Why Louis C.K. doesn’t let fans take pictures of him.

Are you having actual experiences? Or do you do things simply for the sake of recording and sharing them? It may seem like a silly question, but it’s worth thinking about.

This week comedian Louis C.K. did an iama (“I Am A…”), which is essentialy an intrview with the Reddit hivemind. Reddit loves Louis, so the results were wonderful, but I want to talk about one comment in particular. Louis only recently rose to national prominence, and is now regularly recognized on the streets of New York City where he lives. When a Redditor asked Louis how he feels about this, Louis explained why fans wanting pictures with him made him enjoy meeting them less, at least until he stopped doing pictures with them.

“Every person on the planet now has a camera,” said Louis, “so it sometimes happens that up to 20 people in one day or more want me to pose with them for a picture that they can put it on Facebook. That’s a lot. Also I don’t like doing it. It makes me feel weird.”

He didn’t always mind connecting with fans. In fact, he used to love it: “I remembered that when it was earlier in my career, when someone would say something like, once or twice day, I really liked it and felt genuine interest in them and gratitude”.

So Louis adapted a new policy. “I refuse to ever take a picture with anyone,” he said. “I just say no. I don’t do that. But I shake their hand and I talk to them for a bit. Because I like that. I can tell this disappoints people for a second but as we talk they feel okay about it.”

An actual conversation. An actual experience. To me, that’s better than a photo.

Not so long ago, if you wanted to take pictures, you had to conciously decide to carry a camera with you. Not anymore. Everyone carries their cell phones everywhere, and all of them have built-in cameras.

So we take pictures constantly, creating an entire genre of photos we didn’t have a word for just ten years ago: the Facebook photo. It’s a quick snap of yourself and your friends, with a touch of where you are in the background, taken primarily to document the fact that you hung out with a given friend.

These photos can be fun, but they can also take away from actually enjoying a given moment.

In 2006 I wrote about how technology was starting to intrude on real moments, in real life. Some friends and I, during a trip to the St. Louis, stumbled upon a view of the World Series from the top story of a parking garage. It was amazing, but when I turned to my friends to talk to them about it I was interupted by cell phones. Everyone was on the phone, asking if their friends and famailes were watching the game and explaining that they were watching the game from a parking garage. I couldn’t share the moment with them, because they were sharing it with someone else.

People pay more attention to their phones now than I could have imagined way back in 2006. What you pay attention to matters, however, so I”m going to ask again: are you having actual experiences? Or do you do things simply for the sake of recording and sharing them?

Think about it. Sure: you can look at photos and videos whenever you want, but actual experiences only happen once.

Let Me Pay For TV Online – An Open Letter

Game of Thrones is quickly becoming the most pirated series of all time. I was contemplating why this might be, and ended up arranging my thoughts in the following open letter.

Hi. My name’s Justin Pot, and I’m one of those “young viewers” you talk about during your meetings. I know, I know: it’s hard to think of us as individual humans with freewill instead of as statistics that determine your corporate fate, but stick with me for a moment.

I like watching some of the shows you guys put out. Community, Parks and Rec, Mad Men and Game of Thrones are among my favorites, and all add something valuable to the Zeitgeist of popular culture and bring happiness into my life.

Here’s my point: I have never, and likely will never will, pay for a cable subscription. I might be willing to pay for a few TV channels or TV shows on an al le carte basis, but you are never going to persuade me to pay for a cable subscription that includes channels I’ll never watch. Put simply: I want to pay for the content I’ll actually watch and not subsidize crappy channels or reality shows.

I know what you’re thinking: “Well, you’d never be willing to pay for any content under any circumstance, you pirate.” To which I say: yarr. Also: you’re wrong. I donate hundreds to public radio every year, something I’m not even remotely required to do. And I’d be happy to pay for access to my favorite TV shows.

