Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Blessing to End the Year

Over the last couple of posts, I made reference to the ancient Jewish priestly blessing, and how Bob Dylan's song, "Forever Young," is based on it.  This began with the fact that I used the lyrics to that song as a reading at last Friday's Sabbath service, when I served as lay leader at Congregation Adas Emuno, in Leonia.  So, to close out this series, topic, and year, here is a live cover version from one of my all-time favorite female vocalists, Joan Baez:

If anyone has a right to sing Dylan's songs, it's Joan!  Or Bruce, Springsteen, that is, at least singing along with Bob:

And while we're at it, how about Neil Young singing the song, backed by the Grateful Dead?

And now this, Dylan on the old David Letterman show:

And now this?  A Pepsi commercial with Dylan and rapper Will-i-am:

And while we're on the subject of advertising, here's an ad for Dylan's first children's book, entitled, you guessed it, Forever Young:

And let's not forget about auld Johnny Cash:

And how about the new wave version from The Pretenders, playing during the credits for Free Willy 2 of all things:

And then there's a powerful version from Patti LaBelle:

And let's close the year out with old Bob, himself, live at Budokan:

And may God bless and keep you always, and shine His light on you in 2010!  Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ode on a Geekian Turn

So, in my previous post I mentioned how the subject of the Vulcan salute came up in a comment someone left me on a poem I posted on my MySpace poetry blog.  I responded to that comment, and that became the basis of my last post here.  And you're probably wondering what was the poem that elicited such a comment.  Or maybe you weren't wondering.  Probably not, but, well, here it is anyway:

Ode on a Geekian Turn

If Luke Skywalker had not blown up the Death Star
Then the Rebels would have been crushed
The Empire would have reigned supreme
Yoda would have gone to his grave as the last Jedi
And Darth Vader would never have been redeemed
The Emperor's iron fist would have stifled the exploration of galaxies far, far away
So that a long, long time later
No life would have migrated to planet Earth
No human beings would have been present to build cities and civilizations
There would be no scientific discoveries or new inventions
No rockets to outer space
No walking on the moon
And centuries from now
There would be no warp drive or transporters
No Starship Enterprise
No Captain Kirk
No Mr. Spock the half-human, half-Vulcan hybrid
No United Federation of Planets
No one to stand against the Klingons, Romulans, the Dominion, and the Borg.
Thank goodness the Force was with us then
Is it with us now?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Vulcan Salute

So, in the previous post where I talked about being the lay leader for Sabbath services at Congregation Adas Emuno this past Friday (A Christmas Shabbat), I mentioned how Bob Dylan's lyrics to the song "Forever Young" is based on the priestly benediction, and the subject of that blessing  came up recently in an entirely different context that I thought I'd bring up here.  

It was after I posted a poem on my MySpace blog, a humorous one with a science fiction theme, that one of the comments I received mentioned the Vulcan salute (a form of nonverbal communication, of the kinesic variety, subcategory of emblems, for those familar with the subject).   Here's a classic image of Mr. Spock, from the original Star Trek television series, delivering the gesture:

You may be interested, and quite possibly surprised to learn that the Vulcan Salute has its own wikipedia entry too! It's true! You don't have to consult Wikipedia, though, as the story is pretty well known that Leonard Nimoy (the actor who plays Mr. Spock, of course), originated the gesture based on his experiences as a child, being taken to Orthodox Jewish prayer services.   This is what I explained in my response to the comment.

I went on to note that the hand gesture is used when giving the priestly blessing--May the Lord bless you and keep you: May the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (traditional translation, from Numbers 6:24).  It is attributed to Aaron, brother of Moses, whose descendants, the House of Aaron, became the Priests of ancient Israel and the Temple in Jerusalem.

Here's a traditional image depicting the priestly blessing:

The gesture is actually difficult for some individuals to make, while others can do it easily, so it represents something of a genetic marker, perhaps one that was common for descendants of Aaron.  I went on, in my reply, to note that the Hebrew word for Priest is Cohen, so everyone with that last name (or a variation thereof) is considered a Priest, and can give the blessing in Orthodox tradition.  That includes Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet, songwriter, and singer who is very popular in MySpace poetry circles, and indeed, very popular in general.  Cohen is no doubt familiar with the gesture, and may even have delivered it himself.

