Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Reason Rejoices!

Reason, Rationality and Sanity are planning a gala celebration to mark the announcement today that Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) is retiring from office: Huff Post. While claiming her support for term limits is the reason she is calling it quits after eight years in office, charges of corruption and a two-point deficit to the opponent she barely sneaked past in the election last year appear to be playing a large role. Bachmann, one of the most visible members of the Tea Party and a failed Presidential candidate, has been fodder for liberal critics for her entire time in office. Let’s take a look back at some of her most memorable moments:


·        Criticized fellow GOP Presidential candidate Rick Perry for supporting an HPV vaccination for teenage girls, claiming it could cause mental retardation.

·        Claimed in October 2006 that “a majority of the scientific community” discredit evolution.

·        Earlier this year, refused to take back her comment that the Obama Administration ran a “gangster government”: “I don't take back my statements on gangster government. I think that there have been actions taken by the government that are corrupt."

·        Speaking about the financial regulatory reform legislation proposed in 2012, she argued: "Let's remember really what this is. This has a lot in common with Italy in the 1930s and the way Italy dealt with economics. It still continues private ownership of business but government is in control. So government control of private business, while it's private ownership, that's still at the end of the day the federal government virtually having a say over private business. We lose freedoms; we lose economic competitiveness.” Then she reminded us … "And don't forget, Italy is in tough shape financially, and that's not what we want for the United States." Of course, arguing Mussolini’s policies affect one of the most corrupt governments in the world today is unquestionable, isn’t it?

·        Bachmann got a little confused about Revolutionary history when she claimed New Hampshire was where the “shot heard round the world” was fired. When caught in the act of this absurd error, she used it as an opportunity to decry the “double standard” of the media.

·        After citing John Jay’s incantation “'We are determined to live free or not at all. And we are resolved that posterity shall never reproach us with having brought slaves into the world,'" she added … "We will talk a little bit about what has transpired in the last 18 months and would we count what has transpired into turning our country into a nation of slaves."

·        In attacking the widely popular bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, Bachmann claimed it was a cleverly veiled plot to create “reeducation camps” where young Americans “forced to work for the government” would be proselytized to liberal philosophy.


And a few quotes for the road (all false) …


The IRS is going to be "in charge" of "a huge national database" on health care that will include Americans’ "personal, intimate, most close-to-the-vest-secrets."

"Scientists tell us that we could have a cure in 10 years for Alzheimer's" were it not for "overzealous regulators, excessive taxation and greedy litigators."

Of every "three dollars in food stamps for the needy, seven dollars in salaries and pensions (go to) the bureaucrats who are supposed to be taking care of the poor."

"After the debate that we had last week, PolitiFact came out and said that everything I said was true."

"Under Barack Obama's watch, we have expended $805 billion to liberate the people of Iraq and, more importantly, 4,400 American lives."

Doleful Dole Doles out Doubts on GOP

Bob Dole, the ex-impotence spokesman, Senator and Presidential candidate, is worried the GOP has moved too far to the right: Slate. Dole claims that neither he, Reagan nor Nixon would be able to make it in a Congress today that he believes is broken beyond repair. Rather than offering up a magical political Viagra pill, however, Dole believes the party should “put a sign on the national committee doors that says ‘Closed for repairs’ until New Year’s Day next year. Spend that time gong over ideas and positive agendas.”

While this is astute advice for a party that seems to be out of ideas, I believe the GOP still has a central organizing principle, and one that they are successfully engaging at all levels of governance: to essentially end government intervention in the market and our lives and leave their corporate brethren to chart the country’s future. Republicans may very well have had setbacks in the latest election, but that has done little to assuage them from their blockade policy toward Obama’s policies. And it is hard to argue it isn’t working. Sure, Obama did pass a small increase in taxes for those making over $250,000, but they got him talking more about paying down the debt than actually dealing with increased poverty. Other than this, Obama’s second term appears to be at a standstill. Nominations for agency heads, judges and even cabinet positions are being held up, gun control has gone back into the hinterland from a soon forgotten Connecticut grave, Obama is seriously considering reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (even as the latter is solvent for years to come) and there is no talk of a stimulus for the millions of Americans out of work.

It is the state legislatures, the courts, the schools and the public sphere where the major policy initiatives are happening, from North Dakota to Wisconsin to North Carolina, and these radical changes are going further and further in rewriting the social contract to the detriment of average Americans. What new ideas could the GOP support? They might very well get behind immigrant reform, but that is merely to help corporations find cheap labor. They aren’t going to abide a stimulus, banking or corporate reform or regulation, more progressive taxes, support for labor rights, increased assistance for the poor, campaign finance reform or any of the policies this country needs if it is to ebb the rising tide steering us toward a Plutocracy. What Dole’s statements on Fox News accomplish, in fact, is to legitimate the general nature of conservative ideology by pointing to the excesses of its most radical members. And Dole couldn’t help but take a shot at Obama, blaming him for not reaching across the aisle enough. Yet all that the President ever got for doing so is false promises and a no vote from every Republican on every piece of legislation he passed so far. Maybe Dole should go back to shilling for Pfizer – at least what he’s selling there works. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Blooths Are Back!

After a seven year absence, Arrested Development has returned for a 4th season. The long-awaited arrival had me both excited and worried, wondering if they could replicate the magic of a show that was a fan and critic favorite, but never garnered huge audiences. Would the older characters still have the same appeal? Since most of the stars had gone on to bigger things, could they still play the dysfunctional family members with such aplomb? And could the writers find the old flair for comic nuance rather than fall prey to the usual remake habits of insider-laden jokes, baser humor and tired character underdevelopment? Spoiler Alert: there are no real spoilers in this review.

Luckily, the writers, cast and director still have the old flair, with a tighter story line mixed with sufficient reference to the past. In the 15 episodes, all released on Netflix at once yesterday, we are taken through a ride of the past five years from all of the major character’s perspectives. While this does get a little tired as a plot device around the middle of the season, they finish strong – though with several hanging stories that one assumes will be resolved in either another season or the long-rumored movie.

So what has happened to the Blooths in the intervening five years? Nothing terribly good. Michael (Jason Bateman) no longer works for the Bloom Company and after several failed business ventures and a short-lived, and ill-advised, stay with his son and roommate in a UC Irvine dorm room, takes a job with Ron Howard, who wants to make a movie of the Blooth’s adventures. Getting the release forms that will make this venture possible turns out to be harder than Michael thinks, of course.

His father (George, Jeffrey Tambor) has also suffered a number of setbacks and his attempts at replenishing his fortune go terribly awry as he teeters on the edge of treason yet again. His mother Lucille (the excellent Jessica Walters) is a little less nefarious now that she is locked away in a luxury prison, but has plans to get her life back together after no one from the family shows up for her trial. Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) and Tobias (David Cross) continue their on again off again relationship, with a number of funny twists, while Maeby decides to never leave high school, before receiving a career-ending Opie lifetime achievement award at 22.

