Thursday, December 08, 2005


National Lampoon offers The Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time:
Noam Chomsky: Deconstructing Christmas (1998)

This PBS/WGBH special featured linguist and social commentator Chomsky sitting at a desk, explaining how the development of the commercial Christmas season directly relates to the loss of individual freedoms in the United States and the subjugation of indigenous people in southeast Asia.

Despite a rave review by Z magazine, musical guest Zach de la Rocha and the concession of Chomsky to wear a seasonal hat for a younger demographic appeal, this is known to be the least requested Christmas special ever made.
I was sent a review copy of Imperial Ambitions. Let me say that a book length interview is not fun reading, and I never really bothered trying to get more than a few pages into it. Maybe if I read it when it was brand new I would have found those opening pages deeply insightful, but reading it now, I found that I was getting commentary that was less biting or coherent than what I got from – say – Josh Marshall a couple years ago. Indeed, the basic thesis (to the extent one is obvious) was better expressed (by which I mean more coherently and more adequately) by Norman Mailer in this speech to the Commonwealth Club.

I never really got into Chomsky, so maybe I'm not the target audience. I found Barsamian's interview style a bit too fawning, and the flow of ideas too stream-of-consciousness. I think I picked up some Chomsky once before, and felt the same way.

I suppose that format is liberating for Chomsky, and in an earlier day, a book-length interview might have been surprising for the reader.

But today, political discussion has been democratized. You don't have to petition the wise linguist of MIT for pearls of wisdom, nor wade through various diversions to get to the point. The written debate between wonks, partisans, hacks and interested bystanders happens with the immediacy of an interview and the coherence of an essay here on the blogosphere. Blogs are a conversation, and opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. The good ideas get picked up, the bad ones go down to /dev/null. That's new and exciting.

Blogs haven't replaced (and probably won't replace) the so-called MSM, but they may replace Chomsky.

Update: Kos notes a study which finds that:

In 2005, 39.8 percent of Internet users agree that going online can give people more political power -- up from 27.3 percent in the previous study. And, 61.7 percent of respondents -- Internet users and non-users alike -- now agree that going online has become important to political campaigns.

"We are now seeing tangible evidence of the increasing role of the Internet in political decision-making," said Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future. "The Internet's growing role in political decision-making cannot be underestimated.
Without going into too much bloggish self-flogging, this is an excellent thing. It bears on the points above, and it also opens up interesting directions.

One very encouraging statistic is a rise in the proportion of low-income families with internet access. The Internet is a powerful tool for self-improvement, and the incremental cost for a third-party to guarantee access to low-income families would be minimal, while the benefits would be gigantic.

More on that anon.