Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Oscillating Adjective

Vibrant: characterized by or exhibiting vibration; pulsating or trembling; giving an impression of vigour and activity; caused by vibration, resonant; pulsating; energetic; (Linguistics / Phonetics) phonetics trilled or rolled; moving to and fro rapidly.

If you are one of those who, like me, quickly tires of the overuse or mis-use of words, words which become so ubiquitous in the culture of language that they become overburdened with associations and familiarity, applied willy-nilly to every situation and every opportunity, acquiring a politically correct significance far in excess of their value, then you'll understand my frustration with the word vibrant

In my opinion, vibrant has come to be a kind of shorthand adjective for the multi-cultural nonsense which we see expressed everywhere in the media these days. Originally, vibrant described a phenomenon of vibration, that is, literally a thing that vibrated or oscillated or trembled or buzzed. Electric motors operated on the oscillating current principle. The human voice box is a vibrant mechanism. As it has come to be employed, anything that involved a considerable amount of movement, such as a crowd, or a busy mass of molecules, was referred to as having a vibrant quality. 

Public relations people, searching for favorable adjectives to apply to events or circumstances or situations which they sought to characterize as attractive or desirable, began to use vibrancy as an ideal state or condition. A pedestrian mall, or a street fair, or a shopping district, or an ethnic neighborhood, might all signify vibrancy, by which was meant busyness, congestion, confused integration, chaotic activity. When city councils or mayors or business promoters or corporate planners or architects or city planners wanted to con the community or a permit department into approving some sweeping change in an urban or suburban context, they invariably described the new project or plan as producing vibrancy

The city planning revolution in post-War America was driven in large measure by the European medieval model of a vehicle-poor urban matrix, in which the general populace, limited to a narrow geographical range by a lack of portability and means of transport, were forced to carry out their trade and commerce in city plazas or squares. The American towns and cities of the 19th Century had grown up around the wagon, the train (or trolley), and the horse; in the 20th Century most American cities and towns were adapted to, or constructed to, accommodate cars and trucks. This priority led to various kinds of vehicular congestion, as the suburban, car-oriented paradigm developed in the post-War period. Suburbia tended to segregate people, drawing them away from the old urban centers. As the middle and upper classes fled the cities, the poor were left behind. The inner cities died. 

It wasn't so much that suburbia was bad, though some of the cookie-cutter "instant town" tract developments certainly were dehumanizing and dull, as that there had to be an antidote to the decay of the cities.  City planning theorists looked at the remnant inner city traditions and decided that the way to restore lively city life was to resist vehicles. Automobile dominated streets, parking and associated pollution were the problem. Suburbia had developed because of the car. The solution was to get people out of their cars, to prevent them from getting into the cities and towns via cars, to expand public transportation, and generally discourage private vehicular commerce altogether. 

Progress in the 19th and 20th Century was based on the rapidly expanding infrastructure of roads and transportation axes: Planes, trains and automobiles. Given a choice, the vast majority of people of even modest means will select the freedom and convenience of a private vehicle. America's industrial predominance was built on cheap transport and portability, and the universal access to a well-designed and constructed internal combustion-powered automobile. The city planning model of the post-War period was in direct contradiction to the very mechanisms which had made American prosperity possible. 

The new model required that we turn back the clock, to "force" people and businesses back into a pre-industrial condition in which people were trapped inside the inner city, made to conduct their affairs in a narrowly confined space, and limited in their access to the means of transport. That paradigm required that we restore our cities and towns to a condition of "vibrancy"--but at considerable sacrifice of all of the values people had chosen when they had fled the crowded, dirty, inconvenient, and expensive downtowns in the first place. 

With the coming of the multi-cultural revolution, racial and ethnic diversity was touted as the new social and political ideal. Since "minorities" and foreigners and immigrants were poorer and more likely to be trapped in the decaying ghettos of the inner cities, the new ideal urban matrix would be one in which integration, limited means and access, and simple pleasures should be encouraged. In preference to the balmy seclusion of the suburbs or country, vibrant centers of activity were preferred. It was difficult to see how comfortably situated families or individuals, living in relative peace and privacy in the suburbs, could be lured into this new teeming vibrancy.  

The whole trend of human desire and aspiration throughout history has been towards comfort, safety, prosperity and opportunity. The move away from the enforced crowding and inconvenience of the city was a natural process, which the suburban expansion of the American post-War prosperity facilitated. The socialist ideals of cooperation and common purpose dictated that people would willingly join together to obtain these universal ideals. But as we have seen in the 20th Century, attempts to impose such conditions from the top down, either as regulation or as voluntary option, have proven to be coercive and retrograde. 18th and 19th Century social and political theorists saw the old cities and towns as confining, unhealthy crucibles for disease, crime, hardship--virtual prisons of existence. They believed that escape would be an emancipation. 

Today, whenever I hear shills and press agents and developers pushing the "new, vibrant" possibilities of automobile-free urban "zones" I immediately get a vision of frenetic insects buzzing inside a vast hive, their antennae oscillating with Tweets and texts, scurrying about from kiosk to busstop, burdened with backpacks and product logos, searching vainly for a public restroom, clutching their purses and wallets against pickpockets. It's the new urban paradigm, vibrating and trembling and bouncing and jostling back and forth with desperate energy and confusion. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Autonomous Axiom

As I write this on the morning of August 28th, 2013, the national media is expecting imminent action by the U.S. in Syria, in response to widely accepted reports of the Assad Regime's use of chemical weapons against its own people in Damascus. 

A year ago, Obama set forth his "red-line" policy with respect to chemical weapons use, and now is in the position of having to make some kind of response, in order to avoid seeming hypocritical. 

The Chemical Weapons Convention Arms Control agreement, which prohibits the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, was signed in January 1993, but Syria was not a signatory. 

The Assad Regime was created by the current ruler's father, Hafez al-Assad, in 1970, following a military coup. Hafez remained in power until his death in 2000, at which point his second son, Bashar, assumed power. Originally trained as a physician, Bashar had not expected a political career, since he had an elder brother. The brother, however, was killed in an automobile accident in 1994, and Bashar was then groomed for the accession. The Syrian government is a dictatorship in the familiar sense, wielding unchallenged power, and suppressing dissent by violence and secret police round-ups and torture etc. Emboldened by the so-called "Arab Spring" dissident Syrian factions initiated a civil war against the regime in 2011, which has since spread throughout the country, becoming more destructive and deadly with each passing week. Determined to quell the uprising, the Assad regime has used the full weight of its military, but has so far been unable to prevail. In the process, much of the country has been devastated, and has created an acute humanitarian crisis, with refugees, wounded, displaced people, spilling over into neighboring nations. 