 Well, he's almost making the gesture in this picture, but not exactly, I know.  But I did think it interesting to juxtapose the two Leonards:

Separated at birth?  Genetic markers?  Who's to say?  All that I can say is, Live long and prosper!  That's what Vulcans say when they make with the Vulcan salute, to which the response is, Peace and long life!  Or simply, Shalom!

Addendum.  Thanks to my anonymous commenter for pointing out the following blog post that also discussed Leonard Cohen and the priestly blessing:  The Legacy Of Leonard Cohen's Tel Aviv Priestly Blessing Plus A New Video Of The Event.  It's a good one, so go take a look.   It's about Cohen delivering the benediction at a recent concert in Israel, and here's a photo:

 And better yet, here's a video clip of Cohen delivering the blessing after sharing a message of peace!


Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Christmas Shabbat

So, what do you do on Christmas if you're Jewish?  Enjoy the day off, go to the movies, go out for Chinese food, yes.  But what if Christmas falls on a Friday, like it did this year?  And what if yours truly was called upon to be a lay leader for Friday night Sabbath services at Congregation Adas Emuno once more?

Well, I did lead services, and in addition to the regular service in the tradition of Reform Judaism, I opened with the following:

Shabbat Shalom!

While so many of our fellow citizens, so many people all around the world, have been worshipping and having a merry old time this past day, we return this evening for our simple, modest weekly celebration of the Sabbath.  We return, as we have so many times before, as our ancestors have done so many years, centuries, and millennia before.  For ours is an amazing story of survival over four thousand years.  But it is also an amazing story of storytellers, telling stories that have captured the imagination of the world.  Stories about how God created the world in six days, about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, about Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, the Tower of Babel, Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons, Moses and the Exodus, Joshua and Jericho, Samson and Delilah, David and Goliath, Jonah and the whale, Daniel in the lions' den.  And we also are the storytellers that gave the world the story about the birth and death of Joshua of Nazareth, who the Romans called Jesus.

We come from a great tradition of storytellers that also include Karl Marx and his stories about workers rising up against oppression, Sigmund Freud and his stories about drives and repressions, and Albert Einstein and his stories about riding on top of a beam of light.  The Jewish imagination has also given us so many novelists that we would be here all night if I were to name them all, and that is not to mention all of our storytellers making movies and television.

Our stories help us to understand our world, and our place in it.  They help us to bring order to chaos, and coherence to what often seems like the randomness of existence.  Stories may be true or false, but stories can also contain different kinds of truths.  Some give us scientific truths, some give us historic truths, and some metaphorical truths.  As Reform Jews, we understand the traditional stories told by our people in light of the stories told by our scholars and scientists, and we recognize that, no matter what, our stories do contain valuable truths, moral and ethical truths have brought light to the entire world.

We then proceeded with the lighting of the Sabbath candles, and from there to the rest of the service.  Later, during the sermon part of the service, I explained that this week's Torah portion, Vayigash, was the same parsha that my son read when he was Bar Mitzvah, and while we wouldn't be actually reading from the Torah, I called him up to read an excerpt from his Bar Mitzvah speech about Vayigash;

The name of my Torah portion is Vayigash, which means "And he approached." 

The portion begins with Judah, the eldest son of Jacob.  And it was Judah who approached the prime minister of Egypt, and said:  "Please, my lord, let your servant appeal to my lord, and do not be impatient with your servant, you who are the equal of Pharaoh."  Judah and his brothers had come to Egypt to procure food in a time of famine.  But a silver cup belonging to the Prime Minister was found in the grain sack of Jacob's youngest son, Benjamin.  As punishment, the Prime Minister said that Benjamin would have to remain with him as a slave.  Judah approached the Prime Minister, and said that his father Jacob would die of sorrow if he lost another son, like he lost Joseph many years ago.  Then, Judah offered himself as a slave in the place of Benjamin.  Hearing this, the Prime Minister burst into tears and revealed the fact that he was Joseph, the brother that they had sold into slavery.  Joseph then invited his brothers and their father Jacob to live in the land of Egypt as the guests of Pharaoh. Finally, God spoke to Jacob in a vision at night, and said to him, "I am God, the God of your father.  Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation.  I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph's hand shall close your eyes."  And so, Jacob went down to Egypt with his entire household of 70 persons.  My Torah portion ends with Joseph saving the people of Egypt by coming up with a plan for them to trade property for food during the time of famine.

