29 December 2009

From Jesus to Christ

Frontline on PBS is running a very interesting series on early Christianity called From Jesus to Christ. Check it out here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/. Or just click on the title of this post.

09 November 2009

For your consideration… The Dangers of Infotainment


Written by David DeWitt
Monday, 09 November 2009 17:04
The Athens NEWS

I watched the news today, oh boy…

In 1985, Neil Postman wrote a book called, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” In it he distinguishes a world of Orwellian totalitarianism in which Big Brother outright seizes the rights of the citizenry, from that of Aldous Huxley’s “A Brave New World,” where these rights and freedoms are volunteered as the population self-medicates with a drug called “soma.”

Postman proposes that, in modern times, television entertainment is the “soma” that the population uses to self-medicate into bliss and distraction.

“Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression,” Postman wrote in the book’s forward. “But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think… What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.”


And Postman was writing nearly 25 years ago.

He goes on to explain how our society has evolved away from a typographic society, where the strongest bias is given to exposition: “a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for delayed response.”

What society has evolved into, he wrote, is one in an “Age of Showbusiness,” where television and entertainment has become the dominant means of construing, understanding and testing reality.

Our experience of the world, Postman proposed, has become reliant on “electronic techniques, introducing a peek-a-boo world, where now this event, now that, pops into view for a moment, then vanishes again. It is a world without much coherence or sense; a world that does not ask us, indeed, does not permit us to do anything; a world that is, like the child’s game of peek-a-boo, entirely self-contained. But like peek-a-boo, it is also endlessly entertaining.”

If ever there was a prophetic work written, I submit Postman’s book.

I always enjoy the comedian Bill Hicks, who said, also back in the 1980s: “Go back to bed, America. Your government has figured out how it all transpired. Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control. Here. Here's American Gladiators. Watch this. Shut up. Go back to bed, America. Here is American Gladiators. Here is 56 channels of it. Watch these pituitary retards bang their f***ing skulls together and congratulate you on living in the land of freedom. Here you go, America. You are free to do what we tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!”

And 20 years later, we brought back American Gladiators for another round on our beloved television sets. Congratulations, us.

Our society was already haphazardly careening in this direction 20 years ago, but has now gone full tilt, smashing into distraction and irrelevance like a 50-car freight.

I don’t worry about the mindless entertainment. I don’t worry about the nation’s obsession with American Football – I indulge myself. I don’t worry about the shows on HBO. I don’t worry about the shows on Fox, or ABC, NBC, CBS, Comedy Central, FX. Hell, I don’t even really worry about the shows on MTV or VH1. To me, all of this is mere distraction. It isn’t necessarily harmful, in and of itself, aside from propagating our diminishing sense of taste and art in favor of mass-produced, pop-mediocrity. These television shows just give us something to do for a little while, they take us out of our world. At worst, they take away time that we could be using to read, which I consider a better use of time if one is concerned about advancing their breadth of knowledge and capacity for critical thinking. But that’s at worst.

What I worry about is the news. Specifically, I worry about the cable news. I worry about what passes as news. I worry that there are two 24-hour networks on television – Fox News and MSNBC – that even claim to be somehow distributing useful information in any sense.

There is no doubt to me that what those two networks represent, in whole, is the very essence of the term “infotainment.” I not only worry that this “infotainment” is systematically warping the intellect and opinion of the members of our society. I worry that it is warping Democracy as a whole.

I truly worry about the ability of the electorate to make an informed decision when so much of the information they receive from these sources is not only incorrect, misleading or not based in fact, but not even concerned with any of these things.

As a newsman, I’ve always believed that the one and only most important service of a news organization is delivering facts to the population – certifiable, verifiable facts. These networks, and all “infotainment” resources, have no concern about that whatsoever. And I encourage you to take that into consideration when you are forming your opinions. Always, consider the source.

For this post, my other recommendations include:

Buying and reading Neil Postman’s, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.”

Watching the stand-up comedy of Bill Hicks on YouTube. Bill is no longer with us, and will undoubtedly be the feature of a future Vegetable Bud. For some, what he has to say will be extremely uncomfortable. But you’d do well to take it into consideration.

And finally, for laughs, watch a show called InfoMania on Current TV. This is a half-hour, weekly program available online that does a good job of showing how absolutely ridiculous our information and entertainment worlds have become.

Firecrackers and Gummi Bears,

Dave

03 November 2009

For your consideration... This Is My Suitcase

Written by David DeWitt
The Athens NEWS
Tuesday, 03 November 2009 17:30

And now, for your consideration… This Is My Suitcase

Listen to this album. Buy this album. And spread the word.

