The Spy Who, Uh, Nevermind

    From “U.S. Finds Porn Not Secrets on Suspected China Spy’s PC” in Bloomberg Businessweek, May 1, 2013:

    Bo Jiang, who was indicted March 20 for allegedly making false statements to the U.S., was charged yesterday in a separate criminal information in federal court in Newport News, Virginia. Jiang unlawfully downloaded copyrighted movies and sexually explicit films onto his NASA laptop, according to the court filing. A plea hearing is set for tomorrow.

    Along with the misdemeanor, the government said it had resolved the false statements case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg said in a filing today.

    I read this article two weeks ago and have struggled all this time to articulate my thoughts about it. The collision of politics, race, paranoia, stupidity, and plain old horniness practically begs for some kind of analysis that’s both insightful and funny.

    Unfortunately, that essay is going to have to come from somebody else. After two weeks, all I can say is

      1) Assuming this is the whole story, this is epically embarrassing for everyone involved.
      2) Even if this isn’t the whole story, what we do know would make for a pretty cool movie — documentary or narrative.

    Once again, real life has left me speechless. I hope my betters can come up with something coherent and interesting to say about the situation because I’d love to read it.

Labor and Its Discontents

In most parts of the world, today is May Day (a.k.a. International Workers’ Day), a celebration of the labor movement.

We don’t celebrate this day in America because our own Labor Day, which takes place months later, is now mostly known as the last weekend of the summer. It’s a day strictly reserved for last visits to the beach and big sales at the mall. In other words, we celebrate labor by trying not to do it or think about it.

The implications of this are part of a larger conversation I have nothing to contribute to right now.

But on the related but smaller topic of work, here’s two pieces to check out if you, like me, spend a good amount of time in an office between 9 and 5:

From “The Case for Working With Your Hands” by Matthew B. Crawford in The New York Times Magazine, May 21, 2009:

Like the mechanic, the manager faces the possibility of disaster at any time. But in his case these disasters feel arbitrary; they are typically a result of corporate restructurings, not of physics. A manager has to make many decisions for which he is accountable. Unlike an entrepreneur with his own business, however, his decisions can be reversed at any time by someone higher up the food chain (and there is always someone higher up the food chain). It’s important for your career that these reversals not look like defeats, and more generally you have to spend a lot of time managing what others think of you…
So managers learn the art of provisional thinking and feeling, expressed in corporate doublespeak, and cultivate a lack of commitment to their own actions. Nothing is set in concrete the way it is when you are, for example, pouring concrete.

From “I’m Brian Lam, and This Is How I Work” from today’s Lifehacker:

I recommend everyone either fix your job or quit it.

Reverse 9/11 and The Endless Possibilities

After 9/11, the world changed for Americans. If New York and Washington could be attacked so easily, just about anything was possible. Hurt, scared, and angry, it was easy to be persuaded that this new world of endless possibilities could only mean bad things for us. We acted accordingly, and with disasterous results.

After 11/4, the world has changed again for Americans. We see again the endless possibilities for this country and this planet. We’re still largely hurt and mostly scared, but I like to think we’re no longer angry and we’re sick of being scared. I like to think that instead of fearing the possibilities, we now will embrace them.

(Woorijip, West 32 St, Manhattan)

Woo Hoo!

This is my last election as a Brooklyn resident, but I’m pretty sure that’s not why everyone is calling it a historic moment.

All joking aside, it felt great to pull the lever for Barack. Godspeed, my man.

(P.S. 92, Parkside Av, Brooklyn)

Waiting For Hillary

On my way back from a dental appointment, I accidentally stumble upon a crowd waiting to hear Senator Clinton’s (potentially) big announcement.

(Baruch College, Manhattan)

Car Cravings

For a multitude of reasons, the USA would be a much better place if we reoriented our cities and towns towards transit based development. Getting Americans out of cars and onto trains, buses, bikes, and our feet would drastically cut our oil consumption and go a long way towards combating our obesity epidemic. Freed from car dependency, our towns and cities could return to the human-scaled and pedestrian-friendly communities many of them originally were. As we spent more time walking in our own neighborhoods and sharing rides on trains and buses with our fellow citizens, we might see a resurgence of American community life and public participation. With 2008 upon us, it’s not too much to say that the future of our country literally depends on kicking our addiction to oil.

The key to changing the car culture is to first recognize that this isn’t a religous argument. Even as a die-hard transit advocate I don’t believe that cars are evil or that they should be banned. In fact, automobiles are wonderful inventions and they’ve given us unprecedented personal mobility and freedom. They’re not going away any time soon not because of some conspiracy by oil and automobile companies (though these may certainly exist), but because cars are darn useful and people enjoy driving them.

The real problem is automobile dependency. A community (or a country) dependent on cars as the primary means of personal transport is going to be inherently more dispersed, more costly, and most likely less equitable than one built around transit lines.

There are many solutions out there, from carbon taxes to outright bans on automobiles in cities. In my opinion, the best and fairest solutions are those that make drivers pay the true cost of driving. (A lesson in negative externalities awaits those interested.)Or maybe we could just make cars really expensive. As promising as low-emission vehicles are, a billion people driving Priuses is way worse for the environment than ten million driving gas guzzling 911 GT3s (MSRP US$107,500). And taxing the heck out of those ten million Porsche owners might buy us a lot of nice new trains and buses.

Full disclosure: the 911 was my childhood dream car — and still is.

(Inskip Porsche, Warwick, RI)