December 25, 2010

Christmas Comes But Once A Year

Which is undoubtedly enough. I trust no one is actively urging that it happen two or three times per annum. I once had the idea that Christmas should be like the Olympics: every four years. The Summer Olys use the prime time, the quadrennial divisible by four, like the Presidential elections. The Winter Olympics are relegated to the midterm election years. So the first New Christmas could use 2013, and every four years thereafter. 2017, 2021, 2025 and like that. Also, move the holiday itself to the solstice, which is usually on December 21 or 22, occasionally (very rarely) on the 23rd. When a 23 December Solstice happened to fall in a Christmas year, we could call it a Jubilee Year. That would happen very, very rarely. On a Jubilee Christmas, everyone's debts would be forgiven. Also, in the Quadrennial Solstice Christmas which we will first observe in 2013, we will adopt the Days of Awe approach of Judaism and use the roughly 10-day period between the Solstice and New Year to go around and make amends with all the people we've managed to offend or become estranged from in the preceding 12 months.

I think I have markedly improved the all-important Quality of Life in the United States with these humble suggestions.

My next random thought has to do with the Internet, and Al Franken's heroic efforts to preserve "net neutrality." I think I almost understand this subject. It has to do with convincing, or requiring, the big, soulless, monopolistic purveyors of Internet traffic, such as Comcast, to play fair with everyone who wants to use the Internet and not get into the practice of charging higher usage rates for websites such as Netflix who demand more bandwidth, or, worse yet, begin censoring offensive websites. The idea is that the Internet should remain the basic open access free-for-all we all know and love. All you have to do is come up with a ton of money every month in order to get online. And, naturally, it's all going to change over time anyway, no matter what Al Franken does. Completely open access might remain in Europe or even parts of Asia where Wi-Fi is ubiquitous and essentially free, but this is America, where the sheeple unquestioningly shell out 1000% more for the same American drugs which Canadians acquire for a pittance, and where our own Congress forbids us from cutting a better deal with pharmaceutical companies so we can afford our own drugs. This is the same Congress upon which we will rely to protect us from the monopolistic abuses of the big Internet providers. That should work out.

Though I had another thought: it's okay if the Internet providers commit suicide and make it too hard to use the thing. One big complaint I hear these days is that the federal government is spying on all of us, compiling dossiers, violating the Fourth Amendment left and right, et cetera. No doubt this is true. And what makes this espionage so easy, what makes us so vulnerable? Our constant use of the Internet. Think about it. When we were phone-based communicators, the federal government could certainly tap phones, but it's a monumental hassle. What you wind up with is billions of hours of taped conversations, most of it of the, "Q: Wanna come over? A: 'Kay. Q: When? A: I dunno, whadya think?" variety. There was great safety and anonymity in this tiny signal-to-noise ratio. Now we (a) label our conversations with our IP Address and (b) write it down so it can be archived by the big Internet providers like Comcast, who are dying to cooperate with the FBI and NSA and turn you in so they can demonstrate how Patriotic they are. Smart of us, huh? Even dumber is blogging.

The Internet is an amazing source of information, a great fraction of it unverified and unreliable. The Internet has driven traditional dead-tree journalism to the edge of extinction, including newspapers such as the Washington Post, which more or less by itself unmasked the Watergate scandal. Or the New York Times, which broke the back of the Vietnam coverup with the Pentagon Papers revelations. Nowadays scandals can take place in broad daylight and nothing ever happens to the perpetrators. Take the Valerie Plame situation, one of my favorite examples. One show trial with a communted sentence. One book deal and movie. That's it. Wall Street defrauded the entire world by knowingly boxing up and selling millions of mortgage-backed securities which they knew, at the point of sale, were absolutely bogus. And nothing happens other than the federal government's bailout. All of it massively covered by the Internet, by thousands and thousands of website posts, detailing every last fact and data point about what happened. Not a thing was ever done about it.

We live in an age of Impotent Information Overload. The Internet diffuses everything so there is no focus of public outrage. Just a million wildfires all burning at once and no concerted action. Blogging, Internet posting, the Huffington Post-syndrome, "email forwards" (remember the millions of forwards during the Bush years?) all give the illusion of resistance and push-back, but the only problem is that nothing ever happens. Not to go all Old School on you or nothing, but back in the day if liberals wanted to demonstrate against the Vietnam War, they did not forward a lot of emails and call it a day. They got together in a show of force and brought attention to the issue. They demanded accountability from the government. The same thing is true of the Civil Rights Movement. Email forwards would not have integrated the Old South.

The Tea Party people seem to know this. Sometimes it doesn't look like much, but they hit the bricks with their protests and their ideas and that's why they've gotten somewhere. They elected a lot of Congresspeople, an astonishing number, really, through mass organizing in the Real World, not the Virtual World of the Internet.

The non-business use of the Internet, when you get right down to it, is just a nice way to waste time. Even on Christmas morning, you know? Which happens about four times more than it probably should.

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