Plus Ca Change

Posted on September 27th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. 4 comments

One of my favorite movies as a kid was Defending Your Life, a 1991 film starring Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep. The premise is this: Brooks plays a middle-aged man who dies in a car accident and finds himself in a strange land called Judgment City, where he is placed on trial. The charge? He didn’t exhibit enough bravery in his life. Before a panel of three judges,  Brooks’ court-appointed lawyer shows video clips from Brooks’ life in which he proved himself to be brave, while a prosecutor showed clips of her own in which he showed the opposite. To say anymore would spoil the story, but suffice it to say it’s a funny, sharp, and enjoyable comedy.

Anyway, I couldn’t help thinking that it was ahead of it’s time after reading this paragraph:

Facebook Timeline is the best change Facebook has ever made.

Here’s what’ll happen once the Timeline profiles are launched: Your Facebook profile will go from having one central column to two, with boxes of text, photos, videos and even maps of your favorite locations. Rather than just displaying your most recent activities, your profile will become a scrapbook documenting your entire life, all the way back to your birth. Facebook will become a record of your existence: All your memories, your victories and your defeats, your loves, your losses and everything in between.

Mind you, I pulled this from a CNN article, not from a bad science fiction script. I hope Albert Brooks demands royalty payments from Mark Zuckerberg.

I wonder if in a few weeks I’ll wake up, and find the following status update somewhere on my page:

September 3, 1985

First day of Kindergarten. Smeared some paste on myself. Played kickball. Ate some ice cream. Nap time rules!

(Actually, that would be oddly appropriate for grad school, too)

Facebook is a survivor. Every time they make changes, people howl and scream and say how much they hate Facebook and that they’re going to quit….and it doesn’t happen. It’s too ingrained in our lives; too useful for event planning and crowd sourcing info and voyeuristic peeks at your high school girlfriend’s photo albums.

I prefer Google+, really. I don’t like how Facebook makes it such a hassle to control your privacy settings. Without thinking, I connected my Spotify account to Facebook the other day and thought- shit!, I don’t need all of my friends to know I listened to Right Said Fred. All morning long.

But the idea of getting out of Facebook completely just doesn’t seem feasible, like cutting your landline phone service would have been a generation ago.  In a year nobody will even remember what the old Facebook looked like.


Some News

Posted on September 24th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. 1 Comment

Been awhile since I’ve written anything. I blame grad school. Anyone who says that being a student is easier than working didn’t go to SIPA. That aside…

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be working with Asia Society this autumn as an online reporter and blogger.  This week, as numerous heads of state arrived in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly, a number of Asian leaders headed a couple dozen blocks uptown to speak at Asia Society. I was fortunate to be present at two events; in one, the US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter spoke with USAID administrator Rajiv Shah about developmental challenges in that country, and in the other Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina touted her country’s potential as a destination for foreign direct investment. You can view my write-ups here and here. Also, keep an eye on the Asia Society blog, to which I’ll be contributing regularly.



September 11, 2011

Posted on September 12th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

There are numerous advantages to not owning a television. First, you’re spared the cultural wasteland that is American TV, complete with its Jersey Shores and Fox News and other aggressive forms of brain damage. But second, you can choose to opt out of national rituals like the 9/11 anniversary veneration.

I mean no disrespect to the families of the victims of that terrible day. I don’t deny them their right to mourn- nobody would. But turning the 10th anniversary of 9/11 into a mass media spectacle was overwrought and inappropriate, and did a disservice to the victims- all of the victims.

9/11 didn’t kill just  3,000 people. Many of the dead of Afghanistan were victims of 9/11, too. Not to mention those killed in Iraq, a country which had nothing whatsoever to do with the event. The American-led invasion of both countries were justified as responses to the 9/11 attacks, after all. Any reckoning of the death toll would have to include the innocent victims of these wars- as well as the soldiers who fought in them.

Much else besides human life was lost, as well. The past ten years have brought us color-coded terror alerts, yahoos raging against Sharia law, “don’t touch my junk”, “you’re either with us or against us”, “they hate us because of our freedom”, decent people having their patriotism questioned, television hosts silenced, enhanced interrogation techniques, and secret prisons. These are the sorry cultural byproducts of the 9/11 attacks, or more precisely our reaction to them.

I was hoping that part of our 9/11 anniversary ritual would include a reckoning of how much has gone wrong in these past ten years, and how we might begin to regain our national footing. But I’m not holding my breath.