Calls for U.S. intervention have come from the usual critics. John McCain, who believes that all wars are worth fighting, and sides must always be taken, asks for surgical strikes. Almost no one appears to be calling for "boots on the ground." Simply lobbing rockets into a country is unlikely to have a determinative effect.

As we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, even total involvement in a national or regional conflict is unlikely to produce the results we might want. Given the factional disputes and confused ethnic and political situations in the Near and Middle East, it's impossible to believe in a clear-cut advantage, whenever military options are chosen. As we are now seeing--and as I predicted in this blog two years ago and more--both Iraq and Afghanistan are on the verge of descending into chaotic civil war once again, despite the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars in aid, weaponry, and American lives lost. It's clear that America should never have gone to war in those places. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have died as a result, and despite the fact that the regimes were toppled, there is nothing that would suggest that their immediate political and social prospects will be markedly changed for the better in the future.  

Iraq and Afghanistan proved once again, just as Vietnam did, that the justifications for intervention can always be cobbled together out of well-meaning intentions. An evil regime, a suppressed people, widespread conflict and suffering, regional political instability--all these conditions may occur at any time in South America, Africa, the Near and Middle East, and Asia. 

At home, there will always be advocates for the use of military power, those who stand to gain from its use, and those who take heart in the use of power to effect political, policy, diplomatic or simple ethical ends. The Israel lobby continues to exert an influence far in excess of the value of our commitment to a Jewish state. Syria, it should be remembered, is an avowed enemy of Israel, and has been implicated in the support of anti-Israel groups. Syria is a Muslim country, but not a theocracy. 

I question the wisdom of our becoming involved in the Syrian civil war. Whoever prevails in the ongoing conflict, the main impression to be derived from our intervention would be resentment and suspicion. Since it is impossible to predict which faction is likely to rise to prominence in a post-Assad Syria, there is no guarantee that we would end up being perceived as beneficent supporters. Like Saddam Hussein, or Ali Khamenei in Iran, Bashar Assad is a monolithic presence, ruthless in his determination to prevail. Leaving him in power is an unpleasant option, but one which needs to be considered alongside more problematic ones. 

The initial pretext for our entering the conflict now is that the use of chemical weapons, if left unchallenged, will set a precedent which is unacceptable. But without a clear purpose in our policy, what is it that we can hope to accomplish? If we accept the idea that the ouster of Assad ("regime change" as the policy was defined during the Bush II administrations) is a preferred outcome, how should we go about bringing that about? Do we really want that to happen, and if we do, are we willing to commit to another open-ended shooting war? Or should we "limit" our exposure to direct material support with weapons and technical aid. If that, who exactly are we supporting, and what is the bargain we are striking with these "allies"? It would be nice if we knew the answers to these questions, but at present, no one seems willing to offer any easy definitions. 

People will die in Afghanistan and Iraq and Egypt and Syria today, and they will go on dying in the days and weeks and months and years ahead. They will die for the wrong reasons, or, as in the case of many civilians, for no reason but that they happen to live in the wrong part of the world. There is nothing the U.S. can do to change the fundamental causes of conflict in these countries. Even all-out war, as we have seen, only ends up complicating the situation. Once our influence is withdrawn, the same conflicting interests resume their old feuds. And this is exactly the case in Syria. The seeds of conflict existed before the Assad family took control, and they will be there after the Assads have been deposed, whenever that occurs. 

The most difficult thing is to admit that even with all the king's men and all the king's horses, our power is of little use in making the world right for democracy. Cases can be made for the prosecution of our national interests, which may amount to nothing more than protecting our access to oil, or of maintaining a traditional "balance of power" in a certain region of the world. But salving our benighted conscience(s) is an extraordinarily naive excuse for direct military intervention. We can't "save lives" with rockets, nor can we "nation-build" with tanks and bazookas. It doesn't work that way. Perhaps it would make some kind of ethical "sense" to believe that by killing a hundred thousand people, one could bring democracy to a nation of 20 or 30 million, beset by religious and ethnic strife. But to believe that is folly. 

Obama has shown himself to be a President who tries hard not to make big blunders, offering caution and care against impulsiveness and raw emotion. If he capitulates now to the bellicose demands of the warmongers, he'll squander that legacy in a day. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Amazing Water Skates

When I was a small boy, my parents would occasionally take me to a resort area of the Russian River, known as Cazadero. There were a number of small river beaches just off the highway, and a small tributary called Austin Creek, smaller than the Russian, which was slower and shallower and easy for wading and water play. One in particular access was in a wooded ravine, very idyllic, where we went a couple of times. There was hardly enough water to swim in, just to wade in, really, and there were small semi-stagnant backwater ponds filled with tadpoles and an insect which I found entirely fascinating, though frustratingly elusive. As I came to learn, it lived up to its name: Water Skate. But it had other names, all more or less tied to its amazing ability to skim over the surface of still water: Water Strider, Skimmer, Water Skooter or Skeeter, Water Spiders, etc. 

When I first noticed these bugs, I wasn't sure what they were. They looked like insects, but they had a very flat dark grey body without much definition; what I noticed immediately was that they could flash across the surface of the water like lightning! I remember trying to approach them in very shallow pond water, in shade, but whenever I got close enough they'd zip away just out of my reach. They could move a yard or two in a fraction of a second, but they seemed entirely dry, as if they were floating. And yet, as I watched closely, their bodies didn't touch the water. The only parts of their bodies that touched the water were the ends of their legs, which were pointed, like long slim little twigs. 

I'm not sure why I thought of these bugs today, but I decided to check out the Wikipedia entry for them, and learned a lot. These bugs belong to the family Gerridae, true bugs in the order of Hemiptera. They have proliferated into a number of species, over 1,700, and are found almost everywhere in fresh watercourses. 

I think I probably suspected that there must be something malevolent about these bugs when I first saw them, but they also made me incurably curious. Like most boys, I enjoyed toying with small animals and insects, and these bugs seemed like the perfect toy. Could I catch them? I could not! They were too fast. If I splashed water on them, it didn't seem to affect them. They stayed dry! I wouldn't have understood then about the surface tension of water, which I would learn later in science classes in high school.  

