PENINSULA DAILY NEWS for Monday, November 4, 2013 PAGE
Calling America: Hello, hello, hello . . . is anyone there? From Singapore
“People always looked up to America as the best-run country, the most reasonable, the most sensible. “And now people are asking: ‘Can America manage itself and what are the implications for us’” — if it can’t?
official Chinese news agency Xinhua after the government AVING LIVED AND WORKED shutdown, suggesting that it abroad for many years, I’m sensiwas “perhaps a good time for tive to the changing ways that forthe befuddled world to start eigners look at America. considering building a deOver the years, I’ve seen an America Americanized world.” that was respected, hated, feared and N TALKING TO ASIAN COLLEGE But Xinhua got the loved. students, teachers, diplomats and befuddled part right. But traveling around business people, here is how I’d distill Many people would still China and Singapore what was on their minds: line up in a blizzard to Thomas L. last week, I was con“Are you really going to shut down your come to America, though for fronted repeatedly with Friedman government again? Like, who does that? too many now that is not an attitude toward “And, by the way, don’t think that because we’re the “beacon on America that I’ve never doesn’t affect my business over here, the hill” but rather “the heard before: because I’m holding a lot of dollars and I cleanest dirty shirt.” “What’s up with you don’t know what their value is going to be. guys?” “Also, how could the people who gave INGAPORE IS NOT Whether we were us Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, IBM, HP a full-fledged democfeared or loved, America and Google not be able to build a workracy. What it does have was always the outsized able health care website? I know it had is a government that wakes standard by which all five million users, but there are 48 million up each day asking: others were compared. Indonesians on Facebook!” What world are we living What we built and Worse, whenever you’d visit China or in and how do we best use what we dreamed were, to many, the defi- Singapore, it was always the people there the resources we have to nition of the future. who used to be on the defensive when disenable more of our citizens Well, today, to many people, we look cussing democracy. to thrive in this world? like the definition of a drunken driver — Now, as an American, you’re the one Little things here catch my like a lifelong mentor who has gone on a who wants to steer away from that subeye, like the ERP: the electronic road binge and is no longer predictable. ject. pricing system that greets you when you And, as for defining the future, the After all, how much should we be bragdrive into the center city and tells you country that showed the world how to pull ging about a system where it takes $20 every minute, via an electronic billboard, together to put a man on the moon and million to be elected to the Senate; or how much it will automatically charge you defeat Nazism and Communism, today where a majority of our members of Conwhen you drive into the downtown. broadcasts a politics dominated by three gress choose their voters through gerryIt constantly adjusts the price based on phrases: “You can’t do that,” “It’s off the mandering rather than voters choosing the number of cars that can comfortably table” and “The president didn’t know.” them; or where voting rights laws are fit the roads. A Singaporean official who has been being weakened; or where lawmakers The Bush team tried to fund a similar going to America for decades expressed spend most of their free time raising system to reduce congestion and pollution shock to me at being in Washington, D.C., money, not studying issues; or where our during the government shutdown and Congress has become a forum for legalized for Manhattan, N.Y., but it was killed by other boroughs and lawmakers in Albany. how old and emotionally depressed the bribery; or where we just had a minority And that is what bothers me most city felt. of a minority threaten to undermine today. “Few Americans are aware of how America’s credit rating if we didn’t overIt’s not just that we can no longer pull much America has lost in this recent epiturn an enacted law on health care; or together to put a man on the moon. It’s sode of bringing the American economy to where we can’t pass even the most comthe edge of a cliff,” said Kishore Mahmon sense gun law banning assault weap- that we can’t even implement proven common-sense solutions that others have long bubani, the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew ons after the mass murder of schoolchilmastered — some form of national health School of Public Policy in Singapore, and dren? care, gun control, road pricing, a gasoline the author of The Great Convergence: Asia, I still don’t believe there would be the West, and the Logic of One World. many takers for the commentary on the tax to escape our budget and carbon bind.
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S ANDY KARSNER, THE former assistant secretary of energy who participated in last week’s New York Times forum in Singapore, remarked to me: “This is the first time I have visited Singapore where its modernity is not a novelty, but a depressing contrast.” Because, he added, you know that all the modernity and prosperity you see here “is not based on natural resources but on a natural resourcefulness — and on implementing with ease best practices, many of which ironically originated in the United States.”
________ Thomas L. Friedman is a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times. His column appears here every Monday. Email him via nyti.ms/friedmanmail.
A problem of twaddle with Twitter JOFI JOSEPH WAS a smart guy — up to a point. He rose smoothly through the foreign affairs establishment, boosted by a fancy fellowship and political connections. He ended up a staff member Froma on the National Security Coun- Harrop cil. But he led a second life on Twitter, using the handle @ NatSecWonk to post snide comments about national security leaders. His droppings included such juvenile sexism as: “What’s with the dominatrixlike black suit [national security adviser] Susan Rice is wearing at this announcement?” And sophomoric snark: “When was the last time [deputy national security adviser] Ben Rhodes said something not painfully banal and obvious?” Joseph’s Twitter alias provided only limited cover. After all, he was tweeting about things only insiders would know. He was eventually outed and fired. As Twitter prepares to issue company stock to the public,
investors are trying to size up its future in the social media universe. The microblogging site has a critical flaw anchoring its prospects. Unlike Facebook — which requires members to submit their real names and email addresses when joining — Twitter lets anonymous louts romp through otherwise intelligent conversations. Thus, it’s become a haven for “trolls” leaving false, nasty and/or moronic comments. Would advertisers want to go near an often foul user experience? On the plus side, Twitter offers a clever means of communicating. Members can post memos of up to 140 characters. Those wanting to see all of someone’s thoughts can sign up as a “follower.” To brighten up the product, Twitter recently added pictures to the user’s feed, formerly only text. None of this cleans up Twitter’s growing reputation as a hideout for creeps, many specializing in hatred of females. In a celebrated case last summer, three British women — a classics professor, a member of Parliament and a feminist advocate — came under primitive
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assault for urging the Bank of England to put the image of the mannerly writer Jane Austen on some banknotes. They were assailed with the usual “dumb bitch” insults and unpublishable allusions to body parts. But some tweets called for rape and painful death, threats serious enough to bring in police. Several men were arrested, ranging from a military instructor to an unemployed shut-in living with his girlfriend. Twitter has responded by creating a “Report Tweet” button to flag a troubling tweet for review.
That may deter death threats, but what good will it do for the pervasive lower-fever ugliness? It does nothing about impersonators or “concern trolls,” a special breed of pest that does mischief pretending affinity for the target. A concern troll might write, “Who can blame Susan Rice for flaunting her superb figure in a fitted black suit?” You can’t call the social-media police on that, even if there were a social-media police. The best defense, some say, is to ignore the trolls.
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“Don’t Feed the Trolls” may be sound advice for those who consider Twitter worth the affronts. But really, no one has to be on Twitter. So you wonder how the site’s numbers can grow if it’s become a protected playground for sickos. Such websites are private property. They can set rules on who may enter their living rooms. The rules may leave room for a wide range of controversial opinion, but the owner decides. But about 85 percent of the nastiest stuff (my number, plucked from the air) would simply disappear if participants had to attach their real identities to their words. Numerous news organizations have already banned anonymous comments. Twitter can do likewise. “Identify yourself,” Twitter should demand of its posters. That or, as Jane Austen put it, “Let us have the luxury of silence.”
________ Froma Harrop is a columnist for the Providence (R.I.) Journal. Her column appears every Monday. Contact her at fharrop@gmail. com or in care of Creators Syndicate Inc., 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.
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Published on Nov 4, 2013