Peter Bunting is batsh_t crazy

While Nationwide News Network can be generally acknowledged to be useless, there are still a few instances where it serves some purpose. Take for example yesterday,  when they basically did a repeat of the Biography Channel’ Gangsters: America’s Most Evil episode,The Kingston Kingpin: Christopher “Dudus” CokeThey did the usually thing they do in their Cover Story segment. They basically just took large segments of the show and aired it verbatim (do they have the rights for this show?), without any moral judgement, just boring commentary.

This meant that I was able to get most of what the “documentary” was about without any unneeded commentary. And what I got was that Peter Bunting has serious emotional problems stemming fro a desire for approval, perhaps resulting from some childhood trauma, or a lack of attention from his father. In other words, he is batshit crazy. This guy makes “Shady” K.D. Knight seem absolutely sane.

Peter Bunting, looking crazy as fuck
The very picture of mental stability

His batshit craziness revolves around two statements:

  1. That the 2007 -2011 JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) administration was a client of Christopher Coke
  2. That the Attorney General’s Department was under the thumb of Christopher Coke

These two statements are extraordinary claims that require extraordinary evidence – none which was given, or could be given, by Mr. Bunting. The first claim that was made rests upon two other mini-claims made during the documentary by him and other sources.

The first mini-claim was that the JLP’s electoral campaign was funded by Coke. This is of course , nonsense. No one man has the power to fund the electoral campaign of a major Jamaican political party. Both parties, if they choose, can rely on the much more legitimate funding of the group of capitalists at the heart of their respective parties, local and overseas. They are the refugees of the Jamaica Democratic Party’s failed 1944 campaign, who instead decided to join the two main parties. So you have names like Matalon for the PNP (People’s National Party), and Ashenheim for the JLP. These are men whose wealth and access far exceed that of Mr. Coke. The Ashenheims ran the Gleaner newspaper for nearly 100 years, and the Matalons basically built most of urban Jamaica. These are the people behind the scenes, not some gangster dressed in drag.

Business, Sar?
Business, Sar?

The second mini-claim is that Coke swung the vote for JLP in the 2007 General Election. If all it took for the JLP to win elections was for a Coke to swing the vote, then they would not have had lost an election since the days of  Lester “Jim Brown” Coke. The PNP got booted out due to a middle class electoral being tired of scandals, corruption and incompetence. If the Trafigura scandal was the snowball, then the Cuban light bulb scandal was the avalanche that got an apathetic middle class running for the polls. That is not something that Coke, or the JLP, could have had orchestrated.

The idea that Coke could have had manipulated the Attorney General’s Department is libelous at worst. But this is to be contested, as such claim is unsupported by subsequent investigations.

Most of these things are common knowledge to most Jamaicans,yet Mr. Bunting chose to make a fool of himself on a “documentary.” And I use the term “documentary” loosely because the structure of the program is not one that is geared toward education, but one for entertainment.

  • The use of the quick, MTV-style jump cuts that do not linger on a scene for more than 10 seconds,
  • the rapid-fire comments from the “interviewees”, the preference of phrases over paragraphs,
  • the deep voice of the interviewer to suggest authority, who produces “Dudus”as “Doo-Doos” in a basso profundo baritone
  • the use of theme music to create a leitmotif

These are all techniques that serve to manipulate a viewer into thinking that what he is watching is a serious work of journalism, when it is really nothing more than a cheap ripoff of BET’s (Black Entertainment Television’s) American Gangster. Does anybody really expect that the complex history of the intermingling of crime and politics in Jamaica could be explained in one hour, minus 12 minutes for sponsors?

Apparently Mr. Bunting did, which is what makes a him a complete nut. Could you imagine Michael Manley, Edward Seaga, P.J. Patterson or Bruce Golding appearing on a trash program like this? No, we cannot, because we still think of these men as serious intellectuals who would not degrade themselves to appearing on some trash documentary with mediocre ratings. We used to think the same of Mr. Bunting, but he is apparently a man driven by emotion, not reason. The problem is that his emotions are the type of crazy driver that cuts of 5-ton trucks to get to head of traffic at an intersection.

This is just the latest of Mr. Bunting’s recent insanities. But this should come as no surprise to the average Jamaica, as this is itself the latest stage of Jamaican politics. No longer are our politicians intellectuals who take on the persona of either “The Preacher” (Michael Manley, Alexander Bustamante) or “The Dignitary” (Edward Seaga, P.J. Patterson), but emotional clods who can only (barely) manage, not lead.  And they manage through displays of emotion and and gimmicks, like Last Lick Politics, not through reasonable analysis, sensible ideology, or moral character. This is how we have this fool Bunting , bawling like a little bitch, saying only God can save us, and appearing on trash TV making a fool of himself. Mr Bunting is the new generation of Jamaican politician – the politician not as leaser, but as a cartoon character.

