Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Phrase of the Day: PLAYING THE VICTIM

This past Friday, a letter to the editor appeared on the Wall Street Journal's website from billionaire Tom Perkins.  Mr. Perkins is a multi-billionaire (yes, that's with a "b") who helped to form Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm, in the early 1970's.  The firm owns equity in such companies as Zynga, LegalZoom, SoundCloud, Groupon, Spotify, Facebook, and Twitter.  He was the first General Manager of computer divisions of Hewlett-Packard, and was instrumental in starting the high tech company mecca of North America located in northern California, Silicon Valley. 

Mr. Perkins is a very well-off man, as the picture below of his $150-million "super yacht" the Maltese Falcon illustrates.  (It is the black boat with the three large masts.)

Mr. Perkins' letter to the editor read as follows:
      "Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention
        to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its 'one percent,' namely its Jews,
        to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the 'rich.'
        From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every
        word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of
        hatred of the successful one percent.  There is outraged public reaction to the Google
        buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies
        which employ them.  We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these
        'techno geeks' can pay.  We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the
        Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is
        a 'snob' despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over
        the past decades.
        This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking.  Kristallnacht was unthinkable
        in 1930; is its descendent 'progressive' radicalism unthinkable now?"

Mr. Perkins' comments are as ill-advised as they are insensitive.  It is clearly an act of playing the victim by the use of comparison ... and a terrible comparison at that.  Let's look at his comments more closely.

He sandwiches the entirety of his comments with references to 1930's Nazi Germany, so let's look at that first.  His use of the phrase "the epicenter of progressive thought" is, in my mind, supposed to highlight two things: He is in the middle of all this terrible activity, thus he is reporting firsthand.  So, one, he is supposed to have credibility, as a television war correspondent would have reporting from the front lines; and two, he is supposed to be speaking as a victim.

The "one percent" reference has more of an understanding today as a societal financial paradigm representing imbalance, whereas as, related to 1930's Nazi Germany, it is nothing more than an accounting for the Jewish population.  In 1933, out of the total population of Germany of approximately 67 million, approximately 505,000 were Jews, roughly three-quarters of one percent.  Societal imbalance is not the same thing as simply who lives somewhere.

In the middle portion of his letter, he suggests the demonizing of and attacks on the rich are part and parcel of being a progressive, at least in the San Francisco area.  I believe that both progressives and non-progressives have engaged, and will engage, in actual attacks on the other side.  Speaking the truth is not the same thing as a flat-out attack, and equating the truth and an attack suggests an inherent disdain for the truth. 

Regarding Perkins' reference to "Google buses", which have put a huge dent in San Francisco's public transportation system by privatizing it, there have, indeed, been
protestsSome of these protests have been violent (i.e. breaking a window of a "Google bus").  While violence is never the answer, the core grievance is not just about being rich, but rather how these actions are driving up the cost of all housing, both owned and rented.  People want to be able to afford where they live and they don't want to move out of town.

His comment about Danielle Steel may be the only example of his that holds any validity.  Her efforts through The Nick Traina Foundation for people with mental illness (named after her late son) and the Yo! Angel! Foundation for the homeless are well-documented.  It is not impossible that Ms. Steel could be a snob, but her creation of and involvement with those
foundations suggest to me that such might not be the case.  Important to note here is that Danielle Steel is Perkins' ex-wife.

I skipped past one piece of the sandwiching paragraphs in Mr. Perkins' letter which I will highlight now: his use of the term "Kristallnacht".  Over the course of the night between November 8th and 9th in 1938, what is considered to be the biggest catalyst for the Holocaust took place.  In the first few days of November 1938, Polish-descent Jews living in Germany were expelled from German territory, many of which ended up in a refugee camp, as Poland refused them entry.  Two of those expelled were the parents of seventeen-year-old Herschel Grynszpan, who was illegally living in Paris at the time.  As a result, young Grynszpan would exact revenge.

On November 7, 1938, Grynszpan shot a German embassy official stationed in Paris, Ernst vom Rath.  In a bit of irony, vom Rath was the embassy official who was assigned to assist Grynszpan.  Two days later, vom Rath would die from the shooting.  In response, violence would "spontaneously" erupt in heavily-Jewish populated areas of Germany and Austria against Jewish persons, places of worship, and businesses.  Joseph Goebbels even suggested that the assassination of vom Rath was a result of a "World Jewry" conspiracy.  Reinhard Heydrich, a high-ranking Third Reich officer, sent out directives to the "spontaneous rioters", which included members of Nazi "Stormtroopers" and Hitler Youth, to not bother with non-Jewish businesses, etc., and to arrest Jews en masse.  Those arrested were sent to concentration camps, which marked the first time individuals in German occupied territory were sent away to camps prior to the Holocaust. 

The term "Kristallnacht" translates to "Night of Crystal".  It is also referred to as "Night of Broken Glass" as a result of all of the windows of Jewish homes, places of worship, and businesses that were broken during the riots.  So, what is the similarity between these points in history?

Does the breaking of a window on a bus equal the breaking of hundreds, if not thousands, of windows in Germany and Austria?  Of course it doesn't!

Yesterday, Mr. Perkins backed off of a part of his comments in the letter.  However, the sentiment of the rich feeling threatened is something by which he still stands.  In an interview on Bloomberg television, he says his regret rests in his use of the word Kristallnacht, but not in his Nazi comparison.  His assertion that class warfare is aimed at the rich is clearly playing the victim.  The real class warfare in America is against the poor and far more against the middle class, not the rich.  In short, Mr. Perkins feels the rich in 2014 are in the same position as the Jews in Germany and Austria in the 1930's.

And he doesn't think he's out of touch?


