Thursday, February 11, 2016

American Crime through 2.6: Brilliant and Unflinching

American Crime in its second season continues to be what it was in its first season - a brilliant, unflinching examination of American life, with all its warts.  As of episode 2.6, it's easily still one of the best series ever on television.

It's ugly and uncompromising, but that's the way truth often is.   The revelation that Taylor is gay could have been the end of his rape story - it certainly was a stunner - but it actually is only the beginning of a much deeper, and more needed narrative.  Rape aka unconsensual sex is wrong - not only morally, it's a brutal crime - regardless of whether the victim is gay or heterosexual, and regardless of the sexual orientation of the perpetrator.

Of course, many of the characters in this story don't see it that way.   They assume, out of prejudice, that if a boy or man claims he was raped by a man, and the victim turns out to be gay, that this fact somehow negates the rape, or makes the act automatically consensual.   If that absurd argument were true, then that would negate the myriad of heterosexual women who have been raped by heterosexual men over the millennia.

The acting, as it was in the first season, is just exceptional.   Not only Connor Jessup as Taylor and Joey Pollari as his accused rapist Eric, but everyone around them and in this story gives edge-of-your-seat performances.

The default mode in American Crime is powder keg, either already lit or about to be.  There are no doubt some shockers and shake-ups ahead, and I'm both looking forward to and bracing for the ride.

See also: American Crime 2.1-3: So Real, It Hurts

And see alsoAmerican Crime, American Fine ... American Crime 1.7: The Truest Love ... American Crime 1.10: The Exquisite Hazards of Timing ... American Crime Season 1 Finale: The Banality of So-Called Justice

a different kind of crime


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Bernie Sanders Sources of Support in New Hampshire from Gun Owners

MSNBC reported the following biggest sources of votes for Bernie Sanders in his victory in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary over Hillary Clinton:

The third line - "gun owner" - should stick out like a saw thumb for anyone interested in a better, safer America - a country not riven by bullets in big cities, school, and sometimes even fired by police officers against innocent people, all too often African-African.

This is - or certainly should be - the key reason for Democrats in other states, and independents, too, to vote for Hillary not Bernie.   Bullets that kill people and destroy the lives of their families are surely a more important issue than what Hillary said in her speeches to Wall Street.

As I've said before, I actually agree with Bernie on some important issues - including his call to abolish capital punishment and establish higher public education for all.  But these issues also pale in comparison to the death daily meted out by guns gone wild in America.

I hope the Clinton campaign moves this issue to the front of its discussion points in upcoming primaries, especially in South Carolina, which has suffered so tragically in the past year from the gun epidemic.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Black Sails 3.3: Gone Fishin'

A superb, jam-packed episode of Black Sails 3.3 last night, in which my favorite scene was -

Flint and Silver hauling in that shark, against all odds, and saving the day and the crew on the verge of starvation.  It was another great Flint vs. the sea scene, with Silver more of a partner than ever, as the two realize that all is not lost with the whale carcass too far gone to eat, since there are sharks all around it, just waiting to be brought back to the ship.  Well, it wasn't that easy at all, and Flint couldn't have done any it without Silver, more essential now than ever.

Billy and Silver's conversation before that was also one of the best we've seen in the series, with Billy recognizing fully Silver's quartermaster status.  Flint's beginning to come to terms with Miranda's death, maybe at least just a little, is another hopeful, helpful, development, or, as Silver would put it, progress.

Meanwhile, the conversation between Eleanor and Roger is also significant - it's fun to see Spain brought into this, which after all is true historically, as England was by no means the only maritime power in this age, though superior to Spain.   But placing another nation player into this brew is a good move, as was the mention of Havana, given that's it's so much in our own recent real news, with our normalization of relations with Cuba.

When they arrived at Nassau, and Hornigold offered the pardon on the island, I was hoping one of the men would shoot him dead right then and there.  Of course that didn't happen historically, but that hasn't stopped Black Sails before, being as it is a deft mix of fictional (Flint, Silver) and real pirates (Hornigold, Blackbeard, Vane, Rachham).