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Dr. StrangeTax (or how I learnt to love the Laffer Curve)

Economics and Applied mathematics are not inherently difficult topics. In a lot of cases, they are merely an expression of some specific ideology in a symbolic form. One example of this, is the Laffer Curve.

Laffer_CurveThe point of the Laffer curve is to show the relationship between the amount of revenue a government collects at each point of a tax rate. A tax rate of zero percent obviously raises zero revenue, while a tax rate of 100 percent is what mathematical economists call “slavery”, and is usually avoided as a fiscal policy. The idea is to find the point on the curve  which revenue collection can be maximized.

Another example of a Laffer Curve

Obviously, this parabola is nothing more than a graphical illustration of the porridges that Goldilocks had to drink. Too hot, and no one has any money to pay taxes. Too cold, and government gets no revenue. We have to find the point where its just right.

Laughable Laffer

The problems with this should be fairly obvious at this point.

  • In a country with a progressive tax rate, you will need more than one Laffer curve. Sometimes, a lot depending on the demographic. This is a problem, because the Laffer curve was originally intended to help rich people.
  • There may be multiple peaks on the curve.
  • There may be other variables at play affecting tax collection. If they are quantifiable, you’re going to have to get out that Div, Grad and Curl. If they are unquantifiable, like say, a Kafkaesque bureaucracy that prevents people who want to pay from paying, well then, that’s another problem.

The first bullet point needs some more explaining. The Laffer Curve was formalized by one Arthur Laffer, one of the main proponents of Supply Side Economics. The thrust of his argument was that the tax rate that maximizes revenue was at a much lower level than previously believed: so low that current tax rates were above the level where revenue is maximized. So, what should be done was to lower the tax rate – for rich people.

Supply Side Economics defined

Previously, Supply Side Economics was called horse and sparrow economics. Why?

According to John Kenneth Galbraith, the theory dates back to the 1890s when it was called horse and sparrow theory — i.e., if you feed horses enough oats, it will pass through their digestive systems and their droppings will provide enough leftover oats to feed the sparrows.

It is now known as either Reaganomics, after its most popular promoter, or trickle-down economics,, based on the idea that  the rich will use the money saved from taxes to re-invest in the economy, instead of, you know, hiding it the Cayman Islands.

Suffice to say, the implementation has had some controversial results, especially under George W. Bush.

Bush cut taxes for the rich, eliminated the inheritance tax for wealthy people too stupid to consult with a financial planner, gave away bribes called tax incentive packages, sought and got an $800 billion bailout package (which he called $700 billion bailout), and paid for it all with a Chinese credit card.

During this same period, the dollar slipped against world markets, losing so much ground that some nations chose to no longer peg their currencies to the US dollar. Once at par with the euro, the US dollar lost a third of its value. When Bush junior entered office, the Canadian dollar was worth about 65¢. By January 2008, the Canadian dollar exceeded the value of the US dollar for the first time since 1976, although it has since receded to about 95¢, due in part to governmental intervention,and falling oil prices.

It’s also worth noting that N. Gregory Mankiw, who was at one point the chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, actually lists supply-siders in his introductory economics textbook under a section entitled “Charlatans and Cranks.”

However, like all economic policies, it has its place, but a problem occurs when you shift the tax burden from the rich to the middle and poorer classes.

Peter Phillips, you bloodclaat dunce

Jamaica is a nation of higglers. Not in occupation, but in thought. Our idea of wealth creation is a simultaneous exchange of good for money – it is present centered. W do not appreciate that over time assets – and this includes people can , well, appreciate. So we ignore the stock market, but get caught up in monthly payout Ponzi schemes like Cash Plus. And this is what Peter Phillips has essentially created with his policies – a national Ponzi scheme. The government has already squeezed all the taxes they can from Jamaican people. See that second Laffer curve? Let me show you again:

Growth, not maximum revenue

We are waaaayyyy on the right hand side of he Laffer Curve – meaning tax evasion and black market trading, but the cool thing about the above curve is that it focuses on growth maximization, not revenue collection. You keep collecting more and more taxes, you will reach a point where you can’t get anymore taxes, just like how a Ponzi scheme reaches a point where it can’t get bring in any more money to pay its investors.What you need to do is stop taxing middle and lower class people, fix the bureaucracy and fix our infrastructure,  if you want to get your our damn money. In other words, Supply Side economics for everybody.

He even looks like a fucking retard
He even looks like a fucking retard

Phillips and company seem to believe that only way to maximize growth and tax revenue is through more and more taxation. But anyone with half a brain should be able to realize that doubling taxes will not double tax revenue. That is like having nine women pregnant for one month to get a baby faster. The Laffer curve is a parabola, not a straight line, and is merely a mathematical model of common sense. Perhaps if Dr. Phillips paid attention to the policies of previous administrations, he would realize that the Laffer Curve is no laughing matter.

