Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Workshop in Baroda

So, I was invited to India to lead a workshop on general semantics and media ecology at the new Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences, in Baroda.  Prior to the workshop, I was asked to provide a write-up, which I did.  For a while now, I had been thinking of a way to designate the common ground between general semantics and media ecology, and came up with a term that might represent a new synthesis.  Although I am not entirely satisfied with it, and a google search later revealed that others have been using the phrase (not that anyone owns it, and I make no attempt to connect this to any prior usage), I went with Ecology of Knowledge, and here is the description I provided for the workshop:

Towards An Ecology of Knowledge

Lance Strate
Executive Director, Institute of General Semantics
Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University

The purpose of this workshop is to introduce the allied disciplines of general semantics and media ecology as the basis for an ecology of knowledge.  Some of the most fundamental questions that anyone can ask might include the following:  What does it mean to be human?  What is the nature of the world that we find ourselves living within?  And how are we to live our lives, effectively and harmoniously, in relation to other human beings, and to our world?  These questions all revolve around the concept of knowledge, which is to say that they are concerned with the relationship of the knower to the known, with how we know our environments and ourselves, how that knowledge guides our actions, and how we might expand and improve on the process of knowing.  Alfred Korzybski developed general semantics as a form of applied epistemology, a pragmatic system focusing on our ways of knowing, and how they influence our thought and behavior.  Korzybski describes the discipline of general semantics as focusing on the "organism-as-a-whole-in-its-environment."  By organism-as-a-whole, he indicated that he wanted to bring an holistic approach to bear on the study of human beings, and by situating the human organism in-its-environment, he indicated that he wanted to understand human beings through a contextualized and ecological approach.  Korzybski emphasizes the role of perception, language, symbolic communication, and scientific method in shaping consciousness and culture, and we will also consider related concepts such as linguistic relativism, philosophy of symbolic form, and metaphor.  Media ecology, which Neil Postman described as "general semantics writ large," contributes an additional emphasis on how modes of perception and communication, and forms of media and technology affect the way we think, feel, and act, individually and collectively, and in this workshop we will explore the thought of media ecologists such as Postman, Marshall McLuhan, and Walter Ong as well.

The workshop received some advanced publicity in the Times of India, in the following article:  Centre to tickle scholarly tastebuds (and in case you're wondering, Vadodara is the new, domestic name for Baroda, like Mumbai is for Bombay; I only used Baroda here because that is what the Centre uses in its literature, and that's also what the airlines used).

Now, here are some photographs from the workshop.  These first are from the opening:

 And here is a shot of me with the Director of the Centre, Prafulla Kar, after I opened up the package containing the Centre's first newsletter:

 Now, some views of the audience:

These shots were all taken in their lecture room, and here now is a photo of the seminar room:

And a shot of me leading the workshop on the second day:

And on the third day, I also gave a public lecture, "Eight Bits About the Digital Media Environment" (for an earlier version of the talk, click here):

And some shots of me from the final day of the workshop:

And a shot of me with three of the participants, including my good friend Devkumar Trivedi on the left:

And after the workshop was over, a shot of (some of)  the participants:

Most of the participants were English professors and graduate students, so I was able to work with them on an appropriately academic level (although we did mix it up a little on the subject of Derrida).

And finally, here's a link to A Report on The First National Workshop "Towards An Ecology of Knowledge" 28-32 October, 2009.  This was published on the official website of the Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences.  The report is not entirely accurate, but it will give you an idea of what went on, and if you take a look at the rest of the Centre's website, you'll find that it's an eclectic and highly intellectual institution.  All in all, I had a marvelous time leading the workshop, was very impressed with the high level of discourse on the part of the participants, enjoyed the other public lectures and panel discussions, and the papers presented by the participants.  It was truly a four-day ecology of knowledge, and I myself learned a great deal from the experience.  A special thanks to Balvant Parekh for making it all possible!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Wisdom From the Bhagavad Gita

So, on the long trip to India, I decided to read the Bhagavad Gita, or Song Celestial, the sacred poetic text of the Hindu religion (the 1885 translation by Sir Edwin Arnold; London:  Watkins Publishing, 2006).  For a little background, here's a link for the wikipedia article on the Gita, which is believed to date from the 1st century (though some estimates put it as far back as the 5th century BCE).  And I thought I would share some passages that I found particularly significant.

