Archive for Media

The Way of the Dodo: “Political In/correctness”

Posted in Culture, politics with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2010 by 99ppp

Browsing amazon.com, I came across a description to a series of books called “The Politically Incorrect Guide to..”. Now, I’ve been exposed to the phrase through Bill Maher’s excellent show in the 90s and even used it myself, yet I noticed I haven’t used it or heard it recently and wondered why. I thought the books were a humourous attempt at satire, but looking deeper they seemed to be a serious attempt to argue outdated ideas.

I’ve always been opposed to political correctness, and always felt that we’ve lost sincerity due to the fear of offending someone. Some were trying to redefine terms towards people who didn’t even refer to themselves as such. “Hearing impaired” for deaf, or “African-American” for black, so on and so forth. It became a sort of joke of hypersensitivity back in the 90s. The joke now seems to be those attempting to resurrect the terms “PC/P-inC” as a futile attempt to brand antiquated, racist and sexist ideas as rebellious and subversive. It stinks of desperation by people feeling left behind by trends towards inclusion, diversity and egalitarianism. It is not a bold exploration towards new ideas, but entrenching oneself into outdated ones.

There is a sad irony of those who currently tend to use that term. They are offended by others’ offense! Just like people have the freedom to express their views, people have the freedom to react and respond to those views. Our disgust disgust them, and the hypocrisy seems lost on them.

In the age of the internet, where one can delight and be disgusted by a variety of sights, sounds and texts, the terms “politically correct/incorrect” have become anachronisms, very much like those who tend to spout it. So I bid you good-bye “PC”, you were a useful term for a while, but now you sound pretty hollow. Now you only help me identify those who aren’t really censored, but whose ideas are ignored into irrelevancy, and often rightfully so. I guess we can call it linguistic natural selection.

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Review: Flow: For Love of Water

Posted in business, Culture, Environment, Media, Movies, Philosophy, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2009 by 99ppp

While channel surfing, we had the good fortune to stumble upon a terrific documentary on The Movie Network : Flow: For Love of Water (TMN, DVD) which highlights the importance of our potable water and challenges our preconceptions about its treatment, abundance and accessibility. This documentary also provides a robust critique of privatization and how these huge conglomerates make exorbitant profits while limiting access to the impoverished local populations. When profit reigns supreme, it is unsurprising that control by a few of this precious resource, necessary to sustain human life, jeopardizes and marginilzes the most vulnerable whose welfare depends on it. Corporate control of potable water is not solely a concern for those in the developing world as a legal battle between Michigan citizens and a Nestle bottling plant emerges. The safety of bottled water is also challenged and the perception that is somehow better than tap water.

It isn’t all bad news as the film also presents those communities who’ve applied creative solutions in a local, decentralized, and affordable manner, showing that innovation can come elsewhere than a corporate boardroom and at high infrastructure costs. I highly recommend this enlightening film, and check out this review from the New York Times on this award winning documentary.

Expressing Doubts

Posted in Culture, Media, Philosophy, Relationships with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2009 by 99ppp

I looked at the name of the blog and I still feel it’s sincere: 99% Pure Propaganda. That is what all media is, including this blog, even if an expression is authentic and sincere, since there is always an intent when sharing it. I sense we are all influenced by others to various degrees, whether we like to or not. Sometimes we express ourselves in direct opposition to some perceived media triggering rebellion, yet the influence there exists, even when disagreeing since we care enough to dissent. Others wish to perpetuate ideas (memes) just to see how effective they are. Should we stop? Has language become meaningless? Why don’t I just close down the blog, and by doing so reduce the noise of the internet?

My long hiatus from writing has been a painful one, and it was getting tougher to write since my reevaluation post, since I am not exempt from reevaluating, and it seemed premature to share any impressions in a state of doubt. I sense I am not alone and many of us are in doubt, and we are afraid to express it, fearing we’ll be wrong and hoping to be certain.  This has dogged me for a few months, not knowing what to write about, what is important, and at the end of it all, who cares anyways? People are just bombarded with information nowadays, with the web, cable tv, texts, cellphones and so on. The perceived insignificance of my voice was dwarfed by the chasm of misunderstanding that can be plainly seen, both in real life and on the web. I don’t mean this post to be a whining lamentation in my writing drought, but an attempt at an authentic exploration on my difficulties.

