Rants & Ramblings

random commentary about culture, media, politics, technology and whatnot.

jan
15
2003

int'l mass communication

Tonight was the first class session of my International Mass Communication class. This should be a pretty interesting class. Despite the class title, we’re going to be focusing primarily on the American mass media system. But we’re doing so because — and this is one of the central premeses of the class — most mass media systems around the world are based on the American model / system. Our professor posits that, rather than working with the American media model and then modifying it to suit their particular cultures (and rejecting those aspects of American culture that ill suit them), foreign countries instead largely adopt the American system wholesale, and integrate American culture / values — as presented by the American media — into their own culture.

(This distinction (“by the American media”) is important because the realities presented by the media (news / informational or popular / entertainment) are only skewed representations of the reality of American life and culture. And because so many people are only exposed to those skewed representations, their perceptions of “America” are skewed as well.)

Not sure what I think about all this yet, but it’s certainly interesting to ponder.

amazon.com can time-travel, too?

I was at amazon.com this morning looking for a book for class and stumbled upon something curious:

Setting the Agenda: The News Media and Public Opinion

by Maxwell McCombs

List Price: $26.95

Price: $26.95 & This item ships for FREE with Super Saver Shipping. See details.

Availability: This title will be released on December 31, 1969. You may order it now and we will ship it to you when it arrives.

I think Amazon is just generally confused about the release date of this book. On the same page, it lists the book’s publication date as February 2003. And amazon.co.uk gives a February 29, 2004 publication date. I haven’t been able to figure out yet what the “real” publication date is.

jan
14
2003

psychoanalyzing buffy: resurrection and rebirth

This is the final excerpt from a paper I wrote for my Critical Theory class at Georgetown University. As this is a pretty long paper, I have been posting it in segments. Part One of this paper can be found here.

Four months after Buffy’s death, her friends resurrect her. They rationalize that, because she died through mystical means, closing a portal to a hell dimension, her soul is likely trapped somewhere, suffering and tormented. Their spell is interrupted, however, and at first they believe that their efforts failed. Meanwhile, Buffy’s corpse comes back to life, inside her coffin, and the newly-awakened Buffy begins to panic as she realizes that she’s buried alive.

continue reading »

back to school

My spring semester classes start up today at Georgetown. My classes this semester:

CCTP-510: The Post-9/11 World - CCTP-510 is a required class for my program. This semester, the theme is the world after September 11, with respect to issues of the media, globalization, identity, etc. The class has been divided into multiple modules. I’m taking:

  1. Media and Security in the Post-9/11 World (Diana Owen)
  2. Identity & Representation in the Post-9/11/01 World (Jessica Davis)
  3. Security & Commerce in the Post-9/11/01 World (J.P. Singh)

CCTP-768: International Mass Communication (Abbas Malek) - This class looks at the roles and practices of the mass media around the world.

CCTP-803: Media and Politics (Diana Owen) - This class looks at some of the relationships between the media, government and public with respect to public opinion, political activity, public relations / message management, etc.

jan
13
2003

psychoanalyzing buffy: suicide and sacrifice

This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote for my Critical Theory class at Georgetown University. As this is a pretty long paper, I have been posting it in segments. Part One of this paper can be found here.

Season Five is a difficult emotional battleground for Buffy, one that ultimately leads to her self-sacrificing suicidal leap in the final episode.

Jacques Lacan writes that life often consists of attempts to satisfy one’s desire — a feeling of true oneness that perhaps recaptures the closeness between mother and child in the womb — but that that desire can never be met. At some point, when that realization sets in, death is almost preferable.

