Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Meet The New (Tech) Boss

Remember when Apple was the answer to the 1984-style threat posed by IBM and Microsoft? Well, guess who has just sent the police to raid the home of a journalist?

To be sure, there are good questions to be raised about the conduct of Jason Chen, who works for Gizmodo, a technology blog. He paid $5,000 for an Apple iPhone that one of the company's engineers left in a bar in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley. Legally, the phone is stolen merchandise and belongs to Apple, and the so-called shield laws protecting journalists probably don't apply here.

So it's hard to get too weepy for Mr. Chen. But it's even harder to get worked up on behalf of Apple, whose corporate behavior has become increasingly oppressive. This isn't the first time the company has used the all-too-willing apparatus of government, both here and abroad, to intimidate the press and others. Apple's stance toward ordinary customers, hidden behind cool advertising, isn't much better.

Most Apple customers don't notice it, but if the company doesn't approve of a software application, they can't use it on their iPhone. The company regularly intimidates developers, including a Pulitzer-prizewinning journalist whose work was banned from iPhones because it satirized politicians. Apple has refused access to software that does nothing more than compete with other software. Sometimes, Apple refuses access and never tells anyone why.

Is this a problem? Imagine if Microsoft claimed the right to approve of every piece of software you installed on your PC, and banned any application that had a political slant, or that competed with software that already existed. Holy First Amendment, Batman! Holy Sherman Antitrust Act, Robin!

It goes further than that. If you use Apple's iTunes on your computer, you are vulnerable to regular downloads of irrelevant and potentially harmful software. The "music" you "purchase" through iTunes is licensed, not sold, to you. It is digitally coded in a manner that eliminates more than 90% of the data that constitutes the music, essentially turning songs into the sonic equivalent of a McDonald's Happy Meal. Millions of Americans, most of them younger, literally have no idea what actual music sounds like, thanks to iTunes.

Thus the feisty upstart has become the arrogant corporate giant. Not that this ever happens in America. I think we're going to be hearing more about Apple.


Does Jon Stewart read this blog? Later on the day I posted this item, he lampooned Apple in the same terms, right down to the clip from the Super Bowl ad. Great minds think alike, huh?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Democrats, Can You Be Surprised?

It looks like the institutional Democratic Party is starting to run scared about what's coming. Core constituents are uninspired, and might sit out this fall's election. There is an enthusiasm gap. Gee, I wonder why.

Could it be that the Democratic leadership, such as it is, forgot the people who put them in office, and why they did it? President Obama, your coolness under attack is a double-edged sword. We appreciate that you don't go screaming into the night, but even the old dogs in your core constituency don't want you to sit there and do nothing as americanus reactionus picks up whatever rock is handy and starts throwing it your way.

Democrats to Obama: It's not just about you. It's about us, too. When they call you a nigger and a socialist, they're insulting all of us and what we stand for. You don't have to be black to be offended. I might even argue that many of your white supporters are even madder about it than a lot of your black ones are. Plenty of black folk might roll their eyes and say, "What else is new?" A bunch of white Democrats are appalled and embarrassed, and want those attacks answered in no uncertain terms.

Congressional Democrats, half of you are too comfortable for your own good, sitting in safe seats that haven't faced a serious challenge in many years. The other half of you are scared of your own shadows, and/or too corrupt or jaded to even notice, much less care. We don't like that, either. Unlike too many of you, we take it seriously all the time. Imagine that.

I'd like to think you'll learn a lesson this fall, but I'm not too sure.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Is the Tea Party A Racist Movement?

Stupid question! Just look at these people. Racism drips from their fangs. Of course they are racists.

Hold on a second. I have a different take.

I see the Tea Party as a reactionary movement. They are against any sort of social progress of any kind. In the 1700s, they led the "Whiskey Rebellion" against federal taxation of alcohol and the East in general. In the 1800s, they were the "Know Nothings" against Catholics, immigration, and federal funding of highways (such as they were), canals, and railroads. Later, they were against the abolition of slavery, and in favor of wiping out the Indians.

In the early 20th Century, they were against women's suffrage, popular election of senators, national parks, Teddy Roosevelt, and immgration. Then they were against the New Deal, and railed against American aid to Britain on the eve of the second world war. After the war, they wanted to dismantle Social Security, find communists everywhere, and ban modern art. They hated birth control, progressive education, the integration of the military, and Medicare.

In the 1980s, after their genial representative, Ronald Reagan, was elected, they actually believed that he wanted to shrink the federal government, and overlooked his rescue of Social Security and gigantic deficits. In the 1990s, they went after Bill Clinton's infidelities, and hated his wife for not being a demure First Lady in the traditional style. And they despised anything having to do with gay people.

Throughout most of American history, americanus reactionus has been virulently anti-Semitic. That changed in the 1980s, when the best-selling "Left Behind" books popularized the rapture heresy, a Christian doctrine that arose in the 19th Century. Suddenly, Jews who had once been hated were embraced, on the belief that the State of Israel's existence is key to the return of Jesus H. Christ. Bagels for everyone!

So, now Barack Obama is president, and the Tea Party is hauling out every racist cliche in the book, while claiming the American flag as their own. But does that make the Tea Party a racist movement? Nope, it makes it a reactionary movement. For sure, racism is a wrench in the tool kit. But there are plenty of others. I don't mean to excuse their racism for a microsecond, but rather to place it in an accurate historical context.

We are a complex country of 308 million people with two political parties. Each of them is a fragile coalition of disparate interests. The Tea Party is the crazy aunt in the Republican Party's attic. She's been there forever, but for the past 15 years, she's been running loose on the front lawn, waving her shotgun and screaming her demented head off.

Where are the men in the white coats, holding the nets?

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Coming Democratic Wipeout?

It's bad news, but hardly surprising: The Democrats could lose 50 or more seats this fall.

This is April, and a lot can happen between now and then. And the polling that went into this particular analyst's first take on the elections is biased toward the Republicans. Even he says that the "50-seat" loss would wind up being more like 15 or 20 seats. Or it could be 60 or 70. My own guess is at the low end of the range. Still, the analyst in question, Nate Silver, is one of the best in the business, so his view deserves attention.

Why am I not surprised? For starters, the party in power usually loses some seats in the mid-term elections after a presidential victory. And the economy, while marginally appearing to be improving, is still rotten. But there is another problem: The Democratic Party lost six critical months by dithering on health care legislation that it could have passed last fall. For that, the blame goes mainly to President Obama, who is the leader of his party. It also goes to congressional Democrats, who never met an idea they could stand up for.

There is some poetic justice in this, just as there was poetic justice in Kerry's 2004 loss to George W. Bush. When the going got tough, the tough went windsurfing, and the rest is history. I visited Hood River, Oregon last week and am as big a fan as anyone, but it was not the place for John Kerry to hide out while the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacked his war record. And Obama & Co. had no business kowtowing to the corporate funded Tea Party movement while loading up their health care legislation with the usual corrupt side deals.

Politics, like so many other things, is often a matter of balance and timing. Or, as the classic National Lampoon Radio Dinner comedy recording put it: "Know what to kiss -- and when." When it came to health care, the Democrats had solid majority backing from the public, and they frittered it away. Whatever their losses this fall, I hope they will file their complaints in the right place: in front of the nearest mirror.