High on Hal

You can buy the witty detective novel, Stein Stoned, by Hal Ackerman, UCLA  screenwriting prof, at Amazon.com

Full disclosure: I’ve known the old author ever since he was a young author.

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Filed under Literary Criticism, writing

Twitter for the Worker Bee

Just passing along a nice service piece for the emerging social media generation of undergrads and the scads of unbelievers and cynics. It’s a NY Times article on using Twitter as a work and networking tool, not just for status updates.

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For me, life’s a dash

to the final parenthesis:

(You’re born, you grow, you ebb –

& OMG! it’s curtains.)

Hypothetically to Albert E.,

universal relativity:

spacetime’s bent, no end,

the climax ellipsis. . .

For Bohr, the quantum


mechanically uncertain:

Life’s sentence is a run-on, a splice.

Or maybe a fragment?

Maybe a fragment?

— Robert E. Brown

March  1, 2010

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Here Comes the Protocol University

Today’s sermon is inspired by NY Times columnist David Brooks’ case that what was an economy based on making “stuff” is now an economy based on sets of instructions. The Protocol Economy, as he’s calling it, has its iconic source in software, that set of instructions embedded in our stuff — cars, appliances and, of course, computers.

The implication for college professors — and for the entire K-through-post-doc education — is that education is already a crucial part of the protocol economy. My job teaching undergraduate and graduate students is now not only driven by emerged and emerging technologies — web sites, social media; what I do is now judged according to a set of instructions called “outcomes assessment,” which is itself a protocol based on a logical, data-driven system that spells out (the scientific term is “operationalizes”) the “objectives” of a course in such a way that what and whether a student actually learns can be measured.

The big idea is to eliminate wiggle room. No longer will students be required to learn “the material” because such a instruction is amorphous, ambiguous and therefore not measurable. That approach to teaching  is now regarded disdainfully as merely a bad piece of software. It’s Old School,  shot through with contingency, and in the protocol  university contingency is unacceptably nostalgic, vague and inefficient — its inefficiency impotent to generate the quantifiable, comparative, competitive results which are now the basis of life support for educational institutions: government support, corporate donations, grants and other forms of economic and financial  transfusion.

As a professor whose expertise includes public relations — relationship creation, reputation management, branding, ranking, visibility, credibility — I see how the  public relations industry  has shrewdly embraced the industrial protocol and assessment strategies enabled by search engine optimization, social media, and all forms of user-generated content. Mass communications have been de-massified, a process that has been in the works for a generation. The demassification has all but killed mass advertising, and with it mass media. The world of communication is now parsed one-at-a-time — one irate consumer, one pissed-off voter, one beetrayed celebrity spouse — and then the one’s get aggregated to the millions. (Hello there, Susan Boyle.

We live now day to day, awaiting the next new thing and  its Schumpeteresque creative destruction of the sweet and sour old things (bye, bye Seattle Intelligencer, professorial lectures, and human bodies cheek to jowl in a classroom; bye bye textbook divisions of big publishing companies; bye bye publishing companies).

All of which is to say that we now live in age of agitation and even crisis. Of what a friend of mine calls Continual Partial Attention. An age where continual monitoring is no match for slander and libel that goes viral in a heartbeat. In a way, a fabulous age full of fables: Make your own, see it fly. But that’s another matter for another time.

In the protocol economy, the winners will know how to create, live by and be judged according to rigorous sets of instructions. The losers will recuse themselves, wax nostalgic and wane into irrelevancy.

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The “Avatar” Blues: Not Buying It

The critics love it. The fannies are sitting in the movie seats. It cost half a billion dollars. So what’s wrong with me? (Don’t answer, please.) The day it opened, I purchased a ticket to “Avatar.” But I’m just not buying it.

It has its moments. So much about the blockbuster movie is derivative. The dreaming blue creature in soy sauce recall the precogs of “Minority Report.” The space ship battles are a cross between “Star Wars” and Custer’s last stand — big blue Commanches shooting arrows against White Eyes Colonialists. Even  the sound track is derivative — director James Cameron quotes his “Titanic” score.