Gob (Will Arnett) and Buster (Tony Hale) are still trying to find themselves while George-Michael searches for an identity not tied directly to his father – as an Internet mogul in the making and boyfriend to a girl who has secrets of her own. All of the old side characters are back as well, with Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler) getting the largest part, as the inept and not-so-secretly-gay family lawyer. But another character dabbles with their own sexuality and the story lines come together in the end for an anti-climactic but clever finale. It is clear that more is to come from this beloved aughts series, though the form is still unclear. And while the Netflix format can lead one to waste an entire day getting through a series, they are clearly becoming a viable player in the new world of television – where commercials and hanging plot lines are replaced by good writing, good acting and compelling directing.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Voyeurism & Rape

In Chicago last week, prosecutors decided to try three teenage boys as adults for raping a 12-year-old girl and posting a video of the attack on Facebook:  Salon. As horrific as this seems, it is not the first case involving videoing rape. Last year, Jared Len Cruise was convicted of sexual assault in a brutal gang rape of an 11-year-old in Texas, which was recorded on a cell phone and circulated around the girl's school. This past April, a 17-year-old rape victim committed suicide 18 months after allegedly being raped — and having a photo of the event distributed among her classmates. And in Steubenville, Ohio, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond were convicted in March of raping a classmate and then sharing images from the night and “hundreds of text messages from more than a dozen cell phones.”

These horrific crimes might lead many to decry the breakdown of morality among youth today or the looming effects of eroticized violence on television in movies and on videogames. I believe there is truth in all of these claims and that more research needs to take place to really measure the effects of constant exposure to violence, which is made more and more real every day. On the other hand, it also seems to speak to the dark side of social networking itself. One could argue, as I have on several occasions, that social networking emerged as a response to the increased loneliness people felt spending so much time online. Videogames became interactive and multiuser, instant messaging emerged and now social networking all feed our desire for social interaction as we spend more and more time on line or with other technology. Yet does online communication mirror real life interaction?

I would argue it differs in profoundly important ways. For one, the interaction occurs through an intermediary, which is not a subject but object. Technology becomes the means to communicate with others and this creates a relationship between people and things that feels like a relationship between people – the definition of commodity fetishism. The problem is that the intermediary makes the subject-subject relationship into a subject-object-object-subject relationship. And this seems to manifest interesting, and troubling, trends. One is the increased cruelty and bullying we see online. When not having to face the actual person you are objectifying for your pleasure (and that of others), it makes it easier. And when coupled with the “culture of cruelty” that increasingly exists in videogames, television, movies and advertising, it reinforces the idea that people largely exist as objects to illicit psychological and emotional responses in us. The fetishized relationship is one where empathy appears secondary or nonexistent, thus making it easier to do harm to the objectified other.

On top of this is the relationship between violence and subjectivity. Marshall McLuhan argued that violence among young men was really the struggle for identity. Since kids live more and more of their lives online, it is not surprising that they would seek mechanisms to develop and legitimate themselves as subjects. And with young men, this process of “becoming” is often intimately tied to violence. This helps explain the popularity of violent video games, movies and television but also the more violent behavior we continue to witness exterior to the virtual world. Violence in the spectacle can arguably be cathartic and thus alleviate the desire to engage in real violence, but it can also be a mechanism that separates violence from its ramifications and actually incites young men to go out and make that virtual violence real. We have seen that relationship manifest with accelerating frequency over the past 20 or so years, from Columbine to the Boston Marathon bombing.

Virtual rape, or rape that is rebroadcast in the spectacle, brings together the two key aspects of our being – as both social and sexual animals. Given the predilection toward sexualizing violence and sensationalism within the spectacle, is it surprising that some boys and men then want to combine the imaginary with their own lives and become active participants in that sexualized violence? The other is objectified as a mere player in their own construction of self, a victim without empathy that serves a role as the depersonified object that can make the fantasy world come alive. And the voyeuristic culture we have created then feeds off of these tragedies as if they are merely scripted scenes from a movie or television show we call real life. It is a disturbing trend on the edges of our new wired culture, but not really a surprising one from my perspective.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Arsenal Sneak In; Tottenham Heartbreak Again!

There has been little real pleasure in being an Arsenal fan since the 2006 Champions League final turned in Barcelona’s favor. And yet I still root for them to win and take pleasure in the little victories along the way (like the 2-1 home win over Barcelona two years ago). One perverse form of this satisfaction comes in pipping Tottenham to the Champions League and finishing above them (something Wenger has done in every season he has been with the Gunners). Tottenham are like the perennial wallflowers looking on at the big dance and ready to finally show their moves, only to lose their nerve three quarters of the way through the song. And so, after a seven point lead and much taunting of Arsenal and Arsenal fans, the Spurs again find themselves on the outside looking in.

Heading into this final weekend of the EPL season, it was all on the line for UCL qualification. Manchester United and Man City were already guaranteed automatic spots and a Chelsea win would give them third place without the playoff that has been a hot topic of discussion the past week or so. And Arsenal and Tottenham were vying for the final spot, with anything but a Gunners win opening the door for the Spurs. Both games started slowly and though the Gunners pushed forward, and Spurs appeared to miss out on a clear penalty shout (with Bale booked for diving to add salt to the wound), both North London squads left the field at halftime in scoreless draws. Advantage Arsenal.

The second half started with more resolve and after a few missed half chances, Theo Walcott sent in a free kick from the right, it careened forward off Mertesacker and Koscielny beat the goalie from point blank range with a lovely high finish. 1-0 Arsenal in the 52nd minute. Tottenham fans appeared to hear the news a few minutes later and knew they were probably in deep trouble yet again. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s opener had been equalized by Everton and the Gunners found themselves one goal from taking third spot if the results stayed the same. Yet the Gunners wanted the win more than anything else and began to sit back and play on the counter, which could have easily yielded a game-ending goal but for some poor passing in the buildup. Newcastle began to push forward with more resolve, but never seemed to have their hearts in it and Arsenal was holding on. The pressure did increase in the 85th minute though when Bale again played hero for the ugly ducklings who just never sprout into swans, scoring a masterful goal from 35 yards out to give Spurs a 1-0 lead. I could barely sit through the rest of the game, as Newcastle created a few half chances and the Gunners failed to score a second. In the 91st minute it looked secure, as Walcott was sent on by Ramsey and circled the keeper, only to hit the post with his shot. Three minutes later it was over and while Spurs fans commiserated another near miss, the Gunners acted as if they had won the league.