You make that hard. I can’t buy any episodes from season 2 of Game of Thrones in any form right now, and online streaming is limited to those who already pay for cable. HBO: you don’t even offer an online-only option.

So here’s the deal: offer your shows on an al le carte, subscription basis and I’ll happily pay to watch them, particularly if there are no commercials.

This is usually the point where people threaten to pirate the shows unless media companies give them the deal they’re looking for. Judging by how frequently shows like Mad Men and Game of Thrones are pirated, many people make this argument.

I don’t think I have to. The truth is, if I no longer had a way to access any of your shows, my life would go on. There is plenty of free, high-quality entertainment that is in all honesty probably better for me intellectually than your content. Public radio, high quality YouTube channels like Crash Course and Ze Frank, and Ted, just to name a few. Plus I can, you know, go outside, read a book or take part in an actual conversation.

My point is this: television used to demand most of the free time of Americans. It doesn’t any longer. Piracy isn’t the primary reason for that. Social networks, gaming and online video are all eating into the time we’d previously spend mindlessly watching your content. Last year millions decided cable was no longer worth paying for. Pulling your shows from the Internet is going to change that: it’s going to make your shows irrelevant.

Piracy is not your primary enemy: the shear amount of choice we all have is. If you’re not going to make it easy for me to access your content, I’m not going to bother. I love TV, but not enough to pay for a service I don’t need.

What you pay attention to matters

I love television; probably too much. Last night Kathy and I were watching Mad Men, the best show being made right now. Each episode reveals a lot about the many characters and leaves you with a lot to think about, something I apparently wasn’t interested in doing: as soon as the episode was over I picked up the remote and clicked over to Reddit to watch the latest in cats and craziness from the internets. Having the Internet on your TV means there never needs to be silence, that there is always something else to watch.

Kathy pointed out I do this constantly, that I compusively ensure something follows the thing we watched last. Growing up with TV this feels natural: something always comes on next. But this is an Internet setup, and I have a choice. I routinely choose noise over reflection.

I’m thankful Kathy pointed this out. I spend a lot of my time on the Internet, because it’s my job but also because I love it. But it’s an infinite world, and if you don’t force yourself to stop from time to time you simply never will.

In the early days of the Internet one site claimed to be the end of it.

The joke, of course, was that the amount of content on the Internet could never be experienced by any one person. This was (somewhat) true at the time, but is indisputably true now–so much so that claiming there could be an end to the Internet almost seems quaint. Today user-generated sites like YouTube, Reddit and The Social Networks almost certainly add more content in a day than I could consume in a lifetime. We are presented with infinite choice, and we can pay attention to whatever we want.

And what you pay attention to matters. Your personality is defined in no small part by the sum of your experiences–the way your mother put you to bed as an infant, the games you and your siblings played together growing up, even the classes you took in college.

The act of observing affects the observer–that’s just human. Everything you experience and interact with shapes and molds that ball of fat in your skull you by some miracle experience as conciousness. If you’re at a hockey game, that experience shapes you. If you’re at a hockey game but only end up remembering the conversation you had with the person you came with, that shapes you in a different way. What you pay attention to matters, because it ends up defining in part who you are. It determines what or whom you care about.

When I go to a hockey game today I see plenty of people barely looking at the ice, engaged instead with their phones. Right in front of them are some of earth’s best athletes, engaged in competition for their benefit. They paid for the tickets, but instead are looking at their phone.

You and you alone decide what you pay attention to, and today there are more choices than ever before. Kathy wants my attention. She wants a conversation, to engage with me the culture we get to experience together. She wants shared experiences.

I’m glad we’re together, because sometimes I feel without her I’d drift into cyberspace and never manage to make it back to earth.

Hey, media: stop letting Apple use you as its PR department.

For all the talk of social media being the future of marketing, one company stands outside it all: Apple. This company’s every move is speculated about constantly on every social network, but how many people follow Apple on Twitter? None; they don’t have a Twitter page.

