there are any more threats from the IRS, we’re just supposed to say, “Fuggedaboudit. Mike says it’s cool….” We’re counting on Mike being the guy behind the guy.)

I don’t know whether that particular incident is related to the earlier theft or not. I think it is. I’m somewhat confused by the fact that my daughter was out of the country last month, and her purse was stolen — with passport, driver’s license, everything. She had to get a provisional passport from the embassy to get back into the country.

Oh, yes; one other thing — last week I got a notice from Adobe saying that when I bought PhotoShop Express from them several months back, my information was stolen. They want me to sign up for monitoring on their dime, I believe. I guess I’d better get on that; I’ve been busy the last few days and had managed to shove that to the back of my mind…

Unfortunately for Vincent Sheheen, I don’t blame any of these incidents on Nikki Haley.

My point is, people’s identities do get stolen, and it does lead to hassles. So has anyone had any such hassles that they know or merely suspect were related to the Department of Revenue hacking?

And if not, isn’t that sort of odd?

Snowden’s new employer kept secret ‘for security reasons.’ No, I am not making this up.

The Slatest brought this to my attention:

Edward Snowden has a new job. His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, tells Russian outletRIA Novosti that Snowden has landed a new gig in technical support. Kucherena isn’t saying who Snowden’s new employer is, but did describe the company as a major Russian website. “He will be part of the support team of one of the largest Russian websites,” Kucherena told the Russian news agency. “I can’t say the name of the website now for security reasons.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

First, what employer on this planet would be so monumentally stupid as to hire Edward Snowden, someone who so famously betrayed every oath, every rule and principle held sacred by his former employers?

For a full reminder of the extent to which Snowden personifies the concept of betrayal, betrayal of everyone and everything around him, I urge you to go back at read David Brooks’ column of June 10. And I quote:

He betrayed honesty and integrity, the foundation of all cooperative activity. He made explicit and implicit oaths to respect the secrecy of the information with which he was entrusted. He betrayed his oaths.

He betrayed his friends. Anybody who worked with him will be suspect. Young people in positions like that will no longer be trusted with responsibility for fear that they will turn into another Snowden.

He betrayed his employers. Booz Allen and the C.I.A. took a high-school dropout and offered him positions with lavish salaries. He is violating the honor codes of all those who enabled him to rise.

He betrayed the cause of open government. Every time there is a leak like this, the powers that be close the circle of trust a little tighter. They limit debate a little more.

He betrayed the privacy of us all. If federal security agencies can’t do vast data sweeps, they will inevitably revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods.

He betrayed the Constitution. The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed. Snowden self-indulgently short-circuited the democratic structures of accountability, putting his own preferences above everything else….

“For security reasons…” Har-de-har-har-har.

Whose security? Edward Snowden’s? Who should feel any obligation to respect or protect confidentiality for his benefit?

It’s a hoot the way Pinterest thinks it knows me

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Remember that picture I posted the other day of the protester from 1963?

Well, I posted it on Pinterest, too, and today I got a message from that social media service headlined, “Pins you’ll love!”

One of them was the picture above, with the caption, “Fashionable men.”

Pinterest thinks it knows me. It’s decided that what I want to see is natty young black men in skinny retro ties.

People worry about increasingly intuitive algorithms knowing too much about them. I look at the way those programs actually work, and have to smile. They have a tendency, shall we say, to leap to thinly supported conclusions.

You especially get wild results when the principal medium of expression is photographs, which are so subject to misinterpretation. I’m a word guy; I was interested in the words on the protester’s sign. All Pinterest saw was the picture….

Why do political flacks risk the hazards of Twitter? Because they HAVE to

pfeiffer

Talk about your nightmares.

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer made an observation Tuesday on Twitter about how the changing media world was adding to political polarization in the country. Then he tried to add, to @jmartNYT, “also a much bigger factor on the right.”

Only his finger slipped, and he typed an N rather than a B on “bigger.” (Look at your keyboard; they’re right next to each other.) This was on an official White House Twitter account, mind you.

The Tweet was deleted, and he apologized. And the world moved on.

But then, some “veteran politicos” on the Hill started wondering why a senior adviser to the President was fooling around with anything as dangerous as Twitter anyway?

POLITICO explained, as would we, that he has little choice:

For years now, Twitter has served as the public square for political journalists, the place where the conventional wisdom is shaped before it turns into “the narrative.” Communications aides have always monitored that conversation closely, and some have long had an active Twitter presence. But many — top White House spokespeople, especially — often felt safer limiting their own remarks to carefully edited statements shared via press release. As a public forum, Twitter was too informal, too risky, too off-the-cuff.

Increasingly, however, flacks have come to see Twitter as a necessary tool in their communications arsenal. Instead of waiting to respond to reporters’ inquiries, Twitter enables them to influence reporters’ thinking and nip negative coverage in the bud.

“Twitter, like cable news, is another medium where the conversation in Washington gets shaped,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told POLITICO. “Given the current media environment, we engage in real time so that as many folks as possible understand our perspective. Twitter is simply another resource to get our message out, and we generally like to avail ourselves of every opportunity to do just that.”