Last Lick Politics

The latest political hullabaloo comes to us care of the Sunday Gleaner, by way of Southern Trelawny. Apparently, the independent representative, Paul Patmore, has put forth the claim that the JLP Member of Parliament for that area, one Marissa Dalrymple-Philibert , has been giving out houses to her supporters. These are Food for the Poor houses that are intended for the most destitute, but have allegedly been going to wealthy JLP supporters. To these allegations, Mrs. Dalrymple Philibert has skilfully defended herself in the radio media (Jamaican radio doesn’t believe in podcasts, sorry) , while the Gleaner has now published some follow-ups

This reminds of that whole Richard Azan saga. No, not the similarity of the circumstances, or the fact that PNP politicians have no objective sense of morality, but of something that the Milk River Councillor, Carlton Bailey said. To paraphrase:

The JLP do some of the same things, and if we ever were to name some thing s them do , you would see how bad them is.

Now that the Azan saga has gone on for about 20 days (as of April 30 2013), instead of the planned 9 days, we must have something to distract us with. Something to show, not that PNP is innocent, but that the JLP is just as guilty. Kind of like the nine hour wonder that was the scandal over Bruce Golding’s bakery back in 2006.

When I was a boy, we used to play a game called “last lick.” You tried to hit one of your friends right before they left to go home. So all day you would try get yours in, while strategically dodging your victim, so that they would not catch you as you leave. And this is what this whole Food for the Poor scandal is. Politics as a children’s game – a food fight. Political parties in Jamaica have basically given up on morals, ethics, ideology, economic interests, sociological commonalities, and even identity, preferring instead to score points in tit-for-tat battles. It is at this point that we must abandon all hope for government to help us, and start working on traditional government responsibilities at a community level.

Nationwide News Network is useless.

One of the main complaints against prime minister Portia Simpson-Miller is her indifference to the Jamaican media. This was highlighted especially by two bloggers, Jay over at Commonsense Jamaica and Ricardo over at Constructed Thoughts.

This is Ricardo:

the office of Mrs. Simpson Miller purported to be “concerned” for the safety of the Prime Minister. Fair enough. The worrying aspect of this development is that there is no security threat, in the standard sense, to the Prime Minister. Instead, the OPM released this dubious statement after members of the media sought a response from an ever evasive Simpson Miller. In her now characteristic attempt to dodge the media, and their relentless pursuit of information, the Prime Minister was apparently struck by a microphone. It is regrettable that the PM was struck, but the real issue is why was she running? The real issue is why hasn’t she consented to sit for an interview having taken office 15 months ago?

That;s all well and good, but I don’t think that really matters that much. This is a comment I had left over at Jay’s

Now compare that to media in our time. It is really nothing more than a means for press releases, press conferences, news leaks and interviews for politicians to twist around the interviewer.

I mean, what is the press going to do, call (ahem) Emmy-award-winning journalist Cliff Hughes to throw some softball questions her way?

Jamaican news at the Cliff’s edge

The reason why I am picking on Nationwide News is because it represents everything that is wrong with journalism in Jamaica – even more so than CVM News at its worst. Yet Cliff Hughes and company are generally considered the Jamaican archetype of the “Intrepid Reporter” running down leads and “speaking truth to power”

Again from my comment:

I listened to Nationwide News at 5 yesterday. It was really nothing useful. I can download and read the budget speeches from the net. Whatever commentary was added was redundant. The rest of the news was basically dudes asking the opinions of people on the road, reading aloud Facebook and Twitter posts and repeating BBC news posts that I had heard earlier that day.

The same could be said for all of their other news shows. There is no analysis of the day’s events, only annotations of previously existing news stories. The utter and complete lack of any subject matter expertise among any of their staff members is so laughable, its sad. They recently had several of the potential candidates for the new 360MW power plant project on for interview. You would have had expected them to ask questions such as:

  • How much cents per kilowatt/hour will you be charging for electricity?
  • How will you deal with fluctuations in the Liquified Natural Gas Prices?
  • What are the safety issues with LNG as a power source?
  • What advantages or disadvantages does a barge present during a natural disaster?

and so on. However, their journalistic team’s grasp of basic economics, infrastructural development, educational or any other technical issue is just lacking. Compare this to a Ralston Hyman or a Dennis Chung, whose brains seem to be made from Excel spreadsheets and SQL queries. Just listening to Hyman talk to someone,you know that, while he may be blunt, and not have manipulative skills of a Mike Wallace, he will catch you when you fuck up. With Cliff Hughes and company, its the opposite, they fuck up and get led around by their balls (or in Emily Crook’s case, her titties). Portia’s only problem, is a lack of grip.

