Comcast, Net Neutrality, and Your Daily Paper

The issue of "Net Neutrality" has been covered, but poorly, by most mainstream news outlets. There's little doubt that Comcast can pose a serious challenge not only to small, non-profit or political web sites and blogs (left or right or whatever) but also to newspapers. Is it possible that the "neutrality" news organizations have used as a pretext to avoid running negative stories about corporations will come back to bite them in the bandwidth?

A democracy needs a vigorous press to challenge both governmental and corporate power. When a press only challenges government, it sows too much suspicion about elected officials and too little about unelected ones. We are well down the road to a press that rarely challenges business interests. Ironically, those very interests may destroy (are destroying?) the very press which gave them cover all these years.

An interesting article explaining why the net should be understood like a public utility (public good) is here: http://www.gmj.uottawa.ca/1001/v3i1_qua ... arabie.pdf


Technology in the classroom and OF the classroom

Re:  Inside Higher Education Should Profs Leave Unruly Classes?
November 29, 2010

COMMENT: I'd never walk out of class and have a strict policy about technology in my class. I don't allow anyone but those with special needs to use laptops. Philosophy lends itself easily to such a policy, and I realize that other disciplines might not be able to have such a rule.

About walking out, I understand the dilemma. On one hand, it is contractually obligated for profs to stick it out; on the other hand, they are at their wits end and are trying to mobilize social pressure to create a class atmosphere. That seems like a tactic unlikely to succeed because there are larger forces at work which cannot be changed with a single act of drama.

About technology, there is one issue which must be kept in mind--which I think gets left out. We all know about the issue of "technology in the classroom." But we must understand that universities are also guilty of sins related to technology. Anytime a student is placed in a class of 200, they are being made the object of the "technology of large classes." Is it any wonder that someone being treated like a number with the technocracies of education uses technology to re-establish their individual space? 

I'm old fashioned, and believe that education is a face-to-face interaction. Universities are creating larger classrooms, online classes, and "clicker" technologies to better "manage" large classes. This creates social distance between students and teachers and between students and their peers. We need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves who is most responsible for the uses of technology most damaging to the central missions of education. Indeed, we need to make this self-reflection the subject of an ongoing debate amongst faculty. (Too bad faculty are increasingly losing control of things as basic to education as class size.)


Disappointment (again) at the movies

Well, we went to see Harry Potter 7a last night and it was exactly the sort of satisfying meal one gets on the highway: happy anticipation, tasty experience, then flashes of nausea and a bit of shame 10 miles down the road.

I am realizing that what's wrong with HP7 is what's wrong with about every "fun" movie I've gone to see in the last decade or more: too much of everything. Too much special effects, too much "action," too much sentiment in the "sub-plot," and, well, just too much--too long. One clue: I cannot remember much of the movie right after it's over. The thinking part of my brain never got a chance to engage with the movie, because it's all been visceral. Another clue: I have no idea who the characters are, what they're motivated by, why they act, their larger psychologies.

And I don't care what kind of movie or story it is: no psychology, no character; no character, no story; no story, no movie. Harry Potter is no movie.

There is no modulation, no gentle build, no sense of excitement in many scenes because it's all supposed to be exciting. But the constant stimulation, the hyper-speed, the unbelievable detail that rushes by before you can enjoy it all add up to that sick feeling I get from the sugar-salt-fat-sicle that one gets in fast food. My senses are engaged but my brain is left perplexed, reeling.

Why is this? I think it's because an experience needs to have a beginning, middle, and end. And then there needs to be some time to "glow" from the experience, to sense its aftermath. That aftermath (also an experience) enriches the just completed "main" experience and makes it what it always could be. Movies have the beginning, and then they're all middle. Then it happens again. And again.

What if Brian Eno directed these movies? Or what if they were directed by someone with restraint, poetic sensibility--someone who would impose *economy* on the way the story was being illustrated, rather than just amping things up to the level guaranteed to "get the audience off"? Wouldn't it be great to see Harry Potter done with actual artistry and taste? (Maybe that's not the best basis for artistry, but take my point if you can.) When it comes to action movies, we have nothing but movies made for the mass audience, but don't these audiences also want something besides action? I think the answer has to be "yes."

Finally, let me make a technical criticism and address the issue of "powers." What makes a movie exciting or a hero interesting are the well known limits that have to be obeyed. Spiderman is only *this* strong and no stronger; his webs do *these* things and no others; his spidey powers include a, b, and c, but no more. This is why Kill Bill was such an exciting movie: Kiddo, the heroine (if you can call her that), has a very limited range of powers, and we are constantly on edge that she will be surprised or outmatched. The result: tension, excitement, dramatic action.


The "Message" of the 2010 Election

In a phrase: wild frustration with the one party in America, the Property Party.

If it was a Republican congress under Bush that started creating unemployment and deficits before Obama took office, why is the explanation for Democrats losses being placed on them? In my view, the "message" of the election is not the culpability of the Democrats but rather (1) a frustration at what Nader calls a "one party country" in combination with (2) powerful GOP media machine (mischaracterizing and demonizing Democrats) which is funded and augmented by (3) corporate dollars. These factors represent, for me, the best explanation for the Democrats losses.