Apple knows a truth about social networking no supposed social media expert ever talks about: starving the beast is more effective than stuffing it. Information is only powerful if revealed on your terms, and Apple is the master of this.

So much speculation is built up by the time an Apple announcement happens that every journalist and blogger is compelled to write about it, even if they don’t think the actual announcement is that big a deal, because of the time investment they’ve already made.

Speaking of not being that big of a deal: the new iPad. Numbered-names are gone, and the resolution is higher. The device is more powerful. Also: Apple told journalists the post-PC age is here, and they all dutifully wrote that down and published it.

Here’s a hint: new versions of products come out every year, and they’re going to be better than last time. Other companies will copy the feature. It won’t magically connect you with other human beings or make you happier, but advertisements will subtly tell you otherwise.

In other words: Apple is a company making money by selling products. Journalists know not to cover every politician’s press conferences unless there’s reason to think something interesting will happen. It’s high time we did treated Apple the same way.

A version of this article appeared in episode 13 of Technophilia Podcast.

Network: When Satire Becomes Reality

I just watched Network, the classic 1976 film. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: our reality today resembles the satire of the past to an alarming degree.

Network predicts the blurring of entertainment, opinion and news on television almost perfectly. It’s as though screenplay author Paddy Chayefsky traveled to our time, watched a couple of hours of cable news and, upon returning to the 70’s, started work on his screenplay.

Already in the 70’s, ratings determined the editorial direction of each news broadcast. Telling the truth is one value; getting as many people as possible to watch your show is another.

If a journalistic institution is doing well, truth has a chance. When times get rough, it’s time to focus on ratings regardless of truth.

Network takes this truth to its logical conclusion. Howard Beale, a respected newsman about to be fired because of bad ratings, calmly states he intends to kill himself on air. The resulting publicity makes him a sensation, and his follow-up rants only accelerate this.

Beale’s rants are perfectly out of sync with the cool headed TV journalism of the 70’s, but wouldn’t seem out of place on Fox News today. At all.

This is what makes watching Network in 2011 so compelling: the shift away from reason and towards a shallow populism is predicted as the inevitable result of the quest for ratings.

The media landscape is radically different today than it was in the 70’s. There are hundreds of TV channels competing for time, and then you have the Internet.

Do we ever have Internet. It’s gotten to the point where a two hour story is considered old, and as such not worth digging into more.

The quest for attention, for ratings, is triumphing over truth. Write the most sensational headline possible and you’ll get high ratings. Throw in some search engine friendly terms, because we’ve got to get traffic up. Avoid overly depressing topics; they won’t play well on Twitter or Facebook.

Throw a cat picture in there; that will attract some attention.

The Internet is a social medium lacking central control. It’s still evolving, and it’s not too late for us to make it productive. It’s not going to be easy, but let’s see what’s possible. Who’s with me?

Gas Is Too Cheap

Gas prices are too low. Far, far too low. Within decades we will regret ever charging as little as four dollars a gallon for gas.

Divide global oil reserves by global oil consumption and we’ve got 33 years left.

Oil is a limited resource, and we’re going to run out of it. That’s not some liberal projection; that’s math. That’s reality. We should be preserving the oil we have for essential things, like farming, and restructuring our communities to reflect the coming post-petroleum era.

At the very least we, as a society, need to stop subsidizing fuel prices before our runaway consumption leads to an inevitable disaster.

The Blame Game

Disagree? You’re not alone. Gas prices being too high is the topic de jour in the media right now in America, and everyone is looking for someone to blame.

Some say the problem is jerks in the Middle East, demanding basic human rights and dignity without stopping to think what impact this might have on gas prices. Others say the problem is entirely based on Wall Street, as speculators drive the price higher and higher just to earn more greedy money.

Others, seemingly out of habit, blame Obama. The President can, after all, magically control gas prices; he is only increasing them now out a deep-seated hatred for America.

