Monday, August 27, 2012

Intel Brief

(FYI, I'm just passing this on to the smart guys around here. My sum total of military intelligence wisdom was looking at the order of battle for our potential DPRKA enemies and remarking "That's a whole fecking assload of yellow Reds up there, hunh?"

Help from more intelligent intel types would be greatly appreciated.)
Looking for some help and advice from the crowd in the Pub (I think the new term for this is targeted Crowd-sourcing).

I am starting a Masters Program at DIA this week (National Intelligence University, formerly known as National Defense Intelligence College) for a Masters in Science and Technology Intelligence with a concentration in Information Operations and Cyber. I have to write a thesis, and the topic needs to somehow touch on Cyber, preferably with a foreign focus (meaning that the topic of study isn't the US infrastructure, but instead focused on the infrastructure or capabilities or a foreign entity). It can be classified, but I am fighting hard to keep my topic unclass so I can work it at home and for other obvious reasons of convenience.

There are plenty of topics out there that I can write some lengthy information papers about, but the purpose of this drill is to come up with a thesis question, make an argument, have a theory, etc. That is where I am struggling, I am used to identifying problems, analyzing them and proposing solutions. My professors want something that is "academically interesting" and they want me to posit a theory about something. Not the way I am wired to think. I don't care much for theories, I am used to focusing on solutions.

My original plan got shot down, so I am looking for some good ideas. I wanted to look at how Cyber Command and NSA are recruiting computer hackers, and compare that to that actual threat (for example, if Chinese will be the dominant language on the internet in 5 years, how many Chinese linguists are working computers at NSA). I still haven't gotten this sold to my professors because they consider this more of a Human Resources problem with some intelligence supporting the argument, and not truly an intelligence problem. I am arguing that resourcing intelligence operations is an "intel problem," but I haven't found a professor yet who agrees with me. Again, the difference in how I think as a senior leader in tactical intelligence, and how academics at the strategic level of intel think.

So, I need help, and need it quick. I am leaning towards something in regards to social networks and their future role. But I am open to any ideas at this point.



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Conclusions on "Defining Literacy"

