Nowadays, a candidate must believe not just some but all of the following things: that abortion should be illegal in all cases; that gay marriage must be banned even in states that want it; that the 12m illegal immigrants, even those who have lived in America for decades, must all be sent home; that the 46m people who lack health insurance have only themselves to blame; that global warming is a conspiracy; that any form of gun control is unconstitutional; that any form of tax increase must be vetoed, even if the increase is only the cancelling of an expensive and market-distorting perk; that Israel can do no wrong and the “so-called Palestinians”, to use Mr Gingrich’s term, can do no right; that the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and others whose names you do not have to remember should be abolished.

To the outside world, it has always been easier to mock North Korea’s craziness than to fathom its horror, even as an estimated two to three million people died there of starvation in the late nineteen-nineties, and a generation of children were stunted by extreme malnutrition. (Even when Westerners took Kim Jong-il seriously, they tended to treat him as a punchline. The Economist depicted him on its cover under the headline, “Greetings Earthlings,” and President Bush called him “a pygmy” who acted like “a spoiled child at a dinner table” and was “starving his own people” in “a Gulag the size of Houston.”) Kim Jong-il made the mockery easy. Shin Sang-ok, a South Korean film director who was kidnapped and held captive for years by the North Korean dictator, told me that Kim adored Rambo, James Bond, and Friday the 13th movies. But, Shin said: “He doesn’t know what fiction is. He looks at these movies as if they were records of reality.”

Newt Gingrich and the Rule of Law

Newt Gingrich commenting on his dislike of things he dislikes:

There’s “no reason the American people need to tolerate a judge that out of touch with American culture,” Gingrich said on CBS’ Face the Nation.

You mean like Brown v. Board of Education? Courts are required to uphold the rights of the minority as well as the majority.

And Gingrich recently has said judges should have to explain some of their decisions before Congress.

Judges do explain their decisions in great detail in their rulings. The Constitution provides a means for Congress to enforce accountability on the judiciary. It’s called impeachment. It’s a subject about which Newt knows a thing or two.

“Do you want to move towards American exceptionalism, reassert the Constitution, reassert the nature of America, or do you, in fact, want to become a secular, European, sort of beaurocratic socialist society?”

Hate it break the news, but the Constitution establishes a secular government for the United States. You are of course free to work toward the repeal of the First Amendment if you wish. Let me know how that goes.

“So, What Phone Should I Buy?”

Normally I try to avoid reading, much less write about, the sloppy thinking and lazy writing that passes for “tech blogging” these days, but this muddled article trying to “answer” the question “which phone should I buy” was too much.

Now, if you’re my mom, this is the part where I’d say, “well, what do you want to be able to do with it?” Twenty or thirty minutes later, we’d rough out a list of maybe two or three phones, then we’d go into carrier stores and have her try out devices while I fight off pushy reps with smooth conversation (or, failing that, fists). But when I’m having a casual conversation with a casual acquaintance, that’s often not a practical solution for either one of us. So out of sheer laziness, what’s my stock response?

“You know, honestly, just buy an iPhone.”

And mind you, I’m not proud of saying that. I’m not trying to push Apple products, and I don’t currently own an iPhone myself. Rather, it’s a very selfish piece of advice: you see, by suggesting a phone to someone, you become, on some level, “on the hook” for that individual’s post-purchase satisfaction. You’re going to hear the good and the bad. You’re going to get the late-night emails and instant messages asking what to do when Angry Birds freezes. And maybe — just maybe — this person is going to like you a little bit less if you recommend a phone they don’t like.

Why is the author not proud of saying that, and why does saying so mean he’s pushing Apple products any more than he would be pushing the products of whatever vendor makes a phone you could recommend “in good conscience.”

That’s not to say I don’t love Android… I do. The Galaxy Nexux is the best smartphone I’ve ever used (which is why it’s in my pocket as I write this). But anyone who’s used Android at length knows that it requires more care and feeding to make it great than iOS does. Spec-for-spec, Android’s raw potential is greater — but it takes more elbow grease to get it there. It’s no different from desktop operating systems for the past thirty-plus years. Different strokes for different folks.

What does “the best smartphone I’ve ever used” mean in the context of this article? Does the author mean it the way Walt Mossberg or David Pogue would mean it, namely that the author thinks most people looking for a new smartphone should buy it? It sure doesn’t sound like it, since he just said most people should buy an iPhone. I guess what he really means is that the Galaxy Nexus is the best smartphone he’s ever used for his preferences and needs, but doesn’t think it’s quite ready for primetime for most people.

The article doesn’t even really attempt to answer the question posed at the outset. Instead we’re walked through a muddle of thoughts from someone who wishes he could recommend his personally preferred phone to other people but knows he can’t because it’s not good enough.

An article like this makes a better entry in one’s personal diary, and has no place as an article in a technology publication.

Hitch lived so large, and so beyond the rules, that his mortality seems especially hard to accept. I remember the day some eighteen months ago when he told me that he was mortally ill. He had missed a few stops on his book tour, which wasn’t like him, so I called to see if he was all right. “No,” he said frankly. “I’m not. I have cancer.” I was so stricken for the next few days that I couldn’t get much work done. Then I noticed that during the time that I was using his illness as an excuse to procrastinate, he had himself authored a handful of brilliant pieces. I couldn’t work, but he couldn’t stop working. He was a born writer, whose irrepressible talent and verve put most of the rest of us journeymen to shame.

“I think that’s a contemptible statement and I think everyone who applauded it should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.”

Christopher Hitchens, on the show Question Time, reacting to a liberal British MP who thought it unwise to give Salmon Rushdie a knighthood for fear of offending Muslims.

This clip is a great example of why I enjoyed Christopher Hitchens’s speaking and writing so much. After this tortured reasoning from the MP, Hitchens slices through all the mushy nonsense and gets to the heart of the matter, namely that it’s completely antithetical to the values of a free and secular society to allow itself to be intimidated by religious bullies. That ability to cut through all the noise and focus on what’s important is rare.

Christopher Hitchens, 1949 – 2011

From The New York Times’s review of Hitchens’s most recent book, Arguably:

Anyone who occasionally opens one of our more serious periodicals has learned that the byline of Christopher Hitchens is an opportunity to be delighted or maddened — possibly both — but in any case not to be missed. He is our intellectual omnivore, exhilarating and infuriating, if not in equal parts at least with equal wit. He has been rather famously an aggressive critic of God and his followers, after cutting his sacrilegious teeth on Mother Teresa. He wrote a deadpan argument for trying Henry Kissinger as a war criminal, then was branded an apostate by former friends on the left for vigorously supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (He memorably — a lot of what Hitchens has written merits the adverb — shot back that his antiwar critics were “the sort who, discovering a viper in the bed of their child, would place the first call to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.”) And he is dying of esophageal cancer, a fact he has faced with exceptional aplomb.

It looks like a human was involved in choosing what went where,” Marissa told them. “It looks too editorialized. Google products are machine-driven. They’re created by machines. And that is what makes us powerful. That’s what makes our products great.

Marissa Mayer addressing Google designers, as quoted in “In The Plex” by Steven Levy