Trump’s Border Wall Will Cost 54 Bridges To Nowhere

Remember the bridge to nowhere? Back in 2006 Republicans turned a proposed Alaskan bridge into a symbol of everything that’s wrong with Washington, an unacceptable waste of taxpayer money.

The bridge in question would have connected the town of Ketchikan, population 8000, with Gravina Island. Sure, only 50 people live on that island, but it’s also the location of Ketchikan’s airport, a vital connection to the outside world in an isolated area. The bridge would have cost $398 million.

Which brings us to President Trump’s pet project: a giant wall on the Mexican border. It will cost $21.6 billion, according to an internal Department of Homeland Security report. That’s the most conservative estimate we’ve seen, but we’ll go with it.

For some reason Mexico doesn’t seem keen to pay for the wall (🤔🤔🤔), so the administration hopes to cut funding to the Coast Guard to make up some of the difference. Which is brilliant, because no one in Mexico owns a boat.

But here’s what I’m sure you’re wondering: how does the cost of the Bridge to Nowhere compare to the Wall Mexico Won’t Pay For? Let’s take a look:

Wow, that bridge is looking like a bargain! The Wall Mexico Won’t Pay For will cost just over 54 Bridges To Nowhere. Let’s continue this extremely scientific analysis by comparing the two projects.

Bridge To Nowhere Wall Mexico Won’t Pay For
$398 million $21.6 billion
Less than 2 miles long Over 1,250 miles long
In sparsely populated area Mostly in totally unpopulated areas
Not vulnerable to 35 foot ladders About that…
Could have connected Ketchikan to its airport Cuts off isolated stretches of desert from other isolated stretches of desert
Momentarily became a symbol of government waste If built will become the ultimate symbol of government waste for generations

Learn from this, Canada.

It’s an 82 kilometer drive from Peace River, Alberta to Fairview, and there’s not a whole lot to see along the way. Fewer than 10,000 people live in the two towns combined, but I still managed to get stuck in traffic driving from one to the other.

We sat there, my friends and I, waiting for the road to clear so we could get to a company Christmas party. We were listening to CBC Radio 1; Randy Bachman, of BTO fame, was outlining the history of reggae, playing songs that were perfectly juxtaposed with the snow-covered canola fields outside.

Eventually the cops motioned us forward, and we could see what the holdup was. The face of a Ford F350 was completely flattened, like an accordion. It hit a moose, apparently, though the moose itself was no where to be seen. The cops told us it walked away. Apparently that’s not uncommon.

This is the most Canadian story I could possibly tell, but that truck also nicely outlines my mental state the day after the election of Donald J. Trump. I was utterly flattened by something I really should have seen coming.

I didn’t sleep the night of the election. I wept multiple times on Wednesday. I spent the weekend on the coast with my wife, entirely offline, doing everything I could to avoid reading the news.

What I’m feeling, dear reader, is this: I want to love America, but I can’t. I just can’t.

I live outside Portland, Oregon, a city aflame with protests last week. When I go home to rural Ontario, people call me “the American.” I’ve lived stateside for over a decade. I own a house. And I’ve been known to spout dangerous foreign ideas, like “putting an NHL team in Hamilton isn’t a great idea.”

But I don’t consider myself American. I’m not an American citizen. Maybe someday, I’ve always told myself, but then something always happens. Sometimes a small thing, like the US facing Canada in Olympic hockey, makes me realize I’m completely incapable of self-identifying as American. And sometimes….well, sometimes it’s big things. Seeing Canada embrace Syrian refugees makes me feel deeply patriotic, and so does the way Canadian voters soundly rejected anti-Muslim rhetoric in the 2015 election.

Which brings me to the 2016 US election. I have never felt less American than now. This is not my native land, but I hesitate to even call it home. Don’t get me wrong: I’m very grateful to live here. I have many great friends here. I love these people. I love my wife.

