The fear, desperation, binary choices, and foul language of the current presidential campaign carry my mind back to the Reagan Administration. I had this on my wall for years:

December 1983 notice from SSS.

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Calvin and Hobbes

America is, in fact, the leading case in point of what may be thought of as the third great crisis in Western education. The first occurred in the fifth century B.C., when Athens underwent a change from an oral culture to an alphabet-writing culture. To understand what this meant, we must read Plato. The second occurred in the sixteenth century, when Europe underwent a radical transformation as a result of the printing press. To understand what this meant, we must read John Locke. The third is happening now, in America, as a result of the electronic revolution, particularly the invention of television. To understand what this means, we must read Marshall McLuhan.

—Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, (New York: Penguin, 1985), 145.

I like this so much! It reminds me of reading in an on-line personals ad that among her favorite movies and books a woman listed Calvin and Hobbes. My immediate reaction was excitement, followed quickly by the realization she and I meant quite different works.

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Books as History

What I am saying is that just as the television commercial empties itself of authentic product information so that it can do its psychological work, image politics empties itself of authentic political substance for the same reason.

It follows from this that history can play no significant role in image politics. For history is of value only to someone who takes seriously the notion that there are patterns in the past which may provide the present with nourishing traditions. “The past is a world,” Thomas Carlyle said, “and not a void of grey haze.” But he wrote this at a time when the book was the principal medium of serious public discourse. A book is all history. Everything about it takes one back in time—from the way it is produced to its linear mode of exposition to the fact that the past tense is its most comfortable form of address. As no other medium before or since, the book promotes a sense of a coherent and usable past. In a conversation of books, history, as Carlyle understood it, is not only a world but a living world. It is the present that is shadowy.

We do not refuse to remember; neither do we find it exactly useless to remember. Rather, we are being rendered unfit to remember. For if remembering is to be something more than nostalgia, it requires a contextual basis—a theory, a vision, a metaphor—something within which facts can be organized and patterns discerned. The politics of image and instantaneous news provides no such context, is, in fact, hampered by attempts to provide any. A mirror records only what you are wearing today. It is silent about yesterday. With television, we vault ourselves into a continuous, incoherent present.

—Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, (New York: Penguin, 1985), 136-137.

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The US as seen via small screens

It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails. As typography once dictated the style of conducting politics, religion, business, education, law and other important social matters, television now takes command. In courtrooms, classrooms, operating rooms, board rooms, churches and even airplanes, Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials. For the message of television as metaphor is not only that all the world is a stage but that the stage is located in Las Vegas, Nevada.

—Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, (New York: Penguin, 1985), 92-93.

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Media as Epistemology

For, like the printing press, television is nothing less than a philosophy of rhetoric. To talk seriously about television, one must therefore talk of epistemology. All other commentary is in itself trivial.

—Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, (New York: Penguin, 1985), 17.

I’m finding Postman’s thoughts on television quite relevant to the flood of new media we’re soaking in.

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McCain blames Obama for Orlando shooting

“Barack Obama is directly responsible for it, because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al Qaeda went to Syria, became ISIS, and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures,”

McCain said, according to The Washington Post as cited in a Huffington Post article. I am not a Washington Post subscriber, and didn’t read the original. The Huffington Post piece doesn’t explain the connection between ISIS in Syria and a gay club shooting in Orlando.

James Harkin has an interesting perspective on the rise of ISIS in Syria:

By the time it was rolled out, ISIS wasn’t so much a diktat from Iraq as a meeting of jihadi minds—one buttressed by networks of recruits that had already been established in Europe.

—James Harkin, Hunting Season, (New York: Hachette Books, 2015), 94.

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Afghanistan as profit center

“It just hits you like a ton of bricks when you think about it,” fumed a senior officer who has been in the military for nearly thirty years and was in Afghanistan when he had this revelation. “The Department of Defense is no longer a war fighting organization, it’s a business enterprise. Afghanistan is a great example of it. There’s so much money being made off this place.”

—Dana Priest and William Arkin, Top Secret America, (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2011), 188.

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Orlando Shooting

In a press conference, President Obama said the shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse, which claimed 51 lives so far, marked the deadliest in United States history.

I think he means the deadliest by non-state actors:
Waco Siege, February 28 – April 19, 1993, killed 76.
Tulsa massacre, May 31 – June 1, 1921, killed an estimated 300.
Wounded Knee Massacre, December 29, 1890, killed over 150.

NPR’s discussion of their decision on language regarding the event includes these interesting thoughts:

A gunman opening fire on a public space is what “mass shooting” has come to mean these days, Duwe said. We don’t tend to put massacres involving military or quasi-military actors and those perpetrated by a group in that category.

Double-plus good, eh Winston?

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Richard Clarke on John Ashcroft

When I and one of my staff met with Ashcroft early in the Administration, we were left wondering if his discussion with us had been an act. My associate asked me on the drive back to the White House, “He can’t really be that slow, can he? I mean, you can’t get to be the Attorney General of the United States and be like that, right?”

I wasn’t so sure. “I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe he’s just cagey, but after all, he did lose a Senate reelection to a dead man.”

—Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 256.

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Against All Enemies

Clarke rejects the idea of a missile shooting down TWA 800 and suggests a connection between Khalid Sheik Muhammad and Terry Nichols on succeeding pages.

see Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), pp. 126-27.

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