Farhad Manjoo is one of the most thoughtful tech commentators around. But sometimes even he loses it. For example:
Silicon Valley luminaries are easily mocked as having a precious, narrow take on the world. People in the tech industry can’t see past themselves, critics often charge; they act as if the products they build sit at the center of everything.
But this year, the techies were right: Technology did rule many issues in 2015…
First, to understand the problem, consider the year’s headlines. From terrorism to protests over police abuse, from the scandal at Volkswagen to global tensions over energy and the climate, technology was central to just about every major news story that came across the wire.
Eh? “Just about every major news story that came across the wire”. What has this guy been smoking? Or has he just spent too much time in the Valley’s solipsistic world?
Here’s a few things he seems to have missed: the global refugee crisis; the civil war in Ukraine — and Russia’s role in it; the Eurozone crisis; the French regional elections; the Trump phenomenon; the British general election (and the subsequent election of Jeremy Corbyn); the thaw in US-Cuba relations; the continued rise of ISIS; the Paris massacre…
Apart from ISIS, tech is nowhere to be found in these stories.
I like Mr Manjoo’s stuff. But really he ought to get out more.
The New York Times has put an editorial on its front page for the first time since 1920. It’s about gun control in the wake of the Californian terrorist massacre. It will, of course, have no effect: the US is beyond rationality in this area — as Nick Kristof observes in a remarkable column on the inside pages:
LESBOS, Greece — For three weeks American politicians have been fulminating about the peril posed by Syrian refugees, even though in the last dozen years no refugee in America has killed a single person in a terror attack.
In the same three weeks as this hysteria about refugees, guns have claimed 2,000 lives in America. The terror attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs were the most dramatic, but there’s an unrelenting average of 92 gun deaths every day in America, including suicides, murders and accidents.
So if politicians want to tackle a threat, how about developing a serious policy to reduce gun deaths — yes, including counterterrorism measures, but not simply making scapegoats of the world’s most vulnerable people.
The caricatures of Syrian refugees as jihadis who “want to kill us,” as one reader named Josh tweeted me, are unrecognizable to anyone who spends time with these refugees…
Note the numbers in the Kristof piece: an average of 92 gun deaths a day in the US.
Cameron’s non-strategy in bombing Syria is beyond parody. Or at any rate, the only writer I can think of who would be up to lampooning it would be Evelyn Waugh. Glenn Newey, writing in the LRB, nails the surrealism of the bombing policy:
As Obama said the other day, France is the United States’ oldest ally. Meanwhile we British, too, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our oldest enemy, hailed this week by Cameron as ‘friends and allies’. In the Orwellian perma-war, memory is slavery and amnesia emancipation. Signifier-flotation rules. Yesterday’s cheese-eating surrender monkeys emerge as a bastion of civilisation against the ragheads du jour.
Notoriously, back in 2003 when Chirac was sensibly blocking Bush and Blair’s pursuit of a Security Council mandate for the idiocy in Iraq, the US Congress diner rebranded French fries and toast as ‘freedom fries’ and ‘freedom toast’, which others copied (regrettably I haven’t traced a use of ‘freedom letters’). But now a higher trump has blown, as it did a hundred years ago when Gaul and Saxon, with the tsar, united to carve up Ottoman domains including Syria and Iraq. Now these two dog-eared ex-imperia, both pawing at the top table with their nukes and permanent UN Security Council membership, are again burying their old contention.
This is such an extraordinary picture that I am inclined to think it’s a spoof. The Prime Minister is making a statement to the House of Commons — about the strategic defence review, no less. In other words, about the future of the country’s armed forces. But the Labour Parliamentary party — and the Shadow Cabinet — have gone AWOL, leaving their Leader sitting alone on the Opposition front bench. I don’t care what these cretins think about Corbyn: this is a Parliamentary democracy and it only works if there’s a functional opposition. That’s what Labour MPs were elected to provide. Instead of which they are sulking in their tents because their party elected a guy they can’t stand.
LATER It’s not a spoof. Channel 4 News has a video showing them slinking away.
“ISIS is seen in Washington as a grave terrorist threat with the potential to knock over the unpopular and unstable regimes of the Middle East (i.e., our client states) like bowling pins. Yet the Washington Consensus sees as the key to defeating ISIS the undermining of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, ISIS’s principal military enemy. If a US general in 1942 declared the only way to defeat the Wehrmacht would be for us to fight Nazi Germany and the USSR simultaneously, he would have been committed to a lunatic asylum.”
NYT editorial neatly sums up the Republican candidates.
It felt at times as if the speakers were no longer living in a fact-based world where actions have consequences, programs take money and money has to come from somewhere. Where basic laws — like physics and the Constitution — constrain wishes. Where Congress and the public, allies and enemies, markets and militaries don’t just do what you want them to, just because you say they will.
Start with immigration, and the idea that any president could or should engineer the mass expulsion of 11 million unauthorized immigrants. Not one candidate said that a 21st-century trail of tears, deploying railroad cars, federal troops and police dogs on a continental scale, cannot happen and would be morally obscene. Ben Carson said, “If anybody knows how to do that, that I would be willing to listen.” They accepted the need to “control our borders” with a 2,000-mile fence. Even Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, once an immigration moderate, endorsed the fence. Mr. Carson actually suggested two fences, for double security, with a road in between. Do these people have to be sent to the Rio Grande Valley to see how ludicrous a border fence — over mountains, vast deserts, remote valleys and private property — would be? And it won’t solve the problem they are railing against, which doesn’t exist anyway. Illegal immigration has fallen essentially to zero.
On foreign affairs, there was a lot of talk about not talking with bad people. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said his first act would be to tear up the Iran deal, throwing the nuclear race back to the ayatollahs and rupturing global alliances — but making a point! Carly Fiorina said: “What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic States. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.”