The Echo Chamber

I have to repeat this great line from last night's Colbert Report:
...the media has gone from an old boys' club to an echo chamber. If you want people's attention you don't need to be right, you just need to shout.

Too true. Read CBC reporter Neil Macdonald's account of the Barack Obama—Indonesian madrassa smear campaign mounted from within Obama's own party.

The smear campaign exploited the media echo chamber. I'll quote Colbert again:
In the old media, an overpaid staff of fact-checking dinosaurs would have ignored this story. But new media pioneers like John Gibson knew that this story was too important to corroborate before reporting on the report. If you stop to check the factual basis of every 50-point headline, you're just going to get scooped by the guy who runs with an even bigger font.


iPhone: Not for me

As avid readers of this blog know (I may be the only person that can be described in that fashion), I have been eagerly awaiting the announcement of Apple's iPhone (see post from July). I imagined a phone only better, graced with good looks and charm: those design and interface flourishes that only Apple seems to know how to do.

I purchased Apple stock in September in anticipation of an announcement at the Developers Conference, but nothing was said. I held on to the stock until late December when, after a 24% run-up, I decided to take the money and run. The next week, Apple's stock price dropped sharply after concerns over stock option backdating were raised, but bounced back when Steve Jobs was exonerated. Then Mr jobs announced the iPhone, and the stock spiked up almost 20% over the ensuing days from the bleak trough just a couple of weeks earlier.

The stock price has now cooled as the hype for this beautiful device wears off and the reality of an overcommitted and underdelivered product sets in. There are reasons why Steve Jobs should not have announced what he did, when he did, clearly enunciated by Mike Elgan at ComputerWorld. There are reasons why the device itself is lacking.

My main criticism is—despite the beauty of the device and the elegance of its interface—it is not first and foremost a phone. I have always had a problem with convergent devices because they do too much and rarely do it optimally, leading to bulky design, delayed rollout, expense, component failure, and differential rates of obsolescence. I was talking to friends this week and said I can't wait for the iPhone nano, a product which is now just a figment of my imagination but one which could actually appeal to the broader market: A device that is functional, portable, fashionable, affordable, and replaceable.

iPhone nano, Steve. Think about it.

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Hanging Hussein

The Hanging: Beyond Travesty

I can't find words better than the Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer's in response to Saddam Hussein's hanging. While I shy away from Krauthammer's description of Hussein as "the preeminnent monster on the planet"--that kind of overblown rhetoric disguises the commonness of a disregard and devaluation of human life by political leaders throughout history to achieve their political agendas--I agree entirely with his assessment of the hanging itself and its implications for the new Iraq. As Krauthammer notes, the event managed to turn Hussein "into the most dignified figure in the room."


Amiel, Ariel; Ariel, Amiel

I happened across an old issue of Maclean's at the hospital where I work. I don't know why the December 5, 2005 issue was lying around, but the Maclean's negative mojo was in full effect. In yellow block letters over a fetching black and white photo of ND Leader Jack Layton, the cover blared Who is this man and why is he running the country? This reminds me of their Liberal leadership home stretch covers touting Michael Ignatieff as the best thing since Pierre Trudeau sliced bread, and we remember how that's turned out, right Stephane Dion?

Anyhoo, the reason I brought up this particular issue of Maclean's is to point out the Curse of the Black Widow, Barbara Amiel. This issue carries her column titled "The steely survivor." She writes: "Weight and waist circumference are highly overrated markers of a man's health and vigour, as the rotund 77-year-old prime minister of Israel demonstrates." On December 18, Ariel Sharon was incapacitated by a stroke he never recovered from. He entered a persistent vegetative state from which he never recovered.

Cute-as-a-button Amiel goes on to spew out other nonsense, like "Israel's survival depends on it remaining an ethnic Jewish state" because "living under the rule of unbelievers is anathema for Muslims." The six or seven hundred thousand Muslims in Canada seem to be living under the rule of a devoutly and unabashedly Christian leader just fine. The real danger in Israel is the continued belief by many that Israel belongs to Jews by Divine Right. Israel's survival depends precisely on it no longer remaining an ethnic Jewish state, a condition that will change passively as Arab Israelis gradually shift the demographics in the tiny state with their higher birth rate. As long as they stop blowing themselves up.

Over Their Dead Bodies

First World War veterans don't want state funeral

I love this story. It recounts how the well-meaning Dominion Institute successfully lobbied the Canadian government to honour the death of the last surviving Canadian World War I veteran with a state funeral, despite the fact that none of the three remaining survivors wish to be honoured in this manner.

When I first heard of the initiative to hold a state funeral on this occasion, I was supportive. I was not one of the 100,000 Canadians who signed a petition supporting the measure, but I numbered among the 75% of Canadians who agreed. Until I heard what the vets themselves had to say.

Two additional features of the Institute's lobbying efforts concern me. Rudyard Griffiths, director of the Dominion Institute, has said that the final decision will be left entirely up to the veteran's family (quoted by CBC in an article dated November 6, 2006), not to the veterans themselves. Secondly, the article goes on to describe Griffiths' insistence on a state funeral because of its religious component and the importance of reflecting that veterans of the war "fought for a tolerant, peaceful, and open idea of Christianity." The absurdity of Christians taking up arms against other Christians to fight for peace would be funny if it were not actually believed.
I think it is incredibly disrespectful to these three men to continue to plan for a state funeral when one is customarily not granted to these individuals, and when they have clearly objected to doing so. I wonder how many Canadians would support such a measure over the objections of the men they mean to honour. While I agree that the death of the last surviving veteran will mark a watershed moment in our nation's history, some tribute other than a state funeral is warranted to honour the sacrifice of those who served Canada in World War I.

The image above is the introduction page from the Book of Remembrance for the First World War, a beautiful and moving tribute to Canadians who died in combat, "loyal to the Crown & faithful to the traditions of their fathers." It is part of a whole series of such books recording the names of Canada's fallen, prepared in the style of an illuminated manuscript. They are housed and displayed in the Peace Tower of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. I first saw these books in 1998 or 1999, and the effect is haunting.