On Remembering 9/11

Posted on September 10th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. 2 comments

I generally like Tom Engelhardt, and agree with a substantial amount of this column, but his objections to the construction of the Freedom Tower and our 9/11 remembrance more generally are off-base. Of course, the “Freedom Tower” is a ridiculous name and reminiscent of the worst rhetorical excesses of the early Bush years. Engelhardt, though, thinks we should just forget about the whole thing:

Let’s just can it all. Shut down Ground Zero. Lock out the tourists. Close “Reflecting Absence,” the memorial built in the “footprints” of the former towers with its grove of trees, giant pools, and multiple waterfalls before it can be unveiled this Sunday. Discontinue work on the underground National September 11 Museum due to open in 2012. Tear down the Freedom Tower (redubbed 1 World Trade Center after our “freedom” wars went awry), 102 stories of “the most expensive skyscraper ever constructed in the United States”. (Estimated price tag: $3.3 billion.)

Eliminate that still-being-constructed, hubris-filled 1,776 feet tall building, planned in the heyday of George W Bush and soaring into the Manhattan sky like a nyaah-nyaah invitation to future terrorists. Dismantle the other three office towers being built there as part of an $11 billion government-sponsored construction program. Let’s get rid of it all. If we had wanted a memorial to 9/11, it would have been more appropriate to leave one of the giant shards of broken tower there untouched.

Engelhardt’s point, which he makes in subsequent paragraphs, is that 9/11 led to all sorts of negative consequences due to the terrible decisions made by the Bush Administration. I don’t deny this, and in fact said largely the same thing in my last post. But what does Engelhardt think leaving the “giant shards of broken tower untouched” would have accomplished? It certainly wouldn’t have prevented Bush from going ahead with his foreign policy. Nor do I think erecting the tower more than a decade after the attacks will lead Americans to reconsider their opposition to the Iraq War and other unpopular elements of Bush’s foreign policy. It isn’t like we Americans commemorate the day Bush stood up and announced “mission accomplished”.

Rebuilding a structure that was destroyed in an act of war isn’t hubristic. It’s common. Has Engelhardt been to Rotterdam, Berlin, or Tokyo? All three cities were destroyed during the Second World War, and all three were painstakingly rebuilt in the years after the war’s conclusion. As far as I know neither Engelhardt nor anyone else has seriously suggested they shouldn’t have.

Pointing out that the decade since 9/11 has been disastrous for the US is fair enough, but arguing that trying to rebuild the towers was a bad idea simply doesn’t pass muster.



The 9/10 Presidency

Posted on September 5th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

Anne Applebaum concludes her most recent column at Slate with this sentence:

 Ten years after the events, I now find myself asking: Could it be that the planes that hit New York and Washington did less damage to the nation than the cascade of bad decisions that followed?

Could there be any doubt that this is true? No one is doubting that the 9/11 attacks were damaging, much less me. But the attacks represented a culmination of al Qaeda activity against the United States, not the beginning. al Qaeda’s bellicosity toward the United States was every bit as potent on September 10th, 2001 as it was on September 12th. The only difference was that the broader American public finally began paying attention.

Any American president to the right of Noam Chomsky would have gone into Afghanistan and uprooted al Qaeda forces there. But aside from the Bush Administration’s halfhearted effort in that country, what’s striking is how much of his presidency conformed to established Republican Party goals. In economic policy, would things have been different under Bush had it not been for 9/11? Probably not. After all, not even fighting two wars at the same time was enough for the President to favor government revenue increases. The invasion of Iraq, too, had little to do with the attacks other than that the attacks made the invasion politically feasible. Tying Saddam Hussein’s secular nationalist regime to al Qaeda represented nothing more than an attempt by the Bush Administration to provide ex post facto justification for the invasion once the weapons of mass destruction proved elusive. But because both Saddam and Osama bin Laden were Arabs hailing from the Middle East, the Bushies figured the American people wouldn’t be able to spot the difference. They were right.

What 9/11 changed, albeit temporarily, was the political alignment of the United States. For a brief moment, domestic opposition to the Bush Administration ceased as the country rallied behind its leader. Bush, for his part, used this opportunity to push through a set of policy goals favored by the Republican Party since at least the Reagan years. The Democrats, cowed by accusations of disloyalty, did nothing. The last ten years of American history will be remembered for 9/11 and its aftermath. But what’s important to remember is that the situation we find ourselves in today results not from the actions of foreign terrorists but by the deliberate policy choices of the American government. We are now just dealing with the consequences.…

A Decade Since

Posted on September 4th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. No Comments

We’re a week away from the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and the media onslaught that will accompany it. A lot will be written about how the attacks changed the world- and change the world they did.

But there were also the thousands who died, either at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or in the four airplanes themselves. In the aftermath of the attacks, the New York Times initiated a series called Portraits of Grief, which was comprised, quite simply, of a brief description of each person who died. These weren’t obituaries in the common sense.They didn’t summarize each person’s achievements and list the myriad family members left behind. Rather, each entry provided just enough information to catch a glimpse into the lives of the people who died that day.

Each of these portraits, from A to Z, are still available on the Times website. You can access the full list here.