I did not watch the Oscars last night. Which is something of a rarity. Rather, I spoke on the phone with an old friend who rang me up out of the blue. We talked through nearly the entire show. And, I can say that I did not miss the award show one bit.
As most of my friends who call or speak with me on the phone know, I love to talk, at length, about anything and everything – from politics to personal life – and some conversations are marathons.
Because of that, I have a good number of old and new friends who seek me out for just that: long, very specific, multiple-topic, gregarious, nostalgic, personal, emotional, intellectual, political, spiritual, goofy conversations, and / or just plain old chat-chat.
Our long conversations are a throwback to the days when we’d meet at the pub, sit down over a pint (or two or three) and eat some food and just talk about our lives, the world in general, politics, music, cinema.
Today, the 138 year-old phone allows us to have those conversations when we live variously in NY and Fort Collins, or in different boroughs of the city, or upstate and the city or NYC and Omaha. We do “talk” regularly via social media, but it’s just not the same. It is sorely lacking.
It occurred to me how under-appreciated the phone is these days. It really is superior to all the social media. As fun and great looking and immediate as social media is, it lacks something integral and very important. Conversations on the telephone function as a true dialectic. The written word of social media is inferior to speaking when creating a dialectic, because writing interferes with the back-and-forth, as emotional context, and intellectual context are removed with the use of the written word.
For example, how many times have you misread someone’s intent as being serious when they were being sarcastic? It happens repeatedly in a written discussion, especially one that is online. It is why so many of the discussions on the internet bounce around in a pointless loop. It’s why “trolling” – the act of deliberately inserting emotional wedge issues and diversion into a conversation – is so popular and works so well on the web. If you were in a bar, and tried to “troll” a face-to-face conversation, you would more than likely get punched in the face.
The use of anonymity on the web also fosters a certain level of hubris. Even when people aren’t anonymous, they feel empowered to say things online that they would not actually speak aloud in person. Physical presence and an actual dialectic have a strong role to play in our lives. The emotional and intellectual impact within a conversation remain intact in a face-to-face or a phone conversation. Hubris and sarcasm and all the rest come into play, but it’s more directly understood and dealt with as such immediately. It trumps social media in that regard.
In the end, engaging a dialectic properly (and often), means that a conversation will yield ideas, and solutions. A deeper emotional connection between two (or more) people will develop. Some discussions are actually meant to last a life time. If we practice them properly.
To the ancient Greek Sophists, the dialectic, the discussion, was an art form. It was the practice they taught to achieve higher truths. And, through those higher truths, lay peace, happiness and community. It’s something we’ve lost along the way, and should endeavor to re-establish and nurture.
The lesson for me is that, like my friends, I have remembered that simply picking up the phone to talk is important and valuable. The telephone is old technology, but it’s still the best if you want to have a conversation that breathes, and grows and adds to your life.Read More
“Imagine what it would be like if you didn’t know that the evening news was funded primarily by Big Pharma. You would actually believe the stuff that they’re saying. You might even think those are the stories that matter. ” – Douglas Rushkoff (Source)
Once upon a time, political observers fretted that the free press, the government and the democratic process itself were under threat of being overwhelmedRead More
Rip-Off or Artistic Assimilation?
This photograph of Michael C. Hall, star of the Showtime series Dexter, appeared in Entertainment Weekly last year. It was photographed by Michael Muller. By itself, given the nature of the show, it seems pretty much designed as you might expect. The ethically conflicted serial killer with doleful look and blood on his hands. But, there’s a story here: the concept behind the photograph is not an original idea. It’s an almost exact duplicate of a photograph that Annie Leibovitz took of rock legend Pete Townshend of The Who during a cover shoot for Rolling Stone after a concert in 1980.
It’s rather striking how the Muller photo duplicates the Leibovitz photo down to the placement of the band-aid, and the lighting in the background.
What’s also interesting is that the Muller photo was run with no mention of it being influenced by Leibovitz’s photo. Perhaps it was an homage in Muller’s mind.
While it is well understood that artists barrow from each other in all sorts of ways – and that’s perfectly acceptable – this seemed to me as a knock-off for a very specific reason: it takes the design and meaning of the first photo by Leibovitz and completely alters it in a way that doesn’t add to the original at all. It actually detracts from it. It crosses a line between art and marketing that I feel should remain uncrossed.
The Muller photo is a public relations shot. Meant to sell the show. It lifts the graphic power and mixture of violence, innocence, pain and exhaustion of Liebovitz’s photo and uses it to sell a show about a conflicted serial killer. But, it sucks the meaing out of it. Liebowitz’s shot of Pete Townshend was spontaneous, taken after a 1980 performance in Oakland, CA by The Who, during which Townshend cut his hand on his guitar doing one of his famous cartwheel arm swings on stage. It wasn’t an entirely undesigned shoot, as Townshend explained in 2004, a bit of serendipity and embellishment by Leibovitz was empployed (the technique that made her famous):
By the time we got to start taking pictures, the blood was badly congealed, Annie got me to swing my arm afresh to generate more blood.
