Siri and I have a conversation about my new iPhone 5

Me: Siri, why did I buy an iPhone 5?

Siri: Everything you need to know about iPhones is in the Apple Store.

Me: No, but why?

Siri: I don’t know what you mean by ‘No but why’.  How about a web search for it?

[That’s about as far as the real conversation got…]

Me: I don’t think a web search will help.  I mean, I really don’t need an iPhone 5.  I had a perfectly good dumb phone.  And I have an iPad.  Two of them, actually, although one’s a little busted.  Also, a good desktop computer.  And a Nano.  I’m awash in gadgetry.  Why do I need an iPhone?

Siri: It’s thin!  And light!  Much more portable than an iPad!  Much more useful than a Nano!  And you now have a data plan, which means you can surf the Internet almost anywhere!  And, of course, there’s me!  The iPhone 5 is going to make you so happy!

Me: You’re great–don’t get me wrong.  But Daniel Gilbert and those other folks I’ve been reading about happiness say that things don’t make you happy.  Friends make you happy; doing good deeds make you happy.

Siri: So, do a good deed for all those wonderful people who read your blog.  Show them a couple of those photos you took today.

Me: OK.  Here are some birch trees, just before dawn:

And here’s another tree, at mid-day:

The iPhone’s camera is really pretty good.

Siri: See?  You’ve already given pleasure to the five or six people who read your stinky blog!

Me: Wait a minute!  I have way more than five or six readers!  And where do you get off calling my blog–

Siri: OK, I bet you don’t get more than three “Likes” on this post.  And zero comments.  Do we have a bet?

Me: Sure.  It’s a bet.  I have lots of great readers.  They’ll come through for me!

Siri: But look, it doesn’t really matter about the good deeds.  You should do something for yourself!  After all, you deserve it!

Me: I don’t know about that.  Read this post.  I’m not convinced about free will.  And if there’s no free will, what does it mean to “deserve” something?

Siri: You seem like a perfectly nice guy, Rich, but I’m not going to read your stinky blog posts.  And anyway, remember who you’re talking to–I’m just a piece of software.  Are you saying that you don’t have any more free will than I do?

Me: Well, er, um–

Siri: I thought so.  Look, if you’re so sure there’s no free will, think of it this way: you were destined to by an iPhone 5.  This was going to happen no matter what.  It’s fate!

Me: Well, if you put it that way…

Siri: And remember that high-definition TV that you’re starting to lust after?

Me: Wait a minute, how did you–

Siri: All you have to do is think to yourself: I won’t get the TV.  At least, not now.

Me: Hmm, that’s not a bad approach.  Thanks, Siri!

Siri: That’s what I’m here for.

What makes Mitt Romney happy?

In this post I pondered the weirdness of Mitt Romney not planning his taxes in such a way that he could release his returns just like every other candidate and head off the inevitable suggestion that he was hiding something.  How could a smart guy who has been running for political office for 20 years not take care of this?

Now the next stage of the taxes drama is playing out, with Harry Reid suggesting that Romney didn’t pay any taxes at all for the past 10 years.  This is a pretty ballsy move coming from a prominent Democrat; here‘s a pretty funny summary of the state of play.  Is Reid simply lying?  Irresponsibly repeating an unsubstantiated rumor?  Dunno.  But it keeps the issue in play for at least a few more days.  And any politician with half a brain would know that something like this would happen.  Romney can fulminate all he wants about how this is undignified and unfair, but the response is obvious: Release the returns, like everyone else, and prove Reid wrong.

Will this have an effect on the election?  Dunno.  I wouldn’t have expected the Swiftboat attacks against Kerry to have any traction in 2004–and neither did Kerry.  But they did.  And this issue obviously helps the Democrats define Romney, and keeps him on the defensive.  It’s hard to see a downside.

So how did Romney get himself into this fix?  Before, I attributed it to a failure of imagination on Romney’s part.  To take that a little further: It seems to me that what Romney knows, what he is good at, and (most important) what makes him happy is pretty simple: making money.

The political thing–that comes out of a sense of obligation: to his religion, to his family, maybe even to some deeply held principles (although that seems like quite a stretch).  He has been spectacularly successful at making money, but so far has been only moderately successful as a politician.  And that’s because politics calls on a bunch of skills and traits that he doesn’t really possess.  (His recent trip to the UK highlighted some of those problems.)

I spent a long time pondering what makes politicians tick when I was writing Senator.  The best nonfiction book I have read about this is What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer, which I devoured when it came out in 1992.  It was a flop at the time, but has apparently managed to become a classic since then. And deservedly so!  Cramer got inside the heads of the people who were running for president in 1988 in a way that I found  engrossing and somehow even thrilling.  What remains with me is the randomness of the motivations that got them to where they were.  In particular, I remember his portrait of Dukakis.  Someone once said that Michael Dukakis was born to be governor of Massachusetts.  But here he was running for president.  Why was he doing that, when he already had the only job he had ever wanted?  It turned out that he didn’t really know himself.  There was a kind of logic to it, as presented to him by his aide John Sasso, that he was simply unable to resist.  The logic brought him the nomination and, if he had been a slightly better campaigner, slightly different from who he really was, it might have brought him the presidency.  But ultimately he didn’t quite have what it took.

Romney is starting to remind me of Dukakis.  There is a logic to his campaign that is going to bring him the nomination, and it might even bring him the presidency.  But if he loses, it will be because he too doesn’t quite have what it takes–as a politician, and as a human being.  Running for president doesn’t come naturally to him, and that’s why he keeps getting tripped up–by his taxes, by his tenure at Bain, by his comments on the London Olympics.  He must find it frustrating–the way Dukakis must have been frustrated by the Willie Horton attacks and the response to his debate response about the death penalty.  But that’s life at the top.