First of all, this is one that is positively McLuhanesque!  At my workshop in Baroda, I told them that I was going to read a poem about the internet, and then read the following lines (Chap. 11, p. 110):

Yea!  mightiest Lord!  I see
Thy thousand thousand arms, and breasts, and faces,
And eyes — on every side
Perfect, diversified;
And nowhere end of Thee, nowhere beginning,
Nowhere a centre!  Shifts —
Wherever soul's gaze lifts —
Thy central Self, all-wielding, and all-winning!

Pretty cool, huh?   It definitely fits, which goes to show that the internet has been around for a couple of millennia now.  Or something...

And now this from earlier in the poem (Chap. 4, p. 44);

Thou sayst, perplexed, It hath been asked before
By singers and by sages, "What is act,
And what inaction?"  I will teach thee this,
And, knowing, thou shalt learn which work doth save
Needs must one rightly meditate those three —
Doing — not doing — and undoing. Here
Thorny and dark the path is! He who sees
How action may be rest, rest action — he
Is wisest 'mid his kind; he hath the truth!

I love the way the binary opposition of action and inaction becomes the triad of doing, not doing, and undoing, the latter reminding me of Neil Postman's insistence that in response to all of the technology boosters going on about all that new technology will do for us, we also need to ask what technology will undo.

Aristotle is often credited with the notion of moderation in all things (or was that moderation in all things, including moderation?), and here is the Gita's take on the Doctrine of the Mean (Chap. 6, pp. 62-63):

But for earthly needs
Religion is not his who too much fasts
Or too much feasts, nor his who sleeps away
An idle mind; nor his who ears to waste
His strength in vigils. Nay, Arjuna! call
That the true piety which most removes
Earth-aches and ills, where one is moderate
In eating and resting, and in sport;
Measured in wish and act; sleeping betimes,
Waking betimes for duty.  When the man,
So living, centres on his soul the thought
Straitly restrained — untouched internally
By stress of sense — then is he Yûkta.  See!

The theme of time being of no small import to this blog, here's a passage on that topic (Chap. 11, pp. 117-118):

Thou seest Me as Time who kills, Time who brings all to doom,
The Slayer Time, Ancient of Days, come hither to consume;
Excepting thee, of all these hosts of hostile chiefs arrayed,
There stands not one shall leave alive the battlefield!  Dismayed
No longer be! Arise!  obtain renown!  Destroy thy foes!
Fight for the kingdom waiting thee when thou hast vanquished those.
By Me they fall — not thee!  the stroke of death is dealt them now,
Even as they show thus gallantly; My instrument art thou!
Strike, strong-armed Prince, at Drona!  At Bhishma strike!  deal death
On Karna, Jyadratha; stay all their warlike breath!
'Tis I who bid them perish!  Thou wilt but slay the slain;
Fight!  they must fall, and thou must live, victor upon this plain!

We find here an aggressive, violent image of time, coupled with a religious sense of predestination that absolves the warrior Prince Arjuna from blame for his actions in war as he is merely the instrument of Krishna's will, and fate.

This next passage brings to mind a basic tenet in general semantics and media ecology, that there is no knowledge without a knower (Chap. 13, pp. 136-137):

Only that knowledge knows which knows the known
By the knower!  What it is, that "field" of life,
What qualities it hath, and whence it is,
And why it changeth, and the faculty
That wotteth it, the mightiness of this,
And how it wotteth — hear these things from Me!
The elements, the conscious life, the mind,
The unseen vital force, the nine strange gates
Of the body, and the five domains of sense;
Desire, dislike, pleasure and pain, and thought
Deep-woven, and persistency of being;
These all are wrought on Matter by the Soul!

I also read The Principal Upanishads on the trip (translation by Alan Jacobs; London:  Watkins Publishing, 2007), another Hindu sacred text, drawn from preliterate oral tradition.  Once again, here's a link for the wikipedia entry on the Upanishads, if you want some more information about them.  And here's one last passage, taken from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Book 1, Part 2, Verse 4-5:

Death wished for a second body,
He embraced the notion of speech.
The time of pregnancy was one year,
So speech, the Master, carried
Him for twelve months,
Then Time gave him birth.
Death opened his mouth
As if to swallow him,
He shouted, "Bhan!"
And became speech.

Death pondered,
If I kill him I will have no food.
He therefore mothered this speech
And fathered it by the
Verses of all the Vedas,
The poetic meters,
The animal kingdoms.