Then she actually found some fake blood and added a little to create the runny effect. But, I have to say, my hand was a fucking mess before she started to embellish it.
While Townshend is aware that the Leibovitz approach of employing “embellishment” is an issue, he seems to think that it didn’t cross the line. And, I have to agree. It’s not photo-journalism exactly. But, it is still very real. And very powerful.
While I don’t object to artist riffing on the work of others, it’s not entirely clear that the Muller photograph is doing anything except riding on the back of a much greater photograph. Are we that bereft of ideas? I don’t think so.Read More
Over the past 250 years, as the industrial revolution progressed and was then superseded by the modern technological age, an epistemological crisis began to fester and grow quietly in the shadows. Our ability to obtain, disseminate, and – most importantly – apply knowledge, has been severely hindered by our industrial and technological success and our response to that success. We have achieved great feats with little or no perceived negative ramifications, thus establishing a false sense of stability in ourselves, our place in the natural order, and the way in which we process and use knowledge. Our ability to shoot for the moon – literally – meant that we presumed we could do no wrong. A precarious place to be to be sure.
And, as the decades rolled on, each continual success served to confirm our superiority over all – even the truth was manipulated. Responsibility fell to the way side. And, if a negative ramification presented itself, we quickly waved it away with the simple justification that the world and everything within it was ours to do with as we wish, and profiting from it was a natural act. Our birthright. It never occurred to us that building an economy based primarily upon a single finite resource – oil – would some day place our entire civilization at great risk of collapse.
Adolfo Doring‘s excellent documentary Blind Spot, contains an interview with Jason Bradford, who explains this epistemological issue very succinctly and eloquently as it relates to our inability to see reality and deal with the responsibility of our massively consumptive society.
We have lost the ability to deal with the concept of responsibility in a proper manner both as individuals and as a society. It’s quite important because lack of responsibility, and its consequence of not confronting reality, leads to the inability to solve complex problems and establish consistent ethical boundaries. Both are the cornerstones of a successful society. A society that is unable to deal with important issues responsibly, and use that knowledge to its advantage in a way that is beneficial to a majority of its citizens is a society that will die. We see the results today in the current culture war. Everyone senses that something is wrong, we simply can’t agree on the truth. It’s as if we’re entrenched in a form of madness.
Which brings us to Charlie Sheen.
As the mass media exploits and the public gorges itself on the ever-unfolding tragic life of actor Charlie Sheen, it has become apparent that Sheen is a practitioner of this epistemological disconnect. So is the mass media. They are by no means alone in this endeavor. It’s widespread. We are all in some way or another, practitioners of the epistemological disconnect from responsibility.
We now face the challenge of rebuilding how we think, how we acquire knowledge and information, and how we apply that knowledge. It is, as Douglas Rushkoff has said, a new renaissance.
Jules Marshall posted a must watch animation from RSA Comment:
…radical sociologist David Harvey asks if it is time to look beyond capitalism, towards a new social order that would allow us to live within a system that could be responsible, just and humane.
Very much worth watching. My comments are below the video.
The trigger to the financial mess is greed. The idea that the system is open-ended, that the sky is the limit, is simply irresponsible. All systems have limits. We’ve reached the limit of capitalsim. And, to be sure, many will simply dismiss this argument as “socialism”. But, as Harvey’s argument posits, there are important points to be gleaned from a socialist approach. You can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater on this issue. This doesn’t mean that people don’t have the right to pursue financial success. What it does mean is that the way that success should be measured needs to change. Warren Buffett has the right idea. There’s a responsibility that comes with financial success. It’s good economics. And, Buffett understands that. The problem is, it’s become a political football.
The tragedy for the USA is that the political atmosphere is super-charged with partisan political nonsense. True discussion is almost impossible. At the moment, Conservatives have shown themselves to be more interested in refuting their core beliefs, at the expense of the stability of the country, for political power. Liberals are lost in an over reactive loop of fixing failed Conservative policies with overreaching programs that miss the big picture. The result is inconsistent economics. Add to this the polarized atmosphere of the poltics of fear that dominate, and it’s a mess.
Engaging in a coherent debate under these circumstances is impossible, let alone implementing a cogent economic plan.
I fear that something truly horrendous will have to occur for people to break free of their ideological constraints and deal with the issues at hand properly with intellect and maturity.
