Thursday, March 31, 2016

Waters on Amused to Death

Roger Waters - Roger Waters on Amused to Death

That's Roger Waters there. He's not exactly naked, but there are no props to fool with; he's just sitting in a chair in a bare, brick-walled loft somewhere. And that's a big part of the point he's making. Yes, he's announcing the re-release of the album 'Amused to Death', but the message of that album is that media seduces us away from what's  truly important.

He's being interviewed by?... Well, we never get to see who it is. The clear intention is that there will be no distractions to what he's saying - whatever it takes: rough edits, bare bones set... whatever. Marshall McLuhan, the famous philosopher of communication theory, stated that "The medium is the message!" But in this video the medium's not only the message, the message is that we had better take care in our relationship to media. Watch the video and pay attention, you'll see. 

Roger Waters? Yeah, the guy from Pink Floyd, the immeasurably popular and revered Concept Rock/Progressive-Psychedelic Music band from England; the one that's sold some 250 million albums over the years. Formed in London in 1965, they were a recording and performing unit for roughly 20 years until members began to drift in an out of the band, reviving it for a tour or recording now and then, and then continuing on their separate ways. Consequently, it's hard to pin down an exact date for the end of Pink Floyd as a group, as its dissolution apparently was a sort of de facto, unannounced non-event.  Time-wise, though, Amused to Death was was one of Roger Waters' early solo efforts; one that happened around the same time as the group's fading away in the early 1990's. Forgive me, Floyd freaks, if I got any of the fan trivia substantially wrong.

As the video opens, Rogers states in his very understated way of stating things "I'm quite pleased that they're re-releasing Amused to Death... because it didn't get the attention it deserved when it came out 23 years ago." By the way, Waters posted this video some 11 months ago and even though he's arguably one of the most successful artists ever, it's drawn only 123,000 views in that time. And no doubt, he understands that this re-released album, as well as this video that he's produced to... I'm not sure what word to use to describe his intentions, here.... promote it? explain it? announce it? other? Well, clearly he never expected to score the kind of popularity with this that he did with his work with Pink Floyd. He's after something else. If anything, I think he's using this YouTube piece to get a bit of bandwidth to set the record straight about something he cares about very much... success measured by numbers or critical acclaim or acknowledgement be damned.

And, of course, as Waters is a recording artist, he talks about records here. After giving a little explanation about his appreciation for vinyl records he explains that (referring to the re-release) "No, this isn't a new record. This is an old record that's been remixed... wedded to the sense that I had that - we could do better!... One has to remember that I made it in 1992... it's now 2,015... most of what I had to say then, SADLY, still pertains today and it may be even more relevant to our predicament as people... The title of the record, Amused to Death,  is a steal from a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death... given all the distractions that there are in modern life, it's very easy to take our eye off the ball... that is, if there is a ball that it's important to keep our eye on, which I think there is... global warming is an obvious example..." and he illustrates what he's talking about by miming with his hands, thumbs flying, a person lost in texting with a Smart Phone, indicating that the forms of digital distraction from the things that matter most in the lives of humans have become even more insidiously powerful and successful than when his album and Postman's book were first released. Rogers manages to squeeze in all of that explanation in less than half the run time of this video.

By the way, the book was written in 1985 by NYU professor, Neil Postman, who became well known for his cynical interpretation of the effect of technology on society. In it, he shares his thinking that discourse, a needed function of responsible, healthy societies, has been seriously subverted by Television, a technology with great enough appeal to cause our species to be distracted from things of essential societal importance in order to indulge its deepening addiction to electronic amusement.    

Waters ties in a connection that he sees to Aldous Huxley, whose "awful view of the future was that people would become so pleasured and amused that they would no longer be interested... no longer interested in all the things that bind us to the fact that we are human and that we are not cogs in the machine! I know it sounds very simplistic but it's fundamental to what my record is about."  And then he returns to more discussion of the relative merits of various audio technologies and his decisions about which to use in the re-mixing of this record... stating, "I'm so happy that there are people who care about these advanced formats because part of the banning of books is also about 'Oh, we don't give a fuck about that, let's all just listen to MP3's!"