And it sort of felt as if they had. It has been a rough season that started with two draws against Stoke and Sunderland when our new striker failed to finish clear chances, then a win against Liverpool, a draw against the defending champ Citizens that we should have won and then an up and down finish to the year. But losses at Bradford City in the Carling/Capital One Cup and Blackburn in the FA, together with the 3-1 loss at home to Bayern in the first leg of the UCL, and an earlier loss to Greece that could have secured us the top spot in our group, all made this another season without a trophy. Worse, we lost to Tottenham at White Hart Lane and found ourselves 7 points behind in the race for fourth. But then the team woke up, played a masterful game at Bayern to win 2-0 (and almost score the third that would have sent us through) and then finished the season winning 8 of 10. In fact, since February 2, we secured the most points of any team in the league (five more than both Spurs and Man U). It was an impressive run-in and provides hope that we finally have some winners on the squad.

It will be important to build on this momentum going into next season, with more offensive potency, a defensive mid who can play in some of our toughest games if not week in and week out and some defensive reinforcements at GK, right back (assuming Sagna leaves) and centre-back (particularly if Squillaci and Verm exit). A few days ago, I looked at the team from back to front and what we needed in the transfer window. Today, I’ll provide final grades for all our players this season …

Final Grades on Season

Szczesny (B+): Szczesny started the season on the bench with an injury, but was soon back in the starting lineup. While he had a number of fine saves, he also gave up goals with clear errors and his distribution was terrible at times. But since returning from being benched for Poland teammate Fabianski (grade at a C+, given all his injuries, though he was decent in his four starts conceding 3 goals), he has played a key role in 8 clean sheets since February 2. For an Arsenal team known as defensively weak for years, we conceded the second fewest goals this year (though the most on errors (7, I think), the last time I heard). Sz needs real competition next year, but could still become a top keeper in the league if he gains more discipline.

Sagna (C+): Two broken legs in less than a year have cost our solid right back the form that put him among the best in the world. Since the second leg break, he seems too tentative on the ball, loses it in dangerous positions, sometimes makes reckless tackles and has a successful cross ratio of less than 1 in 4. He has cost us points in a few games, though his quality has improved a little in recent weeks. I still think we should sell him now while we can possibly still get some value.

Jenkinson (B+): the young right back was thrust into a starting role when Sagna broke his leg again. He was above average and seemed to have a flair going forward that Sagna lacks. He also was willing to sacrifice his body defensively, and sometimes could be found running across the pitch to provide a key tackle or steal. His upside is huge and I see him as a possible starter next year.

Per Mertesacker (A-): last year, his first in the EPL, the German seemed like the problem more than a possible solution to our defensive woes. This year he has been our most consistent defender, having to pair up intermittently with both Vermaelen and Koscielny. Though he still lacks the pace of some of his contemporaries, his positioning is often ideal, his pass rate is the second highest on the team (beside Arteta) and his height causes problems for opponents on corners and free kicks. He has turned into a great signing and hopefully has a bright future with the club.

Koscielny (A): Kos suffered through some injuries earlier in the year and then had some terrible games upon returning – most obviously against Chelsea when his defending contributed to both goals in a 2-1 loss. But since getting back to full fitness, he has shown himself as one of the top centre-halfs in the league. His mixture of speed, timely tackling and decent positioning has added up to a much stronger back line. Supplanting the team captain in the starting lineup really speaks for itself.

Vermaelen (C+): it’s hard to understand what happened to the newly anointed team captain this season, with the explanation that the leadership role hurt him seeming a little farfetched to explain the incredible dip in form. It is quite plausible to assume he will leave this summer, assuming a decent bid is received. Maybe ceding the captaincy will turn him around, but he always suffered from perilous forays forward and some risky tackles in the box.

Gibbs (B): Gibbs continued with his injury problems this season but clearly grew into the role of left back, replacing Clichy. His defensive positioning and tackles have improved and he is always a threat going forward, particularly when he cuts into the box. He still needs to work on his crossing (a problem for most of the team) and maintaining defensive discipline against top wingers and full backs, but is clearly on the up – as long as he can limit his injuries in the future.

Monreal (B-): another astute signing by Wenger gives us ample cover at left back. He is a quality player going forward, but sometimes makes poor decisions in the back and his positioning is occasionally suspect. He links up well with compatriot Cazorla though and looks like a quality signing for the future.

Arteta (A-): this rating might be a little high, given his new role lying deeper in the midfield, but Arteta has the best completion rate on the team and has improved his defensive play. He is the metronome upon which the Gunners push forward and has the potential to score goals when playing in a more forward position. Another defensive mid that he can exchange with would allow him to push forward more often, which would benefit the team and beside the missed penalty at the death against Fulham, that cost us two points, he is still our go to guy from the spot. He is aging though and will need to be replaced within the next few years, one imagines.

Cazorla (A): arguably the best player for the Gunners this season, this was Wenger’s best signing in years. He can play either as a CAM or on the left wing and his ability to play off both feet, send in pinpoint passes, create chances and score goals made him one of the best in the EPL this year. Overall, he had 12 goals and 13 assists and is a major reason we are in the UCL next season.

Wilshere (B+): coming back from injury, Wilshere appeared to be the Gunners savior with his lovely runs forward and great eye for the final pass. But his sometimes reckless tackling, desire to beat two and three defenders and lack of a real goal scoring threat makes him slightly overrated by the British press at present. His absence from the team in the late going appeared to improve the overall flow through the middle and he will have to work on not trying to do too much as he comes back into the first team to start next season.

Ramsey (B+): I was among those saying Wenger’s stubbornness was hurting us as he continued to play the Welshman even as his productivity went down and he gave the ball away far too often. Then he appeared to wake up from his slumber and became one of our most solid contributors, completing the most passes in five straight games (where Arteta has dominated this category since his arrival). He had a little letup in the past two games, but that included a great goal against Wigan that sealed the victory last Tuesday. He has great vision, flexibility and a real drive to succeed on both ends of the pitch that should be an inspiration to other Gunners who sometimes disappear (like Walcott and Podolski, in particular). Getting more shots on target and improving his crossing would be the two main areas to work on for next season.

Ox (C+): with the signing of Cazorla, return of Wilshere and play of Ramsey, Ox found it hard to get time on the pitch and his dip in form from last season did little to recommend him on the wing either. Later in the season, he showed some of those dazzling moves and crosses that made him a future star in many people’s eyes, but needs to find more game time and better play in the final third if he is not to be another flop. One possibility for next season is to give him some games on the wing if Walcott plays through the center, but that probably depends on what striker(s) we sign.

Podolski (A-): some will disagree with this rating, but I’m still baffled by rumours of an exit for the German after one season in the EPL. He had 16 goals and 11 assists in 33 starts and 9 sub appearances in all competitions and that is an impressive return. He is a great finisher, really improves our dynamic forward play from the left wing and could be even better next year. Yes he is a defensive liability at times and does do odd disappearing acts at times, but seems to love playing for the Gunners and has been indispensable this year.