Common sense told me, even as a boy, that these bugs should be sinking in the water once they got wet. Wet things, even waterlogged insects, might float, but they wouldn't sit high and dry on the surface. How did they keep from getting wet, and how did they propel themselves across the surface? They only touched the water with the tiny tips of their legs, so why didn't their legs plunge into the water, instead of gliding on the top?

It turns out that these bugs have developed genetically something called Hydrofuge hairs all over their body, and there are several thousand hairs per square millimeter, which allows the bug literally to resist the molecular tension of the water surface. This, combined with a perfect balanced distribution of their body weight along their slender legs, allows them to float. This positioning atop the water surface is called an epipleustonic position, which gives the Water Skater its defining characteristic. The middle set of legs have developed a kind of rowing facility, which allows them to propel their bodies very rapidly across the surface, in large part because of the lack of friction made possible by being "dry" instead of wet. They literally skim across the surface, the way people do on skis over snow, by reducing the friction of the body's weight via the smooth, slippery surface of the ski over compressed snow. 

There are a lot of other interesting facts about the Water Skate. They're carnivores, feasting on fallen insects, and can be cannibals as well. Some are born with usable wings, which allows them to fly to other habitat. Others have poor wings but are not subject to getting weighted down with superfluous wings. They can submerge without becoming water-logged, and pop back up. 

Apparently they aren't harmful to humans or animals, though they carry certain parasites, and fish don't like the taste of them. Birds are their main predators. They're highly adaptive, which is how they have survived the millennia, and which also explains their considerable species variation. For all my intrepid hunting, I was never able to trap one, or even to kill one. It's been years since I thought about this bug, though I may have inadvertently noticed one while fishing over the last decade or so. When I'm fishing, I tend to be preoccupied with the fish, and the sort of bugs the fish seem to be interested in. Since trout don't like to eat Water Skaters, I just may have unconsciously not noticed them lately.

Friday, August 16, 2013

That Was The Way It Was

In my continuous pursuit of the perfect bathroom book, I stumbled upon this new autobiographical excursion by the late James Laughlin [1914-1997], The Way It Wasn't [New York: New Directions, 2006]. The odd title seems to me to be a way of saying that the normal expectations one might have for the autobiography of the scion of a rich Pittsburgh steel fortune magnate, would be thwarted by what this book is. I've read that Laughlin had contemplated writing a straight prose autobiograpy, but perhaps didn't quite get around to it. He did, however, in his later years, scribble down anecdotes and memories of significant people and events from his life, and these now comprise the present volume of 341 pages (including index). Arranged alphabetically, it includes a wealth of reproductions of original candid photographs of people and book illustrations.   

Born into a very wealthy family, Laughlin early on decided that he wanted to immerse himself in the literary life. In the middle of his Harvard undergraduate years, he took off for Europe to visit Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, and ended up living in Rapallo for a year, studying at the resident genius's "Ezraversity"--returning to complete his Harvard degree only when Pound suggested that since he wasn't destined to be a good poet, he should put his gifts to work in other ways. Upon graduation, young James was handed a present of $100,000 cash, part of which he used to start the New Directions publishing house. There has hardly ever been as fortuitous a turn of fate as this, at least for the cause of Modern Literature. (In the plastic arts, of course, there have been famous patrons throughout history.) The rest, as they say, is history, as ND went on to publish the work of Pound, William Carlos William, Henry Miller, Tennessee Williams, Dylan Thomas, Neruda, Patchen, George Oppen, Rexroth, Creeley, Levertov, Duncan, Thomas Merton, Snyder, Corso, Ferlinghetti, Paz, Hesse, John Hawkes, H.D., William Everson, Michael McClure, and others too numerous to name. In many sense of the words, New Directions was American Modernism. 

Laughlin at Harvard

A patrician by nature, Laughlin had no qualms about living the kind of life his financial freedom allowed him to. He chased women, played golf and skied, and solicited manuscripts for his publishing firm. New Directions would not make a profit for at least a decade, but it didn't have to. The Laughlin fortune covered all its losses. James hobnobbed with his authors, frequenting his favorite watering holes, becoming one of the most worldly and cultivated men in the process. Delmore Schwartz, one of his early authors, demanded to know if he intended to be a publisher, and not a playboy. He wrote his own poetry, but knew enough about its worth not to promote it very hard.     

Laughlin in early middle age

The "playboy" also had a mental problem, and apparently underwent regular psychiatric analysis, along with taking prescription meds, all his adult life. He could be abrasive, as people of means occasionally are, in print and in person. His personal wealth, along with his power over the printed word (as publisher), insulated him from the necessity of having to observe the usual kinds of courtesies which govern human intercourse. With Laughlin, you took the pleasant with the unpleasant, because you had no choice. 

In my earlier pieces on Philip Johnson and Howard Hughes, I noted how personal wealth made possible, on the one hand, a serious career as a prima donna architect, and on the other, a dilitante's indulgence in aircraft design, a movie studio, and big-time tycoon real estate. These others also shared the rich man's wherewithal with sexual partners--in Johnson's case as a homosexual. All three of these as well suffered from various kinds of psychological disorders, perhaps exacerbated by their access to unlimited means. 

Laughlin in old age
The example of Laughlin seems to support the notion of the wisdom of private philanthropy. As I've come to believe over the years, public support of the arts carries the seeds of corruption. With a privately owned publishing venture like New Directions, the public bears no obligation for its support, and the editorial decisions are based on the taste and interests of a single individual, or perhaps a small cadre of like minds. Grove Press would be another example of a semi-major renegade publisher, intent on succeeding by promoting books and titles spurned by the Eastern publishing establishment. You may have to be a little bit loco to start your own publishing firm, but your chances of doing interesting projects are much greater than if you work for one of the large corporate firms. Of course, when Laughlin began, most of the major New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago publishing firms were closely held concerns, but that's mostly changed now, with the wholesale consolidation and downsizing of publishing businesses we've seen over the last three decades. 

The Way It Wasn't is full of charming reports, humorous stories, and naughty jokes, and I suspect is a lot more accurate as a record of the sort of fellow Laughlin must have been in person, than any "straight" autobiography would be. Interestingly, he cites the same kinds of pressures against traditional publishing in the 1960's, which we hear today. This, undated (probably from the early 1990's):

"Of course, you know the condition of the book trade is lamentable. The chains work on a quick-in, quick-out basis. I've heard that some of them are trying to be better about inventory but I haven't seen it with my own eyes. The days of the old Mom & Pop bookstore, people usually who were really interested in literature, are departing. Those couples didn't have the financing to float an extensive inventory. Since we are all, I'm told, going to be on the information super-highway, reading off our little screens with musical accompaniment of rock'n roll, it hardly matters."