This is actually a pretty good little video, certainly thought provoking... and even though Pink Floyd and Postman and Huxley are cultural and intellectual icons, many people aren't familiar with them (perhaps, they've been amused to death... sorry, couldn't resist :) - or haven't thought about them for ages and ages. But here we have another opportunity to sit with some really important ideas for the 6 minute and 5 second run time of this video.

Waters must sense that posting videos on YouTube is a significant way to get a listening for things one wants heard. Not only has he spoken his mind in this one about the overall purpose and value of this album, but he follows up with a couple of other videos in which he discusses, individually, the meaning and significance of every one of its tracks - now re-released twenty odd years on. Here they are:

Roger Waters - Amused to Death - Track-by-Track, Pt. 1

Roger Waters - Amused to Death - Track-by-Track, Pt. 2

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

inside an American gun show - BBC News

Guns for sale - inside an American gun show - BBC News

This video is an opportunity for Americans to see what those who get BBC News as a broadcast or cable TV commodity see. Something that’s ordinarily unavailable to them. When it comes to straight reportage of events, this would not likely seem very remarkable to them. After all, a BBC reporter is likely to read copy about an airliner crash in China, for instance, pretty much the same as an American reporter might. But what about opinion pieces, editorial pieces that show attitudes and values?  About America?  The video becomes, therefore, a peculiar lens through which to view and understand oneself. This view is not communicated intentionally; it's something like accidentally overhearing people talk about you in an unguarded, opinionated way.

Americans and guns/guns and Americans... Americans, like me, either think people should have guns or the right to have guns or maybe they believe America needs gun control of one sort or another. But if you are an American you know and accept that there are guns, plenty of guns... and you know people who own them, own them unapologetically or proudly or maybe you know some folks who own them and don't want to advertise or talk about that fact. Still, Americans understand at the cellular level that guns are a fact of life and that if you take a wrong turn in the toiletry aisle of Walmarts and wander past the toothpaste into house wares, before you realize you're lost and make a U-turn at sheets and pillowcases, you just may wind up in Sporting Goods where you are within self-serve reach of firearms the way you would be of facial tissues and school supplies a few aisles over. No biggie! 

This video, though, was produced for others, people who live in a society in which guns are something seen on Television, are props held by villains in hour long dramas, but are rarely encountered otherwise.  

I think it's fair to say that what's communicated to the intended audience is incredulous disbelief that what's being observed, up close and personal, could actually be happening anywhere, at all. That the producers and reporter are sharing their catching Americans in the act of being themselves. That is, unabashedly indulging what for (the producers feel) any civilized or sane people would be considered a dangerous and bellicose vice,  getting satisfaction from owning devices intended to seriously maim and kill their fellow humans.

It's not hard to imagine what their day of shooting (video footage, that is) and editing might have looked like. Producers assistants scouting a likely gun show to cover, checking with the organizers to get necessary permissions or reminding them of the press' right to cover public events, pre-viewing the various vendors' stands to line up likely sources of footage of military grade firearms about to be taken home by ordinary people (ordinary Americans, not ordinary civilized world citizens). And while they likely took several hours worth of footage, what makes it into the final 2 minute, 48 second cut are shots of a pretty American housewife-type with her bored, middle school aged son in tow shopping for a laser sight for her handgun; the reporter getting his hands on a creepily World War III looking 'short barrel' firearm; display after display of rifles, shotguns, and handguns; a variety of American gun nut-types; and people talking about why they own guns. Their comments include the expected rhetoric about self defense, terrorism, and how gun control will only "help the terrorists." And towards the end, the reporter gives us his summation voice-over, "In America guns are seen as symbols of freedom and liberty, an intrinsic component to national identity... and it's part of the national psyche from an early age!" And then we see how the news crew got lucky. Edited in at the tail end is a 3 second shot of an American woman wheeling a stroller through the gun show with her toddler inside and her young child looks into the camera while waving an (is it a toy?) assault rifle. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

