An Advance Copy of Our Keynote Speech at the Consumer Electronics Show

Ladies and gentlemen, members of the media, fellow attendees.
During the course of this show, and in my meetings with various vendors and through my observation of all manner of products and services, I see a purity of vision that is, alas, blind to the truth of the erratic quality of human behavior.
To be clear: I am not here to criticize your work — indeed, I want to take this moment to praise you for your efforts — because, through your persistence in the face of the merciless tyranny of experiment, and by acknowledging the cold logic of results rather than indulging the false comfort of unproven theories, I stand before the glory of your success.
I see your success, in the high-definition colors of the flat screens and handsets that are the tangible examples of your labor; I can touch, tap and swipe my finger across these razor-thin but iron strong veneers of glass and steel; I can see virtual worlds of fun and adventure; I can absorb the passing sights of roadside attractions, thanks to the reality of driverless cars, and I can envision the medical care of tomorrow by looking at the watch strapped to my wrist, today, with its pulsating rhythms and subtle vibrations, backlit with the beats per second of an animated heart and the peaks and valleys of my diastolic pressure; I do not have to imagine the possibilities of technology, in a multitude of manifestations, for consumers everywhere, courtesy of what I have seen — and plan to see — right here.
In a word: Congratulations.
Allow me, then, to caution you about the person most notably absent from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show — the consumer, that most inspiring and confounding combination of reason and emotion; that inexplicably stubborn, and unexpectedly passionate, tribune of the marketplace; that ultimate judge of the success or failure of everything on display within this vast arena of convention halls and exhibitions, of acres of carpeted walkways and flags, banners and bunting on behalf of the Party of Progress.



For, in answering the question, “Can we do it?” it appears that no one bothered to ask, “Should we do it?”

That is, for all the wonders associated with driverless cars, to reference the most notable example of a surplus of services from this show, there is no algorithm for human nature: There is no ghost in the machine that intuits the need to accelerate or break the speed limit because of its location within a gang infested section of some Midwestern city, where the pop-pop sounds of drive-by shootings are the twilight Muzak of this obscene acceptance of abandonment by the state and surrender to the forces of crime and lawlessness.

There is no queue of consumers ready to entrust their safety to what they (and no one else) cannot see: A driver!

There is no waiting list for — there will never be a single call about the availability of — a driverless Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Bentley or Bugatti.

The lesson is that what seems exciting, in this space, can also be frightening or boring beyond the confines of this place.

Remember that, while the features may be novel and the functions may operate flawlessly, the technology may fail spectacularly among that enormous constituency of consumers.

Thank you.

Why #twitter won’t replace journalism

In response to Mic Wright No journalism cannot be replaced by tweets

Thank you for your defense of journalism, an often emotionally exhausting — and physically precarious — undertaking, which involves embedding reporters within a civilian or military combat zone; so, between the exchange of gunfire and the sudden chaos triggered from a sniper’s rifle, in a street fight between police officers and rioters or soldiers and jihadists — in an effort to convey the political and sectarian rivalries between, respectively, law enforcement and neighborhood gangs, or the contest of wills between the U.S. Army and al Qaeda — our knowledge of these events does not spontaneously flash across the screens of our smartphones and tablets without a professional having risked life and limb to write about these stories with detail, context and an understanding of the broader implications for peace and freedom throughout America and the Middle East.

There is no tweet, or series of tweets, that can reduce a great social conflict into a 140-character-count summary about, say, race relations and the struggle for voting rights, civil rights and human rights, or ignore the religious convulsions of a theocratic foe whose stampede across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is the first foretaste of a bitter cup of hatred and defeat, unless there are journalists able to chronicle this history within the broader milieu of the everlasting war between tyranny and liberty.

Remember the legacy of Edward R. Murrow and his legion of reporters, or consider the contributions of William Shirer, each man a voice of independence and analysis from the eye of a gathering storm of the Nazi onslaught and the rapacious policies of Adolf Hitler.

Recall their meticulous itemization of the Nuremberg Laws and the Third Reich’s persecution of the Jews, in addition to their rooftop reportage during the Luftwaffe’s nighttime bombings of London, while, separated by the vast expanse of the Atlantic and the prolonged neutrality of the New World toward the embattled people of the Old, these journalists deliver their broadcasts about the inferno; a continental conflagration and a genocidal campaign to feed the crematoria with the victims of the most wicked brand of anti-Semitic violence and murder imaginable.

The facts, gruesome though they may be and comprehensive as they must be, should never yield to the inane policies of Twitter.

Would we discard the magisterial prose of Edward Gibbon and the authoritative quality — and the authorial voice — of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in favor of the brevity of a worthless tweet?

Would we subordinate the Book of Common Prayer and the beauty of the Psalms and sacraments for the brutalist “style” of the Internet in general and the use of of the hashtag (on Twitter) in particular?

Why, then, would we even entertain the idea that Twitter can replace journalism — that it is a form of journalism — when it is nothing more than the principal digital domain of the paranoid, the psychotic, the conspiratorial and the confused?writershattypewriter

Joseph’s Yelp Review of the Wretched Innkeeper

My wife and I are not travelers or tourists, or vacationers or pleasure seekers of any kind.
We are of limited means but boundless hope because of a confluence of circumstances — both heavenly and terrestrial — concerning our recent journey, by foot and mule, to Bethlehem; where, in the course of our nighttime movement along a path lit by the luminescent purity of a northern star, we continue to reflect on the symbolism and literalness of our trip; an experience that remains uplifting, in whole, and disappointing — gravely upsetting — in part, because of the cruelty of the manager and staff of your inn.
By shunning us, and by ignoring the very obvious fact that my wife was in labor and going to give birth to a son in a matter of hours, your workers — and by extension, you and the patrons of your inn — are the antithesis of the hospitality your business claims to offer and the enemies of the comfort your establishment says it provides.
I ask you, sir, how could you deny space for a paying couple so visibly tired and so respectfully attired?
How could you expel us from your entrance, and so forcefully slam and lock your doorway?
How could you not at least help my wife — with the sweat raining from her brow like oversized droplets of anguish and pain, and with one hand placed across her belly and the other pressed against the wall (to maintain her balance) — while you could hear her cries become inconsolable wails of physical torture and her exhalations sound like the last breaths of a dying woman?
How could you treat us like animals by leaving us among animals, with my wife lying upon an earthen bed of soil and straw?
I will not reciprocate your malignity with malice of my own.
I will, however, avoid your inn.
I pray decent men and women will do likewise.