My Torah portion has three important themes.  The first theme is taking care of family.  When Judah offers himself as a slave instead of his brother Benjamin, he says:  "For how can I go back to my father, unless the boy is with me?  Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father."  Judah loves his father and his brother, and is willing to sacrifice himself to protect his family.  When Judah approached the Prime Minister, he was taking responsibility for his entire family.  And when Joseph brought his brothers and their father Jacob to Egypt, he too was taking care of his family.  As the Prime Minister of Egypt, Joseph took care of the Egyptian people and all those in need of food as if they were his family.  Taking care of family begins with your parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, but it also means caring for all the people of the world, just like Joseph.

The second theme of my Torah portion is justice.  Joseph hid the silver cup in Benjamin's grain sack to test his brothers.  They had sold him into slavery, and deserved to be punished.  As Prime Minister, Joseph could have taken his revenge.  But when Judah approached him and offered himself as a slave in the place of Benjamin, Joseph did not seek vengeance, he granted his brothers forgiveness.  He gave them justice, but he also gave them mercy.  And when the Egyptian people needed food, he gave them a way to buy food, he didn't make them beg for charity.  He gave them justice, but didn't sacrifice their dignity, which is a form of mercy.

The third theme of the portion is reconciliation.  Joseph forgave his brothers for wronging him, and their family was united again.  Similarly, in my Haftarah portion, a selection from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, he predicts that someday all of the Jewish people, and all of the people of the world, will become reconciled and live together in peace, and in justice, and as one family.

 Then, I read this week's Haftarah from Ezekiel (37:15-28):

15. And the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 16. "And you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write upon it, 'For Judah and for the children of Israel his companions'; and take one stick and write upon it, 'For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel, his companions.' 17. And bring them close, one to the other into one stick, and they shall be one in your hand. 18. And when the children of your people say to you, saying, 'Will you not tell us what these are to you?' 19. Say to them, So says the Lord God: Behold I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim and the tribes of Israel his companions, and I will place them with him with the stick of Judah, and I will make them into one stick, and they shall become one in My hand. 20. And the sticks upon which you shall write shall be in your hand before their eyes. 21. And say to them, So says the Lord God: Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side, and I will bring them to their land. 22. And I will make them into one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be to them all as a king; and they shall no longer be two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms anymore. 23. And they shall no longer defile themselves with their idols, with their detestable things, or with all their transgressions, and I will save them from all their habitations in which they have sinned, and I will purify them, and they shall be to Me as a people, and I will be to them as a God. 24. And My servant David shall be king over them, and one shepherd shall be for them all, and they shall walk in My ordinances and observe My statutes and perform them. 25. And they shall dwell on the land that I have given to My servant, to Jacob, wherein your forefathers lived; and they shall dwell upon it, they and their children and their children's children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. 26. And I will form a covenant of peace for them, an everlasting covenant shall be with them; and I will establish them and I will multiply them, and I will place My Sanctuary in their midst forever. 27. And My dwelling place shall be over them, and I will be to them for a God, and they shall be to Me as a people. 28. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord, Who sanctifies Israel, when My Sanctuary is in their midst forever."
After reading these passages, I provided the following commentary:

The sticks represent the idea that the Jewish people are many different people united as one.  We were twelve tribes, we were two ancient kingdoms, the northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah, and today we are the Ashkenazi, the Sephardim, the Misrahim or Eastern Jews whose ancestors never went to Spain or Germany, and others who came from Greece, Italy, India, China, Yemen, Ethiopia, and elsewhere.  Even within the Ashkenazi, there are the German Jews, Polish Jews, Hungarian Jews, Lituanian Jews, Russian Jews, etc.  And we are also divided into Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, Chassidism, and other denominations.  And we are divided between those of us who are Israelis and those of us who are not.