But when I think of “America”, writ large, I now think of a country that elects a know-nothing demagogue spouting unambiguous racism and hatred. The thought of ever pledging allegiance to its flag makes me sick in my stomach.

I know this, on some level, is a defense mechanism. I’m a straight white Christian male, but playing the “Canada” card gets me off the hook for Trump entirely. Knowing the psychological reasons behind my sudden surge of Canadian nationalism doesn’t lessen its potency.

I’m going to feel like this for a while, and I’m going to be venting a lot. I’m hoping to put some of my energy toward making my local community a better place for the people Trump wants to hurt.

But in the meantime, I want to say something to my compatriots back home.

Canada: you’re the shining city on the hill now. America has lost faith with its own ideals, and Europe is descending into darkness. Canada is the only Western power that believes in multiculturalism, and the world needs Canada to live up to that belief.

So what I ask of you, fellow Canadians, is this: don’t fuck this up.

Last year the Conservative Party tried to play up anti-Muslim fear in an attempt to save its election hopes. The backlash was immediate, and Canada wound up electing Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in an unprecedented wave. The third-place party ended up with a majority government.

I know many of you don’t like Trudeau, or the Liberals, when it comes to policy. That’s fine. But please: no matter how you feel, do not let the hatred of minority groups drive the discussion. If politicians try to use suspicion of minority groups as a rallying cry, fight back, regardless of the partisan implications. Ethnic hatred unleashes forces that can’t be tamed, and will outlast any election victory. It’s not worth it.

The world is watching, Canada. Stand on guard.

Oh, and Trudeau: keep your damn voting reform promises.

The First Canadian President!

I bought into part of the birther narrative, and didn’t even realize it. You probably did too.

We all knew the birthers were crazy, because Obama wasn’t born in Kenya. But not one of us questioned the premise – that to be president, you need to be born on American soil. Now that the Canadian-born Ted Cruz announced his candidacy, legal scholars are saying the “natural-born citizen” requirement outlined in the constitution includes people born abroad to American parents. Legal scholars apparently aren’t particularly divided on this point.

This means that, even if Obama was born in Kenya, his American mother means he’s eligible for the presidency. This was true the entire time. In all the years of the bullshit birther narrative distracting us from actual issues, I don’t remember this coming up – not even once. We were all too busy being amused by the craziness to question the premise.

The web is a pinball machine of outrage, perpetually stuck in multiball mode. We do everything we can to juggle our silver balls of superiority, and the birther narrative stayed in play longer than most. It felt like the kind of thing that liberals would make up just to prove that conservatives are stupid and/or racist, but apparently some people actually did – and still do – think Obama was born outside the country. Hilarious! We kept a lot of bullshit in play for through the years – death panels, Benghazi, “Keep Your Goddamn Government Hands Off My Medicare” – but the birther movement is the one ball that just wouldn’t stop bouncing around, racking up more combos and missions than anyone thought possible (and making us feel oh-so-smug in the process).

There was never, so far as I knew, any reason to believe Obama was born in Kenya, but the sort of people who still read email forwards thought otherwise…because the Internet. And left-wing publications happily pointed this out, repeatedly, because aren’t those fucking right wingers just batshit crazy? Isn’t it funny?

And that whole time, not one person asked what in retrospect is the most obvious question: would Obama being born in Kenya make him ineligible for the presidency? Apparently not.

Of course, nonsensical focus on points that don’t matter is not unique to right-wingers. Lefties have been bitching about the Keystone pipeline for years. It’s as though Obama could convince the nation of Canada and every oil company on earth that the tar sands aren’t worth pursuing just by preventing a pipeline from being built. Apparently there’s no other way to move the oil, and everyone will just pack up shop if the pipeline is blocked, because the US President can control LITERALLY EVERYTHING regardless of what State Department reports say.

