The Social Media Value of Idiot Columnists

It used to astound me how many idiots (morons, blockheads, nitwits, pinheads, etc.) still write for major media outlets.

John Tierney, columnist for the New York Times, is a case in point. It’s really too bad I’m far from the only one who thinks this.

Looks smarter than he is

Looks smarter than he is

And occasionally Daniel Hamermesh writes inane things on the Freakonomics blog (such as classic about the environmental dangers of exercise bicycles, or his piteous bemoaning of the hardships of tenured faculty in a depression)  … though he was right about raising taxes recently.

But today I was reading the Toronto Star, which had this headline: “This mother to try potty training at 3 months.” First person by a mom to be … one of the paper’s  living reporters, who is

planning to start practising elimination communication: a method that teaches parents how to read their wee one’s signals so the infant can go in a potty (with assistance, of course) rather than a diaper.

I found myself laughing (communication? they can barely even roll over at 3 months!) and then skimming … and then skipping straight to the comments, which included these:

  • Good luck with that, I wonder if you’ll post if you fail?
  • I think pulling the “better for the envrironment” platitude is disingenous. We want kids to be kids but not if it inconveniences us.Then we’ll accelerate them. I’ve never seen a 10 year old who cannot go to the bathroom by himself/herself. Let nature take its course.
  • This article is hilarious…how can anyone take toilet-training at 3 months seriously? Next they will want to have babies dressing themselves by 6 months, or taking their own baths at 1 year! C’mon people, let babies be babies!!! If you’re worried about the environment, use cotton diapers like we do!

So now I’m entertaining a pet theory that either the Toronto Star and the New York Times have a bunch of nitwits on staff and has to fill up the space with something, or …

This is the dawning of a new era of clever journalism, where the journalist “plays the fool” (for Tierney I fear it isn’t an act), and their ludicrous rantings are really just a placeholder, and the real action is taking place in the comments section.

I’m really hoping it’s the latter.

The next John Tierney

The next John Tierney

The Poor, Poor Rich

Today is Blog Action Day, and the theme is poverty. Considering the meltdown of the US financial system, it’s a really timely topic.

Both the New York Times the Wall St. Journal have been hard at work covering how the souring economy is having an effect on the rich.

On Oct. 3, the Times ran “They’re Pinching Hundred-Dollar Bills,” noting that the number of private jets for sale is up 31 percent, that champagne sales have softened (“but sparkling wine has gone up”), and that some of the super-rich are downsizing from three multimillion dollar homes to two.

“The superwealthy in America are in a state of shock,” said Ronald Winston, honorary chairman of Harry Winston, the jeweler. “They are not rushing out to buy expensive diamonds. The psychological mind-set of the nation is keyed to the stock market, and in a downturn everybody is psychologically affected.”

The next day, the Times ran this:

This was further navel-gazing: a yacht broker noted, “The yacht is probably the first thing to go,” the bar and bat mitzvah market is soft, more luxury homes are on the market, etc. etc.

Then, this:

DESPITE these gains in the middle class, though, the truly wealthy have pulled away from the pack. Not since the late 1920s, just before the 1929 market crash, has there been such a concentration of income among individuals and families in very upper reaches of the income spectrum, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Paris School of Economics.

Some say that anger over the yawning wealth divide found traction in the highly charged and polarizing debate in Congress over the bailout bill.

Which is somewhat shocking, since it’s true, but off-topic. Isn’t the point of these articles to let us know about how the rich behave so we can emulate them?

Today in the Wall St. Journal, “The Billion-Dollar Question: Is Bling Over? How Luxury Executives Are Handing the Financial Crisis; Selling the Yacht.”

It’s about as nauseating as you’d expect. Sure, there’s a tinge of schadenfreude in reading that the pampered rich have to cut back, but selling one house is infinitely less painful than being foreclosed out of your only one.

Bad as that is, it’s nothing compared to real poverty. It just so happens that I was researching refugee camps recently, and read an article in the Guardian about the Dadaab settlement, which is the world’s largest refugee camp:

An increasingly violent insurgency in Somalia is fuelling a fresh refugee crisis with nearly 40,000 people arriving at a desert camp in north-eastern Kenya this year despite the border being closed.

The Dadaab settlement now hosts more than 210,000 people, making it the world’s biggest refugee camp. With at least 200 new arrivals every day, aid workers are struggling to cope.

“We are already at bursting point,” said Maeve Murphy, field officer with the UN Refugee Agency in Dadaab, 60 miles south of the border with Somalia. “And more refugees are on their way.”

The temperatures reach 104F (40C). “The newcomers’ shelters are desert igloos; bent branches covered with plastic sheeting and blankets.” Rapes and violence are common. Another story notes that “Life in the refugee camps is harsh. The refugees have no legal status and cannot move beyond the camps without permission.”

Joseph Stalin was reputed to have said, “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”

It’s not worth thinking about the rich and their millions. It’s a statistic. And it’s too hard to think of 210,000 displaced, suffering people, since that’s a statistic too. But it’s worth thinking of that child in that photo. I was looking at a clothing catalog last night, and realized that boy needs my money more than I need that sweater.

It doesn’t matter that Ralph Lauren upped the ante on its notoriously expensive Ricky bag, that it’s now available in 20 shades of alligator skin, including platinum, “vibrant cherry” or cobalt, that it’s priced from $12,995 to $28,995, or that the company is confident that it’s well-positioned with its customers. No matter what the Wall St. Journal writes, that’s all bullshit.

What matters is stepping away from the American consumer trap (and the American media that perpetuates it), and realizing that you have all you need — in fact, you have more than you need. You were incredibly lucky not to have been born in Somalia, or in about half the world, where people live on less than $2.50 a day. You were lucky not to be one of the 26,500-30,000 children who die each day due to poverty.