We shall see.Read More
Douglas Rushkoff @ SXSW on being a victim of media, an observer or a proactive user. Great stuff. We need to create an environment where media is not accepted at face value but rather is appreciated as the tool that it is… We tend to allow our literacy to be absorbed by technology and immediacy of media in the 21st century. New dialogs need to be created. And, they will.Read More
One day a few years ago an e-mail arrived in my inbox. It was from someone named “Jon Swift”. It was a simple comment on a post I’d written as well as a a nice compliment. It was then and there that I knew that whoever Jon was, he was a nice guy. And, it wasn’t that long before another email arrived asking if I’d link to his blog and he’d link to mine in good faith as well. It was as simple as that. An uncommon touch on the internet to be sure. And, so I headed over to his blog and became instantly hooked. It was some of the best political satire on the web. Probably some of the best anywhere for that matter. Cutting, intelligent, complicated, observant, funny, irreverent and completely withering if you were a real conservative true believer. There was a refined and smoldering writer in Jon Swift to be sure.
His name was Al Weisel and he passed away the other day at the age of 46. Skippy has a nice write up that sums it all up amd has a list of memorials to Al.
Al became tired of blogging and his output became less and less. Two years ago he stopped suddenly and I wrote and asked if he was okay, a few of us were wondering, and he wrote back saying that he just got caught up in life and that he would be blogging again soon. And, he did for about a year, then he stopped again early in 2009. His interest waning yet again. I missed him the past year. His views were sorely missed. And, I figured that like many of us, the blog was simply becoming a burden and I simply hoped that one day he’d start again and we’d all be laughing out loud once again. Then came the sad news in an email from Brendan Keefe that Jon Swift /Al was gone.
Sometimes there are no words. Except thanks Al. You were a prince. It was a pleasure fighting the good fight with you, and sharing a laugh across the internet.
Now go read some of the best satire anywhere. You will laugh out loud. Trust me.Read More
Monday link dump…
- Cheney: Waterboarding should have been an option for underbomber – “I was a big supporter of waterboarding. I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques,” he said. Of course, for years the CIA has maintained that torture does not produce actionable intel. And, of course, the public practice of torture (they went public with this remember) is more PR than anything. I am of the opinion that Cheney understands that torture does not create actionable intel. But, the propaganda value is simply too great in his view. This is the discussion we should be having…
- Cheney Struggles To Explain Terror Contradictions – Dick Cheney has never been one for consistency of message, nor of adhering to the established facts. It’s unfortunate that he now feels comfortable undermining a sitting president (no matter his political affiliation) in order to secure his own personal legacy and save his ass.
- Biden: Cheney ‘not entitled to re-write history’ – See above.
- A Terrorist Tried In Federal Court: The Case Of Aafia Siddiqui – When we examine the facts, it becomes clear that the GOP is using terrorism as political fodder. So, facts such as this get brushed under the carpet. It’s bad for the coutnry and it’s bad politics. But, they are a party in decline after all…I am for trying terrorists in civilian courts. So is the Pentagon.
- Critical Mass: Dem Agenda Opens Right-Wing Doors – Mandatory reading…
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Gil Scott-Heron was one of those people who everyone listened to and waited to hear what he was going to say next. He was that relevant and eloquent and personal. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised“, “Home Is Where the Hatred Is” and “Message to the Messengers” are arguably some of the greatest political and social commentary put to music ever. And, his contribution to “Let Me See Your ID” on the anti-apartheid album Sun City still stands out as one of the great raps during that time.
Then he disappeared into the hole that is Rikers Island for drug possession. But, all things come around and now he’s back. A must read interview with Gil Scott-Heron in Salon is here, and he’s released a new album. Gil manages to reach into the depths once again. Here’s the video for “Me and the Devil“.Read More
Much Too Young To Die
Death is a paradox. It’s a primal force so powerful and frightening that we really don’t talk about it very much. It’s too painful. It’s dark and dour, yet at the same time, it has a way of reminding us – sometimes in brutal and sometimes in amazingly subtle ways – not only of the fragility of life, but of its beauty and simplicity. It’s a cliche of course, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Death is the mythological door to other worlds, simultaneously beautiful and ugly, fraught with fear and imbued with wonder all at the same time. And, sometimes it can precipitate a profound moment of change.
For me, this transformation occurred in the early 90s when I lost a friend to trajic circumstances and within a few months found myself working side by side with Johnny Depp, who coincidentally, had also lost someone close to him.
On October 31, 1994 at around 1AM Depp’s friend and fellow actor and musician River Pheonix died of a speedball (heroin mixed with cocaine) overdose on the sidewalk outside of the Viper Room, the club that Depp owned until a few years ago. At the time of Pheonix’s death, Depp was on stage at the club, performing with his band. River Pheonix’s last moments alive were inside the club, listening to Depp’s band, and doing drugs in the bathroom. A few months later, in January, a friend and co-worker of mine named Chance Helburn died in his apartment from an overdose of drugs. Also a speedball. Both deaths were a shock to the system. One day you were talking to them on the phone, the next, they were gone.