The identification of speech with poetry and song is not unusual or unwarranted, but the association between speech and death is intriguing.  Speech in the form of epic poetry and song is a form of immortality (the sung hero), and speech as language is the necessary prerequisite for time-binding, the accumulation of knowledge through which we transcend death, and time.

So, maybe a few years ago, Death wanted another body, and gave birth to blogs?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Swine Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

So, it's been an insanely busy semester, making it very hard to maintain a consistent blogging regimen.  But things are finally starting to settle down, so maybe I can share a few things with you.

On the morning of October 25th, I left Ellenville, New York, up in the Catskills, where the New York State Communication Association's annual meeting had been held, after delivering a keynote address for them that Friday, and I drove back home, unpacked and then packed again, and headed over to Newark that evening, to catch a flight to India, via Lufthansa, with a stopover in Frankfurt.  I was asked to lead a workshop on general semantics and media ecology for the new Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences in the city of Baroda (aka Vadodara) in the state of Gujarat.  And I'll write more about all that another time.

For now, I just want to address the topic of sickness and health.  Frankly, I'm not a seasoned traveler, and it never occurred to me that I needed to make any medical preparations for the trip until someone else brought it up.  That led to a bit of a scramble, as I got several shots, a Tetanus booster, Hepatitis A, and a flu shot (regular flu, H1N1 not being available), and a prescription for Malorone, a drug used to prevent Malaria!  I had to start taking the Malorone before I left, and continue for 7 days after (and it really did a number on me for that last week).

So anyway, having gotten appropriately medicated, I was off to India, taking a Lufthansa flight of 8 hours to Frankfurt, a 5 hour layover there, and then another flight of 8 hours, arriving in Mumbai at 3:30 AM on Tuesday, October 27.  So, exhausted and totally out of sync, I was on the immigration line to get into India, holding my passport, complete with visa (another last minute scramble as no one told me I needed one until just before the trip), and a form I had to fill out.

The form asked if I was from an, get this, Infected Country!!!!  And it included a number of questions about swine flu/H1N1, asking if I was exposed to it and/or were exhibiting any symptoms.  This struck me as a bit odd, as here in the US it's pretty much accepted that the swine flu is with us, it's not seen as all that big of a deal by most of us (my elderly mother, on the other hand, is easily frightened by the hype that she hears on the news, which most of us are inured to I believe), there aren't all that many cases, the flu itself isn't all that severe, less so that the regular flu and all.

So how strange it was to think of the United States as an "Infected Country," after all, what an odd and paranoid sounding label to use!  It's a bit of a metaphor, if you think about it, as we generally recognize that a person who is infected with a disease is diseased, ill, sick, or at least a carrier.  But in what sense can a country be infected?  Is a country just like a person, a body?  Can a country be diseased, ill, sick, or a carrier, in the way that a person is?  If one person has the swine flu, is the entire country infected?  If not, how many does it take?  Does the size of the country and its population make a difference?

Clearly, the Indian authorities were guided by this metaphor, as they had a camera set up and aimed at the people in the immigration line at the airport.  Apparently, it was a thermal camera, and wouldn't you know it, after training it on me, they pulled me out of the line and told me to go sit on the side.  I was far from the only one, I should add, and I sat next to a fellow from France who had been pulled out right before me.

They explained that the camera registered me as hot.  And this was not hot in a good sense.  They said that it indicated that I had a fever, which is the first symptom of swine flu.  So they stuck thermometers under our arms to take our temperatures.  The French guy was ahead of me, and his reading was over a 100 Farenheit, hot but not necessarily a fever, but they said it was.  He asked what that meant, and they said they'd take his temperature again in 15 minutes, and if he was still hot, they have ambulances waiting to take him to the hospital for further tests, and to isolate and quarantine him if he has the swine flu.  He asked if he could just fly back to France instead.  They said no.

Did I mention the medic (not sure if the guy was a nurse or what, don't think he was a doctor) was wearing one of those masks to filter the air.  Weird, being treated like some kind of contagious leper.

So my temperature was 99.6, and they said that was a fever.  I said, WHAT!?!?!?!   COME ON!!!!!   That's just one degree above normal.  They said that the plane is cold, so the normal temperature coming off of it is 97 degrees, so that means I have a fever.  I had never heard of such a thing.  I was going to say that I wasn't at all cold on the plane, but I was afraid that they would take that as confirmation that I had a fever.