Maybe it's just me, but I'm finding this season three to be the most tightly and satisfying woven, as well as the best photographed, with the water practically splashing through my HD screen.

See also Black Sails 3.1: Restored ... Black Sails 3.2: Flint vs. Sea

And see also Black Sails 2.1: Good Combo, Back Story, New Blood ... Black Sails 2.2: A Fine Lesson in Captaining ... Black Sails 2.3: "I Angered Charles Vane" ... Black Sails 2.4: "Fire!" ... Black Sails 2.5: Twist! ... Black Sails 2.6: Weighty Alternatives, and the Medium is the Message on the High Seas ...Black Sails 2.7: The Governor's Daughter and the Gold ... Black Sails 2.9: The Unlikely Hero ... Black Sails Season 2 Finale: Satisfying Literate and Vulgar

And see also Black Sails: Literate and Raunchy Piracy ... Black Sails 1.3: John Milton and Marcus Aurelius ... Black Sails 1.4: The Masts of Wall Street ...Black Sails 1.6: Rising Up ... Black Sails 1.7: Fictions and History ... Black Sails 1.8: Money



pirates of the mind in The Plot to Save Socrates 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Downton Abbey 6.7: Sneak Preview Review

Herewith a preview review of the next episode of Downton Abbey - 6.7, the next-to-last episode of the series! - to air on PBS next Sunday. It was a strong, possibly pivotal episode.  In what follows, I'll talk in generalities, and mention no specific people.  But if you prefer not to get even an inkling of what will be on the screen next Sunday, read on no further.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

I Voted for Obama in 2008 Primary, This Year I'll Be Voting for Hillary

The Democratic Party is fortunate indeed to have two impressive candidates this year.   It was similarly fortunate in 2008.   Hillary Clinton was one of those two impressive candidates in 2008. She's running again this year.   In 2008, I voted for Barack Obama in the New York State Democratic primary.   This year I'll be voting for Hillary.

The main reason is experience - or, to be more precise, Hillary's extensive experience in foreign policy in comparison to Bernie Sanders'.    In 2008, she and Barack Obama both had a few years of experience in the Senate. Hillary of course had knowledge of international issues via Bill Clinton when she was First Lady, but it was unclear exactly what that knowledge was, or how she would perform in an actual executive office.   This year, Hillary has four years as Secretary of State in her dossier - a position that is second only to President in conducting of foreign policy.

Hillary voted for our disastrous war in Iraq (which I, stupidly, supported at the time). Obama did not, and that was one reason I preferred him to Hillary.  Bernie also voted against the war, and that's a strong point in his favor.   But it's not quite enough for me.

And that's because, in foreign policy, Bernie has no real experience.   Further, his answer on foreign policy in Thursday's debate, to the question what country poses the greatest threat to the US, lacked depth.   His bailiwick is economics and domestic policy, which is great, but I think we need someone in the White House with the most possible foreign policy experience.  The stakes are just too high to go otherwise.

I agree with Bernie on some issues.  I'm against capital punishment, as is he, and I agree with him that all public higher education should be free. But I'm not happy with his D- from the NRA, and prefer Hillary's F.  This is clearly a life-and-death issue, and I want someone who will fight the NRA and the gun cult in this country tooth and nail.

I'm not overly concerned about Hillary's hefty speaking fees from Wall Street.   I haven't seen any evidence that it's influenced her views or actions.   Further, as a Professor at Fordham University, a top-notch Jesuit institution, I know from first-hand experience that it's possible to receive money from an institution without becoming an advocate of its views.  I agree with the Church that capital punishment is wrong, but disagree with its position on abortion - I think a pregnant woman should have control over her body - and say so all the time.

In 2008, I struggled with the question of what would do the most good for America - election of an African-American or a woman as President?  It was a very tough decision, but I concluded that more good could be done, more wrongs could be righted, by the election of Barack Obama as President.

