Thursday, April 29, 2010

Five Years Out: Understanding McLuhan

This past November, at the National Communication Association's annual meeting in Chicago, they scheduled a series of "Five Years Out" sessions (it being five years before the NCA's 100th anniversary), which they had solicited from their various divisions and interest groups, and affiliates, including the Media Ecology Association.

So Thom Gencarelli organized one for the MEA entitled "Five Years Out: Understanding McLuhan" which he described as follows:

This panel honors both the impending 100th anniversary celebration of the National Communication Association and the fact that 2014 also marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of H. Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media in 1964.   The intent is to examine and celebrate McLuhan’s often underappreciated and unappreciated contribution to the discipline of communication and media studies, and his role, as a public intellectual, in putting our awareness, understanding, and misunderstanding of media on the map of the culture-at-large. 

Thom chaired the session, and the panelists included, in alphabetical order, Brian Cogan of Molloy College, Bruce Gronbeck of the University of Iowa, Paul Grosswiler of the University of Maine, Gary Gumpert of the Urban Communication Foundation, Rob MacDougall of Curry College,
Steve Reagles of Bethany Lutheran College, and yours truly, affiliated as I am with Fordham University, not to mention the Institute of General Semantics.

So, all of these sessions were videotaped, and then made available via the National Communication Association's website.   And I would love to embed the video here, you know how I love to spend the day embed, but unfortunately no embed codes are supplied, so I have no choice but to send you over there to watch it.  Here's the link:

Five Years Out: Understanding McLuhan

Before you click on it, be warned that conference sessions run an hour and fifteen minutes, and this particular video clocks in at 79 minutes and 33 seconds.  Is it worth it?  Well, you'll have to judge for yourself.  We go alphabetically, so my remarks come last, and I do say some things here that I have never said before, at least not in a public forum.

So we're less than five years out now from the 50th anniversary of Understanding Media, and next year will be the 100th anniversary of McLuhan's birth, so look for some special programming to mark that occasion!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Time is an underlying theme here at Blog Time Passing, and music, as an art form and medium, is very much a function of time. 

Visual images, pictures, paintings, sculptures, and especially photographs, can give us the illusion of frozen time, a captured moment, although, in reality, time's flow cannot be arrested, time still passes.  The moving image can also display a still image, an illusion of time stopping, and on video we can have the freeze frame, but of course time still passes for us as we are watching it, and for that matter, the image is constantly being refreshed by electrons and photons.  In the dramatic arts, actors, players, dancers, etc., can hold a pose, stand still, but time still passes. for them and for the audience. 

The eye gives us the illusion of timelessness in a way that the ear cannot.  As Walter Ong put it, "Sounds only exists as it is going out existence."  Whether it's speech or music, or the sounds of nature or technology, sound can only exist in time.  If you hit pause on your stereo, you don't get a freeze frame, you get silence.  Rhythm is an inherent dimension of music, even if the rhythm is arrhythmic, and rhythm is a form of time.

With that in mind, I think this music video by Jean Michel Jarre, entitled Chronologie IV, and posted to YouTube on October 23, 2007, is a welcome addition here:

My thanks to my old friend, Marty Friedman, for bringing this video to my attention.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fordham Flips for Baseball

My thanks to my friend Ben Hauck for bring this to my attention.

Back when I was a graduate student, I used to enjoy talking baseball with my mentor, Neil Postman, and he remarked on more than one occasion that no matter how much you watch the game, you can always see something new.  Well, he certainly would have repeated that comment were he still around, and I know he would have loved this play, which has made its way around the internet and TV sports shows and local news programs:

Over on youtube, this April 21st video is called Fordham Baseball Player Goes Airborn, and the description reads

It's not often that one play would overshadow an incredible team effort comeback from a 9-1 deficit, but Fordham's Brian Kownacki tried. His leap over Iona catcher James Beck to score on Chris Walker's go-ahead hit in the bottom of the eighth inning highlighted a nine-run rally to give Fordham a 12-9 victory over the Iona College Gaels at Houlihan Park.

The play is narrated by WFUV's Gregg Caserta.

What can I say, but, Go Rams!

And while Fordham is not a baseball powerhouse these days, did you know that we hold the record for most games won by a college team?  You don't have to take my word for it, it was reported in the New York Times last year, in a story by Jack Curry dated April 9, 2009, entitled For 150 Years, Fordham Baseball’s Tradition of Winning.  Here's how it goes:

The team with the most victories in college baseball history practiced energetically Thursday. Players ran from behind the batting cage to the plate to take their swings, outfielders dashed after fly balls and infielders vacuumed up grounders. The practice had a nice rhythm.

This scene did not occur in California, Florida or Texas, places where college baseball is in the spotlight. It occurred on a cool afternoon in the Bronx, six subway stops away from Yankee Stadium. It happened at Fordham University, the humble home of the team that surprisingly has the most wins of any N.C.A.A. Division I baseball program. 

And it is not close. Fordham has 4,010 wins; Texas is second with 3,117. Of course, Fordham had a huge head start since it began playing baseball 150 years ago, which was 36 seasons before Texas did and more than half a century before many other teams. Still, Fordham proudly relishes having more victories than elite programs like Stanford and Miami.