McLuhan Argued for Educational Technology in 1965

CBC TV - Take 30 (Program) - McLuhan predicts 'world connectivity' 1965

Heady stuff! I mean, finding a video of a revered, iconic figure like Marshall McLuhan full of quotes that so perfectly fit any need you might have to justify your field and, with which, in the act of citing them, you can wrap yourself up in such an elegant mantle of expertise. And then, embed that video directly into your blog, so that the Brain-God, McLuhan, himself, is looking into the camera and delivering the words as they formed in his mouth... directly to your readers (viewers?) and you've hitched your wagon to a super nova. Yeah, baby!


One of my areas of specialization for the past quarter century has been Educational Technology.  And for one, I certainly find the things McLuhan is saying in this clip to be compelling. And, yeah, I did a little cherry picking of words and ideas here. These are things he said, after all, a tad over half a century back and getting all of this to line up perfectly is expecting a bit too much. Still, it's there. He's talking about digitizing information and content and making it store-able, retrieve-able, and search-able; and in the process, eliminating the need for people to physically go to specific places to access hard copies of the data they need for their work. And, he's talking about virtual travel to places and people to gain a far more authentic experience of them than reading a book 'about' them could ever render. Further, he seems to indicate that he understood that certain 'tasks', things, I suppose, like bookkeeping and accounting, would become highly automated, and that at the foot soldier level, the hands-on, grunt-work level of sweating and laboring to get them accomplished (not the flying at 30 thousand feet, overview management of them) they would become, to a large degree, marginalized and superfluous; tasks formerly done by workers now replaced by machines.

So, yes, McLuhan saw and understood and described this back in '65, which, when considering things of this nature, was a very long time ago, indeed. Of course, THAT, alone doesn't make any of this true or profound. But as you watch this video you realize that he saw it all with such clarity, and that by listening to his descriptions even we, mere mortals, can see the truth in this now. And that doesn't really require a stretch because the world has literally, physically demonstrated these ideas to be true... even though many of our fellow humans still don't see it.

I was 17 years old when this interview was broadcast. I don't remember it, although the following year, when I went off to college the name McLuhan was one much mentioned on campus. And for me, finding this video is a perfect example of the power of digitized, archived, search-able content... YouTube!

Interviewer: Q - "...  What about an educational procedure, then, that will satisfy all of the senses that are now not being satisfied by schools?.."

McLuhan: A - "... the sort of dialogue among all the elements of our world that is going on, actually, and without benefit of bureaucratic blessing or any official blessing... the kind of exchanges and interchanges of imagery and awareness of peoples of the world... This is (uh) the pattern that I think that Education will resort to more and more. Instead of locating people, for example, in a particular place, to teach them German or Chinese, they will be moved to Germany or China to learn those things... they could be moved by circuitry.

 ... in our world, we are hurrying back and forth across town, morning and night, to situations which we could quite easily encompass by closed circuit. Why do the wheels keep hurrying us downtown? Some people are puzzled by this and they've come up with he answer: it's the filing cabinet, down town in the offices that makes it still necessary to rush back and forth from suburb to office... that it is this obsession with the contents of a file  documents, contracts, DATA... all of these materials actually could be just as available on closed circuit, at home...

The stock broker discovered this long ago that with the telephone he was able to conduct his business anywhere - he doesn't have to hurry down to the stock exchange... we still have this obsessional, compulsive drive to fit into patterns, to fit into classifications which says our job is 'down here!'.. That's why we're terrified when automation threatens to integrate us, so that all of the old fragmentary jobs go back into a circuit... Circuitry has already brought this about, in many levels of our lives, and the applying of it to the industrialized areas of fragmented and specialist tasks at work is inevitable, yes, because it's already happening..." 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death?