Seriously, following US politics in 2015 is like being a fan of a TV show that the writers stopped caring about ages ago. Nothing makes sense, no one is even trying to tie up the lose ends and the performers are just phoning it in at this point. Why not just introduce a bunch of irrelevant plot points (senators writing a letter to Iran) or re-hash old ideas (Bush versus Clinton). It’s just lazy at this point; no wonder fewer people are tuning in.

Oh well, whatever. There might be a Canadian president! That’s good news right? Peace, order, and good government would be a nice change of pace…

Oh. Never mind.

On the shutdown: call out bullshit, then question your own.

As you know by now the US government’s been held hostage by right-wing extremists. These people thought Romney was going to win in a landslide, so reality isn’t their forte. We should absolutely call them out on their bullshit, especially when the result of it is a government shutdown that’s going to cost the American people billions of dollars.

But while you do that, question what bullshit you might hold dear. Because there is some. All of our brains want, more than anything, to be told that we’re right. To be told that our ideas are legitimate, and that anyone who disagrees is immoral, misinformed or somehow inferior to our superior selves.

And we’ve all got personal internet bubbles set up. Facebook filters out people we don’t interact with, you only follow people you like on Twitter and even your Google searches are determined by what Google thinks you like. Our stupid brains love this, but reality becomes increasingly subjective as our filters grow to service them.

Again: only one party decided to use a basic government protocol to hold hostage a law passed years ago by a democratically elected congress and supported by a recently re-elected president. They absolutely deserve the blame here.

But the deeper problem is a cultural inability to agree on what is and isn’t true. This nonsense is only a symptom – albeit a batshit crazy one.

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.

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.

Stewart, Maddow and the real problem with cable

During the Rally To Restore Sanity Jon Stewart focused on how America’s media in general, and cable news in particular, exaggerate partisan divides to an absurd degree.

“The country’s 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems,” said Stewart, “But its existence makes solving them that much harder.”

Conservative pundits largely ignored this criticism, because it adds nothing to their “us vs. them” narrative. Liberal pundits didn’t feel they had that luxury.

Terrified of being lumped in with the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, MSNBC’s liberal talking heads quickly went on the defensive. As an olive branch, of sorts, Jon Stewart appeared on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” to clarify his points. Here is the full, uncut interview:

I like a lot of what Stewart says here. His inability to not control the way his creation is interpreted reminded me a lot of adventures I and my friends experienced in college.

But I don’t think the focus on left-versus-right controversies is the problem with the American media. I think it’s a symptom of a deeper issue: the almost complete non-existence of international political news on those channels.

American news networks do cover the rest of the world, occasionally. If there’s a natural disaster, for example, or if America’s president/army is visiting/invading a given country.

Beyond that, though, international news is a novelty here. You’ll certainly never see an in-depth discussion of Nigeria’s economic policies, unless of course they have a direct impact on gas prices here in America (and you can bet the gas price narrative will be what dominates the story.)

Changing this would help in two ways. First, covering a planet’s worth of news leaves little time for the sort of talking head nonsense Stewart is complaining about.

Watch CNN International, then contrast it with CNN’s American broadcast, and you’ll quickly know what I’m talking about. Even better: watch Al Jazeera English right now. I guarantee you’ll see more substantive reporting in a half hour on Al Jazeera than you will watching CNN, Fox or MSNBC for two full hours.

So covering international news reduces the amount of time a network has for nonsense. Beyond that, though, international news could give Americans context for news happening in America.

Learning about international politics puts one’s own nation into perspective. Lacking this perspective, Americans tend to look at their policy choices in a vacuum. It is this vacuum, I believe, that allows the political environment to become so toxic.

Calling Obama a communist and Bush a fascist seems silly when you compare them to the way real communists and real fascists are behaving right now. Real international coverage could help point this out.

Overall I thought Stewart did a very good job of expressing his point of view, both during the rally and in this interview. I just wish he, and the rest of the American media, did more to tell Americans what’s going on outside their comfortable bubble of a country.