New Yorker critic David Denby joined the others in critic Jonestown in drinking the Kool-Aid. The most beautiful movie he ever saw. A NY Times critic gushed that “Avatar” was the future of movie making. I don’t think so. I think it’s more like the past. It’s rather retro, actually. Those  3 D glasses. What else? Mike Todd’s Smell-o-vision?

Where “WALL-E” is utterly lovely and movingly romantic, idealistic and even profound in its story, simplicity and silent movie-like silence, “Avatar” is preachy, obvious, corny and heavy-handed. The big bad villain is a egregiously written character — and light years from the cool black breathy majesterial iconic brilliance of Darth Vader. The big  blue ingenue love interest is much too skinny to inspire lust; she’s a kind of quasi-Native American cum rainforest Hiawatha, full of sententious self-righteousness. The good/evil dynamic is supremely uncompelling.

Besides all that, the movie’s premise — invading, rapacious, materialistic, heartless, clueless Americans up against an innocent, spiritual, indigenous people — struck me as Hollywood’s narrative of American history.

I have a feeling that Rush Limbaugh & the right wing noise machine is going to be unhappy wit a movie about how a wheelchair-bound Marine is propagandized by our nation’s enemy and sells out to become a kind of Taliban sympathizer, fighting on the side of the insurgents.

Frank Rich’s op ed in the Sunday NY Times advanced the very reasonable, if Swiftian argument that instead of Ben Bernanke being Time’s Man of  the  Year, the real man of the year should have been Tiger Woods. That’s because after a decade of humongous phoniness worthy of Mark Twain’s Duke and Dauphin — Enron, Bernie Madoff, “reality” TV — the sheer ballsy moxie of Mr. Woods social construction as a family man counts as kind of fabulous hole in one.

Sure, I could be sadly mistaken. “Avatar” is a masterpiece, as the critics declare. This is my minority report. (I was wrong about “Bonnie and Clyde,” which is surely a masterpiece.) But “Avatar?”

Uh-uh. I’m not buying it.

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Redemption for Tiger

Tiger prefers not to.  He won’t dance/Don’t ask him (Madam, with you.)

Well, good for Tiger. He’s channeling Barleby the Scivener, Melville’s passive aggressive office rebel. He’s in that raggedy line of existential figures who’ve just said No. No mas. They won’t come out for the boxing round just to be beaten to a pulp. They won’t cross the finish line just to spite the sadistic coach of the juvenile prison track team in “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” that gritty B & W Brit film from the 60s.

So, the hell with Gillette and its marketing campaign. Same to you, PGA tour.

My wife told me that Dr. Drew, the priest B-list celebrity sex addicts, and Dr. Phil, the homespun TV therapist, are working their shamanistic magic with Tiger right now on the golfer’s yacht, Privacy. I fell for it –it isn’t happening, yet. But it’s perfect.

We all know that Tiger’s life has plunged down the rathole. But notwithstanding that aphorism that there are no second acts in American lives, we know there are.  There’s Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Mike Tyson (wonderful can’t-take-your-eyes-off-him in the film documentary of his extraordinary, scarifying intermittently triumphant and scabrous life). And there’s my man Augstine who turned his sorry life around and wrote that tell-almost-all classic.

There are, too, second acts because as Augustine’s Confessions indicate, you can play the first half of the game as a lecher fornicator blasphemer — as long as you fall on your knees and recant. The poet Eliot did it — turned Catholic, churchly, devout and, from Grouch Marx’s account in Groucho’s letters, rather chipper and very happily married. Make that re-married. The first one didn’t pan out. Crazy  Viv. Fornicating with Bertrand Russell and wearing those goofy Flapper gear — at least that’s the impression we have. Half crazy, then all crazy, then institutionalized. Poor cuckolded bastard Eliot — motives late revealed (and all that). But he found it, at last, down on his knees — his conversion. His redemption.

Redeem. DEMAN in the Old England — the judge. We want to be judged anew, what with our spiritual rebranding. Cleaned-up resume. And isn’t that what education’s about –redeeming our ignorance. Isn’t that the purpose of experience — the redemption of our missteps. All that apple-biting in the garden. How many bites did Adam take? And when God kicked A & A out of the garden, wasn’t it all about the second chance. East of Eden. (Go East, young man and woman.)’

