Tag Archives: culture

Why Charlie Rangel should defend himself

11 Aug

In an unprecedented 31-minute speech on the House floor done against the advice of lawyers and friends, Rep. Charlie Rangel, attacked head on the allegations against him and the process under which he said he’s suffered unfairly.

via Rangel’s Rant – Swampland – TIME.com.

I won’t comment on Charlie Rangel’s guilt or innocence but I will say that his trial will be an incredibly positive event for the country.  Trials are instructive and cathartic events.  While a plea deal only tells us that an individual did wrong, trials teach us about the systems and processes that created the person’s conduct.   Trials are sunlight on a wound whereas “apologize and resign” is a band-aid.

If Charlie Rangel defends himself, we, the American people, will learn about what goes on in our government and what favors are considered normal.  Through tales of other representatives, we’ll get to judge the normality or abnormality of Rangel’s actions.  Rangel or his witnesses will surely tell us what his colleagues do and we’ll get some insight into what’s tolerated.

There is no question that a trial could be very bad for Democrats, and maybe even Republicans, but that’s probably because the truth will be uncomfortable and maybe even a little shameful.   The lives of powerful politicians come with special privileges and unimagineable burdens.   It is a world that 99% of us know nothing about.  A vigorous Rangel defense is a good way for us to find out.

I ask Charlie Rangel to defend himself as (maybe) his last act of public service.  He may end up teaching all of us a powerful civics lesson that it seems only trials or powerful investigative journalism can bring out.  With the latter largely dead in the popular press, we’ll have to hope that Congressman Rangel chooses to fight.

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Do people want all-purpose?

11 Aug

That said, if Facebook introduces its own check-in service, the companies and investors that have been dominating geolocation to date may be in trouble.

via Facebook tiptoes closer to launching geolocation | VentureBeat.

I’ve often thought about whether consumers want an all-purpose anything.  Do we want one search engine for every type of search?  Google’s dominance suggests the answer is yes.  Do we want one auction site for anything we wish to buy or sell?  Ebay appears to be the dominant player with just a couple of specialty competitors.  How about price quotes, do we want one site where we can get a quote for anything?  The answer on this seems to be pretty clearly no because we have LendingTree for mortgages, uShip for shipping, Cars.com for cars, and many many more.

If we narrow our focus to social networks or how we manage our social relationships, I wonder if we really want to do everything at Facebook, our Wal-Mart of social networks, or if we prefer to go boutique at Gowalla or Foursquare for our check-ins.

The key here is in determining how most people actually use facebook as it is and social check ins as they are.  Facebook’s central bet with starting their own check-in service may be that when you share your location you want to do this for all 1,100 of your friends.  But I’m willing to bet that lots of people will be turned off by this and that they will prefer to circulate to a much smaller group of friends.

At the end of the day, all-purpose solutions in social networks may just come down to whether we prefer intimacy or efficiency.  So far Facebook has made a bundle on efficiently keeping up with your friends.  But close friendships don’t thrive on this type of behavior and I do think that one of the points of check-ins is to enjoy quality time with friends, not just share your location.  Social networking with intimacy as its goal may be the very reason why Facebook shouldn’t create its own services but rather opt to allow–as it has thus far–its users to broadcast their Foursquare location through facebook.

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Be silent; or what the iPad debate says about us

7 Apr

 The entire debate over the iPad is thoroughly fascinating.  Reactions to the device range from effusive praise to bitter disappointment.  Some think its the most important tablet to be introduced since a certain figure came down from the mountaintop.   Others think it’s merely a large iPod touch that misses functionality present in every computer made since 1993.   Apple’s own PR machine promises a “magical and revolutionary device,” that allows a user to “have the internet at their fingertips.”  A friend of mine remarked that he’s never before heard people express such strong views toward a device.  Indeed, the last time I heard such heated opinions was over the healthcare bill.  Wait, that was last week.

Ironically, the most insightful commentary on the iPad is about how it makes reading feel “serene” and that how it allows one to  “absorb,” to “listen, really listen, to what someone else has to say.”  Could the iPad, with its inability to multitask (which one reviewer  hails as a virtue), actually retrain us away from the constant comment and heated debate society we have become?  After all, if we begin using a device that makes it easy to absorb but hard to create, might that make us comment less? Or at least allow time for our passions to cool as we slowly tap away at the iPad’s built in keyboard?  If the iPad fails, will it be because few people really want to listen; that we prefer a society of comment over one of consumption?

Maybe the iPad’s actual features aren’t a commentary on us and maybe they won’t change how we behave, but doesn’t our love or hatred of a device speak volumes about the things we value?  Remember these are opinions are sparked about a machine, a machine that perhaps no more than 5% of the world’s population will ever use.  For some reason, the entire debate reminds me of what  Bobby Kennedy  famously said about GDP:

“Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.  Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

Read that quote a few times.  You’ll probably realize that there’s an app closely related to every one of the good (and bad) things that Kennedy references.  Fascinating indeed.

Culture and Healthcare

27 May

Of the 2.5 million deaths that occur annually in the United States, almost half are preventable.  Not by better drugs (or more), by better doctors (or more), or by better hospitals (or more), but rather by better personal choices on healthcare.   Dan Akst abstracts a new study showing that a modification in the 12 dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors could save 1 million lives per year.   Compare that to the 18,000 lives that could be saved by moving to a system of universal healthcare, and you wonder why there’s no such thing as an “Exercise Lobby.”  While the numbers may be new, the fact that exercise and a healthy diet lead to a longer, more enriching life is so commonplace as to be not worth debating or discussing.  

How did our culture become this way?  How did we go from active and energetic to lazy and lethargic?  How might we go back?  What role can each of us play in promoting a culture that takes account of the 12 risk factors which determine the life and death of our fellow citizens?  If you believe (as I do) that personal choices are informed by one’s culture, then what can we as the living embodiments of American culture do to set a better example? 

 I’ve heard many times that where you end up in your career and your life is largely influenced by the five people who you spend the most time with.  Thinking beyond your your city, your state, or our country, and focusing only on the five people you spend time with, what impact does the “culture” of your life have on their lives and more specifically on their healthcare? 

I wonder if anyone has considered whether the drive for government control or more regulation is derived from a disbelief in our own power and influence.  A demonstration of our personal power is readily available in our healthcare choices.  From choosing not to smoke or choosing to exercise with a friend, we save the lives that matter most to us, our own and those of our friends.  It is both more readily achievable and more personally satisfying than the passage of incremental healthcare legislation.

A year of questioning

27 Mar

Soul searching for a nation is critical for its long term survival.  It may be the best check against the impulse that crisis inevitably generates.  I appreciate that in our popular culture we are starting to ask questions and think out loud about not only the “the end of an era” but the habits and opportunities of a new one.

The End of Excess: Is Crisis Good for America?

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