Neil Postman Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death Part I, Dec. 1985

This was Intellectual Television. It would come on the tube (that's what we called Television, folks, before the advent of Cable, or later, Cassette or DVD-driven viewing, and way, way before the emergence of ubiquitous, video on demand, better known as YouTube!) on Sunday mornings.

Intellectual Television... as opposed to... Real Television? Certainly, as opposed to Amusing Television.

Here we have a video of one very prominent offering representative of this genre; a show I used to watch, and let me be honest, if re-runs of  the original King Kong or Godzilla had been available in this "time slot" I would have much preferred them. But this was Sunday morning and you either got a religious program with a whacky name like Lamp Unto my Feet or you got some news re-hash or you got some political thingie like Meet the Press. For some reason back then, the idea was that Sunday morning was not supposed to be amusing, at least, not the ways that weekday, prime-time nights were supposed to be. And in New York City, where I grew up and spent my adult working life, you couldn't buy alcohol or go shopping or find broadcast amusement on Sunday morning, either. You either went to church or you watched intellectual TV.

This video is of a show called The Open Mind. And how did we know that this was Intellectual Television? For one thing, it was aired by PBS... for another, the opening credits were sedate and artful, accompanied by serious 'modern music' and the show's host, Richard Heffner, spoke in an engaging, but purposefully not show bizzy tone, with polished diction bespeaking his hyper-intelligent, and no doubt, academically distinguished bonafides.  And, if you didn't catch on to that quickly, well, he was wearing a sports jacket and a sweater vest and tie. You know, like a real college professor. And his guests would wear gray business suits. By the way, I think this show is still aired on PBS with Mr. Heffner's nephew filling his spot after he passed. But I recommend you go to YouTube to take a look at some of the old episodes, like this interview with Neil Postman from 1985. You'll find a bunch of them there.

Mr. Postman, a popular author of books of a genre we might describe as social analysis and commentary, was a long term professor at NYU. He got a good many of us thinking about things, especially in the field of education where he was something of a radical. His book, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, moved me and a good many colleagues to question traditional teaching and focus on better understandings and approaches. And that, let me tell you, readers, was no mean feat back in the '70s!

In this video, Mr. Heffner engages Mr. Postman in a conversation about his book, 'Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.'  Of his 18 published books, this was the one that put Mr. Postman over the top; made him a household name and much sought after authority on the ways that technology shapes our society, as well as reflects the shape into which society has emerged. Importantly, in the '80s, when this book was published, technology meant: Television. Want the book's central thesis in a micro-summary? (Hey, it's what we run on these days :)... That the format and popularity of TV, something that has evolved due to its potential to amuse, has eroded our society's ability to engage in, and provide for the masses, serious discourse (who talks like this anymore?) and that we are much the worse for this. We are amused, yes, but... What are we? What have we become? It ain't what it should be, folks!

And this, dear hearts, is the way smart people used to think and talk back in the day - back when technology was considered as something of an invading force instead of what it really is, something WE created for ourselves in order to do more of what WE want to do and do it better. Back then, serious, smart people somehow had the sense that if they simply railed hard enough at the advances of technology and the ways they felt our society was suffering from them, then somehow, if they wished hard enough, it would all just go away, or perhaps become something other than what it was becoming, so that things could be nice again! Ha!

Sorry, Neil, as big a fan of yours as I am, as big a fan as I am of smart thinking and books that communicate it, as much as I like serious discourse and have high hopes, too, that our society will turn out alright in the end... SORRY, but you got it SOoooooooooo wrong!

On the other side of things, pal, the bright side, what we have stumbled on is a way to truly inform masses of people... ways of engaging them in serious stuff, important stuff, but in ways that wouldn't have looked serious back when you and your host wore ties on TV in order to signal your status as ranking intellectuals. Alas, those days are gone, Neil, but then again, welcome to YouTube!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Virgin Mary appears

Virgin Mary appears over Ivory Coast

I've been wanting to present a video on a religious theme, but just haven't been able to find the right approach. Certainly, I haven't found not the perfect video. Here's one, though,  that emerged out of many dozens I've looked at. And, I don't know....