Regardless of the reason for the price increase, however, I think it’s a good thing prices are rising. Don’t get me wrong: I do have sympathy for working class families hit hard by increasing prices, and the economic recovery is being hindered by the rise. Still, these problems are superficial compared to the ones we’ll face if we let gas prices stay this low for much longer.

Until what we pay for gas accurately reflects the long-term consequences of using gas, we’ve got problems on our hands.

Not What You Think

Before you start ranting in the comments, denying climate change is an issue and stating the wars in Iraq and Libya have nothing to do with oil, know one thing: my argument requires neither that you believe climate science is valid nor that our foreign policy has consequences. It is, and it does, but realizing gas it too cheap requires accepting neither premise.

No, realizing gas is too cheap requires only some basic math.

Don’t believe me? Follow along. I’ve made a few calculations using WolframAlpha, an online tool that can calculate just about anything. Feel free to check the links below to check my work.

Simple Calculations

America consumes 18.6 million barrels of oil a day. That means that, on average, an American consumes 0.06 barrels of oil a day. It takes 16.66 days, or just over half a month, for the average American to use up a barrel of oil.

No problem, right? After all, a 2002 estimate claims world oil reserves total around 1.326 trillion barrels, so there’s a lot of oil to go around yet. Divide world oil reserves by US oil consumption and you’ll find that we’ve got 145 years and 9 months left before we run out of oil.

There’s one obvious problem with that calculation, of course: more countries than America use oil. China consumes 8.2 million barrels of oil a day, for example, and Europe uses 15.39 million barrels a day.

(That’s right: America uses more oil than all of Europe combined, despite Europe containing 286.5 million additional people. USA! USA! USA!)

Anyway: if you add up the oil consumption in China, Europe and America you get 42.28 million barrels of oil a day. How long can the world’s oil reserves hold out against that combined consumption? 64 years and 5 months.

That’s just America, Europe and China combined. Never mind India (2.98 million barrels a day), Latin America (8.089 million barrels a day) or the rest of the world. Take every country out of the picture besides America, Europe and China and we don’t even have 65 years left.

I can reasonably expect to live that long.

Divide global oil reserves by global oil consumption and we’ve got 33 years left.

Most people on earth can expect to live that long.

But wait: there’s more.

All of these figures assume that current oil consumption will remain static in the coming decades. It won’t.

In most countries on Earth oil consumption has been trending upwards for years, even accounting for the decline caused by the recent depression. China and India will see particularly big rises as their economy awakens.

It’s also worth noting that much of the global oil reserves will never actually be extracted for a variety of reasons. Some would take more energy to extract than they would provide, and some are too environmentally risky.

No Easy Answer

So what solution do I offer? I mostly just want people to realize that our current era, of cheap energy, could well be an unusual bubble in global history.

We should probably stop subsidizing sprawl, shifting infrastructure funding away from expressways and toward sidewalks and bike trails. We should certainly re-think any subsidies of the vehicle industries.

More importantly, though, we need to take the need for alternative energy a lot more seriously, because non-renewable energy sources run out by definition. Increasing the tax on gas to help research these alternative could be a step in the right direction, but that might not be politically possible. Our society it built on the assumption of cheap gas, and people won’t give that assumption up until it’s too late.

Why should they? Gas it too cheap for anyone to take the idea of oil running out seriously.

Few things happen without some sort of economic motivation, and at four dollars a gallon people are just barely starting to change their lifestyles. Be it purchasing efficient cars or driving less, or even using a bike instead of driving, change is happening. Any action government takes to reverse this would be a mistake.

“The Party” exposes China’s mysterious leadership

Americans love conspiracy theories. Even if you know man stepped on the moon and Bush didn’t cause 9/11, there’s something sickly fascinating about speculating that government has something to hide. At the very least, it makes for great fiction.

Conspiracy theories, so far as I know, aren’t popular in China. That’s a shame, because the people of China are living in the midst of a pretty spectacular conspiracy; one that’s anything but theoretical.

