Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Reading

The Times of Your Life — Kodak is about to fade away, but not before Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic remembers how the company changed our culture.

Think about what we mean when we talk about a gadget. They are technological objects that are personal, primarily used for entertainment, branded, and planned to obsolesce. The companies that sell them often make some small amount of money on the gadget itself and a large amount of money on the purchases you make using the gadget.

This core gadget business, which makes its annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas next week for the Consumer Electronics Show, has multiple roots in the 19th century. One could argue that Edison began it or that Singer’s sewing machines should be seen as its most important precursor or that Remington mastered the art of selling the gadget to profit from the accessories. Maybe pistols, or pocket watches or even, as historian Yoni Applebaum suggested, Eli Terry’s fashionable clocks, which debuted in 1816, deserve spots in the gadget family tree.

But Kodak may be the most direct ancestor of the gadget business as we now recognize it and certainly of the mobile, social variety that now has such currency. The power of the company’s brand in the early 20th century presages the power of Apple at the beginning of the 21st. Kodak sold a certain kind of life that people were eager to lead just as the Cupertino’s outfit does today.

Despite Kodak’s century of successes, the Wall Street Journal reports the company is likely to file for bankruptcy in the coming weeks. Even if it doesn’t, the corporate grandfather of the gadgets business is now struggling along with a market capitalization that looks more fitting for a penny stock than an industrial giant.

This is one of the sadder corporate endings in recent memory. Kodak is the company responsible for the popularization of taking photographs and the creation of a culture of life recording that has never been stronger. Kodak may not survive, but Kodakery lives on.

Life in the Margins — Leonard Pitts, Jr. looks at voting rights and politics.

So here’s how it is:

You have no driver’s license because you have nothing to drive. You have no passport because you’ve never been out of the country. You have no other photo I.D. because you have no bank account. You work and get paid under the table, a wad of cash sliding from hand to hand.

It is a life lived in the margins. And if South Carolina and a number of other GOP-controlled states have their way, it will be a life to which a significant new impediment will be added: you will not be able to vote.

Over the holiday, the Justice Department rejected a South Carolina law requiring a photo ID — as opposed to just a voter registration card — for would-be voters. The department called the law discriminatory against African Americans. Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, South Carolina and other states and localities with histories of infringing the voting rights of African Americans are required to get federal approval before changing their voting laws. This is the first time the feds have rejected such a change since 1994.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has blasted the decision as political. She probably has a point. The law would have disproportionately affected the poor, who are disproportionately likely, for the reasons outlined above, to lack photo IDs. The poor are disproportionately black, and black people are disproportionately likely to vote Democratic. It would be naïve to believe that did not enter into the thinking of the Obama Justice Department.

But the inverse is also true. As similar voter ID laws are passed in other Republican-controlled states — including those that not covered by the Voting Rights Act — it would be naïve to believe politics does not also enter the GOP’s thinking. Though lawmakers swear their only interest is to combat voting fraud (which is not known to be a rampant problem), it is difficult not to feel their true intent is to suppress the black vote.

The Loneliness of Jon Huntsman — Charlie Pierce on the only sane Republican in the race.

He has his own orthodoxies, and they can be as uncomfortable as those held by any of his major competitors. He brags about his thorough support of the economic plan proposed by zombie-eyed granny-starver Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. However, he has these startling moments of lucidity that can almost take your breath away, especially in the context of this GOP field, in which even the briefest moment of sanity stands out like a whore at high Mass. He did it when he confessed to believing in science. (“Wait,” you thought to yourself. “Where are we at in this campaign — where are we at in this country? — when somebody feels it necessary to say that?”) And he did it here at the Main Street Diner on Saturday. He was standing behind the lunch counter, talking earnestly about Medicare to an elderly gentleman who, when he heard the name “Paul Ryan,” did everything put whip out a crucifix and a string of garlic. But then Huntsman went on.

“The real problem is the insurance companies,” Huntsman said. “We can’t have truly affordable insurance in this country because the insurance companies are not doing what they’re supposed to do — which is take a risk.”

I can assure you that I have listened to these jamokes from one part of the country to another and this is the first time than any of them have mentioned the fact that, perhaps, maybe, if the private insurance companies weren’t such a greedy pack o’ bastards, health-care costs in this country might moderate just a tad. (On Wednesday night, a guy got up at a Santorum event and talked about how hard he had it in the insurance game, and Santorum practically threw him a parade.) It was like a cool breeze blew through the diner. The elderly gentleman relaxed visibly. Jon Huntsman waved, shook hands, posed for a couple of pictures on the front steps, and was gone, leaving just a little bit of sanity behind for people to remember him by.

And boy, in this election year, is that not nearly enough.

Doonesbury — Unclaimed baggage.