But we recognize the essential unity of our people, bound together by a common tradition, a common faith, a common sense.  Sometimes we may be divided, but we emphasize our divisions at our own peril.  Leonard Cohen put it this way, "Anyone who say I'm not a Jew is not a Jew.  I'm very sorry but this is final."  And we would do well to recall the wonderful words of one of this country's Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin: "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Binding is theme of one of our defining moments, the binding of Isaac, which results in God establishing a binding covenant with Abraham and his descendants, the Jewish people, one that doesn't involve human sacrifice.  And that covenant is formalized at Mount Sinai when Moses receives the Law, which binds our people to justice. 

The word religion comes to us from the ancient Latin, and its root meaning has never been established, but it is commonly believed to come from the word for binding.  A congregation is a community that is bound together, and that binds itself to its conception of the sacred and the divine.  Another possible derivation of religion is to reread, a religion is organized around a sacred text, as we are around the Torah.

For us, the two fit together quite well.  We are bound to one another by our texts, our laws, our prayers, our history.  We are bound together by our stories.  As members of the Jewish community, we are bound like the pages of a book, bound together in our ancient and every evolving covenant with God.

Binding is about unity, and the theme of oneness is central to our services, the oneness of God, the oneness of His creation, the oneness of our community, and the oneness of humanity.

We then returned to the service, and before the closing hymn, I read the lyrics to Bod Dylan's song, "Forever Young," which is based on the traditional priestly benediction from Deuteronomy:

May God bless and keep you always,

May your wishes all come true,

May you always do for others

And let others do for you.

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung,

And may you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous,

May you grow up to be true,

May you always know the truth

And see the lights surrounding you.

May you always be courageous,

Stand upright and be strong,

And may you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,

May your feet always be swift,

May you have a strong foundation

When the winds of changes shift.

May your heart always be joyful,

May your song always be sung,
And may you stay forever young.

And with that we closed out the service and proceeded to the Oneg, having a very merry little Shabbat indeed!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Yes Virginia, The Medium is Still the Message

So, I recently commented on a blog post that one of the folks I'm connected to on Twitter was tweeting about.  My Twitter friend is John Greg Ball, and the author of the blog post is Seth Goldstein, who is identified as "the co-founder and CEO of SocialMedia Networks," for what that's worth.  

The post he put up is entitled, The Medium Is No Longer The Message, . . . You Are, and you can click on that title to go read it if you care to.  Just from reading the title, if you know anything about me, you probably know that I'd take issue with this post.

The main argument is that the advent of social media represents a profound change in the nature of media.  And here is what he specifically says about Marshall McLuhan's famous quote, the medium is the message:

Social media’s ascent has led to an Internet experience based less on pages and more on people.  As a corollary to this (and counter to Marshall McLuhan’s thesis), the medium is no longer just the message.  The permanence of words and images and their meaning in context has long been promoted as a foundation of media theory.  In an increasingly real-time environment, however, content gives way to identity, and traditional contextual analysis gives way to dynamic social interactions.

The medium is the message . . .  is the member.  This is why there can be no discussion of social media without a simultaneous discussion of identity, and why the growth of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are one and the same with the growth of identity systems online.  There are a number of technology and business trends that are converging around this thesis.
 So, now, here is the comment I left by way of response:

If you had just written about your own ideas about social media, I would have no argument with you. The problem is that you talk about McLuhan, and the fact is that everything that you’ve said here has been said by McLuhan a long time ago, and in connection to “the medium is the message.” By not actually reading what he and others in the media ecology intellectual tradition (like Lewis Mumford, who McLuhan drew on extensively), you and others wind up reinventing the wheel, over and over again. That’s okay, but a basic rule of thumb I would suggest to you is that you should do your homework and know what you’re talking about before making statements about it. The fact that you present a superficial sense of what McLuhan was saying, and derive it from a wikipedia article is revealing. It is very much an argument about the limits of social media, and the continuing need to read books and study subjects in depth. The fact that your multiple tweets about this blog post brought me here perhaps is indication of the down side of social media, although my response also illustrates its error correcting potential. Hmmm, maybe I’ll do my own blog post about it…
 And so I have.  I should add that John asked me what I thought of the post aside from the bit about McLuhan, and I added that rather than saying that social media replace traditional media, I'd say that they add to, alter, and ultimately encompass them, and that social media are the next stage in the evolution of the electronic media, bringing them closer to their true potential.

And so I say to you, believe it my friends, know it to be true in your hearts, yes Virginia, the medium still is the message, it always was the message, and it will always be the message.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Electronic Menorah

That's something we always thought was tacky when I was growing up, electric Menorahs, for example:

That's something that would be put up by an institution, a school, or in an apartment building lobby, along with the ubiquitous Christmas tree with its electric lights.  After all, it doesn't make sense to have something burning when there's no one to watch over it.  But for individuals and families to rely on an electric Menorah, that's like, oy!

Real Menorahs burn, like, with fire.  Mostly we use candles, but to be really traditional, you can use little bowls of oil, because that's what it originally was about, the burning of purified, sanctified olive oil in a lamp in the Temple, meant to symbolize the light present at Mount Sinai at the time the Torah was given.  

The Chanukah Menorah is a special kind of Menorah, by the way, also known as a Chanukiah.  Regular  Menorahs only have six lights rather than eight (the center light is just a "helper" used to light the others), six lights corresponding to the six points of the Star (or Shield) of David (aka the Seal of Solomon).  The Chanukah Menorah has eight lights to symbolize and commemorate the "miracle" of Chanukah, that after retaking our Temple in Jerusalem from the Syrian-Greek conquerors, there was only oil enough for one day, but somehow it lasted for the eight days needed to get a new supply.  Not the biggest miracle in the world, but after all, Chanukah is just a minor holiday.

And all of this is besides the point, except as a launching pad for me to introduce you to this cool video that brings an electronic, science fiction theme to Chanukah.  So let me present to you, Honika Electronica:

So, I wonder if this guy is related to Mel Brooks at all?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Chanukah!

It's that time of year again, time to light the candles once more, so here is my poetic rendering of our holiday, once more:

Eight Lights


Freedom from slavery and tyranny
From oppression and persecution
Freedom to live in harmony
With the Earth and with Heaven


Justice and equality
Human rights and human dignity
Peaceful coexistence
An end to war and violence


To stand up for liberty and bow to the law
To lead by example with courage and wisdom
To be a hammer that builds as well as a hammer of war
With a passion for peace, for justice, and for freedom


Four on a dreidel
Twenty-two in total
Infinite in combination
Endless in education
An alphabet aligned with order
A numbering of our works, days, names
Books—greater than any leader
Knowledge stored transcends our times


Reading, writing, remembering
Studying, questioning, understanding
Preserving tradition
Saving continuity from being lost
Moving forward—evolution
Avoiding errors of the past
Teachers—the highest calling
Bring to the world much needed healing


A sacred gift
Most precious of all
Vessel of the spirit
Root of liberty and law


Courtship and Family
Friends and Neighbors
Community and Humanity
Creations and Creators


Spinning dreidels
Chocolate gelt
Jelly doughnuts
Potato latkes
Giving gifts
Singing songs
Saying blessings
Children playing
Family visiting
Friends gathering
Lifting hearts
Kissing keppellahs
Glowing candles
Eight nights
Eight lights
Happy Chanukah!