That’s certainly the impression I got after reading Richard McGregor’s “The Party,” a fascinating look at the inner circles of China’s elite. It depicts The Communist Party as bureaucratic, hierarchical and largely effective – though frequently hampered by its obsession with staying in power.

If you struggle to understand just what Beijing is thinking sometimes, this is the book you need to read. The motivations of the Chinese regime is laid out clearly, as are Western misconceptions about it.

Western scholars have long speculated about what lessons are to be learned from the fall of the Soviet empire; in China, the question is anything but academic. Such a fate must be avoided at all costs, and the Party staying in power can ensure this.

This lesson, along with the experience of the 1989 Tienanmen protests, define China’s government to this day. Capitalism, of a certain kind, was found to help the party stay in power by growing the economy and preventing collapse. It’s also made China the world’s second-biggest economy.

The Party isn’t the sort of conspiracy you find in the American imagination; it’s too imperfect for that. There is a surprising number of things over which The Party has no power. Regional politicians routinely ignore dictates from Beijing, for example. Taiwan remains very much independent.

Still, there’s not much about modern life in China not supervised by the Communist Party. The Internet is famously monitored, many families are permitted no more than one child, only approved religions can meet publicly, and corporate leaders can be fired by The Party at will.

Despite all this, however, an overwhelming majority of people feel the country is headed in the right direction, something that can scarcely be said about America. Whatever you think about The Party, you have to admire it at a certain level.

McGregor’s book doesn’t focus on this sort of admiration, however, focusing instead on the consequences of single party rule. A particularly morbid example involved tainted milk being covered up in 2008 to prevent negative press during the Olympics. Children died because of this, so The Party let the company take the fall in early 2009, when the Western media had gone home.

And, of course, speaking against The Party can get you locked up in a hurry. Just ask the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Overall, this book gives me the impression that life is better in declining American than in rising China. It also puts the petty arguments in America, in which Obama/Bush are routinely compared to authoritarians, into context. A highly recommended read.

Bush’s “Decision Points” is profoundly surreal

In the week leading up to the release of George W. Bush’s memoir, reviewers chimed in with their opinions, hoping to define what the memoir means to the millions who read reviews instead of books.

Some said Bush is as stubborn as ever, insisting that history will show him in a kind light despite evidence to the contrary. Some found factual errors and highlighted them. Some longed to return to Bush’s presidency.

No review I read, however, pointed out my deepest feeling after reading Decision Point: the book is profoundly surreal.

Here is a president who defined his career by his decisiveness. The guy actually called himself “The Decider.”

Yet, reading his memoirs, I got the distinct impression that Bush never really made a decision in his life. Whether it’s following his dad’s example or listening to his close advisers, Bush’s own words gave me the impression that he is a man who floated through life and happened to become the president of the United States of America.

He went to two Ivy League schools, seemingly just because he had connections and wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life anyway. He got mediocre grades in both schools. Then he drifted for a decade or so, doing some labour and starting the occasional unsuccessful business. Then he got married and decided owning a baseball team would be fun. Then he ran for governor, and eventually for president.

Perhaps others will read it differently, but to me Decision Points reads like the memoir of a trust fund kid who happened to stumble into the presidency. Bush comes across as sincere, as someone who loves his family and took his responsibilities seriously, but if you’re looking for deep reflections on the use of power in the 21st century look elsewhere.

And if you’re looking to learn from someone who lived intentionally, who took control of his fate and made the most of it, Decision Points is not a book I’d recommend.

***

It’s September 11, 2001. I’m starting grade 11 at a small Christian high school in Ontario. The first class of the day is history, and we’re talking about what history is.

Mr. Korvemaker is one of those teachers who teaches best when he asks questions, and today is no exception. Everything he asks prompts conversation as we try to figure out what, exactly, history is.