Brendan Buck, the press secretary for House Speaker John Boehner, said Twitter was “what the Speaker’s Lobby used to be. You want to find and talk to assembled reporters, open your Tweetdeck.”

Absolutely.

I am reminded of Trav Robertson who dealt with media for the Vincent Sheheen gubernatorial campaign in 2010. I ran into him (at Starbucks, of course) some months after Sheheen narrowly lost that contest, and he confided that there was one thing that he had been unprepared for: the fact that the old “news cycle” was gone, and that he had to pump out information, and counter stuff that was out there, 24/7.

I was surprised that he was surprised, and wondered if that played any role in Sheheen’s defeat. Probably not, but it was a close race, for a Democrat in South Carolina…

Profile in Courage, 2013 edition: Boehner promises to do the right thing to avoid default

First, I want to applaud Speaker John Boehner for promising to do the right thing, at least with regard to a default that could devastate the world economy:

With a deadline for raising the debt limit fast-approaching, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has been telling colleagues in recent days that he will do whatever necessary to avoid defaulting on the federal debt, including relying on House Democrats to help pass an extension, according to GOP aides familiar with the conversations…

But after I’m done applauding the speaker for his courage, let’s have a moment of silence to mourn how low the “courage” bar is these days.

What that says is that the speaker of the House promises he will work with all of his willing colleagues, regardless of party, for the sake of the nation — to make sure that a terrible, needless thing does not happen to the country and the world.

That should be business as usual. Once upon a time, it would have been (in support of that statement, I submit the fact that the United States has never before defaulted in its 237-year history).

But today — and this just makes me sick — it’s extraordinary. In the U.S. House Republican caucus, it is seen as political suicide to work with Democrats, even on something of critical importance to the country.

So yay, Mr. Speaker. And here’s hoping and praying that we’ll live to see the day when this sort of behavior is once again sufficiently common that we have no reason to take note of it…

Catering to America’s affinity for ‘soft’ news

revolution

I ran across a recent blog post that looked back at one from 2011 on The Daily Kos.

Showing several examples of recent TIME covers, Kos highlighted the dramatic difference between the American covers, and the corresponding ones from the same weeks in the European, Asian and South Pacific editions. Several weeks of examples were given. See the whole slide show.

There’s nothing subtle going on here. To the extent that these weeks are a guide, we see that TIME has decided people in the rest of the world are more serious-minded than Americans. Foreigners get hard news. Americans’ penchant for “me” news, soft stuff, lifestyle features, is catered to without a shred of hesitation or shame.

It would be easy to blame TIME. But I think TIME knows what Americans want. If they didn’t have the research to back it up, they wouldn’t do anything this blatant. Would they?

mom

Never give up on helping Republicans with their English-language skills

Yes, I suffer setback after disappointment, but when I get a release such as this one from SC Rep. Bill Taylor:

Abandon the “Government Plantation”

 Meet Louisiana State Sen. Elbert Guillory

Please join me in Columbia this coming Sunday afternoon as we give a SC  WELCOME to Louisiana State Sen. Elbert Guillory.

 

Sen. Guillory has became an Internet sensation after bravely voicing his disapproval of the progressive agenda and Liberal policies. Nearly a million people have viewed his video “Why I Am A Republican” in explaining why he switched from the Democrat Party to the Republican Party…

… I don’t rant, rave, or fulminate, in spite of the great insult to the language I love. I simply reply with a neutral, but firm, correction:

FYI, there’s a typo in there. You wrote “Democrat Party” where you meant “Democratic Party.”

This nonsense has been going on for far too long. I seem to recall George Will taking Bob Dole to task for it quite publicly, back in the ’70s, when Dole was going on about “Democrat Wars,”

One of these days, it’s going to get through. The important thing is, never let it just pass. When you hear it, speak up — as I said, calmly but firmly. Surely they will eventually pick up on it.

There are some Republicans out there who want English to be our official, statutory language. Well, if they want people speaking English, they should model the correct behavior…

Finally, a perfect job fit for me!

Back during my long period of unemployment, I signed up for a number of Internet services to help me in the job hunt. I still get emails from them.

Today, I got one that claimed, “An employer or recruiter on TheLadders just posted a job that matched with your profile.”

Exciting news, eh?

What was the job? Vice President of Logistics for Belk. An excerpt from the description:

This position is responsible for planning and coordinating domestic transportation and retail DC operations and includes operational and fiscal responsibility for these activities.  He / She will take a strategic leadership approach and will be accountable for creating plans to develop and integrate the capabilities of the organization in line with the current Supply Chain Mission.  The VP of Logistics ensures that internal and external customers receive the highest level of service, makes decisions that maximize the operation’s performance and cost metrics, and builds strong associate work teams with a positive work environment…

Yeah… that’s me all over.

This would be mildly amusing except for something else I know… algorithms that are no more sophisticated than the one that saw this as right up my alley are making decisions about who will get interviewed for jobs and who will not. I don’t know how many jobs I got rejected for before a single human being had looked at my application, but I assure you it would be a depressing number.

Gimme a break. Does a URL really have to be this long?

