Moulton Lava

Moultonic Musings

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Location: New England, United States

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Broadcasting, Narrowcasting, and Nullcasting

In the early days of radio and TV broadcasting, there were only two or three broadcast transmitters in existence and on the air. There weren't all that many listeners, either. For most of the 20th Century, large metropolitan areas had only a handful of radio and TV stations broadcasting to a sizeable listening audience.

The rise of Cable allowed many more channels and the advent of niche marketing, whereby a given channel devoted its program content to some narrowly construed demographic audience.

Today, webcasting technology is so ubiquitous that anyone can become an online publisher or webcaster with essentially zero capital investment.

With so many people publishing personal blogs or running personal audiocast stations, we've gone well beyond broadcasting and narrowcasting to nullcasting.

Nullcasting is where no one is listening (not even the robots which tirelessly index these sites).

I used to go to dreadful departmental meetings where the dominant practice was that everybody wanted to talk and nobody wanted to listen.

Now we've achieved that goal in spades. We can all nullcast to our heart's content.

And then, when we finally notice that no one is actually listening to our nullcasts, we can go back to being as alienated, isolated, and broken-hearted as ever.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Tonics and Toxins

One man's trash is another man's treasure, and one man's poison is another man's elixir.

I've been listening to various genres of music coming in over my streaming audio servers. It's interesting how some music acts as a tonic at first, but loses its punch if it's overplayed.

Today is Mozart's birthday, so I expect we'll be hearing a lot of his music, which I frankly enjoy.

I still have a modest collection of vintage vinyl LP records, which I haven't bothered to convert to digitized MP3. It's so much easier just to tune into a random Muzak channel via the Net.

For a while, Apple iTunes supported a feature whereby one could share their personal iTunes library across the Internet. The feature still exists, but there is no easy way to use it. One has to use arcane technical hacks to share one's iTunes library with a remote party.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Deadly Psychodrama

A Google News search on 'Pellet Gun' turns up multiple stories around the country similar to the tragedy in Florida where someone brandished a pellet gun and came close to being shot by nervous authorities.

In other cases, the person with the pellet gun was arrested or suspended from school. These guns are evidently designed to resemble real models. The classmate who wrestled with the Florida kid said he realized it was a plastic gun when he briefly grabbed hold of it during their scuffle. He and others told the authorities it was a plastic toy gun.

Some of these toy guns are manufactured with funky plastic colors, but it's easy enough to paint them black with the same paint used to decorate hobbyist craft models. The kid in Florida had painted his plastic pellet gun black to make it look real. When he brandished it in the classroom, he turned off the lights. It was pure theater.

Some of the kids quickly figured out it was theater, but not the adults.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Respect and Contempt

For a few years now, I've been studying an obscure piece of research known as FaceWork Theory. It addresses the issue that Asians call Face.

FaceWork Theory examines 5 or 6 axes:

1. The Respect-Contempt Axis

2. The Approval-Condemnation Axis

3. The Cooperation-Antagonism Axis

4. The Freedom-Taboo Axis

5. The Trust-Mistrust Axis

6. The Comfort-Anxiety Axis

In the Argument/Debate Culture, the participants tend to migrate to the right on each of the above axes, generating mutual and reciprocal disrespect, disapproval, antagonism, and mistrust.

In the Dialogue Model, the participants seek to create common ground, and seek to migrate themselves to jointly shared respect, and mutual approval and cooperation.

It saddens me to note that we are more adept at Negative FaceWork Dynamics than Positive FaceWork Dynamics. We are adept at criticising, shaming, and blaming the other side, and poor at building bridges and finding common ground.

We are gifted at conflict and poor at peacemaking.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Meebus and the M.T.A.

Fellow Members of the Rights and Justice Group,

These are the times that try men's souls. In the course of our nation's history, the people of Boston have rallied bravely whenever the rights of men have been threatened. Today, a new crisis has arisen. The law firm of Malefactor, Tyrannos, and Angst, better known as the M.T.A., is levying a burdensome crisis on the population in the form of never-ending litigation. Citizens, hear me out! This could happen to you!

(Eight bar guitar, banjo introduction)

Well, let me tell you of the story of a man named Meebus on a tragic and fateful day.
He put a summons in his pocket, picked the judge and jury, went to ride on the M.T.A.

Well, did he ever return? No, he never returned and his fate is still unlearned.
(What a pity! Poor ole Meebus. Shame and scandal.
He may ride forever. Just like Paul Revere.)
He may slide forever 'neath the grief of judgments.
He's the man who never reformed.

Meebus handed in his motion at the Suffolk County Courthouse and he changed for a Federal Claim.
When he got there the clerk told him, "One more procedure."
Meebus couldn't shake off those chains.


Now, all night long Meebus dives through the motions, crying, "What will become of me?!!
How can I find time to see my shrink in Braintree or my Rabbi in Roxbury?"


His daughter goes down to the Middlesex Courthouse every day at a quarter past two,
And through the metal detector she slides Meebus a sandwich as the briefs come rumblin' through.


Now, you citizens of Boston, don't you think it's a scandal how the people have to pay and pay?
Fight unfair procedures! Fight for rights and justice!
Get poor Meebus off the M.T.A.


He's the man who never reformed.
He's the man who never reformed.
Ain't you Meebus?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Chess and Storytelling

Two of my favorite philosophers are Martin Gardner and Raymond Smullyan.