They gave me the same line about retaking my temperature in 15 minutes.  At this point I got very agitated.  I started to speak loudly about how walking through the terminal with a heavy carry-on at 3:30 in the morning, with a bum knee that I had, made me hot, and how I'm normally hotter than average.  And after all, I had absolutely no cold and flu symptoms, not a one (the medic said fever was the first one to show, and the others did not appear until later).  And who was going to get my baggage from the baggage claim?  And it was almost 4 in the morning and I had to meet someone for lunch at noon!  And then catch a flight that evening to Baroda!  To lead a 4-day workshop!  And I also told them that I had to get shots to come to India, and was taking antimalarial medication, and they're worried about me getting them sick????

I was, you might say, hot under the collar.  The medic advised me to calm down, as getting angry would raise my temperature, and wouldn't help when they took it again.  Grrrrrrrrrrr.  I couldn't help but wonder if this wasn't some payback for the way the United States (and western nations in general) treats people coming to us from abroad.  Maybe it wasn't arbitrary, but maybe they were taking advantage, latching on to the excuse to put us through the ringer.  I couldn't help but also think about what had happened at Ellis Island if, say tuberculosis was detected in an immigrant and they were sent back, but in that I always identified with the immigrants, as the child of immigrants, and not with the indigenous authorities.

So, I calmed myself down.  The chair I was sitting on had metal armrests, which were cool, so I placed my wrists against them.  The wall behind me was also cool, so I rested my bald spot against it (never thought there could be an advantage to hair loss).  I slowed my breathing, and relaxed.

The French guy got up and told the medic he was going to the restroom.  A little later, I did the same thing, and ran cold water over my wrists for 60 seconds, and then splashed cold water on my face.  When I came out, I mentioned it to my friend from France, and he said he had done the same thing.

Soon after, his temperature was down and they let him go, and soon after that mine was down below 99 and they let me go.

I finally got to my hotel room around 4:30 AM, and got a couple of hours of sleep before my luncheon.

Now for the ironic ending.  The day that I was leaving Baroda, there was a news report that Narendra Modi, the prime minister of the state of Gujarat, where Baroda is located you may recall, who had just returned from a visit to Russia, had the swine flu.  Here's the story:  Modi down with swine flu, Gujarat ministers fretHah!  I said, Serves him right!

Instant karma's gonna get you...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hiphop Holocaust

With the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht upon us (we have a special commemoration planned for this Friday at Congregation Adas Emuno, for example), the question of how to communicate the Holocaust would be a timely one.  Simply put, the magnitude of the event seems to go beyond our meager abilities to express it, that any attempt to put it into words or any other type of symbol system cannot help but fall short, and thereby trivialize it.  And yet, at the same time, we feel an obligation not to remain silent, and more importantly, an obligation to remember, to keep the memory alive in the hopes that such an event might never happen again, or failing that, might at least not go unchallenged.

This has special significance for me, as the child of Holocaust survivors.

It was therefore with more than a little interest that I viewed an Israeli hiphop YouTube video about the Holocaust when it was brought to my attention.  The intent, clearly, is to communicate to young people, to the generations that are growing increasingly more distanced from the Holocaust, as the number of survivors are dwindling, and the past recedes from memory.

Here is the information provided with the video:

This song is dedicated to the Jewish Holocaust and is part of the Gedenk movement.

The Gedenk Movement (Remember!)
A humanitarian campaign to raise youth awareness about genocide through art and education.
Gedenk is a word that means "remember" in Yiddish.
Gedenk is a movement established in 2006 as a humanitarian campaign that promotes youth education about anti-Semitism and the Jewish Holocaust.

Gedenk will use commercial outlets, i.e. music, dance, billboards and celebrities, to communicate its message and make the Jewish Holocaust relevant to today's youth. Those that do not speak up are as guilty as the criminals themselves!

Our broader mission is to educate the youth and the general population about the consequences of bigotry and hatred- from the Armenian genocide, during World War I, the Jewish and Roma Holocaust of World War II, Rwanda in the 1990s, to Darfur today.

We believe it is no longer acceptable to remain silent, for it is today's generation that is responsible for remembering the history of the world and insuring that such heinous crimes will never be tolerated again.

"My father and mother lost most of their family in Iran and in Tunis. They found refuge in the land of Israel at 1948, leaving everything they had behind. With everything that's going on in the world today, my mission is to make my country a better place to live in. In order to do so, we must take the lessons that we have learned from past events, especially with Iran's agenda to deny that the Holocaust never happened, and remember that such tragic events must not be repeated!