What becomes history, what doesn’t become history? Is it the moments of the past that we, as a civilization, assign value to? Or are there some moments that are just intrinsically historic?

We are well into the conversation when we are interrupted by the PA system. Planes crashed into both World Trade Center towers in America, and no one is really sure what’s going on. Our vice principal, a lifelong educator typically sporting a sincerely happy demeanor, is fighting back tears. We later learn he has a friend working in one of the towers.

It seems insane, in retrospect, that our discussion about what history is could take place during a moment destined to go down in it.

***

“Where were you when it happened” stories have become a genre. Telling these stories is a sort of religious ritual, one in which the storyteller places their lives in the context of history.

Bush’s memoir contains this ritual early on.

He describes how he started his day on September 11, 2001. Reading the Bible, jogging, showering, breakfast, CIA briefing. His manner of describing everything is downright ordinary.

Most people know where Bush was when the planes hit: promoting his education reforms, reading to children in the Emma E. Booker Elementary School of Florida. It was a press-oriented visit, meant to boost No Child Left Behind.

His chief of staff whispered in his ear after both plane crashes. Bush kept reading.

“I saw reporters at the back of the room, learning the news on their cell phones and pagers,” he writes. “Instinct kicked in. I knew my reaction would be recorded and beamed throughout the world. The nation would be in shock; the president could not be. If I stormed out hastily, it would scare the children and send ripples of panic throughout the country.”

And so continuing to read a children’s book is heroic.

Not that I think he reacted poorly. On the contrary, I would do the same thing under the same circumstances. That’s not the point.

He shouldn’t have been doing the press-oriented school visit in the first place.

Modern presidents are pundits as well as politicians, a long tradition but one we should question. More would get done if politicians stopped campaigning once elections concluded. That Bush was promoting his work instead of working when the planes hit is a symbol of how out-of-sync with reality the modern presidency is.

Bush describes the rest of his day, riding Air Force One from location to location. Like most of us, he had no idea what was going on. He kept calling Washington to find out, but the entire government seemed to be in chaos. It was hours before he found out Al-Qaeda was to blame, at least by his telling.

The entire time Bush kept telling his people he wanted to get back to the White House, but for safety reasons this was continually delayed.

He made it eventually.

“Landing at Barksdale felt like dropping onto a movie set,” says the most powerful man on earth about seeing his own air force in action.

What a mediated world we live in.

***

It’s November, 2003. I’m halfway through my first semester at an small Christian university in Michigan. I’m figuring out what identity politics is.

Growing up in Canada ideology wasn’t something I thought of much. Mom and Dad voted against each other during a couple of elections, and it was more a joke than a fight.

Not so in Michigan, I soon learn. Here many accept political affiliations as though they are born into a caste.

“I’m a genetic Republican,” I hear more than once. A friend of mine explains she is a Democrat because of her New England upbringing.

This makes very little sense to me. What do ideas have to do with genetics or upbringing?

I take everything in stride, but a few things confuse me so much that I have to question them. Among them is a picture I see every day.

The picture is on the door of the dorm room across the hall from mine. It features a soldier manning a large gun in a desert, with a caption I never forgot:

“You aren’t the ones taking bullets in the desert. SUPPORT YOUR COUNTRYMEN.”

I was never against supporting troops. God knows I don’t envy them their job.

But that was rarely the purpose of signs like this in the early days of the Iraq war. The argument that one should support the troops was frequently twisted into a means of telling people to support the war in Iraq.

I reject this logic completely. One does not necessarily need to support a war just because there were troops fighting; that would mean accepting any war regardless of its morality.

So I write an article about America invading Canada to make this point. It probably convinces no one of anything, but I have fun with it.

I found a new passion: writing.

By the end of that year I write a regular satirical column in the student paper.

***

The Iraq war, through Bush’s telling, was completely logical. Saddam was a dick. Saddam ignored international law. International organizations were unwilling to do anything about this. America, and her allies, did it without their consent. Now Iraqis are voting, and the world is a better place.