I feel as though my eardrums have just been ravaged by a sweet and sultry phonic PleasureMaster 3000.

That was my first reaction to hearing the new album from This Is My Suitcase, “The Keys to Cat Heaven,” (Paper + Plastick, 2009). In January, Columbus Alive listed Suitcase as one of the top bands to watch in 2009. They were right. And Suitcase delivered.


The truth of the matter is that I first met these guys in May 2008, through a friend of mine when I first moved to Columbus that year. I first saw them perform live a couple weeks later and was blown away. Throughout my days I’ve made friends with a wide variety of artistic types. From writers to actors to comedians to filmmakers to musicians galore, I’ve met them, talked with them, partied with them and spent hours experiencing whatever artistic expressions they were sharing.

The raw talent and dedication of Suitcase dwarfed that of almost all others I’ve come across. Certainly the live sound of this band put any other local act I’ve ever seen in my life to shame. That is not hyperbole and I’ve seen a lot of local bands. And I stand by my statement.

I got to know the band extremely well over the next eight months that I lived in Columbus, and attended as many of their shows as I could. And my affinity for them and their music only grew.

Singer, guitarist, composer and wildcat Joe Camerlengo dedicates himself to music like a lunatic obsessed – like nothing I’ve ever seen. He purrs, he screeches, he moans, he hums, he sings, he bangs, he jumps, he wails. He talks about cats, and does more crafts than my grandmother. His thin, flannel-clad frame clutches his guitar and belts falsetto like the Mad Hatter orchestrating a musical frenzy of hard rock ‘n’ roll oozing with childlike pop irony.

I enjoy reading the descriptions other writers come up with to try to explain the truly unique and original, yet wholly accessible, sound of Suitcase.

Chris Deville from Columbus Alive said, “melodies are punctuated with off-his-rocker falsetto shrieks, heartfelt emotions mingle with animal allegories and piano-man pop is arranged with Brian Wilson-worthy meticulousness.”

Don Allred from UWeekly referred to a “spinning sugar blast of extreme psych-pop.”

I liked Camerlengo’s own words, however, when he referred to the band as a baroque-pop quintet.

Quintet obviously. With Camerlengo, you’ve got cool cat Joe Fitzgerald slappin’ the bass, deep cat Jeremy Skeen bangin’ the drums, sweet cat Mary Lynn Gloeckle hittin’ the keys, and crazy cat Nick Manos shreddin’ the guitar. They are also known as bones, bones, bones, bones and not bones. So, with five, that takes care of quintet.

But “Baroque-pop,” now that’s a term worth exploring. As the dictionary confirms, Baroque can be used as an adjective to mean, “extravagantly ornate, florid, and convoluted in character or style.” Of course, the term originally refers to the style of art and architecture in Italy in the early 17th century. But this term couldn’t be more fitting of Suitcase, especially when tied by hyphen to the word pop.

This music is Baroque-pop, at its’ finest. The ornamentation prevalent throughout this music, and on this album, is not only extravagant, florid and convoluted, but meticulously so, beautifully so. The orchestration, the composition, the bending of these air molecules, couldn’t be more effective as well as intentional.

But the pop quality brings it right back home to the standard listener who might not want to be hassled with navigating the undercurrent of beauty found in dissonance, complication and experimentation. Make no mistake; this album is unique and original but also wholly accessible. It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard. But it’s also just the type of thing that’ll get you shaking your ass and banging your head.

Meanwhile, the haunted lyrics talk of ghosts, rowboats, kittens, love and much more. The lyrics can be deep, emotional, whimsical, ironic, surreal, dark and light. The music covers the same range.

My personal favorite song is Rowboat, where Camerlengo invites his love to “rowboat around the house. when they threaten the hose to flood us out, we’ll swim out of our clothes, love through our mouths.”

I could go on and on, but won’t. The simplest thing is to tell you to listen to this album. Listen to it LOUD! Listen to it front-to-back. Listen to it uninterrupted. And make sure to buy the album. And make sure to tell everybody else to buy the album. Or, I’m coming after you with a hatchet.

Firecrackers and Gummi Bears,

Dave

LINKS

Buy “The Keys to Cat Heaven” here!


Official This Is My Suitcase Web site

This Is My Suitcase on MySpace

This Is My Suitcase on mtvU’s Best on Campus

Columbus Alive Bands to Watch 2009

This Is My Suitcase on Absolute Punk

For your consideration...

For your consideration... Print E-mail
Written by David DeWitt
Monday, 02 November 2009 17:12

Well, I’m quite a liar, aren’t I? I said I would write more often and I didn’t. I said I would be there and I wasn’t. I said I would call and I never did. But I refuse to let this relationship fall by the wayside. You see… I have an idea.

