Monday, August 22, 2011

The FCC Finally Does Something Right

Good for the FCC for formally eliminating the Fairness Doctrine, which it wisely hadn't been enforcing anyway for twenty years.  The last thing we need is the government having any say whatsoever in the political content of radio and television broadcasts.

As a case in point, consider the advent and growth of cable TV news.   Without any FCC supervision, we have conservative Fox, progressive MSNBC, and down the middle (if usually boring) CNN.  In other words, the marketplaces of ideas and money brought about a very well balanced system of news delivery and commentary.

The next thing the FCC should do it is eliminate itself - or, at very least, the fines it has been levying against broadcasters it deems to be putting out "objectionable" content.   Like the Fairness Doctrine and just about everything the FCC does other than keeping track of broadcast frequencies - increasingly unnecessary in our age of Internet streaming - the FCC is in principle and practice a blatant violation of the First Amendment.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sholem Aleichem and Marshall McLuhan

I saw Joseph Dorman's 2011 documentary, Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, with Tina last night.  Superb footage and sage commentary about the man born Sholem Rabinovich in Russia in 1859, who died world-renown under his pen name Sholem Aleichem in New York City in 1916 (a year after my father was born here in 1915, four years after Marshall McLuhan was born in Edmonton in 1911).  Sholem Aleichem was known as the Yiddish Mark Twain.   Given one of his specialties in ironic endings of short stories, he also could have been known as the Yiddish O'Henry or De Maupassant.

But the Twain reference speaks most to Sholem Aleichem's relevance to Marshall McLuhan.  Mark Twain's ear for American vernacular, and capacity to put it on the written page, fired up his master works Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  Aleichem did the same for Yiddish.  McLuhan provided tools for explaining this genius of both writers - hybrid energy, their capturing of one mode, the acoustic, and rendering it convincingly in another mode, the visual.

As Dorman's movie makes clear, Sholem Aleichem might have written in Russian, his native written language, or in Hebrew, the formal, sacred language of his people.  Instead, he chose to write in the shtetel slang he heard all around him.  This made him cooler than Tolstoy and the Talmud, a written rapper of his time.

McLuhan understood and wrote about the power of slang, including its transformation into cliche and in turn into archetype (see my Digital McLuhan and its discussion of McLuhan's tetrad for more).  Sholem Aleichem, alas, died a decade before his work would achieve its full archetype status - in the Soviet Union, Palestine, and America, in different ways, as the movie shows.

Laughing in the Darkness now buttresses that enduring status.   I had one quibble with the documentary - it made no mention of Joe Stein, who wrote the play, Fiddler on the Roof,  which catapulted Aleichem's Tevye the Milkman stories into theatrical and then cinematic prominence in the 1960s and 70s.  Although I studied Sholem Aleichem in the Workmen's Circle Yiddisheh shuleh in the late 1950s, and heard about him from my parents and grandparents, for many people Fiddler was their introduction to Sholem.

From the ear to the page to the screen, a McLuhanesque story of media evolution right there.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

In Defense of Flashmobs and Blackberrys

I just heard Martin Fletcher on MSNBC say that, over in the United Kingdom, some people are calling for "crack downs" on Blackberrys, since messaging on them has been implicated in the assembling of the rioting mobs over the there.   Meanwhile, I was interviewed the other day in The Daily about talk in Philadelphia and elsewhere in America to limit flashmobs, responsible for violence in Philadelphia and other American cities.   My response to The Daily - “The Cairo flash mob had a very good result."

Think about it.   There no doubt were all kinds of criminal activities planned on telephones in the 20th century - should that have led to their banning or any across-the-board restrictions?   Aside from being an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, such limitations would have been entirely unnecessary: we already have restrictions on criminal activities.

Banning or even general limitations on flashmobs not would not only violate the freedom of speech provision of our First Amendment, but its freedom to peaceably assemble, as well.  And they are similarly unneeded.  We already have ample laws on the books against looting and other criminal activities of crowds.   England does, too.

The Arab Spring, while not successful everywhere, has already peacefully spread to democracies in Israel and Spain.   The larger message of these assemblages of people, brought together through online invitations, and publicized through Twitter and other new new media (my name for media which transform consumers into producers) is that we may be witnessing a profound shift, even in democracies, from representative to direct forms of governance.  When elected representatives don't do their jobs, the people press to take more power.   This was always the case - and why we in the United States changed from selected to directly elected U.S. Senators a century ago.   But now the voice and wishes of the people can be heard as never before, through the smart phones in an increasing number of hands.

Governments would be wise to take this revolution seriously, and not disable it by even a well-meaning but unnecessary limit on smart phones and flashmobs in response to a summer of hooligans.







Monday, August 8, 2011

Falling Skies Concludes First Season

Falling Skies finished its first season last night - and took off with what promises to be a very new, unexpected wing of adventure next summer.