My last post has been up for a while and I was very pleased with the comments that came from it. I've had a bit of time to consider the various points made so here are my conclusions:
First, there seems to be a good bit of disagreement as to what "literacy" actually means. Is it being able to read labels on medicine bottles, or read and understand books, or is not reading/text required at all? From a Western perspective, I think we link literacy with reading/text/the written word. Other cultures may combine literacy with orality, but Western cultures do not, that is there is a distinction. To this I would add that this form of Western literacy was a requirement for much of our history since the invention of the printing press. Without this form of literacy, science and rational capitalism (as opposed to traditional capitalism) would never have changed the world the way they have. Without this literacy it would have been impossible for the modern world to exist as we know it.
Second, there seems to be a strong link between literacy, as in the ability to read and understand complex texts and the possibility of mass democracy. As I.F. Stone writes in his book, The Trial of Socrates:
Elementary education for all citizens was achieved early in Athens, at least a century before Socrates, and literacy seems to have been widespread. This reflected the rise of democracy. But the higher education remained the monopoly of the aristocracy until the Sophists came along. They provoked upper-class antagonism by teaching the art of rhetoric - for the ability to speak well in public was the open door to middle-class political participation in the debates of the assembly and the higher offices of the city. page 42
Not only that, but having the laws posted publicly was one of the great reforms of this pre-Socratic period as well. Ignorance of the law was thus no excuse as long as the laws were posted where any citizen could read and discuss them. Ancient Athens had no lawyers as we understand that profession today, since every citizen was expected to understand and argue the law themselves.
Notice that I have qualified the type of democracy I'm talking about, that being "mass democracy" as existed in Athens in Socrates's time. Small communities could be democratic without literacy but beyond a certain number, writing becomes a necessity. Before we get all warm and complacent with our current good fortune, let's consider my next point . . .
Third, while there is a connection between literacy and modernity and democracy, there is also one between it and propaganda, that is manipulation in the modern mass state. This is how Jacques Ellul described it in his classic, Propaganda of 1965:
Primary education makes it possible to enter the realm of propaganda, in which people then receive their intellectual and cultural environment.
The uncultured man cannot be reached by propaganda. Experience and research done by the Germans between 1933 and 1938 showed that in remote areas, where people hardly knew how to read, propaganda had no effect. The same holds true for the enormous effort in the Communist world to teach people how to read. In Korea, the local script was terribly difficult and complicated; so, in North Korea, the Communists created an entirely new alphabet and a simple script in order to teach all the people how to read. In China, Mao simplified the script in his battle with illiteracy, and in some places in China new alphabets are being created. This would have no particular significance except that the texts used to teach the adult students how to read — and which are the only texts to which they have access — are exclusively propaganda texts; they are political tracts, poems to the glory of the Communist regime, extracts of classical Marxism. Among the Tibetans, the Mongols, the Ouighbours, the Manchus, the only texts in the new script are Mao’s works. Thus, we see here a wonderful shaping tool: The illiterates are taught to read only the new script; nothing is published in that script except propaganda texts; therefore, the illiterates cannot possibly read — or know — anything else.
Also, one of the most effective propaganda methods in Asia was to establish "teachers" to teach reading and indoctrinate people at the same time. The prestige of the intellectual — "marked with God’s finger" — allowed political assertions to appear as Truth, while the prestige of the printed word one learned to decipher confirmed the validity of what the teachers said. These facts leave no doubt that the development of primary education is a fundamental condition for the organization of propaganda, even though such a conclusion may run counter to many prejudices, best expressed by Paul Rivet’s pointed but completely unrealistic words: "A person who cannot read a newspaper is not free." pp 109-110
Following Ellul, the modern mass state has to create a mass culture to support it and win the support of the population since traditional norms will not necessarily support the actions of said state. Basic literacy - especially mass education for children - is the best means of achieving this goal. This is what Ellul refers to as the first stage of literacy, basically reading at the level of a 5-6th Grader. The second, and higher level, that is being able to "reflect and discern" what one has read and dividing a text into what one agrees with and what one does not or is unsure of, is possessed by only about 10-15% of the population, according to Ellul.