There is, however, something truly heartening and perhaps unique about the young wide-eyed Harvard undergraduate traveling to Italy in 1934 (when he was only 20) to meet with and sit at the feet of America's most notorious expat, and deciding to utilize his family fortune to further the interests of the artistic avant garde. Would any enlightened person do that today? Perhaps, in the case of Douglas Messerli (Sun & Moon and Green Integer), or Dave Eggers (McSweeney's Quarterly Journal and books), or even Jack Shoemaker (and partners) (North Point Press, Counterpoint and Shoemaker/Hoard), they would. The possibility of an enlightened intelligentsia, devoted to the idea of a higher purpose than just the marketplace, and armed with independent wealth, is still alive and well in America. 

We need unconventional and brave people (with money) to take chances like this. More power to them, and to the vagaries of wealth and a responsible upper class. Few of us can have the sort of life that wealth provides, but we can all benefit from the odd "traitor to his class" who makes impulsive gestures towards cultural entrepreneurism, or just plain takes crazy chances. In the future, as corporate publishing continues winding down, independent publishing may well become once again a small enterprise, the province of rich boys and inspired partnerships. Long may they prosper! 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Through the Keyhole

The modest little tortellini pasta has a piquant mythic origin.

According to Wikipedia, the origin of its shape has two versions, both essentially the same in concept. 

A strong local tradition has it that it shape was born in Castelfranco Emilia. One night during a trip, Lucrezia Borgia checked into an inn in the town and during the night the host became so captivated by Lucrezia's beauty that he could not resist the urge to peek into her room through the keyhole of her bed chamber. The room was candle lit, so all he could see was her navel. This vision was enough to send him into an ecstasy that inspired him to create the tortellini that night.

The other version tells how Venus and Jupiter, the Greek Gods of Love and of Sky and Thunder, arrived at a tavern on the outskirts of Bologna one night, weary from their involvement in a battle between Modena and Bologna. After much food and drink, they shared a room. The innkeeper, captivated by the two, followed them and peeked through the keyhole. All he could see was Venus's navel. Spellbound, he rushed to the kitchen and created tortellini in its image.

Both these versions have in common the theme of vicarious sexual innuendo, almost an idealization of the symbolic, hypnotic significance of the navel (or belly button). The belly-button signifies our attachment to the mother, and thence to the descent of the human species, our connection to ancient springs. It has almost a sacred aspect. 


There are many kinds of beauty. The part of her body he liked best was her navel, which was shaped perfectly like the yin-yang symbol. He liked to swirl his tongue around inside it, clockwise, to follow the direction of its twin nodes. He did this so often, and so effectively, that eventually she was able to achieve climax through this stimulation alone. It was their little secret. But once revealed, was no longer secret.    


Monday, August 12, 2013

Whither the Giants ?

2013 has been an off year for our home team, last year's champions, the San Francisco Giants.

After winning it all two out of the last three years, a series of misfortunes and letdowns occurred this year which more or less sealed the team's fate.

Our star lead-off hitter, Angel Pagan, went down with a serious hamstring injury in May requiring surgery, effectively ending his season. Fourth starter Ryan Vogelsong went down with a broken finger for several weeks. Pablo Sandoval had his usual little nagging injuries. The primary set-up man, Santiago Casilla, had surgery on his knee. Affeldt went down for a spell. Scutaro injured a finger, and his back has been giving him problems. Blanco and Crawford were hurt for a while. The back-up catcher, Hector Sanchez, lost much of the year with a shoulder injury.  

All teams have injuries, but the coincidence of so many at one time can deplete a team, forcing it to resort to second-stringers at key positions. Baseball seasons, being so long, can seem like a long march. It's often remarked that just avoiding injuries is a key factor in remaining competitive throughout a 162 game season. Luck plays a part. Unexpected accidents on or off the field may happen. A long-festering condition can finally catch up with a player. 

Baseball is a team sport, in which all the parts of the puzzle have to fit together somehow, to make a coordinated effect. The loss of one key part can cause the whole regime to falter. On any given three game series, the difference over a season, can be expressed as one team winning two, the other winning just one, which is what separates the best from the worst team in any year, the best winning 95 games, the worst losing as many. There's a built-in parity in the major leagues, which can exaggerate the effect of being a winner or a loser. 

But injuries weren't the only reason the Giants' season fell apart. This team was built on good pitching, and opportunistic (not power) hitting. With AT&T Park's long right field wall, the strategy has been to field hitters who can run, turning doubles into triples (hence "triples alley"), and relying on speed and timely clutch hitting. The team's home run numbers have been astonishingly low, especially this year, presently sitting at 69 total. (The Baltimore Orioles, for instance, whom the Giants just played, have hit 156 so far.) That discrepancy is disheartening. But it was the failure of the starting pitching, in particular, which was most noticeable. Lincecum's troubles, and gradual decline, have continued, despite a surprising no-hitter (his first), and a few good outings since mid-season. Cain had problems, and Zito has been tragic away from home, with a road ERA above 9.00. Zito, it would seem, has finally outlived his welcome, and probably will (actually should) be dumped at season's end. He's 62-77 in 6 1/2 seasons with his big free-agent contract, hardly what the Giants dreamed when they signed him. His career is over at 35; or, he might scumble along for another five years, doing garbage clean-up relief for 2nd tier teams, a pretty sad ending to a one-time Cy Young starter. Among present starters, only Bumgarner appears to be performing up to his ability, and he should continue to shine in the coming years. Romo looks good as our stylish closer.  

Looking to the future, there are only a few positions that seem truly secure. Posey is fixed at catcher, doing a few spells at first base. At second, Scutaro clearly had his career year in 2012, but  age appears to be catching up with him (he's 37). In right field, Hunter Pence is having only a so-so year at the plate (for him), but his range and hustle alone make him a worthy choice; if he could hit 25 homers and drive in 90, he'd be terrific, not an unreasonable expectation given his history. Will Pagan return to full health in 2014? Hard to say. If he does, that should take care of the lead-off spot. Crawford is a great defensive shortstop, and his hitting is almost very good. He's still young (26) and if he can hit .280 at the bottom of the order, he's a keeper. 