A bit further into the article, they get into some of the famous baseball players who came from Fordham:

The roll call starts with Frankie Frisch, the Fordham Flash, who held the program’s single-season stolen base record for 67 years, played 19 seasons in the major leagues and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
No one can outdo Frisch’s alliterative nickname, but Jack Coffey, who played and coached at Fordham, has his own neat distinction as the only player to be a teammate of Babe Ruth’s and Ty Cobb’s in the same season. Then there is Gil McDougald, a former Yankees All-Star who coached at Fordham; Esteban Bellan, who was the first Cuban and the first Latin American to play professional baseball; and Vin Scully, an outfielder who wound up doing more with his silky voice than with his arm or legs.

In an interview on Fordham’s Web site, Scully recalled how he hit one home run in his “inglorious career.” Scully said he swung left-handed and was quick to explain that “I didn’t say I hit left-handed.” In a game against Yale, Scully competed against George H.W. Bush. When Scully played golf with the former President Bush decades later, he reminded him that they each went 0 for 3. 

“I loved every minute of it,” Scully said in the interview. “I loved my teammates. We had so much fun, and it was definitely a good portion of my memory bank in those wonderful years on the Fordham campus.”

And a bit further on in this article from last year, there's some interesting bits of trivia:

Fordham is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its initial game, but this is the university’s 149th season. Play was suspended for World War II in 1944. In the first 148 seasons, Fordham had 19 losing records. There have been 56 players from Fordham to appear in the majors, but only four in the last 45 years.

And again, a little further on:

When St. John’s College, Fordham’s original name, opposed St. Francis Xavier College a few months later, they played the first college game featuring nine-man teams. The Rose Hills, as Fordham was known, won, 33-11.

And if this leaves you wanting more, check out the multimedia files on our own website:  150 Years of Fordham Baseball.   And as for Brian Kownacki, sign that kid up!  For the Mets, if you please!

Monday, April 19, 2010


So, in my last two posts I was talking about Twitter's literary value, tweets being Library of Congress-worthy, and about Twitterature (see Library of Tweets and Twitterature), and I figure it's time to put my (imaginary) money where my (virtual) mouth is.  Also, given that it's National Poetry Month, I thought it would be only right (and certainly more than a little self-indulgent) to share my Twitter poetry with you.

My MySpace friend Si Philbrook came up with the idea of trying to write poetry within the 140 character limit of the single Twitter tweet (including punctuation and spaces), and without any formatting.  You could, perhaps, compare this to haiku, but syllables don't count, only letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and spaces, and there are no line breaks.  When Si started in with it, he established the convention of putting the title in caps, followed by a hypen or two, and that's all there is to it.

Si originally suggested calling this form of poetry micropoetry, which fits in with Twitter being a form of microblogging, and he also suggested calling it 140poetry.  But I came up with poetweet as the term for each individual Twitter poem, and that seems to have stuck, at least it has for me.  I've noticed that others have also used the term, some following my example, perhaps others arriving at it independently.

All told, I have posted 30 poetweets on Twitter (out of over 2100 tweets total at this writing).  The first 10 were posted on Twitter back in 2008, and then I collected them and posted them together under the heading of Poetweets on my MySpace poetry blog:


TRAJECTORIES --- As we grow older, our dreams grow younger, it is the spirit struggling to break free of its earthly cocoon.

BUZZ --- The bees in my head, sometimes drink nectar, sometimes make honey, sometimes they sting!

THE BIRDS --- avian internet, dark clouds swirl against a late autumn sky, readying their messages to send, packets following V formation

MEATLESS --- I sail the electric sea, Like my angel sails the aether, Escaping earth's gravity, She never looks beneath her

I FELL --- Leash tangled, cutting into ankles, knees smashed into concrete, knuckles ripped in self-defense, shoulder hurts bad, but why?

AFAR-You fill me with love from afar,At home, at work, in my car,Though I don't know where the hell you are,You fill me with love from afar

SERVITUDE we were slaves we were slaves building cities for the Pharaoh if we forget that we were slaves, how can we remember to be free?

SOAP --- Sacrificed on your altar, To satisfy your need for cleansing, I give of myself to you, And slowly I disappear and die for you

BOUNCE--Time ellipses, from apsis to apsis, takes a leap of faith across momentary abscess, stretches and snaps, coming to rest in our laps

IDLESS -- Lost on a nameless ocean, Adrift in anonymity, Engulfed by a wave in slow motion, Drowning in an electric sea.

The second batch of 10 were collected and posted on MySpace in 2009 under the heading of More Poetweets:

More Poetweets

GRADIATED -- lines so fine, so fine, so fine, step up step down, ascend decline, radiate, discriminate, a sign meant you left up to fate

WHITE WATER -- The river has no rival, the river is arrival, the river comes continual, the river comes alive all and all and all and all

CROAK -- A tad bipolar, I lies amidst the lily padded figures, paddlin', I am a fibbin' bein', I gots plans in the hopper for you, fly now

DUDE--Wiped out by waves of ego. Martyr to yourself. Drowning in oceans of delusion. Miserly tides reflect you. You recoil sans recognition.