Pseudo-events and Pseudo-Journalists

The great American social critic Daniel Boorstin defined a pseudo-event as an event or an activity that exists for the sole purpose of generating media publicity, and serves no other purpose in real-life. Events like these are planned, scheduled for media convenience, ambiguous, and try to be self-fulfilling prophecies. This means that the party who sets up the pseudo-event, for the media’s benefit usually do so for their own selfish purposes, i not the outright manipulation of the media itself.

Thus, examples of pseudo-events would include press conferences, interviews, press releases and newsleaks – exactly the sorts of things that the bloggers and Jamaican people want from Portia Simpson-Miller. More pseudo-events will not shame our leaders into morality and performance. Those types of events only allow the leaders to make their case in a deceptive manner, and give cliff Hughes and others like him the audience share and ratings he so desperately craves – as long as he doesn’t rock the boat.

The failure of mainstream Jamaican media

Remember back in about 2006, when P.J. Patterson resigned and you had about five PNP members competing for leadership? Remember how they treated Portia? Hell, even Mutty Perkins got a hard-on interviewing her, and he hated the PNP almost as much as me! By failing to critically engage Portia in the first place, the media has put itself in the situation it is in now.

You fix that problem with boots-on-the-ground journalism. Not reciting Twitter feeds or reading Facebook responses, or reading the morning dailies verbatim. You get on the ground, dig through spreadsheets, official, and unofficial and cultivate sources. You cannot expect to go up to a politician’s face and expect them to tell you the truth. That is not how you hold power to account in a democracy. Perhaps if Nationwide News Network took their job more seriously, they would understand this.

P.S.

What they hell kind of piece of shit website these guys have operating? No podcasts? Live streaming? What the fuck is this, 1998? I call and the lady tells me that they don’t record their shows either? Ah fuck. And what the fuck does Emily Crooks do? Is she really needed?

Teachers and Tablets – Phillip Paulwell Epic Fail

During yesterday’s (24th of April 2013) budget presentation, we saw Phillip Paulwell in an excited, enthusiastic mood, and utterly overjoyed about the prospects for the future. This therefore means that the rest of us should be scared shitless, hopelessly depressed, and in a state of total fear for the future of our children. I say the future of our children because Minister Paulwell intends for the “duncest” of them to receive 30,000 tablets. Yes even the teachers are going to tablets!  Every single student! Every single teacher!

Tablets for the Illiterate

Any reasonable person should see that the obvious problem with this line of thinking. Giving children tablets is….OK , I guess. Giving children who can’t read or write properly tablets is self-defeating and wasteful. If they can’t read or write on paper, how will they be able to so on a tablet? Of course, if the intention is not for them to be able to read or write…

paulwell_tablets

There is no need to imagine this as a conspiracy against poor people. Conspiracies and plots require a small amount of secretive, highly intelligent, extremely well motivated individuals who know exactly what they want – the complete opposite of the current People’s National Party administration. But nevertheless, the result will be the same. Paulwell’s obsession with technological solutions to social problems will only further entrench poor people into the pit of illiteracy, and their richer counterparts in the slum of aliteracy.

(Insert technological solutions here) is the best thing for the kids

Technological solutionism in education has occurred many times throughout history. One need only look at America to see this ideology in action.

“I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks” (Thomas Edison). 1922

That didn’t work out too well. Same with radio in the 1920s. Television was tried in the 1940s, with the Ford Foundation underwriting the Fund for the Advancement of Education to use instructional television – by 1961 over $20 million in 250 schools and 50 colleges from Ford Foundation. Now we have arrived at tablets and laptops, like the One Laptop per Child program that was pushed by Nicholas Negroponte. There are are a number of reasons why initiatives like these fail.

  • The medium is unsuited to the message that it is trying put across.  The medium of the tablet is one that is intended to replace the textbook, and include activities like games to engage the young people. But a tablet, with its multi-colour interactive display, is by definition, best suited to the display of moving, rather than static images. And in this case the static image is the superior. The moving image is a distraction towards education.
  • Tablets are made for entertainment , not learning.  In order for education to be successful, you generally have to include the following.Prerequisites, as unlike an app, you cannot just point on a book and get into it immediately, you must have had prior education in a topic. There is no app that states that, “you must have taken app 101 and app 201 before starting.” Perplexity, as while you may get stuck while learning, no app wants you to get stuck while using it. An app makes all its features immediately accessible, without having to memorize them, as is the purpose of a GUI. With education, perplexity is a must. You will get stuck, when you overcome that barrier then you are educated. Exposition is also lost with a GUI and apps, as while a tablet can bring across exposition via MP3s and PDFs, that just makes it an inferior version of a Kindle DX. Take away continuity, perplexity and exposition, and you are left with entertainment, not education.
  • It attempts to solve deeply ingrained social problems with a technological one.