How exactly does this come about? How does basic literacy open the door for propaganda and manipulation? The modern citizen of a mass state is an individual, one isolated from traditional forms of thought and alligance. There is little connection with community, family or religion in the traditional sense, whereas there is a host of lesser connections with "society", most of them increasingly of the materialist/consumerist sort, well those and "nationalism". This view went back to the turn of the century, but became fairly unquestioned as a result of the First World War. Walter Lippmann is Public Opinion (1922) wrote:
BECAUSE of their transcendent practical importance, no successful leader has ever been too busy to cultivate the symbols which organize his following. What privileges do within the hierarchy, symbols do for the rank and file. They conserve unity. From the totem pole to the national flag, from the wooden idol to God the Invisible King, from the magic word to some diluted version of Adam Smith or Bentham, symbols have been cherished by leaders, many of whom were themselves unbelievers, because they were focal points where differences merged. The detached observer may scorn the "star-spangled" ritual which hedges the symbol, perhaps as much as the king who told himself that Paris was worth a few masses. But the leader knows by experience that only when symbols have done their work is there a handle he can use to move a crowd. In the symbol emotion is discharged at a common target, and the idiosyncrasy of real ideas blotted out. No wonder he hates what he calls destructive criticism, sometimes called by free spirits the elimination of buncombe. "Above all things," says Bagehot, "our royalty is to be reverenced, and if you begin to poke about it you cannot reverence it." [Footnote: The English Constitution, p. 127. D. Appleton & Company, 1914.] For poking about with clear definitions and candid statements serves all high purposes known to man, except the easy conservation of a common will. Poking about, as every responsible leader suspects, tends to break the transference of emotion from the individual mind to the institutional symbol. And the first result of that is, as he rightly says, a chaos of individualism and warring sects. The disintegration of a symbol, like Holy Russia, or the Iron Diaz, is always the beginning of a long upheaval.
These great symbols possess by transference all the minute and detailed loyalties of an ancient and stereotyped society. They evoke the feeling that each individual has for the landscape, the furniture, the faces, the memories that are his first, and in a static society, his only reality. That core of images and devotions without which he is unthinkable to himself, is nationality. The great symbols take up these devotions, and can arouse them without calling forth the primitive images. The lesser symbols of public debate, the more casual chatter of politics, are always referred back to these proto-symbols, and if possible associated with them. The question of a proper fare on a municipal subway is symbolized as an issue between the People and the Interests, and then the People is inserted in the symbol American, so that finally in the heat of a campaign, an eight cent fare becomes unAmerican. The Revolutionary fathers died to prevent it. Lincoln suffered that it might not come to pass, resistance to it was implied in the death of those who sleep in France.
Because of its power to siphon emotion out of distinct ideas, the symbol is both a mechanism of solidarity, and a mechanism of exploitation. It enables people to work for a common end, but just because the few who are strategically placed must choose the concrete objectives, the symbol is also an instrument by which a few can fatten on many, deflect criticism, and seduce men into facing agony for objects they do not understand. pp 150-51.
The leadership/elite of a state (Lippmann makes no distinction) use symbols to influence and manipulate the masses. But what of the "self-sufficient" individual? Lippmann dismisses that notion quickly. That's not the way the mass reacts, since while the individual thinks and reasons, the mass "feels". How else are they to know what to believe if they are not told essentially what to believe? Lippmann concludes this chapter with some of the most disturbing conclusions ever put on paper by an American intellectual:
That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough.
The creation of consent is not a new art. It is a very old one which was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy. But it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technic, because it is now based on analysis rather than on rule of thumb. And so, as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power.
Within the life of the generation now in control of affairs, persuasion has become a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government. None of us begins to understand the consequences, but it is no daring prophecy to say that the knowledge of how to create consent will alter every political calculation and modify every political premise. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach. p 158
I think literacy as I have defined it very important in Western development, but I am reminded by my earlier reading of Ellul and Lippmann that Venkat makes an important point when questioning what exactly literacy is and the assumptions that we make in regards to it. If anything the events of the last ten years in the US have only reinforced the validity of what Ellul, and earlier Lippmann, had to say as a result of experiencing the power of state propaganda starting almost a century ago.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Defining "Literacy"

