Monday, June 29, 2009

iOmelet -- it's the killer app

I am a petty, bitter man, especially when it comes to iPhone fanatics raving incessantly about the amazing capabilities of the device. About half the posts you see on Twitter pose some variation of the rhetorical question, "is there anything this iPhone can't do?"

Turns out you can also fry eggs on it. This amusing post describes the overheating problem being reported by some users of the new iPhone 3G S. "Toasty doesn't even describe how surprisingly hot it got," one user reports. Another put it under his pillow and awoke with a scorched ear.

Being petty and bitter, this is the sort of thing that brings a smile to my face. Not that I hate iPhones, of course, or those who wield them. I have an iPod Touch myself, which is currently at an undisclosed location in California, being scrutinized by a team of Apple techno-shamans who, like me, cannot fathom how I managed to brick it while trying to upgrade the firmware to version 3.

No, I'd step up to an iPhone tomorrow. Except I can never get past that immovable barrier of having to shell out a minimum of $1,200 a year to make it work. It's the pettiness thing again. Also, I hate talking on the phone, and never go anyplace requiring a GPS to find, and already have a little camera. Really, the only reason I covet one is because everybody else has one.

And how do I know that? Because the iPhone is designed expressly for the purpose of announcing one's presence to the world. It's the reason Twitter exists, the reason Facebook is thriving. It begs to be used in public --usually at gatherings where the people who aren't there become more tangible and interesting than the ones who are. Watching those little screens rule the room, even the most silent and cynical can't help but feel small pangs of longing.

And now that it's capable of making a grilled cheese sandwich ...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A study in hypocrisy

Every once in awhile, you run across a line you really wish you'd written. So it is with this lede by Maureen Dowd in her latest column:

As in all great affairs, Mark Sanford fell in love simultaneously with a woman and himself — with the dashing new version of himself he saw in her molten eyes.

That's almost poetry. I'm not one of Dowd's biggest fans -- sometimes she flogs her metaphors beyond endurance and comes off as simply sophomoric -- but her take on the two sides of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is brilliant. There's Mark, the penny-pinching prig; and there's Marco, the lying Latin lover. Her damning contrast between the two, between Sanford's conservative talk and libertine walk, should be required reading at the hypocrisy-prevention seminars the GOP must surely be planning by now.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The stuff that really matters

The King of Pop giveth, and the King of Pop taketh away. In his last official act, Michael Jackson batted poor Farrah Fawcett straight back to page A8 but also gave South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford some breathing room at a time when it really came in handy. The guy (Sanford) has to be thanking his lucky stars. Those erotic e-mails might have echoed for days had not the King succumbed to all his bad choices at such a fortuitous time.

When a major celebrity dies, it's bigger than World War II, at least for a day or two. The stars get realigned -- literally, because there's one less of them, and figuratively, because big stories have this way of becoming small when something bigger comes down the line. Who cares about Sanford any more? Who cares about Iran? We are talking Michael Jackson here, who has Touched Us All in ways we will still be discovering years from now. Personally, the coverage I've found most poignant is this piece about the time Michael Jackson inadvertantly dropped his sequined glove in the toilet. Hey, I've been there bro.

In the New York Times, there's this story about Shock and Grief Around the World. The former president of South Korea summed it up best: "We lost a hero of the world." A number of the memorials planned -- including one here in Wichita -- featured somber moonwalking. A stunned Paul McCartney, putting aside their petty differences over the Beatles catalog, called M.J. a "massively talented boy man." Even the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who normally shuns publicity, found time to show up at the family home in Encino. But then, we are the world. Maybe it takes a moment like this to make us realize what's truly important.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kicking Scientology in the shins

Most of my thinking on Scientology parallels last year's South Park episode, which nicely parodied L. Ron Hubbard as both a second-rate writer and a third-rate god. I also view the organization he founded as a church only in the sense that it exploits childlike credulity on a breathtaking scale. I know: Companies like Apple or Amway do that too. But unlike those companies, Scientology has grown fat servicing celebrity egos and selling nothing for something -- I refer here to the ludicrous but undeniably profitable concept of auditing. And unlike other successful companies, Scientology is tax-exempt.

Now comes the St. Pete Times to reveal a bit more about the organization. In a three-part series, its current leader, David Miscavige, emerges as something like Kim Jong Il in a better suit. Among other things, he is said to routinely abuse sycophants and conduct bizarre tests of loyalty. Readers might be reminded of other cults of personality -- Jim Jones' Peoples Temple, for example, or David Koresh's Branch Davidians -- but the analogy soon pales. Scientology is so vast that all the believers wouldn't fit in tiny Guyana, and if anybody's going to drink special Kool-Aid or perish in flames, Miscavige and his minions would no doubt prefer it be nonbelievers. He may be a raving megalomaniac, but as CEO of a profitable business, he needs to grow the market, not shrink it.

You have to hand it to the St. Pete Times. Scientology is a formidable enemy, powerful enough to make the IRS grab its ankles on the subject of tax-exempt status. Its litigiousness is legendary, and these days few newspapers see a percentage in paying reporters to afflict the comfortable. And yet, here's this series, carefully reported and solidly sourced, just like in the days of old. It may not hurt Scientology much, in the end, but it sure helps the case for professional journalism.

Friday, June 5, 2009

No rush to reunite

When I think of my high school years, it's always with a little embarrassment -- or a lot, depending on the memory. I committed a number of heinous acts for which there can be no redemption. I wore my shaggy black hair in the style now associated with Rod Blagojevich. I wore pants pegged so tight they looked like leotards. I was paralyzed by shyness. If I really liked a girl, my only strategy was to ignore her. I smoked unfiltered Camels in the belief it made me manly. I went along with any stupid scheme cooked up by friends, most involving copious amounts of beer. To the few good teachers who tried to rouse me from utter haplessness, I returned nothing at all.

You can't go home again, but people keep trying. This summer, the class of 1969 at the little high school I attended is having another reunion. If I go, it'll be my fourth. I say if because it's the first one I have doubts about attending.

I wouldn't have missed any of the others. Each was literally the party of the decade. In 1979, it was all about proving we were better than we'd been, grownups at last and on the way up. It was the kind of party where you had the urge to buy stylish new clothes or show up in a rented Cadillac.

Ten years later we were at the height of our powers, such as they were. We had our careers, our families. Some plain, unnoticed girls were now attractive women, some formerly boorish jocks were now brimming with bonhomie. Time again seemed the great healer. We all danced with abandon, as though celebrating the end of the cliques and classes that had defined us before.

Ten years after that, a kind of ruefulness had set in. We still got up to dance, but with a bit less exuberance. Mostly we wandered around trying to remember names, joking about getting older and exchanging remembrances that no longer seemed quite plausible.

They were all fun parties. They were also illuminating in an anthropological sense: A graduating class is a little control group, each personality a prototype for someone you'll meet after. Every 10 years, you can note the effects of time, the shifting tides of success and loss, the poignant impermanence of lustrous hair. On the long ride back home, there's some comfort in knowing that the erosion of time does not happen to you alone. That despite all the varying paths, you and your classmates are in it together.

Except that after 40 years, growing old together seems less of a comfort. The passage of a decade no longer seems completely benign. Now we've watched our parents get old and we know what awaits. All our youthful potential has been spent or squandered; from here on out the pieces start falling off. You're not sure you want to participate. You look in the mirror. You imagine the sultry cheerleader who was the object of so much teen lust, now a prim grandma immune to lust of any kind. You look at a poem you wrote then, its meaning now obscure. You look at the invitation to the 40-year reunion and think: The rest of you go on; I'll catch up later.