Even the snake’s punishment —  going forever legless and having to slither around on the ground — was a kind of redemption, if you spin the story a certain way, hold it at a particularly glass-half-full pt of view.

Life is nothing but a long series of mulligans, isn’t it? Do-0vers.  And what’s wrong with that? All those cliches about life as journey. It’s a journey, and with or without GPS we are bound to get lost. We are all losers in the end — I mean, in the Big Sense. Shuffling off the coil. But there it is — that message of redemption. Nor is it restricted to St Paul’s Unique Selling Proposition: Just accept Jesus and we’ll send you the gift of eternal life.Get to see God.

The whole Christian message (do I oversimplify?  Very well, I oversimplify! I am large. I contain oversimplifications) is about second chances. Just believe, accept, change your ways because this earthly existence is not the final inning. The Super Bowl is what comes after. The Afterlife. The second chance.

For Tiger, just saying No Mas to Jamie and Rachel and the porn star twins is the ticket. And it’s just a warmup for the Big Redemption that follows the l8th hole.

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Tiger’s Twisted Tale a Simple Story

Now that a dozen women have publicly announced their Me too’s, what appears to be a story about big numbers and high complexity may not be complex at all. Shorn of the billion-dollar net worth, the prancing porn stars, the Vegas angle, the pancake waitress, what it all may amount to is not something off the charts but utterly average.

Truth be told, for all its sadness, Tiger’s tale is common and banal. It only looks exotic, and why wouldn’t it? All that money, fame and pulchritude. All our surprise, curiosity and amusement.

All that flash blinds us to the real story, stripped of the strippers. It’s the tale of another unhappily married man who was looking for love in all the wrong places. Apparently having been unacquainted with Aristotle’s extremely practical distinction between pleasure and happiness, Tiger opted for the former at the expense of the latter.

Few hells are more hellish than a bad marriage, as half the U.S. population can attest. (That’s right — me, too.)

Perusing the rapidly mounting Tiger Mistress files, I was struck by the plaintiff and confused (others would say whiney and pathetic) tone of his declarations of need, if not love, for at least one of the mistresses. And while the unambiguous beauty of some of those women suggest that the tiger eye was trained on certain body parts, our prurience makes us miss the point again. Shakespeare’s king cries out, A kingdom for a horse!  Tiger was willing to sell his kingdom for an ear — a sympathetic one, and a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, and yes — cynical reader! — a heart.

No, no, no! I am not exculpating him for being just another cheating heart, himself. As for his own body, we all know that he did his thinking with the wrong part — hardly a novel failing among men and, if much research on infidelity indicates, women, too.

Tiger is lost in the woods, and he won’t be out of them for quite a long purgatorial stretch.Think: The Divine Comedy. In the middle of his unhappily married life, Tiger found himself in a dark wood and confused and miserable, he descended into hell. Only unlike Dante’s journeyman, Tiger had no Beatrice – no Divine Reason — to guide him down through the increasingly piteous circles of hell. And if memory serves, lust itself was one of the least offensive sins, and lustful lovers were housed in one of hell’s upper circles as they were buffeted with the winds of lust and forever chasing each other around with no hope of capture or embrace — as opposed to the likes of the political and religious betrayers who were way down in the 9th circle.

In Dante’s Comedy, all does end well. Having descended to the depths of hell, Dante is guided upward into purgatory — where he does the Oprah and Letterman shows and cries on “Barbara Walters.”  But having paid his debt and witnessed the worst, Dante — guided by Divine Reason — ascends into heaven in the “Paradise.”

I have Tiger beginning the descent, with quite a long way to drop before he begins what I suspect — even hope– will be that blessed turnaround that begins the sweetest of gifts to the sinner.

It’s called redemption.

My advice to Mr. Woods: Dump those caddies and go looking for Beatrice. You’re going to need reason — the more divine the better.

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Filed under Crisis Communication, Poetry, Public Relations