The medium is…

Republican debate

“The medium is the message”, said Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media, 1964. Fifty-one years later, I’m still not certain we understand media, but a light bulb went on for me Thursday night regarding McLuhan’s iconic phrase. While watching the Republican presidential debate, I had a minor epiphany; that television cannot help transforming politics into entertainment.  

I am not suggesting that either party has a monopoly on show business.  Yes, the Republicans are likely to be funnier this year, with their Jerry Springer moments, and The Donald, who’s public persona is a weird combination of Rodney Dangerfield and Don Rickles.  I expect the Democrats to be far less interesting, more like infomercials on the home shopping channel.

There’s nothing new about politics as entertainment. If we believe television and movie depictions of pre-television and movie campaigns, there was plenty of bunting, and bluster, and brass bands in “the good old days.” But every now and then, wouldn’t it be refreshing to see something real happen on political TV?

The last time I saw reality break through was during the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston.  The Democrats had barred one of my heroes, the late Senator Robert Byrd, from the podium. Byrd could not be trusted to stay on script. Massachusetts Senator Kennedy invited Byrd to speak at the Old North Church, where Paul Revere worshipped, and his address was broadcast on Democracy Now. Byrd held up his well-worn pocket copy of the US Constitution and warned us that it was under attack…

Politics, of course, is not the only thing that TV flattens out. I recall several surreal moments with TV news. One early evening in college days, when I was living in an off-campus house, my roomies and I were watching a shoot out on Mod Squad on an old black and white TV. I went to the kitchen to fix a sandwich, and when I returned, the shootout had grown more intense; the house where the bad guys were hiding was on fire. But it looked different.  “Did somebody change the channel?” I asked.

“Nah, man,” said a house mate. “The news cut in. The cops are having a shootout with those guys who kidnapped Patty Hearst.” The visceral difference between watching a fictional versus a non-fiction firefight on TV was nonexistent without the dialog or voice over!

In a very real sense, that’s simply the nature of things according to both western depth psychology and Buddhist psychology. Every experience we have, noted James Hillman, begins as an event in the psyche. And Buddhist thinkers will tell you that our so-called realities are far more like the dreams we have at night than most of us dare to believe. Yet, as a practical matter, in order to make the right decisions, we have to be able to tell them apart, and that means turning a critical eye on the stuff we see on television.

I have recommended it before, but as we begin another presidential election mini-series, I can think of no better guidebook than Neal Gabler’s Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, 2000.  In it, he says:

“the deliberate application of the techniques of theater to politics, religion, education, literature, commerce, warfare, crime, everything, has converted them into branches of show business, where the overriding objective is getting and satisfying an audience.”

Unless we choose to live with the wolves, we’re going to be part of that audience, but at least we can remember that wonderful Buddhist bumper sticker:  “You don’t have to believe everything you think.”

Posted in Buddhism, Culture, Current Events, Entertainment, News, Politics, Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Inside Inside Out, a review of sorts

In a culture that imagines a sharp mind-body split, it isn’t surprising to see images of a smart inner being controlling our physical “machinery.” Inside Out gives us a committee at the helm. Among feature length movies, it is unique in this respect, as far as I know.

Inside-Out-Meet-your-emotions-2

There are many points to ponder during the film’s 90 spectacular minutes of Pixar 3D animation, but given my background, I was especially caught by the movie’s alignment with a key post-Jungian view of the structure of the psyche.

Michael Ventura, a journalist who has written at length upon archetypal themes, and who co-authored We’ve Had 100 Years of Psychotherapy and the World is Getting Worse (1993) with James Hillman, said “There may be no more important project for our time than displacing the…fiction of monopersonality.” 

In Jung’s theory of archetypes, pre-eminent place goes to “The Self,” at once, the center of the psyche and it’s totality. The Self, for Jung, was the god image within us. The problem, according to both Ventura and Hillman, is that none of us ever experience ourselves this way. The idea of a unified, “monotheistic” Self is a longing rather than day to day reality, in Ventura’s words, “the longing of all the selves within the psyche that are starving because they are not recognized.”