8 8 8 8 L 8 8 8 8

G E E R T T D 2 E
H 7 6 N S E E 2 R
T 7 6 I 0 R R 2 T
E 7 6 N 0 S S 2 Y
R 7 6
G 0 4 3 2 1
8 7 6 5 0 4 3 2 1

Thursday, December 10, 2009

You've Come a Wrong Way, Bebe

As I drive into work at Fordham University's Rose Hill campus in the Bronx, I usually stop for a red light on Fordham Road, before turning right onto Southern Boulevard (I always stop when the light is red, of course, and the light usually is when I get there, isn't that always how it works?).  There's a bus stop at the corner, and a bus shelter at the bus stop, and there's transit advertising on the bus shelter.  So far, nothing unusual about any of that.

Well, lately I couldn't help but notice the ad for Bebe, a woman's clothing company (here's a link for their website).  And the image they have up is not unusual in fashion advertising, featuring a young teen or preteen model.  Here's the image:

Being stopped at the red light, I spend more than a fleeting moment looking at that ad (that's also part of my line of work, studying media, including advertisements, and analyzing them).  So, I look at this ad over and over, and I guess I'm getting old as well, because I can't help but wonder how old, or should I say how young is this girl?  I mean, come on!  This is a child!  Isn't this tantamount to kiddie porn?

I know, I know, nothing new about this sort of observation, nothing that hasn't been said many times before.  And it's very much a part of a larger trend that Neil Postman wrote a book about, The Disappearance of Childhood.  And Joshua Meyrowitz provided a major case study on this phenomenon in No Sense of Place.  In fact, the idea that television blurs the distinction between children and adults, giving children access to information about the world that they never had before, was put forth by Marshall McLuhan back in the sixties.  So, I'm just pointing to one more example of these generalizations.

But I just can't help but think about how terribly concerned we are these days about the sexual abuse of children.  As well we should be, no question about it, as a parent I am all for being protective of our children, overprotective even.  But here we are, with public advertising that presents children as sex objects in ways that never would have been acceptable in the past, at the same time that we're freaking out about the risk to our children from real-life sexual predators.

I mean, is there something wrong with this picture?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Beatles Anarcheology

Here's a video I've come across that's good for a laugh.  And who doesn't like the topic of The Beatles (well, there are some people who don't, but that's besides the point)?

Taking the idea that archeologists put together an idea of ancient and prehistoric cultures based on very limited evidence, a few bits of pottery and such, and imagining how future investigators might construct an interpretative view of our culture, well, that's not exactly a  new idea.  I remember reading an essay in a popular culture anthology some years ago that did just that--the "researcher" argued that the city of Washington must have been a place where a lot of laundry was done.

Of course, there's a great deal of difference between a culture that has no writing, and leaves very little behind in the way of material culture, requiring a great deal of guesswork and reconstruction, and a culture that records its history in writing, more so that publishes it extensively in widely distributed printed documents, not to mention the volumes of information accumulated by us photographically and electronically, and the volumes of material items we produce (one man's garbage dump is another's archeological dig).  

It's hard to believe future generations not having access to detailed records about our age, barring some kind of discontinuity due to some form of catastrophe.

Be that as it may, this is still an enjoyable bit of satire, and a cautionary note about our own present-day readings of the tea leaves of the past.

Now, what do you think they'll make of YouTube videos like this one over in the year 3000?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Zoned Out

Our sense of time begins with natural rhythms such as sunrise and sunset, which give us our conception of the day as a unit of time.  It is common to think of a day as beginning with dawn, although Jewish tradition places the start of a new day at sunset, because Genesis tells us that first there was darkness, then God made light, and that was the first day.

Dusk and dawn are variable, though, unless you are exactly on the equator, so they are not the most objective way to keep track of time.  High noon, on the other hand, is pretty much the same from solstice to solstice.

The idea of subdividing the day into hours goes back to antiquity.  Days being measured from dawn or dusk, hour varied in the length of time assigned to them as much as the length of days themselves varied.  In some instances, days were not subdivided equally into hours of equal length.  Instead, hours were simply different significant points during the day, markers of when different activities were to commence, as in the canonical hours of the church, marked by the ringing of bells.

During the 13th century, the mechanical clock was invented in the monasteries of Europe, as a way of automating the ringing of bells to mark the canonical hours.  The technology, which is the first form of automatic machinery, quickly spread to the cities.  Lewis Mumford argues that this is the beginning of a mechanical revolution that leads to the invention of the printing press with movable type by Johann Gutenberg, and culminates in the industrial revolution.