Giroud (B): I have been less impressed with the French striker than some. His upside is clear, but he lacks the ability to bring the ball down and distribute effectively, misses far too many chances to score and makes poor choices too often. He is helpful on defense though and had a decent return with 17 goals and 11 assists in his first season. He is a raw talent though and finishing is his main job. He has cost us more points than any other player this year and I feel we need a flair player beside him or in his place if we are to take the next step. Could become a great, but a lot of work to do to get there.

Walcott (A-): after serving as a major distraction for more than half the season (while scoring more goals than ever before), Walcott finally signed a new contract and then didn’t score for over two months. He has, however, finished strongly with some key goals (even though two were offsides) and has improved dramatically this season. The numbers are impressive: 21 goals and 14 assists in 31 starts (and 12 sub appearances). Walcott has improved his first touch, his passing, his decision making and, most importantly, his finishing. He even played defense against Wigan, though he had an average game (besides sending in the cross that led to our goal) against Newcastle. It appears the young Englishman is finally coming into his own and should just accept that his role as a winger can still reap huge numbers; with limited chances through the middle.

Gervinho (C): Gervinho started the season on a high, finding the net against Chelsea playing through the middle. But he was merely providing Wenger with a false option that cost us key games – particularly against Bradford when he had the worst miss of the season. Upon returning to the starting lineup after a prolonged absence, Gervinho started to play with more discipline and punch – but still failed to provide the finishing touch or right decision too often. His numbers for the season (18 starts, 8 subs: 7 goals and 5 assists) are not terrible, but he is just too inconsistent to rely on. There are only so many goal scoring chances in a game, and he blows far too many of them (either as potential scorer or potential supplier). One hopes he is sold this summer and replaced with a better player. Even if he isn’t, we have Walcott, Podolski, Cazorla and Ox that can all play on the wings (I don’t think Ramsey should be used there ever again).


Diaby (C): what can we say of the Frenchman who can’t … stay on the pitch for very long? He started the season in startling form, getting a callback to the French national team and looking like a star in the making, before suffering two injury setbacks in between a rather tempered return to the lineup. Unfortunately, his rare problem (one leg is longer than the other) appears to be career-threatening and we can no longer count on him for much of anything.

Coquelin (C-): while he was never terribly bad this year, his development took a step backwards and one assumes he will soon exit the team. Clearly a talented player, it is hard for us to find a space for him in the current crowded midfield competition and he doesn’t have the defensive skills to play where Wenger hoped.

Mannone (B-/C+): let’s be honest, Mannone had a decent start to the season with two clean sheets and looked okay through his first several games. But by the end of the season, his 13 starts included 16 conceded goals and his distribution was less than stellar at times. One assumes he will be let go this summer and that seems like a good idea (or he will remain as the number 3 based on another signing and letting Fab go).

And finally, what do we say about Wenger? I give him a B+ for salvaging a season that was starting to look like his last. He played a strong team against Bradford in the Capital One Cup but put Gervinho through the middle and played Ramsey when his form was awful, ultimately losing on penalties. He oversaw an awful game against Blackburn to see us exit the FA Cup, again making some poor choices to save some starters for Bayern, who we then lost to 3-1 at home. He failed to buy the DM and additional Striker we clearly need either before the season began or at the break and continued his pattern of forcing players out of position, to mixed results. But after the 2-1 loss to Tottenham, Wenger finally decided to challenge his regulars to show why they should start benching both Vermaelen and Sz. This seemed to turn the team around and sent them on a great finish to the season (really title challenging form). The problem this year has been scoring when it was needed late (until the final weeks) and playing well against the best teams. That is where this team needs to mature and improve next season and new signings would go a long way toward that goal. The reality is that the Gunners need to win silverware next season or one assumes Wenger will go, but a good foundation has been laid to finally convince those who have stayed that this is a team that can win now.

So that will end my Gunners coverage for the season. If and when they make signings this summer, I might include a short evaluation but I will ignore the rumours that swirl around. See you next season fellow Gooners!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Gunners Win; Wigan Relegated

The last day of the season was shaping up as a potentially four-team struggle for survival, but Wigan's dreams of another escape were shattered in their last two league matches, first blowing a lead against Swansea (2-3) and then coming up against an Arsenal team that needed the win just as much. Sandwiched in between was the epic FA Cup final victory over Manchester City, giving Wigan fans their first piece of silverware in their history. In the game yesterday, Arsenal looked strong early and took the lead on some shambolic defending from Wigan, with the ball bouncing off a Cazorla corner and into the path of Podolski, who headed home easily in the 11th minute. Arsenal continued to dominate for most of the rest of the half, but failed to find a second goal for not the first time this season. When Arsenal nemesis Mike Dean called a questionable foul on the edge of the box a minute from the end of the first half, I'm sure I wasn't the only Gooner to smell impending doom. It came in the form of a fine free kick from Shaun Maloney, leveling the score at halftime. 

Wigan then came out brightly to start the second half and had a number of chances to take the lead. Strong defending and a key save stopped the momentum though and, within seven minutes, Arsenal had sown up the victory. It was a well-played plan, recognizing that a draw did Wigan do favors and playing on the counter with Cazorla working his magic from all angles (he assisted all four goals). The all-important second came in the 63rd on a swift break that sent Cazorla down the right wing. He sent in a blistering cross that Wigan's goalie Joel Robles couldn't quite get to and Walcott tumbled forward, sending the ball over Robles and into the Wigan net. Five minutes later, a Cazorla header put Podolski in on goal and his clever side boot over Robles was a truly lovely finish. The fourth came on a pass from Cazorla to a charging Ramsey, who pushed past the Wigan defenders and onto the left side of goal. He had an obvious lay off for an easy finish, but decided to go it alone and beat Robles at the near post with a pounding shot into the roof of the net (while looking away, one should add). It was Ramsey's first goal of the season and put the contest beyond doubt. 

So Arsenal are one game away from again taking fourth, or maybe even third, place and Wigan go down for the first time in several years (and become the first FA Cup winner ever to be relegated). But Martinez and Wigan owner Whelan will take pride in providing the first major medal for the upstarts who beat a team with a budget almost 20 times theirs. Arsenal continued their impressive form since the defeat at Tottenham and now simply need to beat a Newcastle team with nothing to play for to get their annual "trophy." It is, of course, a bittersweet achievement, given that Chelsea -- in a less than stellar season where they lost every other chance for a trophy (7 in all, I believe) -- won a real medal with their 2-1 triumph in the Euro League final. But the Gunners are clearly moving in the right direction and the right signings this summer could make them real contenders for silverware next season. They have now won 8 of their last 10, with two winnable draws (against Everton and Man U) thrown in. And they are the last to beat Bayern at home, scoring two against a team that will set the single-season record for the Bundesliga. It could also be the case, that the young crew salvaging the season with this great run in are now made of the sort of mettle that is necessary to win the games we lost earlier this season (to Bradford, Blackburn and the first leg against Bayern). 

