A visit from Lewis Lapham

February 24th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

One of my classes this semester is “The Culture Industries”, taught by Mark Crispin Miller. The class is structured such that we read a book each week, and the following week the author of that book comes and speaks, with the opportunity to ask questions and hear what they have to say in depth.  Aside from the emergent problem of trying to absorb over three hundred pages of material per week to a degree that I can ask competent questions, the model of the class lets me hear from from fairly prominent authors.

This week, we read excerpts from “Waiting for the Barbarians” by author, commentator, and longtime Harper’s editor, Lewis Lapham. I had only heard of Mr. Lapham by name prior to reading parts of Barbarians, and I particularly enjoyed his essays, for their biting and unapologetic sarcasm but also as refreshingly candid political commentary. For example, Lapham on the now-defunct George Magazine:

 Politics are by definition partisan, because they constitute an argument about power–about who gets to do what to whom, under what circumstances, and for how long and with what degrees of objection or consent. Castrate the quarrel, divorce politics from any meaning that cannot be sold at Bloomingdale’s, and what is left except for a round of applause for William Kristol’s tie and Cindy Crawford’s hair?

(From Eyebrow Pencils, Waiting for the Barbarians p. 49)

Many of my classmates were particularly hearing Mr. Lapham’s views on new media, and the potential effect of Internet-based publishing on traditional print forms, and civil society in general. His view was that the Internet is currently a vehicle for data, for information, statistics, and facts rather than artistic prose and “graceful phrase”, as he put it. He seemed to view the Internet as in a state of change and flux, a new technology out of which a literary artform can be made. To that end, he is launching a new publication, Lapham’s Quarterly, with an online component. The Quarterly, billed as a “journal of history” will feature historical analyses of contemporary politics and world events.

To say nothing of Mr. Lapham’s politics, which tend to the left (to say the least), based on his remarks this week and what little I have read of his writings, I will be fascinated to read Quarterly when it goes to press.

Immigration Protest, Part II

February 22nd, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

The protest itself

I didn’t have a great deal of time to hang around this morning, but as I was leaving class on my way to work, I passed by the promised counter-protest. There was a also a media feeding-frenzy; I spotted reporters and crews from CNN, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, Telemundo, and various radio and print outlets. I snapped a couple of pictures on my way through.

Notably, I didn’t actually see any of the College Republicans themselves. Most of the attention seemed to be centered around the protesters. I haven’t seen any media reports yet, though. I’m going to thow on CNN in a second and see what shows up.

Media Frenzy

Edit 1805hrs ET: I haven’t had access to a TV for most of the day, so I haven’t been able to look at the media coverage. There’s a story on bbc.co.uk, though, and assorted articles via a Google news search for a pretty generic “NYU” query. The photos to the left were picked up by NowPublic, and Gothamist. I’ll try and catch the evening news later on.

NYU College Republicans Play “Hunt the Illegal Immigrant”

February 21st, 2007 § 1 comment § permalink

Last night, while browsing Facebook–as college students tend to do while not studying–I came across an event being promoted by the NYU College Republicans, entitled “Find the Illegal Immigrant“. There’s also a counter-protest/demonstration, called “Protest the NYU Republican’s Immigrant Bashing Event” (Links go to their respective facebook event pages, if you have an account).

I’ll let the original College Republican event describe itself:

There will be one individual with a nametag that reads ‘illegal immigrant’. This person has volunteered to do so and is not actually an illegal immigrant. On Thursday people will be signing up to participate and the first person that signed up and finds the “illegal” will get a prize. At the table there will be information and handouts on the subject matter to inform others on the problems that ILLEGAL immigration causes.

Confirmed attendees as of this writing: 69.

And the counter-protest?

The NYU Republican club has decided to hold a racist and disgusting event in which they will stand outside the Silver Building and attempt to “find illegal immigrants in the crowd.” [...]
As active members of society who happen to be NYU students, we need to show that this type of racist action is completely unacceptable. Let’s not be lazy; instead, let’s be just as organized as they are and bring out as many protesters as possible. Bring banners, voice boxes, picket signs. Possible slogans could be: “No One is Illegal” “For a World Without Borders” or (a personal favorite) “Who’s the Illegal Immigrant, PILGRIM?”

Confirmed attendees as of this writing: 502.

The event has already garnered plenty of media attention, hitting the AP news wire sometime this morning and being picked up as far away as North Carolina, by WLOS-TV. The New York Daily News has an article, as does Gawker, just for good measure.

Given the generally negative press, and the sheer number of people who will be showing up across the street, I have a hard time imagining how this event can possibly end with a good end-state for the College Republicans. It seems like deliberately inflammatory grandstanding, designed to get as much attention as possible. The organizers and their associates do not seem particularly adept at using their time in the limelight, however. The discussion board attached to the Republicans’ event, for example, contains such gems as

I don’t get it, Libs are pissed at us for taking illegal immigration too seriously, and now they’re pissed because we’re having fun with it. Just goes to show that you can’t please people who have decided to be unhappy.
-William Hampton Williams II

If polemical, arguably racist games and showboating are demonstrative of the level of political discourse at NYU, I fear we’re in a sorry state.