CHIMES -- Maddening, melody minus a tune, rhythm with no beat, wind without whistle, vibration sans hum, repeating and yet never the same

ALARM -- Politic politalk, politic politalk, politic politalk, politic politalk... RING RING RING!!! Time to wake up!

US -- Am, er, I can, I can Dr. E., am, er, I can dream, a merry, a merry can, merry can do, can dream, can do, a merry, merry can, can, sir!

SENT CHANCE -- Mortal and aware, abandoned to the random, terrifyingly unfair, living under a death sentience.

QUESTIONS-- There are questions without answers, but no answers without questions, and the answer to each question is a question in disguise

THAT I AM -- In the space between words. In the space between breaths. In the space between thoughts. I am.

And I just recently put up my third set of 10 poetweets over on MySpace, with the title of Still More Poetweets:

Still More Poetweets

NO MAN'S LAND -- An island called His. An island called Hate. An island called Hope?

DEEP--Pressed for time, deeply pressed and shunned, pressure deep, no time, express shun, come press shun, deep press shun, come pass shun?

SEW LIPS SCHISM -- There is no I but I

UNDONE -- And so, I am... But hold... My word! My shoelace has come... Whoa... Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!

MANDATE -- Damian the Tory ate tamarind? Damn, man, I am adamant about that mandatory monetary data. Tout le monde dit, Mon Dieu! Madness!

PRINT--Aw, Thor! Aw, Thor! Steam powers presses like thunder! Cop he writes, or play jurist, trial and errata, off set and type cast ink!

GETTING AN EARFUEL--The aura of the oral is colored like the coral and it's aural to the core where it's all oil or it's all coal.

GENESIS -- To learn how to speak, one must first learn how to listen. In communication as in procreation, conception follows reception.

AIR--The map dilates the territory. The clock dilutes the tarry tarry. The word delights the thin git rap resents. The cymbal dials for thee.

THE POET--The poet sneezes, calls it poetry, the dog has fleas, and scratches, calls it naught, calls it not, calls its knot, hanky please

And that, dear readers, is the long and short, but mostly short, of it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


So, what with Twitter tweets now going to the Library of Congress, as noted in my last post, Library of Tweets, it raises the question of whether writing via Twitter can be considered literature.  The answer, of course, will depend on how you define your terms, and truth be told, there have already been a number of experiments in creative writing going on via Twitter.  

One of my absolute favorites is a mystery story by Bob Blechman, a fellow media ecologist and mastermind behind the classic Model Media Ecologist video.   Bob has been writing a humorous mystery story tweet by tweet at RKBs_Twitstery, collecting the tweets on his blog here on blogspot, A Model Media Ecologist, and when it's complete, a print version will be published by NeoPoiesis Press.

Bob's work is great fun, you might say it's quite amusing, but the question lingers as to whether we can take Twitter seriously as a literary form, whether we can, perhaps, speak of Twitterature?  Well, maybe it's hard to take that neologism seriously, but what about the tweet itself?  Well, here's what Stephen Fry has to say on the matter:

At the risk of undermining my own position, I can't help but note that it seems that this question is being resolved through the agency of late night talk shows.  Hence, the following series, which does little for the prospect of taking Twitter seriously (but what's the point if we can't play around and have fun?):

And now this

And now this

Well, now we know what really happened to Conan O'Brien.  As for Shatner, well, he certainly has the the ability to dramatize, melodramatize, and overdramatize just about anything.  It could be a laundry list or grocery list, or a song like Elton John and Bernie Taupin's Rocket Man...

But I digress, albeit for the sake of a bit of science fiction and pop music curiosity.  So, getting back to the literary merits of Twitter, what Shatner illustrates in a humorous way are the merits of found poetry.  Here's another approach to using Twitter to provide the raw material for creating poetry:

Whether this method yields any results worthy of note I really can't say.  But I would not leave you without one really outstanding example of Twitter-based poetry, on as unlikely a subject as Detroit (just kidding, you meshugana Michiganers):

This 2009 video is entitled PoeTweet Twitter Poem from the streets of Detroit (I coined the term "poetweet" back in 2008, but I imagine that others have arrived at it naturally enough independently).  The description of this video reads:

Reborn on Street Corners: The Detroit Poetry Project began as a test project for the Scarab Club on Twitter. For one month, three highly regarded Detroit poets, M.L. Liebler international poet and Professor at Wayne State University, LaShaun Phoenix Moore, and Cassie Poe, both emerging Detroit talent, submitted entries on the Scarab Club Twitter page about their beloved city. 
This effort evolved into more than just a poem of collective words, it became a powerful voice for Detroit. This video includes music by Detroit jazz icon Faruq Z. Bey, and the arresting urban images by native Detroit artist S. Kay Young. M.L. Liebler recites the poem.