River was only 23. Chance was only 25. Both were talented and loved with bright futures and lives ahead of them, and their deaths were the opening scene of what was to be one of the most clarifying experiences of my life. I suspect that Depp would say the same thing.
So, it’s with more than a hint of irony that I find the recent reports of Johnny Depp’s death amusing because Depp had long ago moved away from such a path. It wasn’t his destiny. With luck and work, I’m pretty sure that Johnny Depp is a man who will more than likely die of old age surrounded by family. I can’t be entirely certain of it, but I’d bet the farm on it. Why? Well, because I was there when he was at the crossroads, when he saw his choices laid out before him, and he had begun to change as I was also changing. He’d lost something, a part of his life, a friend, and it shook him to his bones. I went through a similar expereince but fortunately for me, the eyes of the worlds press were not staring, watching and waiting.
Thus, it was in the summer of 1995 that I found myself at the New York City Bellevue Morgue standing next to Johnny Depp as we both got an up close look at the harsh, pungent, unapologetic, unflinching finality of death.
Next: Up Jump the Devil
YouTube vid of Bob Dylan’s banned satirical song about paranoid right wing racists written in 1963 as a response to the popularity of the John Birch Society. It was dropped from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan due to political concerns and remained unreleased until the Bootleg disc in the mid 90’s.
Could have been written today. Scary.
Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues
Well, I was feelin’ sad and feelin’ blue,
I didn’t know what in the world I was gonna do,
Them Communists they wus comin’ around,
They wus in the air,
They wus on the ground.
They wouldn’t gimme no peace. . .
So I run down most hurriedly
And joined up with the John Birch Society,
I got me a secret membership card
And started off a-walkin’ down the road.
Yee-hoo, I’m a real John Bircher now!
Look out you Commies!
Now we all agree with Hitlers’ views,
Although he killed six million Jews.
It don’t matter too much that he was a Fascist,
At least you can’t say he was a Communist!
That’s to say like if you got a cold you take a shot of malaria.
Well, I wus lookin’ everywhere for them gol-darned Reds.
I got up in the mornin’ ‘n’ looked under my bed,
Looked in the sink, behind the door,
Looked in the glove compartment of my car.
Couldn’t find ’em . . .
I wus lookin’ high an’ low for them Reds everywhere,
I wus lookin’ in the sink an’ underneath the chair.
I looked way up my chimney hole,
I even looked deep inside my toilet bowl.
They got away . . .
Well, I wus sittin’ home alone an’ started to sweat,
Figured they wus in my T.V. set.
Peeked behind the picture frame,
Got a shock from my feet, hittin’ right up in the brain.
Them Reds caused it!
I know they did . . . them hard-core ones.
Well, I quit my job so I could work alone,
Then I changed my name to Sherlock Holmes.
Followed some clues from my detective bag
And discovered they wus red stripes on the American flag!
That ol’ Betty Ross . . .
Well, I investigated all the books in the library,
Ninety percent of ’em gotta be burned away.
I investigated all the people that I knowed,
Ninety-eight percent of them gotta go.
The other two percent are fellow Birchers . . . just like me.
Now Eisenhower, he’s a Russian spy,
Lincoln, Jefferson and that Roosevelt guy.
To my knowledge there’s just one man
That’s really a true American: George Lincoln Rockwell.
I know for a fact he hates Commies cus he picketed the movie Exodus.
Well, I fin’ly started thinkin’ straight
When I run outa things to investigate.
Couldn’t imagine doin’ anything else,
So now I’m sittin’ home investigatin’ myself!
Hope I don’t find out anything . . . hmm, great God!
If you haven’t watched Bill Moyers on Real Time with Bil Maher, it’s worth watching. The point that conservatives are simply employing a scorched earth campaign to insure that Obama fails is important, and has to be confronted. And, he covers corporatism as well.Read More
Not a mob obviously. The term has been tossed around in some cases, accurate in others. It’s like dealing with a bunch of hecklers. And, Al Franken does well. People do want to know the facts. But, it’s so heated out there, as you can see, it’s not easy. There’s a lot of work to be done.Read More
Links of the day:
- Who is paying for the Iraqis to have universal single payer health care? You are.
- Glenn Beck Watch: ‘Is Obama The Anti-Christ?’ – An oldie but goodie. Glenn Beck wondering aloud if Obama is the Prince of Darkness come to end the world. Fear of a black planet at play.
- Johann Hari: Republicans, religion and the triumph of unreason – “The election of Obama – a black man with an anti-conservative message – as a successor to George W. Bush has scrambled the core American right’s view of their country. In their gut, they saw the US as a white-skinned, right-wing nation forever shaped like Sarah Palin.” Read the entire thing…