There is no other way of conceiving the indestructibility of unconscious desire — in the absence of a need which, when forbidden satisfaction, does not sicken and die, even if it means the destruction of the organism itself. (FOOTNOTE)

By the end of Season Five, Buffy has reached that point. Leading up to the finale, “The Gift,” Buffy has suffered a series of losses that she has had little control over: her boyfriend, Riley, has left her to rejoin the Army; her mother, Joyce, has died of an aneurism; she and her friends have fled Sunnydale to hide from Glory because Buffy has lost confidence in her Slayer abilities to win the day; and Glory has kidnapped her sister, Dawn, and begun the bloodletting ritual to open the portal to a hell dimension.

continue reading »

crappy commute

Sometimes, I truly hate public transportation. (Then I have to stop and remind myself of the exorbitant monetary and psychological cost of driving and parking in the District. Would I rather take Metro for cheap (or maybe not-so-cheap?), or deal with nutso DC drivers and the yahoos at Colonial Parking?)

Managed to convince myself to roll out of bed somewhat on time this morning, and got to the bus stop by 8 a.m. The 8:09 a.m. 29K never showed up, so I (and the growing line of people behind me) had to wait for the 8:20 DASH AT-8. The AT-8 was packed with the rush-hour crowd and all the folks the 29K had forgotten, and traffic was slooooooooooow on the way to the King Street Metro station (whose parking lot is being torn up this week for bus bay renovations).

The Blue and Yellow lines were delayed this morning because of malfunctions on two Blue Line trains and a “medical situation” on a Yellow Line train. The platform at the King Street station was pretty crowded. It took eight minutes for a Blue Line train to show up, and there were a lot of people in the cars already. No seats to be had. As the train made its stops, the cars got more and more crowded as more people got on, and there were mild shoving matches between the folks trying to get on and those trying to get off. I spent much of the ride crunched against a fairly well-dressed man whose coat smelled faintly of vomit.

I finally ambled into work around 9:15.

Ah, Mondays…

an evil weblog

Digressing a bit from my Buffy / Freud series…

The First Evil, the current Buffy BigBad, has its own weblog, The First’s Journal. Recent posts include musings about how best to defeat the Slayer, as well as tributes to its fallen minion, the UberVamp / Turok-Han. This weekend, it posted a draft of its next “You can never defeat me” speech.

The First is also advertising for new minions:

Minion Wanted

Post available in lowly evil position, working as part of plot to crush the Slayer line and bring about total apocalypse. Be a part of the original evil firm and kick the Slayer’s ass! Also some torturing of shirtless souled vampires. Non-smoker preferred. No time wasters.

jan
12
2003

psychoanalyzing buffy: transference

This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote for my Critical Theory class at Georgetown University. As this is a pretty long paper, I have been posting it in segments. Part One of this paper can be found here.

In Dora, Freud writes that his patient, near the end of her therapy, came to develop an emotional attachment toward him, transferring what he saw as her love for Herr K. onto himself, her psychiatrist.

What are transferences? They are new editions or facsimiles of the tendencies and phantasies which are aroused and made conscious during the progress of the analysis; but they have this peculiarity, which is characteristic for their species, that they replace some earlier person by the person of the physician. To put it another way: a whole series of psychological experiences are revived, not as belonging to the past, but as applying to the person of the physician at the present moment. (FOOTNOTE)

According to Freud, transferences are to be expected over the course of psychoanalytic therapy, and, indeed, may even be necessary, as they allow for a stronger bond between psychiatrist and patient and open the way for further breakthroughs in therapy. Freud cautions other psychoanalysts to be vigilant in looking for signs of transference, and to incorporate resolution of that phenomenon into the patient’s treatment. “It is only after the transference has been resolved that a patient arrives at a sense of conviction of the validity of the connections which have been constructed during the analysis.” (FOOTNOTE)

A recurring theme in the early seasons of BtVS is the bad or missing father, and the search for suitable replacement father-figures. Buffy’s divorced father lives in Los Angeles and comes to ignore Buffy altogether. Xander’s father is an abusive alcoholic. Willow’s father has never been seen onscreen. For each of them, Giles becomes a substitute father-figure.

continue reading »

jan
11
2003

psychoanalyzing buffy, redux

This paper was written for my Critical Theory class at Georgetown University. Some portions of this paper were originally written for the midterm for that class, and have already been posted here. As this is a pretty long paper, I will be posting it in segments, over a few days.