In a comment on a previous thread, I provided a link to an image that illustrated what I was talking about. Never mind what I was talking about; that’s not the point.

The point is, when I copied and pasted the URL for the image, I found it was, in my humble and uninformed opinion, longer than was necessary. Here’s the URL:

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

Really. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 9,903 characters. Or, to stretch it out, nine thousand, nine hundred and three.

Come on. Even if you assign a different combination of letters and numbers to every image ever created in the history of the planet, or ever will be created before our sun goes cold billions of years from now, you wouldn’t need that many characters to designate a specific one of those images.

That’s just ridiculous. TinyURL, anyone?

Bradley Manning escapes, having been replaced in his cell by someone named ‘Chelsea’

Are any of y’all watching “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix? No, wait, that’s an archaic question in the age of binge-watching, and of series being released all at once. It should be more like “Have any of y’all watched all or part of ‘Orange is the New Black’?”

Well, we have been, and we’ve seen it through the third episode, which centers around a transsexual — a former fireman named Burset, now living as a woman, specifically as the inmate hairdresser — in the women’s prison in which the series is set. It’s a sympathetic portrayal in the fullest sense — sympathetic to him as a him (in flashbacks) and her as a her, as well as to Burset’s wife and child and the pain they’ve dealt with through the process. I also found myself feeling a bit for the criminal justice system and prison authorities, because of the questions they have to deal with: Do you put Burset in a women’s prison? If so, is the state obligated to provide continued hormone treatments? If the state withdraws such treatments (which it does, allegedly for medical reasons), should Burset still be kept in a facility for women? If Burset commits suicide because all that personal and family sacrifice was for nothing, is the state liable?

But at least in that case, Burset came to the system having already made the big change, and having paid $80,000 for it. (We are given to gather that the imprisonment has something to do with how that money was acquired.) Everybody knew what they were dealing with.

Now, we have the real-life case of Bradley Manning, a young man who served in the U.S. Army as a man, and was convicted and sentenced as a man, and now wants to become a woman. Or is a woman, as his missive on the subject states.

Wow. This has to be frustrating for the Army. Here they went to all this trouble to try and convict and sentence this guy named Bradley, and now there’s some dame in his cell instead.

That’s one of the slicker escapes I’ve ever heard of.

Has reality itself lost its dynamic vitality?

My dear virtual friends, here is something to mess with your head a bit, late on this Monday afternoon, which is so much like so many other Monday afternoons.

It’s a piece that I missed at the time (10 days ago, in the WSJ), checking it out only when I saw a letter to the editor referring to it. It’s by Pulitzer-winner Henry Allen, who says he “used to be Ziggy Zeitgeist, Harry Hip,” a guy sufficiently plugged into the Zeitgeist to write a book about what each decade of the 20th century felt like to life in.

Now, he is adrift:

Now I am disquieted. It’s not that I see things changing for better or worse, for richer or poorer, or even not changing at all. It’s something else: The most important thing in our culture-sphere isn’t change but the fact that reality itself is dwindling, fading like sunstruck wallpaper, turning into a silence of the dinner-party sort that leads to a default discussion of movies.

Is some sort of cultural entropy homogenizing us?

As novelist Douglas Coupland has pointed out, ordinary people in photographs from 1993 are indistinguishable from people in photographs now. Can you name another 20-year period in modern American history when this is true? 1900-20? 1920-40? 1970-90? His analysis: There’s not much geist left in the zeit….

I think he’s onto something, especially with that bit about how people look the way they did 20 years ago. You can look at pictures from the 60s (especially of famous, trendy people, like the Beatles) and pretty much tell what year it was. Every year felt and looked so different from those that preceded. Things slowed down a bit after that, but you could still recognize the decade. Until the last 20 years or so.

There’s more thought-provoking stuff in the piece:

We have individualism but we have no privacy. We are all outsiders with no inside to be outside of.

Or: We’ve lost our sense of possibility. Incomes decline, pensions vanish, love dwindles into hooking up, we’re not having enough babies to replace ourselves.

No arc, no through-line, no destiny. As the British tommies sang in the trenches of World War I, to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne,” “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here.”

I don’t know what’s going on. I doubt that anyone does. Is our democracy turning into a power vacuum? What will fill it?

Will organized religion die? I got talking to a girl from an Episcopal youth group in Missouri. “Episcopalianism is great,” she said. “You don’t have to believe in anything.”

Like most people I used to think the world would go on the way it was going on, with better medicine and the arrival of an occasional iPad or an earthquake. That was when I knew what was going on….

But you should just go read the whole thing

I couldn’t watch Werner Herzog’s anti-texting-and-driving video; it made my heart hurt too much

At the behest of AT&T, German filmmaker Werner Herzog made a half-hour video that shows the real-life human tragedies that texting while driving causes.

I couldn’t get through the very first story. It made my heart hurt too much. From the very first second that I saw that young woman holding her fingers out to her side, I knew that there was supposed to be a small child clinging to them, and that the child was gone.

It’s brutal. But as an updated, higher-quality film of the sort they made driver’s-ed students watch back in my day, it’s got to be effective. I hope.