Twitter here was used as a medium for collaboration among three talented poets, and the results are quite impressive, made all the more so by the reading and the video.  And this only scratches the surface of the possibilities that Twitter opens up, the moral of the story being, keep on tweeting!


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Library of Tweets

So, have you heard the news?  The Library of Congress is going to be archiving every tweet that has ever been publicly twitted, or tweeted, or twittered, or whatever.  The announcement was first made on Twitter in an April 14th tweet that simply stated:  "Library to acquire ENTIRE Twitter archive -- ALL public tweets, ever, since March 2006! Details to follow."  The details could be found on the Library of Congress blog, on a post posted on the same day, written by Matt Raymond, and entitled, How Tweet It Is!: Library Acquires Entire Twitter Archive.  Here's how it starts out:

Have you ever sent out a “tweet” on the popular Twitter social media service?  Congratulations: Your 140 characters or less will now be housed in the Library of Congress.

Someone I follow on Twitter quipped that he could now say that he has several thousand volumes in the Library of Congress.  I don't remember who it was who tweeted that, but I guess now I could look it up in the card catalog?  Er, I mean, database.  

But I have to wonder how many folks out there who were quite content to have their impulsive thoughts and expressions broadcast to a limited number of followers, and archived on their somewhat obscure Twitter profile page (where any tweet you think better of can be deleted), are now feeling a bit uneasy at the prospect of having this material permanently on file as part of our national archives?

Matt's blog post continues

That’s right.  Every public tweet, ever, since Twitter’s inception in March 2006, will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress. That’s a LOT of tweets, by the way: Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets every day, with the total numbering in the billions.

We thought it fitting to give the initial heads-up to the Twitter community itself via our own feed @librarycongress.  (By the way, out of sheer coincidence, the announcement comes on the same day our own number of feed-followers has surpassed 50,000. I love serendipity!)

We will also be putting out a press release later with even more details and quotes.  Expect to see an emphasis on the scholarly and research implications of the acquisition.  I’m no Ph.D., but it boggles my mind to think what we might be able to learn about ourselves and the world around us from this wealth of data.  And I’m certain we’ll learn things that none of us now can even possibly conceive.
Well, as long as it's educational, right?  Sure, it's research.  Everything is potentially research material, of course.  But is any of it of any lasting value otherwise?  Here's what Matt has to say:

Just a few examples of important tweets in the past few years include the first-ever tweet from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey (, President Obama’s tweet about winning the 2008 election (, and a set of two tweets from a photojournalist who was arrested in Egypt and then freed because of a series of events set into motion by his use of Twitter ( and (

I can't help but imagine Neil Armstrong stepping off of the lunar module ladder and tweeting, "That's one small step for man..."   How about Harry Truman retweeting, "RT @chicagodailytrib Dewey Wins (LOL)" or Lincoln tweeting, "Foursquare and 7 yrs ago..." (sorry, couldn't resist the pun).

So, of course, this vastly enhances the value of all of our tweets, and of Twitter itself.  And Twitter was certainly not reluctant to crow about it on its own Twitter Blog here on blogspot, in a post also dated April 14th, posted by Twitter founder Biz Stone, aka @biz, where he goes on to state, after providing the basic background information

It is our pleasure to donate access to the entire archive of public Tweets to the Library of Congress for preservation and research. It's very exciting that tweets are becoming part of history. It should be noted that there are some specifics regarding this arrangement. Only after a six-month delay can the Tweets be used for internal library use, for non-commercial research, public display by the library itself, and preservation.
The six month cooling off period is a relief, and I assume that it is also a grace period during which folks can delete tweets that they don't want to be preserved in such an official capacity, but that's not entirely clear.  Biz goes on to make a second announcement of related significance:

The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact. This is something we firmly believe and it has driven many of our decisions regarding openness. Today we are also excited to share the news that Google has created a wonderful new way to revisit tweets related to historic events. They call it Google Replay because it lets you relive a real time search from specific moments in time.

Google Replay currently only goes back a few months but eventually it will reach back to the very first Tweets ever created. Feel free to give Replay a try—if you want to understand the popular contemporaneous reaction to the retirement of Justice Stevens, the health care bill, or Justin Bieber's latest album, you can virtually time travel and replay the Tweets. The future seems bright for innovation on the Twitter platform and so it seems, does the past!

So, Google's announcement was made on the Official Google Blog here on blogspot, in a post put up by Replay it: Google search across the Twitter archive.  Here's what Dylan has to say:

Since we first introduced real-time search last December, we’ve added content from MySpace, Facebook and Buzz, expanded to 40 languages and added a top links feature to help you find the most relevant content shared on updates services like Twitter. Today, we’re introducing a new feature to help you search and explore the public archive of tweets.

With the advent of blogs and micro-blogs, there’s a constant online conversation about breaking news, people and places — some famous and some local. Tweets and other short-form updates create a history of commentary that can provide valuable insights into what’s happened and how people have reacted. We want to give you a way to search across this information and make it useful.

Starting today, you can zoom to any point in time and “replay” what people were saying publicly about a topic on Twitter.