Tablets of the poor, Proper facilities for the rich

That last point, I feel, is the most important. In this case, the answer was given before the the question was asked. The question was “Why are these students failing?” The answer was, “Give them some tablets!” Had this been Campion or Hillel, the PTAs and blogs would have had been on fire. Had this been Campion or Hillel, there would have been demands for more teachers per classroom, maybe even a ratio of 10-14 to 1. Had this been Campion or Hillel, there would have had been calls for increased hours in school, one-on-one time with weaker students, regular home consultations, and surprise evaluations by the Ministry of Education, Cambridge and CSEC. But as these are poor people we are dealing with, we give them video games instead.

With regards to the poor, we have continued a caste system that locks young people in a specific level through the use of the shift system. When you tell one set of people that their children are worth 4 hours of school , and another that their children is worth six hours, then you are effectively creating a two-tier caste system that puts the less able in a situation where their latent intellectual ability can never be developed, and are never given the opportunity to achieve their full potential. And giving out these tablets will only further this caste system.

And this is the epic failure of Phillip Paulwell. For tens of thousands of young people at all age levels, the Jamaican educational system has failed them. They don’t have the skills, their parents don’t have the time, their teachers don’t have the patience, and the social workers don’t exist. For Phillip Paulwell to say that tablets can, in any way, help these young people, is as much an admission of failure, as Peter Bunting crying like a bitch. Instead one set of children being worth four hours a day, and the  other six. he instead says that one is worth four hours a day and a tablet, and the others six and good infrastructure. And until we change that that line of thinking, then, to paraphrase Larry Cuban, the poor will get the tablets, the rich will get the teachers.

The Jamaica 50 song controversy and the rise of the Template Era

Lisa Hanna is a fucking idiot. Of course, no one should be surprised by that she is a fucking idiot, as most people who are attracted to power are stupid, mediocre and venal, Hanna being no different. Why then, are people shocked at the duplicity and mismanagement of the Jamaica 50 project, when institutional incompetence is part and parcel of post-1992 Jamaican government. What has Hanna done to prove that she is a qualified statesman other than look pretty and debate nicely? No, matter, in a democracy, people generally get the government they deserve, so we deserve what we get.

The latest nontroversy to grip the Jamaican public has to do with the sudden and unexpected change of the Official Jamaica 50 song from the original “Find the Flag” to the new “On a Mission.” The difference between the songs should be obvious, but the songs themselves are not the point – what they say about Jamaican culture over the last 50 years is.

A little techno, a little dancehall. a little electronica, a little hip-hop, but not much of anything. Just like the songs Lady Gaga, Nikki Minaj, Justin Bieber and every other mass produced pop song, it uses templates.You get your standard issue music sequencer (FL Studio, Reason, Ableton Live) and using a predefined set of musical notes, you create your song by drag-and-dropping your drums and synths from a (usually massive) library of musical instruments. All that is required is a decent Internet connections in order to access one of the many websites that host the thousands of templates. No creativity required.

But this is not just a feature of modern music composition. Our entire middle class economy and workplaces are affected by templates.

  • Microsoft Office templates that give us a predetermined set of resumes, memos, databases and flyers.
  • Adobe Photoshop templates for our programmes, menus and flyers.
  • Vehicle diagnostic tools that are used by mechanics also rely on the use templates on which to base their diagnosis.
  • SAP ERP templates that sit at the heart of modern business and industry

All of the above examples use templates to automate repetitive tasks, as well as to enhance the skill of user, who would normally use an artist or a massive reference book. But when such templates and techniques are used in the arts and especially music, it can result in dull, mechanical music that is a generic, shallow parody of the genre that it tries to emulate. It is an unimaginative and derivative sound, like when you hear a news report of a murder that you know is just a cut-and-paste with the names and places changed.

The mass production of Jamaican popular music is not something that we should despise, as long as producers realize that that mass production and templates are merely labour saving means, not the musical ends. The producer may use software to introduce templates, a tracker interface to easy drum composition or a piano roll to ease string composition, but he is able to use them because he already understands reggae basslines, 4/4, 3+3+2, nyahbinghi and traditional mento drum patterns, and how to manipulate reggae synth and guitar patterns. In other words, he merely uses the software as tool. Or, that is how it should work.

The vast majority of Jamaican music produced nowadays, is devoid of ingenuity or any musical craftsmanship. They hardly approach the level of skill or talent that is seen in a Dave or Tony Kelly, an Augustus Pablo, a Sly and Robbie, or any of the superb musicians whose compositions represent the artistic zenith of Jamaican music.

And it is the same with our politicians, and our managerial class in general. They can only follow a select set of techniques that they have swatted either from their textbooks or some foreign school. They do not know how to govern, and are devoid of new ideas and solutions for the myriad unique problems of Jamaica.That is the main flaw of the Template system – it is mass produced by a set of people, usually foreigners,  who have no interest or knowledge of local situations or culture. Anyone would have realized that “On a Mission” would have had been wholeheartedly rejected by the Jamaican people, but only a fucking idiot like Lisa Hanna could have failed to realize that.