Gardner, in turn, admits that his philosophy is inspired by the writings of Miguel de Unamuno (whom I had never heard of before, and whom I have never read).

Smullyan calls his brand of philosophy 'Logical Positivism' (although I'd be hard pressed to give a definition of it). But I enjoy reading Smullyan (whom I have also met in person).

Smullyan gave me autographed copies of two of his less popular books, The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes and The Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights. They are books of retrograde chess problems, couched within amusing character-driven stories.

I was thinking about chess and storytelling last night, after attending a hand-wringing session with a group of people all of whom have been victimized by a notorious unethical law firm that specializes in fleecing people who are unlucky enough to become embroiled in litigation arising from condominium disputes.

Trials are a contest of storytelling and chess. The winner is whichever party tells the best story and devises the best legal maneuvers. The hand-wringing group that met yesterday are distinguished for telling inchoate and incoherent stories and playing miserable games of courtroom chess.

Since neither party can tell a coherent story, the trial never concludes and the only winner is the unscrupulous lawyer whose legal maneuvers keep the litigation running indefinitely as the litigants blather increasingly incoherent accounts of their escalating tsuris.

But the story about the unscrupulous law firm is easy to tell.

First they shake you up. Then they shake you down.

Friday, January 06, 2006

RIAA Folk Anthem

Well, they'll sue ya when you're trying to be so good,
They'll sue ya just a-like they said they would.
They'll sue ya when you're tryin' to download.
Then they'll sue ya when you're feelin' glum and blue.
But I would not feel so all blue,
Everybody must get sued.

Well, they'll sue ya when you're walkin' 'long the street.
They'll sue ya when you're swingin' to the beat.
They'll sue ya when you're walkin' on the floor.
They'll sue ya when you're walkin' to the door.
But I would not feel so all blue,
Everybody must get sued.

They'll sue ya when you're at the breakfast table.
They'll sue ya when you are young and able.
They'll sue ya when you're tryin' to make a buck.
They'll sue ya and then they'll say, "good luck."
Tell ya what, I would not feel so down and blue,
Everybody must get sued.

Well, they'll sue you and say that it's the end.
Then they'll sue you and then they'll come back again.
They'll sue you when you're riding in your car.
They'll sue you when you're playing your guitar.
Yes, but I would not feel so glum and blue,
Everybody must get sued.

Well, they'll sue you when you walk all alone.
They'll sue you when you are walking home.
They'll sue you and then say you are brave.
They'll sue you when you are set down in your grave.
But I would not feel so all unglued,
Everybody must get sued.

CopyClef 2006 Bob Dylan and Barsoom Tork.

The Quadruple Bind

Gregory Bateson wrote about the Double Bind.

I'd like to talk about the Quadruple Bind, in the spirit of the Dining Philosophers.

On one side of the dinner table is a German Philosopher who values Obedience. He is annoyed by Lack of Obedience.

On another side of the table is a French Philosopher who values Empathy. He is grieved by Lack of Empathy.

On the third side of the table is an Italian Philosopher who values Grace. He is troubled by the Lack of Grace.

On the fourth side of the table is an American Philosopher who values Symmetry. He is disturbed by the Lack of Symmetry.

Each of the four philosophers wants to elevate their issue above the others, and they are ensnared in a tragic deadlock.

There is a fifth philosopher, a Martian who values Insight, and who is perplexed by the Lack of Insight.

He's not at the table, because he realizes that none of the other philosophers have the foggiest idea what he's talking about.

There is also a sixth philosopher from the Alkali Desert who is out in the kitchen making a pot of soup, and reading the comic strips as she stirs the pot.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

P.S. Your News Is Dead

There was an overnight drama in the West Virginia coal mine disaster.

Earlier in the day, the reports percolating up from the rescue team said they had found one dead miner and had not yet found the other 12 missing miners.

Then, around midnight last night, reports filtering through the company communicators said the rescuers found the other 12 alive.

Three hours later, the mining company corrected the news. Of the remaining 12, only one was alive (and in critical condition). The other 11 had been found dead.

The emotions of the family members swung wildy between extremes of despair and joy, and then back to heartbreak and anger.

The episode reveals the power of news and wishful thinking to manipulate the emotional state of people caught up in a gripping life-and-death drama.

The analysis will eventually deconstruct the specific miscommunication in the mine, but the repercussions extend to other stories where erroneous intelligence reports and wishful thinking played a decisive role in grave political action.

Human emotions, it appears, are easily manipulated by news reports that concord with wishful thinking. Sober skepticism is the domain of the conscientious scientific researcher, not the malleable and gullible public.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Unsolved Mysteries

This morning, NPR's Living on Earth was devoted to holiday storytelling. All the guests were fabulous storytellers, recounting their best stories of all time.

At the end of the show, one of the remarks summed up the nature of good stories: They are about loss, and fondly remembering what was lost.

Freud and Jung spent a lot of time examining how we manage our fears and wishes. Jung found that stories were especially powerful tools for processing our fears and wishes.

Yesterday, at the Museum of Science, I was watching a particularly serious and intent young boy work a puzzle. His conscientious deliberation was matched by his anguish and perplexity, for he had taken on an especially challenging puzzle.

In solving puzzles, what is often lost is hope, when time runs out and the train of bright ideas one searches for to solve the vexing puzzle at hand fails to arrive on Track #9. More often than not, for most people, the long-awaited train fails to arrive at the station.

It's hard to tell a good ballad about this kind of loss. And yet it must be a very common, if heartbreaking story.