This is followed by specific information on how to use Google Replay.  Dylan concludes by saying, "All of us are just beginning to understand the many ways real-time information and short-form web content will be useful in the future, and we think being able to make use of historical information is an important part of that."  And this does raise an interesting question as to what is history?  

That's been the subject of considerable debate, discussion and disagreement, and it is perhaps best to employ the general semantics technique of turning the singular into plural, and recognizing that the term history refers to many things.  There are the actual events of the past, which cannot be retrieved.  There are individuals' perceptions of those events, and individuals' memories based on their perceptions.  There are the records, documents, and artifacts of the past that provide some indications about what occurred.  And there are the chronologies and narratives that we put together to organize historical information,  to explain what happened and why it happened.

One of the fundamental trade-offs in history is the importance of the eyewitness, of actual presence, first hand accounts, and failing that, primary evidence.  Without data derived from such sources, history writing is reduced to little more than conjecture.  But we also have to keep in mind that perceptions, however direct, can be biased or faulty, that reports can be misleading, and that evidence can be interpreted in different ways (points all covered in general semantics).  

Moreover, it is also understood that sometimes you need some distance from events, in space but especially in time, to truly put them into their appropriate context, understand their import, identify all of the significant interrelationships.  And this is a task that is never quite completed, history remains an open book that is constantly subject to revision (which is not to suggest that it is a complete fabrication or construction with no basis in fact).  In this sense, history is both a story that is told and retold by a succession of storytellers, and a science that is updated in accordance with new discoveries and new theories.

There are a number of expressions about the relationship between journalism and history, that journalism is history in a hurry, history on the run, history on speed, history on wheels, and most prominently, that journalism is history's first draft.  So what does that make Twitter?  History's notes?  

From a media ecology perspective, we would have to say that, along the lines of there being different meanings to the word history, different media environments give us different types of historical accounts, different forms of history.  Oral cultures rely on oral tradition, and therefore myths and legends.  Writing gives us history as we know it, and printing gives us history as scholarship and science, and a historical consciousness.  Audiovisual media such as the photograph, audio recording, and moving image, have drastically changed our notions of history, and opened up a gulf between the events of the last century and a half and all that came before.  Why do you think World War Two is so much more present to us than World War One?  

And now this...

Not unrelated to changing concepts of history are the changing concepts of the library, as it becomes a data center and digital archive (see my brief essay, "The Medium is the Memory").  And with that, let's return to the blog post from the Library of Congress:

So if you think the Library of Congress is “just books,” think of this: The Library has been collecting materials from the web since it began harvesting congressional and presidential campaign websites in 2000.  Today we hold more than 167 terabytes of web-based information, including legal blogs, websites of candidates for national office, and websites of Members of Congress.

We also operate the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, which is pursuing a national strategy to collect, preserve and make available significant digital content, especially information that is created in digital form only, for current and future generations.

In other words, if you’re looking for a place where important historical and other information in digital form should be preserved for the long haul, we’re it!

So, the library, as we once knew it, is history.  Now that is something to tweet about!   

And while we're at it, here's another Twitter testimonial for you:

Where would you put that in your Dewey Decimal system?  Good thing the Library of Congress doesn't have to worry about it!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


As you may, or may not, recall, I changed the look of this blog not too long ago (see my post from last month, A New Look for Blog Time Passing).  And I have this blog feeding into my Facebook profile courtesy of Networked Blogs (and you may have noticed the Networked Blogs widget over on the right, which is a Facebook-app-oriented way to subscribe to this blog, so please, feel free).  And Networked Blogs uses a thumbnail image of your blog on its Facebook updates, which is pretty cool.  

Only, as it turns out, this app (short for application, in case you didn't know, and welcome to the social media monkey house, aka planet of the apps) doesn't update the thumbnail when you change the look of your blog, which makes for some instant nostalgia.  I found three versions of the thumbnail, in fact, in varying sizes, from smallest: 

to slightly less small:

to slightly less small than the slightly less small one:

I have to admit I'm all thumbs when it comes to thumbnails, so back when I posted A New Look for Blog Time Passing, which is why I used a much larger screenshot in that post:

Now, looking back fondly on those halcyon old days here at Blog Time Passing (is it my imagination or are the cycles of nostalgia getting shorter all the time?), reminds me of how tube-like that classic blog template was.  And don't get me wrong, I have no desire to return to that narrow, confined format, I much prefer the expansive template I am now using.  It's just that it got me thinking about April being National Poetry Month, in addition to being Autism Awareness Month (see my previous post, A Little Help From My Friends, and the Autism Fundraiser link over on the right, and please consider donating).

As you may, or may not, know, I also do a poetry blog over on MySpace.  It's called Lance Strate's BlogVersed, and after starting it up, I put up a post here on Lance Strate's Blog Time Passing explaining my new two-timing blogging ways: BlogVersed.  And for a long time, I was determined to keep these two blogs separate, but eventually I decided to post some of my poetry here as well, on occasion.  And National Poetry Month certainly seems like as good an occasion as any.

