Archive for ‘Ephemera’

World Cup Bracket

By , 16 June, 2010, 1 Comment

Followers of my Twitter feed know that I’ve done nothing for the last week except talk soccer. My friends and family know that my sleep schedule has been adjusted 6 hours forward to accommodate this new obsession. But lest all of you at ICapp feel left out of my fun, here’s some World Cup for you too: my bracket. Totally unsubstantiated and almost certain to be wrong. But feel free to ponder and pick apart anyway.

The Aughts

By , 8 January, 2010, 1 Comment

I really meant to write a New Year’s post. But to be honest, the New Year somewhat passed me by: even though my computer and two phones remind me of the date, moving as I am every few days, and in such warm weather, it’s been hard to keep track of the passage of wintertime.

I’ve also kept quiet because I have little to add to the mountain of essays on what the aughts were really about. Terrorism, Technology, Climate, and Globalization were certainly the major themes of the decade, but trying to suss out which of these stories matters most strikes me as a futile exercise. Ask me again in 2050. As for my take on 2009, it’s been more or less dominated by the Obama presidency, and we all know how I feel about that.

Looking forwards, I’m predicting more of the same: individualists will continue to triumph politically, while governance, the work of institutions suffers. As states cede power, ‘non-state actors’ will gain. But the real power in the emerging era will belong to the few institutions–nations and companies–who can, through aggregation, reap success from the failures of others and who may even encourage those failures as a means to the end. It’s not a trend I welcome, but it’s one I recognize.

Personally, the aughts were a swell decade for me. I grew out of my awkward stage. I got out of my awkward high school. I spent five years getting my intellectual ass-kicked by people who wound up my best friends. I worked at three great magazines in what might be the final apotheosis of the newsmagazine economy. And I got this great boondoggle of a trip to South Asia. If 2010 brings more of the same to my own life, that’s fine by me.

Maha Breaks the Space-Time Continuum

By , 8 December, 2009, 1 Comment

Today, from my bedroom in New York, I video-blog about the problems with the cultural/individualist left, postmodernism and the dire state of environmental reform:

Also today, from Islamabad, I opine on the role of the middle class in Pakistan’s political future:
Capitalism is the best insurer of political stability, Nasr posits, but not all capitalisms are equal. To promote peace, growth must do more than simply reduce absolute poverty by expanding the proverbial economic pie. It must also curb inequality by expanding the middle class, and tie their success explicitly to the stability of the state.

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint

The Muslim world’s middle classes are the ultimate stakeholders in the war on terrorism. While demanding liberal pro-growth policies that raise the incomes of those at the bottom, middle-class business leaders remain dependent on the state for core services such as education and healthcare which both facilitate their own entrepreneurship and benefit the poor.

Unlike upper-crust investors, they can’t pack up their assets and their families and leave when political turmoil hits. Because they have real wealth to lose if the state falls apart, middle classes remain engaged in the democratic process and protect democratic institutions from violence and corruption. By strengthening the state, and enriching their societies, they undermine the sales pitch of militant leaders who prey on inequalities and power vacuums to recruit followers. Even in economically troubled, war-torn Pakistan, a small middle class is beginning to play this very role. [Read the rest.]

Am I miraculous, or what?

New Beginnings

By , 9 June, 2009, 1 Comment

As you may know, I’ve migrated from Forbes to Fortune, for a time. As expected, this newsroom is also full of smart, friendly, eccentric, coffee-loving folk, but beyond that, I have little to share. Not because it’s been boring, but because Time Inc. is pretty cautious about social media. At new hire orientation, we were officially asked not to post “any matters that are work-related” to our personal blogs. That’s company policy. Unfortunately that means the outtakes from my reporting to which you might have gotten accustomed will have to stop. But have no fear, Cappuccino-ers, I have plenty of non-Fortune axes to grind on these pages.