As I wrote here earlier, I always like to see a series grow as we watch it, with changes subtle and major throughout the season.  Falling Skies has been doing this, but took the changes to new levels in its Season One double-episode finale.

Gone is JFK High School, headquarters of our brave fighters and survivors.   The aliens were given its location by Rick, who, fortunately, now sees that the aliens don't want him back.

And gone also is Tom - not killed, not even taken captive, but leaving voluntarily with a humanoid alien, who communicates to Tom via Karen that Ben could still be transformed into an alien, and the only way Tom can stop that is if he goes with the aliens, who want to learn more about our species from Tom - in particular, how and why we have mounted such an effective resistance (including Tom shooting down an alien plane!).

One weakness in this dramatic plot turn is that Tom, having seen that Nick was deemed unsuitable for alien re-integration, might have realized that Ben would similarly be unfit - that is, that the aliens were bluffing about Ben.   But, on the other hand, we can understand why Tom would not want to take any chances, and his going off with the aliens makes for great possible story lines next year.

We also get a good goodbye kiss for Tom and Anne.   Meanwhile, Weaver, Pope, Hal, and all the other major characters are in good form.   And I'll see you here next year with reviews of the next season.

See also Falling Skies 1.1-2 ... Falling Skies 1.3 meets Puppet Masters ... Falling Skies 1.4: Drizzle ... Falling Skies 1.5: Ben ... Falling Skies 1.6: Fifth Column ... Falling Skies 1.7: The Fate of Traitors ... Falling Skies 1.8: Weaver's Story




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The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book





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Monday, August 1, 2011

Politics and New Media live blogging of House Vote on Debt Ceiling

I asked my Politics and New Media grad class at Fordham University to live blog the House of Representatives' vote on the debt ceiling bill this evening.  Here are the results, including responses to Gabriella Giffords' return to the House for this vote.

DB http://unmsum11.blogspot.com/

KOC Helloreallifenyc.blogspot.com

AMcC capriciousramblings.tumblr.com

SG  http://anonymousblog-caveatlector.blogspot.com/

MP  mariaparonich.blogspot.com

AD  Dretheprophet.tumblr.com

EP www.estherpang.com

MS   http://furanimalrights.wordpress.com

EP  http://constitutionstate.blogspot.com/

AR  http://alexromblog.blogspot.com/

Falling Skies 1.8: Weaver's Story

Another fine Falling Skies last night - episode 1.8 - in which we finally a learn a crucial bit more about Captain Weaver (Will Patton), whose life prior to the alien attack has pretty much been a cipher until now.   The scoop is Weaver had a wife and two children, and he finds something in his wife's home (the two had been divorced) - her eyeglasses - which gives him hope that she and one of his children may still be alive somewhere.

His other child died after Weaver tried to remove a harness, which brings us back to one of the main continuing stories.  All of the harnessed children rescued by Hal and Tom, and operated on by Anne,  have healed, with the exception of two.  Ben is ok mentally, but he has much more than natural strength, and the harness connections on his back are still out there.  Rick is not ok mentally, and his continuing insistence that he's part of the aliens shows that Ben may not be quite out of the woods on  this yet, either.

Meanwhile, we have two new discoveries: a humanoid alien form, which/who seems to be superior to the skitters; and Anne's finding that the skitters themselves seem to be harnessed (except they carry the harness on the inside, which makes sense, since their shell or bone structure is external and their flesh internal).   The two taken together could be momentous: are the skitters and we humans both victims of the humanoid aliens?

One indisputably good discovery comes from Pope, the Sawyer-like (Lost) character in Falling Skies.  After delivering a nice, funny line about NPR as a weapon that could bore the aliens to death, Pope - with Matt's help - realizes that bullets fashioned from Mech metal can cut right through them, like a hot knife through butter.  At last, a real weapon for our side.

But in some ways, Weaver's story is the most significant: he was on the verge of throwing in the towel before he discovered his wife's eyeglasses.  This shows how fragile even the toughest of us humans are in this insane environment of near alien conquest of Earth.   Which is, alas, a quite realistic portrait of where we'd be if such an invasion occurred.

Season One two-hour finale next week!

See also Falling Skies 1.1-2 ... Falling Skies 1.3 meets Puppet Masters ... Falling Skies 1.4: Drizzle ... Falling Skies 1.5: Ben ... Falling Skies 1.6: Fifth Column ... Falling Skies 1.7: The Fate of Traitors




                 Special Discount Coupons for Angie's List, Avis, Budget Car, Garden.com, eMusic







The Plot to Save Socrates




"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book





Enjoy listening to audio books? Get a free audio book copy of The Plot to Save Socrates - or any one of 85,000 other titles - with a 14-day trial membership at Audible.com ...


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