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Guest Column

Our Pop Culture Society - Let's Hear It for Dennis Ritchie!
By William Fankboner
Apr 29, 2015 - 5:21:01 AM

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Call me morbid, but one of the Time Magazine departments I first visit is "Milestones." I find it faintly consoling that the Great Ones, the Beautiful People, the Cognoscenti, the idle rich, and the larger than life celebrities who seem to carry about them a talismanic aura of immortality, eventually must have a sit-down with the Eternal Footman, like the rest of us. A great democratic leveler, that snickering fellow with the scythe.

Though it may be a bit unseemly to revel in the mortality of my fellow man, my disproportionate proletarian envy received a reassuring confirmation a few weeks ago. It was when I noticed over half the "Milestones" page was taken up with an outsized photo and eulogy for a dashing young Indy race-car driver killed in a spectacular crash, and another third of the page was dedicated to the career and death of a legendary Hollywood power agent. Arrayed at the bottom of the page were the usual obits of lesser mortals, and announcements, like a one cent increase in first class postage. Shoe-horned among these diminutive obits, I found the name Dennis Ritchie, sharing equal billing with, among others, a '60s gay rights activist and an early native American litigant for Indian rights.

I have grown progressively slow on the uptake in my declining years and so when I sense something dreadfully out of whack in the celestial spheres it is usually a matter worth looking into. Not that any knowledgeable observer could possibly have missed the irony: America's leading news magazine had relegated a man of the stature and importance of Nikola Tesla, Jonas Salk, and the Wright Brothers, to a tiny box in the world's organization chart below a third-rate athlete and a Hollywood ten percenter. You can forgive me if I thought I had stumbled upon the long-sought cause of America's social and cultural decline.

For those unfamiliar with Dennis Ritchie, you are using his software technology right now. He was the computer science wizard who invented the C programming language and (along with Ken Thompson and Brian Kernighan) designed the Unix operating system. Still baffled? These are the software technologies that freed computer power from mainframes for use in the desktop PC, like the Apple Mac, and that now run the Internet, Google, and information systems of the corporate world. Though a bit too technical to compete with the ephemeral glitz and glamour of Hollywood power agents or NASCAR heroes, they have an authentic industrial glamour of their own. Computer algorithms, those intricate skeins of logic that mimic the cognitive activity of the human mind itself, run the world we live in, and they are written in the C programming language (or in one of its many derivatives).

It takes a special kind of ignorance and editorial stupidity to honor a hell-for-leather race car driver and a factotum of the entertainment industry over a man of Dennis Ritchie's accomplishments and genius. Not that Dennis Ritchie would have cared--he was a modest unassuming man who didn't give a damn about celebrity or fame.

But now to another kind of editorial stupidity, the chronically biased TV journalist. First a confession: I watch MSNBC's Morning Joe. Okay, I know: it's a carnival of the clueless know-nothings and self-serving greed-heads of America's power elite who collectively came within an ace destroying the global financial system. And perhaps there is worse long-term damage to come, for these same congressional flannel-mouths and pompous talking heads also brought discredit to free market enterprise and democratic government. But I digress. Onto my second epiphany of the day.

My moment of blinding perception came when watching the co-host of Morning Joe, an attractive woman by the name of Mika Brzezinski, (yes, that Brzezinski). Mika Brzezinski is a knee-jerk liberal and Obama apologist who acts as a foil to Joe Scarborough's moderate conservative views. In fact, her views were so simplistic and predictably partisan that for some time I thought that she was purposely acting in the role of an obtuse devil's advocate to set up rejoinders from Joe.

But, of course, I was wrong. You cannot parody liberals, and one should never underestimate their capacity to shock. Over time it became obvious that she actually believed her clich├ęs and platitudes. For example, when Obama went on his anti-Congress jihad, using his second stimulus plan as a stalking horse, Brzezinski acted as though the President's jobs bill was actually a serious piece of legislation, and not a campaign ploy, and dogged Joe over several program segments with accusations Republican obstructionism. When Joe patiently explained that Obama's bill wasn't even backed by his own party, she persisted, like a bulldog. She seemed to think she had the upper hand. Then went on to insist Obama had done more to promote Wall Street oversight reform than any other President in history. A ludicrous claim on its face: we still have too-big-to-fail (and apparently she had she never heard of Trust-buster Teddy Roosevelt or of FDR).This back-and-forth went on over several morning episodes of the program, causing consternation even in liberal guests. You go, girl!

Then, as if to confirm her staggering complacence and ignorance, she took on Joe about the reluctance of conservatives to raise taxes. Again, Joe patiently explained that raising taxes on the super-rich was no solution: they would only game the system with their armies of tax lawyers and find new exemptions, deductions, and credits, and the only 'rich' people to pay increased taxes would be small businesses, the growth engine of the economy. The solution was obvious, but escaped Mika: implement a flat tax that eliminated all the loopholes and lowered the corporate tax rate to about 18%, making American business again competitive with its global competitors in Europe and Asia.