“Find the Flag”, however, is just another side of the same coin.

Lets say tat a Jamaican music lover living in 1972 had a time machine that allowed him to get music from the future. He dials in 2012 and gets the Mikey Bennett song. I have a feeling that he would almost immediately check to see if his machine was working right. And he would have every right to, as it , just like 90 percent of what comes on on IRIE-FM, sounds like it could have had been made 40 years ago. Ours must be the first era in history where music has remained so stagnant. It was just about 11 years from ska to rocksteady to reggae. 10 years from The Beatles to first rap song. Yt Jamaican music has been stuck in a 40 year creative rut.

During the 1980s, the neo-liberal programs that were instituted on recommendation if the International Monetary Fund gutted the educational and health sector of the Jamaican government. Music programs at our schools were slashed, affecting the quality of musical talent that our nation would put out for years to come. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like its just our musicians that were affected by the breakdown of our educational system.

 

Book Review: Amusing Ourselves to Death

The other day, a friend of mine and I were watching the pre-Batman Christian Bale movie “Equilibrium”

Here is the summary from the Wikipedia:

The film follows John Preston (Christian Bale), a warrior-priest and enforcement officer in a future dystopia where both feelings and artistic expression are outlawed and citizens take daily injections of drugs to suppress their emotions. After accidentally missing a dose, Preston begins to experience emotions which make him question his own morality and moderate his actions, while attempting to remain undetected by the suspicious society in which he lives. Ultimately he aids a resistance movement using advanced martial arts, which he was taught serving the very regime he is to help overthrow.

As is typical of the type of people who enjoy these times of movies my  “friend” begun to expound on how our society was going in this very direction. We were, he claimed, headed towards a prison planet where we would be drugged up, brainwashed, and then kept in permanent serfdom in a neo-fascist state.

Being the contrarian that I am, I had to ask him some issues regarding this scenario – Why would you need to force people to take drugs? Why not make the drugs addictive? How can a fascist nation be economically viable?

But there was also something about that movie. Anyone who has watched the trailer, read the above summary, or watched the whole movie will notice just how utterly derivative it is. Its one of those new “mashups” that all the cool kids are talking about. It combines the Soma drug from Brave New World, the fascist state from 1984, the book-burning from Fahrenheit 451, the fascist uniforms from the Matrix, the sterile cinematography of Gattaca, and  the Guardian characters from Judge Dredd, with all the self-importance and pretentiousness that we have come to expect from sci-fi action movies. And as with any  mashup, it is inevitably lesser than the sum of its ripped-off parts.

I had asked my friend if he had read any off the books that the movie had been “influenced” by. He said no, though he had watched the 1984 movie with John Hurt.

Now my “friend”  is one of those “people” who believes that the world will end come the 21st of December 2012, that 9/11 was a U.S. government operation and that there is a second star in our solar system called Nibiru that also influences our planet. Obviously we should not take him seriously, but that is not the point.

When most people think of a totalitarian state, they think of a 1984 type situation, as seen in Equilibrium. What Neil Postman is here to tell us is that we are heading in a totally different direction. See below.

Neil Postman’s 1985 book “Amusing Ourselves to Death:Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business “, posits that, rather than being controlled through the application of pain, we will be manipulated through the inflicting of pleasure. He believes that we have switched from a contextual, analytical, print based culture to a context-free, graphical one. As a result, the rational, liberal democracy that was created during the 18th and 19th century is becoming unsustainable as our visual culture is leading us … somewhere else.

We were not amused (in the old days)

The book is divided into two parts. The first part contains its legendary foreword, an explanation of its main theme and sub-themes, as well as a short history of American typographic culture, pre-telegraph. The main theme, from which all else flows, is not that television is making us stupid, neither it is that a print based culture is superior but that the form in which an idea is expressed affects what those ideas will be. From this value neutral theme, Postman develops an idea in Part 1 known as the Age of Exposition.

To quote Postman

The name I give to that period of time during which the American mind submitted itself to the sovereignty of the printing press is the Age of Exposition. Exposition is a mode of thought, a method of learning, and a means of expression. Almost all of the characteristics we associate with mature discourse were amplified by typography, which has the strongest possible bias toward 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. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, for reasons I am most anxious to explain, the Age of Exposition began to pass, and the early signs of its replacement could be discerned. Its replacement was to be the Age of Show Business.

Note that he did not say that the print media creates “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“, but that it amplifies it. Postman is no fool. He is quite aware of all the junk romance novels, gossip and all the other nonsense that anyone with access to a printing press can put out. Those simple ideas are nothing for a complex form to reproduce. But it takes a complex form to produce complex ideas. Not complicated – complex. A web browser, with its Javascript JIT compiler, tabbed windows and JQuery/Flash animations is quite complicated. A book, is complex, but not complicated.