Otherwise, everything seems up in the air. 

--at Third, Sandoval has been a big disappointment this year. How can a player with his native skills eat himself into mediocrity? There have been different theories on how to approach Pablo's dietary problems, but it seems clear that he lacks the focus, or the diligence, to control his appetite. If he has an eating disorder, addressing it should be his biggest priority. At a playing weight about 40 pounds less than what he presently carries, he could expect to have perhaps a decade more of good playing time. In his present "beached walrus" condition, he might wash out after another season or two. The odds are so great, there has to be a day of reckoning. If I were a Giants general manager, I'd lay it out straight: Either show up next year in condition, or you're outtahere! 

--at First, Bandon Belt, now in his second full year, has shown signs of breaking out, but he still seems to lack the concentration and maturity of a true major league hitter. First base has traditionally been a hitting position. There has been talk of moving Posey to first more or less on a semi-permanent basis, to keep him fit for regular duty with the bat. Whatever the outcome of that, Belt needs to show something now. If he doesn't show some power and savvy with the bat very soon, he may not deserve to stay.

--Left and Center field. People forget that the Giants success in 2012 was to a large extent the result of Melky Cabrera's phenomenal hitting in the first half. When Melky was suspended in mid-season for drug use, it was clear why he'd been so good at the plate. But the fact remains that left field has been only partially filled all this year, with Gregor Blanco  and Andres Torres platooning in both left and center with a handful of rookies and journeymen (Noonan, Abreu, Francoeur, Pill, Tanaka, Gillespie, Kieschnick etc.). I don't think anyone, including Sabean and Bochy, believes that any of those "prospects" really is going to solve the outfield problem. 

--Pitching. Bumgarner and Cain seem like keepers. Both are young, both are strong, with good stuff, and reliable. Lincecum is a conundrum. He seems unlikely to regain his Cy Young stuff, and despite his recent resurgence, he looks to be a very questionable bet as a starter going forward. Management may even decide to let him go this year, despite his big fan draw. Volgelsong, too, seems only an occasional fifth starter now, and may also be gone after this year. That leaves two starters in place, with the team needing two more--a tall order, given that there don't appear to be any big prospects coming up from Fresno. Additionally, the team needs to bolster its middle relief. Kontos, Mijares, Machi, Rosario, Dunning, Moscoso et al, have been mostly disappointing this year. With Casilla, and Gaudin and Lopez and Affeldt returning, we may or may not have the basis for a decent staff. But the real question is the starting rotation.

So, the weak positions that need to be addressed are: Sandoval, Belt, Blanco, and the two holes in the starting rotation. It's hard to see who the Giants could offer in exchange for a quality starter, a slugging left fielder, or a reliable permanent part-time catcher. Belt and Crawford might suffice. Crawford would be hardest to replace, though. Belt and Sandoval would be my bet. Both still have lots of potential, but significant liabilities--any team taking them on would expect them to be "projects under construction." After several years here, neither is worth that risk. I would trade both for one really good starting pitcher, or one slugging outfielder, someone (a right hander) who could plunk 20 homers at AT&T, and maybe more on the road, and give the team a respectable number four clean-up man, which they've lacked ever since Bonds left. 

Without fixing these problem-areas, I suspect the Giants will not finish much better next year than they will this one. Last place feels awfully forlorn, after last year's triumph. To fall from first to worst in a single year doesn't feel right. We weren't as good as we thought we were. And of course we aren't as bad as we seem now. But standing pat isn't an option. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Death of the Twinkie - Birth of the Hand-Held


The reports of the death of the Twinkie@ were premature. Invented in 1930, by the 1950's, when I was as boy, Twinkies were coming into their own as a hit snack treat. In those days, kids ate a lot of junk food, but nothing like what they do today. When I was in grade school, every kid had a lunchbox with a sandwich, a thermos of milk, a piece of fruit, a piece of vegetable, and a dessert (perhaps a candy bar or a slice of cake). As the junk food craze progressed, my generation began to eat more stuff like Twinkies, though it was generally frowned on. Twinkies were really nothing more than a kind of candy bar, puffed up and filled with vanilla cream. They had virtually no food value, and lots of sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil, and cholesterol. 

In 2012, Hostess, the parent company of Twinkies, declared bankruptcy, and suspended production of Twinkies in the U.S. Some blamed workers' unions for causing the company to fail. Almost immediately, however, the Hostess (and Twinkie) brand was purchased by Apollo Global Management, which set up production in Canada, and resumed distribution of Twinkies in the U.S. Over the decades, people had become attached to Twinkies--they'd become a nostalgic fetish-object, and some people were devastated when they thought they'd never be able to purchase their old snack food ever again.

In 1978, during the trial of Dan White for the shootings of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, White's attorney called a psychiatrist witness to support the allegation that his client had become emotionally unbalanced, as evidenced by his eating junk food, and the term The Twinkie Defense was born. White got a manslaughter instead of a murder conviction--one of the great instances of miscarriages of justice--since there was no question that White had done the deed, in retaliation for his supposed betrayal by the Mayor and Harvey Milk (an openly Gay public figure).

Twinkies have always symbolized the dumbing down of American consumerism. Their success proved that corporations could create a commodity which had virtually no inherent value, and was in fact made partly out of chemicals that weren't even traditionally regarded as food at all. It was a triumph of advertising and the seduction of customers with sugar and "mouth feel" (good sweet mushy goo). 

When I grew up, telephones were very popular. By the mid-50's, old-fashioned party lines were being replaced with unique hook-ups, and talking on the phone, sometimes for hours at a time, was becoming all the rage. (That phrase all the rage marks me as a member of a much older generation, I suspect.) Teenagers spent time on the phone, because it allowed them to communicate privately, and they didn't even have to be in the same place to do it. It was a revelation. 

With the arrival of CB radios, and then cell phones, the phone era jumped a step. The first cell phones were big and heavy, and early versions sat in a "shoe" or stand, where they could be easily recharged. In the beginning, they were primarily used by policemen and service people. But as the newer models became smaller and lighter, they began to be taken up by the general population. This is all boring history, of course, and today, with the new versions of hand-held devices, it's even possible to type words and messages, and transmit them in the same way e.mail does. They also have built-in cameras and even on-board video function. All these different kinds of uses are called "aps" (short for applications), and companies are striving to come up with ever-more startling kinds of "aps" software to put into these devices. 