But that in no way diminished the need to correct the centuries - millennia, world-wide - of suppression of women in our political system. And now, in 2016, I'll be casting my vote for Hillary Clinton, and at least a part of that reason is to help correct the injustice that has been done to women, and at long last see a woman in our White House.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Hillary to Bernie in Last Night's Democratic Debate: "If You Have Something To Say, Say It"

This, to me, was the single most decisive moment in last night's Democratic Presidential debate: Hillary objecting to the innuendo of Bernie Sanders and his campaign, the implication that because she spoke as a former Secretary of State on Wall Street, and received hefty speaking fees for her talks, that she was somehow in Wall Street's pocket.  "If you have something to say, say it," Hillary asked Bernie - by which she meant, if you know of any examples or evidence of my being influenced by Wall Street, of supporting them and the one-percent over the American people, let's hear them.

And, of course, though Bernie made a disparaging sound, he had no examples, because there are none.   And if you think about it, why would there be?   As a professor, I talk in lots of places about social media and their impact.   Sometimes I receive nice fees (not as hefty as Hillary's, but nice, for a professor).  Does this mean I agree with or support the political views of the places where I speak? Hey, I'm a Professor at Fordham University, a great Jesuit university, but that doesn't mean I follow the Church's bidding on all of its views.   Sometimes our views in are in agreement, as in opposition to capital punishment.   Other times they are not.  I am in favor of a women's right to decide what to do with her body, when she becomes pregnant.   The fact that I receive money from Fordham University, make a large part of my living as a professor, does not mean I am an advocate of all of views of the institution which is at its foundation.

By the way, I agree with some of Bernie's views vis-a-vis Clinton's.   Bernie is against capital punishment, as am I.  I also agree with Bernie's call for free higher public education for everyone who wants it.  

But I'm bothered by the "smear" from Bernie's campaign, as Hillary put it, that she's somehow a pawn of the establishment, on their leash, when in fact she's spent a lifetime fighting for the rights of children, women, people who can't afford decent health care, and others who have been victimized by the establishment that both Hillary and Bernie oppose.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hillary vs Bernie: Free Enterprise Progressivism vs. Socialism

Been an active day in political commentary.  On MSNBC, Chris Matthews just said that Hillary Clinton should stress the fact that Hillary is a free-enterprise Democrat, in contrast to Bernie, who is a self-proclaimed socialist.

I agree.  The distinction is important.   FDR was a free-enterprise Democrat, not a socialist, and was the most progressive President in American history with his New Deal.   Indeed, all the great progressive developments in America - such as Medicare in the 1960s - came from Democrats who believed in improving the free enterprise system, making it more humane and responsive to human needs, setting limits on it, rather than replacing it with a system of complete governmental control of business.

That's what socialism is.  Bernie may be believe in mom-and-pop businesses, but those are not socialism.  In contrast, free enterprise capitalism has from its outset in the United States worked hand-in-hand with governmental controlled operations.  That's what the Post Office and the military are, after all.

You don't need socialism to work for universal health care.  It can be done from within the free enterprise system, just as FDR did with social security and Woodrow Wilson, another Democrat, did with with the progressive income tax.  Those programs are in need of improvement, to be sure.  I'd like to see millionaires and billionaires taxed at much higher rates than they are.  But that's not socialism - that's improving free enterprise.

But why is free enterprise so important?  Well, history has shown that it's the most reliable catalyst of invention and human progress.   The very social media that we're now using, along with the rest of world, were born in free enterprise.

Bernie Sanders's suggestions and proposals have a lot of merit.  But as Hillary should be pointing out more often, they can be better accomplished through refinement of our free enterprise system, rather than its replacement with socialism.

Why Money Doesn't Matter As Much As Some Think in Politics

I've been arguing for years about Citizens United - and its lack of baneful influence on our political system.  Which is to say -  I think that big money has not distorted or disrupted our elections or political process.

The best example, until now, has been the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012.  Big money did everything it could to stop him.  But it couldn't erase Romney's thoughtless comment about the "47%" not mattering, and the video recording of that comment likely helped him lose the election. YouTube beat big money.