ANNIVERSARY POST: The Medium is [Still] not the Message

By , 28 April, 2009, 2 Comments


Believe it or not, Cappuccino-ers, this digital coffeehouse turns one year old today, and it’s instructive to think how much has happened in the realms of technology, politics, business, and media that are our daily grist:

1. The Democratic primaries finally ended. Sarah Palin helped Tiny Fey find her life’s calling. John McCain sputtered his way to irrelevance leaving President Barack Obama to usher in, among other things, the rise of the individualist left. In Britain, David Cameron gave us a sneak peak of what individualism looks like on the right: war with the NHS. Arlen Specter left the Republican Party, marking, among other things, the breaking of the coalition between institutionalist rightists like Specter and individualist rightists like the party chiefs.
2. Obama’s campaign also highlighted the political power of social media technologies, though the President was not the only practitioner. At various points, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Paris Hilton, Gordon Brown and Hu Jintao, the Swedish police force, and Pakistani legal activists all made forays into interactivity.
3. Despite Robert Wright’s promises to the contrary, many parts of the world continued to grow more violent. Russia went to war in Georgia, Israel went to war in Gaza, Bombay was held hostage, the drug cartels upped the ante on the Mexican border, some IRA hands and Tamil Tigers were up to their old ways. The situation in Pakistan went from optimistic to disastrous, with the military finally deciding a Taliban takeover of the country was worth fighting against today. The Obama administration, meanwhile, turned Pakistan into a counterweight to its Iraq and Iran strategies, continuing and expanding irrationally (and perhaps illegally) hawkish courses of action to balance its dovish stance re: Baghdad and Tehran.
4. The global economy collapsed, taking down Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and a whole host of economic experts, sending the rest of the financial sector and the auto giants to the government for handouts and raising tons of populist rage against Wall Street. One silver lining, perhaps, is a new IMF+Free Trade approach to development that emerged from the London Conference, a dramatic improvement over the Doha disaster.
5. The next big paradigm shift in the web began as the first wave pioneers, like Bill Gates, left the scene, second wave leaders, like Google, started to face criticism, and second wave memes started to lose their luster. Web 3.0, though still in its nascent changes, showed signs of being more oriented towards globalism than its predecessors.
6. The media apocalypse picked up its pace, taking down the Christian Science Monitor (in print), the Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Tribune Company, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and most recently, Portfolio. The madness of those on both extremes expanded. Jeff Jarvis called for us all to become Google [who want to help newspapers, promise], while the Associated Press hammered all the aggregator startups for linking fees. But the beginnings of a cross-platform future began to emerge in the ashes of the recession, with the battle on between individualists and institutionalists to structure of that future model.
7. The downsizing of our over-leveraged ambitions brought a downsizing of technology trends, favoring the rise of the netbook over the laptop and desktop and most significantly, the rise of Twitter as a challenger to Facebook. In a sign of the media apocalypse, see above, commentators hailed Twitter not only as a useful social tool, but as some form of alternative journalism. Not only does this violate the speech/press divide (a victory for radical individualists), but confuses what Twitter offers users. Yours truly joined several weeks ago to test the service out, and I’m finding it to be more like Facebook before the applications: Indeed, as one who misses old Facebook, I’m glad to have it as a tool. It is all conversation with people I know that resembles the early days of social networking, lots of aspirational expressions “Maha wishes she could get more sleep.” or “Maha is mysterious,” and very little by way of information content. Indeed, when falsehoods appear on Twitter, there’s no effort by the company to shut them down and a certain flippancy from its founders about what goes on the site. That’s okay, because so long Twitter is just a social platform, it’s not legally or economically accountable for facts.  It’s just people talking, and people lie. That’s why the best “journalistic” use of Twitter I’ve seen is the same as the journalistic use of people in the analog world–quote them saying their piece, go out and verify or debunk what they say and put the raw facts in your words. Twitter, Facebook et al are a beautifully efficient way for reporters to get the views of the man on the street that have peppered our stories for years.
Thanks to everyone who’s kept the conversation fiesty on these pages–here’s to another year of digital caffeination.

Spring Cleaning Post

By , 15 March, 2009, 1 Comment

Thank God Ban Ki-Moon hasn’t heard of me, because I know I’d be on his list of deadbeats for the appalling lapse of Cappuccino-making I’ve been doing of late. I have a handful of weak excuses:

Excuse 1. It was crunch time on the Forbes Billionaires report, for which we’ll be continuing to roll out content all this week and next on our website. Right now, the big focus of reader feedback has been the controversial listing of a Mexican drug baron–how does Forbes know where he got his money? How come criminal activity gets Allen Stanford knocked off the list but not El Chapo? My personal opinion is that there’s real money in the black market, and covering ugly realities is part of journalism, but I do think we ought to be critical, not adulatory in our description of what he does. My own story for the report (link to come) is on two Nigerian billionaires, and I’ve tried to take my own advice. [Updated: My story‘s up now]
Excuse 2. It was midterm season at Columbia and I’ve been swamped with work. One assignment may be of interest to readers: for my computers and the law class, which I blogged about before, I wrote about the shield bill now floating in Congress, that would protect journalists’ anonymous sources. I blogged my basic take on the bill a while back and got some useful feedback in the comment section; in my essay, I took up one suggestion, to define journalism as reporting, and combined with my desire to maintain journalism as a profession, to try to block out a 21st century interpretation of the 1st amendment. Any thoughts on the essay would be much appreciated, since I’ll be rewriting it in the coming weeks.
One thing that I’ve been thinking about while writing that essay, and indeed, over the last few weeks, is where I actually fall on the political spectrum. Many lefty friends who usually regard me as an ally have been writing to me asking why I keep linking to conservative thinkers, praising centralized power and waxing nostalgic for old values. Have I, one commenter wrote in an email, gone over to the dark side? No, I haven’t, but the concern suggests my hunch about partisan sea change was correct: as the left goes liberaltarian, I’m falling out of it. As the center goes Hamiltonian, I’m falling into it. And as the right goes silly, I’m shedding not a tear at all.
It’s not yet a perfect shift: David Brooks, who has been rejoicing alongside me about the rise of Hamiltonianism, still hasn’t made his break from the traditional right–he has high praise for Alexander Hamilton (duh) and Teddy Roosevelt, but also David Cameron. News flash, Mr. Brooks: David Cameron is the opposite of an institutionalist; his first move will be the evisceration of Britain’s health care system. But it’s a real shift: witness the hiring of Ross Douthat to the NYT opinion page this week, consolidating Brooks and Douthat as pro-government conservatives (who like social spending) and putting them in the same room with pro-government liberals like Krugman (who likes markets, but wants them aggressively regulated) and liberal hawks like Friedman who likes big geostrategic initiatives. This is the institutionalist, Hamiltonian coalition. Conveniently, I already have a subscription.

Note to Readers: Experimentation Ahead

By , 4 March, 2009, No Comment

If you’re here on the blog page, you’ll notice right away some tweaks in the layout. I am experimenting with my Google Reader again. I’ve been reading all my blogs through Google for a little over a year now, but I haven’t really taken advantage of the sharing feature until now. There are some good reasons for this:

1. As a blogger with a Google-hosted blog, I can see the same updates from my blogger homepage, the site I log-in to when I want to write posts, read comments or monitor traffic.

Reading my feeds here is not only more efficient than going through reader directly, I find the Blogger Dashboard more user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing as an interface.
2. I actually don’t want to send all the stories I enjoy to all my friends–I tend to send occasional group emails to categories of people or individuals. I email a funny story about New York to friends I know in the city. I send a geeky economics item to fellow bizjournos. I send a mention of Brown to friends from college. I send an essay about moms to my mom. Etc. So the premise of Google Reader–reading as exhibitionism–doesn’t really match my habits of reading as relationship-deepening.
3. Many of the items I want to share with these friends aren’t in my RSS feeds because there are some publications I prefer to read in print than online. I read the NYTimes in print, or at least the front section, but with the exception of a few blogs I subscribe to directly (Krugman, Bruni), I don’t want every minute’s update from the site. Same for BusinessWeek, Fortune, the WSJ, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic Monthly. Google Reader doesn’t allow me to add individual URLs, from things I’ve already read in print and searched for online afterwards, to my shared items if the source isn’t in my feed subscription.
BUT since I occasionally do blog posts that are just digests of things I’ve read, and since I want to do more original reporting and informed opinion, I have opted for Google Reader just to outsource the aggregation component of blogging. Note to any friends who are checking my Reader-shared stories on a regular basis: the stories I’m sharing aren’t ALL my favorites from the web, but JUST the ones I want to feed to the digest box because I think they have some links to the “Revolution in Culture” I’m blogging about. The personalized emails will not stop.
This still doesn’t solve problem 3–wanting to add stuff to the digest that isn’t in my RSS feed. For now, I’ll have to include those in actual posts: today, I encourage you to read David Brooks on Hamiltonianism (I TOLD you so) and Tom Friedman on the bank bailouts.
If I find a new way to update that solves this issue, and is more pleasing to use than the Reader, I may tweak the site again, so any suggestions as to what you like are welcome.