Originally, I was going to write these long-winded, self-indulgent columns delineating the troubles of our American culture. But I now realize, in this format, I have no need to be so garrulous. It’s the age of Al Gore’s Internet! I can write short-winded, self-indulgent blurbs delineating the troubles of our American culture, complete with hyperlinks and embedded video to provide the steamy details.

Moreover, I have no need to stick to delineating the troubles of our American culture, but can also point to some highlights that are available to all but go unnoticed under the titanic weight of the corporate media machine. We are living in a time and place where freedom of information reigns. It’s all out there for us to find. We only must seek it.

This is not to say that I’m going to turn The Vegetable Bud into a simple list with links of stuff I like and stuff I don’t like. I envision it being needs-based.

All forthcoming Vegetable Buds will consist of various reviews, essays, links, videos, and suggestions that I think other people need to take into consideration. The model will be free form and the targets random. But in the end I think you’ll find the information provided at least interesting, and perhaps useful, certainly worthy taking into consideration.

25 August 2009

Debtor's Prison

By David DeWitt

Originally published at www.athensnews.com on August 25, 2009.

Hey there. I like your style. I was wondering if you’d have a drink with me. Maybe we can go for a walk or something. I’d like to take you out, and talk to you about the national debt.

You see, while being very concerned about the national debt for the last eight years myself, I heard very little conversation about it otherwise. That is, until Barack Obama was elected President and the Republican Party started flipping out about it.

This was quite a shock to me. I wasn’t shocked that others should be concerned about the ballooning debt. After all, it’s a serious concern for all of us. I was shocked that it didn’t become a major topic of conversation until a Democrat was in the White House. Currently, the national debt stands at about $11.7 trillion dollars.


For years I’ve had the pleasure of hearing the GOP argument that the Democrats are the big spenders in favor of big government. But I’ve also been studying the national debt for years. And when you measure the debt as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) something interesting happens. The debt as a percentage of GDP goes up during recent Republican administrations and down during the one recent Democratic, Clinton administration.

If you measure debt only in dollars, you don’t get the full picture, because of inflation and government revenue increases and so forth. This is why you have to measure the debt as a percentage of GDP. Only that measurement shows you the nation’s debt in relation to what it can afford.

During the great depression, the national debt as a percentage of GDP went through the roof as Roosevelt opted for deficit spending to rally the economy. At this point, national debt as a percentage of GDP was around 120 percent. This peaked around 1946 and 1947. After that point, the country went through a fairly prosperous period, slowly paying off the debt. Each administration paid down the debt so that it was about 32.6 percent of GDP by 1980.

Ronald Reagan was elected at this time and the country hit a bad recession just as he entered office. Reagan did some deficit spending of his own at this point. But he did a couple other things. One of them is that he passed some major tax cuts. Republicans like to argue that these tax cuts spurred 20-plus years of economic growth for the country.

Although I’d argue against these claims of growth as the long-term effects of Reagan’s tax policies, the Republicans and myself could probably agree that cutting taxes leads to a loss of revenue for the government. Simply put, tax cuts means less money is coming into the government coffers. That’s indisputable. But at this point, Reagan did something else. He jacked up defense spending.

This is pretty simple stuff, folks. If you decrease revenue coming in (tax cuts) while at the same time increasing overhead (defense spending), you increase the national debt as a percentage of GDP. That’s the facts. And that’s what happened. Reagan was the first president since Truman to have the national debt climb as a percentage of GDP. By the end of his term, and George H.W. Bush’s term, national debt had risen about 34 percentage points, making it around 66.2 percent of the country’s GDP.

Now Bill Clinton comes into office. He does a whole bunch of stuff with relation to the economy, but for the purposes of our discussion the significant thing that he does is lower defense spending. Under Clinton, defense spending dips from around 400 billion per year to about 300 billion per year. And the national debt as a percentage of GDP dips along with that adjustment, lowering to about 57.4 percent by the end of his term.

And then George W. Bush comes into office. To turn a clich├ęd phrase, it’s the same song, different verse. G.W. Bush gets two major rounds of tax cuts passed, and embarks on two wars in the Middle East that, of course, increase defense spending. The national debt rises again between 2001 and 2008, this time up to about 75.5 percent of GDP.

It becomes obvious at this point that when government revenue is decreased and defense spending is increased at about the same time, the national budget goes into deficit spending. It’s really only logical.

So where does that leave us now? The economy went down the tubes and Obama began deficit spending, passing major multi-billion dollar bills to spur the economy.