Some general thoughts on the shape of the team, at present ...

1. Defense: the Gunners have become a much more solid team in the back, with Koscielny and Mertesacker forming a formidable duo that match speed (Kos) with positioning and height (Mert). Both made great plays in the game and deserved a 9 and 8, respectively. Szczesny made a couple of good saves, but was bailed out by Kos early and should have covered the near post on the goal. He also slipped up a couple of passes from the back. He is improving, but we clearly need someone that can compete with him for the number one job next year. Sagna had another below par game, giving up the ball on a couple of occasions and sending in crosses to no one (he has one of the worst successful cross rates in the EPL (around 23% I think). I think it is time to cut our losses there and find a replacement that can vie for time with Jenkinson, who has lost his place in an effort to give Sagna the chance to regain his form. Lest us forget that it was the French right back that gave Man U the equalizer; otherwise we would already be safe. On the left, Gibbs is improving and will clearly be competing with Monreal next year for a place (he has gotten much better defensively, while Monreal seems to confuse his positioning at times). So on the defensive end, I think we should sell Vermaelen (hard to believe how far he's fallen this year), Sagna and one or both of the two backup keepers and buy a keeper, centre half and right back. This sounds ambitious, but seems like the way to go with Sagna and Verm going for less than they would have, but maybe supplying the funding for a quality right back with a little left over.

2. Midfield: Ramsey has really come into his own the last two months, though I thought he was a bit sloppy with the ball. But for the third straight game, he completed the most passes of any Gunner and tried more forward passes than anyone as well. He scored his first goal of the season and is among our best defending mids, when he doesn't lunge in. Arteta was quietly impressive again, but our reliance on him is a major concern and I still think we would benefit from a strong defensive mid who can get the ball moving on the counter. There are several reasonable options out there and I hope we take care of that. Beyond that, unless Fabergas does in fact become available, I think we are solid with what we have. There is Wilshire, Cazorla and even the Ox who can play in the attacking role (#10), Wilshire, Ramsey and Arteta (if we get a DM) that can play B-2-B and a few up and comers that can fit in as needed (Eisfeld interests me a lot). Coquelin hasn't developed as quickly as we hoped and will probably go this summer and we really need to give up on Diaby, even though he may play a part for a little while some time next season. If Fabergas is available, I really do think we should snatch him up. Cazorla can always move to the left and roam, as he did so effectively yesterday and Arteta isn't getting any young, giving Wilshire and/or Ramsey slightly deeper roles. But this is clearly our most settled part of the pitch.

3. Forwards: Podolski again showed what he can do when he is on the pitch and even though he disappeared for parts of the game, his two goals were key to the victory. He has shown that with some work, he could be a viable option up front -- when needed -- though probably not our leading striker overall. Walcott played maybe the best game I've ever seen from him, charging up the field, heading back to cover Sagna on the right and making a nuisance of himself across the pitch. His second goal sent us on the way to the route and he is really starting to show a maturity and improved attitude that makes the signing and salary seem like good money spent. Giroud is the biggest problem of our starting 3 in the 4-3-3 and it seems Wenger recognizes this. There is a rumour that we are in for Real's Higuain, and given his record of more than a goal every 2 games, he would be a great signing (even at 22 million pounds). The other option, Jovetic, is young but has real upside from what I've heard, though I haven't really seen him play (just clips). His return this year is not great though, and I would prefer Higuain, or both. Rumours of us going in for Rooney are absurd, but fun to consider. I would take him in a heartbeat and make him our lead striker or creative #10 right behind. I truly believe we should let Gervinho go to give Ox more playing time on one of the wings, as he has looked better in his last few starts and either get two strikers or another winger to compete. 

So good signings in all three areas of the pitch could make Arsenal a real contender next year, in my mind. The key is a better option at right back, a goalkeeper to either replace or pressure Sz, a defensive mid and a striker. I have named some other possibilities as well, but those four signings would go a long way toward improving a team that has really finished the season in title-challenging form. The main issue going forward is belief against the top four, as our record this year has been paltry in that regard. Most of those games were winnable (except the one at Old Trafford when we were summarily dismissed (even with the 2-1 score line)) and it was lack of discipline in defense early and lack of finishing on the other end of the pitch. The job of securing UCL yet again is almost done, let's hope we come out strong and wipe St. James Park with a really average Newcastle team this Sunday. COYG!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Online Education

A friend sent me an article a few months ago called "The End of the University as We Know It" that I've been meaning to read for a while (American Interest). I finally got around to it and was amused to read these opening lines: “In fifty years, if not sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it. The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.”

It is, of course, possible that these predictions will come true. But comments like “nothing can stop it” always give me pause. It is the common penchant of not only the technophile class but most writers about technology to assume that humans have little control over the spread and proliferation of new technology. Some new technology has a life of its own and the power to control the population, without or advice or consent. We are mere pawns to its alluring power and promise of progress. But is that how society really works? Is technology, which is by definition created and reproduced by humans, somehow omnipotent once released to the general public? How does this process occur?
These are obviously questions that whole books have been written about and beyond the scope of one silly blog entry, but it is important, I believe, to sometimes remind ourselves that humans do have the ability to reject technology (Betamax), to alter its use (ala the rearticulation of Facebook and Twitter during the Arab Spring) or to ban it (human cloning). Politicians, concerned citizens or consumers can all undermine the power of technology to spread or have its intended, or unintended, consequences. Even Marshall McLuhan, who argued from a perspective of extreme technological determinism where new technologies like books or the television fundamentally change who humans are and how they interact (by changing our sense ratios), believed that there was always a period of negotiation when a new technology was invented and then released in a limited way to the public.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Classes) are all the rave these days, with classes sometimes enrolling 30 to 100,000 students. The author, Nathan Harden, believes these are the future, providing education without cost to anyone who has an internet connection. He then goes on to argue, “The higher-ed business is in for a lot of pain as a new era of creative destruction produces a merciless shakeout of those institutions that adapt and prosper from those that stall and die. Meanwhile, students themselves are in for a golden age, characterized by near-universal access to the highest quality teaching and scholarship at a minimal cost. The changes ahead will ultimately bring about the most beneficial, most efficient and most equitable access to education that the world has ever seen. “

While there is some truth in the argument that making higher education available to all is a form of global democratization, it also makes some troubling assumptions about education that are increasingly the norm: 1. Education can be improved using business models, 2. Efficiency is a key goal of education and should be a the center of decision-making processes, 3. Kids being online all the time is a good thing and education should fully adapt to this new reality, rather than provide spaces where kids actually treat their new addiction, 4. Universities are implicitly inefficient and wasteful and major reductions in government funding should be ignored in exploring the changing nature of higher education. 5. Online education provides the same quality as in class learning. It is this last assumption that I will focus my attention on, as it is the most troubling challenge to the contemporary higher education model. Yes, higher education is in trouble and needs to adapt and, yes, online instruction is one mechanism toward that end.