This telling isn’t completely out of touch with reality. Saddam had been ignoring, and gaming, international law for decades much like North Korea and Iran do today.

Opponents of the war never argue these points. They argue that America doesn’t have the right to ignore the institutions, like the UN, which she built to make the world a better place. To hear Bush speak of the UN, however, you’d think it was just a conspiracy to stop America from properly taking care of everyone.

The war ended up being much longer than Bush imagined. Of course it cost the American economy billions. But to Bush, this is justified because the cause was just and the security of America depended on victory.

Ideological arguments like this will probably give way to reality in the coming century, as America’s wealth faces limits. Wars will be opposed on fiscal rather than moral grounds. America will no longer have the means to impose its order on the world, whether it wants to or not.

All of these arguments will look very different by then.

***

It’s April, 2005. My second year at Calvin is winding down, and I’m helping the staff at the student paper put the final touches on its annual parody issue.

The parody issue has a half century of mocking the school’s status-quo behind it, something we’re all aware of as we put all of our spare time into this year’s project. Editors have been fired, donations have been pulled and the school has more than once been forever changed for the better.

Simply put: truth is good. If God is good, falsehoods should be mocked. Parody is our way of mocking falsehoods, a responsibility we take very seriously.

This year we’re doing a mock version of People magazine, and it’s been exhausting. The layout is a pretty good recreation and the articles cover everything from closeted homosexuals to the hubris of certain communications professors.

Finally we think it’s finished and we’ll be able to go to bed at night instead of staying up working on the publication.

It’s not meant to be. The morning we wrap it up there is an announcement: George W. Bush will speak at our college’s commencement this year.

Well shit. Now we need to throw something about Bush into there. The exhaustion, however, eventually turned into school-child giddiness as we worked on our last-second addition to the publication.

The design we eventually settled on felt nothing short of genius. Our collective minds, as though one, choose the famous cowboy image of Bush on his ranch and turned it into a parody Marlboro advertisement.

“Come to where the Savior is,” it read, “Come to Bush country.”

We intend to point out the sacrilegious overlap of religion and politics in contemporary America. Bush was the ultimate symbol of that, only highlighted by his decision to speak at our Christian university.

We also think our ad is hilarious.

***

History’s always been a nebulous concept, leading at least one 20th century automaker to call it “bunk.”

That being said, most people don’t spend our days wondering how history will judge them. For the most part, the average person assumes nothing they ever do will be taught in classes later on in life.

George W. Bush felt he had no such luxury. Late in his presidency Bush more than once mentioned his belief that history would vindicate him; that his current unpopularity is a momentary thing.

It makes sense, then, that the very first thing Bush mentions in his book is how important his book will be for future historians.

Maybe it’s because I’m young.

Maybe it’s become I came to political consciousness in Canada, where the stakes are so much lower, before moving to America.

Maybe it’s because nothing Bush did every really made sense to me at the time.

Whatever the reason, I can’t really describe Decision Points using any word besides surreal.

5 Articles You Should Read Tonight

So much of the web is short little snippits, manufactured with keywords in mind to increase a site’s hitcount, so finding quality articles  is very relaxing for any blogger. I read some great articles last night so I thought I’d share.

One of my favorite pages on the web is Instapaper’s “Browse” page. Instapaper is a web app for reading long articles without distractions, and the “Browse” page provides plenty of great articles for reading. I love picking four or five articles from this page at random, sending them to my eReader and making myself a cup of tea.

Let Us Pay by John Lanchester
London Review Of Books

The last five years have been depressing for the newspaper industry. Classifieds, a former cash cow, are now essentially worthless. Subscriptions are down and advertising revenues with them.

Yet many newspapers have millions more readers than ever before.

John Lanchester explores this contradiction, and says the problem is that newspapers make it too hard to pay for articles online. His solution: a sort of iTunes for reading. Great analysis, and something everyone with an interest in writing professionally should read.