This year, Bernie Sanders is doing pretty well - explicitly denouncing the role of money in politics provided by corporate giants.   Clearly, if that money were so unstoppable in its influence, Sanders wouldn't be where he is today.

And a statistic just released today shows another way in which money has had little if any lasting influence in the 2016 Presidential campaign thus far.  As indicated in the chart, shown earlier on MSNBC, Jeb Bush has far and away spent the most per vote received by any GOP candidate - which means he has spent the most amount of money, and received the last in return in voter support. Conversely, Trump has spend the least - and his low expenditures have given him a second place finish in Iowa in a crowed field.

Clearly, then, money is not a decisive factor.  Social media are apparently more decisive.  In Trump's case, his domination of Twitter brought him to second place (and the fact that it was second, not first, shows that social media have their limits, too -  see here for more).

I've always thought that, as John Milton and Thomas Jefferson pointed out, when truth and falsity are given access in the marketplace of ideas, people will recognize the truth and vote their self-interests. This is where social media find their limits, too - human rationality can recognize a lie, or bombast such as Trump's, whether presented in a high-cost ad or in a no-cost Tweet.  But the advent of social media means that, regardless of how much money may be spent to the contrary, someone, somewhere, will be able to express a fact or a view closer to the truth.   And with the mass media picking up more from social media, that fact will sooner or later be broadcast to millions.

Rand Paul's Withdrawal from the GOP Campaign: Regrets from a Democrat

I was sorry to see Rand Paul withdraw from the GOP primaries today.  I'll be voting for the Democratic nominee for President in November, but Rand Paul was far and away the best of the GOP candidates.

Among his eminently sensible positions are prison reform (we have the highest incarceration rate in the free world, and it's racially biased), drug reform (decriminalizing substances that millions of Americans use, without inflicting them on anyone else), and injecting a little caution into foreign policy (why not get a Declaration of War, as required by the Constitution, before in fact engaging in war).

Rand Paul is in many ways the anti-Trump:  in contrast to Trump's bombast and riffing on all issues, Paul presented a logically-thought-out and historically anchored position on many issues.   I thought it was healthy for our political process that the voters of Iowa rejected Trump and his tweets, but regretted that Rand Paul didn't do better.

I disagree with many of his positions, probably most of them.  I think there is a big role for government in our lives - in providing universal health care, which is about as clear a case as providing for the"general welfare" as provided in the Constitution as you can get.   And Rand Paul's faulting of Barack Obama and the Iranian nuclear agreement was unfortunate, and inconsistent with Paul's oft-stated desire to reduce US military escapades overseas.

But his voice added a unique element to the GOP Presidential race, and will be missed.

Why It's Wrong To Say We'll Never Know the Results of the Iowa Democratic Caucuses

Last night's Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC offered an uncharacteristically unclear and incorrect assessment by Lawrence about the results of the Iowa Democratic Caucuses on Monday night.   After correctly criticizing the caucus process as not being a secret ballot, as in effect excluding anyone who couldn't devote three hours of time in the evening to caucus, and not being amenable to a recount, Lawrence incorrectly concluded that "we'll never know who won in Iowa" in the Democratic caucuses.

To be clear, I think the caucus is an unfair, flawed method of selecting a candidate, for all of the reasons mentioned above.  People should be able to express their political choices in private - they should be able to choose their candidate without their friend or spouse knowing their choice.  They should also be able to record this choice any time throughout the day and evening, to allow people with various family and professional responsibilities a chance to cast their preferences.   And not being available for a recount is unfortunate indeed in when the results are very close, as they were in Iowa the other night.

But none of these flaws mean we don't know or will never know who won.   Hillary did, by .2 percent.   Yes, it would be very good if those results could be recounted, but the inability to do this does not mean that we do not know the results in the first place.

Measuring is always subject to error, and therefore well served by a capacity to measure again.   But the inability to re-measure does not mean that the initial measurement is unknowable or wrong.  Let's say I'm measuring a wall because I want to put a picture exactly in the middle.   I'll certainly put the ruler or tape to the wall more than once to confirm my first measurement.   But if I can't - if I lose my ruler - that doesn't mean that I don't know the measurement of the wall.   I do.   I just can't confirm it. The rational course of action without an opportunity to measure the wall again would be to put my picture on the wall, in the place indicated by the first measurement.