There is also a sixth troubling assumption in the article which is much less obvious. And that is the notion that the Ivy League and other elite institutions that would survive the “Great Virtual Purge of Higher Education” are in a position to provide the best education. For one, these are research one institutions whose primary goal is, well, research. Teaching has always been secondary at elite schools (except private, liberal arts varieties), and while many professors are great educators, many others are not. Further, this puts even more control in the hands of the elite universities in knowledge production and dispersal, allowing for even fewer dissenting or alternative voices to be heard. And finally, is the reality that MOOCs do not provide much direct interaction with the instructor (if any) and no direct interaction with other students.

And it is this belief, that people spending almost all of their time online will have few adverse effects on society, that is the most appalling assumption. Already we see the dramatic increase in ADD and ADHD, the depression that appears to be coupled with spending too much time online, the cyber-bullying, the kids and students who can’t concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes, the hours and hours of wasted time each day and the ways in which people are becoming more insular in their social circles. This last trend would only be amplified by online only education, where you could comfortably ignore any challenge to your opinions, values and beliefs while pretending to abide those challenges. Kids today are surrounding themselves with magazines, websites, television news programming and blogs that essentially support their positions, shutting off the channels of dissent. And we see the effects in the political arena, where one party simply says no to everything and the other can’t seem to find any mechanism to build consensus.

Harden concludes, “Big changes are coming, and old attitudes and business models are set to collapse as new ones rise. Few who will be affected by the changes ahead are aware of what’s coming. Severe financial contraction in the higher-ed industry is on the way, and for many this will spell hard times both financially and personally. But if our goal is educating as many students as possible, as well as possible, as affordably as possible, then the end of the university as we know it is nothing to fear. Indeed, it’s something to celebrate.“ Have universities always run on “business models” and is this really the metric that should be at the forefront of determining their effectiveness? Is our goal really to education as many students as possible at the post-secondary level -- particularly when there are fewer and fewer quality jobs? Is the end of the university really something to celebrate? And is the virtual classroom really such a great thing? There are no easy answers to these questions, but it is important to not blindly embrace the new common sense, particularly when provided by the cheerleaders of technological progress at any cost.

Monday, May 13, 2013

And the Winner Is ... the Millennials

A recent report has found that the Millennials (aka Generation Me or Generation Media, depending on your perspective) are the most entitled and delusional generation in history (Salon). It appears there is a growing discrepancy between their desire for material rewards and their willingness to do the work required to garner those rewards. Is it any wonder, given the world they have grown up in? They are constantly bombarded by aspirational ads and television, by stories of the rich and famous (particularly of the young, untalented variety) and by an existence steeped in media and its spectacle-inspired mythology. Technological addiction has brought ADHD to  social pandemic level as instant gratification and multitasking become the norm. And they live in a political world that continues to tell them lies about their collective future, while the older generations essential pilfer it from under them. Yet the most troubling aspect of this new world is the distance between expectations and potential success. 

The Millennials appear to believe that success is now a formula based on passing particular life benchmarks. Finish school, go on to college, start some sort of little business (generally online), live your life out loud (online) and success will surely follow. It is almost perceived as a birthright. Yet what is missing is any dedication to struggling toward that goal. School and college are just inconveniences along the road to future jobs, which are not high on their list of adult life responsibilities anyway. They cheat with abandon, fail to do the reading for their classes and hope to slink by. And universities acquiesce to this new reality by giving less work and lowering standards, particularly among part time faculty worried about those pesky student evaluations. They are now "customers" who demand what they need and take what they want. That sense of entitlement, given to them by their parents, schools, marketers and media outlets all provide a space where they are the center of the universe. They see themselves in advertisements, on television and in movies outsmarting adults with more wisdom and life experience by the tender age of 12 than that stuffy older generation that just doesn't "get it."

All this occurs against a backdrop of real threats to the future of the Western world. Not only are we being attacked from outside, by developing countries like Brazil, India, Russia and China, but from within by an older generation that actually does the hard work -- to take as big a piece of the pie as possible. Unemployment, underemployment, economic stagnation and lower real wages are the economic reality of the day and little appears to be being done to address the situation. In fact, in America we have one party that is trying to slowly shut down the government and allow corporations to rule our lives down to the minutest detail. And it is this generation that has most openly embraced the corporate creed of profits and self-gratification at any cost. There is the hook up culture that has emerged as the new reality of "dating," the social networking craze that takes hours of their lives in sharing those lives with others (a form of narcissism that seems unparalleled even by the boomers), the constant distractions of constant communication (what the hell do they text each other all day?) and a tendency to be constantly busy without actually accomplishing much at all. In Spain and Greece, the youth already recognize their futures are shot but in America this generation seems largely oblivious of its fate. 

So what does this bode for our collective futures? One wonders what will happen when this generation wakes up and realizes so many of their dreams are mere facades, an oasis erected within the spectacle. What appears is good and what is good appears. But what happens when the glamour and envy become regret and bitterness? Will this generation have the fortitude shown by the "greatest generation" in working to forge a better future? Do they even have it in them? Or will they fall back on those perpetual distractions, addiction to legal and illegal drugs and essentially create another urban blighted 70s, without the street and DIY rebellion underbelly? We shall certainly hear about it, on a Twitter, You Tube and/or Facebook station near you ...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

And Then There Were Two ...

Games that is. Arsenal now have their destiny back in their own hands after the breathtaking (and I do mean that literally) 2-2 draw between Tottenham and Chelsea Wednesday. As Gareth Bale stepped up for a free kick in the 90th minute, I had to turn away from the TV. Luckily he kicked it to Petr Cech and the draw was sealed. But Chelsea could have easily put this one to bed earlier, but for a number of blown counter attacks including Ramirez falling down as Hazard laid the ball off in front of goal. Ramirez had been the man that put Chelsea back ahead after Tottenham leveled, but the Blues failed to get the all-important third goal. They were more ruthless this weekend against Aston Villa and now have essentially guaranteed Champions League football next season. Tottenham also helped themselves with another late goal to avoid a damaging draw today. So they currently stand in fourth and Arsenal really does need to win their last two.

