The Internet, A To Z

Using the Google Suggest feature (“As you type into the search box, Google Suggest guesses what you’re typing and offers suggestions in real time . . . Our algorithms use a wide range of information to predict the queries users are most likely to want to see”), here are the first terms Google suggests if you type in just one letter, from A to Z. This was done around 2:10 p.m. EST, February 27, 2009, so a snapshot of the web today (do this every week and you could have a Library of Congress exhibit, or at least a high school-level art project):

best buy
verizon wireless
xbox 360

*Go JC Penney! Didn’t know that was still around . . .

**Google’s “orkut” feature beats out “office depot,” “obama,” “old navy” and “orbitz” . . . sounds like it’s rigged!

***What, no “sex”? Anyway, go Sears! Bricks and mortar, baby . . .

****Does this count as double dipping? Beats out “ups” “usps” and “united airlines”

Revenue Neutral

One of the big knocks on increasing the cost of emitting carbon as a solution to global warming is that it’s “regressive,” i.e., it hurts the poor disproportionately. I don’t really buy that argument, for a number of reasons. One, the poor are going to be hit the worst by climate change, which will make food more expensive and flood low-lying countries like Bangledesh. Two, the poor don’t lead nearly the carbon-intensive lifestyle that the rich do. Sure the rich can afford a new Prius, but they also fly WAY more than working class people, for example, and tend to have bigger houses, etc.

Be that as it may, the political argument seems to have legs. And the last thing we need is for a bunch of hypocritical Republicans using this issue as a way to express faux solidarity with the working man (remember “Drill, baby, drill!”?). So the issue is how do you increase the costs of carbon without it looking regressive.

Needless to say, Barack Obama has an answer:

Mr. Obama will also propose in the budget outline he releases on Thursday to use revenues from the centerpiece of his environmental policy — a plan under which companies will have to purchase permits to exceed pollution emission caps — to pay for an extension of a two-year tax credit that benefits low and middle-income people.
The combined effect of the two proposals, on top of Mr. Obama’s existing plan to roll back the Bush-era income tax reductions on upper-income households, would be a pronounced move to redistribute wealth and reimpose a substantially larger share of the tax burden on the most affluent taxpayers.

Well played, sir.

Towards the Pharma-Industrial Complex?

Since nationalization is in the news these days, I’ve been thinking a bit about a different kind of nationalization — specifically, the kind that happens when you’ve got a single buyer for a product, aka “monopsony”.

This is what the defense industry is today, an industry that has only a single client.

I’ve been noodling on what the health care industry would look like if the U.S. government moved to a single-payer system, and I think it’s probably something similar to what the defense industry has turned in to.

I don’t see this as necessarily a bad change.  You’d still have a “market” system, in the sense that the U.S. government would constitute the entirety of the market.  The government would put out an RFP, say, for a cancer treatment.  The pharmaceutical industry would respond with various candidates and proposals.

As for competition, well, the race with the Soviets was pretty competitive.   Isn’t the struggle against disease  a compelling and urgent enough challenge to spur innovation?

Just some thoughts …

You Didn’t Have To Squeeze Me But You Did And I Thank You

President Obama owed Huffington Post writer Sam Stein one. Last night, he paid him back:

It was a bookend moment.

President Obama on Monday evening became the 10th American president to call on Helen Thomas at a White House news conference. And he was the first to call on Sam Stein, a reporter for The Huffington Post, whose Internet publication sprung to life during Mr. Obama’s candidacy.

. . .

Mr. Obama glided through the questions without making any obvious news. Then, he turned to Mr. Stein, 26, who last month became the White House correspondent for his publication.

“Are you willing to rule out — right here and now — any prosecution of Bush administration officials?” Mr. Stein said, asking whether Mr. Obama intended to endorse an investigation by a so-called Truth and Reconciliation Committee.

As he did with Ms. Thomas, Mr. Obama essentially bypassed the question, saying, “My general orientation is to say let’s get it right moving forward.”

It was not the answer but the very fact that he took a question from Mr. Stein that created a buzz and signaled yet another shift in the ever-evolving news media landscape.

Executive Pay

The President’s newest gambit: capping executive pay at $500k/year for banks that have received bailout funds. Loopholes abound:

Obama’s pay rules focus on any firms that seek and receive future help from government, with a firm cap on those getting “exceptional” assistance. Citigroup and Bank of America among the few examples of firms so far that have received targeted support that would cross the threshold to be called “exceptional.” But the new rules will not be applied retroactively.

I think a lot of people wonder why it had to come to this. Why hadn’t they voluntarily cut their own pay by now? The way the news media plays it, you’d think that this amorphous group of “Wall Street Fatcats” would have huddled in their secret bunker under Lower Manhattan, and voted to lower their own salaries to avoid public ridicule.

But the media — and our politicians — have it wrong. They believe that “Wall Street” is, in fact a defined entity that has strong collective interests, and therefore will act to preserve the entity at all costs. They believe it is an entity that can be negotiated with.

This is, after all, how politicians behave. My party negotiates with your party and we work things out. But the the executives who run the world’s largest financial institutions form no such cohesive group. Sure, they have common interests (like, say, getting a new publicly-financed helipad in Lower Manhattan), but they don’t act to preserve the good of the whole. They act to preserve themselves, as we all do in our professional capacities.

And this, friends, is how you end up with a $35,000 toilet.

Creeping Grey’s Anatomism . . .

I’m not entirely sure when substituting popular music for actual acting started happening (was it James Van Der Beek’s fault?), but it started bothering me during Grey’s Anatomy — specifically, the final scenes in the final episode of Season 3 (“Didn’t We Almost Have It All?”), when Sandra Oh’s character rips off her wedding dress after being jilted by that homophobe.

Watching that scene, you get caught up in the drama but you can’t figure out why — your heart races a little and you’re like “oh, so sad for Sandra Oh” — then it hits you — you’re feeling that way only because Ingrid Michaelson’s “Keep Breathing” is blasting in the background.

So you stop yourself — and you ask yourself A) Why the hell do I care about Grey’s Anatomy? and B) When did it become OK to simply insert a “powerful” song at a critical scene and mute the actors?

What is worse is that the song alone isn’t all that great (listen to it without watching the scene)! Instead, there’s this synergistic effect of two lesser dramatic elements . . . it’s disturbing — “His trumpet is gone” just sounds dopey without the song! — and at the end, Ellen Pompeo’s face says literally nothing.

The other example of this I can’t stand is the final sequence of the final episode of the Six Feet Under series, with the song “Breathe Me” by Sia (do I have to bother saying “spoiler alert”? OK, you’re warned). Why can’t Claire just drive off in peace without Sia invading my mental space?

The sequence is schlocky and dominated by the song — imagine without the song how dopey the Where Are They Now? stuff would seem. Without the music, you would have no clue what Claire was thinking. And people loved this ending. They are full of shit.

So yeah, TV is lazy now. Fine. I don’t care. But when this starts to penetrate the theatre world, we are really screwed:

The frequent musical interludes (the moody sounds of P. J. Harvey) only remind us of the production’s lack of authentic drama.

[Note to editor: Insert overwrought, ponderous Question-As-Statement “Does this signal the solidifying of a half-plus-half-equals-whole mentality in our very culture?” here.]