I'm taking a bit of a detour from grand strategy for the moment. The next post will be on a current view of grand strategy to complement my last post, but this item caught my eye and I think it worthy of extended comment.
Venkatesh Rao is the author of a great book on timing and tactics titled Tempo. I don't include "strategy" in this particular mix since from a Clausewitzian strategic theory perspective what Venkat is dealing with is primarily tactics and even operations, not really strategy, which is about collectives, although it could be seen as strategy if we limited it more to narrative or grand narrative. I'm planning to use some of his concepts in a social action/strategic theory approach to English Language Teaching that I have been working on for the last ten years, so count me as a fan.
That's not however what I wish to talk about here. Rather it's his article linked above titled Rediscovering Literacy, which brings up many interesting questions. This is an excellent article which led me to question my assumptions on literacy, but only to reinforce them after reflection. He starts off by expanding what we think of as "literacy":
Literacy used to be a very subtle concept that meant linguistic sophistication. It used to denote a skill that could be developed to arbitrary levels of refinement through practice. Literacy meant using mastery over language — both form and content — to sustain a relentless and increasingly sophisticated pursuit of greater meaning. It was about an appreciative, rather than instrumental use of language. Language as a means of seeing rather than as a means of doing.
Reading and writing — the ability to translate language back and forth between oral and written forms — was a secondary matter. It was a vocational pursuit of limited depth.
The written form itself was merely a convenience for transmitting language across space and time, and a mechanism by which to extend the limits of working memory. It had little to do with language skills per se.
Scribes, people who could read and write were simply tradesmen who took notes of what the actual literary people had to say, who may not have been able to read or write themselves. Venkat uses the example of musical ability and the ability to read and write musical notation, the former has no direct link with the latter, only to provide a written record of the artist's work. He then goes on to describe how he actually defines "literacy":
Before Gutenberg, you demonstrated true literacy not by reading a text out aloud and taking down dictation accurately, but through exposition and condensation.
You were considered literate if you could take a classic verse and expound upon it at length (exposition) and take an ambiguous idea and distill its essence into a terse verbal composition (condensation).
Exposition was more than meaning-extraction. It was a demonstration of contextualized understanding of the text, skill with both form and content, and an ability to separate both from meaning in the sense of reference to non-linguistic realities.
Condensation was the art of packing meaning into the fewest possible words. It was a higher order skill than exposition. All literate people could do some exposition, but only masters could condense well enough to produce new texts considered worthy of being added to the literary tradition.
Exposition and condensation are in fact the fundamental learned behaviors that constitute literacy, not reading and writing. One behavior dissolves densely packed words using the solvent that is the extant oral culture, enriching it, while the other distills the essence into a form that can be transmitted across cultures.
So, according to Venkat, reading and writing rank low on the totem pole of literacy when compared with "exposition and condensation". He goes on to dispel the notion that oral cultures are simply about memorization. There were in fact a whole series of different types of recitation (11 different types of "combinational recitation") used in India to orally communicate texts.
What is actually going on is not simply memorization, but what Venkat describes as "microcosmic creative destruction":
You’re taking a permutations-and-combinations blender to the words, juxtaposing them in new ways, and actively performing combinatorial processing. You are rigorously testing the strength of every single word choice and ordering decision. You are isolating and foregrounding different elements of the logical content, such as implication, subject-verb and verb-object agreement, and so forth. There is an functional-aesthetic element too. Terseness does not preclude poetry (and therefore, redundancy). In fact it requires it. Despite the compactness of a text, room must be made for various useful symmetries.
If the original has any structural or semantic weaknesses at all, this torture will reveal it. If the original lacks the robustness that poetry brings, it will be added.
Not only does all this not help plain memorization, I claim that it makes it harder. You destabilize the original line in your head and turn it into a word soup. If the original is any way confused or poorly ordered, you will soon end up in a state of doubt about which sequence of words is the correct one.
For many students, practicing recitation must have been mindless tedium, but for a few, it would have catalyzed active consideration and reworking of the underlying ideas, in search of new wisdom. These students must have evolved into new masters, the source of beneficial mutations and crossovers in the cultural memeplexes they were charged with preserving.
Being forced to juggle words like this must have helped cultivate a clear awareness of the distinction between form and content. It must have helped cultivate an appreciation of language as a medium for performance rather than a medium for transmission or preservation. It must have forced students to pay careful attention to precision of word choice in their own compositions. It must have sustained a very mindful linguistic culture.
Venkat mades some interesting claims here. I think he has a point as to our Western dismissal of oral cultures being simply about memorization, there is more to it than that, but is there not more to the Western concept of literacy as well? Here's where his analysis falls short imo. Also his example of Indian oral culture is not meant to appeal to most students, but to "a few" who don't see it as "mindless tedium". The recitation he uses as an example are religious texts, hardly ones to promote critical thinking which is another drawback.
I think the main problem is that he is conflating "orality" with "literacy" which are in fact two different things. This distinction is important because the cultural implications are profound. Following Walter Ong's distinctions, we have this:
Orality. In oral societies, all knowledge is personal knowledge; every utterance is subjective and egocentric. Because speech is always connected with specific persons, the idea of objective knowledge apart from an ego remains unknown. Because the ego-element dominates, dialogue in an oral context tends to be aggressive and emotive, “agonistic,” as Ong says, and testy. In oral societies, thinking must be formulaic; the formulas must be “coded” in simple, easily remembered verbal images—of the “stitch in time saves nine” variety. Questioning the coded veracities is rare, because interrogation might destabilize them, and because they are a matter of social survival; the ethos often forbids questioning. An oral context knows no such thing as “critical thinking.” Indeed, confronted with analytic statements or logical summaries, oral people suspect and reject them, as Ong showed by drawing on anthropological fieldwork.
Literacy. The written word, as Ong remarks, “separates the knower from the known” and in so doing opens up the space of non-ego-centered objective knowledge. Because writing overcomes the ephemeral quality of spoken language and frees the mind from the task of having to remember things through the medium of simple, “coded” images, it also opens up possibilities of reflection, which, with alphabetic literacy in particular, gives rise to the critical discourses, from physics through moral philosophy to history and law. With the aide of a text, the literate subject can “backtrack,” examining the sequence and relatedness of propositions or the logic of a story. Literacy in this way provides the basis of systematic knowledge in all the higher civilizations. Of course, in introducing the phrase “higher civilizations,” I have made explicit the implication that Ong, for argumentative reasons, de-emphasizes: that the orality-literacy opposition entails a hierarchy.
As mentioned in the article, Ong makes no judgement as to which is superior, he simply describes the characteristics of both. In response to Venkat's specific points, I would add that both exposition (essay writing) and condensation (or summary writing) were tested in the Liberal Arts and in teaching English as a Foreign Language prior to the age of mass standardized testing. What has taken us away from this has little to do with orality, let alone literacy, and far more to do with the supposed necessity of mass standardized testing. For instance in the current Cambridge exam of Proficiency in English (CPE), both skills are tested - an essay question on a set book and summary writing of a longer text. The latter is expected to be removed from the next version of CPE, since it requires a human examiner to grade, unlike the rest of the Use of English paper of the exam which is multiple choice/fill in the blank, that is can be graded by computer.
This development in turn is linked to the notion that teaching is at most a semi-skilled trade, not a skilled trade, not a profession let along a vocation, which can be preformed by moderately educated and trained people who essentially "teach to test." What I would also describe as the factory paradigm of education run amok.
Here it appears I've gone far beyond Venkat's original argument, but this is not really the case, as the next quote will indicate. He provides a specific point in time when exposition and condensation gave way to reading and writing:
Oral cultures are not just, or even primarily, about quality assurance in transmission. They are primarily about quality assurance in composition, and training in the basic moves of exposition and condensation.
When you think about it this way, there is no mystery. Oral culture persisted long after the development of writing because it was not about accurate preservation. It was about performance and cultural enactment through exposition and condensation.
The Costs of Gutenberg
And then Gutenberg happened.
The results were not immediately apparent. The old culture of literacy persisted for several centuries. The tipping point came in the 1890s, when printing technology became sufficiently cheap to support mass media (there is a world of difference between ubiquity of bibles and a culture of daily newspapers).
So sometime in the twentieth century, we lost all the subtlety of oral culture, turned our attention to the secondary vocational skills of reading and writing, and turned literacy into a set of mechanical tests.
It is not that this view is wrong so much as it is misleadingly incomplete. Also this is an old argument which was explained in clear text by Neil Postman in his book, Amusing Ourselves To Death over 20 years ago. Postman also saw the tipping point in the 1890s, but it was not in cheap newspapers, but in their use of photographs and illustrations in them. Prior to that newspaper stories, even advertisements, had to be structured logical arguments, not simply a picture with a slogan, the decline of what Postman calls "Typographic culture" is the rise of the Image. Technology's influence on communication unleashed a storm with the printing press, but this development continued with the invention of telegraphy and the de-contextualization of information, as well as radio, TV and the internet.
Still, Postman has some interesting things to say about the character of a text-based culture as opposed to what came before and what followed:
From Erasmus in the sixteenth century to Elizabeth Eisenstein in the twentieth, almost every scholar who has grappled with the question of what reading does to one's habits of mind has concluded that the process encourages rationality; that the sequential, propositional character of the written word fosters what Walter Ong calls the "analytic management of knowledge." To engage the written word means to follow a line of thought, which requires considerable powers of classifying, inference-making and reasoning. It means to uncover lies, confusions, and overgeneralizations, to detect abuses of logic and common sense. It also means to weigh ideas, to compare and contrast assertions, to connect one generalization to another. To accomplish this, one must achieve a certain distance from the words themselves, which is, in fact, encouraged by the isolated and impersonal text. That is why a good reader does not cheer an apt sentence or pause to applaud even an inspired paragraph. Analytic thought is too busy for that, and too detached. I do not mean to imply that prior to the written word analytic thought was not possible. I am referring here not to the potentialities of the individual mind but to the predispositions of a cultural mind-set. In a culture dominated by print, public discourse tends to be characterized by a coherent, orderly arrangement of facts and ideas. The public for whom it is intended is generally competent to manage such discourse. In a print culture, writers make mistakes when they lie, contradict themselves, fail to support their generalizations, try to enforce illogical connections. In a print culture, readers make mistakes when they don't notice, or even worse, don't care.