We seek certainty, we seek meaning. Who wants to hear other’s doubts? It might ignite my doubts, erode the firmament of my convictions and beliefs. It is rather unpleasant, yet perhaps it seems necessary to share it, both doubts and convictions. We’ve followed leaders, great philosophers, heroes, parents and role models, hanged on to their every word, followed their example.. but to what? We’ve looked for certainty from those who’ve “succeeded” yet what is success? When have “we arrived”? I don’t like neat answers, since often it can create a rut of dogma in ones’s mind.

So is the only choice to stand on quick sand, to have no certainty? Our words themselves have showed to be unstable, untrustworthy. but we have no choice but to uses them, since they allow us in a limited way to share our human experience. In that chaotic cacophony we may stumble upon a pearl, a relationship however fleeting, in what we sense without question to be inately human. While we each might be a small part of some greater whole, it is no justification to consciously disengage. We are engaged whether we like it or not, but the nature of that engagement relies much on how we consciousy relate, instead of allowing the momentum of social conditioning to pull us towards normalization.

I believe there can be an optimal balance between listening and expressing. Often, in a world where many people are shouting over one another, thinking their point of view is the sole “correct” one, can disuade some to put their voices out there. They have a humility many of the former can use, yet their silence can also be alienating. Their art, their music, their expressions and opinions of beauty, ugliness, fairness, injustice, love, anger and humanity are hungering to be heard. There is no freedom of expression unless it is exercised.

Some convictions remain though. We need to create media instead of solely absorbing it. Express both our doubts and convictions. To remain silent is resignation. To abdicate responsability in the formation of culture. to not discuss, express debate.. and for most LISTEN. LOOK at the media we consume mindlessly. We may believe it is merely escape, but often it can be subtly influencing us. That’s why it becomes more and more important to look at all media critically, including the persistant beliefs we use within ourselves to endoctronate us.

The truth may be volatile , yet we feel its there: The Tao that can be defined is not the eternal Tao. Perhaps we can’t encapsulate it neatly, perhaps it simply flows through us.. and sometimes it can flow through our endoctronations, biases, bigotries that shackle us and filter “the truth” from our senses and escape to the other side, to another mind, creating relationship, however fleeting it may be.

Watching the Game

Posted in Culture, Economy, Media, Philosophy with tags , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2009 by 99ppp

I never dreamed of playing pro hockey as a youngster, but enjoyed playing the game. I discovered I was a lousy skater and didn’t like waking up early on Saturdays. Eventually, I played street hockey with friends until my mid-teens. I’ve followed the Montreal Canadiens (or Habs as they are called informally) ever since I was a kid, even while my interest in actually playing hockey eroded. There is nothing very unusual about this, and likely its occurred to many fans of other sports. What intrigues me about watching and following sports is that it different from any other pasttime, it isn’t like being a fan of our favourite TV show. We can get euphoric and depressed when our favourite team wins or loses, my uncle used to literally cry when his pet soccer team lost some “important” game. In Montreal, hockey is a religion, and there is even a university course exploring such themes . Some goalies, past and present are often given nicknames alluding divinity (“Jesus” Price, St. Patrick). Some didn’t even wait for a championship to riot , just after a first round win.

Don’t get me wrong, watching hockey is a fine diversion during these frigid months of winter, yet recently Montreal has caught Habs fever, even former GM and player Serge Savard has opined that they are currently more popular than when they had won the four Stanley Cups. I often found the “Habs as religion” premise as fun hyperbole, something Hab fans tell one another to exaggerate the devotion to the team, and the craziness that surrounds the Canadiens, especially in the media. But I got a glimpse of it one night when we made plans to watch a game with some friends. I haven’t been to a sports bar for a few years and I thought it would be fun. It was a very cold night (under -20C), so we didn’t expect a large crowd at this particular bar. We arrived late and the place was PACKED, and everyone looked at us like we walked in the middle of Sunday service. The audacity of us coming in late to the sacrament, the rambuncious church that every pub has become, worshipping the Holy Habs. How dare us be late and expect to find a seat??!! We bolted and had a very pleasant evening at a good Thai restaurant closeby, no screen showing the game, and I didn’t miss it.

Some curious thoughts about this pastime of mine often invade my mind. Why do I watch this? I can dismiss it easily as just entertainment, but I feel its more than that.  Millionaire players payed by billionaire owners that often don’t even live here, playing for the highest bidder with specialized skills no one really needs. Do they represent us? People proudly wearing a team logo which is now just a corporate logo. Why aren’t I playing a game instead of watching others play? Isn’t that the way, not only in sports but in other endeavours, like the arts and music? We watch the skilled without developing our own skill, we are mesmerized by mastery too much to attempt competency. We cheer athletes, actors, musicians, politicians. We watch, but what to we do?  We absorb media, but do we create it?