Another reason I was reluctant to post poems here is that some of my poetry involves special formatting, which the MySpace blogging setup allows for and the old Blogger set-up did not.  While MySpace's blogging tools are overall not as sophisticated as Blogger's, MySpace allowed for more freedom in formatting, and didn't involve the narrow template of the classic Blogger set-up.  I don't know if this means I'll be much more forthcoming with the poetry now here on Blog Time Passing, but it certainly opens up more possibilities.

But that's not my point in this post.  Rather, I was thinking back to the first poem I posted over on MySpace, which was the first of a series I put up that played off of the name of my poetry blog, BlogVersed.  That first poem has the title, "Blogversed," but was based on how much that sounded like some sort of sausage, that is, like "blogwurst" (hence the title of this post).  And the poem plays with the comparison between sausage and blogging.  Well, why I am I just telling you about it, when I can show you what I mean:


Bratwurst, knockwurst, bockwurst, weisswurst, bierwurst, wienerwurst, blutwurst

There's meat here, it's true,
But we use every part of the animal.

Nothing gets cut out, nothing goes to waste.
It's all tenderized, chopped, minced, ground,
Spiced, diced, mashed, pickled, fermented,
Smoked, boiled, broiled, grilled, fried,

But that's just the content.

It's the medium that massages the meat,
The tube that turns us on as we turn it on,
It's all squeezed, squeezed, squeezed.
Rolled, and scrolled.  Rolled, and scrolled.
It's the tube that turns to cause the form.

The tube is the transmission.
The tube tells the tale.
The tube is the transition.
The tube trips the traveler.
The tube is the transformation.

The tube is the vacuum, fall up, eons follow
Big bang!  The tube is the torpedo!
Wherever we go, we remain inner tube.

We are tubes within tubes within tubes,
Worming our way into the morning light,
Only to feed the worms in the darkness of night.

The tube tolls for thee.
The tube you'll arbite, bellowing.
The tube sets the tone, and pipes the tune.
The tube plumbs the depths, a tunnel keeping time.

The tube takes a twist,
Meat, and twist, meat, and twist again.
The twist gives definition,
Beginnings and endings,
The twist marks life and death,
The twist and the 'tween,
Twist and shout,
Twist, Ollie,
Ollie, oxen free.

The twist brings connection,
The twist that ties, and binds, and chains,
Links begat links begat links begat links,
Post that meat, then link, link, link,
Link a lot, Lance, links for the memories,
Links are so hyper, links are so hot—hook up!

Links for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,
We are what we eat:  tubes that go linking!
Send a salami to your boy in the army!
Salami, Salami, Salami, Bologna!

My words are twisted by the blog into wordwursts,
Sausaged into tubes and squeezed into posts,
Sausages and postages,
Sending themselves,
Sending me.

I saw sages go sailing through the night, and the day,
Switching packets, any port in the electrical storm,
May God watch over them, for they're all on their own,
I know not what they do.

Bangers!  Keep 'em flying, gang, bombs away!
Kielbasa!  Sweet, sweet, sword in hand!
Chorizo!  Sizzling, stiff, and so spicy!
Mortadella!  Dig we must, and deeply, here we go!

Braunschweiger, mustamakkara, sosis, sucuk.
Frankfurter, hot dog, Slim Jim.
Poetry packed into a tube,
The meatium is the mess, aged.  They are
Extensions of the intestines,
Don't ask how they are made.
Just eat them.
Just read them.
Just greet them.

Lance Strate

So, yeah, it's got some media ecology in the mix, and as blogversing goes, it's decidedly light.  But the funny thing is, it was the classic Blogger template that I was working with that got me thinking about blogs as tubes, and therefore sausages, along with the pun on blogversed as blogwurst.  Although the analogy between sausage links and a sequence of blog posts holds no matter what, you might call it ironic that I was posting this poem on a MySpace blog that was not itself tubelike in its format.   Ah, well, tubey or not tubey, that's the question, ain't it?

So anyway, have a happy National Poetry Month, and guten appetit!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Self-Reflexive Bjork

Not that I'm a big fan or anything, but Bjork does make some creative and intriguing videos, and here is one that a friend brought to my attention, one that wonderfully illustrates the Principle of Self-Reflexiveness, the third of Alfred Korzybski's Non-Aristotelian Principles of Thought.

Self-reflexiveness refers to the fact that symbols do not necessarily represent actual phenomena or "things" in reality, but can also refer to themselves, or more generally to other symbols.  That is, we can have symbols that stand for things, but also symbols that represent other symbols, and then symbols that represent symbols that represent symbols, and so on, ad infinitum, at least in theory or as long as patience holds out.

In mathematics, we can say let x=y, then let y=z, then let z=a and let a=b and, well, you get the idea.

I can make a statement about reality.  I can make a statement about a statement.  I can make a statement about a statement about a statement, etc.

I can ask a question.  I can ask a question about a question.  I can ask a question about a question about a question, etc.

We have maps of territories, but can also make maps of maps, and maps of maps of maps, and so on.  And a truly accurate map of a territory, if it were situated within that territory, would include a map of itself, and that map would also have to have a map of itself, and so on and so on and so on.