Don't know what? Whether or not this is authentic? Whether or not I am convinced? Hell, after looking at this, I don't even know what it is I don't know!

There is something very compelling about this video, though. Clearly,  SOMETHING happened here, something WAY out of the ordinary. Further, what's to be viewed here is not just a "phenomenon" to consider, but a very affecting recording of a very affecting experience that was had by a great many people who were apparently caught up in the religious fervor of an extraordinary moment.

The titles of this video, alone, establish an other-worldly, miraculous atmosphere from its very beginning.  They are so matter of fact that they seem to stare us down and without blinking challenge us to accept at face value the impossible that we are about to see.  

First, we see text that states:

"Apparition of The Virgin Mary Ivory Coast - April 20, 2011 & Halo Lighting March 31, 2011.”  

And already I'm wondering "What is Halo Lighting?"

Next,  we are shown a handful of classical, Renaissance style paintings of The Virgin Mary. And then more text identifying for us what we are about to see:

"Virgin Mary appears over Ivory Coast: A recording that has been collected according to the locals is the appearance of 'Virgin Mary' that was shown on April 20, 2011in the center of the sun with a faint outline, the sighting occurred in the district of  Yopougon in Abidjan - Ivory Coast (Africa). The Sun gave forth its light force out of the ordinary. people excited looked at the sky. many startled cried out of happiness what they believed it was the Virgin Mary. Days earlier. on March 31 was another strange event in the same place where Our Lady appeared. "They are testing some kind of display holographic (Project Blue Beam?). are we to another UFO phenomenon or does will certainly be an apparition of the Virgin? Remember that this country has been ravaged by civil wars. In the other video you can see the strange phenomenon of a halo of purple light that happened days earlier than the apparition of the Virgin Mary."

and then 55 seconds in, the documentary footage begins. Blurry, shaky footage? Of course, but still the mood of people literally freaked out by what they are experiencing in the moment is overwhelmingly authentic. Granted, you had to be there and the poster of this video states up front that the camera can not record what the people are seeing... until, that is, until... Infra Red photography is used... and then we, too, begin to see SOMETHING. The video stops and in 6th grade science report fashion, text and arrows are placed over the image to show us the "head" and the "feet" of something up there in the sky. And then, flickering in and out of existence,  we see a figure that... DAMN, looks very much (kinda, maybe)  like an ephemeral, blurry version of the representation of The Virgin Mary that we saw portrayed in those classical painting a few minutes before at he beginning of the video.
OK, at 3 minutes and 53 seconds in, the screen goes black and we see more text... this time telling us that we are about to see footage of "Halo Lighting March 31, 2011."
What do we see next? Well, it's a shaft of impossibly bright purple light descending from the heavens and touching Earth... that's all!

I guess I have a few questions :) :) :) ...... Like...:

- What the hell have I just seen?

- Who made this video?

- Who posted it?

- Why did he decide that it would be a good idea, or perhaps necessary, to provide a musical sound track?

- (and above all) If this is an actual video of an apparition of The Virgin Mary, then how come it's only been viewed some 688,000 times? You'd think that every human being on Earth would want to see this at least once... no?

Answers? There's only one to be had, for now. Under the video the name of the poster is shown as Mayor Boss and clicking on that you are taken to the information page for his channel which states: (Nigerian Entertainment)  
Nigeria Latest entertainment deal with Nigeria news, movie news & celebrities,
Nigerian Music, nigeria movie, TV gossip, celebrity pics & fashion news,
breaking news, promotes Nigerian Artists
Country: Nigeria"
One more thing, in the explanatory caption included directly below the video is the following link " " This takes you to a page with nothing more to offer on these events. Go figure!