Ezra Klein, who rarely has a shortage of smart things to say, said something particularly smart the other day, in connection with the Chinese hacking scandal.
The Chinese, he wrote, are hacking “everything and everybody” in search of something they know must exist somewhere:
The Chinese look at Washington, and they think there must be some document somewhere, some flowchart saved on a computer in the basement of some think tank, that lays it all out. Because in China, there would be. In China, someone would be in charge. There would be a plan somewhere. It would probably last for many years. It would be at least partially followed. But that’s not how it works in Washington.
What the Chinese hackers are looking for is the great myth of Washington, what I call the myth of scheming. You see it all over. If you’ve been watching the series “House of Cards” on Netflix, it’s all about the myth of scheming. Things happen because the Rep. Frank Underwood has planned for them to happen. And when they don’t happen, it’s because someone has counterplanned against him.
This is why it’s always interesting to read the news, if you ask me. Someone is always getting tripped up by their preconceived notions, by projecting their issues onto someone else’s. It’s why you can’t really understand a place until you’ve lived there, often for many years. Chaos is real; sometimes it reigns.
The Chinese put on an Olympics that required one of these flowcharts — many of them, I expect — and it worked spectacularly. Like everyone who’s figured something out, they think they have the single best answer to how to do it, and if someone else wants to duplicate their success, they’re doing the same thing.
It’s why I loved “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s account of the Iraqi Green Zone, so much. Every specific example of American ineptitude was such a forehead-slapper of grim comic wonder. Sure, let’s redraw Baghdad traffic patterns according to some master plan from Maryland. Let’s take Iraq’s ancient, analog stock exchange, which relies heavily on pieces of paper passed hand to hand, and computerize it. What’s more, let’s all live in a heavily fortified district where job one is staving off homesickness — so let’s make our Muslim domestic staff cook and serve pork barbecue for all these Texans.
Of course all these things will work! They worked in Maryland, and on Wall Street, and in Dallas, didn’t they?
A friend of mine, a sportswriter, said that if he had been running the 9/11 project for al-Qaeda, he’d have hit four NFL stadiums on 9/9. If you want to seriously freak out Americans, he said, hit them at play. Hit them in the heartland. Hit them at a football game. But Arabs have a thing for buildings, so they hit some buildings in two cities large groups of Americans don’t like.
Question everything. Especially yourself.
Ken Burns is capable of getting on my last nerve, but he has some very smart things to say about story here, which sort of pertains to what I just said, but also doesn’t. Video link, but worth your time, at least if you’re a storyteller.
And with that, I guess the bloggage is under way.
An interesting discussion of the Manti Te’o case, from the journalism-ethics angle. Via IU’s school of journalism.
Something about Marissa Mayer bugs me at a Hatha-hate level, but it’s been interesting to see the reaction to her no-more-work-from-home edict at Yahoo. Farhad Manjoo is utterly opposed, as the headline makes clear. As someone who does both — working one day in Lansing, the rest at home — I see the advantages of both arrangements. And I think the closest to the truth is the person who said, and I’m sorry I can’t remember who it was, that if you want your employees to innovate, they should work together. If you want productivity, they get more accomplished at home.
Now to get something accomplished. At home. It will likely be snow-blowing, however.