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, print put forward a definition of intelligence that gave priority to the objective, rational use of the mind and at the same time encouraged forms of public discourse with serious, logically ordered content. It is no accident that the Age of Reason was coexistent with the growth of a print culture, first in Europe and then in America. The spread of typography kindled the hope that the world and its manifold mysteries could at least be comprehended, predicted, controlled. It is in the eighteenth century that the scientific method preeminent example of the analytic management of knowledge--begins its refashioning of the world. It is in the eighteenth century that capitalism is demonstrated to be a rational and liberal system of economic life, that religious superstition comes under furious attack, that the divine right of kings is shown to be a mere prejudice, that the idea of continuous progress takes hold, and that the necessity of universal literacy through education becomes apparent. Amusing Ourselves to Death, pp 51-52
Notice that what Postman is talking about is more than just "reading and writing" but an interactive process between writer and reader whereby the reader performs a critical analysis of the text, what Jacques Ellul refers to as the "second stage of education" beyond the first of basic literacy. It is precisely this "rational" culture, this typographic or print-based culture which has been in decline in the US since at least World War II and the cause of that is definitely not reading and writing.
There seems to be a bit of confusion as to what Postman's talking about. He's not talking about different "technologies", but rather different "mediums". I think this also applicable to my critique of Venkat's article since it is his assumptions as to what the "medium of orality" can carry that I disagree with. So to Postman:
Such a hope represents exactly what Marshall McLuhan used to call "rear-view mirror" thinking: the assumption that a new medium is merely an extension or amplification of an older one; that an automobile, for example, is only a fast horse, or an electric light a powerful candle. To make such a mistake in the matter at hand is to misconstrue entirely how television redefines the meaning of public discourse. Television does not extend or amplify literate culture. It attacks it. If television is a continuation of anything, it is of a tradition begun by the telegraph and photograph in the mid-nineteenth century, not by the printing press in the fifteenth.
What is television? What kinds of conversations does it permit? What are the intellectual tendencies it encourages? What sort of culture does it produce? These are the questions to be addressed in the rest of this book, and to approach them with a minimum of confusion, I must begin by making a distinction between a technology and a medium. We might say that a technology is to a medium as the brain is to the mind. Like the brain, a technology is a physical apparatus. Like the mind, a medium is a use to which a physical apparatus is put. A technology becomes a medium as it employs a particular symbolic code, as it finds its place in a particular social setting, as it insinuates itself into economic and political contexts. A technology, in other words, is merely a machine. A medium is the social and intellectual environment a machine creates.
Of course, like the brain itself, every technology has an inherent b ias. It has within its physical form a predisposition toward being used in certain ways and not others. Only those who know nothing of the history of technology believe that a technology is entirely neutral. There is an old joke that mocks that naive belief. Thomas Edison, it goes, would have revealed his discovery of the electric light much sooner than he did except for the fact that every time he turned it on, he held it to his mouth and said, "Hello? Hello?"
Not very likely. Each technology has an agenda of its own. It is, as I have suggested, a metaphor waiting to unfold. the printing press, for example, had a clear bias toward being used as a the Ae of Show Business linguistic medium. It is conceivable to use it exclusively for the reproduction of pictures. And, one imagines, the Roman Catholic Church would not have objected to its being so used in the sixteenth century. Had that been the case, the Protestant Reformation might not have occurred, for as Luther contended, with the word of God on every family's kitchen table, Christians do not require the Papacy to interpret it for them. But in fact there never was much chance that the press would be used solely, or even very much, for the duplication of icons. From its beginning in the fifteenth century, the press was perceived as an extraordinary opportunity for the display and mass distribution of written language. Everything about its technical possibilities led in that direction. One might even say it was invented for that purpose. the technology of television has a bias, as well. It is conceivable to use television as a lamp, a surface for texts, a bookcase, even as radio. But it has not been so used and will not be so used, at least in America. Thus, in answering the question, What is television?, we must understand as a first point that we are not talking about television as a technology but television as a medium. There are many places in the world where television, though the same technology as it is in America, is an entirely different medium from that which we know. I refer to places where the majority of people do not have television sets, and those who do have only one; where only one station is available; where television does not operate around the clock; where most programs have as their purpose the direct furtherance of government ideology and policy; where commercials are unknown, and "talking heads" are the principal image; where television is mostly used as if it were radio. For these reasons and more television will not have the same meaning or power as it does in America, which is to say, it is possible for a technology to be so used that its potentialities are prevented from developing and its social consequences kept to a minimum.
But in America, this has not been the case. Television has found in liberal democracy and a relatively free market economy a nurturing climate in which its full potentialities as a technology of images could be exploited. Amusing Ourselves to Death, pp 83-86
This is what I think Venkat did in his article. He conflated the two technologies - printing press and telegraph & TV - as well as the two mediums, print and TV, and saw the decline in literacy as being due to the first set when in reality it was due to the second.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