The Iowa caucuses should be replaced by a voting process, that's obvious.   But, for this election, Hillary Clinton won - by the thinnest possible margin - but she won.   And saying otherwise is not only unfair but wrong.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What the Trump Defeat in Iowa Says about the Limits of Social Media

I don't think I've seen anyone mention this as yet, so I'll make the point here:  I think Trump's defeat in Iowa last night, coming in a clear second to Ted Cruz, says something about the limits of social media.

Or at least that a superior number of Twitter followers did not equate to success in a political caucus. Trump has 5.99 million followers on Twitter.   Cruz has 779 thousand.   I have no idea how many of them are in Iowa, but Cruz's victory in Iowa shows that Twitter clout isn't all it's cracked up to be - at least, not politically - and that other factors enter in voters choices in caucuses.

Ron Paul actually learned a similar lesson back in 2008.   Twitter was much smaller then, but there was a lot of political action on Digg, which operated like Reddit does now, and was much bigger than Reddit back then.   In those days, editorials and other articles on the Internet praising Ron Paul were regularly voted up to the front page of Digg by its readers.   Articles about Ron Paul dominated Digg for months and months.  But when the primaries came, Ron Paul was in single digits.  (For more on social media in the election of 2008, see my New New Media.)

Hillary and Bernie are more equally matched now on Twitter - Hillary has 5.28 million followers, in comparison to Bernie's 1.3 million and 1.33 million on his two active accounts - which makes it no surprise, Twitter-wise, that the two finished so neck-and-neck in Iowa.   Or even that Hillary won, albeit by the most narrow margin.

But unlike the Democrats, for which numbers of Twitter followers were roughly in synch with the Iowa results, the defeat of Trump given his huge Twitter presence says something else.   Likely the reason for the Trump discrepancy has something to do with the nature of his Tweets, and what it is about them and him that attracts so many followers.   Unlike Hillary and Bernie and Cruz, Trump's in fact have very little political content, trafficking instead in broad insults and truculent declarations.  It may well be that these are fun to read but insufficient to galvanize true political support.  Which would certainly be a good thing for our country.

Downton Abbey 6.6: Sneak Preview Review

Herewith a preview review of the next episode of Downton Abbey - 6.6 - to air on PBS next Sunday. It was enjoyable, as always, but not the strongest episode in this final season so far.  In what follows, I'll talk in generalities, and mention no specific people.  But if you prefer not to get even an inkling of what will be on the screen this Sunday, read on no further.

Good News in the Iowa Caucus Results

Looks like Hillary Clinton won by a razor-thin margin in Iowa - which I'm glad to see, since I like her position on the NRA - receiving an "F" from the gun lobby - better than Bernie's D- from the same organization, and I also think Hillary's extensive foreign policy experience is a necessity in the next President, in this especially dangerous day and age.

But Bernie can hold his head up high.  He started in Iowa with next to nothing in voter support, and ignited a revolution that brought him all the way to the edge of winning.   I don't support his socialism - I think there's an enormous value in capitalism and its spur to human invention - but there's more than enough room in the Democratic party for his kind of progressivism, and our country benefits from his voice.

And I'm also glad that Trump came in second in the Republican caucuses, and almost came in third.  I agree with nothing Cruz says, but at least he offers real political content, rather than the insults and empty hyperbole of Donald Trump.   As I pointed out in McLuhan in an Age of Social Media, Trump is the ultimate "cool" candidate (in McLuhan's terminology, meaning that his communication has ultra-low content), trafficking in tweets and in speeches which are almost literally compilations and repetitions of his 140-character digital missives and misses.   It's good to see voters reject that in favor of something more substantial - however much I may find that substance dangerous and unacceptable.   It's good to see Trump's glistening egg-shell of invincibility, his cult of being a winner, beginning to crack.  I suspect Iowa will be the beginning of the end for him and his ego.