And now he wants to pass some major health care reform to fix an obviously broken system. But to do this, it will require more deficit spending.

But let’s at least put it in a little perspective. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that if the current U.S. House of Representative’s health care plan is put into effect, it will increase the national debt $239 billion over the course of the next 10 years. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have thus far cost this country $915.1 billion over the past eight years.

Being a national debt hawk myself, I don’t tingle at the idea of adding $239 billion to the debt over 10 years for any reason. But I’d rather spend that much making the health of my fellow citizens better than three times as much destroying the health of foreign populations any day of the week. This is a question of priorities. And these are some of the issues, in perspective, that need to be considered. Especially when a certain party is waging a public debate so blatantly hypocritical. But, hey, I guess that’s politics.

More to come soon. I promise to be more diligent in my blog writing. Thanks for listening. And I think I’d like to take you on a second date.

03 August 2009

Where's the meat?

By David DeWitt


Q: Mr. Owl, how many news sources does it take to get to the relevant center of a national issue?

A: Let’s find out. One, two, three. (CRUNCH) Three.

VOICEOVER: How many news sources does it take to get to the relevant center of a national issue? (CRUNCH) The world may never know.

I’ve given up on cable news. Well, let me clarify. I watch it in much the same way that I might watch World Wrestling Entertainment. I watch it because it’s hilarious, melodramatic, absurd, hackneyed, predictable and decidedly not based in reality. And I feel kind of bad for the people who believe that it’s real.

In the early part of this century, Fox News did something spectacular. For the first time ever, a 24-hour cable news network took the model for 24-hour conservative talk radio and adjusted it for television. The move was a rousing success. Think about it, the possibilities are endless.

Under the guise of providing news, a television channel could have legitimate access to the most powerful decision-makers in the country. They could take their cameras to the White House and Capitol Hill, and get direct content. Then they could bring in an endless supply of self-proclaimed experts and have them “analyze the issues” in discussions moderated by an endless supply of self-aggrandizing hosts.

The host’s duties are fairly simple: holier-than-thou attitude, transparent political bias, unwillingness to listen to, much less intellectually consider, dissenting viewpoints, and a volume-based barometer for argument victory.

The expert’s duties are also simple: sound bite-sized regurgitation of standard, if logically fallacious, political talking points at the behest of whatever group of interests they are representing through cheerleading.

Even the pecking order works like the WWE. The more outlandish, controversial and/or bat-shit crazy a host is, the more success he or she has within the network. The same goes for the supposed experts.

After Fox News ran away with the Nielson Ratings prize for their efforts, it took a couple years for the other networks to get the game, but they eventually came around.

MSNBC has gone all-in at this point, in the opposite direction. CNN is determined to project a standard of objectivity, but their efforts are futile. Television programming is above all an entertainment product. Try as they may, CNN cannot avoid the formula for infotainment success. Unfortunately, that formula, and the format of TV itself, inevitably precludes the one thing necessary in the news business to provide a serious understanding of the issues to a news consumer: context.

Broadcast news uses roughly 400 words to describe a story to the viewer. This is done in conversational tone, using simpler words that even correspond to an easy-listening formula. A newspaper story might run between 600 and 1,200 words, with a broader vocabulary, inverted pyramid style and dedicated to answering the five Ws and the H (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How). A magazine or feature article might run as long as 7,000 words or more. By simple measurement of shear quantity of words, obviously print provides at least the opportunity to frame issues in context.

Audio-visual stimuli are visceral by nature, whereas the written word is intellectual by nature. Allow me then to present an argument: A higher number of words provide a greater amount of context. A greater amount of context leads to a fuller understanding of complex issues. News in the written word provides a higher number of words-used than news on television. Therefore, news in the written word provides a greater amount of context and thus a fuller understanding of complex issues. Try finding logic like that in a television sound bite, gentle reader.

My point is this: as our country rages in debate over a number of highly complex, and highly important, issues, we all might do well to read a little more and listen to the sound bite advocacy of cable news a little less.

Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN are all for entertainment purposes only. For the information I need to form a well rounded, considered, and studied opinion, I use Al Gore’s Internet (he invented it, right?) My recommendation is that you go and do likewise.

Here are some of the sites I use:

Politics:

www.realclearpolitics.com

www.factcheck.org

www.rollcall.com

www.politico.com

Business:

www.realclearmarkets.com

World News:

www.bbcnews.com

Local News:

www.athensnews.com (of course)

27 June 2009

The Media and Michael Jackson (Click Here)

Sums it up nicely.

*lots of cusses and swears