I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Feb. 6
My worst fears have crept into my Sunday-morning routine. Even the Times has conceded that no one’s paying attention to anything on this day except the Super Bowl. I thought the Times was above this fray. But it has surrendered. There’s little of interest on the front page, consumed by uncertain reporting from the unresolved revolt in Egypt. And a story about the unnatural interest in the upcoming Spider-Man Broadway play, interest generated in part by the fact that four performers have been injured during rehearsals. Alas, the story fails to describe the actors’ fates. Guess I’ll have to Google that.
1, The revolt in Egypt had many fathers, and a story inside the first section suggests Facebook may have been a major one. A Facebook page devoted the the beating death of an Egyptian man at the hands of Egyptian police quickly spread outrage through the Internet, and helped lead to what appears to be the revolution toppling of the Mubarak regime. Maybe.
2, The Week in Review section includes a note that Sudanese protests against that country’s police-state president were fueled by appeals on Facebook. Maybe.
3, Columnist Frank Rich, on the other hand, dismisses this as a “media-fueled cliche.” Rich writes, “the Egyptian government pulled the plug on on its four main Internet providers and yet the revolution only got stronger.” Some half-term Alaska governor can keep her name in the news with Twitter and Facebook postings. But in challenging the myth of how “American digital innovations can rescue the downtrodden, unwashed masses,” Rich points out “even in the case of the young and relatively wired populace of Egypt, only some 20 percent of those masses have Internet access.” Rich further notes that, as major news organizations cut back on their coverage of foreign countries, we really know less about what’s going on around the world than you’d expect in such an information-sharing world. Noting that we’re coming up on the eighth anniversary of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and “Shock and Awe,” Rich compares that event to our consumption of the news from Egypt. “Those bombardments too were spectacular to watch from a distance – no Iraqi faces, voices or bodies cluttered up the shots. We lulled ourselves into believing that democracy and other good things were soon to come. It took months, even years, for us to learn the hard way that in truth we really had no idea what was going on.”
4, Sunday Business, looking at all of the smart phones, text messaging and social media at our disposal, turns to Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. She says that with all of this technology crossing paths, “home has invaded work and work has invaded home and the boundary is never likely to be restored.”
5, As Climate Change moves in on our world, the greatest danger we face, according to Mark Hertsgaard in his new book Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, is drought. “Floods kill thousands, drought can kill millions,” says one expert.
6, “The Arctic is the lead player in climate change,” Sara Wheeler writes in yet another new book, The Magnetic North: Notes From the Arctic Circle. Western civilization, which includes the U.S. and the Russians, has been at war with the region for a couple of centuries now, destroying the culture and converting it into a radioactive dump. Wheeler was in Greenland in 1993 when scientists began pulling ice cores from ice sheets two miles deep, tests that first demonstrated how quickly the planet’s weather was changing. “The canary in the coal mine,” writes reviewer Holly Morris, “died ages ago.”
7, In Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart, writer Stefan Kanfer says there will never be another Bogart by pointing to the 20 top-grossing films of all time: Each, from Avatar to Finding Nemo, is targeted for a junior audience. Even aging big stars such as Jack Nicholson deal in “characters in whom an inability to commit and a bewilderment at the state of their own lives are meant to be endearing,” writes reviewer Megan Buskey. There was much to be admired in Bogart the man, whatever you think of his comment that “The whole world is about three drinks behind.” As Buskey notes, “Bogart’s appeal was and remains completely adult – so adult that it’s hard to believe he was ever young. If men who take responsibility are hard to come by in films these days, it’s because they’re hard to come by, period, in an era when being a kid for life is the ultimate achievement, and ‘adult’ as it pertains to film is just an euphemism for pornography.”
8, And finally, back to where we started, and social networking. This edition of the Times was evidently put out by that newsroom’s wonkiest thinkers while everyone else was preparing artichoke dip for the Big Game. In The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, writer Eugeny Morozov sees the Internet as a machine of both personal and sociological repression. Reviewer Lee Siegel points to Morozov’s descriptions of 2009 street protests in Tehran, during which political blogger Andrew Sullivan proclaimed, “the revolution will be Twittered.” And, Siegel adds, “Clay Shirky, the media’s favorite quotable expert on all things Internet-related, effused: ‘This is it. The big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media.’ ” That revolution ended badly for the nerds after the old-fashioned tanks rolled in.