When the internet arrived, with its vast potential for joint communication and interactive exchange, people all over the world discovered they could talk with each other, and the internet supplanted much of the print universe, with instant phone, picture and video communication. The cathode ray tubes displayed a screen, with an accompanying keyboard adapted from the typewriter (with its QWERTY layout). When hand-helds began incorporating tiny keyboards, I didn't believe people would actually go for them, since I didn't see how anyone would choose to try to make text messages with a keyboard the size of a playing-card (or smaller). But I've been proved wrong.

Still, downsizing a keyboard has limits. No one can reasonably create very much text as efficiently on a hand-held keyboard as they can on a normal sized one. There are limits to what you can seduce people into believing. But the real effect of this downsizing has been to persuade users that rather than mourning the loss of the efficient creation of real text (within the limits of an efficient keyboard), they should embrace the new ridiculous keyboards by abbreviating their communications to just a few words per message. 

This reduction has had the effect of curtailing all meaningful online communication, since people, especially younger people, tend to prefer the convenience of a hand-held device, to one they have to carry in a suitcase or in a large purse. 

Portability has a long and proud tradition in human history. Anything people could carry would allow them a freedom of movement which made static, immovable objects seem like unnecessary burdens. As the world population grows, and people are forced to live closer and closer together in a world whose boundaries and limitations increasingly impinge on activity, the reductive tendency seems like an inevitable trend. In Hong Kong, there are "hotels" which are comprised of compartments little larger than an old train sleeper bunk, just big enough for a single person to squat in and sleep for a night.   

The new generation of hand-helds offers people the illusion of freedom, but watching them use them gives one an entirely different impression. Rather than freeing people to pursue their lives away from home or office, they seem to have become a new kind of burden or obligation. Today, especially in cities and the suburbs, people seem more attached (or linked) to their devices than they are to their immediate environment. Rather than allowing people to live in their surroundings, they seem ineluctably drawn into the "chatter" and "update" of their network of electronic connections, than they are to their real-time presences. These new devices have become an end in themselves, supplanting the real purposes and possibilities of life itself. People are constantly getting empty reports and sending pointless messages to each other. In other words, the necessity of using the devices has trumped the presumed purpose of communication itself, as if just touching base with people was such an ingenious novelty that people would do it even if they had nothing whatever to say or communicate.

As the new phone-gadget craze has progressed, it has become clear that many of its users have become completely taken over with the phone world it creates. They live to text, or tweet, or "face" each other. Their lives are becoming increasingly uniform, slavishly "interactive" and dull. They read less, they notice less around them in the world, and they have shorter and shorter attention spans. In fact, they are ignoring or neglecting whole areas of their consciousness. They've become slaves of a new technology whose underlying purpose and function is to put their attention (and life-times) on a charging meter, requiring constant replacements and "upgrades" to stay current with the new buzz

When personal computers arrived, many people thought that kids would only play "games" on them, and that's largely what's happened. I scoffed, but eventually found myself spending more and more time on a series of iterations of the home computer. The internet eventually became a revelation for me, but not for the reasons I would have suspected. I use the computer to blog, to write messages and "letters" and to buy and sell books (as well as other things). Having spent the better part of my life on typewriters, the transition to computer keyboards allowed me to expand the reach of my machine to the universe at large. 

But these new hand-helds have actually shrunk the possibilities of the World Wide Web. While e.mail permitted instant communication, it didn't constrict content, the way the new tiny screens and keyboards do. If I were a teenager, using a computer to study and communicate with others would be a big opportunity to enlarge my sense of the world. But I don't think the tiny Twinkie world of hand-helds would have the same salutary effect. 

Is the world today creating a new generation of idiots, illiterate electronic drones who speak the new dumbed-down shorthand of Twitter and Facebook? It seems so. These new little handy toys are making our minds decay, in the same way that junk food always has. You can get fat and mentally lazy consuming things that aren't good for you, whether it's sweet snacks, or quick little birdie tweets from your new online "friend." 

Birdy go tweet tweet? Here's a yummy little morsel for you. Nighty-night.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

If I Were a Rich Man [Part II]

But enough of generosity. How about greed? How much is enough, and how much too much? Is self-indulgence really a sin, and what are the limits of a reasonable consumption?

One of my long-term daydreams has been to run a small literary press, with a fine press studio devoted to producing beautiful limited first editions of poetry. Back in the 1970's, I managed to wangle a publisher's grant from the NEA, which enabled me to publish a handful of offset volumes. Bill Berkson's Blue Is the Hero, Ted Greenwald's Common Sense, Robert Grenier's Sentences Towards Birds, my own Stanzas For an Evening Out

James Laughlin in later life

Small publishers in 20th Century America begin with James Laughlin's New Directions, which was not only a traditional publishing firm with editions of books, but the New Directions Annuals, the chapbook editions, and the New Classics Series. Laughlin, a rich boy who grew up in Pittsburgh, set out deliberately to publish the avatars of new writing, "going to school" with Ezra Pound, and publishing most of the important experimental writers of his time. Others, like Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books, Jonathan Williams's Jargon Press, John Martin's Black Sparrow Press, James Weil's Elizabeth Press are well-known. What these all have in common is a commitment to a quality list, driven by a personal vision, and a willingness to forego, at least to some extent, the distractions of the market-place. Niche literary publishing is an honorable estate, which has produced many of the most beautiful, and important books, of the last century. If I could, I would certainly run a small press, and I'd publish only those authors I liked, and whose work seemed to me to be important. A small publishing venture is more than a hobby, but not as demanding as a real business. I'd hire someone to do the editing and press-work, and I'd pay scant attention to the account books, accepting a modest annual loss in exchange for the freedom (there's that word again) to do just what I pleased.

Jonathan Williams (Jargon Press)

As a part time fly-fisherman, I fantasize often about traveling to some of the world's most remote places, to fish for trout in waters that only a few lucky sportsmen get to visit. Waters on the southern edge of Chile and Argentina, or down under in New Zealand, or some of the remote rivers in Alaska, and perhaps even some in Siberia. Fly-fishing in places like these requires planning, guides, and money. I've never been a great fisherman, primarily because I've never mastered the art of casting, the primary skill for successful presentation. I've caught a lot of nice fish, but primarily due to luck (or so I imagine). People actually laugh at me when they see me fishing on the water. Maybe the fish do too. But fishing in remote places allows one to experience exotic landscapes while pursuing a sport. And the chances are that the fishing will almost certainly be exciting, since these places get a lot less pressure than easily accessible beats in North America. Expeditions like this aren't exactly out of my reach, but doing so regularly can easily exhaust your lifetime recreation budget.