In a typical horror film, one might see a young blonde woman, helpless and frightened, running from a monstrous attacker, only to be cornered by her pursuer and killed. In the television show Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, that “helpless” girl wouldn’t run away ? she’d turn around and kick evil butt.

The hero of BtVS, Buffy Summers is the Slayer, “chosen” to protect the world — especially her hometown of Sunnydale, Calif. — from vampires, demons and the occasional apocalypse. Armed with super-strength, agility, and a pointy wooden stake, Buffy is empowered to battle evil and save the world time and again, aided by her friends Xander and Willow, and her Watcher, Giles.

BtVS, now in its seventh season, is part horror, part comedy, part drama. The show often tries to subvert its “teen drama” trappings in pursuit of something more multi-layered, its monsters serving as metaphors for its characters’ more mundane personal demons and its narrative employing a range of tactics (both subtle and overt) to further the thematic elements of each episode. Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis can be applied liberally to the show’s myriad themes and metaphors, from the more obvious phallic symbolism of the stake and the show’s frequent use of dream sequences to the psychic traumas of Buffy’s recent suicide/self-sacrifice and subsequent resurrection.

continue reading »

jan
10
2003

photos of the month - december

Pimping my own work again…

The Arizona Republic’s “Photos of the Month” for December 2002 has just been posted. I have been Flash!designer!girl for the project.

(You’ll need the Flash plug-in to view the feature.)

This December entry in the series completes the 2002 Photos of the Month package, and is probably my last freelance project for azcentral.com for the forseeable future. Future Photos of the Month and Photos of the Year packages at azcentral.com will be presented through the site’s existing slideshow tool, rather than given the special design treatment they’ve received for the past three years.

passing the buck

It amazes me how shameless companies can be about passing their costs on to consumers when the government imposes certain mandates.

I was looking at my Sprint PCS cellphone bill this morning (I do most of my bills online), and saw this notice about fee changes (emphasis mine):

Beginning with your next invoice, Sprint will place a new monthly charge titled “Federal Telephone Number Pooling” in the Surcharges and Fees section of your invoice. This surcharge recovers the costs incurred by Sprint to comply with newly effective federal regulations concerning telephone number pooling. Telephone number pooling is a federally mandated program established to conserve telephone numbers and reduce the need for new area codes. Your future invoices will include a Federal Telephone Number Pooling charge until Sprint’s costs are recovered.

It’s too bad wireless telephone number portability won’t be going into affect anytime soon…

jan
09
2003

be careful with apple's safari

Some major issues have cropped up for users of Apple’s new Mac web browser Safari since the first public beta of the program was announced and posted earlier this week. Probably most worrisome of the issues: a bug that can wipe your hard drive’s home directory. Other users have reported problems with printing. More bugs are being discussed on Apple’s Safari messageboard.

Because this is a beta and not a full public release, it’s to be expected that Safari would have some bugs. Still, it’s worrisome that Apple would release something with potential problems of this magnitude.

jan
07
2003

so why does IE run so much faster?

Yet further evidence that Microsoft is out to rule the world…

Brian Tiemann offers a good explanation (it’s a bit technical, but written well for the layperson) of why Internet Explorer seems to pull up web pages so much faster than other browsers. In a nutshell, basically IE, when communicating with servers that use Microsoft’s Internet Information Services (IIS), omits some of the usual standard TCP/IP connection “handshakes” that verify a connection between the browser and server and acknowledge receipt of data packets.