Subliminal, Best selling Hiphop artist in Israel & Ambassador of honor for the Israeli Government.

"I am third generation to Holocaust Survivors and it is my responsibility to tell the story. Remembrance of the Holocaust is critical to preventing further acts of genocide, if we don't tell the story of these terrible events we could increase the risk that it will be repeated."

Miri Ben-Ari, Grammy Award Winner Violinist

Gedenk Web Site:

Tact Records official site:

And here now is the video, entitled, God Almighty When Will It End?

There is no point in asking if this video trivializes the Holocaust, because as already noted there is no way to avoid it when expressing the inexpressible.  And I will be the first to admit that I don't relate to this genre of music.  It is clear to me that rap and hiphop generally involve a very serious, often angry and assertive presentation.  In this, there is something in common with the folk music movement of the sixties, which was characterized by an earnest social conscience, and expressions of protest.  Rap seems to be more personality driven, though, more a product of television's culture of narcissism rather than the group-centeredness of oral culture.  As Neil Postman might have asked, is this video about the Holocaust, or about this Subliminal fellow?  For my part, rap and hiphop bring to mind the parodies I've seen on the part of Weird Al Yankovic and Sascha Baron Cohen, aka Ali G.  But again, that's just me, and I do think it is commendable to try to translate the memorial into a language that is spoken by young people all over the world.  How successful it is in achieving its goal it is hard for me to assess.  The dance that is included does seem to express some sense of the agony of the Holocaust in an appropriate manner.  The violin provides a much-needed link to the culture of Holocaust Jewry.  And the rapper speaks from a contemporary position in a serious and respectful manner.  With some reservations, then, I commend and recommend this video.

Since I brought up the subject of folk music, the song that was used to represent the Holocaust when I was growing up was a Yiddish folk song entitled "Dona, Dona" (or some variation thereof), which we typically sang in English translation.  Here is a live amateur recording of Joan Baez (who made the song famous in the sixties) performing the song live in concert on July 14 2007, in Abenberg, German:

And here's a studio recording by Donovan:

Now here's a version with different lyrics, a looser translation, I believe, by Esther and Abi Ofarim (whom I've never heard of before):

Finally, let me share with you a performance of the original Yiddish version by Lisa Fishman:

And here is the information she provided to accompnay the video on youtube:

This is a performance I did of the Yiddish classic, "Dona Dona," on the 'Jewish Entertainment Hour,' a cable show broadcast out of New York City, in 2001.

I grew up singing the ENGLISH version made popular by Joan Baez at summer camp. It wasn't until I was an adult and discovered Eastern European Jewish Music (= often referred to as "Klezmer" music) and started studying Yiddish that I learned that the song was actually originally written in Yiddish for the Yiddish Theatre.

Accompanying me on piano is New York's AMAZING pianist, arranger, composer, and musical director, Alex Rybeck.

---------------------------------------- -----------------

More from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

"Donna Donna" (דאָנאַ דאָנאַ "Dana Dana", דאָס קעלבל "Dos Kelbl") was a very popular song in America, and also in a number of other countries, for example, in Japan it has long been sung in schools.


The song was written as "Dana Dana" in Yiddish, for the musical play "Esterke" (1940-1941); words written by Aaron Zeitlin, music written by Sholom Secunda. Both of them were Jews, and the song was written in days of Nazism. The song was prohibited in South Korea as a communist song [1].

The first translation into English was made by Secunda himself but did not become popular. The song in English became well known as "Donna Donna" when it was translated approximately in 1956 by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz. The song became especially popular after the performance of Joan Baez in 1960 and Donovan in 1965, and was even featured on "More Chad & Jeremy", a Capitol Records compilation of standards sung by the British duo.

The song has been translated into many other languages including German, French, Japanese, Hebrew, and Russian.

The song has been sung by many singers including André Zweig, Joan Baez, Donovan, Chava Alberstein, Esther Ofarim, Theodore Bikel, Karsten Troyke, Hélène Rollès in duet with Dorothée, Claude François, and Russian ensemble of the Jewish songs on Yiddish "Dona".
Lisa Fishman also commands an amazing opera version aired on the Jewish Entertainment Hour, which is a cable show broadcast out of New York City, in 2001. It can also be found on the soundtrack to the anime "Revolutionary Girl Utena".