Self-reflexiveness underscores the capacity of symbolic representation to take us farther and farther away from reality.  And it is the source of many a paradox, which is what the Theory of Logical Types put forth by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead (important influences on Korzybski) sought to solve (see the Wikipedia article on type theory).  But rather than get tied up in paralogisms, let's check out the video:

The book that writes itself, isn't that a blog?  Well, some aggregators or feed readers actually are books or periodicals that write themselves, or at least edit themselves, sometimes aggravatingly so, as they may appear to be stealing content from other sites.

But self-reflexiveness is very much a part of communication and mediation in general.  We can talk about talking, give a speech about giving a speech, write a book about writing a book.  There are books that are nothing more than bibliographies, and there are bibliographies of those bibliographies, and I recall the great historian of printing, Elizabeth Eisenstein stating that this actually goes up a number of levels.

There have been movies about making movies, and anytime you see a character going to the movies, watching a film on TV, making a reference to a movie, or anytime we're shown a move marquee, poster, etc., that's a form of self-reflexiveness.  The same goes for TV (remember how Seinfeld, the "show about nothing," had a show within the show?), and other media.

Self-reflexiveness is a theme that comes up in literature, film, and media, and is especially characteristic of postmodernist style.  It's effect then tends to be ironic, breaking the frame and illusion of realism, waking us up, at least in theory, to the fact that we're reading or listening or looking at a representation (shades of Bertolt Brecht!).  In this sense, self-reflexiveness is indeed non-Aristotelian.

For Paul Watzlawick, self-reflexiveness puts us on the relationship level rather than the content level, it's about metacommunication rather than communication, pointing to the lower level and providing us with a context for making sense out of messages.  

Doublas Hofstadter calls self-reflexiveness recursion, and sees it as the basis of consciousness, the mind as a map within the map, and thinks that this could possibly be the basis of artificial intelligence and consciousness.

But for Bjork, and for a film like Being John Malkovich (1999, directed by Spike Jonze), self-reflexiveness is about creativity, about creation, about art, and most of all, about ourselves.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Little Help From My Friends

This post is not for anyone having any financial difficulties, and not for any of my students, but if you are gainfully employed and have a few dollars to spare for a good cause, perhaps you'd consider making a donation on behalf of the Go the Distance for Autism Fundraiser?  If so, please head on over to my daughter's Donation Page, just click right here, yes, right here.  And here's her photo from that page:
The minimum donation is $5, and after you provide the amount and go to the next page where they ask for your information, please select EPIC School at the bottom, that's Sarah's school.

I'm also putting a link up on the upper right, for ease of access, and thank you very much.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

From Dissed to Specialist

Terms such as disabled and disability, while less offensive than some other words such as crippled or retarded, are themselves sometimes criticized as essentially dissing those individuals that the labels are being applied to.  In the case of autism, the term disorder has also been applied, and has also been criticized as a form of dissing.  (This came up in the post I put up about three years ago, Autism and Advocacy.)

General semantics, which has made very significant contributions to combating the use of stereotypes, prejudice, and scapegoating, helps us to understand the problem.  Put a label on someone, and we start to react and respond to the label, and not the person as an unique individual.  At worst, we only see them, and know them, as their label. At best, the label stands as a barrier that makes it harder to see the person as an individual than would otherwise be the case.

This is the problem of identification, which is why general semanticists emphasize what ought to be obvious but all too often is not:  that the label is not the person.  You can put me in a category, for example, you can say that I'm in the racial category referred to as White, but that doesn't necessarily mean that all of the characteristics associated with that category apply to me (like maybe I can jump, or at least used to be able to when I was younger).  Whatever those characteristics may be, they are a result of generalizing and averaging out of traits, and even if they are true of a majority of members of the class, they are not true of them all.

As much as I may not be all that the category suggests that I am, I am much more than the category itself.  The label does not say all there is to say about me, which is the problem that general semanticists refer to as non-allness.  For one, there are other categories that I also fit into, such as American, New Yorker, Jewish, male, intellectual, liberal, college professor, only child, husband, father, driver, overweight, middle aged, blogger, media ecologist, and of course general semanticist.  And there are aspects of me that, arguably, do not fall into any category, that are unique to me as an individual.

By the way, if you are in the United States right now, you have no doubt received a census form, and hopefully have filled yours out and returned it already.  The census is an exercise in categorization, forcing us to label and stereotype ourselves for the sake of government bureaucracy, which is a technology of control.  I hasten to add that control is not necessarily a bad thing, as government services require a measure of control to be carried out.  Control is what cybernetic systems are all about, Norbert Wiener coined the term cybernetics as a the science of control, control being based on feedback which gives systems their interactivity, and the root term kyber, which means steersman, is also the root of govern.

So the label disability is one that is attached to certain individuals as a form of legal status, Americans with disability, and it is a legal distinction rather than an absolute one.  For example, someone who is legally blind may still be able to see, but so poorly as to make vision problematic (something like 20/200 vision that can't be helped by glasses or contacts is the cutoff point).  So, some folks who are not categorized as disabled may still have certain disabilities, and you might say that everyone is disabled in some way, so that it's not a matter of either-or, what general semanticists know as the problem of a two-valued orientation, but rather a matter of degree, the degree to which one's disabilities impede our functioning and require some extra assistance.