Christmas is coming. If you’re going to spend money, here are five places guaranteed to put your money to better use than Ralph Lauren or a yacht broker.

  • Mercy Corps -works with countries recovering from disaster, conflict, or economic collapse
  • UNICEF -The UN Children’s Fund provides long-term humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries
  • -created by the UN refugee agency to give children better access to education, sport and technology
  • Right to Play -uses sport and play to improve children’s health, life skills, and foster peace in disadvantaged countries
  • Kiva – the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website

Spooky-Cool Feature from NY Times & LinkedIn

So there I was whangling through the NY Times online yesterday, when mine eyes were arrested by this-a-here box:

Now, I’m not an engineer, but I work for an engineering company (which is indicated in my LinkedIn profile). Thus, my NY Times profile talked to my LinkedIn profile, and now my Web page has a special box where I get customized news … sort of. I say “sort of” because this morning I can’t actually find that box anywhere on the site!

Anyhow, it’s a bit spooky … if the Times and LinkedIn can knit that information together, God only knows what the NSA can do. But it’s also cool, because one of the things I follow in the course of my job is what’s happening in the engineering industry. Now, it would be even cooler if I could access it when I wanted. But maybe that happens when the widget gets out of beta.

John Tierney, the New York Times’ Staff Twit

John Tierney has worked for the NY Times since 1990. Why someone hasn’t fired him is news to me. First, he wrote “Recycling is Garbage,” which argued that it was more cost-effective to throw stuff away than recycle it. According to Wikipedia, that story broke the NY Times’ hate mail record. Imagine.

Unfortunately for the NY Times and the rest of the world, the Times hasn’t figured out what a dangerous dumb-ass he is. Case in point is a story running today, “10 Things to Scratch From Your Worry List.”

Granted, some of the 10 are faux scares. But many more of these “scratches” are a thinly veiled libertarian (Tierney’s one) attempt to say “f–k the environment” in genteel Times verbiage. Example:

5. Evil plastic bags. Take it from the Environmental Protection Agency : paper bags are not better for the environment than plastic bags. If anything, the evidence from life-cycle analyses favors plastic bags. They require much less energy — and greenhouse emissions — to manufacture, ship and recycle. They generate less air and water pollution. And they take up much less space in landfills.

True, sort of. If you compare disposable bags to one another, plastic is a less energy-intensive bag. But the way you frame the debate is everything. He’s just comparing disposable bags, as if they’re the only two options. And he’s assuming they’ll end up in landfills!!

Tierney is blithely ignoring the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is toxic swamp plastic debris that’s twice the size of Texas. Let me repeat that: twice the size of Texas. Or this pithy little stat courtesy of “Every year, Americans throw away some 100 billion plastic bags after they’ve been used to transport a prescription home from the drugstore or a quart of milk from the grocery store. It’s equivalent to dumping nearly 12 million barrels of oil.”

Or this one: “According to the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, more than a million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die every year from eating or getting entangled in plastic.”

Or this one: “There are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.”

Oh, and while you’re having a good time in denial, might as well ignore …

8. The Arctic’s missing ice. The meltdown in the Arctic last summer was bad enough, but this spring there was worse news. A majority of experts expected even more melting this year, and some scientists created a media sensation by predicting that even the North Pole would be ice-free by the end of summer.

So far, though, there’s more ice than at this time last summer, and most experts are no longer expecting a new record. You can still fret about long-term trends in the Arctic, but you can set aside one worry: This summer it looks as if Santa can still have his drinks on the rocks.

I “can still fret” about that, John? Gee, thanks you patronizing dickhead. I’ll feel so much better knowing “Santa can still have his drinks on the rocks.”

Want to know my biggest worry? It’s that the Times will continue to print Tierney’s asinine stories.

Elegy for a Vanishing Pastime

Every so often I come across someone living a life I wished I’d lived, who’s written a piece I wished I’d written. I came across such a person and essay today in the New York Times. The piece is called “Elegy for a Vanishing Pastime,” and it’s by Charles McGrath.

Here’s the lead:

IN the New England of my youth, back when we still had winter, ice — the kind you skate on — was as reliable as the calendar. It usually turned up overnight, smooth and glistening, the week after Thanksgiving, and it lasted, with perhaps a minor thaw or two, until Washington’s Birthday at least. What you did every day back then was skate — which is to say, play hockey. After school, your mom dropped you off at the pond, the lake, the frozen river, the flooded playground, and she picked you up when it was dark. On Saturdays she made you a baloney sandwich to take along, but by the time you remembered to eat it, it was frozen hard as a puck.

Talking about the ice this winter:

While it lasted, though, the ice was as good as it has ever been — as black and hard as a mirror. Your skate blades left marks like an engraving tool, and the surface was so free of ripples that if you looked down you could see plump orange carp cruising under your feet like submarines.

And if that hasn’t persuaded you, you’re an idiot here’s the end of the piece:

… it wasn’t nearly as much fun as skating outdoors. Nothing is — or nothing you do in daylight, anyway — and it’s sad to think that the practice could one day die out, another casualty of global warming. Archaeologists dredging the pond someday in the future may come across a puck, a waterlogged stick — maybe the very ones we lost this year on Martin Luther King’s Birthday — and wonder how on earth these implements ever found their way to such a beautiful and unlikely place, where fish swim and waterfowl congregate. People then will still skate, I trust, and still play hockey, but not with the same freedom and the same joy. Something will be gone from our collective muscle memory.

There’s even a slide show. Go. Read. Now.

(Image credit: Flickr user Eastick East)