Brian Keaney

Tag: books

Some thoughts on media

A couple thoughts that have been kicking around in my head, in no particular oder, on the media today.

Online:  One of my guilty online pleasures is Texts from Last Night.  Reading them always has me entertained, and often has me disgusted, disappointed (that I didn’t think of doing that sooner), fearing for the future of our country, or laughing out loud.  Naturally, I check it at least once or twice a day.  That’s not the medium I want to talk about, however.  On the site, American Apparel, which I must confess to have never heard about before, is running ads.  It’s an interesting ad campaign.

The first ad I remember seeing from them was a blond wearing a little black dress in a rather awkward pose.  She was positioned such that you could see that she had a pair of matching black panties on.  Someone is going to get fired, I thought to myself, for letting that one slip by.  Not so.  It was my mistake, not their’s.

The following weeks brought more scantily clad models, so it was clear the woman was deliberately photographed such that we could see up her dress.  I’m still confused by the ad campaign though.  Their models are as unattractive as their clothes.  It’s as if the theme is ugly people wearing ugly clothes.

Books:  I really enjoy the writing of Andrew Ross Sorkin most of the time.  I often read his work in the New York Times, and if he didn’t write 100 posts a week I would read his blog, too.  I can’t keep up with him, so I’ve given up trying.

Being a fan of his work I thought I would check out his book on the near collapse of our financial system and the actual collapse of our economy, Too Big to Fail.  I got about a third of the way through it but eventually gave up, something I rarely and don’t like to do.

It was focused too much on the personalities involved, and almost seemed like a way for Sorkin to advertise how good his sources are.  What the chairman of Goldman Sachs had for breakfast as he talked to the president of the New York Fed isn’t of any interest to me, but much ink was spilled telling us.

I’m much more interested in knowing about the economics behind the collapse.  I don’t know any of the people he is writing about, so reading about their interpersonal relationships and the internal politics that allowed to to rise to their current positions holds no appeal for me.

I’m instead now reading Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality.  Early on author Manjit Kumar has given some biographical details about the principal players, but its just enough to set the scene.  He certainly is not dedicating whole chapters to their upbringing and career paths as Sorkin did.  It’s still early going, but I like it so far.

Television:  I’m not a big TV fan, but every now and then I’ll turn it on if something reaches such huge level of discussion in popular culture that I feel I should at least see what everyone is talking about.  Truth be told that’s how I became a fan of The Office, the only program on television I think is worth recording.

Glee has now reached such a level of pop culture prominence that I thought I should check it out.  My expectations were pretty low going in, but I have to admit on some levels I did enjoy it.  The song selections were excellent, and the actors (or their voiceovers) could sing.  I wasn’t expecting to hear Aerosmith or Journey, but I did and they actually did a great job covering them.

On the other hand, the shows were over the top.  I haven’t been to Mass on a regular basis in a while, but after watching a couple episodes I feel like I’m good until at least Christmas.  The shows were much preachier than anything I’ve ever heard escape a priest’s lips.

I don’t necessarily object to the messages they are promoting, but I don’t want to be hit over the head with it either.  What ever happened to those “very special” episodes of Saved by the Bell where Jessie has a problem with caffeine pills?  Get the message across in 22 minutes, and by tomorrow we are all worrying again about whether Mr. Belding will catch Zack in whatever his latest scheme is.  It might not be true to life, but there’s a reason sitting in front of the tube (or the flat screen, as the case may be) is called vegging out.  People use it to escape reality, not focus on it.

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The books of the 21st century

James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce & Andrew CarnegieAsk me about my recent graduation and you are likely to hear me tell you about my favorite part.  Of all the pomp and circumstance, splendor and spectacle – of which there was plenty – I enjoyed the conferring of my degree the most.  This may seem natural as it was the culmination of years of work, but that’s not the reason why.

After awarding the degree, President Faust welcomed me and my classmates into “the fellowship of educated men.”  I’ve boasted more about this fellowship than ever I ever dreamed of bragging about the university that made it possible.  I go out of my way to avoid dropping the H-bomb, but anyone who already knows where I went has heard about my new membership in “the fellowship.”