---------------------------------------- -----------------

PS: To all Yiddish speakers: I am aware of my lyric flub in verse 2 -- It was a live performance and I momentarily blanked!

PPS: I didn't know until just now when I copied and pasted the 'Wikipedia' article that my performance is actually mentioned in their piece -- wow!

PPPS: THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who has posted their sweet and informative comments here! -- I SO appreciate it!


Please note that my intent here is not to try to suggest that one song is superior to another, or one artist for that matter.  These are apples and oranges, after all, and the point is to communicate and connect through any and all means possible.  I just wanted to share with you the music that connected with me back in the sixties, and continues to connect with me today.  Ultimately, there is no substitute for memory as commemoration, as a living, shared tradition that no doubt will continue to evolve over time.  So maybe what we need is a"Dona, Dona" hiphop version?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Television in Time

Here are a couple of videos that friends from the virtual world have brought to my attention.  First is a YouTube remix/mashup video entitled The Golden Age of Video - By Ricardo Autobahn, which is an amazing bit of editing work.  Here it is:

The lyrics are listed on the YouTube page, so here they are:

We accept her, one of us, we accept her, one of us!
Gooble gobble gooble gobble!
We accept her, we accept her!
We accept her, one of us, we accept her, one of us!
Gooble gobble gooble gobble!
We accept her, we accept her!

(We-we) we came, we saw, we kicked it's ass,
I was testing you - and you passed,
Dental plan! Lisa needs braces,
Be required to fart on a regular basis,
I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse,
Channel 13 - Eyewitness news!
Robocop, who is he?
Dead or alive you're coming with me.

In a hurry to be fed, beady eyes and big blue head.

I'm telling the truth Doc, you gotta believe me,
Why does everything I whip leave me?
My beautiful chocolate! Candy is dandy,
Fava beans and a nice Chianti,
You can count on Slippery Pete,
Suicide will be nice and neat!
I didn't build the Panama canal,
Open the pod bay doors please, HAL,

These aren't the droids you're looking for,
These aren't the droids we're looking for,
I am not a number I am a free man!
To The Idiotmobile!
Right away Michael,
I-I-I-I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.

We came, we saw, we kicked it's ass,
You don't understand I coulda had class,
Round and tasty on a bun,
Ooh Zippy look what you've done!
Finally! Cast off those lines!
No, I've been nervous lots of times,
Red Rum! What's the matter honey?
Just robbed Boss Hogg all of his money!

We came, saw, we kicked it's ass,
Writing checks your body can't cash,
I was elected to lead, not read,
I feel the need - the need for speed,
Watch out for snakes, a good man's loafer,
HQ - my hat looks like a muffin - over,
My god it's full of stars,
There was no driver in the car..

In the car (repeat)

Well you see I'm in hot pursuit!

There are only two things I love in this world - everybody and television!
#The Simpsons
#Run With Us!
Ugh - you must be shrooming,
Wait for me Moomin!
Cross live to meet the host of that show, Meat Boy,
I want to go to there.

We came, we saw, we kicked it's ass,
An oil tycoon - like a.. moustache,
Nice beaver! I just had it stuffed,
I don't give a shit, close enough,
Where's me washboard? I'll get me coat,
Y-y-y-you're gonna need a bigger boat,
What'd she say? I think she bought it,
Suck it monkeys! I'm goin' corporate!
C'mon let's take a drive! A drive?
Number 5 is alive!
It's only a laugh, no harm done,
Pickles, french fries, yum yum yum,
Bueller, Bueller, Bueller,
It's 2 degrees cooler,
The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long,
Six words in the whole song.

We-we-we accept her, one of us, we accept her, one of us!
Gooble gobble gooble gobble!
We accept her, we accept her!
You are number 6 5 4 3 2
I am not a number, I am a free man

We came, we saw, we kicked it's ass,
Give me my 20,000 in cash,
We came, we saw, we kicked it's ass,
I think you woke up the dead with that blast
We came, we saw, we kicked it's ass,
I think fast, I talk fast,
We came, we saw, we kicked it's ass,
Lois, this is not my Batman glass,

And now this:  an episode from the TV series, The Flash about the silver age superhero of the same name (secret identity is Barry Allen, but don't tell anyone).   This comes to us from, the title is The Flash: Ghost In The Machine (Ep. 108), and the write-up is as follows:

A demented electronics genius, who once tried to blackmail the city, reappears after 35 years only to face the masked crime fighter who defeated him in 1955 and a new crime fighter -- the Flash (JOHN WESLEY SHIPP) .
Note that this is the full episode, which is about fifty minutes long, which may be more time than you're wiling to spend, but at least check out the cool retro beginning, before the bad guy travels to the future, the program's present, our past (1990 that is) via suspended animation.