London Games

I will be out of connections for a week or so.  I am headed to Colorado with the wife to get her some recommended specialized medical treatments.   Or maybe I can occasionally check in on a motel computer.  Anyone know of any good used bookstores in Denver?  In any case I wanted to throw out a few random thoughts that have been agitating my aging brain cells and see if any of you all have some of that bartending wisdom to set me on the right bearing.  What got me thinking on these was an article in the latest edition of the VFW ragazine – don’t puke Jim.

The modern Olympics are a long way from the 7th and 8th century BC variety.  Back in the day, the sporting events were more attuned to training for war - the hoplitodromia (a steeplechase type footrace in helmet and bronze shinguards while carrying shield) and the pankration (a no-holds-barred wrestling/boxing/savate/judo hand-to-hand combat).  A few of the old ones still persist in modern form - javelin throwing, and the archaic Greek field artillery of discus and shotput.  Were those ancient games a way the city states tried to do away with actual war between Greeks (while still practicing for foreign wars)?  Wikipedia seems to give more of a religious and political origin for the games, but I question their presumption.   

More questions: 

Do sports serve a useful purpose in military training?  Of course, even golf I say!   By that question I meant outside of plain old fashioned physical conditioning (there is a  report out lately that the vast majority of our nation’s youth is too obese to be accepted into military service).  

Also, do great athletes make for a great military?  No IMHO, maybe only in Schwarzenegger’s dreams.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sincerity is the key to success - Once you can fake it, you've got it made

We regularly bemoan the disarray in American foreign and domestic policy. jim so aptly said, "We are GOOF BALLS". Recently, one Presidential contender made the following comment about the shooting tragedy in Aurora, CO: "Ann and I are deeply saddened by the news of the senseless violence that took the lives of 15 people in Colorado and injured dozens more. We are praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief. We expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice." One has to wonder how much interest a public figure has really put into a statement of sympathy when they misstate the number of fatalities they are commiserating over. Is the incident not really important enough to do better than just "close"? After all, even we folks in Europe knew the toll wasn't 15 at the time Mitt the Twit made his public statement. And then there's the Palestinian gaffe, where Mr Romney sucked up to the Israelis by saying that Israel's GDP-per-capita income is $21,000 while Palestine's is a paltry $10,000. Forget the possible racist slur towards the Palestinians, the actual figures are more like $31,000 and $1,500 respectively. Here's a major figure, on the road to boost his foreign policy image, and he makes a statement, trying to sound authoritative, and is so inaccurate in the figures he tosses around that it defies, at least for me, comprehension. What it leads me to wonder is if the people vying for the Presidency have such little respect for the electorate that they see no need to be reasonably accurate in their remarks. Here's a guy who is in the "courting stage", and his "best behavior" is effectively cavalier towards simple facts - from tragic loss of life to economics. But, after all is said and done, a major segment of the American population really have no respect for accuracy. If it feels good, then call it the inerrant truth. WASF because we are, indeed, GOOF BALLS.