Postman uses the legendary Lincoln-Douglas debates to further his point about Man in the Age of Exposition. At one debate at Peoria, Illinois on the 16th of October 1854, Stephen Douglas went first for three hours. By the time Douglas had finished, it was 5 in the evening. Lincoln then suggested everyone go home to have dinner, then come back in the evening. They did, and when they returned they were treated to another four hours of oratory, starting with Lincoln’s rebuttal of Douglas.

They certainly were not bored into a catatonic stupor by sentences such as

It will readily occur to you that I cannot, in half an hour, notice all the things that so able a man as Judge Douglas can say in an hour and a half; and I hope, therefore, if there be anything that he has said upon which you would like to hear something from me, but which  I omit to comment upon, you will bear in mind that it would be expecting an impossibility for me to cover his whole ground.

In fact, these debates would take place at fairs and circuses. The music would not be played during these debates of course, but the crowd would quite often shout encouragements (”’You tell ’em Abe ‘) or scorn (“Answer that one, if you can”).

The above excerpt by Lincoln is not something that one finds in an oral culture, which is dependent upon poetry, proverbs and limericks are used as mnemonic devices. Nor would it be normally found in a graphic culture, with its focus on charts, graphs, Youtube clips, soundbites, LOLcats, smiley faces, and jump cuts. Both the pictorial medium, and its counterpart, the medium created by electronic communication . The whole point of a photograph and the bit is to preserve information like a a mosquito trapped in amber. But determining whether or not the mosquito is relevant in that time or place is not a within by those media, as they are primarily suited to preserving an eternal present and transporting information, not its exposition or its interpretation.

We are always amused (nowadays)

Of the audience at the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Postman asks “What kind of audience was this? Who were these people who could so cheerfully accommodate themselves to seven hours of oratory?” He, of course, means this as a rhetorical question. The Americans of the time from the Late 17th to the early 19th century were analytic and rational, as a result of living in a print based culture. Thus, they were able to readily deal with the all the new ideas and techniques that were part and parcel of the Enlightenment, whether it be the Protestantism of Jonathan Edwards, the economics of Adam Smith, the literature of Charles Dickens, the politics of Thomas Paine and the oratory of Abraham Lincoln.

So what does he think of the 1985-era citizen? Here is his take on a viewing of a 1984 Presidential Debate (emphases are mine ):

Prior to the  1984 presidential elections, the two candidates confronted each other on television in what  were called “debates.” These events were not in the  least like the  Lincoln-Douglas debates or anything else that goes by the name. Each candidate was given five minutes to address such questions as, What is (or would be) your policy in Central America? His opposite number was then given one minute for a rebuttal. In such circumstances, complexity, documentation and logic can play no role, and, indeed, on  several  occasions syntax itself was abandoned entirely. It is no matter The men were less concerned with  giving  arguments  than  with  “giving  off”  impressions, which is what television does best. Post-debate commentary largely avoided any evaluation of the  candidates’ ideas, since there were none to evaluate. Instead, the debates were conceived as boxing matches, the relevant question being, Who KO’d whom?

Let us look at the skills that were fostered by the Age of Exposition

  1. A sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially
  2. A high valuation of reason and order
  3. An abhorrence of contradiction
  4. A large capacity for detachment and and objectivity
  5. A tolerance for delayed response

Anyone who watches a debate on TV nowadays knows that it is nothing more than a more sophisticated version of an exchange of “Yo Mama!” jokes. Yo mama jokes are subjective and emotional attachment (opposite of 4.), They require an immediate response, as no one expects . At the debate itself, the emphasis is not on reason or order, but on emotional appeal and non-fiction versions of manatee jokes. Contradictions are par the course in politics.

To put it simply, people vote for pretty faces and nice slogans, both in Jamaica, and in the United States. They vote for politicians based on the narrative that has been created for them, not on the content of their policies.

Postman explains that the progenitor of the television, the photograph and telegraph, were the technological systems (and epistemologies) that caused the shift from print to visual culture. The telegraph made introduced into the culture irrelevant information, the information would be about things so far away that no one in the receiving location would be able to do anything about it. This is a direct result of the form of the the medium – it is intended to bring information from far away – not to aid in its exposition. One does not construct a telegraph link within a small city or town. It is not feasible and besides, why would you need a telegraph when you could just go outside? The photograph, can only show concrete examples of things, it cannot deal with abstract categories. It can show a man, but not Mankind, lovers, but not Love, pornography, but not sensuality. Both media only need to be recognized, but words need to be understood.