The War On Cameras by Radley Balko
Reason Magazine

Did you know it’s illegal in many states to record video of police officers? Neither do most residents of those states. Balko points out numerous examples of people being arrested for recording police officers, and the not-exactly-relevant wiretapping laws being used to make it happen. Some police officers, essentially, argue they have a right to privacy, and as such cannot be recorded without permission.

It’s a great example of the law failing to keep up with technology. Cell phone cameras being ubiquitous today makes more such cases inevitable. Will the laws be overturned?

Why I’m An Atheist by Ricky Gervais
The Wall Street Journal

Gervais’ recent stint hosting the Global Globes caused no shortage of controversy. So much so, in fact, that many missed his sign-off: “I’d like to thank God for making me an athiest.” Weird, right?

Not really. If you want a better understanding of the comedians views on religion I highly recommend this article. Don’t worry: it’s not a Dawkins-style attack on belief. Rather, Gervais simply outlines how he came to his conclusion, with his signature wit. Worth a read regardless of your faith (or lack thereof.)

The New Rock-Star Paradigm by Damian Kulash Jr.
The Wall Street Journal

How can musicians make money in the digital age? If anyone knows, it’s OK Go. Kulash outlines how his band is making a decent living in the age of downloads employing a centuries-old technique: patronage. OK Go, since leaving their record label behind, has found sponsors for their famously viral videos. This allows them to be as creative as possible, and also lets them make a good living doing what they love: making music.

Again, anyone trying to figure out how the creative process will work in the Internet age should give this article a read.

The Commandments by Jill Lepore
The New Yorker

There’s been a lot of talk of the constitution lately, but what does the document really mean? Lepore examines the history of this document and the various historical movements that tried to define it. As tea party types increasingly study the constitution as though it were a infallible religious text it’s important to realize its imperfection. The founders did not agree on the document itself, and it changed many times through history.

If you’re American, this article provides clarity. If you’re not, this article provides context for the current obsession.

Feel free to share any more great articles in the comments below.

Wikileaks Is Inevitable. Is it Good?

Complete access to information isn’t always a good thing; just ask Valerie Plame.

Many of the same people defending WikiLeak’s latest actions, leaking classified US diplomatic cables, were up in arms during the Plame affair. Which is ironic, when you consider it: wasn’t outing Plame as a CIA agent an example of revealing the truth, regardless of consequence?

“But there was a political motivation for the Plame affair,” some might respond.

Wait: WikiLeaks doesn’t have a political motivation?

For a long time the site’s motivation was clear: leaking documents from totalitarian regimes around the world. Much of the media is failing to mention the fact that the intense focus on America is a very recent change for the site. For most of its history Wikileaks primarily strove to increase transparency in states with little to no press freedom at all. The site had no public face; it just made information public.

That changed in 2010, when Julian Assange become the organization’s talking head, and leaking American documents seemingly became the site’s entire purpose. Frustrated staff are leaving WikiLeaks for this very reason, starting their own site at OpenLeaks.org

All of this and more is documented in a recent in-depth report in Vanity Fair. This is a long read, but one with many revelations.

For example: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange threatened to sue The Guardian should it publish cables leaked to it by a disgruntled Wikileaks staff member. That’s right: WikiLeaks, the organization dedicated to leaking protected information, tried to stop The Guardian from publishing information without its approval.

We can discuss the ironies here all we like, but one thing is for sure: secrets being made public in this manner is, so long as the Internet exists, inevitable.

Is it good? I’m not sure.

Diplomacy is certainly going to be tougher in the months ahead – not a comforting prospect in an era of climate change and Iranian mad men pursing the bomb. But, as Congressman Ron Paul points out, the US probably keeps more secrets than it needs to.

Time will reveal whether WikiLeaks results in a more open world, a less peaceful world or both. The web made these leaks inevitable; humanity decides their impact.