Oh, the game is on. I wonder what’s the score.

Oprah’s hollow Mea Culpa

Posted in Culture, Media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2008 by 99ppp

Oprah’s Mea Culpa sounds hollow

Oprah Winfrey, the queen of talk TV, claims she’s gotten off the wagon after tipping the scales at 200 lbs. due to some thyroid condition and food addiction. She’s gotten enough publicity from her weight losses and gains, that her little revelation sounds like an attempt to place herself in some sort of underdog position. This can be effective for everyone to forget her billion dollar media empire.

We usually don’t write about celebrities here, but Oprah is an exception. as she carries incredible influence in popular culture. Her backing of Barack Obama was instrumental in making his candidacy credible and visible to many people when he was relatively unknown. Her book club often creates best-sellers.

You see, Oprah needs to appear more accessible to the common woman. I’m not suggesting that she gained the weight purposely, but it is very difficult for me to feel too much compassion towards her, considering that she has access to the best personal chefs and trainers.

I have little doubt that she’s has difficulty with food. The problem is that she’s appealing to other’s compassion by labeling herself a “food addict” and claiming some thyroid condition gave her a fear of working out. This from someone who made a public display out of finishing a marathon. Her trainer got a best selling book out of the deal, and doubtless that her O magazine is full of tips on “how to lose weight.

Here at 99ppp we are getting into better shape and managing to deal with the struggles that go with it. We can sympathize with Oprah’s inconsistency, yet we have to cook our own meals, and train with our home equipment (resistance bands and yoga mats) and videos. We have no access to Oprah’s resources (chefs, gyms and trainers), so any appeals by her to saying how hard it is, sounds very hollow to us. I prefer to read a blog post from average folks dealing with their struggles, than the one of a billionaire using a sensational headline to sell more magazines.

“I’m embarrassed,” she writes. “I can’t believe that after all these years, all the things I know how to do, I’m still talking about my weight. I look at my thinner self and think, ‘How did I let this happen again?’ “(from Link above)

Yes… she’s embarrassed.. so embarrassed she decided to publish a feature article about it. I don’t know about you, but if you are so embarrassed about something, wouldn’t you keep it to yourself instead of trumpeting out to the world? Of course, she’ll now work on losing the weight, having the thyroid and food addiction as an alibi if she fails, and painting herself as an underdog whose battled all odds if she succeeds.

Winfrey writes. “I was so frustrated I started eating whatever I wanted – and that’s never good.”

That narcissism is indicative of a decadent society faced with its overindulgence. Many have little time to cook, opting for cheaper fast food. Healthy food gets more expensive, yet Oprah surely can afford it. Not to mention in-house cooks/chefs to prepare delicious meals. What befuddles me is that so many viewers perceive Oprah to be “one of them”?

Is Oprah responsible for her Guru status?

Not fully, but she certainly doesn’t discourage it. She appears to have developed a Messiah Complex, attempting to save everyone. The onus lies on her viewership who could place greater scrutiny on her values and so-called lessons.

She hopes to get started with her upcoming “Best Life Week,” starting Jan. 5 with an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” during which she is expected to talk candidly about her weight.

Her weight gains and losses give her content for her increasingly vacuous show. Her “candidness” seems like a calculated attempt to position herself as an underdog, one of YOU, which is quite difficult for a extremely wealthy person during a economic downturn.

I don’t question that Oprah genuinely believes that she has great information and lessons to pass along, sometimes she does, shifting her materialistic “Oprah’s Favorite Things” episode this year into “How to Have the Thriftiest Holiday Ever” showing some sensitivity to these troubled economic times. Nevertheless, it’s best for more people to think for themselves, choose their own books,  and frame their own reality. Whether it’s Oprah or some other celebrity attempting to bring wisdom to the “clueless rabble”, it’s high time that we develop our own individual critical skills and maintain an open mind, while tempering it with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Oprah’s show reminds me of a great scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, but I doubt very much that she’d make similar declarations as Brian below. [vid 1:05min]

A Great Re-evaluation: The Silver Lining on a Dark Economic Cloud

Posted in Culture, Environment, Media, Philosophy, Relationships with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2008 by 99ppp