Buddha came to a similar conclusion 2600 years ago, but Hillman, chose to rely on western models, and drew from Greek mythology to illustrate his conclusion that the psyche is “polytheistic,” with many archetypal centers.  A contemporary of Jung named these centers, “sub-personalities,” a term I have heard at least one Zen teacher use to illustrate the concept.

The Greek pantheon

The Greek pantheon

Thirty years ago, Michael Ventura wrote,  “It is crucial to every form of human effort that we forge a model of the psyche that is closer to our hour-to-hour experience, because, in the long run, as a society, we can share only what we can express.” (published in Shadow Dancing in the USA, 1985, now out of print but available used).

In the interim, nothing was actually forged – rather, a growing awareness of our “hour-to-hour” experience has emerged. How often do we say or hear others say, “Part of me wants to go left, but another part wants to go right?”

This awareness is now pervasive enough that it’s central to a summer blockbuster, aimed at a PG audience. Even if we don’t spend time studying differing models of the psyche, we understand Ventura perfectly when he says, “If you are alone in the room, it is still a crowded room.”

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Happy Birthday to the Dalai Lama!

On Monday, July 6, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, will turn 80.  Here is a great clip from last weekend of Patti Smith leading the crowd at the Glastonbury Music Festival in singing Happy Birthday.  It’s follow by HH giving one of his wonderfully simple talks on what really matters.  Enjoy!

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Ensuring Your Site is Mobile-Friendly

Morgan Mussell:

Useful information from wordpress.com on keeping your blog current with a Google search algorithm change.

Originally posted on WordPress.com News:

Today, Google released a change to its algorithm that gives higher search scores to sites it deems “mobile-friendly.” Curious WordPressers might be asking:

  1. How can I be sure my site is mobile-friendly?
  2. What can I do if my site is not mobile-friendly?

1. See if your site is mobile-friendly

Visit Google’s mobile-friendly test link and enter your site’s address (e.g., http://dailypost.wordpress.com or http://automattic.com). Google will then analyze your site and declare it mobile-friendly or not.

Did your site pass? YAY! Pass GO and collect $200 from the Community Chest.

2. What can I do if my site is not mobile-friendly?

If your site failed Google’s test, you might be using an older theme that’s not responsive. Responsive themes change their layout slightly when someone visits via tablet or mobile phone to ensure that important content like the site title, post titles, and post content can be read on smaller screens.

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Lest we forget

Armenian-Genocide-

Last week, as I drove home on Hwy. 99, on the outskirts of a small central valley town, I saw a billboard similar to this one, marking the centennial of the 20th century’s first genocide. It is one of two dark centennials we will mark next week. Ones that no one wants to think of, but which we ignore at our own peril.

The Ottoman Empire had been in decline well before the start of the first world war. Their initial military efforts were disastrous. Six months after the start of fighting , they had lost the Balkans, and ruin threatened.

Well before the start of fighting, nationalist Turks and some religious extremists declared that to be saved, the Empire must purge itself of non-Muslim elements. By early 1915, as the government feared that Armenian Christians might seek a separate peace with Russia, it became policy.

On April 24, 1915, notable Armenians in Istanbul were rounded up, a move that historians agree was the first step in a wider plan of annihilation. One and a half million Armenians would die in 1915 and 1916, and the killing would not stop completely until 1922. Though headlines around the world reported the atrocities at the time, Turkey denies responsibility to this day.

No one would ever be punished, a fact not lost on a young German corporal named Adolf Hitler, who paid attention to world events. After the war, victorious nations, including the United States, found it more advantageous to seek trade agreements with oil producing nations than to seek redress for a scattered and decimated populace. The U.S. House of Representatives came close to a resolution condemning the killings as genocide in both 2007 and 2009, but Presidents Bush and Obama respectively, fended off passage of the bill, which they feared would upset our alliance with Turkey.

