Recent reading: Herman & Chomsky

I've been looking at the mass media battles in Venezuela, where the commercial media are overwhelmingly opposed to the government and even participated openly in the short-lived coup of 11-13 April 2002. And so naturally I've been interested in the argument offered here:

Herman, Edward S. and Noam Chomsky (2002).
Manufacturing consent : the political economy of the mass media. New York, Pantheon Books.
Posits a "propaganda model" of U.S. journalism, meaning that it broadly adheres to and promotes "an official agenda" as news passes through 5 "filters": (1) size, concentration & profit orientation of the dominant companies. (2) advertising as primary income source, (3) reliance on government & business-oriented 'experts,' (4) "flak," (5) "'anticommunism' as a national religon and control mechanism." (p. 2) However,

"Certainly, the media's adherence to an official agenda with little dissent is likely to influence public opinion in the desired direction, but this is a matter of degree, and where the public's interests diverge sharply from that of the elite, and where they have their own independent sources of information, the official line may be widely doubted." [xii]

The curious things about the Venezuelan case are (a) that the "official," government line is precisely the opposite of the one that Globovisión, Radio Caracas TV et al. are promoting, and (b) it is the elite who are most opposed to the government. The public's interests do indeed diverge sharply from those of the elite, so it is the anti-official line that is "widely doubted."

And speaking of 'El Quixote'...

... and of Venezuela, and of education for the proletariat, three frequent topics in this blog, check out Christopher Toothaker's report on Hugo Chávez's distribution of the novel (free) to the citizenry. Quixotic president's novel way to inspire his people, The Scotsman, Mon 25 Apr 2005.


Steaming off the end of the pier

The National Writers Union announces, "NWU Offshoring Campaign Gathering Steam." What an image! Reminds me of a history of U.S. intervention in Central America, wherein a noted historian wrote of "gunboat diplomacy in America's backyard." (I'm not making this up). Does a hell of a job on your lawn.

But the best mixing of metaphors I ever heard was from a community college president. Coming into a meeting after it had started, she announced, "I want to make sure I'm on the same page before I step into the water." At which point, no doubt, she would take in water to build up steam.

But about "offshoring": As the NWU says, you can find a description of the campaign and its strategy, as well as relevant position papers, on the campaign web site, and then you can sign the petition.

"Artemio" & Carlos Fuentes on the BBC

On May 5 -- anniversary of the battle of Puebla (when the Mexicans defeated Maximilian's troops) and a big holiday in Mexico -- the BBC will interview Carlos Fuentes about his breakthrough novel, La muerte de Artemio Cruz, tr. The Death of Artemio Cruz. You can read and hear it on the BBC World Book Club. The producer found a comment of mine about the book, and asked me as a "fan" to pose a question to the author. (See? Blogs are useful.) I've got to think of a good one. If you've got any ideas, pass them along. For now, I'm thinking of asking Carlos Fuentes if he thinks that the kind of corruption characterized by Artemio Cruz -- with his claws in media, oil rights and the political machinery -- has survived in post-P.R.I. Mexico. If you have a better idea, let me know.

Back in business (of blog publishing)

I'm happy to report. Blogs weren't appearing because my web host, the Authors Guild, had changed servers and my settings had to be changed accordingly. Thanks to John Merchant of the Guild for getting this straightened out as soon he knew about it.

Unpeace in our time, with Howard Nemerov

Last Saturday my neighbors were holding a party so noisy that they couldn't hear the phone when I called to ask them to turn down the music; I was in pyjamas & didn't feel like barging in (I supposed their door was unlocked for their guests), and also I knew it was a big event -- celebrating their impending marriage -- so I just decided to bear it by reading poetry. I decided I wanted the company of someone very wise and witty, and so pulled from my shelves: Nemerov, Howard (1981). The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

I got so involved in reading the section "Guide to the Ruins" (1950) that I kept reading long after my neighbors' party had quieted. Because Nemerov's verse, in this period right after one great war and at the beginning of the next one, in Korea, was far from quieting. Here's one very short example, gruesomely timely in light of today's (and ever day's recently) report of casualties in Iraq:

Honor is saved by the national will,
The burgher throws up his cap.
Gone is the soldier, over the hill,
And the rat has defended his trap.
And this:

These secretly are going to some place,
Packing their belted, serviceable hearts.
It is the earnest wish of this command
That they may go in stealth and leave no trace,
In early morning before business starts.
For much more on Nemerov, including a chance to hear his voice, go to the Howard Nemerov page of the Academy of American Poets. Here I learned that he had served as a pilot in World War II, first in the RCAF and then in the USAF -- he must have been very young; he was born in 1920. I also learned that he died in 1991. (I already knew this odd fact: he was the slightly older brother of Diane Arbus. I don't know what to make of that.)

And on a link on that page of the Academy of American Poets I also found a poem I should have read Saturday night, but isn't included in the "Collected Poems" -- maybe he wrote it later: Insomnia I


PEN Festival - the lowlights

My novelist & journalist colleague Jan Alexander missed the PEN events, so I took the opportunity to write to her what I would have put on the blog, if only my blog were functioning. I'm confident (or at least prayerful) that the Authors Guild will get it straightened out again (the moved to another server, and somehow blanked out my new blog entries), so here's what I had to say about the panels and celebrations at this week's festival. Some were just fun, others more practically useful. There's a short note in today's NYT -- too short, and Dinitia Smith thought that Salman Rushdie's closing joke at one panel was that "Literature is a loose cannon." I'm sure he was thinking "canon." I wrote up a note on the big Cervantes night and wanted to write others, but the Authors Guild (which hosts my website) has screwed up and no new entries are appearing in my blog for now. Bummer.

One of the oddest things I heard was from the Chukotka (I'll bet you didn't even know that was an ethnicity) writer from Siberia north of the Arctic Circle, who spoke in what I suppose is his second language, Russian. The panel was on "The Post-National Writer," basically about reaching audiences of different cultures from one's own, and naturally the question of translation came up, so the Chukotka, Yuri Rytkheu told, in scraps through his interpreter -- a New York Jewish joke. In New York City's New School. Rushdie, Francisco Goldman, Yoko Tawada, Eliot Weinberger and the others just looked out over the audience, too stunned to say anything. Here it goes:

Two Jews meet on the street in (Brooklyn?), and one says to the other, "Hey, Caruso's in town! I hear he's wonderful. He gave a concert last night." The other man answers, "Ah, Caruso shmaruso, he's not so hot. He sings off-key and he was flat." "What?" says the first guy. "You went to the concert?" "No, I didn't go to the concert. But Shapiro did, and he sung it to me."

That was about translation. It must have them rolling all over the tundra back home.