For the last couple of months I’ve been fascinated by the financial coverage on CNBC. The commentators struggling to make sense of something that is senseless to them. They declare the market is undervalued, and look for the mythical bottom where the best buying opportunities occur. They hope the promise of great riches will entice more to pick up some great bargains. The Dow numbers jump up and down frantically and the commentators become equally manic depressive. There are both the bulls (optimists) and the bears (pessimists) that give opinions ranging from an economic apocalypse not unlike the Great Depression, to a simple correction that will go away in a couple of months. They begin to speak their occult financial jargon, giving the idea of great confidence of expertise to their opinions. At first I watched with amusement, since I am no fan of the Temple of Greed, the casino Wall Street devolved into. Underneath it all though, I saw something, very human.. a slight desperation.. a deep anxiety on seeing their worldviews being dismantled piece by piece. Global corporate capitalism itself is being tested.  They are witnessing something they know is extraordinary, and terrifying. They are witnessing a Great Re-evaluation, and it transcends the golden chambers of international commerce.

What is value?

What we value is what is important to us. In this consumerist society, many ascribe the accumulation of material goods as the highest measure of  value. Many will point to family, friends and community.. yet most will acknowledge old cliches like “Money makes the world go round” and the so called “ownership society” that Bush aspired to lead his country to. However, now the values are changing. Environmental concerns are incompatible with tenets of infinite financial growth. The earth has limited resources and cannot handle a world with people with unlimited material ambitions. Many are looking towards a simpler life.. looking for the freedom to act, rather than simply freedom to possess and own. If this trend continues, the current economy, that relies on ever increasing consumption, sees this as a large threat.

A Layman’s View of the Financial Crisis

I cannot claim any expertise on much of the subject, although it has captured my attention recently. The sub prime mortgage bubble, a glut of overpriced houses that people cannot even begin to afford, is causing a great cascade of foreclosures. Banks have been exchanging exotic financial instruments where mortgages being cut up into little pieces and being transacted by it had actual value. The illusion of ever increasing home values made many homeowners get in greater debt using the equity on their houses. When the defaults and foreclosures began, homeowners couldn’t pay, the paper became toxic, and the values crumbled. Then big financial houses holding or backing large amounts of such paper like AIG and Lehman Bros and others couldn’t handle such liabilities and their stock prices plummeted. This has triggered off a cascading set of events that created the current situation. A more detailed explanation can be found HERE (MUST READ).

Bailouts: The Government Response

As these banks stop lending to everyone and one another the govt decides to hand a $700 billion (and counting) bailout to these irresponsible institutions. The system is in critical danger they exclaim, “worst since the Great Depression”. We are scared into giving them carte blanche to have the taxpayers buy into shitty investments. The dogma of the “Free Market” goes out the window, and now we have to save the system from itself. Socialize the risk, privatize the profit, and the owners of the world must keep getting their tribute since their corrupt mechanism is under extreme danger. Slogans like “too big to fail” is spouted off by politicians and the massive bailout is given the green light, a bailout which did not work on defrosting the credit freeze. The mythical free market has lost investor confidence, and many of the clerics of unregulated capitalism now decrying the government for not acting faster, to save them from themselves.

What will happen next in the short term?

Beats me, although I have some suspicions. Right now they are looking to the consumer, who supplies two thirds of the economy for guidance. You see, the stock market investors don’t want the people to do what banks are doing, hoarding money. They want people to spend so they can make greater profit. Now they are looking to the annual orgy of consumption (x-mas) to see where the trends lie. If the consumer doesn’t begin to buy more and more stuff they know they can’t make more money off of them. So I look to CNBC, not to see the nausea producing oscillations of the market (although they can be interesting indicators of the mass psychosis of the market), but the financial news of earnings, sales and layoffs.

A Great Re-evaluation

If the system works, why isn’t it working then? Who does it work for most?

It is very natural to feel overwhelmed with the incomprehensible amounts of money and the momentum of a crumbling global economy to make one feel powerless. The reality is that we all are part of it, in some way or another. We participate in an economy where the lines between needs and wants are blurred into oblivion. “Consume more to save jobs!”, “It’s OK to get into debt”, “Too big to fail!”. Those in power need us to buy into it to justify placing greater obligation on taxpayers, since without the system, they believe we are helpless. Are we?

Each of us can now reassess what we value, and why we value it. We can explore it, discuss it, and debate it. I doubt there will be only one answer, but a myriad of approaches. Some will work better than others. Yet it is better to experiment ourselves rather than rely on those perched on top of economic and political hierarchies to make these decisions for us. Even with the best of intentions, these people are often too isolated and distanced from the consequences of their decisions. We can bemoan the unfairness of it all, yet we are not powerless. I believe that recognizing and reclaiming the power we each have may be the silver lining in these difficult times.