Denial is still the order of the day for nation states with strategic interests, but as individuals, we fortunately still have the option of recognizing the truth.

A poison gas attack in World War 1

A poison gas attack in World War 1

The other sad centennial we will mark next week is the first use of poison gas on the western front, on the evening of April 22, 1915, a day we now celebrate as Earth Day.

Seeking a tactical advantage at the second battle of Ypres, the Germans launched a two day artillery barrage. When the guns fell silent, instead of the infantry charge that usually followed such a volley, the British soldiers saw a white cloud moving toward their trenches.

One hundred and sixty-eight tons of chlorine gas wafted on the western breeze. Only when it struck did the soldiers experience the horror that hid in the cloud. Chlorine renders the lungs incapable of absorbing oxygen; the victim drowns in his own bodily fluids. Those who could ran for their lives.

The gas opened up a four mile hole in the British lines, the kind of breakthrough the warring armies always sought, but as usually happened, confusion and inept command kept the German army from exploiting their advantage, which was soon neutralized.

A British soldier with a background in chemistry, saw that the gas had turned brass buttons green. Realizing it was chlorine, he supplied the troops with an instant antidote – breathing through a urine-soaked cloth would neutralize the effects. Both sides rushed gas masks to the front, and any strategic advantage was lost.

Most casualties in “The Great War” came from artillery, but poison gas somehow haunts our imagination as we think of the conflict that opened the 20th century. Nations entered the war with 19th century illusions of bravery and heroism. Such conceits were swept away in the first few months of mechanized carnage.

For me, Earth Day, 2015 is a time to consider the warring impulses which live within the human heart. Every thought and every action of each individual matters. What can I do, now, on Earth Day, and every day, to aim in the direction of the world I would like to live in, rather then one where mass horrors on the evening news no longer cause us to raise an eyebrow?

Sources:

Armenian Genocide of 1915: An Overview, New York Times.

A Century After Genocide, Turkey’s Denial Only Deepens,” by Tim Arango, The New York Times.

A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 by G.J. Meyer

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Thomas Hardy – take two

Let’s try this again…last time I pulled a classic not-paying-attention trick – I hit “Publish” instead of “Save,” and then trashed the previous draft.

So as I was I was saying….

A movie trailer for a new version of Far From the Madding Crowd got me thinking of Thomas Hardy. This is the fourth movie based on Hardy’s fourth novel and the first one that brought him critical acclaim and commercial success. The 1967 film version, starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, and Terrance Stamp, launched me on a long Thomas Hardy reading jag.

This version of Far From the Madding Crowd is the movie I most clearly remember from my teenage years. Not only did Hardy’s melancholia mesh with my teenage angst, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only teenage boy to fall in love with Julie Christie.  Observe her gaping audience as she sings “Bushes and Briars:”

You can’t read Thomas Hardy without noting his stark vision of tragic fate in human affairs. The simplest act or coincidence can trigger chains of events that lead to disastrous outcomes. In Far From the Madding Crowd, an anonymous valentine, sent as a joke, leads to heartbreak, murder, and a hanging.

In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, also made into four movies, a snatch of conversation overheard at a crossroads by Tess’s drunken father leads to heartbreak, murder, and a hanging.

Gemma Arterton as the doomed Tess, 2008.

Gemma Arterton as the doomed Tess, 2008.

In Return of the Native, Hardy’s sixth novel, the beautiful Eustacia Vye, who longs for greater life than she can find on a remote heath, suffers the fate of a Greek tragic heroine. Her moves to escape her fate bring it upon her. Eustacia and her husband’s mother drown. In grief and despair, the husband becomes a preacher.