The invention of the steam engine is generally considered to be the start of the industrial revolution.  It was the result of technological evolution, the key figure being James Watt, whose work on this new source of power dates back to circa 1760.

The use of the steam engine as a source of power for railway transport, in the form of the steam locomotive, dates back to 1804, and sparked a revolution in transportation.  An extensive railroad network helped to bind together  the United States as a nation, with trains transporting more people and material, at faster speeds, than ever was possible before.  (Harold Innis wrote about the significance of the railroad for Canada, and the same can be said of the smaller European countries.)

It was hard enough to build one set of tracks connecting various points all over the country, it would have been doubly hard to build two sets of parallel tracks for trains coming and going.  And in truth, all that's necessary is to have some splits here and there, at least in theory.

The thing is, as railroad traffic increased, so did the number of train collisions, and catastrophes.  The problem was that train schedules could not be coordinated when every city and town had their own time.  Assuming that they all set their clocks to high noon, the one invariable point of the day, each place's time would vary along with the locality's relative position along the east-west axis.  Variations of a few minutes would be enough to lead to an accident.

Coordination of local time keeping was not possible until the invention of the telegraph, by Samuel Morse in 1844.  This first form of electric communications allowed information to be transmitted faster than a speeding locomotive, faster than any form of transportation, essentially instantaneously.  The signal could then be send out to different places at the same time, synchronizing clocks and establishing a homogeneous region of time.  Railway companies first established their own time zones in the mid-19th century, and then governments stepped in, ultimately resulting in the 24 time zones that the planet is subdivided into (much like a 24-hour clock).

The telegraph, the first form of wired communications technology, was followed by the wireless telegraph, which led to radio, and the further evolution of broadcasting into television.

And now this:

That clip came my way courtesy of one of my MySpace friends, MySpace being a product of the internet.  The electronic media, television, satellites, and the internet have transformed the world, as Marshall McLuhan put it, into a global village.  Therefore, looking towards the future, I think the time will come when there will be one standard global time (I wrote about this in an essay first published over a decade ago in Communication and Cyberspace), and that in turn will eliminate the need for regional time zones, opening up the possibility of a return to local time.

Just sayin'...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Just a Few More Images From India

So, I admit it, I'm not much of a photographer, and I didn't have time to do any sightseeing, so I only have a few pictures to share here.

First, here is a picture of me with Balvant Parekh on the left.  Balvant is the sponsor of the Centre (see previous post), and this picture was taken when I visited his office in Mumbai, before going to Baroda for the workshop.  His brother, Narendra (aka NK) Parekh is on the right.  I was delighted to learn that Balvant first learned about general semantics when he saw a copy of ETC: A Review of General Semantics, in 1980.  That has special significance for me because that was the year that I began the media ecology doctoral program at NYU with Neil Postman, who was editing ETC at that time (Neil required us all to join the International Society for General Semantics, the organization that published ETC up until it was merged with the Institute of General Semantics in 2004, and most of our assignments for classes were to write an article for ETC, not that he would necessarily publish them).

So, I felt a special connection to Balvant, and a kind of serendipity.  I only regret that we didn't have more time to talk, and that he was not able to make the trip to Baroda for the workshop, which I'm sure he would have enjoyed.  But it was indeed an honor to meet with one of India's leading industrialists, and his brother NK, a chemical engineer, attended the workshop in its entirety.

After our meeting, NK and I went to lunch at one of the hotels that has been bombed a year earlier, and it was right by the Gateway of India, a monument built by the British in the early 20th century.  Here are a few shots of it from the hotel entrance.

And now, just a few shots from Baroda.  Here's the entrance to my hotel, Hotel Harmony, which was part of something like a strip mall, connected to the building in which the Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences was housed:

And walking down to the Centre, here is one of the participants:

And a couple more, from Nepal:

And one more look at the participants at the workshop:

And that's all for now!  Namaste, as they say!