The task appeared to get a little harder though, as Wigan will be on a high after the biggest upset in the FA Cup final since 1988, when Wimbledon beat Liverpool. Wigan held off a rather lethargic Man City through the first three quarters of the match, then seized the advantage after Zaboleta was sent off for a second yellow. It was a wonderful upset that gave Wigan, and Roberto Martinez, their first major silverware -- though Arsenal could ruin it Tuesday. A win by the Gunners will seal Wigan's fate, though they would still be playing in Europe next year. Arsenal will have to start strong against a team that too often cedes leads, but occasionally plays strong from ahead or when tied. A series of late goals have probably relegated them this year and the same can be said of Tottenham, who have given up 23 points from leading positions this year. Arsenal, on the other hand, have only given up five (I think) and thus the necessity of a strong start and early goal. The way we are defending, an early goal could see us through. If we do win Tuesday, the final game against Newcastle will mean everything to Arsenal and absolutely nothing to Newcastle, which should set up as another very winnable contest. Let's hope the Gunners keep their good form and see out the job. Then it would be off to the summer transfer window spectacle, where we are linked with every player in the world. I don't think we need major reinforcements, but a world class striker, competition for Sz and a defensive minded midfielder seem required. Also probably a right back to replace Sagna and hopefully some sort of creative player (if the rumours about Fabergas are true, snatch him up in a heartbeat). 

The other big news this week, of course, is the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. It has been a long time in coming and I suppose it is nice he got to go out on top. That we essentially gave him the title by selling RVP to our bitter rivals seems apropos of the past eight years, but this leaves Wenger as the longest-serving manager in the EPL and in a position to strengthen and challenge for a title next year. SAF has had the greatest football manager career in the history of the sport and is arguably the greatest coach in any professional sport in history. Sure he didn't last as long as Casey Stengel and didn't dominate his sport like UCLA did under Wooden (though that is college), but who else would even be in the debate to rival his achievements (49 pieces of silverware at Aberdeen and Man U). I'm not a fan of either the club or Ferguson but you would have to be crazy not to respect his achievements and longevity. Unfortunately, the man who probably felt he would benefit the most from the news (besides Moyes, who will be hunting for his first trophy next season) will not be there to celebrate -- as Roberto Mancini is apparently about to be replaced by Pellegrini from Malaga. It seems a bit harsh given his achievements over the past three years, but his failure to maintain strong relationships with his players, failure to achieve in the Champions League, critique of the management above him and general aloofness seem to have done him in. The surprising news is even if they had won the FA Cup, he was still gone. Such is the life of managers these days -- except the two longest serving. Well, a fare-thee-well adieu to Ferguson, a tough luck and ciao to Mancini, a good luck to Moyes (with my fingers crossed behind my back) and an opening that has to be Wenger's last stand. Two games and then a summer that could lead to a hopeful season for fans starved for something to celebrate, besides being fourth best. COYG!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty ... Brought to You By the CIA

Doing media criticism is always wrought with the most obvious question -- if films are ideological, who is really making them? The easy way around this question is to take a sort of Althusserian approach to ideology, arguing that many simply reproduce the dominant ideas because they themselves grew up with them, or their class position pushes them to offer those perspectives. Sometimes, however, evidence emerges of a more insidious relationship between media and ideology. One obvious example is Fox News, whose CEO is an avid conservative and actively promotes his political agenda. This is also true of News Corp and Rupert Murdoch and arguably a number of other outlets from the Wall Street Journal to Washington Post, New York Times and even MSNBC (from the opposite end of the perspective). But we also know of the politics that have always influenced the purportedly liberal Hollywood. The latest example is an interesting one.

It turns out that Katherine Bigelow and her team took advice from the CIA, who requested a rewrite of parts of the script for the torture advertising Zero Dark Thirty (Guardian). In January of this year, the Senate intelligence committee launched an investigation into whether Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal were granted "inappropriate access" to classified CIA material following concern from high-profile members over the film's depiction of torture in the search for bin Laden. The probe was dropped in February after the film earned a single Oscar; for sound editing. However, according to, the CIA did successfully pressure Boal to remove certain scenes from the script, including several that would have cast the agency in a negative light. A memo released under the Freedom of Information Act found that five conference calls were held in late 2011 with staff of the agency's Office of Public Affairs "to help promote an appropriate portrayal of the agency and the Bin Laden operation."

Given that I found the film to largely be an advertisement for torture, though many disagree with me, this a troubling revelation that puts a damaging light on a Hollywood already under pressure for its love affair with eroticizing violence. Apparently, sometimes the ideological chain from the powerful to the audience is more obvious than we could have ever imagined …

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Arsenal Wins ... but so do Tottenham and Chelsea

Arsenal flashed into the lead in the first 20 seconds of their game at Loftus Road against QPR Saturday, with Walcott scoring the fastest goal in the EPL this season. It looked as if it would be smooth sailing from there, with the Gunners controlling the first 30 minutes of the game rather handily. But as with the draw against Man United last weekend, they failed to turn dominant possession into a second goal and had to rely on the defense and some stellar saves from Sz to hold out until the final whistle. Walcott could have easily put the game away in the first half, but saw two shots saved. Podolski was largely anonymous for most of the game, and while Ramsey again performed admirably, the rest of the midfield seemed out of sync, unable to create many chances and allowing the momentum to swing at least three times in the match. The defensive backfield of Koscielny and Mertesacker were impressive yet again, Monreal showed some stumbles in defending and Sagna again displayed the sort of form that must have the Gunners really considering any transfer offers that come up next month.

But the most important thing was the three points and as has been the case for more than two months, the Gunners found a way to tough out a win (or the two draws). Unfortunately, Tottenham was again saved by Bale late and earned all three points against Southampton and Chelsea pulled off a 1-0 win at Old Trafford, in a relatively dull affair. Our destiny is thus out of our own hands at present and if Tottenham beat Chelsea at the Bridge Wednesday, we could very well win out and still not make the Champions League by a single point. Looking back at the season, it is hard not to consider the role RVP has played in so many important matches. Not only did we give the title to hated United with that transfer, but lost a number of points throughout the season lacking his finishing. And the lost five points in two games to United were largely due to RVP and defensive bumbles that led to his two goals. Add to that the way he played today, not really impressing as Chelsea got a late goal from Juan Mata (another player we could have had) to grab a surprising result away at the Champs. So after rooting for Man United today, I am forced to root for Chelsea on Wednesday. God, I miss the days of challenging for titles rather than 4th place!

Looking forward to the summer and possible transfers is thus impossible and I will allow the latest rumours to go uncommented upon until we know where we stand for next year. The most exciting is the potential return of Fabergas, but I somehow doubt it will come to pass. COYG!

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Is ADHD Actually Underreported?

A recent study has suggested that we may actually UNDERestimate ADHD in children, given the backlash against the diagnosis and the resultant use of speed (as I mentioned in a previous post): Salon. This may very well be true, but it raises more questions about the proliferation of this near pandemic condition. Is it something in the environment that is causing increased ADHD? Few think so; that research is more aimed at the dramatic increase in Autism. Is it just our increased ability to diagnose the problem? This is possible, but we just used to call it hyperactivity. Or is it a result of changes in the ways kids live their lives? This seems the most likely answer and a reason for great concern.