Art and the Link Economy

By , 17 January, 2009, No Comment

Yesterday, I took some friends from college to the Met, which has late-night weekend hours that cater to a younger crowd. We saw a unique exhibit, a tribute to the outgoing head curator, Phillippe de Montebello. The exhibition is an 8 room collection of his major acquisitions, arranged chronologically by the year the Met purchased them.

Normally, of course, these works hang in the museum thematically–17th century Dutch paintings are in one wing, medieval Chinese scrolls are in another. Because this exhibition framed the artworks through the lens of de Montebello’s career, rather than art-historically, the two disparate genres often hung side by side. One room has these two paintings next to one another:

Top: Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri; Italian, 1591–1666), Samson Captured by the Philistines, 1619
Bottom: Balthus (French, 1908–2001), The Mountain, 1936–37

Though of course I knew this already, looking at them together really brought out how much the Renaissance art world was confined to a small group of people who all knew the same basic collection of classical and Biblical stories: this meant that you could show a crowded close-up scene like this without any background and expect everyone to know what was going on. Fast forward to the 1930s and it’s assumed that viewers won’t share such a coherent base of narratives you can throw on the canvas. Instead, to the extent that anyone is still painting narrative scenes, you have broader views that take you THROUGH a story, a fictional story that is new to everyone looking at the work. This is something I hadn’t really thought about before, and probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t seen these works side by side.

For the techie in me, it was a reminder of how the digital link is meant to work: instead of just seeing the internal logic of a blog post like this one, you jump horizontally from this to a Wiki entry on de Montebello or journal articles about these artists or an exhibition review, and learn things you wouldn’t learn if you had just flipped linearly through the Met catalogue.
Link
On the other hand, there were places in this exhibit where the logic of the link was sorely missing. In particular the curatorial captions on the plaques accompanying the work were the opposite of helpful and often showed a lack of expertise about the particular period or place the work hailed from. One of my companions, a PhD student in early American history, pointed out that the caption for a piece of furniture noted the name “Nicholas Easton” inscribed inside, but said his identity was unknown. In fact, she says, historians of early New England know him well. Academia functions in specialized silos, and if this exhibit is any indication, art and history professors could do well to indulge in more inter-disclipinary link-exchange.

I Love Trashy Magazine Quizzes

By , 31 December, 2008, 1 Comment

Pathetic, I know. I don’t even like trashy magazines, but if one happens to be lying around, I happily flip to the page that says “Which Disney character are you?” and start circling. Maybe that’s why my heart leaps on December 31st of each year when William Safire offers us his quiz of predictions for the coming year. This year I’m spreading the love–here are the [link-enhanced!] questions, with my answers and comments in bold. Post your own picks (one, all or none), and we can come back here in a year to see how we fared:

Read More →

I am thankful for…

By , 27 November, 2008, 2 Comments

…two new additions to my tech life:

1. GoodReads, where I can keep lists of books I mean to read, see what my friends are reading, read and write reviews, and buy books over Amazon. This is helping transition the print intransigents, people who still want the culture of curling up with a good book, to the web, by showing them how digital tools can serve analog practices.

2. BloggingHeads.tv, which I’m convinced is truly revolutionary. Here’s how it works–two academics or journos each get on their computer’s built in cameras and simultaneously turn on their video recorders and their video phones–then they film their phone chat, usually for an hour, on a given public policy topic. The site broadcasts it as a “diavlog,” a video blog entry where we see a split screen of the two speakers simultaneously.

So far all the internet has done for broadcast media is enabled the uploading of clips; but this doesn’t come close to what blogs did for print, because it doesn’t allow for the interactivity of Web 2.0: you can’t link into and out of a podcast. The great thing about BloggingHeads is that as you watch, you see links to relevant items on the side of the screen–articles by the speakers, articles they reference, bios of people they reference and you get the sense of personal connection that comes with blogs. What I’d love to see is a marriage of this format with what I blogged about at MobDub, allowing users to add links to the diavlogs too.

For now, as you sit digesting your turkey, enjoy this conversation between my two favorite Bloggingheads, John McWhorter and Glenn Loury.