In order to demonstrate how the de-contextualized media of the Age of Show Business (post-telegraph age) creates information that leads to “irrelevance,impotence, and  incoherence.”  Postman develops a concept called the information-action ratio. It is the measure of how much action you take based on how much information you have. For example, let us say that you are a white guy that has heard about the plight of some poor darkies Ugandans via a YouTube video.

I think you can tell where I’m going with this….

Being the well-meaning person you are, you want to do your very best to help them. Now, having watched that half-hour video on YouTube, you should be very well informed about the situation, right? Do you know the name of the President of Uganda? The name of the capital? What about the name of the last President? What is an Acholi? I am willing to bet that the answer would be “no” to all those questions. Those are very important questions that are quite relevant to the action you would need to take. But because a television based epistemology (in this case, a YouTube video) depends on slogans and appeals to emotion, instead of explanation and exposition, you would information that was not important, merely sensational. And even if you did get important information, you would be impotent to do anything with that information.

Well, that is one action you could take.

I have used the example of YouTube because even though the book was written in 1985 (Postman talks about “microcomputers”), it is still relevant. This is because Postman does not see television as a technology, but a philosophy of knowledge. He shows how the television philosophy renders everything it touches into entertainment. Religion loses its theology, dogma and ritual, and becomes a personality cult. Education loses its ability for  exposition, perplexity and need for prerequisites, and becomes mere entertainment.

This is the logical conclusion of Postman’s argument. Television’s inherent structure reduces everything to entertainment.The medium of television is a Procrustean bed that cuts the profound, erudite foundations of the serious aspects of our culture, reducing it to mere trivia. At the same time, it stretches the commonplace, irrelevant, piddling, trite features of consumer capitalism to fit those foundational principles that it has so efficiently eviscerated. Postman has no problem with entertainment -indeed he agrees that the television is best used for entertainment. The problem is when it is used for serious affairs such as religion, politics, news and education, then it becomes a problem. These institutions still retain the features that he had when they where created in the late 17th to the mid 19th century, and  still require the analytic-rational skills that are fostered by a print based culture. Attempting to engage them using a 20th century image centered philosophy, is folly, as Postman hints at, but Chris Hedges says openly

We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and clichés. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.

Will you be amused?

It might seem strange that a book that mentions shows like “Cheers”, “Dynasty” and “Dallas” as if they are still being broadcasted can still be relevant, but 27 years after it was first published Amusing Ourselves to Death is actually more relevant than ever. With this book (and others such as “Technopoly”, “The End of Education” and “Building a Bridge to the 18th Century”) Postman cemented himself as one of the premier cultural critics of our time. While he may lack the profundity of a Lewis Mumford, or the conciseness of a Ivan Illich, and he often fuses ideas from previous greats, his writing style is what catapults him to the top, his writing is funny, yet never curmudgeonly, and always penetrating. Some examples

On  December 5, 1989,  Daniel Goleman, covering the social-science beat for The New York Times, gave considerable space to some “recent research findings” that doubtless unsettled readers who hadn’t been keeping informed about the work of our scientists of the mind: Goleman reported that psychological researchers have discovered that people fear death. This insight led them to formulate “a sweeping theory,”  to quote Goleman, “that gives the fear of death a central and often unsuspected role in psychological life.”

As I write, the trend in call-in shows is for the “host” to  insult callers whose language does not, in itself, go much  beyond humanoid grunting. Such  programs  have  little content,  as this word  used to be defined, and are merely of archeological interest in that they give us a sense of what a dialogue among Neanderthals might have been like. More to the point,  the language of radio newscasts has become, under the influence of television, increasingly decontextualized and discontinuous, so that the possibility of anyone’s knowing about the world, as against merely knowing of it, is effectively blocked. In New York City, radio station WINS entreats its listeners to “Give us twenty-two  minutes and we’ll give you the world.” This is said without irony, and its audience, we may assume, does not regard the slogan as the conception of a disordered mind.

I should go so far as to say that embedded in the surrealistic frame of a television news show is a theory of  anticommunication,  featuring a type of discourse that abandons  logic, reason, sequence and rules of contradiction. In aesthetics, I believe the name given to this theory is Dadaism; in philosophy, nihilism; in psychiatry, schizophrenia. In the parlance of the theater, it is known  as vaudeville.

The first quote is from the his book “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology”, another of his books that I will soon be reviewing. And as Amusing Ourselves to Death is one the books of The Satanforce Canon, a chapter by chapter summation, with specific reference to Jamaica will be done at a later date

I had previously stated that Jamaica had a tradition of producing fine ministers and theologians, who were steeped in the intellectual and philosophical tradition of Christianity. Well, it seems that in the Age of Show Business, the possibility of this tradition continuing is in jeopardy. Could we have gotten a Malcolm X when there is a TV room right beside the library? A Sam Sharpe when the slavemaster realizes that Carnival is greater allure the church sermons? I don;t know, not yet anyway, but on the meantime, here’s som Gun Kata!