On the politically correct front, sometimes the word challenged is used as an euphemism, as in physically challenged and mentally challenged.  These terms are very general, though, and therefore invite a broader form of stereotyping.  And they can be problematic.  I noted in my last post, Autism Awareness at Adas Emuno, that the use of "mentally challenged" in reference to autism is inappropriate.  It is not only a gross oversimplification, and misses many of the characteristics that are related to social interaction and sensory issues, but it also does not apply to a significant number of individuals on the autism spectrum who are well above average cognitively.

So, we come to the politically correct term, differently-abled, which has often been derided for its own euphemistic quality, for trying to gloss over the fact that some individuals function better than others in society, and some do not function well at all, at least not without significant assistance.  And even if you realize that we all have some forms of disability, and we all have some things that we are particularly good at, there is an awkwardness to the sound of the phrase differently-abled that I find hard to deny.

But maybe, maybe, if we start to talk about people as differing in their abilities and disabilities, much as Howard Gardner talks about different kinds of intelligences, then maybe we will begin to shape a society where people can take advantage of their gifts, while compensating for their deficits.  Maybe we can create the different kinds of situations that different kinds of people need to thrive, rather than requiring every individual to fit within the same type of situation, and saying that there's something wrong with them if they can't.

If we change our way of thinking, that may lead to a change in the way that we do things, and here is an example of just that sort of thing, courtesy of an ABC World News report produced by a parent of one of the students at my daughter's school:

There is a written report that accompanies the video, entitled Software Company Only Hires People who Have Autism, subtitled "A Thriving Denmark-Based Software Company Only Hires People With Autism," dated April 1, 2010, and credited to John Donvan, Caren Zucker, and Michael Murray.  It starts off like this:

At first glance, Specilisterne looks just like any other thriving software company. However, these colleagues had to meet a certain job requirement in order to get hired -- they must have autism.

"I could only work in a supermarket before," employee Hille – who has high-functioning autism called Asperger Syndrome – told us.

Specilisterne means "Specialists," and they test software. It is a tedious click by click process where most of us would lose focus and make mistakes. 

Specialization is something media ecologists associate with literacy and typography, and mechanical technology.  It is also characteristic of autistic intelligence, of what has been referred to as "isolated islands of ability," and of savant skills in one highly specialized area.  And given the social deficits common among individuals with autism, they often find working with computers to be a comfortable option, whether it's programming, data entry, or in this case, software testing.  The report goes on to note the deficits related to focus and socializing, and the strengths related to memory, orientation to details, and persistence (or perseverance):
The workers at the Denmark-based company share many of the same life experiences. Many were told they were unemployable, that they were too disabled to focus professionally. The social side of office life also eluded them, they were incapable of joining in with the lunchtime crowd.

Mads, another employee at Specilisterne, told ABC News he hadn't been able to keep a job in 20 years before landing his current job. He told us, "Most of my colleagues are like me … we have in common to be weird."

Thorkill Sonne, who founded Specilisterne in Copenhagen, believes that everyone does not have to fit in socially-accepted little boxes. He means to change the nature of that box completely. He is turning disability on its head, hiring his employees because of their ability. Sonne says workers with high-functioning autism have different brain wiring that gives them an edge.

Sonne told ABC News, "they have a good memory, they have very strong attention to details, they are persistent … within their area of motivation and they follow instructions."

Sometimes, that willingness to follow instructions is criticized for its rigidity, even for coming across as robotic, but here individuals with autism are placed in a situation where that is an advantage rather than a problem.  But what is the motivation for going to this extra effort on their behalf?  Perhaps it's capitalism, taking advantage of an available workforce.  Is that taking advantage of individuals who find themselves at a disadvantage?  Or is it creating an opportunity for all concerned?  And is there a further motive of concern at work here?  Read on:

But this is not a charity; employees need to turn a profit to remain employed. Sonne believes you need to please your customers with a service or you are out of business.

He says his primary goal is to make profits to show the world that it can be done with employees like his. He has a personal motivation for accomplishing it -- his son, Lars. Lars, his father's inspiration, has autism and gifts like drawing and a great memory. Sonne hopes the existence of companies like his might avoid Lars years of unemployment, like Mads.

Mads says he likes the job he has now, and that "here, I'm treated like a normal."

Sonne says, "that's really what I hope and foresee for my son as well -- it can be done."

So, this would be an example of capitalism with a social conscience, of social responsibility in business, of social entrepreneurship.  And it deserves the visibility that ABC News has given it.  The epidemic of childhood autism is leading to a flood of adult autism, and we have made no provisions for what such adults will do with themselves after they age out of schooling, after they turn 21.  This special company, Specilisterne, shows us that there is a solution to this problem, one that can allow individuals with different abilities and disabilities to be placed in a situation where they can be content, productive, contributing members of society, a resource rather than a burden.  From labels to individuals, from dissed to specialist, that is steering in the right direction.