That was a great moment and one I will not soon forget, but lately I’ve had another academic ceremony on my mind.  When my sister was pinned as a nurse, a speaker – the dean, I believe – reminded the new RNs that though this occasion marked the end of their formal schooling, it was not the end of their education.  There would be conferences to attend and journal articles to read, and it was important that they availed themselves of these and other resources.

For all the ancient traditions, exhortations in Latin, highbrowed discourses, and other reminders of the place we new graduates were expected to take in the world order, I don’t remember similar sentiments being expressed at my own commencement.  I suppose that perhaps such an admonition would be considered unnecessary to such a group of academics and overachievers, but the obvious points often are the ones most worthy of repeating.  That a commencement is a beginning, not an ending, is every bit as true at an Ivy League institution as it is at a community college.

I know just how fortunate I am to hold one degree, much less two.  Many of my friends – and certainly countless people that I hold in great esteem – were never even afforded the opportunity.  How many geniuses have been born in the African bush or in a South American rainforest without access to even a rudimentary education?  How many perfectly intelligent individuals here in the United States cannot afford higher education?

Here at home, and in other somewhat developed countries, there are plenty of people out there far smarter and better informed than myself who have never seen the inside of a classroom.  There’s more than a grain of truth in Will Hunting’s statement that a jackass from Harvard “wasted $150,000 on an education [he] coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.”

The fictional Will Hunting had an extraordinary intellectual aptitude, but the point is well taken.  Since the time of Ben Franklin and the Junto’s Library Company, the use of public libraries to self-educate has been apparent.  In true ‘teach a man to fish’ fashion, Andrew Carnegie devoted a large portion of his fortune to building public libraries so that every man would have the opportunity to better himself.  The poor Scottish immigrant once famously wrote of his charitable endeavors that

I choose free libraries as the best agencies for improving the masses of the people, because they give nothing for nothing. They only help those who help themselves. They never pauperize. They reach the aspiring and open to these chief treasures of the world — those stored up in books. A taste for reading drives out lower tastes.

By design, I’m rarely sitting down in one place long enough to read. I try to do so before retiring each night, but it doesn’t always happen.  Books on tape are not new inventions, but I’ve never been a big fan of fiction. (Though I am now trying to read some of the books I was supposed to read in high school English classes – I’m currently on A Tale of Two Cities.)

Some day, when I’ve paid off the two degrees I have currently,  I’d like to go back to school once again.  I have more than passing interests in both business and law, and so a joint MBA-JD is appealing.  It is also expensive.

In the meantime, I’ve been downloading a number of free podcasts from iTunes that are both instructive and edifying.  The best part is that I can take them with me wherever I go.  You can’t read a book while driving, mowing the lawn, or at the gym, but I’ve been playing podcasts from my iPhone while doing all three and more.

For example, during an hour and a half long car ride Sunday night I listened to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke speak at the London School of Economics, and Legal Lad opine on the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.  In previous listening sessions I’ve enjoyed Stuff You Should Know‘s discussions of everything from saunas to James Bond, and the Wall Street Journal’s Your Money Matters podcasts on personal finance.

There are podcasts on just about every conceivable topic.  I’m even looking into using material I will be creating for a new project of my own in the coming weeks and making it available as a podcast for downloading.  I don’t expect that it should become very popular with a broad audience – by definition the subject matter will be rather narrowly focused, as a matter of fact – but if the goal is to disseminate information, and it is, then this is a great way to do it.

If he were alive today, I bet Carnegie would be an avid supporter of these podcasts.  Some of the brightest minds from the most reknowned institutions (and some raving, but entertaining, lunatics) are offering their thoughts and insights for all to hear and digest.  Their wisdom can be consumed any time, day or night, and absolutely free of charge.

These are the books of the 21st century.  While they cannot and will not replace a university degree, they are a terrific way for someone like myself, someone with a desire for knowledge but lacking the resources to pursue formal higher education, to educate and better themselves on the cheap.