Edit: Looks like the Hunt-the-Immigrant game might be cancelled. The facebook event page is gone. More to come.

Some thoughts on the Proposed XM/Sirius Merger

February 20th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

According to the New York Times and Reuters, XM and Sirius, the two satellite radio carriers in the US have reached a deal in which they would merge in a $4.6bn stock transaction. The mainstream media has thus far analyzed the potential merger in terms of dollars and cents, and what this means for the market. I’d like to have a look at what this transaction might mean for programming, consumer choice, and multiplicity of voices.

Let’s take a very specific genre of programming that’s relevant from a civic-involvement perspective: news and public affairs. On my XM dial, I have these options for news programming:

  • Fox News
  • CNN
  • CNN Headline News
  • ABC News and Talk
  • CNN Español
  • CNBC
  • Bloomberg
  • BBC World Service
  • C-SPAN
  • XM Public Radio

Now, that looks for the most part like a typical basic cable package, with the exception of BBC and XM Public Radio, which is an interesting case by itself: It’s XM’s answer to Sirius’ deal with NPR, mostly comprised of programming from PRI and American Public Media. Let’s look at that further. Is it really worth it for Sirius and XM to continue their deals with PRI, NPR, and APM simultaneously if the deal goes through? If I had to speculate, I’d say ‘no’; XMSirius combined has enough programming to fill a single channel of ‘Public Radio’ for 24 hours per day. One or other will go away, and I’d say that’s the content from PRI and APM: XMSirius will take the brand-recognition of NPR any day. Depending on the terms of that deal with NPR, this could mean the total loss of PRI and APM programming from satellite radio.

Of course, this is speculative, and predicated on the assumption that the merger actually occurs.

Let’s examine some of the pro-merger reasoning given in the New York Times article, which is mostly summed up in this paragraph:

Mr. Parsons said that unlike EchoStar and DirecTV, whose only rival was cable television, the satellite radio companies have a very small audience compared with the ways people get music, information and entertainment in audio formats, including iPods and the Internet.

So, basically, XM and Sirius shouldn’t be evaluated under the same terms as the rejected EchoStar/DirecTV merger because they face competition from iPods and the Internet. In 2002, the FCC blocked that deal because it would “fly in the face of of three decades of communications policy that has sought ways to eliminate the need for regulation by fostering greater competition”, according to then-chairman Michael Powell. 2002 wasn’t that long ago. In 2002, the internet was home to vibrant streaming media, blogs, MP3 downloads, and so on. DVDs were the industry standard for consumer video. Even iPods were by then on the scene (in fact, they were up to their second generation at the time of the FCC decision). So, what’s really changed between the 2002 EchoStar decision, and this new Sirius/XM proposal? Not that much, really. If Sirius and XM are feeling competitive pressure from iPods, they should figure out how to compete with the external pressure, not use it as an excuse to create yet another media conglomerate wielding a monopoly.

Moreover, the argument that iPods (and presumably Digital Audio Players in general) compete directly with satellite radio is specious at best. I can’t listen to Major League Baseball live on my iPod, nor can I listen to Howard Stern’s show. I can’t get a traffic report, either, and my iPod doesn’t tell me about new music, but it does let me listen to my own music when I feel like it. The perpetual advantage to music radio–both terrestrial and satellite–has been the skill and knowledge of a talented DJ and Program Director to tell me about new music, and create a good playlist for me to listen to. If I’m driving in my car, or walking on the street, I can’t jump onto pandora.com and figure out what music I might like to listen to (as much as I’d like to)–I have to turn to the expertise of someone else, and all I really have access to is radio, including satellite radio. Given my musical preferences and limited tolerance for commercials, this is where XM has done very well for me in the music arena. If XM fails to exploit the advantages of its medium, that is no reason to allow it to change the face of the marketplace with a merger; it is reason for it to retool its programming strategy, its marketing, and invest in R&D that plays up its highly-mobile, nationally-available niche formatted programming.

When the FCC granted two entities satellite-radio operating licenses, they did so with the express intent that neither company should ever own the other’s license. Based on past precident and present circumstances, I see no reason to dissolve that arrangement.

Web Overhaul

February 19th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

I made some fairly major changes to this site today. After having it sit with the default theme for over a year, I thought I should actually make it look nice. Being the lame web designer that I am, I used someone else’s theme, and put in some of my own graphics.

I also put in an RSS feed of my Flickr photostream, and updated WordPress to the latest version, 2.1.

Of course, I should be studying German instead of doing this, but that’s how it goes.

Edit: I’ve re-enabled comments, and added some spam filtering.