[I]n the grand scheme of things, this probably makes sense to Microsoft’s network engineers. After all, eventually all clients will be Windows platforms running IE, and all servers will be Windows platforms running IIS. And then we can break all kinds of rules! Rules are only there to hold us back and force us to play nice with other vendors.

jan
06
2003

don't believe holiday doom-and-gloom pronouncements

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post has an interesting take (“We Told You Shopping Was Down, and You Bought It,” Jan. 5) on the media’s doom-and-gloom economic pronouncements about lackluster holiday spending. Farhi writes that the gloomy holiday spending stories, practically an annual tradition, are based on the faulty assumption that retail shopping receipts are an accurate barometer of U.S. economic performance.

What these stories rarely note is that consumer spending typically is pretty stable, even in a recession. Thanks to population growth and inflation, personal consumption tends to rise even when the economy is just treading water. When a recession hits, it’s not because Wal-Mart had a lousy Christmas; it’s usually because of a decline in business investment and profits, and a deterioration of the trade balance.

Even the shopping figures that the media reports are often woefully incomplete. More accurate retail figures, incidentally, should be available sometime this month from the Department of Commerce, but won’t get the same degree of coverage as this story gets during the holiday season itself — it’s not “timely” anymore, and the media has turned its attention to something more interesting. But even the Commerce Department figures, Farhi writes, only take into account about 2/3 of all retail spending.

The truth, says Farhi, is that holiday spending at the larger retailers has actually been up for four of the past five years, when all the tallies are in.

Timothy Noah of Slate adds another angle (“X-Mas Sales Did Not Tank,” Dec. 26):

The business press pegged the 2002 holiday shopping season the “worst in 30 years” not because sales declined, but because sales increased by a smaller-than-expected percentage.

So what’s up, then, with all these doomsday stories? Farhi writes:

The retail-in-December story is, I think, irresistible to the media for three reasons.

First, tradition. The media are creatures of habit, reflexively recycling the same seasonal chestnuts. The holiday-shopping story is a comforting staple of the season.

Second, retailers — who are among the biggest advertisers on radio and TV and in newspapers during December — are more than happy to encourage such stories. Media coverage of shopping is yet another reminder to the masses that it’s their patriotic duty to get out there and spend.

Third, and perhaps most legitimate, the holiday shopping story seems like news you can use. Almost everybody shops in December; ergo, almost everyone is interested in the behavior of others. These stories offer the consumer a vague yardstick for measuring personal well-being. Am I better off compared to my fellow American shoppers? Am I doing better compared to this abstraction called the economy? Am I doing better than last year? The shopping story purports to answer these questions.

Even though it never does.

The media has tremendous power to help shape “reality.” Their reporting of some angle of a story helps make it “true.” (And this is especially the case when it’s the mass media spreading the story, rather than isolated outlets.) If the media say that the economy is down and that people are cutting down on spending, that reporting helps make it true, because others — individuals and businesses — then act on that information. To make broad pronouncements about the state of the economy based on faulty information is dangerous, and an abuse of media power and responsibility to the truth.

jan
02
2003

tree 1, aly 0

Went tubing with my dad, sister Ashley and brother Ross on New Year’s Eve on Tucson’s Mt. Lemmon. Aside from the lovely headache sustained in this collision, a wonderful time was had by all. ;)

These types of family outings, with everyone playing and having fun, are all too rare nowadays.

digital edge nominations

The Arizona Republic / azcentral.com (my former employer) is a finalist in three categories in the 2003 Digital Edge Awards, sponsored by the Newspaper Association of America.

Most Innovative Use of Digital Media: News Event Coverage - azcentral.com’s special report on the Rodeo-Chediski wildfire (Summer 2002) was recognized in this category. Kudos to the online news crew. This project is a good example of convergence, combining the resources / strengths of the Republic print staff, the azcentral.com online staff, and the Channel 12 broadcast staff. My participation in the project included building an animated map showing the daily progress of the fire and repurposing several print graphics for use online.

Best Sports Site - sports.azcentral.com was recognized. Kudos to the online sports producers. I worked on a ton of projects with them.

Best Advertising Program - November 2002 political advertising on azcentral.com

A list of finalists is available here. Winners will be announced later this month at the NAA Connections conference.