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Connectivity Conundrum
January 26, 2011

The night I lost my digital virginity, I was sixteen, visiting family in Paris. One evening, my cousin and I decided to go to a movie. Before I could reach for the newspaper listings, he switched on a box the size of a small television that sat on a living room shelf, unnoticed by me until that moment. The screen glowed blue as he typed in a sequence of numbers. Voilà! The desired information appeared in a flash of light that seemed nothing less than magical.

Decision Time
January 20, 2011

The Republican Party—and indeed much of the media establishment—is living in a fantasy world when it comes to 2012. To hear most of the pundits and soothsayers tell it, the presidential nominating contest is still a long way off. The GOP heavies we’ve been talking about since 2008, such as Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Tim Pawlenty, are all terribly flawed: Mitt’s got his RomneyCare; Newt has been a national pariah; Huck has money problems; Palin is toxic outside her base; and T-Paw induces narcolepsy.

Wiki Rehab
January 07, 2011

American diplomacy seems to have survived Wikileaks’s “attack on the international community,” as Hillary Clinton so dramatically characterized it, unscathed. Save for a few diplomatic reshuffles, Foggy Bottom doesn’t seem to be deeply affected by what happened. Certainly, the U.S. government at large has not been paralyzed by the leaks—contrary to what Julian Assange had envisioned in one of his cryptic-cum-visionary essays, penned in 2006.

The Conservative Bind
January 05, 2011

Washington—Edmund Burke, one of history's greatest conservatives, warned that abstractions are the enemy of responsible government. "I never govern myself, no rational man ever did govern himself, by abstractions and universals," Burke wrote.

Against Rage
December 08, 2010

He had not been denied the world. Terrible scenes that he clung to because they taught him the world will at last be buried with him. As well as the exhilarations. Now, he thinks each new one will be the last one. The last new page. The last sex. Each human being’s story, he tells nobody, is a boat cutting through the night. As starless blackness approaches, the soul reverses itself, in the eerie acceptance of finitude. Frank Bidart is an American poet.

Everything Is Data, but Data Isn’t Everything
December 07, 2010

This bumper-sticker headline, borrowed from the sociologist Pauline Bart, speaks beautifully to the latest Wikileaks outpour and the question of what it does and doesn’t mean.  The media theorist Lev Manovich has said that the definitive informational metaphor of our epoch is the database. The database is not just a metaphor, in fact—it’s a certification of what knowledge looks like and how it is to be gained. A metaphor is a carrier, a condensation of meaning. A database is a heap.

Wikileaks and the Art of Shutting Up
December 03, 2010

The public disclosure of some quarter million State Department cables (e-mails with multiple recipients, in essence) raise ethical and legal issues that I won’t discuss. Nor will I try to estimate the net harms (or maybe benefits) of making the cables public. I will address other questions: I’ll call them communication discipline, a culture of self-display, the technology of snooping, media desperation for content, and the social costs of overclassification.

Conan the Solipsist
December 03, 2010

“Welcome to my second annual first show,” said Conan O’Brien in the recent premiere of his new late-night talk show on TBS. Also: “People asked me why I named the show ‘Conan.’ I did it so I’d be harder to replace.” His first episode opened with a video of an unemployed O’Brien being hounded by a haggard wife and 14 kids, then gunned down by Godfather-style NBC hitmen. And, as the weeks progressed, the self-pity has persisted.

Facebook Visigoths
November 30, 2010

How, I asked my husband as much in disbelief as in indignation, do the guards at the Louvre allow this? I wasn't referring to the hordes of chattering tourists of all description who, when they visit the museum, apparently think it is a good idea to press and elbow and jostle against one another in order to get into position to snap a picture—blinding flashes from every direction—of the long-suffering, overexposed Mona Lisa.

Fighting the Fed
November 17, 2010

Last week, in between leading a graduate seminar on Proust and delivering a long-scheduled lecture on mass spectrometry, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin ventured a few ticks beyond her acknowledged area of expertise and reflected on monetary policy at a convention in Phoenix. The occasion for her unexpected soliloquy—I’m actually serious about the economics speech—was the Fed’s decision to buy some $600 billion in long-term government securities, a practice known as quantitative easing. “We shouldn’t be playing around with inflation,” Palin said, in a typically Delphic pronouncement.

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