Television is a fascinating medium, it really is a means to become unstuck in time, as Vonnegut described it in Slaughterhouse-5.   It's a time machine, but one that's discontinuous and nonlinear.  And so it goes...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shockingly, The Future Ain't What It Used To Be

The future ain't what it used to be, or so Marshall McLuhan quipped. 

Traditionally, the future seemed remote, a distant, undiscovered country, be it the afterlife, or a return to Eden, or some utopia or dystopia or time of wonders.

Modernity brought the future closer and closer, and we can actually study the history of the future, that is, the history of conceptions of the future, which would include assorted science fiction scenarios.

During the sixties, things seemed to be changing so rapidly that there was a sense that the future was collapsing in upon the present.  Alvin Toffler famously wrote about "future shock," which took the concept of "culture shock," which is based on traveling in space, and substituted time in its place, so that the future suddenly appearing in the present results in an effect similar to culture shock, a sense of alienation and disorientation.

Neil Postman, in his book of essays entitled Conscientious Objections, claimed to have coined the phrase, and perhaps Toffler took it from Neil, although it is also possible that he arrived at it independently.  Whatever the case may be, Toffler was the one who ran with the concept in his book of the same name:

I remember when this book came out in 1970, it appeared in paperback in four different colors, which I had never seen before.  That actually illustrated one of the trends contributing to future shock that Toffler identified, overchoice.

I remember being really wowed by this book when I was in high school, and seeing a film about it in my freshman Introduction to Communication Theory class.  When I got to graduate school, though, Toffler was dismissed as a derivative popularizer, in contrast to genuine seminal thinkers like McLuhan, Innis, Mumford, Ellul, Fuller, etc.  I haven't thought about it very much since, although I didn't forget that this book had an effect on me early on, and inspired me to continue to study media and technology, and time.

And I was delighted to see one of my friends on Twitter mention it today, and discover that that movie that was shown in my freshman class back in the fall of 1974 is on YouTube.  What's especially cool, and something I had forgotten over the decades, is that Orson Welles narrates and appears in the film.  Here's the write-up on YouTube:

This is a little known documentary based on the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler.

See review here:

This movie came out in 1972 and features Orson Welles as the narrator. I was most amused by the high amount of paranoia in regards to the future... some of the segments (like people choosing their own skin color) are downright hilarious. Worth a look - at the very least for its historical value.

As far as I can tell, this documentary is in the public domain.

 It's carved up into five parts to fit YouTubes arbitrary limitations, but here it is, for you to view:

And there you have it, the shocking truth about the future, or the future past, or the past future, or the future that never was, or maybe it's Postman's other coinage, future schlock

Monday, November 2, 2009

Back in the Land of Baseball

So, I just got back from a week in India, where cricket is all the rage, as their national team was doing well against Australia.  I watched a little bit of it, having no idea of what was going on, and I have to say that it is good to be back in the land of baseball, even though this was a disastrous season for my New York Mets.

I'm not a Yankee hater, I just hate how the local media fawns over them and doesn't give my team equal coverage, even when they're doing well.  But I do think the Mets need a change in their minayacal front office.  Without really good pitching, in what sense is this a New York Mets team?

Ah, but no one wants to hear about the Mets right now.  I'd wish the Yankees luck, but I don't think they need it.

So instead, I want to refer you to a blog post by Ted Walker, who is a co-blogist of the blog called pitchers & poets.  The blog post is entitled Watching the Hero Walk Alone, Together: Ritual, Community, Power, and Baseball, and it's a nice meditation on the sport, it's intellectual qualities, and it's individualism.  And I say this not only because Ted makes reference to, and says nice things about my essay, "The Medium of Baseball," which was published in Take Me Out to the Ball Game: Communicating Baseball,; edited by Gary Gumpert and Susan Drucker (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2002, pp. 37-70).

So, if you like baseball, go read Watching the Hero Walk Alone, Together: Ritual, Community, Power, and Baseball, leave a comment if you care to, and tell Ted that I sent you!