My point? Here is a prominent TV news host educated at a prestigious boarding school (where the tuition is a cool $50K a year), and at Williams College, the daughter of an eminence grise in foreign affairs, etc., who doesn't understand how conservative Congressmen might have a principled stand against another wasteful stimulus plan, who is so intellectually lazy she has no idea what a flat tax is. Simple stuff. I am not shocked by her liberal bias, par for the course in the media and especially MSNBC, I am shocked by her ignorance of political policy and basic economic principles.

And if an educated product of a fancy prep school and prestigious college doesn't understand these matters, how likely is it that the proverbial man on the street will? Retirees and seniors are well-known for their political activism and involvement in policy: they have no pressing concerns and plenty of free time to immerse themselves in the issues. But our man on the street is lucky if he can keep up with the changing technologies of his profession or the shifting sands and dislocations of the economy.

He therefore defers to spoiled celebrity talk-show hosts like Mika Brzezinski and the liberal media for information. What is the antidote for this pernicious cycle of ignorance? Well, obviously education. Our secondary schools are among the worst in the industrialized world. But even a reasonably educated MITS (man in the street) might be excused for not understanding the flaws in the Dodd-Frank reform package. Thus, at a certain point, he must depend on the educated elite for sound policy. But if our educated elite are aggressive know-nothings like Mika Brzezinski, we are in for a rough ride. We may not even make it back to the stable.


I tuned in to Morning Joe the other day and heard Mika blasting HRC for her greed and sense of entitlement, and that thing about her e-mail server. Apparently Hillary formatted her hard drive, eliminating thousands of e-mails that were the property of the State Department and the American people. Not to mention HRC's dubious financial dealings conducted under the cover of her and Bubba's sacrosanct Foundation.

I rubbed my eyes. Was I seeing things? Was Mika actually attacking the leading, nay the only, Democratic candidate for president? You could have knocked me over with a feather. Is it actually possible for an MSNBC talk-show host to evolve?

Well, there are a couple of explanations. MSNBC and even Morning Joe have lost huge viewership in recent years, due mainly to their blind loyalty to an incompetent president. Maybe MSNBC executives are reluctant to repeat that disaster with another clueless politician. Mika, it is no secret, gets a lot of her ideas from her father and it is hard to imagine that he could rally around an unregenerate liar and imposter like HRC.

We will just have to wait and see. Maybe Mika has had an epiphany. Maybe even an obsessive-compulsive liberal is capable of logical thought.

William Fankboner
Fankboner Articles List
Copyright 2013 William Fankboner

Most recent articles:

Why Liberals Lie
By Wm. B. Fankboner
November 6, 2013

Marshall McLuhan also said, "Nothing is inevitable so long as we are willing to contemplate what is happening." Thus conservative consternation with liberal-progressives should be less an occasion for moral indignation, than an investigation of the causes and effects of modern tribalism: its corrosive effect on our democratic values and its infantilizing effect on the American electorate. Now that Popper and Carothers have clarified the dynamics of tribalism, we need to provide the conceptual tools necessary to counteract its influence in the political forum. Moral indignation may be satisfying in the short term, but it is bad for digestion, and achieves little in the way of remediation.

Emily Post
Wm. B. Fankboner
Spetember 15, 2013

In our present age, much of our political behavior is conditioned by our response to the strictures of political correctness and the imposition of speech codes so restrictive they inhibit all human spontaneity. In 1897 Joseph Conrad wrote a novel entitled "The Nigger of the Narcissus," about a black sailor named James Wait and his powerful influence on the crew of a sailing ship, the Narcissus. So apparently the word was not burdened with the sinister taboo it has acquired over the last 100 years. The approved appellation for the black race today is African-Americans and blacks. A U.S. senator was recently excoriated for using the word, negro, which had been discontinued, probably because of its phonetic similarity to 'nigger.'

Islam's Love-Hate Relationship with America and the West
Wm. B. Fankboner
August 30, 2013

Where did Islam go wrong? How could the society that created the Taj Mahal and Alhambra, and great cultural centers like Agra, Cordoba, and Granada, degenerate into a conflict-ridden cesspool of failed states? How did Arabic, the language that preserved so much of Greek Science and philosophy, become a medium for anti-intellectualism and obscurantism? In their obsession over not being seen as Islamophobic, in their purblind insistence that aggressive supremacism is not the nature of mainstream Islam, European elites assume that they know Islam better than did such Muslim giants as Ataturk and his contemporary, Hassan al-Banna -- the Muslim Brotherhood founder who notoriously wrote that "it is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated" and that Islam sought "to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet."

The God Conspiracy: A Confirmed Agnostic Probes the Mind of a Devout Catholic
Wm. B. Fankboner
Aug 25, 2013

If we identify institutions, civil or religious, by their worst exemplars, none pass muster. This is the grand strategy of militant atheists to discredit religion across the boards--to taint Christianity with the burning of heretics, Hinduism with the Thuggee, and Judaism with the extermination of the Canaanites. The temptation for secularists must be irresistible, but were we to apply the same exclusionary logic to other imperfect institutions, like constitutional government, based on (say) the performance of the Iranian parliament or the People's Assembly of North Korea, we would forswear civilization itself. The institution of religion is not maintenance-free: like democracy and free market capitalism, it is a work in progress. It makes as much sense to purge society of religion because of corrupt clerics as it does to discard capitalism because of a few greedy investment bankers.

Some Previous Articles/Letters:

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