 Fishing in Chile

Along with fly-fishing, and dabbling in poetry, I'm also a serious large format photographer, or at least I used to be. I built a darkroom into our new house in 1991, but I haven't done any picture-taking for several years. I'm not sure why. In the interim, photographic processes have shifted from organic chemistry and light-sensitive emulsions on big negatives, to digital, so most of my equipment is now considered out-of-date. Silver negatives and printing paper are still obtainable, but the profession (or hobby) has moved on. The new technology is more convenient in some ways, but there's nothing quite like seeing a composition develop in the tray, and turning on the light to see how it all came out. I'll go back to it soon, once my latest literary project--co-editing the Selected Poems of Larry Eigner, with Bob Grenier, for University of Alabama Press--is finished. 

Speaking of poetry, I'd also like to publish a last collected poems, before I die. Back in 1977, I self-published my Stanzas For an Evening Out, Poems 1968-1977. In the years since, I've published a couple of pamphlets, and I resumed writing in 2004 after a lay-off which lasted almost twenty years. Since starting this blog in January 2009, I've written several dozen pages, which I'd like to add to the whole total. Going over the poems in Stanzas, I find I'm still satisfied with many of them. The new collected's provisionally titled America Was a Horse. I'd like to do it letterpress with a nice binding, but that will take a hefty load of capital. Still, it would be my last hurrah as an "author" so I'm inclined to justify it on those grounds alone. I like to think that someone in a hundred years may pick up the stray copy of my work and decide that it has a little merit. Other than that, I have no ambition. James Laughlin fancied himself a poet, but without his own self-supported publishing concern, I doubt he'd ever have made much of a name for himself with his writing. All writing is in some respect a kind of vanity. In European and third world countries, poets are valued and revered. In America, there's almost a kind of natural resistance to people who set up as writers. Perhaps it's our native Puritanical skepticism that regards all artistic activity with suspicion. 

When I lived in Japan, in 1985, I had some free time, so I bought a Kawai upright piano, and, for the first time, tried my hand at composing. I taught myself to write music, and was able to notate adequately for my own purposes. In the years since, I've composed hundreds of pieces, for solo piano, for chamber groups, and for solo guitar. Unfortunately, none of these has ever been performed by anyone other than myself. I briefly tried to convince a local guitar virtuoso to try my pieces, but he was distracted. Why waste your time on amateurs, when the repertory is already rich? So, I guess the only way I'd ever hear how my compositions would actually sound would be to pay someone to perform them. There's precedent, of course. Gordon Getty, scion of the Getty Oil fortune, studied music in college, and has been able to promote his own works by funding their performances in public. I doubt whether any orchestra or opera company would consider doing this, without the Getty name and fortune behind him.  I'm not jealous, though. Better that a private individual purchase his access through philanthropic leverage, than to have some politically correct public committee or grants commission choose. I've been working lately on an extended piano piece, more or less inspired by Robert Schumann. Perhaps I'll figure out how to load it onto YouTube, though the performance will have to be by me (hold your nose!). 

What has this exercise in idle fantasy revealed to me about myself? I've always known my own mind, so nothing about it surprises me. Why should anyone care what I'd do with my imaginary wealth? No reason, I guess. I do think it would be fascinating to know what my parents or heroes would have said, at certain points in their lives, given the opportunity. There are people, I'm sure, who disdain the whole notion of a vicarious wealth, as if indulging in it is not merely a waste of time, but somehow a violation of the spirit of democracy, or a modest approach to living. Waste not, want not. For my part, I don't harbor envy for rich people, though I often condemn them for bad choices (viz my Mark Zuckerberg post yesterday). I have nothing against people of means creating entertaining diversions for themselves, as long as it doesn't involve confiscating valuable public access. Most rich people, to tell the truth, live lives of quiet desperation, as the rest of us do, and mostly well out of the public eye. After all, there's a real danger in being perceived as a potential target for thieves, or charities, or other kinds of predators. If you become rich enough, it can complicate your life to the extent that nearly every waking moment is spent servicing your own financial burden--not much of a life, I'd wager. Being a starving artist isn't much fun, but neither is talking to tax accountants and lawyers and business-managers every day about how best to husband your fortune. Still, there are consolations.  

But sometimes the fantasy is better than the reality. As Mr. Spock once said on a Star Trek episode, "it may not seem true, but it often is, that obtaining a thing is not at all the same, or as desirable, as wanting it." (Or words to that effect. Spock was speaking about having "won" a Vulcan bride in a courtship contest with another of his kind.) Though I might entertain the having of all these things I've enumerated above, obtaining them might leave me with a sense of empty attainment. Life is about hope and anticipation and planning; take those things away and our realizations become hollow.   


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Zuckerberg's Corrupt Stance on Immigration

We've known for a while that hi-tech companies have been offshoring production facilities, where cheap labor, lax safety and tough anti-union conditions prevail. What's become apparent lately is that these same tech companies have begun to exploit the foreign student visa program, known as H-1B, in order to push wage-costs down.

You would have thought that with all the riches generated by the computer revolution, there'd be enough money to reward American college graduates in computer engineering fields with decent jobs. But you'd have been wrong. 

In the U.S. Congress, interest groups and industry advocates have been busy lobbying Senators and Representatives to pass new immigration policies designed to grant amnesty to the 11 million illegal aliens, and to expand the number of H-1B visa quotas 300%.

Tech companies have been crying for more foreign workers, claiming that there aren't enough American entry-level applicants to fill their needs. But the evidence contradicts this claim.

It's important to understand that folks like Mark Zuckerberg, another one of your scatterbrained, but ambitious software wizards, couldn't give a fig about the overall problems that uncontrolled immigration brings. He's out to get more cheap tech labor, and the H-1B visa program is the tool.

In an editorial for the Washington Post, the chief of Facebook laid out his rationale for (a bipartisan political advocacy group aimed at changing the U.S. economy through legislative reform in areas like immigration, education and scientific research), discussing the country’s shift from a natural resources-based economy to one he calls a “knowledge economy,” or an ideas-based one.