The 2016 Presidential election moves to New Hampshire next week. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are currently way ahead in that state. But if anything is clear from tonight in Iowa, and previous years in New Hampshire, nothing is certain in politics.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Black Sails 3.2: Flint vs. Sea

The third season of Black Sails continues in its second episode to be the most rip-roaring of the series so far - at least insofar as pirate versus the elements, in the form of the "ship killing" storm that Flint chooses to sail into, rather than enter into a losing battle with Hornigold or accept his pardon, which would amount to the same thing.

Flint and his crew's battle against the sea is outstanding - full cinematic in power - and a sight to behold and enjoy on this safe side of the screen.   Not only Flint, but Billy and Silver have strong and defining moments - Silver in particular, who continues his role as unwilling but ubiquitous witness to the death and heartbreak and irony that this life can dish out.  Actually, Billy's moment is just as crucial, being obliged once again to see that Flint knows what he's doing, or at least is the best person around to see what needs to be done to survive, when all the options are so close to destruction.

Meanwhile, we get a good shot of Eleanor in this episode, who looks a little older and certainly a little wiser, though she was pretty shrewd before.  But in place of the touch of deceptive sweetness we saw in previous seasons, we get a whiff of almost weary wisdom, and that actually works better in the story.

From Eleanor we learn how Teach aka Blackbeard fits into this narrative, and his relationship with Vane portends an even more unpredictable future than usual for Vane and Eleanor.   She understands the major players better than does anyone, but will this be enough to get her what she wants - back to being Queen of Thieves on the island?

Not likely, because no one gets what they want in this world, but nor do they quite lose everything either, and sometimes they win enough, which is what makes Black Sails such good viewing.

See also Black Sails 3.1: Restored

And see also Black Sails 2.1: Good Combo, Back Story, New Blood ... Black Sails 2.2: A Fine Lesson in Captaining ... Black Sails 2.3: "I Angered Charles Vane" ... Black Sails 2.4: "Fire!" ... Black Sails 2.5: Twist! ... Black Sails 2.6: Weighty Alternatives, and the Medium is the Message on the High Seas ...Black Sails 2.7: The Governor's Daughter and the Gold ... Black Sails 2.9: The Unlikely Hero ... Black Sails Season 2 Finale: Satisfying Literate and Vulgar

And see also Black Sails: Literate and Raunchy Piracy ... Black Sails 1.3: John Milton and Marcus Aurelius ... Black Sails 1.4: The Masts of Wall Street ...Black Sails 1.6: Rising Up ... Black Sails 1.7: Fictions and History ... Black Sails 1.8: Money



pirates of the mind in The Plot to Save Socrates 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Book Salon at McLuhan Centre Coach House in Toronto about McLuhan in an Age of Social Media

I had a wonderful time this past Wednesday evening at the McLuhan Centre Coach House at the University of Toronto.  It was great talking to former students and old friends Ira Nayman and Hugh Spencer center stage, and Marc Belanger,  Paolo Granata (thanks for inviting me), Paul Kelly, Alex Kuskis, Bob Logan, and Dominque Scheffel-Dunand before, during, and after the salon.  And it was a real pleasure meeting Gisela McKay, David Nostbakken,  Joel Alleyne, and Donald Gillies, not to mention  many others whose names I didn't catch.  (And Rob Sawyer and Caroline Clink at the airport.)

Photos of the event follow below.  And you might enjoy this little smorgasbord of Tweets about the discussion, compiled by Leora Kornfeld (Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University).

Hugh Spencer, Paul Levinson, Ira Nayman

Hugh Spencer, Paul Levinson, Paolo Granata, Ira Nayman

Paolo Granata, 3 people, Dominique Scheffel-Dunand, Bob Logan,
Marshall McLuhan, Alexander Kuskis

Hugh Spencer, Paul Levinson, Ira Nayman, 2 people, doorway,
more people, Paolo Granata, 2 people, Dominique Scheffel-Dunand,
Bob Logan, Alexander Kuskis, and over some heads, Marshall McLuhan