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Phrase of the Day: FIGHT BACK

Today's post begins with the story of Aaron Hillel Swartz, a former Internet activist and computer programmer who created RSS (Rich Site Summary), from which we have RSS feeds.  Aaron was born in Chicago, Illinois, on November 8, 1986.  On January 11, 2013, just over a year ago, he was found dead in his apartment in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York; he had committed suicide.  

The circumstances that led up to this tragic day were, in short, as follows: In July of 2011, Swartz was federally charged with wire fraud and computer fraud for gaining illegal access to a subscription-only scientific and literary journals website called JSTOR (short for Journal Storage).  Swartz had downloaded close to five million journal articles and documents, nearly the entire JSTOR database. 

His belief was that such information, and information in general, should be openly accessible on the Internet to anyone.

After being charged with wire fraud and computer fraud, Swartz was faced with the possibility of up to one million dollars in fines and thirty-five years in jail, among other repercussions.  His lawyer had put forth two offers for a plea bargain to the prosecution; both times, the prosecution refused.  The prosecution refused the second plea bargain on January 9, 2013.  Two days later, apparently unable to cope with everything ahead of him, Aaron Swartz hung himself in his apartment.

His activist efforts included founding Demand Progress, which promotes social justice campaigns, including an effort against attempts by Hollywood to censor the Internet.  He also created Infogami, a software company which supported the efforts of the Open Library project.  Wanting to advance the work of Infogami, Swartz merged with Reddit in the Fall of 2005.  One year later, Reddit was bought by Condé Nast Publications, which owns Wired magazine.  Swartz decided to work for the magazine, but was unable to adapt to working in a structured office environment.  One year after beginning to work for Wired, Swartz left and went on to start Jottit, a website building tool.

Fast forward to this year.  Bolstered by the success two years ago in stopping SOPA and PIPA legislation, both of which were intended to censor the Internet, those same organizers have created a new initiative: The Day We Fight Back.

On Tuesday, February 11, 2014, this online protest against mass surveillance will take place, in which politicians will be strongly urged to not approve either the FISA Improvements Act or the USA Freedom Act (H.R. 3361 / S. 1599).  Internet sites, such as Access, boingboing, Demand Progress, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, freepress, Mozilla (creators of Firefox), reddit, Taskforce, and ThoughtWorks, will display banners showing and asking for support on this issue.  The public will be encouraged to add banners to their sites to further seek support against mass surveillance efforts, as well as sending E-mails and making phone calls to their senators and Representatives to oppose the FISA Improvements Act and the USA Freedom Act.

With the past efforts in Congress to try and pass SOPA and PIPA, and the revelations last year of the wide-ranging extents of such entities like the NSA, we need to stand up and stop censorship and surveillance on the Internet.  I encourage all of my readers here in the United States and abroad -- there's information on their website on how you, too, can get involved -- to take part in this important effort.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Word of the Day: RESOLVE

I want to begin my first post of 2014 with a nod to last year.  June 19, 2013, marked the first anniversary of this blog.  As if an anniversary present, it was on that very date that this blog reached 1,000 hits.  On December 18, one day shy of the year-and-a-half mark, this blog crossed the 2,000-hit mark.  In half the time of how long it took to get the first thousand hits, the second thousand hits occurred.  I am truly grateful to all of you!  I am glad you find my little corner of the blogosphere interesting enough to keep coming back.  I hope I will continue to give you reason enough to continue to do so.

A tradition for New Year's Day is making New Year's resolutions, where you resolve to start something you didn't do but should have, or to stop doing something you did but shouldn't have.  Making a resolution can, of course, be done at any time, but the start of a new year has a certain, almost inherent, quality to it that makes it somehow seem appropriate to do so then.

I do not make New Year's resolutions for that very reason (resolutions are for any time).  I often use the joke, when asked what resolutions I am making, that my resolution is to not make any resolution.  (Of course, the irony is always on me because that is a resolution!) 

New Year's resolutions run the gamut from the most popular of losing weight and quitting smoking, to perhaps less common ones like treating family and/or friends better and trying harder at work or on a project.  Most, if not all, of these share a common thread: to do better than before.

Actually, they share another common thread: New Year's resolutions are usually not kept.  It can be equally stated that many people lack will power and doing better is not always easy.  Still, the starting of a new year symbolizes starting anew, a reset, and a new set of possibilities.

One resolution I hear -- more often some years, less often other years -- is to be a nicer person toward others.  On the surface, that sounds as wonderful as it sounds small.  Granted, that may not seem as dramatic as losing weight or quitting smoking, but it is profound ... if you keep that resolution, that is.

Profound, if, each day, you treat someone, whether known to you or a stranger, in a good way.  Perhaps it is something you have done before many times or something you have done once a while; do it more frequently.  Perhaps it is something you have never done before; give it a try.

This is not to say that you should begin forcing help onto others who do not need it.  If someone truly doesn't need your help, then so be it.  Helping only for the sake of helping, as if it is something you can just check off for the day, is not the goal.  Only in extreme circumstances where someone is incapable of making clear choices on his/her own, forced help is neither helpful nor genuine.  The idea here is to make treating others better than you have before the goal.

The scope of how you treat others is not paramount, either.  Some actions are big and drastic, such as saving someone's life; some actions are smaller and more intimate, like giving someone a smile when they've had a dad day.  No bonus points for larger kinds of help.  No loss of points for smaller kinds of help.  Wait a moment ... there are no points involved!  Treating others better is just that.  Period.

Treating others better today, and then tomorrow, and again the day after that and the day after that, and so on, not only covers today.  All of your tomorrows will also be covered, and you will be making the world better than it was.  If enough of us did that, how different the world would be!

Maybe I will make a New Year's resolution of treating others better.  Maybe you will, too.  Happy New Year, dear readers!