Beyond Web 2.0 : P2P (Peer-to-Peer)

Posted in Culture, Media, Philosophy, Relationships, technology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2008 by 99ppp

Web 2.0, the effect of social software where collaboration and sharing are gaining importance, and its a beneficial trend of the internet. Now, people are less passive consumers of media and creating content like links, photos, contacts and text to share on their own. Facebook, MySpace, and  here on WordPress.com gives users both the ability to share their creations, explore the creations of others, and build online communities around them.

Online entrepreneurs have been quick to jump abort and some have had a substantial windfall, for example, Facebook has been valuated by some at $15 billion. This company has done an excellent job creating a framework to facilitate connections but I question whether such valuation is warranted.

Web 2.0: You make all the content, they keep all the revenue. – Paraphrasing bash.org post

Many believe we all should be grateful for getting these tools for free, yet these companies are not providing these services out of the goodness of their hearts, they eventually wish to profit by investing in the tools and hoping you’ll add as much content as possible and add to your social network. Usage data can be used to calculate, sculpt and deliver targetted advertising. We don’t question how television operates, that we get content for free but they sell commercials to pay for it. It appears to me that many give Web 2.0 companies greater goodwill than they would give television networks for instance, when the models are roughly analogous.

WordPress.com,  a Web 2.0 service is also experimenting with ads, and some users (likely wp.com bloggers) just don’t see them. To WP.com’s credit, they are looking into possibly incorporating some form of sharing ad revenue, recoginizing the value of user content. At this moment, I am happy with WP.com services, but fully understand that the relationship with this blogging platform is mutually beneficial, not some altruistic gesture from wp.com. In the future, I may opt for greater customization and freedom a wordpress.org blog would offer, at the cost of paying for a hosting service.

The P2P Model

Peer-to-Peer (P2P) is a decentralized model of computer networking, where the expense of resources such as bandwidth, storage and computer power are shared between the users instead of relying on a server to supply it for clients (server-client model). The picture below demonstrates clearly:

As you can see, the P2P model can be robust, the loss of any one of those computers will not disrupt the network. With the server model on the right, the loss of the central server would keep the other clients disconnected from one another. P2P is closer to how the world wide web was envisioned by its creator,  with each node contributing resources to the network. In the days of dial-up internet and high cost computers, that model may have been premature, yet now, in these days of much cheaper storage, fast bandwidth and computer power, the P2P model becomes increasing viable.

Some current uses of P2P

A well known example of P2P technology succeeding in the commercial area is Skype, a VOIP company (internet telephone). The technology is closed software, yet the Skype network works without a central server. The company was bought by eBay for $2 billion and its hoping to compete with larger content providers such as Google. Skype has a customer base of 115 million, a large foundation to make an impact. In addition, Skype is working on refining video conferencing and instant messaging.

The P2P model is now used in banking and supplying an alternative to banks for lending and borrowing money. Zopa is a service where people can lend and borrow while taking less money per transaction than a bank would. By cutting out the middle man, both borrowers and lenders can get better rates of interest. Zopa operates out of the UK, yet there is a similar service called Prosper working out of the US.

Obstacles to adoption of the P2P model

Skype is a hybrid P2P model as they hold a centralized index of users, so the reliance on Skype for people to connect still remains, yet they show how reliable and robust a P2P can be. Indexing and search remains a challenge for P2P networks, and so far, there hasn’t been a convincing solution to such a problem, P2P seaches are notoriously slow so Google can rest easy for a while.

The Open Source community, which has produced excellent software like Firefox, Linux and Open Office has a golden opportunity here to specialize and become the forefront of P2P technology, as commercial interests are less likely to spend resources developing an indexing and search system. It would jeopardize their ability to profit since they wouldn’t have exclusivity to user lists. Open source development is quite decentralized, and the affinity between the P2P model and free software is clear to see.

Despite the obstacles, there are many who believe (myself among them) that the P2P model can have profound societal and philosophical implications along with technological ones. One such site is the P2P Foundation, a terrific resource on exploring more deeply into ideas closely related to the P2P model such as participatory democracy.

The P2P model has enormous potential to further decentralize and democratize the internet, allowing each of us greater freedom to connect without relying on the willingness or financial capacity of some big dot com, or some small startup begging for users. Widespread usage of P2P may take us to the next stage, Web 3.0, a fully decentralized and democratized internet.