Catherine Zeta-Jones as Eustachian Vye in "Return of the Native," 1994

Catherine Zeta-Jones as Eustachian Vye in “Return of the Native,” 1994

With recurrent themes of the conflicting demands of culture versus nature for the individual, as well as liberal doses of illicit sexuality, Hardy’s 19th century works were popular with 20th century readers. Seeming to contrast with that is a tragic vision more purely classical than any other novelist I can think of.

And let’s face it, we Yanks love good British period dramas whenever we can get them, whether set in Camelot or on Egdon Heath. So you better believe I’ll be in line to see the new Far From the Madding Crowd when it’s released. It might even prompt me to take another foray into 19th century literature, something I thought I had long left behind. We never know where imagination will turn…

Posted in Authors, Books, Characters, Culture, Movies, oral tradition | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Does daylight savings time save energy?

Public Domain

Public Domain

Ok, now that daylight time is here for us in the new world, and coming in a few weeks for the EU, it’s time for a pop quiz: who invented daylight savings time?

Yes, fellow Googlers, it was Benjamin Franklin who reasoned it would save candles in the colonies. It was not mandated in the US until we entered WWI, when the intent was to preserve resources.

According to Scientific American, the first study of the effectiveness of daylight savings time was conducted in the 70’s, during our first “oil crisis.” The same article notes that a study in Indiana in 2006, the year that state mandated daylight time in all rather than just some of its counties, showed an increase in energy usage.

Similar results were seen in California in 2007, when daylight time was lengthened by four weeks. California Energy Commission researchers found an energy savings of only 0.2% with a margin of error of 1.5%. Changes in air conditioning patterns as well as the pervasiveness of electronic controllers in homes and businesses are possible causes of the flat or negative results.

I, for one, enjoy the light in summer evenings. Farmers dislike daylight savings time, for it disrupts their schedules. Sports enthusiasts favor it. In the late ’90’s, for instance, representatives of the golf industry said daylight time earned them and extra $400 million in fees each year.

For it or against it, the odds of it’s changing are practically non-existent. Unless you live in Arizona, you’ve lived with it all your life. Besides, there are more pressing issues for Congress to fail to act on than this.

Daylight time is one of those things, like the Superbowl and plum blossoms, like St. Patrick’s day, and the start of baseball season, that signal the coming of another spring and summer. I’m not inclined to complain too much if that costs me an hour of sleep.

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Andrew Bacevich on “An Extraordinary Opportunity for Congress”

Andrew Bacevich

Those who follow this blog will know the high regard in which I hold historian Andrew Bacevich. In a 2012 review of his book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, I mentioned a few of Bacevich’s credentials:

Bacevich, a Viet Nam veteran, retired as a colonel after 23 years in the army. He holds a PhD in American Diplomatic History from Princeton and taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins before joining the faculty at Boston University in 1998. In March, 2007, he described the US doctrine of “preventative warfare” as “immoral, illicit, and imprudent.” Two months later, his son died in Iraq.

On February 14, Bacevich posted a brief article on Moyers & Company that I’d love to see more widely read. He likens the current administration’s middle-eastern initiative to Nixon’s 1970 “incursion” into Cambodia and says:

“How did we arrive at this predicament? Where exactly are we headed? What is the overall aim? How will we know when we have succeeded? What further costs will the perpetuation of the enterprise entail?

Back in 1970, when the predicament was the Vietnam War, those questions demanded urgent attention. Today, the enterprise once known as the Global War on Terrorism, now informally referred to as the Long War or the Forever War or (my personal preference) America’s War for the Greater Middle East, defines our predicament. But the questions remain the same as they were when Cambodia rather than the Islamic State represented the issue of the moment.

So President Obama’s requested Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) could not have come at a more propitious moment. The proposed AUMF presents the Congress with an extraordinary opportunity — not to rubber stamp actions already taken, but to take stock of an undertaking that already exceeds the Vietnam War in length while showing not the slightest sign of ending in success.”

Read it, and instead of weeping, pass it on.

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