What could be the cultural factors leading to ADHD in children? Well, the answer seems obvious. 1. Increased watching of television and movies, together with increased use of video games. This is coupled with children getting cellphones, and smart phones, at a much younger age and the almost universal use of iPads inside and outside schools (see this Kaiser Family Foundation report for the alarming details: 2. The amount of sugar and high fructose corn syrup found in many foods kids eat and particularly the amount of sugar they get from soda. The amount of sugar in the diet would obviously lend itself to hyperactive behavior and the ups and downs that go with sugar addiction. 3. The regimenting of school life and decline in gym and physical activity. In trying to address lagging test scores, schools are returning to tried and true traditional approaches to schooling. The problem is they are tried and truly show they don't work for all students -- particularly the increasingly diverse student body in American public schools today.

In other words, ADHD is arguably a cultural/social disease rather than a medical condition. As Ivan Illich argued in Tools of Conviviality way back in 1973, the medical field had moved, within the 20th century, from a source for improving and prolonging life to a legitimator for the ill effects of industrialization, urbanization and now globalization (and the mechanism that essentially fixes the symptoms of these problems, rather than providing a cure). He did not see the full realization of his vision, with corporate power at unprecedented levels and more people living in urban areas than ever before (I believe over 6 billion). But his critique might be even more relevant today than it was then, even as medical science continues to prolong our lives and cure diseases. The problem is the profit motivate still at the center of healthcare in America and the deleterious effects of pharmaceutical companies moving from curatives to palliatives (and making up more and more conditions to treat the symptoms of). 

So should more kids be on FDA-approved speed, or should we consider cultural changes that could actually address the situation in less invasive ways? I am obviously a proponent of the latter. It seems rather simple, though simple solutions to complex problems are usually wrong: 1. Cut the amount of sugar in children's diets. 2. Provide physical activity for students in school every day. 3. Find ways to focus children on specific tasks for longer periods of time. Parents should arguably not allow kids to be on their computers, in front of tvs or videogames or on their phones for periods of time, allowing them to learn to focus on one thing at a time -- particularly given that multitasking makes us worse at every one of those tasks (according to multiple studies). 4. Find ways to stem the media intake of children in general. iPads might be sexier and cheaper for schools, but research has found we retain less than reading on a screen and the opportunities for children to get on the web in class only undermines instruction and their ability to concentrate. 5. I believe we should also bring art and music back into schools (particularly for younger children). These are both avenues where kids can concentrate on one thing and learn the skills necessary to combat constant disruption and switching of tasks/activities. 

If we are to combat this constantly growing problem, it appears schools and parents must band together to face it head on. Media companies will never abide reducing the amount of media children consume, so this effort must come from outside their purview -- and one knows the government is unlikely to get involved in much of anything that benefits the common good (they stopped regulating children's programming and advertising way back in the 80s and seem unlikely to start now). 

Death (by Gun) Wish XIII

New York has recently passed important new gun control law legislation led by the efforts of Gov. Cuomo, hopefully setting the stage for similar legislation across the country. The new laws expand New York’s ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and beginning next January, will prohibit the possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Given the recent spate of shootings, most recently in Boston following the tragedy at Sandy Hook, it appears essential that state legislators act, as Congress is again hampered by the party of no. Yet one "liberal" group seems less than pleased with the new law. Who is it? The NRA? Of course they would never be considered liberal, even if Michael Moore is a proud member. Maybe it's the DNC? No, they actually support gun control. Could it be the "liberal" media? No, they have tended to push the need for gun control, even if it might hurt ratings. In fact it is Hollywood, worried they will lose their cinema verite appeal if they are forced to use false weapons: NYT.

Of course, Hollywood liberalism has always been based more on convenience than actual leftward-leanings. From naming names to pushing gay studio actors toward faux dates or marriages, to their long history of racism and sexism that continues to the present day, Hollywood actors and producers have always been liberals of convenience who engage in politics out of some noblesse oblige rather than desire to actually change things. Sure there are actors like Paul Newman and George Clooney who do some good (though the latter seems to only make political films that end up with cynical conclusions), and many Hollywood films certainly do bring important issues and perspectives to American households. But the general focus of Hollywood has always been on making money, even in the halcyon 70s, when the auteurs not only made great films and changed the industry, but also broke up the old union system, allowing studios to pay less for the "invisible" talent.

When it comes to violence, well the only thing that sells better than violence in American films is sex and Hollywood has even made violence sexy (what bell hooks once aptly called "pugilistic eroticism"). Hollywood banks on violence even more than a pretty face these days and they fear that American audiences (and the increasingly large international variety) just can't be entertained by single-shot guns and rifles. We need those assault rifles to make the movies "real" and "exciting." But do we really? Well, maybe -- given how bad the plots and writing have become in blockbusters. Even the producers of Law & Order SVU are worried that lack of access to real assault weapons will undermine the appeal of the show -- maybe better at combining sex and violence than any other (though in an extremely depressing setting that makes one wonder, who would want to actually watch the depravity).

Yet as someone who watches films from all over the world, I must less than respectfully disagree with Hollywood. French, Italian and British films sometimes fall prey to American instincts towards violence, but tend to center their stories more around plot and characters. Yes filmmakers receive government funding there and the profit margins are much slimmer, but do we really need so much fictional violence? Not satisfied with the daily doses available from television drama, action flicks and video games, we have even increasingly turned to the Nordic countries, where they specialize in extreme violence (ala Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Headhunters, Annika Bengtzon, The Killing, Wallander, etc.). Maybe the powerful medium of film must finally take some responsibility for the world they've wrought. Celebrating violence on TV and in films, particularly without really contemplating its effects, must ultimately have some effect on the population? Sure, in some cases it is purely escape, catharsis, sublimation of deeper desires and the like -- but the sheer magnitude of it, particularly that consumed by young boys and men still determining who they are, has clearly manifest in increased violence toward women, between men and in the mass shooting that have plagued us for years. 

Hollywood is merely a symptom in the bigger problem of America, a country that makes most of our decisions based on profit margins and corporate interest. It is time for the American public to demand more responsibility to those who are the key ideological machine in the country (if not the globe), more powerful than schools, parents or the church. This is not a call for protectionism, but to start a serious debate about what parents and the larger society really want and how to get studios to make it. As just one example -- American audiences questioned about what genre they would like to see more of almost always pick comedy, but still action films dominate new releases. Why? Because it is hard to create a comedy that will resonate with international audiences, given language and cultural differences. But is this excuse enough to continue allowing our media executives to abrogate any responsibility for what they are selling to the youth (and adults) today? This of course ignores the advertisers, who are even worse.