In this new economy, he says, “we need the most talented and hardest-working people. We need to train and attract the best.” To that end, Mr. Zuckerberg highlighted three priorities for his group: comprehensive immigration reform that provides a clear path to citizenship; education reform to press for higher standards in schools and a “much greater focus” on math and sciences; and increased investment for scientific research.

“We will work with members of Congress from both parties, the administration and state and local officials,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. We will use online and offline advocacy tools to build support for policy changes, and we will strongly support those willing to take the tough stands necessary to promote these policies in Washington.”

The group is supported by more than two dozen prominent technology leaders, including a circle of 11 founders made up of Mr. Zuckerberg and Joe Green, Mr. Zuckerberg’s former Harvard University roommate who will now serve as president of

Silicon Valley going to bed with immigrant rights folks may seem an unlikely alliance, but pragmatism can create queer ambiguities in the fast-moving world of political alliances. Rich computer corporations using the Mexican immigrant rights platform to front for their business interest is the new unholy marriage of our time.

Facebook is the new generation's dumb replacement for intelligent communication, as if boiling down all your thought and discussion down to a few abbreviations and coded short-hand would make you more "connected." You're connected alright, like kindergarteners in a circle-jerk. Zuckerberg's "big idea" was to automate and streamline the fraternity grapevine, turning teen gossip into the new party-line. Suddenly, full-grown adults could play phone-tag from anywhere. 

And for this, Zuckerberg's transformed into a multi-billionaire, with a full retinue of accountants and attorneys and financial advisors to effect whatever whimsical cause or impulse crosses his mind. 

But the argument in favor of more Indian and Chinese and Indonesian and Korean and Arab programmers and software engineers isn't about "solving" America's immigration problem, it's about holding the line on tech salaries, and maintaining solidarity among the new crony elite in Silicon Valley's gang of billionaires.

These guys think they're geniuses. Everyone tells them they are, so they must believe it. One little bright  idea--often stolen from others or cobbled together with collaborators who get pushed out of the bargain--and one big ego, ruthless and hungry for power. That's been the story, over and over again. And once these "geniuses" make enough money, they have enormous influence in the world. 

Occasionally, an honest and modest one appears, such as Warren Buffett, who realizes that his investment acumen doesn't entitle him to decide political and economic issues on the national and world stage.  But typically, they think they understand everything, and can tell the rest of us how to live. They like to throw their weight around. They sit in plush chairs, and get interviewed by fawning acolytes, and smile and smirk like alligators in the cool celebrity mud pond, under the stifling glare of thousands of pathetic envious wannabes. Only in America.

Meanwhile, a Rutgers University professor, Hal Salzman, has been studying the phenomenon of our pool of domestic science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates, and how our immigration policies have been harming our domestic tech employment market.

"It's Econ 101," says Salzman, "employers generally don't pay more than what they have to pay as long as they can get what they need without paying for it. If you can increase supply, you can hold down wages." They're no shortage of homegrown talent, but there is a lack of willingness to pay for it." 

Salzman's study, from the Economic Policy Institute, points out that the offshoring industry is heavily dependent on guest-worker visas, companies that offer to help U.S. businesses lower costs by moving their information technology functions and jobs abroad, or by recruiting foreign "exchange students" who want to study in U.S. colleges and universities. But why offshore, if you can bring the cheap labor back here?

Industry, claims Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith, "is producing more high-skilled jobs than there are high-skilled workers to fill them," which explains why Smith backs provisions of the new Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act that would increase the annual cap on H-1B visas from 65,000 to 180,000 over time. "The talent shortage is so acute that we need more foreign workers to address today's workforce needs." 

But the "shortage" theory is just bunk. In 2009, two-thirds of computer science graduates worked in their field. Of the one-third that didn't, three in 10 said they couldn't find a job. Five in 10 said they chose another field due to better pay, promotions, and working conditions, according to their research, based on government data. "The story keeps coming back to wages," Salzman said. "They go elsewhere where the pay is better."

If there were truly shortages, Salzman said, the market would push up wages for workers, providing an incentive for more people to enter the field. But, he said, pay has stayed flat in technology corridors throughout the nation.

Meanwhile, the number of guest workers has increased. Though there are caps on the number of H-1B visas, companies don't have to prove that they have searched for a U.S. worker before filling the spot with a foreign worker. 

Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president at the Economic Policy Institute, said Wednesday that allowing an expanding cadre of STEM workers from abroad would ultimately hurt job development in the U.S. "When wages are falling, [graduates] don't go into the field," he said. "You have a self-fulfilling prophecy. You discourage these workers, and then you'll get more guest workers until finally, you've killed the supply of U.S. students and workers," he said. "That is not the recipe for a healthy economy."

(I had the occasion a couple of years ago to visit a fellow in the lower East Bay Area. He lived in a sort of compound, a huge condominium residence campus, comprised exclusively of Indian and other Asian immigrant workers and their families. You would have thought you were in a suburb of Delhi. These folks had all been courted by computer and tech firms in the Bay Area, and been housed in a segregated "project" development where they could be surrounded by others in their circumstance. I suppose I had been lulled by inattention to believe that the guest workers in the tech industry constituted a small cadre of individuals. But this showed me how extensive and organized the foreign worker program had become in Silicon Valley. These people were no more qualified to work here than our domestic tech graduates, but they had been encouraged and helped to move their families to America, where they would agree to work for less than our domestic job-seekers. After all, even the lowest of professional level wages look rich to Indian nationals.)     

So now bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Mark Zuckerberg tells us we need to open up the borders and roll out the welcome-wagon to the economic refugees of Central and South America, because "it's the right thing to do," the feel-good solution to the millions of illegals who have infiltrated our economy. It may be political pragmatism to side with the Dreamers and the Amnesty advocates, when you want to depress wages and kill tech education in this country. Zuckerberg, after all, didn't need a degree--he dropped out of Harvard because he had a better idea. (Actually, he probably would have been kicked out eventually, anyway, since he was violating the privacy of others in the Harvard student-body with his prank "social media" network games.) 

Unfortunately, Zuckerberg's "better idea" is destined to make functional idiots out of a whole generation of teenagers and young adults, while Zuckerberg gets rich and richer in the bargain. 

Zuckerberg needs to put his untold wealth to good use, as Microsoft head Bill Gates has figured out how to do. These freckle-faced egg-heads have to be told how to be responsible philanthropists; it isn't something you're born with.

Mr. Zuckerberg, please shut up.